This is a story of transcendence, the culminating point in my India pilgrimage. I had sought active goddess worship and structured my travels according to themes of beginnings, manifestation, and transcendence. I had begun in the northeast, with the spiritual source of the sacred Ganges River, and later discovered youthful, dynamic goddess experiences in the far south. The center of my travels focused on the central plains, in Delhi and Varanasi, and the matured, manifesting Mother goddess. The trailing part of my journey happened in the east, in Kolkata (formerly Calcutta), and I saw it as an echo of the Crone goddess archetype: the wise woman guarding and guiding endings and transitions.
The Ganges flows into the Bay of Bengal, and onward to the ocean, wide and slow after its journey across northern India — Sagardwip, eighty miles south of Kolkata, is a designated location for the transition of this sacred river. My travels felt incomplete without making an effort to reach this place and find some closure to the complex, intense experiences of my travels and spiritual experiences. The determination became a growing internal drive, a singular purpose wrapped in utter confidence in possibility and protection. My choices and actions may not have been wise or practical, but this is the truth of what happened on that short, powerful journey.
I packed up all of my things and set out by foot for the Sealdah train station in Kolkata, about two miles away from my hostel, with the directions on a slip of paper. Walking feels more immediate, more grounded. Perhaps there are simpler routes to Sagardwip, but I’ve always preferred local transportation, being more open to the air and immersed in the moment. I wait for the local train to Diamond Harbor, the farthest I can get by rail, and find the Ladies Only compartment. The train begins to roll out of the station, and with it, a surge of excitement, expectation. We haven’t gone far before we pull into the next station and a wall of women press into the compartment. I cling to the wall, determined to hold a spot with a view. The women arrange themselves as the train moves again, settling into a dense formation, comfortably folded into each other. We surge and settle at every stop. I am surrounded by smiles and questions. Immersed in this collective, female space, I feel safe and free. The countryside rattles by, and, more and more, I am moving into a focused, relaxed, confident state of mind. I trust completely in the world. I am entirely focused on bringing this journey to a close under the eye of the Crone.
Women come and go, trickling out into the villages we pass, until there are only a dozen or so in our compartment, and darkness has officially arrived. We cluster together on the benches, and I answer more questions. I know that my white body grants me privileges and positive attention – especially once a girl offers to host me for the night in her village. She is sweet and energetic, works at an office in Kolkata, perhaps about 19 or 20. I accept, completely embracing this expansive state of mind, confident that I will be safe. The train comes to the end of the line in Diamond Harbor: I follow this girl through the town, to where we catch a bus and head seven kilometers out into the darkness, walking down dirt paths through darkened fields and trees. To her house, where I meet her mother and sister, share stories, and climb into bed and sleep, waking up to a morning of meeting the village residents and being set back on my path to Sagardwip.
First task: getting to Harwood Point, where I can catch a boat to Sagar Island. My host puts me on a local bus heading that direction. I don’t fully understand what is going on, but my determination remains. Twenty minutes or so later, the bus pauses at the intersection of two dirt roads. I am told that this is my stop. The driver points to a few men sitting astride bicycles attached to wooden platforms – a half-wagon. I exit, and the men grin and quote an exorbitant price.
“Which way is Harwood Point?” They gesture. I begin to walk. The determination is welling up in my chest, and I am entirely focused. Somehow, I will make it. And I will go on my own terms. They laugh, then go silent as I don’t turn back. Distance doesn’t matter anymore. I am beyond, enthralled in a mundane, otherworldly experience: just transportation, just moving from one place to another, but something else entirely. Something alongside and beyond the practical and material.
“Harwood Point?” is a new compass as I confirm my direction with people along the way. Eventually, a motorbike-wooden-platform collects me, and the seven or so people riding on it squeeze to make space. Then to the pier, and onto a boat that sags with the crowd jumping aboard, tourists and locals and pilgrims and merchants. We muddle off across the Ganges, slow and wide and full of experiences. I stare into her muddy waters and across the wide expanse, remembering everything that has happened. I pray for peace and understanding.
We dock, unloading people and packages, and I pass the men hawking taxi rides and find the local bus that will take me to the southern tip of the island, to the official temple location. I am secure in my compass method, repeating the name of the next step until I can find direction.
Down the length of the island, stopping to unload and take on more people, we eventually reach the final stop. A singular purpose has filled my mind since I left Kolkata: reach the Ganges, reach the ending. I am standing in a parking lot with a building or two. I see a sign for a temple, and follow it.
Tired, thirsty, a little confused, I follow the winding road spotted with houses until I see what must be the temple. I pass it, and the wide, mostly empty land around it, and see that the beach is not much farther. I don’t stop, making my way past the scattered buildings, down to the sand, away from the people, feeling my sandals pressing into the shifting beach as the waters grow before me. This is where the Ganges meets the Bay of Bengal. This is where this small journey ends, and, with it, the entire journey of my spiritual purpose in India. I have not stopped moving, continuing straight to the water’s edge, directly from the bus, from the boat, from the motorcycle-wagon, from more buses and trains and planes and my past to my future. Directly into the water, sandals on, backpack on. And release a deep breath I did not know I was holding.
It was beautiful. It was complete.