The Namaste Counsel


Reflections on Spiritual India and Israel

Deborah Charnes at Ben Gurion Memorial, Sde Boker, Negev, IsraelI’m a wanderlust. Solo journeying is part of my DNA. I first ventured outside of the U.S., alone, at age 16.

Wherever I am, I incorporate several hours a day of yogasana, breathwork, and meditation. Plus, I try to lead classes or workshops in every destination.

The pandemic encouraged grounding and cocooning. Nonetheless, I bolted to retreat centers in Europe, Mexico, Central and South America. I delayed trekking through India and Israel until the first days of 2023. 

Like Lands

These two magnets for spiritual seekers share many common threads. Among them, sacred spaces and unparalleled hi-tech centers abound in the Indian sub-continent and the tiny state of Israel. 

Indian store in Tel Aviv, IsraelThe two holy lands are havens for vegetarians. Vegans can find a wide array of tasty, healthy options including great Indian food in Israel, and Israeli food in India.

The dress code for females in India is not unlike that of observant Arab and orthodox Jewish women. Modesty is a must. That can mean head coverings, no bare arms or legs, and gender-specific seating areas.

English is widespread in the primary tourist centers in both countries. But don’t expect to hear the Queen’s English at bus stations, shopping centers, or guest houses once you’re off the beaten path or among people from middle to lower socio-economic levels.  Furthermore, food packaging and ingredient labels, street signs, and notices may be incomprehensible if your literacy is limited to Latin script. Israel prioritizes announcements in Hebrew and Arabic (then English), while Indian postings can be in one of the country’s 22 official languages, usually in Devanagari script.

Women in saris in IndiaI’m comfortable communicating without a shared language in almost any country. 

Once, I traveled for eight hours to the “Southern Himalayas” in a tuk-tuk with a non-English-speaking driver. Caught in a roadblock in a hamlet, I asked with hand gestures, “what’s going on?” He responded with a shrug and a chai that I interpreted as, “We may be here for a long time.”

In Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, you hear beautiful English. Off the beaten path, it can be as tricky as in India.

I stopped one Arab- or Jewish-Israeli (I can’t tell the difference) security guard for directions. “Temple,” I said. He was blank-faced. “Synagogue.” No response. I drew my hands to my chest in prayer. Finally, it clicked. He motioned to the top of his head and moved his body forward and back in the Jewish davening manner. He beamed with a victory smile and smacked me with a high five before pointing me toward the temple. 

Different Lands

colorful textiles in Indian market

India is overpopulated and is among the world’s most polluted countries. Over-congested Mumbai is home to more than 200 skyscrapers (towering above 40 floors) and 4,000 high-rises. The air quality is unhealthy, and trash carpets the ground. It is sad to see sacred cows graze on plastics, cans, glass, and every imaginable landfill item. Even the holy rivers, Mother Ganges and Yamuna, in areas, are filled to the brim with human and inorganic waste. Shiva temples in India are on the edge of sarovars, man-made lakes. The clear blue rectangular or square reflecting pools bring a sense of serenity and sacredness.

On the other hand, 60 percent of Israel is desert and the nation welcomes short-term workers and permanent residents from around the world. Contrasting with India, bright yellow sun amid a cobalt blue backdrop is the norm, and recycling is part of the culture. I asked one woman how her remote and minuscule settlement keeps everything litter-free. Garbage and recycling trucks drive from far away to serve this community. But, she added, anyone who sees litter picks it up. The residents respect the environment and recognize everyone must do their part to reduce waste, water and energy consumption.

India attracts visitors with its vibrant colors, extravagant palaces, enormous temples, mouth-watering spice-filled foods, and hospitable people dressed in classical and colorful attire. Add in the constant honking and jam-packed streets, and you might get sensory overload. 

Hiking at Sde Boker, in Israel's Negev desertAn antidote to overstimulation is Shabbat in Israel. Friday afternoons through Saturday evenings, the streets are eerily quiet. Public transportation is at a standstill. Almost all businesses, including stores and restaurants, close. The day of rest is the time to connect with nature and get closer to God or any form of spirituality. Even Tel Aviv, the city that never sleeps, seems to be in slumber on the Sabbath. People leisurely congregate at the beach to enjoy the sea breeze, soft white sand, and the sound of the crashing waves.

Any day, the expansive desert is a sanctuary for equanimity and tranquility. The rock and crater formations are God’s masterpieces. I found solace in the solitude. It was just me and the curly-horned ibexes in the Negev. I roamed like the goat-looking mountain animals through hairpin trails in various tones of beige. I wound around broad flat areas riddled with 60-foot-deep fissures. Small stones marked with green or red lines kept me on track. Tapping into my mindful walking practices, I safely climbed up and down dry cliffs covered with loose stones. 

Spiritual Lands

My recent visits to India and Israel marked my third time in each country. Regardless of their similarities or differences, both are remarkable must-visits for the spiritual traveler. There’s no doubt in my mind that I will return to both these mystical treasures.Kusum Sarovar, Mathura, India

View of sea from Old Jaffa, Israel

Somehow, in the I me mine world that we live, emotional and physical well being has escaped the vast majority. The Namaste Counsel encourages simple proven practices to live a healthier and happier life. Any time. Any where. By anyone.
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