An Indian Shiva Temple used for prayer.

After two weeks in India, Chelsea Grant, 30, will never be the same. The colorful country, home to the second-highest population in the world, has not only expanded her world view, but has also taught her a thing or two about contradictions, resourcefulness, and necessity.

Looking down on the city of Rishikesh from the top of the Shiva Temple.

When presented with the possibility of an epic trip to India, Chelsea and her husband Aaron, newly wed, asked, ‘why not?’ Their friend Emily Schuhmann had recently completed her yoga certification in India. Emily, an art professor at Bellarmine University, had co-founded an artists’ residency program in Raghurajpur, so her experiences in the cities of Rishikesh (for yoga training) and Raghurajpur (for art) became the impetus for the trip. In essence, the door to India was opened to Chelsea and Aaron, so they decided to cross the threshold.

Travelers crossing the bridge over the Ganges River in Rishikesh by motorcycle. 

The sunset ceremony happening near the Ganges River.

A view of the yoga school on top of a hike near Rishikesh.

In January, Chelsea, Aaron, Emily, and a fourth friend embarked on the journey. The group flew into Delhi, the city that Chelsea describes as having the “most Western” feel of the three places they stayed. In Delhi, the couple made their way from the airport to their Airbnb, jet-lagged and overwhelmed by the sprawling nature of the city, on the back of a tuk-tuk (a motorized rickshaw), while dodging street dogs and snaking through stagnant traffic. Despite the densely populated, concrete jungle of the busy city, most inhabitants were dressed in skinny jeans and many spoke English. After sleeping off the jet lag, the group united and drove (Emily had hired a driver) from Delhi to Rishikesh and then onto Raghurajpur.

A street vendor selling fresh chai tea. 

A woman squeezes fresh fruit juice
to sell on the street.

A yogurt fruit pafait from one of the street food vendors. 

Man cooks up a batch of fresh samosas on the street.

Overall, Chelsea learned the true meaning of necessity. Although she and Aaron tend to live a minimalist life in Louisville, India gave them a whole new perspective on what, exactly, we need to survive. Despite the litter and poverty, people were content with the basic 

One of the bedrooms, featuring only the essentials, clothes, two cots, and blankets. 

necessities, and only splurged on things that mattered most to them — on the things that yielded the highest return of joy and greatest sense of purpose: art, religion, and color.

“I was impressed with the resourcefulness of the villagers. They used discarded coconut husks and palm leaves as textiles and recycled silk saris into canvas. There seemed to be an obsession with the West, and though they’ve repurposed traditional items, plastic didn’t make the cut. You can see the influence of the West everywhere: it’s in the trash.”

The paradox of trash and beauty, of spirituality and the everyday, is what most stuck with Chelsea on her adventure of a lifetime. It is what has inspired her to put aside her perfectionism in order to express her creativity and find the sacred throughout her typical day.

 

 

Vendors with goods and fresh fruit at the Chandanpur market near Raghurajpur.

Pooja and her daughter Rami sell art at the Raghurajpur art village.

Chelsea and Aaron attend a bride’s wedding. 

Chelsea’s Advice for India

• Bring earplugs. Chelsea says India is meant to be experienced with all five senses, but if you are a light sleeper, it is nice to block out the constant sound.
• Pack light! Clothes are sold everywhere for ridiculously low prices in open-air markets. Leave with souvenirs you can wear: scarves, saris, and tunics.
• Dress conservatively. Only in Delhi did she see women in jeans. Wear long and loose clothes that cover your body but don’t add heat.
• Don’t go if you’re claustrophobic. There will be traffic, crowds, and onlookers wanting to take your picture.
• Be prepared to sleep on a very thin mattress.
• Always indicate spice level when dining out.