Passage To India…..

I have difficulty beginning this blog because I’m not sure how to approach it.  I don’t want to appear melodramatic or better yet, over sensationalize my experience.   But the truth is, being in India has truly changed my boys and my life.  A bold statement…  Yes.  A truth, that is for certain.

We arrived at the foothills of the Himalayas in the small village of McLeod Ganj, known the world over as the exiled home of His Holiness, The 14th Dalai Lama.  Entering the town by dark was a frightful experience… just ask my sons.  We had booked a small room in a hotel high above the town with roads only big enough for the four wheels of the car that carried us up there.   I want to be very clear… the roads, cut into the side of the mountain, were barely big enough for the four wheels of the car that carried us… one wrong twist of the wheel and we would have fallen to a sure death down a jagged mountain cliff.

We arrived at 3am to what would be our new home for the next 10 days.  We unloaded our bags and then walked, yes, walked for ten minutes up a mountain cliff path to our hill top inn.   From the late-night fright of cliff hanging, and from the exhaustion of toting our bags through the mountains in the dark, we settled in and fell fast asleep in our small one room abode.

We awoke to sunshine through the window and a view that reminded us that this was no ordinary journey.  I can only explain it as “other worldly”, like we had experienced it before, or that we were in another time continuum.  The kids and I looked at each other in awe.  There was silence… emotion… history… color… magic.

We were served the local staple, porridge with bananas, and then headed down the hill to the village of McLeod to register to see the Dalai Lama speak.  The mountain path down was no “late night illusion”…. It was just as frightening in the daytime.   But with the sunlight came wild monkeys on the side of the road, the sacred cows of India, the colorful saris of the local woman, and as we approached the hustle and bustle of this small town, the red-robed Buddhist monks of Tibetan fame.  I felt like I was home.   Not that I am a Tibetan Buddhist, or have practiced Buddhism, but I felt safe and comfortable amongst, what I joked with Jack and Buck, “My People”.

That day was spent with great excitement.  Dodging Tuk Tuk’s, cows, monks and an international crowd of people there to see The Dalai Lama speak… all in a tiny village stuck in another time, hanging off the foothills of the Himalayas.

The following morning, after our porridge, we headed to the temple to see His Holiness.  Miraculously, though somehow I knew it would happen, we were saved seats 20 feet away from where the Dalai Lama would speak.  Excitement filled the air.  After what seems like a long anticipated wait, he appeared.   Wow!  His Holiness, The Dalai Lama’s smiling face right in front of me, as if in my own living room. There for my kids to experience, a living master, right there for Buck and Jackson to remember for a lifetime.

As he began to speak, something struck me.  He’s just a man… yes, most assuredly an enlightened one, but a man, nonetheless.   Having spent a career studying “celebrity” first hand, I had the epiphany that he was a sort of spiritual celebrity in a world of people who felt the need to worship him.   Don’t get me wrong, he’s teaching were certainly inspiring and profound, but I wasn’t overwhelmed by a sense of spirit.  Many others were.   And then this thought, “Maybe we’re all the gurus”.  Maybe, just maybe, we are all made in the likeness of God and that we are all the Dalai Lamas of our own experience…  That all we really have is our own spiritual take on things.  Everyone gets their choice of what they want to believe and whom they want to worship… at least in the free world.  And what resonates in our heart to be true spiritually is what we have to hold on to.

I feel like I had a spiritual awakening in McLeod Ganj.  But not one that was overpowering… a more subtle one.  I think it made me want to take more responsibility for my own spirituality and to honor it … and perhaps to live more consciously… not in the way His Holiness sees it, necessarily, though a lot of what he had to say rang true to me, but maybe delving more inside myself and finding how “my” God wants me to live…  being a more present parent, being less judgmental, more understanding and accepting, doing more for my fellow man.

Walking among the sacred cows, the poverty, the lepers, the poor, the monks, and the monkeys had a deep effect on me. And it did for my children as well.  We had the incredible opportunity of working with political prisoner that are now refugees exiled from Tibet in McLeod.  We taught English to these men and women who walked from Tibet to India to gain their freedom.  One cannot remain the same when in the company of such brave and heroic figures.  They shared with the kids and me their stories of being imprisoned just for carrying a Tibetan flag or showing up at a rally.  They were beaten and imprisons for years.   For westerns like the kids and me, it almost seemed unreal…  Like it was just a story…  But unfortunately, it’s a reality for many Tibetans.

