In the days of digital nomads, geo-tagging and endless sources of technological communication, it’s sometimes hard to believe how people traveled without knowing anything about the places they were visiting. With no blog posts or reviews to read, and no way to get in touch with friends in real-time (unless you were right there next to one another), people hitched rides, slept in bus terminals and leaned on poor translation and big hearted-strangers for their next moves.
These are details that make up the stories of today’s guest VJ Supera, a wild woman of adventure, laughter and endless curiosity. VJ is the sister of Feathered Pipe Foundation founder, India Supera, and she has been traveling to the most remote corners of the world for nearly 55 years. She rarely—if ever—has taken the comfortable route. Now, at 77 years old, she’s still making her rounds, though trips have taken a different meaning than they did in the days of twenty-something wanderlust.
I got to sit down with VJ in her house in Helena, Montana, where we shared a pot of chai tea in her living room lined with art and travel books. We yuck it up, as she would say, about her upbringing with bohemian parents, the role of creativity and spirituality in her life, experimentation with LSD and other drugs in the hippie era, and stories of her travels to far-off lands, dressing like a man and hitchhiking through Tibet on cargo jeeps, stumbling into a yak drive on a caravan mission to Tajikistan, and living under a tree outside of Guru Sai Baba’s ashram in India.
If you’ve been to the Ranch, you may have had the pleasure of meeting her at one of VJ’s Bizarre Bizarre’s, where she spreads out on the lawn and sells ancient beads, rugs, fabrics, and other one-of-a-kind items from the Middle East and Central Asia. She’s a summer staple at the Feathered Pipe Ranch, and has become a very important person in my life over the years, always reminding me to take chances, find adventure and have fun. If I have half as much adventure as she has had, I’d consider this a life well-lived.
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VJ Supera 00:00
I think when I first started traveling, I was scared. I didn’t have that much money. I left to Hawaii with a one way ticket, 60 hits of acid and a lid of grass, and $200. Just the basics—and I was gone five years!
Andy Vantrease 00:35
Welcome to The Dandelion Effect Podcast, a space for organic conversation about the magic of living a connected life. Just like the natural world around us, we are all linked through an intricate web, a never-ending ripple that spans across the globe. Here, we explore the ideas that our guests carry through the world, remember who and what inspired them along the way, and uncover the seeds that helped them blossom into their unique version of this human experience. This podcast is a production of the Feathered Pipe Foundation, whose mission is to help people find their direction through access to programs and experiences that support healing, education, community and empowerment.
In the days of digital nomads, geo-tagging and endless sources of technological communication, it’s sometimes hard to believe how people traveled without knowing anything about the places they were visiting. With no blog posts or reviews to read, and no way to get in touch with friends in real-time (unless you were right there next to one another) they hitched rides, slept in bus terminals and leaned on poor translation and big-hearted strangers for their next moves.
These are details that make up the stories of today’s guest VJ Supera, a wild woman of adventure, laughter and endless curiosity. VJ is the sister of Feathered Pipe Foundation founder, India Supera, and she has been traveling to the most remote corners of the world for nearly 55 years. She rarely—if ever—takes the comfortable route. Now, at 77 years old, she’s still making her rounds, though trips have taken a different meaning than they did in the days of twenty-something wanderlust. I got to sit down with VJ in her house in Helena, Montana, where we shared a pot of chai tea in her living room lined with art and travel books.
We yuck it up, as she would say, about her upbringing with bohemian parents, the role of creativity and spirituality in her life, experimentation with LSD and other drugs in the hippie era, and stories of her travels to far-off lands, dressing like a man and hitchhiking through Tibet on cargo jeeps, stumbling into a yak drive on a caravan mission to Turkmenistan, living under a tree outside of Guru Sai Baba’s ashram in India. If you’ve been to the Ranch, you may have had the pleasure of meeting her at one of VJ’s Bizarre Bizarres, where she spreads out on the lawn and sells ancient beads, rugs, fabrics, and other one-of-a-kind items from the Middle East and Central Asia.
She’s a summer staple at the Feathered Pipe Ranch, and has become a very important person in my life over the years, always reminding me to take chances, find adventure and have fun. If I have half as much adventure as she has had, I’d consider this a life well-lived. I’m Andy Vantrease, and you’re listening to the Dandelion Effect Podcast, with today’s special guest, VJ Supera.
I think the life that you’ve led is so fascinating because it’s been very non-traditional in a lot of ways, or what people would consider to be non-traditional. Compared to the era that I grew up in, it was very different for you. Growing up and coming from really interesting parents.
VJ Supera 03:52
Right, a very humble background, poor. Maybe we can start with my parents because they were the interesting ones.
Yeah, so tell me about your parents. I know that your dad, Jules, was an artist.
He was a potter. After the war, he had a GI Bill and he went to Alfred University. And I think he got a degree from there. Then I was born in upstate New York. My mother and father met on a blind date. She was supposed to be with his brother, but she ended up with him. They got married, and my dad had a junkyard back in the day. That’s what he had. And my mother was a city girl and she grew up in Brooklyn, it must’ve been, or the Bronx. She was a private detective before she met my dad. When me and my sister were growing up, we found that so fascinating. We’d say, “Teach us to dust for fingerprints. Tell us about the time you were on stakeout with Howard and someone threw a bottle of acid on you. And tell us this story and tell us that story.” My parents were educated because we grew up in those houses they built after the war, you know those neighborhoods. I think my parents were the only ones in that whole neighborhood that had graduated from high school even. But we had lots of friends there. We grew up relatively easy in Southern California. Back then it was it was wide open and easy. Even as a teenager, you could go anywhere and do everything you wanted. There were just no rules back then, or dangers that we knew of.
Andy Vantrease 04:13
And what years was this?
