Growing up in a bilingual household is confusing for a child in America. Indian and American cultures have plenty of differences and it is hard to find the harmony between the two, especially in instances regarding religion. The confusion escalated because I went to a Christian private school for the first seven years of my education and was heavily influenced with the theology. My parents, also, practiced Hinduism at home. Subsequently, I was left with an identity crisis.
â–º Quarter Finalist 2011 Teen Travel Writing Scholarship
In the summer of 2008, my journey over 7,000 miles away from Nashville, TN helped me settle my uncertainty and allowed me to find myself. My family and I arrived in India after almost an entire day of travelling. After meeting with other family and catching up on lost sleep, nearly a week after our arrival, my parents, brother, grandparents, and I set out for a 20-day trip to the Himalayas to visit several temples on the peaks.
It took two planes to get from Surat to Haridwar, a city on the bank of the Ganges River that is considered holy to many Hindus. We spent a night at a local hotel (note: hotels aren’t as nice as they are in America, they have the basic necessities but nothing too lavish.) In the morning, we went to the Ganges River, and took a dip (literally submersing our heads in the water) in the icy cold river because it’s considered to be lucky. We stayed for the aarti, prayer, that night. It was a sight to see because there were many flowers and burning candles floating in the river. Hordes of people gathered on the steps of the river and prayed together.
Soon afterwards, we were on our way into the Himalayas. Our stops included Gangotri, Yamunotri, Kedarnath, and Badrinath. (These temples are collectively known as the Char Dhams, significant pilgrimages for Hindus). We took two days to visit each place. First, we would drive up to the town, unpack, and then rest. The next morning we traveled up to the temples by loori— four people carrying a person on a chair — horse, and helicopter. Walking to the temple is also an option, but the pathways are treacherous and the walking distance is too long.
Once you get to the temples, you see huge crowds of people making their way to the shrines. We would stand in line until it was our turn to enter the temple and see the shrine. After saying a prayer, we are shoved into a sitting area in the temple. Everyone takes a seat and prays. An odd feeling of serenity comes over you when sitting there. Time flies by, but you don’t seem to take notice of it. Afterwards, we go back to our hotel and set out to the next site.
Taking in all of the beautiful scenery, experiencing the soothing calmness, and visiting the temples in the most unique places was truly a once in a lifetime experience, but the trip was more than that. Prior to the pilgrimages, I didn’t know the importance of visiting these temples. I was merely a teen mimicking what my parents did, but while visiting each temple, my eyes were opened and I was enlightened and fascinated by the stories and history of the temples. If it weren’t for the Char Dhams, then I would not have fully begun to believe in and understand Hinduism. This trip to India and to the Himalayas was an eye opening incident that helped me discover a huge part of my life.
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