Last year I turned 40.
As a special birthday gift, my mum offered me a trip to India. We would go together for two weeks and then she would continue travelling another month with a friend. She told me to pick the places I wanted to go and she would arrange the first two weeks according to my interests. I made a list of all the holy places of pilgrimage in Northern India that I had heard about from books and friends. Then we planned the itinerary.
My mum is a world traveler who’s been to the Amazon and climbed mountains in Peru. She looks and acts 20 years younger than her age, but she is 70. I had been to India before and she hadn’t. I was worried that going to India might be a bit of a shock, culturally and physically. At places of spiritual pilgrimage, the conditions are not always the most comfortable by Western standards. We wanted to be comfortable – we wanted to have clean food, clean water, a clean place to sleep, and even wi-fi so mum could post her nightly travel blogs.
We decided to travel with a guide recommended by a friend. This wonderful man, Dinesh arranged a custom tour for us of all the holy places I wanted to see. A driver and car took us everywhere, we had comfortable accommodations, and places to eat. It was quite a high-end spiritual pilgrimage! Still we could not avoid seeing the poverty, the beggars, the open sewers, and the skinny homeless dogs in the streets. It made us very aware how privileged we were to have our needs met.
One of my favorite moments on the trip was not an official pilgrimage site, but when Dinesh took us home to visit with his family. He and his wife Manisha live in a small apartment adjoining his mother’s apartment on ground floor of a building with an open courtyard space. Kids play in the courtyard, while mums hang laundry.
Dinesh & Manisha are busy working at their travel office most of the day, and meanwhile his mother cleans, cooks, and takes care of their homes. While we were having tea and biscuits, a cow came to the open door; Dinesh’s mother gave her a bowl of salad leaves. A few monkeys stopped by for freshly baked chapatis. Dinesh’s mother feeds the local animals daily and makes it a point to offer the food to them first. There is a Jewish biblical law that states you should always feed the animals before yourself. The first chapati of the day always goes to a monkey.