VJ Supera 05:26
I was born in ’44, so I was growing up in the 50s. I went to high school from ’60 to ’62. Those were the times that we ran around California, Hollywood, and the beaches and did whatever we wanted.
Andy Vantrease 05:42
And what was it that you wanted to do? What did you do with your friends?
VJ Supera 05:46
We liked to cruise around mostly. Cars were the best thing, hot cars. If a boy had a convertible or some nice car that was all fixed up, you would drive around to the drive ins and go to the beach. You’d go to Hollywood, or you’d just do a lot of things. You could do anything you wanted. And I think it was safe.
Andy Vantrease 06:05
Were you and India born in New York?
VJ Supera 06:08
We were both born in upstate New York. I was probably about two or three when my parents trekked out to California because I was always sick in the weather. They had an old ’32 Buick, and we pulled a trailer of all my dad’s art supplies and pottery supplies, and we crossed America and ended up in south Laguna Beach. We stayed there until we found another house in Downey. After that, we found another house that my parents bought for $8,000 because the GI Bill type thing. Then I grew up there from the 50s to ’62.
Andy Vantrease 06:50
What I know about the 60s, just what was happening politically, what was happening in the collective consciousness—that decade started a lot of things.
VJ Supera 07:00
That was way after I graduated from high school because I graduated in ’62. And then I got married right after high school. By the time I got divorced three years later, the world was changing, but in ’62 it was still calm and quiet. There wasn’t any of the hippie stuff, and there wasn’t any of the war protesting. I think I remember it mostly in ’67. After we got divorced, that’s when I went up to Lake Tahoe to get a job as a cocktail waitress or something. But then on the way back, my mother got killed in a car accident when her and my dad were driving back. That changed everything for us. My sister and I came back to California then, and we stayed with my dad for a while. She was getting ready to go to Asia, but I wasn’t ready for that yet. So, I bought a ticket to Hawaii and lived in the islands for about a year, which was very primitive then and a lot of fun. That’s probably when I started being a little bit of a hippie in California, trying the drugs and things. But once I went to Hawaii, I really did a lot of drugs.
Andy Vantrease 08:07
And there were other travelers there doing the same thing?
VJ Supera 08:09
Yeah, other hippies there. We all lived jungly and communal and things like that.
Andy Vantrease 08:14
Obviously losing your mom is a huge deal. How did losing your mom in your early 20s unfold and continue to shape you?
VJ Supera 08:23
I think it took a long time because it was an accident. And when someone dies in an accident, you always expect them to walk through the door again. I think it took many years before I was balanced again. I don’t think I was that happy.
Andy Vantrease 08:37
Yeah, of course. India had told me that you all grew up culturally Jewish, but that your dad was really into different philosophies, and Hinduism, and exploratory bohemian spiritual practice. Did it play any role in your younger life?
VJ Supera 08:55
Yeah, I think so. Because my family was so bohemian, and our house was so jungly with furniture that wouldn’t break or things like that. All the kids wanted to be at our house because we could do anything we wanted over there. It was very free. My dad was interested in a lot of things. He spoke several languages. He was kind of a genius, because he knew clay bodies and glazes. I don’t know if I ever told you, those were my first toys growing up—old cones that have melted over clay and things like that. I started at a young age knowing about what he did.
Andy Vantrease 09:30
Did you pick up on any values or understanding? What do you remember them instilling in you as far as how to live well or how to be a good person?
VJ Supera 09:42
They were very straightforward. They weren’t devious people. They were very honorable people. They taught us that, and they taught us to do what we want and have self-confidence. They really gave us a lot of self-confidence. We were pretty free-range back in the day.
Andy Vantrease 10:00
Before free range was talking about chickens and organics—free range humans! Your dad is an artist, and just sitting in your living room, you get the feeling that this is also a house of an artist. You’re a jewelry maker and a lot of the other things that you do. What role did art and creativity play?
VJ Supera 10:22
It played a lot. Because he threw on the potter’s wheel, that kind of old kick wheel, and he taught us how to do that. He knew all kinds of art. He could draw, he could paint, but ceramics was his forte. His garage was always so interesting, because he made his own equipment, and it was all weird out there with jars of chemicals and glazes. It was very interesting. It was great. And then my mom worked, and my dad stayed home when we were younger to take care of us because he was making pottery. My mom had the jobs mostly, until maybe the 60s.
Andy Vantrease 11:01
That was pretty rare.
VJ Supera 11:02
Yeah, it was rare. But since she was a working girl in New York, I don’t think she found it rare at all. I think she found that was her habit. They were very different. She was city and he was country.
Andy Vantrease 11:15
Did you guys stay close to your dad after your mom passed?
VJ Supera 11:18
He met a new woman where he was working, and her name was Susie. She was about eight years older than me, but she was really nice. She had three young kids of her own, and my dad helped raise them. We liked her a lot, because she really helped my dad and loosened him up with life. They had a real good time together. They used to travel a lot and do things. We were still close even though we’d come and go. I took him to India once to meet Sai Baba, and Susie came. They were up for travel.
Andy Vantrease 11:52
Let’s get into the travel side of things. When was the summer of love—’69? You were saying things started to ramp up as far as the hippie era in ’67. What sparked your interest in wanting to go to Hawaii?
VJ Supera 11:58
I think the start of taking drugs helped to open things up. I went and lived there, and I used to travel, just buy one-way tickets. I’d have $100 or $200 to my name and try to set up a life. Somehow you could always do that back then!
Andy Vantrease 12:29
I know, I’m jealous.
VJ Supera 12:30
It was just kind of a natural thing. But I did love the islands. I lived on the North Shore in Waikiki, just took more drugs and met more friends. Everyone was traveling then, and my sister was already overseas. I then decided that I’d go there, and eventually her and I would meet up in India.
Andy Vantrease 12:49
What were the drugs that you were experimenting with?
