Faraway Fascination Builds a Foundation for Life
Sunday, August 12, 2001
BY SUSAN SPANO
LOS ANGELES TIMES
India Supera, founder of Feathered Pipe Ranch, a yoga retreat center in
western Montana, traveled far to find her direction in life. In 1967, when
she was just 21, she set out on the five-year journey and spiritual quest
that climaxed at an ashram near Bangalore, India. There she met a woman
named Jerry Duncan. When Duncan died in 1972, she left the ranch to India.
India was named by her father, an artist and a student of Indian
philosophy. She grew up in Downey, Calif., but she was a flower child
before the ^A'60s ever began. From age 7, she yearned to see the
subcontinent and rummaged through used bookshops in downtown Los Angeles
for novels about India and copies of old National Geographic magazines with
pictures of fabled places such as Rajasthan, Ellora and Dehra Dun.
For her, the road to India included detours: running away to Mexico when
she was 17, living in San Francisco at the height of the hippie era,
traveling to Europe with a dog called Roachie and finally setting off on an
overland trip to the subcontinent through Europe, the Middle East and
Central Asia, with little more than $200. She hitchhiked, almost died of
hepatitis in Pakistan, threw away her passport in northern India (because
she wanted to be a citizen of the world, she laughingly explains), washed
her clothes in rivers and slept under trees with beggars and lepers.
Her adventures in India were dangerous then and seem even more so now. She
says she wouldn't want her children, Crystal, 24, Josh, 19, and Winter, 17,
to travel the way she did. Still, she returns to India every other year and
owns land in the holy city of Varanasi on the Ganges River. She was at home
in Montana when I recently had a long chat with her.
Q: I spent a month in India four years ago and came home shaken by the
poverty. Does it seem a hard place to travel to you?
A: Part of the hardness of India now is the crowds. It was a gentler
country when I traveled there. There were 500 million people; now there's a
billion. I would say that something's wrong if a person goes to India and
isn't shaken because of the cultural difference. For me there was always a
level of culture shock, no matter how many layers I peeled away. It is
beyond anything we've been taught, how little people can have and still be
Q: Didn't you travel with your sister Vijaya part of the time?
A: We ran into each other in Almora, a beautiful and then remote place
in northern India where there were tigers and cobras. That was a
miracle. She'd traveled through Asia to get there, but I didn't know it. I
went to the river to brush my teeth and saw her.
Q: At one point during your spiritual searching in India you vowed to give
away everything you had at the end of each day. How did you travel with no
A: I just had faith, and it wasn't always pure. Sometimes friends or my
sister would pay my way. You will faint, but my sister and I used to sleep
on the pavement at the old train station in Delhi. We would wander around
and meet people who'd take us home because we were novelties. They would
write letters about us to their friends in other places, asking them to
take us in when we arrived. At that time, people were nice, and the hippie
movement interested them.
Q: Weren't you hassled by men?
A: I was thin and androgynous-looking and wore Indian clothes. I
learned how to call men who bothered me "sons of dogs." And I always felt
safe in the crowd in India.
Q: You lived for 2 years at the ashram of the holy man Sri Sathya Sai
Baba. What was that like?
A: I worked in the hospital there and learned natural healing from Sai
Baba. The ashram has gotten fancy now, but 30 years ago, we slept outside
or on the roof and cooked our own food. We did yoga and meditated. It was
Q: In all that time in India, did you ever do any sightseeing?
A: I saw the Taj Mahal, the caves at Ellora, the temples at Khajuraho.
I lived for quite a few months on a houseboat in Varanasi. But I visited
these places as a religious seeker. At the time, there must have been 30 or
40 of us who wandered around India like that.
My daughter Crystal travels by herself a lot, meeting people and staying
with them. In some small countries where there's no TV, the source of so
many bad ideas, you can still travel the way I did. But I don't know if I
could do it again.
Q: What did you get from your travels?
A: They taught me not to be afraid and gave me my work here at the
ranch. I want to live my life in such a way that, when I die, any religion
would have me. That's my motto in the end.
The road to India included detours: running away to Mexico when she was 17,
living in San Francisco at the height of the hippie era, traveling to
Europe with a dog called Roachie and finally setting off on an overland
trip to the subcontinent through Europe, the Middle East and Central Asia,
with little more than $200.
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