One: The Root
The base chakra is concerned with survival, foundation and grounding. It is most connected with the physical body.
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I stepped off the tiny plane into my mother’s worst nightmare. Alone, at an airport in Western India, almost at the border of Pakistan. The climate was arid, vast desert. The air and heat were heavy, consuming, but I hugged my thick, fleece jumper closer because a t-shirt suddenly felt too revealing. Lots of men in turbans and women in scarves stood outside the airport. I felt so comically out of place, all I could do was remind myself to breathe. The taxi turned to the outskirts of Amritsar. The city centre is home to the Golden Temple, a magnificent Sikh pilgrimage bringing travellers and pilgrims from all over. For now we avoided the busy city and went farther into the desert. This desert rocked my sheltered ego; I had a fairly naïve perspective of the world despite (or because of) my extensive Western travels. Rows and rows of makeshift tents sat on the side of the road, dirt and trash filled every empty space. This was what American television had told me war-torn Middle Eastern villages looked like. I had only been in India two minutes, and everything I thought I knew was wrong.
They say India is about extremes. That first day, I saw two tough policemen with massive machine guns slung across their backs affectionately hold hands. Every text from a traveller in India explains the chaos, and confusion; intensity of colours, vivid smells, inescapable noise, or the confusing sight of a five-star wealthy hotel positioned next to a desperate slum the kids call home. “I’m not an exception to this rule”, I thought to myself as we drove into something more similar to the Swiss Alps. The air thinned so I could finally inhale the Himalayas. Northern India was all “coolness and colour” (as V.S. Naipaul agreed). The lush green mountains grew out of nowhere, sprouting thousands of trees. The base of these mountains was mostly inhabited by goats, cows, and grumpy monkeys. Indians like to drive dangerously, leaving only the tiniest space for a “road” on the side of the cliff. Without a ledge or rail. Oh, and it was two-way, including massive trucks. But not to worry, the lanes would switch direction without notice, and honking solved everything.
My body began to suffer sensory overload. I’m the biggest fan of solo travel; daydreaming about the next adventure always gives me butterflies. There’s nothing so romantic as boarding a plane by yourself, armed with a tiny rucksack and endless possibilities. But India was different. I was extremely alone. And worried too. For the first time in all my travelling, I read the strange sexist travel advice that floats around the internet; “wear a fake wedding ring, say your husband is meeting you somewhere, don’t use public transit, avoid eye contact with men, don’t show any skin…” And the infamous Delhi rape case had happened only months before my departure. That seemed enough to put anyone off travel. But something pulled me to India. Even through my anxiety, my crippling anticipation, I knew I had to throw myself off balance to find what I was looking for. I searched for happiness and experience, of course, but there was something else; something like enlightenment, or truth, or that thing I couldn’t even name yet. And India could show me. Even if she made me suffer a little in the process.
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By Madeleine Kelsey Levine