VJ Supera 12:52
LSD and marijuana. Maybe mushroom stuff, maybe some speed. I think we used to take speed back then. We just kind of experimented with them all, but LSD was our favorite.
Andy Vantrease 13:06
What would you do?
VJ Supera 13:08
In Hawaii it was great because it’s so interesting and so trippy there anyway. You’d be tripping, and if you were in the country, you could go to the old pillboxes leftover from the war and these sluices. There was a lot of country then. You could walk in the country, go in the ocean, or just do a million things. You could really have a good time. Watch the tide coming in and out.
Andy Vantrease 13:30
Yeah, that’s an entire day’s worth of experiences, just sitting on the beach and watching that. Did you enjoy having those experiences in nature mostly?
VJ Supera 13:40
Yeah, and sometimes we’d do it in the city, like Waikiki, but that was always more intense because you’d be around too many people. But yeah, we liked it when we were in the countryside. It was nice. We probably took acid once or twice a week, which was a lot, but it was good acid then. I don’t think it wasn’t dangerous back in the day. It’s a different world.
Andy Vantrease 14:03
Do you have any particular experience that stands out in your mind that was really pivotal, or some type of awakening or understanding?
VJ Supera 14:16
I think when I first started traveling, I was scared. I didn’t have that much money. I left to Hawaii with a one way ticket, 60 hits of acid and a lid of grass, and $200.
Andy Vantrease 14:28
Just the essentials.
VJ Supera 14:30
Just the basics. And I was gone five years. Nowadays, it’s hard for me to get used to that you can’t travel like that. Just recently I went to Mexico with a one-way ticket and that did not work out one bit.
Andy Vantrease 14:43
Really? Okay, so you’re in Hawaii, and India is in India at this point?
VJ Supera 14:51
Let’s see, in ’68… she travelled differently because I came in the Pacific route and she came the Atlantic route. She went to Afghanistan, in the Middle East, in Pakistan, and then got to India. Where I went from Hawaii, down to Singapore, up to Malaysia, up to Laos, Thailand, and then flew to Calcutta. We went different ways, and then we just met up there later on.
Andy Vantrease 15:18
What I think is so fascinating about you guys traveling back then is everything is in the present moment. It’s not like you’re on WhatsApp with somebody saying, “Okay, I’ll meet you in Calcutta.” At this time, what are you sending, aerograms?
VJ Supera 15:34
India used to call them mind-grams. We tried to get ahold of each other with mental telepathy! You’re right, you could send an aerogram, but they’d say, “Oh, I think your sister’s maybe in north India,” so you’d have to send it to the postal office in Delhi, and hopefully she’d pick it up. I wish I did have those aerograms from back then. But I think we did finally get a hold of each other, and there were a few hippies back then that you could ask. India was there longer, so she was kind of a famous hippie. I could say, “Do you know where India is?”
“I think she went to Kandahar for the hash festival,” and this and that and then finally, you’d find each other, believe it or not.
Andy Vantrease 16:20
Yeah, that’s so crazy. Even when I was traveling over there a few years ago, there is a circuit. We would run into the same people in northern Vietnam, then you’d see them again in southern Vietnam, and then you’d see them in the Philippines. At least what I’m familiar with is that whole Southeast Asia area, and there does seem to be a hippie trail. But it’s so interesting to me to think about what it was like in the early 70s with how fewer people were doing it.
VJ Supera 16:52
Right. For example, you saw the hippies in India periodically. You’d see the same ones over and over, because you’d go to Delhi, you’d go to Katmandu, you’d go to Bombay, you’d go to Varanasi. A lot of people would be going to the same places, just at different times. But you’d find somebody that you knew, or somebody that knew somebody you knew. It was really like that. It was really a lot of mental telepathy.
Andy Vantrease 17:22
I’ve heard Howard say that there was also scheduling done around the moon, like a full moon party—
VJ Supera 17:30
Dropping acid on the full moon.
Andy Vantrease 17:31
Dropping acid on the full moon. And then you know that on the full moon, there’s going to be a gathering, so you just find out where that gathering is. And then you’re running into people there.
VJ Supera 17:42
That’s how I met India. When we finally got ahold of each other, we said, “We’ll meet in Almora for the full moon in September.” That was exactly right. We met by the moon.
Andy Vantrease 17:52
Yeah, that’s amazing. To actually use that as a form of timekeeping.
VJ Supera 17:59
Yeah. When you think about it, it’s true, because there’s only a full moon once a month. You’d know exactly where you’d have to be then.
Andy Vantrease 18:09
What do you remember about why you were traveling? Were you in search of something? Were you just trying to find some good drugs and have a good time? Were you on a spiritual path? What do you think about when you think back on that?
VJ Supera 18:25
That’s a good question. I think when you get to India, it’s so spiritual there. Even if you’re smoking chillums, it’s with Lord Shiva. And you’re thinking about these things, especially in the Indian Himalayas, or in Nepal with all the Tibetans. As soon as you land in Asia, or the Buddhist countries, it makes you start to think right there. You might not know in your mind that you’re thinking that, but you go, “Oh, God, I’m staying at this Buddhist monastery,” then you’d see the religion in the people. It just kind of absorbed in you without you even thinking about it. Later on, when we met Baba, it was like some people would still be traveling around, some people would find a group. That was the other thing—after you traveled around in India a lot, people really did want to settle down. Some hippies chose Goa, because that was really free living, and it wasn’t like being in India. It was like being on holiday from India. I think if you travel there long enough and you saw enough things, you just started thinking about it. That’s how that happened for us.
Andy Vantrease 19:30
Was it being exposed to that spirituality or that religious side of things? Or was it more about the people that you met, or the rituals? What aspects of that culture really spoke to you?
VJ Supera 19:45
I don’t think it was any aspect in particular. You just see it and you think, “What is that? How is that working?” Then you’d try meditation, and then you’d try these different things and get some ideas. For me it came slowly, slowly. I thought about different things, but I didn’t know about them that much. It wasn’t until after India and I met up in Almora in ’69 that her and I traveled all over India together until we met Baba, and that was March of 1970.
