A Spiritual Journey, Part One

Three days have passed since me and my friend E arrived in India. Her and I have been friends for about 20 years and are in the same industry. She's one of the very few people I would ever travel with, so when the opportunity to hit the road together presented itself, we jumped on it.

Upon arrival at the butt crack of 4am in Delhi we made our way to the hotel and into a short, two hour slumber. At 7am we both woke up ready to conquer Delhi. The driver we hired spoke very little English and what English he did speak was an indecipherable curry of vowels and head wobbles. We went to a few obligatory ancient sights but I was really looking forward to the Baha'i Lotus Temple. I have always loved the Baha'i faith, maybe because each practitioner I have met are such cool, grounded and open-minded people. The building is a work of sublime art, it is in the shape of a massive lotus rising from a clear blue pool of water. Made of white marble with clean sharp edges, it is one of the most stunning buidlings I've ever seen in my life. We filed in and sat down and I sat in prayer for many minutes, tears spilling down my face, my prayer is just "Thank you".

The last place he took us was by far our favorite, Hazrat Nizam-ud-din Dargah, a Sufi shrine. Our car stopped. The driver led us down a congested narrow lane whereby I had to part a heavy curtain of flies and keep my lips pressed together so I don't have an appetizer of insect. The lane was lined with food vendors and the sharp burn of smoking oil made it very hard to breathe. We walked fast.

We get to an old man who demanded our shoes and handed us a plate of flowers. We guessed it was an offering but no explanation was ever made. Of course, in our country we must do this every day! We were shoved down a cramped alley and told to cover our heads, then motioned down the stairs into a damp tunnel. All this was done in a rush and there was no one to ask questions to. Quiet, just go. Walking briskly we are met with a line of humans sprawled about the floor, some begging, some sleeping. Keep moving. Labyrinthine twists, more bodies, more flowers. Surfacing briefly. There is a riot of pink flowers to my left, then more bodies. Popping out of the tunnel we are met by music and healthy people in a swirl of saris. 

A man who is obviously in charge of foreigners approaches us, takes our styrofoam plate of flowers and has us wait by the sign that says "No women allowed" as he enters the shrine on our behalf. He re-emerges with a book, sign it. We need to donate, "Whatever you feel". Sit down, quickly quickly! The three piece band is playing in front of us. We sit amongst the others, there are no other tourists, only us. The music is enchanting and I am swept up in the experience until I see a woman drop some of her petals on the ground. An accident, nothing more. The man singing berates her, she quickly drops to the ground, scrounging up the rogue pink petals from the white marble floor. She is obviously not doing a good job as the man continues to harangue her in a language not my own. The meaning is clear though. Get them the fuck up. 

Our guide spots us and waves his hand for us to leave. The man who is in charge of us in the shrine sees this and shows us to the next shrine, very small, must see. We are rushed around the outer perimeter of the shrine but we can see through the stone lattice work a line of men performing prayers or the like, moving in a circle around the green cloth that is in the middle. We sit and watch. The process is beautiful. Again, we have the only foreign faces. It feels like a telescope into a world I will only really know in another life. The music is still playing and people are milling around but in this enclosed perimeter we are protected in a bubble of false safety. There is a sign right before you enter this shrine that says "Beware of pickpockets". After sitting and watching this display of devotion for several minutes, sitting indian style on the floor, we get up to leave and our handler approaches us for more money. Donations for this, for that, and then more for this, oh and sign here. 

Our guide spies us and walks briskly for the exit, we follow as best we can with the press of people and the overloaded senses. Through the maze of illness and twisted limbs we emerge into the sun and blanket of flies. Quickly quickly to the car, in awe of what we just witnessed. It was disorienting and disconcerting but it was also incredibly raw and beautiful. Humbling and eye opening. The descriptions would be endless, a virtual thesaurus of words akin to spectacular. It was also shockingly peaceful. When I left I felt whole. 

The journey begins.