Travelling, on the surface, is movement.But like music, it's the pauses, the breath betweenthe notes that allows the song to sing forth. It's thestop points in life that provide opportunities; thestillness that facilitates openings, a crack in thearmoury of daily routine that masks deeper oceans ofawareness. Illness, having children, losing a job ora partner, emigrating, travel - it's different for eachone of us, but it's often these major life events thattouch us deeply and spin us in different directions.I believe it's not the life events as such that providethe change, rather the stillness that results from theenforced stopping that provides an opportunity for anopening, for some light to creep in.
India, it seems ignites this callingin people. Like an octopus, it sends out its tentaclesof super awareness drawing people into the labyrinthof this flavourful subcontinent. Some jump at the calling,others turn their backs. In my own case, I'd long helda desire to launch myself into India. While living inLondon many years ago, it was my top travel destination,but somehow I never landed up there, always becauseI wanted to submerge myself in India for at least twomonths, maybe even six months and could never find thattime. So, short European travel jaunts sufficed. Butreally it wasn't the outer journey and taste of newshores, even immersion in the riotous life that is Indiathat was calling my nomadic self, it was the inner journeyI yearned for. I was searching. My soul was callingout to me with the answers. Then, one day it was time- I simply booked a ticket and went.
Certainly, the journey there was aninteresting one, travelling via Moscow on Aeroflot,a shuddering ancient Russian airbus where smoking wasstill allowed, and enormous fur clad Russians kept offeringme vodka. But packed into the plane, bleary eyed aftera night shift on the TV news beat, I got friendly withsome other brave passengers bound for India, a pairof Bosnian Hare Krishnas off to Vrindavan, the seatof Krishna. Once landed in Delhi, I found myself sharinga cab with them and rode into the bustling city withthe clash of Krishna bells and "hare hares"ringing in my ears. This is the kind of adventure Indiaoffers up. It is always unique and never dull with theunmistakable flavour of the spiritual wafting through.
Nearly everyone I met while travellingin India was having some sort of opening. Having travelledto many other places, the difference in travellers onthe Indian subcontinent was vast. Here people seemedto be in a different space, on a different journey,open to a different experience. Even the opium smokingbackpackers were revelling in an unfolding of an entirelydifferent kind. So, what is it about India that drawsthe seeker?
Victorian-based Lincoln Harris runstours to India. He started his own tour company 10 yearsago after a life changing experience in India. His fatherhad taken his life the year before and the teenage Lincolnfelt he wasn't getting anywhere at school and just couldn'tgo on doing what he was doing. "I travelled toIndia as a 16 year old. I was a confused teenager insome ways and the only way I could see to move throughthat was to break everything. I wanted something newto stimulate me, so I decided on India because it seemedlike the most different place I could find."
Lincoln stayed in Sai Baba's ashramfor a month. "At the ashram we sat twice a daywaiting for darshan. There were tens of thousands ofpeople there and we'd wait three or four hours beforedarshan, in silence, just processing. I could feel thesehuge emotions percolating as I sat there, it was sopowerful and overwhelming." He had several personalaudiences with Sai Baba and some powerful experiences,some of them, he says, a question mark. "As a 16year old, it was so overwhelming that I just shut down.So I thought it would be great if you could somehowregulate these experiences so they were still powerfulbut not a culture shock."
Homesick and a little overwhelmedby the intensity of the ashram experience, he eventuallyfound the journey more than he'd bargained for and returnedto Australia. "Ultimately, it was what I neededbecause it just changed me so positively," saysLincoln. " I got home and I was just a totallychanged person. I went back to school eventually andI saw so much life here whereas before I had seen nothing."
He finished school and went on tostudy tourism, while making several more journeys toIndia. "Later on, someone said why don't you starttaking people to India and show them what it is thatinterests you so much. That was the impetus to takepeople and introduce them to India."
He finds most travellers on his toursare women over 50 who have experienced significant changesin their lives, such as the transitions of menopause,divorce, or the empty nest . India seems to call them,luring them to live their dreams of adventure and travel.His experience is backed up by the Indian Consulatein Perth whose figures show women in midlife are thetop group of travellers to India, after business people.
"There's a range of reasons forwomen of this age travelling. I'm 26 and a man so Idon't really understand what motivates women of thatage, but based on the people who have toured with me,I think it's because they've had kids and a family ormaybe a career and are just getting to the point whereeverything in their world is a bit tried and testedand perhaps stagnating. The stimulus to move them forwardin a personal sense is not there, so the natural thingis to go looking for that new source. Travel is oneway to do that and India has this reputation and imagethrough centuries of people going there and having moving,powerful experiences.
"People say that India is a mirrorfor you. It reflects back what's going on personallyand that's a great thing for anyone, but particularlyfor someone who doesn't quite know the way forward ina personal sense. To have ourselves reflected back givesus perspective."
Lincoln also believes the Tibetanpeople and the Dalai Lama are an extra magnet for peopleseeking something beyond what our Western culture provides- that and the promise of self discovery. His two weekNorth Indian tour spends most of its time in Dharamsalawith the exiled Tibetan people, visiting Karmapa, theDalai Lama and Tenzin Palmo, sitting in on meditationsand visiting many monasteries experiencing, firsthand,this rich, vibrant area.
While Lincoln Harris says he doesn't know what the spiritualmeans for an individual, he markets his trips as aninner experience, not merely an experience of the outsideworld. Women participants are often leaving their partnersbehind and heading out on their own. He says some ofthese mature women travelling with him have found they'vediscovered parts of themselves through heightened emotionsexperienced in India. "People have said to me they'vegained a fresh perspective, made subtle changes suchas recognising what's valuable to them and what's notand gained a real feeling of self renewal, coming backfeeling alive."
For me, India was a calling. I thinkI waited until I was ready to answer that call. It camewith a spiritual opening and a desire to change my life.As women, we often spend our lives immersed in the livesof those around us, our families, children, parentsand friends. Emotional and nurturing beings, we soakup those around us. As women, we hold the wisdom ofthe aeons, we are the feminine expression, the wiseones. We guide our children, we provide the base fromwhich those in our life can venture out into the world.Like the sun at the centre of family and community life,our rays touch the lives of others, providing supportiveencouragement to a partner and caring words to a friend.
Women at midlife are experiencingprofound changes. With childbearing years behind them,emotionally many are looking forward to finding fruitfulnessin previously unrealised ways. It's a precious timewhen life can flower into wisdom and self renewal. Whilethe sage energy of the crone is not specific to womenin their fifties, it seems this is often when womenhave the space to reflect and distil their experiencesand brew their wisdom. For some, this can come earlier- there are even children who carry a strong crone energy.It is all about the richness of life, and a countrylike India reflects this richness back at you, validatingyour experiences, your innate wisdom and gifts.
Perhaps it's like delving into a GreaterSelf, which, once recognised, helps you embrace yourSelf. Peculiarly enough, I sought out the quiet of India.I found I experienced my deepest stillness against theincredible roar of people, the intensity and chaos ofIndia. At the time I visited in 1998, I was living inLondon, enjoying a successful journalistic career workingat the BBC. I loved my life in the fast lane, but somethingwas missing. India certainly gave me perspective, theseed was planted, the greater truth of our existencesown. I could never return to the lie of my old life.