Andy Vantrease 20:16
Are you hitchhiking around? Or you still just one day, one moment at a time?
VJ Supera 20:22
Definitely. We were always on a shoestring and didn’t know where you’d exactly end up or if you’d get any money or if you’d have anything to eat. You just kind of kept going. But then we had heard from a friend of India’s, Leila. She said she was going to come to Sai Baba’s way before we went to Sai Baba’s, and she’d bring us some money. That’s why we went there—to get the money and then go to Kandahar and get some hash.
Andy Vantrease 20:46
So, you go to the spiritual center to meet somebody to get money to go get some hash?
VJ Supera 20:52
Yes! We had heard about Sai Baba. We had started hearing about him more and more as we were getting closer. And then it was a big festival when we got there. I took several overnight buses, and we did get some money. It was kind of a miracle we got some money. India remembered the story really well that my dad had sent us a check to postal office somewhere, and we got it. But how do you cash a check in India? We knew somebody that was a bank president, and they arranged so we could cash this check. We got $100, and that’s how we got to travel more to see Sai Baba. We could take buses and trains, instead of hitchhiking.
How long would $100 last you?
It could last a really, really long time if you didn’t lose it or give it away. You tried to really stretch it out for months if you could. Or you got careless and just blew it.
Andy Vantrease 21:45
I always think about the traits that are required to be able to travel the way that you traveled, and to travel in this moment-to-moment way. It really requires you to be okay with uncertainty, and to be okay with the vulnerability of things potentially not going well. You also have to be extroverted enough to meet people, because you find out that the people that you know are your lifeline. The kindness of strangers and the ability to sit down next to somebody and say, “Hey, I’m VJ, where are you going tonight? Or what are you doing?” I feel like there’s all of these different personality traits and social skills that enable somebody to travel the way that you did. Do you have any reflections on whether you acquired them as you went along?
VJ Supera 22:40
I think I acquired them as I went along, because I don’t think you would go fly somewhere and think, “Okay, this is going to be perfectly okay.” You just fly somewhere and don’t think about it. If you start to think too much about it, that wouldn’t be a good idea. It’s better not to think about it. India was bolder and less worried than I was, but she had been doing it longer. When we traveled together, I think I depended on her quite a bit, on her savvy and stuff. It wasn’t like you were scared or anything. You just said, “Oh well, I guess I have to sleep on this platform tonight.” You just did what you had to do. I guess I won’t eat dinner tonight, maybe I can find some food tomorrow.
Andy Vantrease 23:25
I know, at least from my experience, the ups and downs of living in that way, sometimes you can just get really in your head and go, “What the hell am I doing here? Why am I still doing this?” The existential crisis of “What is life all about?” Or even just, “Where am I going to sleep?” And then something happens, and you come out of it, or you meet somebody, and this new relationship leads to this new place or whatever it is. Do you have any memories of really challenging time periods or really challenging days?
VJ Supera 23:58
I was sick a lot. I got infections. You got to keep moving, but no, you never did feel top of your game. You learn to run like that, and not sleep good. I think by the time we were getting ready to go to Sai Baba’s, I had in my mind, “I hope he is a real sadhu. I hope he’s a real God because I’m really exhausted.”
Andy Vantrease 24:23
And then you wanted to be able to just relax and be there?
VJ Supera 24:27
Yeah, and be safe and things like that. Not that I ever thought it was unsafe, but just so you didn’t have to think so much or do anything like that. And, that turned out to be true.
Andy Vantrease 24:39
Can you tell me about a particular experience that you had at Sai Baba’s that made you realize his divinity?
VJ Supera 24:51
He called India and I in for interview right after Shivratri for our first interview. We were so blown away by his energy. Me and India walked up the hill, and we were smoking a bidi. We said, “Oh my god, we’re amping on acid. I’ve never felt this high before in our lives.” Both of us did. Then we met him. He said, “Stay with me. I’ll take care of you.” There were a few other foreigners too, but we went to another area, Bangalore. India and I and a few other people. We were out living under a tree.
Andy Vantrease 25:20
Outside of the ashram?
Yeah, just under a tree, but we could do that because of our hippie days. It didn’t bother us. One day, India got really mad because Baba said he would call us in, and he didn’t. So, she said, “I’m leaving.” And I said, “Well, I’m gonna stay. I just want to meet Baba.” She said, “I’m going to find another guru or saint.” And so, she got on the bus and went to Bangalore. And in the evening, for some reason, she ended back where Baba was. He had called all us in, but India was missing, and he kept asking for her. She finally found him, because he was going to have us all for dinner and she was all gritty from the bus. He had a load of water, and he poured it so she could wash her hands. Then we both got really addicted to Baba. He gave us a place to live inside the ashram at Whitefield, and then Howard came down because he found out that we met God. He wanted to meet him too.
And Howard and India had met, right?
VJ Supera 26:19
Yeah, in ’68. I met Howard in Almora in ’69, so we were good friends with Howard. He was always looking for God too. I think all of us in our own ways were looking for something spiritual. We didn’t know how to say it or anything—or I didn’t—but we did want something. We wanted some peace.
Andy Vantrease 26:40
Looking back, did it feel more like personal reasons? Or was it more of like, there’s so much crazy stuff going on in the world that you were searching for collective peace, or a sense of some purity or some good?
VJ Supera 26:58
I think we realized that if you want to be better in the world, or have a better life, you have to be better. I think we realized that early on. When we were with Sai Baba, he taught us how to meditate, told us what to do. We sang bhajans, and we did a lot of spiritual things to slow you down and think. We weren’t trying to find food. We weren’t trying to survive. We lived very primitive at the ashram, but it was easy compared to how we lived on the road, because at least it was safe there.
