It is not a conventional love story, but the tale of an unusual meeting that had the power to change my life completely.
In the spring of 2008, I was at the end of an epic overland trip through the Himalayas. I had left my hometown of Leamington Spa in England eight months previously for a train journey that had taken me through many different countries, including Russia, Mongolia, Tibet and Nepal. After reading a newspaper article about a tribe called the Kalash who lived in the Hindu Kush Mountains, I had set out to Pakistan to celebrate the Winter Solstice festival with them. With a great passion for travel and spirituality, I’d been fascinated to learn about this colorful tribe who lived a life filled with ancient Gods, temples, fire rituals and feasts. I wanted to meet them and at the same time fulfill my life’s dream: to travel the world.
This was my first big trip. I’d always wanted to travel, ever since I was a little girl. I dreamt about adventures in strange lands, treasures that were to be uncovered and destinies that had to be fulfilled. But, apart from short trips, my job as a manager in the music business had not allowed me to leave everything behind and follow the wind. It took a severe burn-out at the age of twenty-seven and a breakdown for me to trade workaholism and revelry in for a degree in psychology and a calmer way of life. I started to practice yoga and meditate and slowly discarded
layers of an old personality that did not fit me any longer.
When I turned thirty-five, I decided that the time to live my dream of traveling had finally come. I sold my house, surrendered my remaining work responsibilities and gave away most of my possessions to follow the call of my soul. And not prone to doing things in halves, I chose to travel overland to fully experience the countries I was about to cross. I wanted to appreciate the journey as well as the destination, and I knew that this trip would become the adventure of a lifetime.
Before I left, I set several intentions for my trip. One of my quests was to get fully aligned with my soul’s purpose. I wasn’t entirely sure what exactly my soul purpose, my mission in life, was, but I wanted it to reveal itself to me. I trusted that the journey would lead me to where I needed to be and show me what I came to this planet to do – something I had inklings about but had yet to discover fully.
My other major intention had to do with love and the ancient spiritual path of Tantra that I had recently become interested in.
Tantra is a passionate path. It is a route to enlightenment and bliss that does not require abstinence from worldly pleasures: its practices work with the human passions, instead of against them. And in stark contrast to most religions, in Tantra sexual union is not seen as impure but believed to have the potential to be a prayer and a meditation.
These ideas resonated strongly with me, the niece of a Catholic priest; tired of dogma, I’d given up religion two decades earlier to concentrate on a more life-affirming, female-friendly spirituality. That sex could and was indeed revered as sacred confirmed something I’d felt deeply in my bones for a long time.
Although I had never experienced lovemaking in this conscious way, I’d had glimpses, and knew it to be true. I just didn’t know how to find it.
I’d explored some Western Tantra courses in the past, but found them to completely miss the point by focusing primarily on erotic techniques between strangers – something that didn’t seem to have much to do with spirituality or love. So I hoped that I might find a spiritual teach
er on my travels through the Himalayas, where Tantra originated. Somebody who could lead me more deeply onto ‘the path’ and show me what Tantra, this union of opposites, actually meant in real terms.
Deep down, I was of course hoping to meet a man; somebody who lived and breathed Tantra and would share his knowledge with me. I wanted to meet the person who could teach me about love, about opening my heart, and about the transcendental lovemaking that could connect us with the Divine. I was craving this connection more than anything else, and more than that, I was craving transformation.
Ultimately, I was on a quest to meet my soul mate. With a string of failed relationships behind me, I felt that I hadn’t yet met my match. For one reason or another, I’d walked out of every single relationship in my life, but still believed in meeting ‘The One’ – and for me that meant a spiritual man who would see and love me as I was, without wanting to change me or curb my freedom.
And so I wandered through the Himalayas in Tibet, Nepal and Pakistan, but my tantric soul mate didn’t materialize. Apart from a brief fling with a Pakistani mountaineer in the Hindu Kush and an even briefer encounter with a Mongolian horseman, nothing amorous occurred. And except for some Tibetan Buddhist nuns who did not speak English and a Nepalese shaman who chain-smoked Marlboro, I didn’t even come close to meeting anyone who knew much about Tantra.
Not wanting to go home empty-handed, I decided to cross the border to India and go to Rishikesh, a small town in the Himalayan foothills. Rishikesh, one of the most sacred pilgrimage sites for Hindus, has the reputation of being the world’s yoga capital. Maybe I could find my tantric soul mate here, I thought. And so, on the banks of the Ganga, I spent my time studying yoga and immersing myself in Hindu spirituality, meditation and rituals. I even moved into a yoga ashram. But, although I met some amazing people and had a wonderful time, the man of my dreams didn’t appear. I had been so sure that I would meet him before I started my journey, but now started to wonder whether he existed at all.
After four months in India, I decided that enough was enough. The soul mate had had ample time to show up. I was tired and wanted to go home. I’d had enough amazing experiences to last me for a lifetime, and maybe my intuition about the tantric man had all been an illusion. So, without much further ado, I booked my ticket back to Europe.
To leave India on a high, I set out on one last adventure. Together with my French-Canadian friend MJ, short for Marie-Josée, I left for a camping trip to the Himalayas. We wanted to immerse ourselves in glorious mountain landscapes, visit ancient temples, meet mystical sadhus and have a magical time before going home with a treasure chest full of great experiences.
This book is the story of ‘what happened then’, in those final weeks after I had resolved to go home.
Strangely, on the first evening after my departure from Rishikesh and under unlikely circumstances, I met the man I had been waiting for all my life.
He was the man I had dreamt of and who in many ways exceeded my wildest expectations. My match. What I hadn’t bargained for was that he was a sannyasi, a celibate Hindu monk who lived in an austere ashram in the remote Himalayas. This is the story of our meeting.
Meeting Shiva - Falling and Rising in Love in the Indian Himalayas by Tiziana Stupia, published by Changemakers Books August 2013. Paperback: 978-1-78099-916-6 | $20.95 | £11.99
eBook: 978-1-78099-915-9 | $9.99 | £6.99
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