I’m often told that I am incredibly lucky to have been living overseas for several years. When I mention that it was not luck or fate, it was about letting go of what society told me my life should be, that’s when changes started to happen. I spent most of my life wishing for a carefree life, and not be chained to the conventional society I was born into.
Becoming vegan was actually the first step in living the life I do now. When I had the awakening to become vegan, I had been living in India for about six months. I was already a vegetarian, but India had already changed me in so many ways. I found myself at the forefront of animal rescues and became well-known, very quickly. It was there that I realised if I was out in the world saving animals, I should take it a lot more seriously. How could I call myself a lover of animals, if I was still eating animal products?
The yoga capital of the world!
When I arrived in Rishikesh, India, I felt like I already knew the place. I instantly felt a connection to the gravity of its peacefulness, and from the moment I arrived, I took in the serenity of the Ganges. Known for its location at the foothills of the Himalayas, it is also widely popular globally for its endless amount of Yoga Teacher Training Schools. It was the reason I had also come to this ancient land of Hindu worship. I was not disappointed by my selection of yoga school, but they may have been a little disappointed in me! Within 2 weeks of being there, and less than halfway through my course, four small abandoned puppies in a box became my world, and I’d finally found my purpose in life!
Not what I came for
My doctor in Australia (actually from India) had warned me to not touch the animals when visiting her homeland, in fear of disease. Although, as an animal lover, I couldn’t resist those four puppies. I found homes for them, but it was no easy task. With thousands of dogs homeless and in poor health, I soon realized saving those pups was just a speck into the problem that India had. It was then I knew I would not return to Australia when my flight was scheduled. I wanted to stay there in that magical land with my sole intention to help as many of the vulnerable creatures that I could.
It was a huge decision to leave my western life on hold, but I never regretted doing it. I got involved with other animal lovers in the area, and I helped an NGO from Siberia set up a month-long sterilisation unit. We spayed and neutered 104 dogs and 1 cat!
Discovering my passion
Those six months were the pinnacle of discovering myself, and realizing being vegetarian was not enough. It wasn’t just the dogs I cared for, I was surrounded by cows, and monkeys also. From as long as I can remember there were always animals in my life. I have my mother to thank for that mostly, and while I was not consciously aware of animal cruelty growing up, if I did see it, I would go out of my way to save the animal. Ask my mum, she will tell you, if there was a stray dog or cat somewhere, it would find me, and home it would come!
Rishi found me!
Two days after deciding to stay on, a puppy found me, who I named Rishi. It took me over four months to find him a home, but he now lives in Israel. The locals at first took offence to me naming the dog after the spiritual birthplace, but by the time I left they were curious with questions on how I raised him to be a completely new and healthy dog. I gladly gave advice, thrilled that I had led by example.
It was not only my work with the animals that taught me about myself, but it was the life I had built there in such a short period of time. The days leading up to me finally leaving, I was asked on several occasions what I had learnt from my time in Rishikesh, and my reply was always, “To Trust!”
The power of Maa Ganga
There really is no description that is fitting enough to explain what I felt when I saw the beauty of the river for the first time. The power she holds is far greater than any experience I have encountered, and her presence is the essence of Rishikesh.
Every opportunity I could, I would find time to sit by her, and reap in the magic that rushed from the bounty of her current. I felt an existence that was far greater than the ordinary world I’d known, and it was there that I felt a true sense of inner peace. Some days she would be wild and crazy, and others she would gently flow. I was sitting on the ghats one afternoon at sunset, when I heard a very clear voice in my head, that felt as if it came from the river itself, “It’s time to go home.”
It will never be goodbye
Rishikesh encased me into a reality that I sometimes wondered whether I’d died and gone to heaven! It lived up to its Sanskrit meaning, ‘Lord of the senses’. Every moment I breathed in its crazy wonder, I contemplated if it was possible to ever leave. I looked back at that first day in Rishikesh, and I knew that I had changed from being part of a world that brought to me the true essence of yoga, but more importantly because of the animal work I was doing, I was now returning to Australia with the intention of becoming vegan.
My last hours were the beginning of what was to come.
I spent my final hours sitting once again by the beauty of the River Ganges. Like the mother she was she relayed her final message, she breathed into me, “You now have the power, go use it!” That feeling is what helped me to return to India just four months later.
Those months though back in Australia I was mentored by a friend who had been vegan for 30 years. I spent every moment I could understanding and living by the standards he was guiding me with, and luckily for me I have always loved to cook. We started filming our vegan escapades and began a cooking show, so it’s no surprise to me, that a few years later I became a vegan recipe creator and vegan consultant while living in India!
Follow Keiran’s journey as he travels as a vegan through China