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Photos and story by Rana Werbin

Many young people in Israel take time after their army service (at 20 or 21) to travel to East Asia, often touching down in India. It is considered a life-changing event, spiritually and socially. I had always dreamed of going on a big journey, so I spent three months doing just this. I had studied yoga for about ten years, and wanted to visit its country of origin – and, with luck, to find ancient wisdom to inspire me in the second half of my life.

The culture, people, and spirituality made my journey as diverse an experience as you could imagine. Coming from a small country, I experienced in India the marvelous feeling of what it is like to be one of millions: not only in Mumbai but also in smaller cities along the way.

Stop 1

Mumbai, Maharashtra

Mumbai, or Bombay, as many locals still call it, was the most surprising place for me on this journey as I do not love crowded cities. But this city was so diverse and beautiful, full of hidden alleys and markets that beg you to wander around for days. I chose to stay in the chic area of Bandra West, in a room I booked through a homestay app. I loved Bandra West: its old colonial villas and Christian buildings, the modern cafes and restaurants, the fashionable people walking around, the boutiques. At the Brooke Bond Taj Mahal Tea House, an elegantly decorated place, you can spend hours writing or playing chess on their antique board. Pali Village Café is a romantic stop for European cuisine and wine. This image features one of the places I visited, the old port in the south of the city. It is surrounded by monumental Victorian buildings.

Stop 2

Pune, Maharashtra

Pictured here is a shop in the market area of Pune, where vendors were selling flowers for a religious holiday celebration at the temple. I liked the fact that the vendor used his free time to read the paper, as did many other shop keepers around the market.

I spent around 10 days in Pune, at a very nice upper middle-class family’s house in a neighborhood of colonial mansions and villas very close to the ashram where I had planned to meditate. The ashram was rich, elegant, and very stylish, but I didn’t find much spiritual enlightenment there.

The metropolis of Pune itself, though, was a wonderful mixture of East and West, modern and ancient, situated not far from Mumbai. I loved the market area especially, and the old movie theater that looks like you’ve gone back in time to the fifties, filled with bright color.

Stop 3


Goa is a huge state, with so many different beaches and options to explore.

In the north there is Arambol, which used to be a tiny fishing village; today it is a busy destination with tourist shops and cafes, bars and parties. I found its major beach, Harmal, a bit too crowded, so I made my way south, along the water, along the cows, toward the next beach, Mandrem. At sunset, I found what seemed to be the last remains of the hippie revolution: a group of people in ‘60s clothes, dancing. It turned out to be the yearly meeting of a Russian group who meet there at sunset once a year.

In Mandrem was a beautiful and posh yoga resort, Ashiyana, where I found Americans and Europeans studying yoga.

Further south is Vasco de Gama, a beautiful old city with a 16th-century church and colonial Portuguese houses. Its white sand beach was dotted with resorts and restaurants. During the season you can see turtles there.

On the next beach south, Palolem, there are often silent disco parties (with headphones).

And to beat the crowds and enjoy yoga classes and Ayurvedic massages try Patnem beach, one more bay south from there.

Stop 4

Om Beach, Gokarna, Karnataka

The nine-hour bus ride from Goa to Gokarna is an adventure in and of itself, along country roads inviting to those who enjoy escaping the beaten path. And once you arrive at the beach, you’re happy you did: Gokarna is a less-crowded beach alternative to Goa, less developed and very beautiful. For those who prefer hotels, there are some luxury resorts on beaches in the area. However I stayed at Om Beach, at Sangam’s guesthouse: a simple wood hut with a balcony and hammock set in a pretty garden, a minute away from the ocean. I spent time with a group of friends from Jerusalem I met there by chance. These things happen every once in a while in India, and it’s always surprising when you actually run into old friends from home or new acquaintances from your recent travels: you are among a billion people you don’t know at all, yet you still cross paths with familiar faces.

Stop 5

Hampi, Karnataka

I’d heard from fellow travelers that Hampi was incredibly beautiful. It was long considered a sacred site, so ancient temples and ruins are scattered about, covered in extraordinary rock and stone carvings. Also, the geography of the area is almost shocking – the whole area looks like God had built magnificent sand-castles, dripping huge rocks from the sky, one on top of the other. It was so serene and heavenly, I felt like Eve walking her garden. This is an elephant in one of the ancient temples; otherwise the temples are full of monkeys, the street replete with roaming cows.

My favorite sight was the sunset view from the top of Sunset Spot Hill, where people play music, have tea and enjoy the marvelous view. Climbing up a rocky hill to see the sunset from the monkey temple (shown in my bio photo) was also exceptional – not only because of the monkeys running around, drinking water from people’s water bottles, but for the awe-inspiring landscape stretching out as far as the eye can see.
I stayed at Rambo’s, a small simple hut homestay near the Sanapur Lake, a bit north of the center of Hampi village.

Stop 6

Cochin, Kerala

Kochi was easy to adjust to, as it is very pretty and clean, with wonderful restaurants and polished resorts and hotels. I did a homestay, settling down in the room of a comfortable, family’s house in a lovely neighborhood not far from the center.

This is a rich town with a large Christian minority. There are many churches around town, from the various colonial times, and the Portuguese influence is present through the town’s Catholic churches, like the pretty one in this photo.

Kochi also has a large Jewish community that I wanted to connect with during my time there. I visited the old Jewish quarter on Yom Kippur. The town was full of shops and history and I spent my afternoon wandering, the sound of group prayer floating in the background.

Stop 7

Varkala, Kerala

Varkala is a village on a cliff rising steeply above a beautiful sandy beach. The scenery is beautiful, and the area exudes a holiday resort-town vibe. I splurged and stayed in an air-conditioned stone bungalow near the pool and ate some of the best seafood on my entire trip.

Most notably in Varkala I met a wonderful yoga teacher with whom I studied daily, as well as his guru. We took the train to visit his ashram in Thiruvananthapuram. Meeting the guru was exactly the type of experience I was hoping to have in India.

We communicated through a translator. In the ashram, I first meditated alone, and discovered an energy that I believe was an extension of the guru. Then we meditated together, and I felt an immense energy before envisioning all the colors of the rainbow.

It was a fantastic experience. I continued my travels, but I will never forget the rainbow.

The most amazing thing about India is that the country has so many different experiences to explore without any planning at all. If you had only a week or two, I would say go to Varkala for the lovely beach on the cliff and the good yoga and the fresh wonderful seafood, and then go to Hampi for a once-in-a-lifetime visit to Heaven on Earth. But if you have more time, don’t skip Mumbai or Rishikesh, Kochi and Jibhi valley: basically just try to explore as many different areas as you can, north and south, as each area is so unique. I think one of the unavoidable feelings about visiting India is that you must make peace with missing out, as there is so much to see. So you have to let go. Just give up and miss out and go on traveling. I say don’t just go to a beach and stay there for the entire duration. Go out and walk around a marvelous place and then – even the little that you see without any planning at all would be so much, that it would take you months to digest (in extra colorful dreams).