One evening in McLeod, in honor of those we had been teaching, the boys and I got “buzz cuts” like the monks.   It was a Lewis Family moment… with laughter, trepidation, and “are we really doing this?”… But then again it’s only hair…

The boys most certainly are different people now.  For Jackson, 14, it has been the most noticeable.  He has committed to being a vegetarian, which I have to say, I respect.  He has become such a quiet force of compassion among the people we have met.  And with the animals, too.  We joke that he is Dr. Doolittle.  It’s amazing to watch him.

Buck, “Mister Charismatic”, has gone in to action full tilt boogie and has people grabbing him for pictures, hugging on him and practicing their English on him.   In McLeod, at a café we frequented, he got hired to be a waiter.  No lie.  He made cappachinos and served food and actually made tips.  It was a riot to watch.  He went back each day to work.   He had a gang of friends at Café Buda.   All of the customers were blown away.

Leaving McLeod was intense for all of us.  It was like leaving summer camp as a kid.   We had met so many awesome people and saying good-bye left a huge hole.   We ended up taking the train – un-air conditioned and 3rd class (yikes… talk about intense) to Agra where we feasted our eyes on the Taj Mahal.  I can’t put it in to words.  I just can’t.   Beyond extraordinary.  Again, seeing my kids inside the Taj.  Wow!  And we had no idea the story behind the Taj Mahal.  It was built as a monument of love for a wife who died while giving birth.

From there we went to Varanasi on the shores of the Ganges.  This is the place where all Hindis go to swim in the sacred waters of this famous river.   It is also were the Burning Gat is … this is where the Indians bring their dead to wash in the river, then burn the corpse on a fire by the shore, then spread their ashes in the river.  It’s their belief that it is the quickest way to heaven…. To be burned on the Ganges.  We took a boat (wood canoe) past the Burning Gat… and saw the bodies being wash and burned.  It was mind-blowing.   The boys and I discussed it later… it wasn’t morbid or scary… it was just very deep.

Which leads us to the poverty of Varanasi.  Unless you have walked the streets and seen it first hand, I don’t think you can fully grasp it.   Children naked and playing in the dirt, lepers laying in the street, families living in tiny tin or brick huts, cow dung everywhere, and the smell… quite often overwhelming.  But here’s the twist, they seem happy.   They really do.  The kids are laughing, the old people have great smiles, the woman are beautiful….  Yes, there is a lot of begging… a lot, but it’s understandable.  A foreigner walking down the street is just assumed to be rich…  Sometimes it felt intimidating and a bit dangerous, but in the end no one wished us harm.  They were just as curious about us, as we were with them.

Now we are headed to Mumbai where we will take a 12-hour bus ride to Hubli to work in a monastery.  More enlightenment to follow…

22 comments

What a delight to wake up this morning and hear your beautiful story!!
The wonderful internal changes that will be with all of you for a Lifetime !
Continue the Journey— Be well & Have Fun my Friends

All because of you, Francine! The boys and I send our love!

Thanks so much for sharing your story and your experiences. I look forward to each and every new chapter in this wonderful book you are creating. Good luck and Godspeed.

I am speechless! WOW! I’m sitting here with my mouth open in absolute amazement after reading your experiences in India. You have touched so many lives, as they have touched yours, but not only the ones on your trip, but us at home as well.

Keeping you all in my thoughts during your journey!

Bill Hart

Seeing God in yourself and others. Yes, that is IT. You and the boys are living it everyday now and realizing it too. What a joy and blessing for us and for you. You continue in my thoughts and prayers.

Reading about this journey is so great for me because God is answering my prayers for you and your family. I love you guys and wish you the continued best!- Chris Totty

JD as usual, thank you for sharing such an amazing experience. I have often thought that any spiritual leader is only a man or woman and that we truly are the god of our lives. I love that Namaste means, “I honor the divine in you”. We are all divine and thank you for reminding me again.
Hugs and I want to see your buzz cut!

AWESOME! So glad to get an update. So thrilled for the boys. and you!