Andy Vantrease 27:28
And at least you knew you had a place to stay.
VJ Supera 27:30
Yeah, at least we stayed on the same roof every night, or under the same tree. We weren’t moving around.
Andy Vantrease 27:36
Yeah, that makes a huge difference.
VJ Supera 27:37
That does make a huge difference.
Andy Vantrease 27:39
When you’re on the road like that, all of your energy is going towards thinking about what’s next. Even though you are in the present moment, a lot of the worry and the mind spiral can be, “Where am I going to go? What am I going to do?”
VJ Supera 27:56
Even if we stayed in one place like Varanasi for a while, it was still always jungly, because you were sleeping out. You didn’t have any money. So, even though you were there for a month, it wasn’t relaxing. We lived on those hippy houseboats, and you were still getting up in the morning, thinking we need some food, things like that. Where at Sai Baba’s, when you got up in the morning, you knew you were going to go to meditation or bhajans or something like that. It was a whole other thing. And there was a young group of people there. Some of them were hippies and some of them were straight, but we all kind of came together like a family.
Andy Vantrease 28:33
Yeah. And it really did draw a diverse crowd of people. After a while weren’t there celebrities coming? It seems like, at least in my view of that time period, a lot of people were seeking something deeper, or some explanation, or understanding, or peace, like you said.
Right. I think a lot of people were seeking then because the hippie types dropped a lot of drugs. And we just said, “Well, there’s gotta be something else.” And then regular people had heard about Baba and came over. By the late 70s, Baba’s was really crowded with a lot of people. But when we first got there, we were kind of the first group. I lived there until ’73, and I’d come back and forth, back and forth. For maybe about 10 years I missed it because I was mostly in Pakistan then. But my whole life, for almost 50 years, has been back and forth, back and forth. And as we were with Swami longer, we didn’t get to see him that much. The crowds were bigger. He was so personal with us for well over a year. We sang with him bhajans every night, he gave us interviews all the time. We felt like he was family.
Andy Vantrease 29:55
I’m just conscious of people listening who may not know what it means to do bhajans and give interviews. What does that whole thing look like at the ashram?
VJ Supera 30:04
Bhajans is chanting. They would do that twice a day at the ashram. And interviews: Baba would walk around to give Darshan, which means Sight of the Lord. He’d walk around the people, take letters, talk to different people, and then he’d call people in for interviews. And that meant you had a real closeness to Swami. A room smaller than this and a lot of people would just pack in—somehow we’d all fit in it. And he’d sit on a chair, and he’d tell stories where he talked to people, or materialized things. It was like a one-on-one, you were really close to him. That was when you came out of those interviews just kind of blown away, like, “Oh, my God.”
Andy Vantrease 30:46
Yeah, something about his energy, and just the power that was in his being.
VJ Supera 30:50
It was a very good thing.
Andy Vantrease 30:52
How I see teachers and guides, or even what might be considered gurus, is the people that point you back to the divinity in yourself. There doesn’t have to necessarily be a priest or somebody in between you and your relationship with the divine.
VJ Supera 31:11
That’s right. And that’s what Swami tried to teach us all along. It was just between you and God. We craved that energy, we craved that kind of love that he would give us. Even though we knew it very well, you still always want more and more of it. But then we got kind of weaned, and we’d have to depend on our own type of meditation and doing things.
Andy Vantrease 31:32
It is kind of like a mother and father relationship. You get that unconditional love, but at a certain point, you individuate, and you separate, and you go off into the world with everything that they’ve taught you and everything that they’ve helped you to see in yourself.
VJ Supera 31:51
Exactly. That’s exactly it. That’s exactly it. As we were there longer and longer, he’d come out for Darshan still and do those things, but we didn’t get to talk to him as much. We knew what we were supposed to be doing and how to get better and be a better person. We learned a lot of that from him.
Yeah, and service was such a huge teaching of his. How did that land with you and carry on in your life?
Right. He’d say, selfless service to someone is like service to God. I don’t know if I ever did that good a job in it or not. I’m still trying to help people here and there, do some nice things and not be mean. That’s the main thing, not being mean. You just do the best you can. And every day you wake up thinking, “Okay, I can do this a little better,” and try to do something better.
Andy Vantrease 32:45
From my perspective, at least as long as I’ve known you, service is such a huge part of what I think of when I think of you. And it’s not always in this grandiose way. It’s like when I was in Nepal trekking, and you’re like, “Hey, I have friends in Katmandu, get in touch with them. Go meet up with them.” One of them was a young girl that you were sponsoring through school. Not a shout out of, “This is what I’m doing. And this is how I’m serving.” But the more I’ve gotten to know you, the more I see that your tentacles of service are all underground and connected to a lot of different people.
VJ Supera 33:27
I think you’re right. And maybe I don’t think that is enough service. But yeah, it’s true. Because we have people over in Nepal and India and Pakistan that we’re always looking after one way or the other, seeing if they’re going to be okay, and sending them money, or just checking on them.
Andy Vantrease 33:42
Your network and your community of the people that you help and the people who have helped you is huge.
VJ Supera 33:49
It probably is, and I’ve never thought of it that way. But you’re totally right because it is huge.
Andy Vantrease 33:55
I think I could tell you that I’m going to any country and you would know somebody there. Anywhere in the Pacific, that’s for sure.
VJ Supera 34:02
I know, it feels like that.
Andy Vantrease 34:05
I want to hear about what you refer to as your big first adventure to western Tibet. Because that seems like it just sparked a fire within you that has not died for your entire life. That type of overland, difficult travel, corners of the world that very few people have gone to as tourists. So, tell me about that first trip to western Tibet.
