Ellen Besso’s book, An Indian Sojourn, is two parts good travel writing — the kind where the reader walks beside the author experiencing every nuance — and one part something deeper, an account of a spiritual awakening.
The story describes the journey of Besso and her husband Don Smith on their third visit to a country that clearly fascinates them.
Friendships with locals, particularly in the northern mountain area of Dharamsala, among the Tibetan refugees, have deepened over the years. It reached a new level in this recent trip, 2012, when they lived and travelled in India’s McLeod Ganj area, soaking in the atmosphere of this settlement, the residence of the Dalai Lama in exile. The couple volunteered to help improve the English of the resident Tibetans, and Besso also offered to edit refugee stories, giving her an in-depth perspective of their lives.
“It’s really changed me spiritually,” she said. “Dharamsala especially.”
A relentlessly detailed account of their journey builds a colourful picture of an enigmatic country.
Following their prolonged visit in the north, the couple travelled to a very different part of India, Rajasthan, where Besso encountered the ultra conservative aspects of Indian life and gained a true picture of the role of women in a chauvinist society. Later, at a lake in Udaipur in the same area, they made firm friends with a contemporary Indian couple. The contradictions of India — with its ancient and modern ways — make compelling reading.
The last leg of their trip was an exercise in contrasts. They took an organized slum tour in Mombasa, and yes, that is considered voyeuristic, said Besso, though the tour fee offers income for the residents. The tour guide showed them only what they wanted tourists to see — a community that somehow thrives amid poverty. A single statistic gives a true impression: within the slum there is one toilet for every 1,400 people. From there, the couple journeyed to the beaches of Goa, for a resort vacation suited to Western visitors.
Besso, who lives in Gibsons, is a life coach, counsellor and mentor for women in mid-life.
Since her return she has been involved with the Tibetan resettlement project, whereby the Canadian government has extended an invitation to refugees to settle in Canada. A group on the Sunshine Coast, Spirit Dance Centre, hopes to bring several Tibetan families here this year. The project has been spurred on by accounts of Buddhist monks and nuns setting themselves on fire as a form of protest in their continuing fight for freedom from a Chinese regime.
An Indian Sojourn includes photos by Smith and was put together with cover design and formatting by Suzanne Doyle-Ingram and editing by Jill Crossland.
Besso will be selling her book and meeting the public at the independent authors’ table at the Festival of the Written Arts in Sechelt this weekend. For information on India and the Tibetan resettlement project, visit facebook.com/AuthorEllenBesso or contact her at email@example.com. The book is also available at some Coast locations including Gypsy Cove in Gibsons, Talewind Books in Sechelt and EarthFair Store in Madeira Park.