[Travel Novel] Buddha and Me – The Call of the Journey

The summer sun blazed relentlessly, casting its intense radiance upon the land. Even before May drew to a close, the scorching heat began to wrap itself around the earth, refusing to dissipate in the wind’s embrace.

Under the sweltering heat, every living creature seemed to struggle, gasping for breath, as if caught in a never-ending race against time. Memories of the refreshing spring days were swiftly overshadowed by the relentless blaze that engulfed the world.

In the midst of June, as the threshold of autumn beckoned on the far side of the globe, I received a message that would change the course of my life: “Your journey to India awaits.”

There was an inherent mystique in the name itself—India—a place that had captivated my imagination for so long. It whispered promises of enlightenment, spiritual awakening, and profound self-discovery. Although the prospect of embarking on this adventure excited me, doubts crept into my mind like shadows creeping across a desolate landscape. Could I endure such a harsh climate? Could I truly experience the essence of India under such scorching temperatures?

Pushing aside my momentary hesitation, I mustered my resolve and replied, “Very well. When shall we depart?” The response came swiftly, “The itinerary will commence in early July.”

The kind-hearted advice I received informed me that the average temperature would reach 38 degrees, with scorching highs of 42-43 degrees. Instead of deterrence, an odd exhilaration took root in my heart. It was as if the promise of this challenging journey stirred a peculiar thrill within me, reminding me of the depths of my own longing and the vulnerability of my spirit.

“Should anyone wish to join me, please speak up. I will cover the expenses, minimizing the financial burden to just the round-trip airfare.”

While the idea of embarking on a solitary expedition often appealed to me, this particular journey held a unique significance. It entwined a pilgrimage to sacred Buddhist sites with a cultural exploration of the enigmatic Indian landscape. Thus, I felt compelled to seek companionship for this extraordinary venture.

Fate seemed to conspire in my favor, for I already had two potential fellow travelers in mind. A monk, whose serene presence had touched the depths of my soul, and a fellow believer with whom I shared a profound spiritual connection at the temple. Together, we resolved to set forth on this unforgettable expedition, our hearts intertwined with hope, uncertainty, and a shared yearning for transformation.

The preparations for our journey commenced in customary fashion—validating passports, securing airline tickets, and ensuring the presence of a trusty credit card. A modest sum of emergency funds found their place amidst my belongings. A day before our departure, I diligently gathered the essentials, performing the ritual of packing my bag akin to a well-practiced routine.

As much as I yearned to indulge in the convenience of instant meals—astonishingly advanced in their development—I firmly resisted the temptation. To embark on a journey meant to immerse oneself in a foreign culture, one must willingly embrace the local cuisine, savoring it joyfully, even if it did not align with familiar tastes. How else could I truly experience the vibrant tapestry of Indian culture?

If I were to encounter pungent spices or unfamiliar condiments, I resolved to approach each meal with gratitude. Rather than resisting or recoiling from the flavors, I sought to appreciate the rich history and deep-rooted traditions imbued within every dish. Traveling with preconceived notions about food would be akin to donning a protective suit, shielding myself from the very essence of exploration.

With my bag neatly packed, containing only the bare essentials—my meager belongings and camera—I stood on the precipice of the unknown. As I completed the departure formalities and settled into my seat, neatly arranged by the gate, a sudden surge of emotions flooded my being. Doubts and uncertainties collided with an overwhelming sense of anticipation. What lay beyond the horizon? What connections and destinies awaited me in the land of ancient traditions and timeless wisdom?

My heart ached with a mixture of excitement and trepidation, much like the delicate dance of a pendulum, forever oscillating between extremes. Little did I know that this journey, beyond the realm of a mere physical pilgrimage, would unravel the very essence of my being.

Jungchan Lee