How a Trip to India Transformed My Life Forever
By Jennifer Spatz, Founder & CEO of Global Family Travels
I’ve always considered myself a spiritual person, but never really appreciated how universally connected we all are in our hearts and souls until my first trip to India in 2010. It was one of those rare and wonderful once-in-a-lifetime journeys that taught me that travel can truly transform a life. I know, because this trip transformed my life.
What I experienced in Ladakh, the stunningly beautiful area of northern India, had such a profound impact on me that I have been going back every year since. One of the world’s most spiritual destinations, Ladakh is set high in the Himalayas, on the western edge of the Tibetan plateau. This remote region known for its snow-peak glaciers and crystalline lakes was once an independent Buddhist kingdom at the crossroads of the Silk Road, and it is still dotted with Buddhist monasteries and stupas. In fact, Ladakh is often called "Little Tibet," and remains one of the last places in the world where the Buddhist way of life is lived unrepressed.
In many ways, the year 2010 was the beginning of a new chapter in my life. As I prepared for my trip to India, I had an unsettling feeling, almost a premonition—but I brushed my intuition aside as just a case of nerves. I knew that if I wanted to launch Global Family Travels, I would need the courage to lead this first trip to India for a small group of travelers that included my college friend, Lisa. The highlight of the trip was to be a community service project with students at the Siddhartha School, which had been founded by Khen Rinpoche, an educator and Buddhist monk and a lifelong friend of the Dalai Lama.
I remember my sheer excitement on my first day in this sacred place. I wrote in my journal: “Ladakh has to be one of the most beautiful and peaceful places on earth that I have ever experienced.” But soon I discovered that the beauty of the place paled next to that of its inhabitants. “The Ladakhi people in general are all very compassionate with each other, always holding hands and hugging or being arm in arm together,” I wrote.
During our trip we stayed in a variety of accommodations, including a few hotels and a homestay with a local family. It was wonderful to get to know my host family members and work alongside them, helping to prepare meals and do farm chores like milking the cow. Life was simple. There was no running water and certainly no wi-fi. One night I wrote in my journal: “It is 9:30 pm and I am writing with my headlamp on and a candle in my room, as we lost power last night due to the big storm.”
There was another storm the following night. “I would have slept well, but there was a ferocious storm in the middle of the night,” I wrote. “I have never seen such a storm, with lightning all around us.”
We woke the next morning to learn that the storm had been a historic natural disaster in the region. Entire villages were flooded, homes had washed away, hundreds of people were missing, and there were many fatalities. There was a story of a young schoolteacher being carried away in the rushing waters with her infant son in her arms. Thankfully, she and her baby survived. Many of the local people were frantically looking for missing relatives, and many roads were impassable.
In the aftermath of the storm, Lisa and I ran into Khen Rinpoche. He was making the rounds, checking on his people in the village. We expressed our dismay at the loss around us and also our need to let our loved ones back home know that we were safe. He looked deep into my eyes and then pulled out a little sack from his pocket. He shared some sacred Sarita and Dharma medicine—several herbal pills that he said had been blessed by His Holiness the Dalai Lama (HHDL).
Before going to bed that night, Lisa and I meditated. We chanted the Om Mani Padme Hum, a Buddhist mantra that invokes the blessing of compassion, while holding the people who suffered from the floods in our hearts.
Later that night, I awoke to an intense, heartbreaking feeling of empathy. I could feel the suffering all around me and began to cry. The Dalai Lama’s face came to me and I knew that he, too, was praying for his people who had suffered from the flood. I then closed my eyes and prayed, making a heart-to-heart connection to each of my family members to let them know I was safe. Days later, my husband would tell me that our three-year-old daughter woke that morning and told him that “mommy visited her” in her room last night. My husband feared the worst. Since he hadn’t heard from me yet, he interpreted it as a sign that I had died and my spirit had visited our daughter.
What I believe now is that my daughter’s little soul was so connected to mine that she had felt me reaching out to her. At a deep level, I see this as proof that we are all connected and part of something larger. Whether you want to call it a collective unconscious, spirit or lifeforce—I was privileged to experience it by going beyond my boundary. Through the terrible tragedy in Ladakh, I was able to discover this beautiful field of love and connection.