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India has been on my radar for several years.

First in my mind, and then on my vision board.

This summer I finally made it happen by combining this important pilgrimage to “the motherland” with my first yoga teacher training. Needless to say, this trip was quite a special one for me, but even more so because my loving life partner, my mother, as well as my brother, were all part of the adventure.

Here are the main highlights from my Indian adventure.

Arrival in Delhi

We started our journey in Old Delhi. Although I’ve traveled in several “intense” countries, arriving in Delhi was like a slap in the face. It seemed as if the city operated with an entirely different set of rules. Navigating our way through the tiny streets of the ancient city was a total obstacle course – the concerto of honks, coupled with endless solicitations from drivers and touts at every moment. Not to mention the intensity of the smells – the rich scent of Indian spices would blend with that of the sewers and exhaust fumes from the cars and tuk-tuks speeding through. I felt like my lifespan was shortening with every breath I took.

And yet, I was elated. I was thrilled to be in India, and to have such a rich experience… a real feast for the senses!

When traveling, I like to steer clear of major touristic sites in favor of more authentic or local experiences. Over the years, I’ve developed a penchant for “immersion traveling” from my time working for nonprofits in Haiti, the Dominican Republic, Niger, Senegal, and Togo. In these travels, I was certainly pushed out of my comfort zone. Challenges that may have initially seemed daunting, have turned into my favorite aspects of travel. I especially enjoy getting to know the locals in foreign places, and when you stay on the “beaten track” you often don’t get the opportunity to make these connections.

“To my mind, the greatest reward and luxury of travel is to be able to experience everyday things as if for the first time, to be in a position in which almost nothing is so familiar it is taken for granted.” – Bill Bryson

While in Delhi, we visited the Red Fort, and Chandni Chowk Market. We even found a vegan-friendly bakery a stone’s throw away from our hotel… it just involved trudging through a street of mud and sewage. #thejoysoftravel

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Newspaper delivery man, Old Delhi.

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One-eyed worker in Chandni Chowk, Old Delhi.

The Taj Mahal

There was absolutely no way I could have passed on the opportunity to visit the Taj Mahal, and it was fabulous. The attention to detail and symmetry is out of this world — a true treat to behold. Regardless of what one thinks of the background story of this monument and the megalomaniacs behind its construction, it is worth visiting at least once in a lifetime. I was most impressed by the pietra dura inlays made of semi precious stones carved and embedded in the walls with extreme precision.

Not long after our day trip to Agra we flew north to start our yoga teacher training in Rishikesh, the birthplace of yoga.

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Taj Mahal under construction, Agra.

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Monkey sitting on entrance gate to Taj Mahal, Agra.

Rishikesh: The Yoga Capital of the World

Rishikesh is a special place.

Located just an hour away from Delhi by plane, Rishikesh is steeped in spiritual significance. Best known as a prime pilgrimage city for Hindus, Rishikesh is also considered to be the Yoga Capital of The World, and is home to hundreds of yoga schools.

My group and I attended Rishikesh Yoga Teacher Training Center. The school was well located, just up the hill from the main drag, and yet still surrounded by green mountains, and teeming with nature (and monkeys!) The staff was warm and welcoming and very attentive to our needs and preferences, especially in terms of food! They made us delicious vegan food, with lots of veggies and legumes. (Find out how legumes can extend your lifespan.)

The truth is, yoga teacher training is a lot to digest between the theory and practice, and a month-long program is certainly a short time to learn the ins and outs of this ancient and vast discipline. The teachers at RYTTC were young, relatable, pedagogical, and always available to answer questions after class. Thanks to this top notch instruction, I was able to dive deep into the study of yoga, and implement habits that will surely be a lifelong practice.

Gratefully, the city is very vegetarian and vegan friendly. On the weekends we would also explore some local places. Our favorite spots were Pure Soul Café, where I would get a tofu scramble on toast, with no oil and a side of steamed broccoli. Our other favorite hangout was Ira’s Kitchen, a mom-and-pop cafe that had one of the tastiest chana masalas I’ve ever had, thick and delicious stuffed potato paratha, aloo mutter, as well as amazing breakfasts. We kept coming back for vegan milkshakes and huge bowls of porridge — and if you follow me on instagram, you know how much I love oats.

Another wonderful aspect of my time in Rishikesh was meeting the other students. There were yogis from all over the world, and it was such an enriching experience to see how yoga had brought us all together, and share our stories.

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Ram Jhula Bridge, Rishikesh.

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View of mountains from our yoga school, Rishikesh.

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Hindu festival on the banks of the Ganges, Rishikesh.

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Man making offering during Hindu festival, Rishikesh.

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RYTTC August 2018 class, Rishikesh.

Family Vagabonding

At the end of our training we decided to stay in Rishikesh and further explore the city. We rented two scooters and zipped around the city day and night — restaurant hopping, sightseeing, and soaking in the whole experience. The local organic store allowed us to stock up on dried berries, amla powder, and soy milk, and Ira’s Kitchen became our HQ.

Staying a few extra days in Rishikesh was the best decision because it offered us time to “vagabond.” As Rolf Potts author of Vagabonding puts it:

“Vagabonding is an attitude — a friendly interest in people, places, and things that makes a person an explorer in the truest, most vivid sense of the word. Vagabonding is not a lifestyle, nor is it a trend. It’s just an uncommon way of looking at life — a value adjustment from which action naturally follows. And, as much as anything, vagabonding is about time — our only real commodity—and how we choose to use it.”

That’s exactly what we decided to do with the remainder of our time in India.

(My brother and I also had a wild adventure motorcycling in the Himalayan mountains, but that story is for another post. 🙂 )

Closing Thoughts

My Indian adventure was quite transformative, and to this day, I am still processing my experience. So many elements made me feel at home, and so many made me feel foreign. The stark contrasts and disparities, the spirituality, the beauty, and the poverty all coexisting, still boggles the mind.

Perhaps one of the best aspects of this journey was to have done this with my family. I am especially proud of my mom for going through the entire teacher training with us.

I want to sincerely thank everyone who made this voyage possible and magical, from the RYTTC staff, to the fellow participants, and of course to my family and loving life partner.

Stay tuned for exciting yoga-related events in the coming months.

And, India – I’ll see you again soon.

To adventure,