Journeys to faraway places tend to awaken a longing in people to find answers. A longing for hope of an epiphany or for new revelations and realizations sneakily hidden behind crowded streets and soaring mountains. Even though I started my journey with the same hopes, it was those exact streets and mountains that trapped me in a web of new questions, instead of answers for the old ones.
My expedition for answers started while walking down the streets of Chandi Chowk, with my already stuffy nose caused from the abundance of smells from chilies to nutmeg and masala, and my neck slightly sore from constantly turning my head in a desperate attempt to capture as much as I could of everything. The extremely muddy and murky crowded streets, in combination with the pouring rain dripping from the tin roofs of the market, didn’t stop me from devouring the Chowk from within. What was most fascinating was the way one side of the street was filled with consumer goods: herbs for chai, spices, nuts and dried fruits; and the other side filled with fabrics, sarees and lehngas. My theory was that the Chowk was made for married couples: the husband bargaining his way through the spice stalls, while the wife is spellbound by the sea of colors and jewels. It was these exact streets that ultimately led me to what looked like a massive golden castle in the middle of the city. In fact, the first thing that caught my eye, or more specifically blinded my eye, were the milky white marble walls and the elements of gold sprinkled over the whole building, as if trying to hint at the wealthy journey that was awaiting me. It was quite an eerie sight: a shimmering shrine standing quietly in the middle of this very
loud and heavily littered city, much like a wrinkled oyster with its shiny pearl hidden inside. I was given a uniquely embroidered headscarf and, bearing my frightened heart, I entered that fever dream of a shrine. Following the torrential rain, the long awaited sun rays somehow managed to squeeze through the narrow windows of the Gurudwara and, bouncing off the white walls and golden hanging ornaments, gave the shrine a very mystical and sacred look on the inside. The serenity of the shrine was emphasized further by the lack of traffic noise and chaos that previously prevailed in the outside world, now magically silenced. The only things that echoed off the polished walls were the soft religious hymns, as gentle as a mother tenderly caressing her daughter’s hair while tucking her into bed.
It might have been that my mind was dozing off from the overdose of lights and the dreamlike atmosphere that ruled inside, when it swiftly wandered off to the far end of the hall where it locked eyes with the kindest, beaming smile. It turned out that this exact familiar smile was the one that was supposed to be my guide in the Gurudwara and the person who explained the history it had beheld. As we were nearing the end of the spiritual detour of the shrine, I felt the sudden need to squeeze through the crowds of colorful kurtas in order to reach the owner of the smile.
“Why do you do this?” I asked her.
“Spend your whole days working here and not get anything in return.”
“Because my heart is already so full of love from this place that it doesn’t require anything more. God has blessed me with the gift of finding my Nirvana and it is only my duty to help others find the way to theirs.”
“How did you find Nirvana?”
“Being good, doing good and sharing the good. Purifying your soul with love and kindness. The rest will be shown to you by God.”
She then explained to me how in Sikhism they believe that God can only be experienced through pure love, worship and contemplation. Sikhs believe in breaking the human cycle that is birth, life and rebirth, by becoming one with God – reaching Nirvana. In order to do that, they practice doing good deeds such as service to the community and remembrance of God. In the Bangla Sahib Gurudwara, they provide food and shelter to all visitors, and the whole Gurudwara relies solely on the work of its volunteers. These people may not get any type of physical prosperity or riches for rolling chapatis or sweeping the marble floors, but they do get a contented heart and a gratified mind.
The answer-seeking expedition then continued even farther north, to the peculiar city of Rishikesh. A barricade of flourishing mountains, bubbling waterfalls and the smell of sweet sandalwood incense made this city the right place to be if you are looking for God or any celestial deity. In fact, even the only long street that cut through the range of luxury hotels and the massive, striking signs with ‘Meditation, Mindfulness, God’ written on them, stated the same. But unlike the sacredness of Delhi, Rishikesh felt a lot more superficial and westernized. The local restaurants served iced lattes instead of chai, and pasta instead of naan and paneer. And while subconsciously falling into the tourist trap that was ‘The Beatles Café’, I noticed a silent couple sitting on a table next to me, facing each other with their hands folded in prayer. It lasted for about 10 minutes, then they tenderly opened their eyes and the biggest, most sincere smiles appeared on their faces. Overtaken by the feeling of warmth and genuine love that these two strangers shared, I didn’t notice myself staring – but they did.
“We were doing a Mantra. It’s like a prayer, but for your mind.” The woman said.
“It looked very peaceful.”
“Do you believe in God?”
“I’m not sure. I believe that there is something out there, but I haven’t quite figured it out yet. Do you?”
“I believe in the divine universe. Nourishing your body with the goodness the world has to offer. Being grateful for every day of your life and believing in the destiny that is already written for us. We cannot change our destiny, but we can try to make the most of it. The Mantras are a way for us to stay grounded and fulfilled. You should try it.”
As I went for lunch the following day, I saw the same couple enter a lavish hotel with a sign that read ‘Relaxation and Spa’ in shimmering letters. Standing in front of this piece of luxury, I was confronted with a sudden gust of Himalayan wind and at that exact moment I felt the scattered thoughts in my head assembling in order. I was desperately trying to assemble these thoughts into answers but instead I ended up questioning my own oblivion.
Is our destiny written and final or is it a journey that one must take in order to fulfill it? Or maybe the destiny of finding the divine truth is only written for scarce souls and those most deserving? But how does one determine whether it is someone that has everything to give or someone that has everything to gain who is more worthy of finding their destiny?
Maybe one day I will find the answers to these questions, no matter how many miles and barriers I have to go through. Until then, Delhi will keep on trying to balance the spices and sarees, the shimmers and stains; and Rishikesh will keep on hiding behind its cunning creations in the face of capitalism.
Author – Teona Conevska
Editor – Matthew Spall