Have you ever had that moment when traveling to a new and unfamiliar place—maybe you’ve already journeyed all over the world, maybe it’s one of your first experiences—but suddenly, you are somewhere you know you were just meant to be?

A place that resonates deep inside you; a place where you feel more like yourself than you’ve ever felt before. A place that causes you to breathe a sigh of recognition, deep inside yourself, and say simply, “Yes.” It cannot be engineered, the moment you discover that corner of the world where you feel most at home.

Walking through the gates outside the Taj Mahal in Agra, India

Walking through the gates outside the Taj Mahal in Agra, India

These places are what I call your “soul culture.”

Finding your soul culture is a lot like falling in love: it just happens. It might be in a country far away and a culture far different from your own. It might not make much rational sense — nor does it have to.

For me, that first soul culture was India. I was drawn into India from the first moment, in a way I’ve never quite been drawn to another place. It was a culture that I was not born into, and had no previous connections with whatsoever — halfway around the world and as foreign from the life I’d known as just about anything on earth could be.

As with all soul cultures, I didn’t really choose India — India chose me.

I had never even had a burning desire to go to India before my first trip in 2005. I could say that first journey changed me, but that wouldn’t be quite correct. I was transformed, yes, but it was more subtle than that; it was as if something inside me had shifted, and I had somehow discovered a truer part of myself, something that had been in me all along but that I’d never before been able to reach.

I had become more fully myself. I felt, simply, home.

From the moment I arrived, I found India to be everything I had imagined — only more so. More colors and smells, more noises and people, more everything. It was an assault on all the senses at once. There seemed no still or quiet space. Instead there were throngs of people everywhere, living and working and sleeping; hundreds of street vendors lined every available inch of sidewalk, while mangy dogs and cows nosed at piles of trash around them.

Rickshaw drivers pedaled through traffic alongside schoolgirls with their braided hair and backpacks. The smell of curry and incense hung thick in the air along with soft chanting from nearby temples. The dusty roads peppered with potholes were filled with a constant stream of buses, bicycles, rickshaws, cars and cows and rising over it all was the constant, blaring beep-beep of the horns.

It was the most alive place I had ever been. India is too big to describe adequately, too big perhaps to absorb in a single lifetime. The country wrapped itself around me and refused to let go.

India simply cannot be approached with anything but fully open arms and a willing heart.

And it will embrace you in return with an exhilarated spirit, splendor and enchantment, nonstop vitality, amazing people and their daily parade of life — struggles, joys and triumphs — that passes by every moment. The smell of the chai, its cardamom and ginger and cinnamon drifting up to my nose, the sound of bare feet slapping against the ground as children ran. The vibrant blue and yellow and purple sarees of the house mothers as they passed by and the bangles on their wrists that clinked melodically against each other while they worked.

The colorful painted elephants who seemed to watch over us from their places on the surrounding walls. The soft breeze that whispered through the trees and caressed my skin while the fading sun bathed everything in an orange and pink light. The occasional monkey above us in the trees, or a calf or dog that wandered into the courtyard before being shooed away. Most of all, the familiar faces around me that made me feel I had come home.

India, and the family I found there, forever altered both the person I was and my view of the world. In some ways I felt more familiar to myself there, like I was finally the person I had been brought there to become. I had not come to India to change anything about it; instead, the country and its people had worked a transformational change in me. They had allowed me into the real heart of the place and by doing so, spared me from viewing it with the eyes of an outsider.

After that first journey I made to India, in 2005, I have continued to go back time and again — 10 visits, in all. The draw is many things to me: first and foremost it is the people. It’s also the way that everything is so raw and vibrant: the good and the bad, there’s no pretense, everything is just right out there. The food, the colors, the smells, the architecture, the history, the culture…everything. It is simply the most alive place I have ever been, and I was lucky enough to have been given this incredible treasure by the family I found there.

My last visit to India was nearly five years ago now — the longest I’ve ever stayed away since my first trip in 2005. Although it can be difficult to travel there and presents many challenges, every time I return to “my” home land, I began missing India immediately. It is my soul culture, my second home, and it calls my name softly, every day, deep inside my heart.

 

I may have left India, but
India has never left me.

Travel changes you. You change the world.

Travel changes you. You change the world.

Have you ever discovered your “soul culture?” Somewhere? Please share your story in the comments below!