India had never been on this culture coach's bucket list. However, about three years ago when this Merewether Heights resident started a regular yoga practise, her perspective changed as she became immersed in the philosophy and drawn to the subcontinent.
Above: KC AND AJ: Kim-Cherie and Alexandria Joy at Kunajupuri Temple with the backdrop of the snow-capped Himalayas
In December 2018, Alexandria Joy (AJ) left Australia with 14 other women for a 17-day Sacred Pilgrimage following the Ganga (Ganges River) from Varanasi to Mukhba via Rishikesh and Netala. In Hindu mythology, the river is sacred and personifies the Goddess Ganga, the benefactor of all that lives. The waters are believed to wash away sins and liberate souls from the cycle of life and death.
"I knew it would be moving,” said AJ.
“And it ended up being very significant [for me], as I was cracked open, left raw, and forced to let go of old ways and also learn to just be," AJ said.
This journey started with AJ meeting yoga teacher Kym McDonald of Yogic Wisdom, followed by yoga and meditation sessions than training to be a yoga teacher.
'The main reason I decided to go to India was that Kym was leading the trip, and we had a connection and affiliation through her teaching and spiritual guidance. The more I studied, the more interested I became in India – I had to go!"
During the pilgrimage, AJ visited many holy sites. Although, there were two – Babaji Cave Temple (pictured right) in Varanasi and Kunajupuri Temple, 15 kilometres north of Rishikesh – that changed her life.
By chance, on day three of the pilgrimage, the group went to visit the Babaji Cave Temple at Lahiri Mahasaya Ashram. In the temple are part of Lahiri Mahasaya ashes, the yogi known for reviving Kriya Yoga, which he learnt from its founder Mahavatar Babaji in 1861.
AJ entered the temple, only knowing a little about Babaji from him being mentioned in other books, such as Autobiography of a Yogi and Apprenticed to a Himalayan Master. As she meditated in the temple, AJ felt waves of emotion and the powerful presence of many great beings.
"I felt Babaji then the tears of sadness, guilt, shame and anger flowed. It was time to let go of life as it had been, mourn the past, release the emotions and relinquish the control."
Several days later, on day five, the group arrived in Rishikesh as the sun was setting on the Ganga and AK knew it was time to close the most recent chapter in her life.
"It was New Year's Eve, the end of a year, and the end of an era for me. It seemed like a fitting place, as the Ganga becomes closer to its source, it is cleaner. Plus, the river is known for its purification qualities – to cleanse people and in spiritual practices."
Then three days later, the group travelled 15 kilometres north to Kunajupuri Temple, a shrine to the Divine Mother, in the foothills of the Himalayans. According to Hindu lore, it is the place where Goddess Sati's chest and heart fell when Lord Shiva carried her dead body in his arms and wandered through the mountains.
After the temple blessing, AJ walked around the sacred building, giving gratitude for certain people in her life and sending them love.
Above: Green Ganga Rishikesh
"All of a sudden, I was filled with incredible love. It was transformative, I felt so connected and in love with everything and everyone. There was clarity, perspective, stillness and peace."
AJ admits, she has always been a thinker and lived in her intellect. When she travelled to Europe and went to historical sites, she researched and visited them with her five senses. However, for her trip to India, AJ did no reading, not even the itinerary, so she travelled with no perceived ideas. She wanted to feel the place and be present for every experience.
"With the energy of each site, I didn't need to do anything. Millions of people and great beings had been there and left their energy, I just needed to be there and absorb it."
The group never made it to Mukhaba to the winter abode of the Goddess Ganga due to black ice and snow. However, AJ, believes that summed up the trip to surrender, be present, enjoy the moment and its beauty.
She loved India’s vibrancy and the culture of living and breathing spirituality as a way of life.
"Yes, it is a mish-mash of colour, religion, flavour and noise. It is an assault on the senses, yet beautiful at the same time. And one takeaway was the humbleness, and simplicity of life. And it prepared me for our time now, as you really see what is valuable. I am much more accepting and calmer in my life as well as more joyful in the simple things."
Words: Kim-Cherie Davidson - Live Your Bucket List