Hello JD,
I feel that I’m getting to know you and your boys by following the blog. Nothing will be quite the same in their life or yours after the experiences you’re having together. I’m looking forward to sharing a part of Africa with you.
Don

Man, it just seems like every experience is unique, challenging, eye opening but so rewarding! Your words really reflect the feelings that you guys are experiencing but yet I am sure no words could do it justice. I am sure that each of you have gained so much from each experience encountered along your journey. Not to keep repeating myself but….. what an awesome experience. To hear about the impact that this journey has made on you, Jackson and Buck is heart warming. Already great people, I am sure it will make each or you even greater. Continued Safe travels. xoxo

Once again … you were able to carry us through your experience, right from the bottom of your heart.

I wait for your posts as I did when I was a kid (hundreds of years ago) for the next issue of my favorite heroes … Aquaman, Superman, Batman …

I read your stories and I’m certainly able to feel exactly what you feel and capture every single detail of excitement, sadness, sorrow, will to help, and the sheer pleassure of doing what you want to do to help people in need.

Wishing you to “keep up the good work” falls too short of what I really want to say …

I sure can tell how proud Jackson and Buck must be, of living this experience. And what can I say about them, being so proud of the father life gave them.

You three are soooooo lucky … May God always bless you and guide you …!

JD, Jackson & Buck……I read the Passage to India blog with a smile on my face and lots of emotion in my heart. I too fell in love with India during my pilgrimage to the Himalayas and later volunteering at an orphanage for 3 months. Your writing style draws the reader into your experience…..and keen for the next entry. It was great to read about “Dr. Doolittle” and “Mister Charismatic” and I loved the new hair cuts! JD….you need to be in more of the photos.

Wow I am so blown away by your experiences, courage, wisdom and insights. The conversation here is so much about the stock market, unemployment and the fear surrounding that. Sharing your story gets to the heart of humanity and what’s most important to our soul. Thank you!

what an amazing experience you have had, it will last a lifetime and it’s fascinating to be able to read about it all. be safe xo

To my guru,
I noticed there were no pictures of you with a buzz cut, that’s okay I’ll see you on the documentary. I’m blown away by reading about your experience I can’t imagine living it. With every single story your kids amaze me even more, I can’t imagine how I would have handled everything at their age. I’m sending you love and prayers as always.

Wow…what a rush, so happy that you are able to do this trip with your kids….Todds friend in wilmington, nc .
Frank

Wow…what a rush, so happy that you are able to do this trip with your kids….Todds friend in wilmington, nc .
Frank

ps: when you finish your tour please know that you and your family are welcomed here in my home for as long as we can take it.

i’m in portland visiting friends and checking it out.
great place.

oh god – i love reading about your trip. you awe me. your boys look beautiful. stay well.
xduncan

I just am enthralled at your writing…you have the most wonderful way of telling your adventure that makes me feel like I am there, which I am! Certainly love the buzz cuts…though I don’t see a picture of you in yours, only Jackson and Buckford…they look even more like there uncle Bo now…truly we are family!!!!! JD, Jackson, and Buck…wow it is so great to know that this is giving you all new insight into the world and that it will be a life changing and life forming experience, and when you are home again (though it will be unfair to say home is here anymore since you have made “home” so often already) you no doubt will be able to change even more those of us who are living your trip through your writings, pictures, and adventures. I have always heard people come into our lives one of three ways; a reason, a season or a lifetime. You are definitely in mine for the lifetime, and I cannot begin to imagine what or who I would be without each of you, and if indeed absence makes the heart grow fonder, then I am over the moon for each of you and only getting moreso. God love ya! Peace and safe travels my great sweet men, and til the next post I’ll keep reading the ones you’ve already sent over and over to keep you close in my heart and mind. XOXOXOBO

Thank you so much for taking the time to share your thoughts and of course your amazing photos. We really get to learn while you travel.

Take care all!
Marcia

Everytime I read something you post I am amazed. Your kids are so fortunate to have the opportunity to experience such a wonderful time with their Dad. You are a blessed person to be able to do this trip and I am sure you all will be changed for the rest of your lives. My best to you all and you continue this amazing journey. :)’s Keep posting, it makes me feel as if I am with you in a small way.

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