It was 20 years ago; I had just graduated from university. After a short-winded software developing adventure with a friend of mine, I decided to do my military service upon the insistence of my uncle. However, I had to travel first. Under the influence of the many parapsychology books I read during my university years, my interest in India and the Nepal region had increased greatly. After reading the Lonely Planet book on Nepal which was given to me by a traveler friend in those days, I started to believe that I could take a trip to the Far East on my own. At the end of September 1996, I started my journey to the capital of India, New Delhi with a one-way ticket, a backpack, a sleeping bag and my trusty old camera.
I arrived at the airport in New Delhi at 03:00 am. I did not know what to do next or where to stay. I arranged a place to stay for the night through the information desk at the airport. I took a taxi. When we stopped on a deserted street, the taxi driver pointed to the inside of a dark building. I do not think I was able to sleep at the hostel that night. But I hit the streets early in the morning. The owner of one of the canny travel agencies noticed my weird, anxious and searching eyes and took me inside his tiny shop. My travel route was determined within an hour. Agra, Varanasi, Jaipur, Kathmandu and Delhi. Train and flight tickets were prepared. A car and driver were arranged for. I was sure I was overcharged for all these, but I still paid much less than I would have in Europe.
We hit the road posthaste. A short, thin and weak man stopped in front of the shop half an hour later with his tiny Indian Tata car and said let’s go. I remember I did not have any impact on how things turned out from this part on during my trip. I spent the first few hours of our journey trying to figure out whether cars traveled on the right side of the road or the left side in India.
When we arrived at the town we were to stay at, the driver would take me to a nice restaurant, he would eat outside at a separate table. Although I invited him over several times, I understood that he wanted to be with his friends at the restaurant rather than chatting with me and I did not insist. I still remember the delicious taste of the amazing vegetarian dishes with curry sauce. Each dish was served with buttered bread fresh out of the oven. I never went hungry in India. Chicken meals between the 35th and 46th pages of the thick book they handed me, the menu that is, were my favorites.
One of my main reasons for coming to India was my curiosity towards the Indian culture. After all the books I read about Hinduism and Buddhism, maybe I could meet a guru in an ashram and he would change my life with just one sentence. What a dream! When I shared these thought with my driver, he promised to stop at several ashrams on the way and introduce me to the people there. Nevertheless, he also warned me that I would be disappointed.
Was that the magic word that would enlighten me?
We stopped at one of them; the first word that the bearded man who welcomed me was “Money”. “Is that all?” I said to myself. I came over from the other side of the world, entered an ashram in a remote corner of India and the guy said “money” as soon as he saw me. Was that the magic word that would enlighten me? When we were back on the road, my driver smiled at me with an expression on his face like he wanted to say ‘I warned you’. A few days later, he pulled over while we were going on an asphalt but narrow and dusty road; he turned to me and said now I’m going to introduce you to a real guru. My expectation was of course a man with a huge beard in a majestic building. But instead, there was a poor skinny man in front of me, wearing only a piece of cloth in place of underpants, living in a tiny, boxy and dark hut. Of course, he had a beard but it was obvious that he did not grow it so that people listen to his words. A few of his followers, who were as frail and naked as him, were meditating around the sides of the road. When I went over to him, at first he hugged me and then served me some kind of food made of bird eggs which was the only thing he had at that moment. I took so as not to offend him and ate it for the same reason. While I was expecting him to ask for money, he just smiled. I learned that they were feeding on the grass growing by the roadside and meditating throughout the day. Except for the piece of cloth they wore instead of underpants, the only thing these people owned was their own self. They did not have identity cards. In other words, there was no difference between their existence and absence for the rest of the world.
We were not able to communicate verbally that day, but after that meeting I learned to ask this question: “What do we actually have?” and that I don’t need magical words to learn.