the science and soul of an innocent world

Solo in India

By Karina Heneghan

All images copyright Karina Heneghan


Editor’s note: Millions of women travel alone to India every year from all over the world. Doing it safely means more careful planning, a sharp awareness of one’s surroundings, and sticking to well-populated, well-lit places. To go alone also takes more courage and more trust, both in the world and in oneself.

statue of lord hanuman statue of Lord Hanuman

Last year I took a two-month solo trip to India. There were many reasons for taking this journey, but the most important one of all was the one dictated by my higher self. I heard a very loud whisper in my heart that told me it was time for me to go…

In the last years before my trip, I had experienced a sort of existential despair that I think was based on the following: Our ability to dream is constantly challenged by society’s viewpoint on what is possible, and if we make our life choices based on that, unfortunately, the only dream left is a compromise. I needed to break away from this limited ideology and embark upon my own quest for truth. I guess there was also a deep personal reason for me to take this trip: my endless pursuit of self-mastery. I am very well aware it can be a tormenting path, but so is the perpetuation of mediocrity, in my opinion.

During my first week in India, I went through a variety of overwhelming emotions that broke me open and had me in tears many times. The first couple of days, I was assaulted by so much panic and shock that I could not leave the hotel. The same question kept popping into my mind: Why did I come here alone? Then, after days of internal work and inner adjustments, everything became very clear to me: I came here alone with the sole purpose of confronting my fears and to do some really deep mind management. I wanted to forget about the people I know, the problems I have, the things I own, and the places I go; to lose track of time, to go beyond my body and its need to feed its habituations, to give up emotionally familiar experiences that reaffirm my identity; to detach from trying to predict a future condition or review a past memory, to lay down my ego which is only concerned with its own needs; to think and dream greater than how I usually feel. My craving was for the unknown –to learn and to change.

I have also realized that as a solo traveler, your disposition determines the way you experience the world and the positivity and enrichment of your experiences, so I went there with one unbreakable self-agreement: To accept whatever came my way as if I had chosen it for myself.

elderly lady outside Jagdish Temple, Udaipur elderly lady outside Jagdish Temple, Udaipur

One of the first and most amazing things I noticed in India was this: As a member of such a prolific society, where we always have more than what we need, and our lives are orderly, governed by laws that are often followed, I asked myself, why do most people live in such discontent? It is like an emotional disorder that never gets addressed and even if it does, it only receives the wrong approach. Then, I travel across the world to find an incredibly chaotic environment, rooted in the most radical poverty you can imagine, to find that very few people seemed to be remotely unhappy or even stressed. Yes, the contradiction is implausible, and the contradiction was itself one of the main lessons for me.

As I daily tried to process the behavior of a system that follows deterministic laws but appeared very random and unpredictable, I chose not to resist it, but instead to flow with it all, even with the things that made absolutely no sense to me; and that was what sustained me and trained me as I travelled through India on my own. Little did I know that just living like this for two months, rigorously applying this principle, was going to be probably the best spiritual training of my life.

When I came back to the States I felt healed and transformed. My heart was light and full at the same time, my priorities reassessed, my lessons about adaptability understood, and my sense of purpose revitalized.

Here is an assortment of the most interesting photographs I took during my journey. They were beautiful children, parented or orphans, caring mothers, shop owners and beggars, street vendors, holy men, market workers and others. In my opinion, these images represent the country and its culture with dignity and colorful splendor, and as I write this, I experience a deep sense of gratitude. Indians were my greatest teachers during my travels. They all in their own way and through their own unintentional example made me realize something important about the purpose of living, and gave me a renewed sense of perspective that has enriched and simplified my life in many ways.

Rajasthani women Rajasthani women

Rajasthani boy Rajasthani boy

bell ringer at the World Peace Puja in Rishikesh bell ringer at the World Peace Puja in Rishikesh

afternoon World Peace prayers in Rishikesh afternoon World Peace prayers in Rishikesh

boy flying kite in Pushkar boy flying kite in Pushkar

leaping langoor monkey on Rajasthani rooftop leaping langoor monkey on Rajasthani rooftop

teacher and students in Rishikesh teacher and students in Rishikesh

monkey family on Lakshman Jhula Bridge over the Ganges monkey family on Lakshman Jhula Bridge over the Ganges

Indian women crossing the Ram Jhula Bridge over the Ganges Indian women crossing the Ram Jhula Bridge over the Ganges

ruins in Rajasthan ruins in Rajasthan

snake charmer snake charmer

man playing rawanhaththa, a traditional Rajasthani instrument man playing rawanhaththa, a traditional Rajasthani instrument

old women on front stoop old women on front stoop

team of children in New Delhi team of children in New Delhi

mother and child in Rishikesh mother and child in Rishikesh

Sri Raghunatha Swamy Temple in Pushkar Sri Raghunatha Swamy Temple in Pushkar

Pushkar lake at sunset Pushkar lake at sunset

Breakthroughs are pretty much defined by a sudden flash of clarity or even perhaps a momentary lapse-- not of reason but intuitive knowledge. The restrictions we once felt are dissolved and we suddenly taste a new form of understanding that fills us with a palpable sense of freedom.

I had many breakthroughs during my journey, some of them propitiated by mainly being present and observing, but most of them by my encounters with these incredibly humble and loving people, who filled my heart with immense joy and taught me some invaluable lessons on acceptance and living simply.

The Chinese character for “crisis” is comprised by two other sub-characters; one spells “danger” and one spells “opportunity.” Sure, it is treacherous traveling to India alone, a stupid idea perhaps for some; to me, our western behavior of reckless indifference to life and constant conformity is a much more dangerous way of living.

Once in a while, have the courage to dive into the “dangerous” path of doing more than just existing, and you will have the “opportunity” to experience something extraordinary that may change your life forever.

Karina at the Taj-Mahal

About the author/photographer

Karina Heneghan

Karina was born in Argentina and moved to the United States in the late ‘90s. She was once a pharmacist, but is now a passionate writer and photographer at Karina Heneghan Photographics, where she has been photographing weddings, children and families for the last 12 years. She has visited many corners of the world, and is currently working on a children’s book. Karina is a Buddhist and a yogi, a lover of physics and goats, and a seeker of beauty and truth.

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