VJ Supera 34:37
Once I learned about Lord Shiva, and Mansarovar, and Mount Kailash being his mystical home, and I always liked Lord Shiva, because we’d be up in the Himalayas and you could feel that power of Lord Shiva. I always wanted to go there, but I didn’t know that getting to western Tibet was difficult. I got to Tibet in ’87. It was still super hard to get up there and restricted, but at least you could take off and travel by yourself. Now you couldn’t go to Mount Kailash, I don’t think, without a group. I wanted to go so bad that I found a Tibetan to hitchhike with me. Because you always have to deal with truck drivers and things like that. We just rode on top of trucks. We got stranded somewhere for about a week, because that’s how it was up there. It was so remote. But then finally, I found some people that I knew from Lhasa, so I could send him off and just travel with them. That was a lot better, a lot less stressful, and we were closer to our destination then. It was just a long trip, so you needed a lot of patience. I don’t think we had any time limits, which was good.
Andy Vantrease 35:42
Now you have to think about when your money runs out, which I’m sure you were thinking about too, but you could just get way further.
VJ Supera 35:50
It was hard to get in. I don’t know how I got my visa. My friends Roy and Diane got their visa for Tibet first. I didn’t know if I was gonna get one, but I did. I even hitchhiked up to Lhasa with Roy’s wife. He came up later.
Andy Vantrease 36:06
This is high in the Himalayas?
VJ Supera 36:07
Yeah, this is pretty high up. From Nepal to Lhasa it took us about a week to get to, to have those adventures. And I think to be at that high altitude, I’d never been that high before. And just to know that I could do it.
Yeah, it was almost like a testing of your own abilities.
Exactly, because it was so far. After that, when I came back from there, I was just an adrenaline junkie. What am I going to do next?
Andy Vantrease 36:33
Yeah, once you get that taste of what you’re capable of, it can kick something into gear, almost like this whole other wellspring of energy or—
VJ Supera 36:44
Ideas. Like, nothing’s impossible. Where should I go next after Tibet? Well, Pakistan, why not?
Andy Vantrease 36:51
Pakistan has become your jam.
VJ Supera 36:53
I love Pakistan. It doesn’t get a lot of good press, but it’s so something.
Andy Vantrease 37:00
Tell me about the first time in Pakistan.
VJ Supera 37:03
That was so funny, because I think it was September 10th or something. I landed in Karachi at two in the morning.
Andy Vantrease 37:12
You’re by yourself?
VJ Supera 37:13
Yes, and I go, “Oh, God, no. This is gonna be horrible,” because I thought it’d be like India. As soon as you get to India at that time in the morning, taxi drivers, people harass you and want to take you places and stuff like that. And I had met an Afghan going through customs. I said, “Come to the city with me.” And then we were going to share a taxi, but he got detained so I had to take off on my own. Pakistan compared to India at two or three in the morning was really nice. The people were really nice. They took me to the place I thought I wanted to be, but it looked like it burned down, so we found another one. And I just stayed in Karachi by myself, wandering around. I wanted to go to Kashgar, so I had to find the Chinese Embassy. I had bought my ticket for Peshawar, which was lucky because since I had a ticket for Peshawar, he gave me my visa in one day, because he knew I was going to be gone. By the time I got up to Peshawar, then I had my visa to go into China for Kashgar.
Andy Vantrease 38:10
VJ Supera 38:11
That’s Chinese Turkistan. That’s way up in the border of China, way up high. It was very important on the Silk Road. And then it’s right by Russia, so you could cross over into Russia there. In the old British days, that was a listening post for them during the Great Game days, because the British wanted to see what the Russians were doing. And the Russians wanted to see what the British were doing. That was really a strategical point. Plus, it was a really big point on the Silk Road. One of the big, big, major stops.
Andy Vantrease 38:44
And the Silk Road is a trade?
VJ Supera 38:46
The trade route. Well, there’s many different branches of it, but it went all the way from China, all the way over to Kashgar, which is the other side of China. And then down to India, over to Afghanistan, Pakistan. This history of the trading times was just amazing. That’s how people got knowledge. That’s how people learned about different things. It was all through traveling. I wanted to go there and see that, and that was a long trip from Peshawar. To get up there it took a long time on jungly buses, so I’m just glad my constitution is so strong because I think I was always getting rundown, without sleep, eating properly, or the weather change and things like that. I think you were always a little bit rundown. Always. Never top of your game.
Andy Vantrease 39:35
I keep thinking in all of these stories, there’s just such a trust in people that you have to have in order to be able to do these things. Where do you think that came from? And was it ever broken?
VJ Supera 39:51
No, I don’t think it was ever broken. Can you believe that?
Andy Vantrease 39:55
VJ Supera 39:56
I’ve always been lucky with people. I’ve never made really super bad and dangerous choices. Maybe if I did, I might have forgotten about it or put it out of my mind. But I think you quickly weigh things out in your mind. You’re not even thinking about it, you just look them in the eye and know it’s gonna be okay.
Andy Vantrease 40:14
And just such an amazing experience to have that trust and have those relationships with people all over the world. So much of our misunderstandings socially, politically, culturally come from not having experienced another person in the way that you have experienced so many different types of people from different places, ways of life, ways of being. Do you feel like being able to look somebody in the eye made your world smaller or made it feel larger?
VJ Supera 40:50
Smaller, because you could connect to anybody in the middle of nowhere and make a new best friend, a really good friend in the middle of nowhere. Then you parted trails and you met somewhere else, or maybe you didn’t, but I always trust people automatically.
Andy Vantrease 41:07
I was thinking back on how much you were fascinated with trade, and you really got into the textile import, export business. That became your full-time gig for most of your life.
VJ Supera 41:21
Yes, it was.
Andy Vantrease 41:22
When did that start? When did you first start buying textiles and different things?
