Sarah Robarts, Dara Toulch, and Kendal Hurley traveled to Bodh Gaya to celebrate an anniversary and meet His Holiness.
In late 2019, we were invited on the trip of a lifetime – to visit His Holiness The Dalai Lama in Bodh Gaya, India for a private audience. We had been working with his Personal Emissary for Peace, based in the U.S., Lama Tenzin, now our dear friend, and received this very special invitation slated for January 2020.
Coincidentally, the three of us had simultaneously been thinking of ways to celebrate the 20th anniversary of Ballantines PR, the company Sarah founded 20 years ago and that Dara and Kendal have been partners at for years. We decided the trip to India would be the perfect way to celebrate years of hard work…little did we know it would have such an impact on all of us!
In mid-January 2020, our trip began in Bodh Gaya. After a few very long flights, and one adrenaline-filled taxi ride (read: there are no lanes on the roads in Bodh Gaya and cows cross without warning) to the hotel, we decided to explore the town. It’s common to have sensory overload in many towns and cities in India, but this remote village was surrounded by a respectful and reverent calm. On our first day, we took tuk tuks to the marketplace and shopped for jewelry and scarves and stones.
We made our way onto the grounds of the Mahabodhi Temple, a UNESCO World Heritage Site that dates back to 7th century CE, and that was when time stopped. All throughout were thousands of marigolds and even more monks from all over the world on a pilgrimage. They chanted and meditated and fell repeatedly in prostration. It was so incredibly devotional. We walked the property three times for good merit and had our scarves blessed by the great golden Buddha on the diamond throne.
The people in Bodh Gaya truly left an impression on us…they had so little, but found so much happiness in everyday life and the kindness shown to us was unbelievable. It is considered good luck in India to take a selfie with a Westerner so we had flocks of Indian teenagers and adults asking for selfies or snapping pictures with us in the background. At one point, a police officer on a motorcycle stopped us and we were nervous that we had done something wrong, but he only wanted a selfie with our group!
The second day, we were ushered past the gates of the Tibetan Monastery and into a private room where we met with His Holiness, the 14th Dalai Lama. We traveled to India with a group of nine women, and we all read his latest book and were able to participate in a discussion with His Holiness. His warmth and wisdom far surpassed our expectations and after over an hour spent together – full of laughter, crying, and everything in between – we left feeling so inspired, hopeful, and empowered to change not only our personal daily mindset, but to help others around the world in whatever way possible.
“My two biggest takeaways were the way he looked deep into your eyes with such love, insight and time. The second was to do with eyes too, actually, about the urgent need for humanity to see each other through the lens of unity for all its people.” Sarah Robarts said.
How apt a lesson this is for us all now as we face this global pandemic. We all felt so moved by the experience and place and surely the energy in the room and the heightened vibration was a result of His Holiness meditating for four hours a day since he was a young child. We didn’t want to leave that extraordinary place.
Next up was Delhi. We stayed at the beautiful JW Marriott in Delhi and experienced a full day of sightseeing in the city. Our group used Mukul Sharma at Driver India Private Tours, who was the best tour guide we could have asked for. We experienced the magnificence of the presidential palace and the piety of the Baha’i Lotus Temple. In between, we stopped at the Gurudwara Bangla Sahib temple, where the Sikh’s feed 10,000 people, 3 meals a day. We toured the kitchen area and helped make naan for the poor and the hungry waiting outside. In Old Delhi, we took rickshaw rides through narrow, ancient streets and wandered through the spice market. Towards the end of the day, we started on our road trip to Agra.
After a long drive, we arrived that night at the Oberoi Hotel in Agra, an iconic hotel near the Taj Mahal. It is the epitome of sophistication and Indian hospitality. At sunrise the next morning, we walked to the Taj Mahal and our group toured the Mughal emperor’s memorial to his beloved wife. It was even more stunning and incredible in person…. a definite bucket list occasion. Afterwards, we visited a tiny studio in the heart of Agra, where descendants of the original stonemasons who built the Taj Mahal create furniture, statues, and stoneware, using the same artistic technique as their ancestors. This form of craftsmanship has been passed down from generation to generation.
We returned to Delhi for some relaxing spa treatments at the JW Marriott on-site spa and then headed to the airport for our trip home to LA! It was quick trip, but we truly made the most of it and experienced things we never dreamed of. The three of us have used the life-long lessons learned on this trip in our everyday lives since we returned to the States, and we never miss the opportunity to share our story of meeting His Holiness The Dalai Lama or to recommend that someone visit India. It will change your life.