Review: Holy Cow! An Indian Adventure by Sarah Macdonald

Holy Cow! An Indian Adventure book review

Would you move half way across the world for love?

That is exactly what Sarah Macdonald did.  She uprooted her life, moving from Australia and leaving a very successful career as a journalist behind, to join her boyfriend in New Delhi.  The contrast between the two worlds really could not have been more extreme.
Sarah’s last trip to India was during her 20’s and at this time, if you had asked her if she ever planned to return she would have instantly shot the idea down.   In fact, her exact words were: ‘Goodbye and good riddance, India, I hate you and I’m never, never, ever coming back.  

So it seems that love really does conquer everything, including a dislike for a country.

The holy cows of India

Image provided by Dan

For Sarah though she finds these differences completely overwhelming. From the chaos on the streets, to the noise, the smells and the smog, India is uncompromising and unrelenting. She is disgusted by the treatment of other human beings as well and once witnessed a beggar who was clearly hurt, being dragged from the roadside as if they were insignificant and worthless.  However, a holy cow is revered and untouchable and if treated in a similar way, it would cause uproar.

‘…it’s rich and poor, spiritual and material, cruel and kind, angry but peaceful,

ugly and beautiful and smart but stupid. It’s all the extremes…’ (page 107)

Perhaps the biggest problem however is that fact that her boyfriend, Jonathan an ABC Foreign Correspondent, is never at home.  His career is flourishing and is often asked to go and report on difficult issues around the Middle East and Asia, meaning that Sarah is left on her own with only her thoughts and concerns about the war-zones and hazardous situations Jonathan is likely to find himself in.

On top of the constant fear she has for her boyfriend, India sees Sarah suffer some of her darkest days and after nearly dying of pneumonia she begins to believe that what a psychic once predicted is now coming true – that she will face suffering and the only way to come through the other side is to be reborn. Therefore she goes on a journey to try and find herself.

To find this inner peace, she begins by travelling to a small town in the Himalayas to undertake a 10 day yoga and meditation course of extremes known as Vipassana which is believed to help self transformation of both the mind and body. During this period there is to be no talking.  Time is instead, put aside for people to meditate and reflect.  They will only receive bland food to eat, all reading and writing materials are ban and only very basic accommodation is provided.

Despite this extreme practice and opportunity for reflection, Sarah sinks even lower and after her hair starts to fall out in large clumps decides to take a friend’s advice and visit Amritsar, a holy pilgrimage site for Sikhs, in the hope that answers may be found.

Amritsar, the Sikh pilgrimage site in India

Image provided by jasleen_kaur

It is here that she meets a group of white Sikhs who under Yogi Bhajan follow kundalini  yoga techniques. Confused by the practices and the sight of white sikh women in turbans, she realises that religion and spirituality have different meanings depending on how you practice and what you take away from each teaching.  This leads to an exploration of the many different faiths and practices across India.

Through Sarah’s experiences we learn more about the many cultures and practices of this immense country. From the exuberant festivals to the quiet reflections, Sarah takes it upon herself to explore all that India has to offer in the hope that she may gain answers to the big life questions about her own existence.

‘India has many lessons to teach and many paths to travel to peace;

I’m encourages to find my own.’ (page 98)

Holy Cow takes us on a spiritual adventure across all of India. We learn more about the traditional religious practices and those more spiritual experiences that many in the West would automatically dismiss as weird and wacky. Through the eyes of Sarah Macdonald we gain a better understanding of ‘India’s smorgasbord of spirituality’.

For anyone travelling to India and hoping to understand more about the many different religious and spiritual offerings of the country, Holy Cow is an entertaining must. I wholeheartedly recommend reading this before you travel.

Have you read Holy Cow? Perhaps you have read something similar that you would like to recommend to our readers? Thinking of travelling to India but unsure what sort of accommodation to stay in? Take a look at our guide to hostels and hotels in India.

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