VJ Supera 41:28
We did it in India from time to time just to bring suitcases home of pretty much junk and supplement our income somehow. Selling stuff, that was always good, but I really started doing more major shipments when I got to Pakistan. Not the first time, but just learning about it and learning what kind of goods and where to shop. I learned a lot doing that. Looking at old silver, learning which is Turkoman, which is Uzbek, which is some other tribe. You just learned so much. Just like the rugs, you can see which is a Turkoman rug, which is a rug from this place or that place, so I always find it so fascinating because you’re learning so much at the same time.
Andy Vantrease 42:10
Yeah learning about history.
VJ Supera 42:11
Learning about history, and all these different tribes. There’s so many in Central Asia and they all have these different talents and different designs. That’s why I think I like Pakistan and Peshawar so much, because it’s such a mix there: Uzbeks, Turkomans, Kazakhs. I love those Muslim people. They’re very kind, and I felt that, and I never felt afraid in those places. You could get in a bad situation in Pakistan, because you can’t talk to men freely like you could in India or anywhere. You have to be very careful not to just be too friendly, because they’ll take it totally wrong. But in shops, when you’re doing business and stuff like that, it always felt pretty safe.
Andy Vantrease 42:59
Walk me through what a rug buying process looks like. Isn’t it a ritualistic, maybe not ritualistic, but isn’t it a long process?
VJ Supera 43:10
Yes, it could be a long process. And I think that’s how it is in Turkey, Egypt, or Morocco because they’re dealing with tourists there. But if you start to go to the same people all the time, then you’re doing business. It takes a long time. Not then, but now when I buy big shipments, it takes a much longer time because you got to go in there the first day, you got to drink a lot of tea, you got to talk about how everybody’s doing. You can’t just be looking at rugs right away. You have to waste a couple hours.
Andy Vantrease 43:43
Yeah. Is there a translator?
VJ Supera 43:45
There is. My guy Shiraz, who’s been with me for maybe 20 years now. I used to do that all by myself. But then when I found Shiraz, it made the world of difference. For big amounts, I would need somebody like that. But nowadays, you have “yes, no, maybe” piles. So, it takes many days to go through all these rugs and decide on the ones you want. Then they add it up and then I can send Shiraz the money. I don’t even have to be there for the packing or the shipping because he takes care of all of that.
Andy Vantrease 44:16
And have you always liked that negotiation and bartering process? What I was used to here was, the price is the price, and then going to countries where everything’s fluid is so different. The ways that you interact determine what you’re going to pay for this. I feel like a lot of people think that any kind of negotiation has to be this serious, angry thing. And it actually can be fun and playful, and it’s just a totally different way of interacting.
VJ Supera 44:4
Right, it is. And it is an interaction because you have to drink a lot of tea. You have to eat lunch, then you get tired and you want to go back, but then the rug wallah wants you to look at some more rugs. Haji Abraham’s favorite line is, “Not one more rupees down—go.”
Andy Vantrease 45:06
What does that mean?
VJ Supera 45:07
He’s not going to go down another rupee. When you deal with the same people over and over, it’s really quite easy. They know you’re buying in volume, you know you’re buying volume, and Shiraz will fight them for the best price because there’s a lot of other prices involved when you buy overseas. The shipping, the customs and duty, things like that. That’s not the only price that you pay for the goods.
Andy Vantrease 45:33
VJ Supera 45:34
It’s fun. I love it. I think I find Peshawar so historical and ancient anyway, I really get in a time warp there. Sometimes walking down the streets, I don’t know exactly where I am or what century I am in. And I love it. Very Kipling-esque.
Andy Vantrease 45:48
Yeah, and almost fantastical. You’re in a different world and can almost be somebody else. I’m sure you have picked up on different languages along the way and enough to get by in probably a dozen languages at this point.
VJ Supera 46:05
Yeah, I can say, “How much?” in a dozen languages. It’s a lot of Hindi I know. And then mixing it up with some Urdu or some Farsi. Urdu is a language that they invented for the Garrisons back in the day for the Army for the Persians and the Hindus, so that they could come together and have a mixed language. That’s what Urdu is. I can get by with a lot of it. But I can’t get down and talk like we are right now with it.
Andy Vantrease 46:34
Right, yeah, there’s limitations. I’m just trying to paint a picture here—so, you started going to Pakistan and some different countries in that area, buying rugs and goods and textiles, and then you would come back to the states and travel around to sell them?
VJ Supera 46:52
My friend John taught me a lot of things. He’d travel around and sell things so he could give me the different names of people in Seattle or Portland. I went around and sold to a lot of stores too. I had to do that because I needed big cash infusions. I was building that house at the Ranch, and I did it on credit card cash, bouncing credit cards around. I had to get enough money to pay some bills, so I really had to sell on the road for four or five years. And then had a website, selling like that. Now I just sell at the Ranch and that’s it. It’s easier.
Andy Vantrease 47:30
Let’s talk about the Ranch a little bit. The first workshop was in ’75. What was your relationship with the place, the mission? You were there in the summers and then would travel in the winters. Many people were escaping Montana winter.
VJ Supera 47:46
When I first came home from India, I came to New York first. I met Howie and came to Montana. I hadn’t been to Montana before, and that was still in September, so the weather was nice. I think I still had a saree and flip flops on. It took a while to get used to everything, but when I first got there, we had to sell the antiques, so that we could get money to fix things up. I was a big part of that with her for the earlier stages, and then traveled a lot. I had some more marriages, and I traveled a lot, so I was always kind of peripheral to the Ranch’s business. I was there during the summer, and then in the winter with Tom. We were all living communally there, and we would all work to get firewood to keep it together so we could stay for a winter.
Andy Vantrease 48:41
In those early days?
VJ Supera 48:42
In the early, early days, yeah.
Andy Vantrease 48:44
I remember stories from him that you were in one room, he was in another, LW was in another. And he would have to run across the floor in the main lodge, which was absolutely freezing. It was the last frontier, running to the kitchen to the woodstove.
VJ Supera 49:00
Or turn the oven on and open it up just to keep going. Yeah, it was funky. We were funky. And as Judith Lasater said, “It’s called being in our 20’s.” You could do those things and it was fun.
Andy Vantrease 49:14
How has your life turned out differently than you would have imagined when you were in your 20’s? Or you were in those younger years? Now that so much has happened, it’s almost like you’ve lived a dozen lifetimes within one.
VJ Supera 49:30
I never had big expectations, like I have to be a millionaire, or I have to have a house, or I have to have children. I never thought about those things. I just took it more day to day. I think without expectations you can flow more easily. I’m not sure, because that’s the only way I am.
Andy Vantrease 49:48
I was curious because I feel like sometimes I can get caught a lot in what I want life to look like, or what I am trying to plan for. I don’t know if it’s more of a modern internal crisis. I think it’s hard not to have expectations for myself. I just wonder if you had a vision for what you wanted or how things were going to go?
VJ Supera 50:15
Never. I never had a vision. When I was building my house, I’d get some of it done. And then I’d say, “Oh, God, okay, I got to get some more money to get the rest of it done.” But I didn’t have a vision of the whole thing, or where my future would be, or what I would be doing. No idea. I still don’t.
Andy Vantrease 50:33
Did you ever along the way feel any pressures to be a certain person, as a woman, or anything? At any part of your life, did you feel any external pressures to be something that you weren’t?
VJ Supera 50:49
I don’t think I had any external pressures to be something, go somewhere, do this. In the early days, I knew I wanted to go meet India In India, but it wasn’t a pressure, a burning desire. I knew it would happen when it was supposed to happen. I never felt like, “Oh, I’ve got to do this or that.”
Andy Vantrease 51:11
That’s pretty amazing.
VJ Supera 51:12
Is it? Isn’t that normal?
Andy Vantrease 51:14
For me, I feel a lot of pressures. I feel like it comes from the internet, and just being so connected to seeing all of these different things. And seeing how other people are living. It’s ripe for comparison, when you can see so much. What it means for us culturally in this country to be successful, or to live a particular life that looks a particular way. I’ve definitely over the years had trouble with that.
VJ Supera 51:46
Wow, that is so shocking, because I think someone in your position that’s so intelligent and has your shit together would be so happy that you’re just going “Yeah, I’ll see where this goes.” Just like with your new business, “I’ll see where that goes.” Are you feeling pressure to achieve more? Do better?
Andy Vantrease 52:07
VJ Supera 52:08
Andy Vantrease 52:09
I feel like it’s in the background. It’s something that I’m conscious of, and something that I have to be in a dance with.
VJ Supera 52:19
Well, just keep the guidelines. Have them there, but then kind of go this way, that way. And if you need the guideline, take it.
Andy Vantrease 52:27
Well, it’s just cool that you’ve been able to somehow bypass all of that and just do what you wanted to do.
VJ Supera 52:34
I know it. I feel lucky like that, but I knew no other way. Sometimes I’d say, “Oh, God, I’m moving to this apartment. I don’t have enough money.” Then I’d think, “Shoot, you could always collect pop bottles and get some more money if you needed.” You can’t do that now. But you could think along those lines, or the money will come, or something will happen. But I can’t live my life with having pressure.
Andy Vantrease 52:59
As far as I can tell, some of that does go away with age and you just start to think, “I am who I am.”
VJ Supera 53:07
You just got to keep doing what you’re doing and what you like doing. Don’t let yourself get under pressure. It doesn’t make anything better. Maybe if you wake up in the mornings and say, “I’m just gonna take this minute to minute,” sit around and wait for something to happen!
Andy Vantrease 53:21
What are some places that you still want to go to?
VJ Supera 53:24
I want to go to Balkh, Afghanistan. That’s on my list. There’s a couple things I have to do. I’ve got to go back to Nepal next year, for sure. Juliana and I are gonna go to Morocco. I’ve got to make it to Afghanistan, where I can go up to all those remote areas where all those beads come from, and I can feel the civilizations that walked there before me. That’s what I got to do. I’m always thinking about how I got to get in shape. I got to get ready.
Andy Vantrease 53:52
Because that’s not cush traveling.
VJ Supera 53:56
No, no, I don’t need cush traveling, but I wouldn’t go there on my own now and just try to find a bus or a taxi to take me somewhere. I would go with some kind of group, an anthropologist group, or something like that. We got to see. I hope I have a few more trips left in me. I don’t know yet.
Andy Vantrease 54:14
Does it make a difference to you why you’re traveling these days, like going to Afghanistan to go see the stones and experience that energy? Is that different for you now than just, “I’ll go to Mexico and see what happens”?
VJ Supera 54:20
Yes. The intention, yeah. Because now when I want to travel, if I want to go somewhere adventurous, then it would have to have a lot of meaning, like I’ve been there before. Or I’d have to say, “I just want to see where all these ancient civilizations were,” rather than just showing up and taking it from there. Yeah, you’re right. I would have it more planned out. If you were younger and you could still hitchhike around, that could work perfectly, but now it doesn’t work perfectly. I guess I have to learn to change with the times.
Andy Vantrease 55:02
And what about your relationship to Montana? You’ve been here in Helena, you’ve had your house here, and had the Ranch.
VJ Supera 55:12
I’ve always stayed here for the summer. I used to go away all the winters and come back in the spring, because I’d stay gone for six months a year. And now I don’t like to do that at all. I don’t think I would even want to stay away for two months now. I’m really comfortable being at home. I was comfortable beading. Comfortable means I was peaceful, and I felt content. Maybe I never felt content in my life before, who knows? Maybe that’s why I wanted to go to all those places and see all those things. Now I’m feeling more content doing nothing. That might be age, who knows?
Andy Vantrease 55:52
I’d love to hear about your most memorable or jungly trip. Is there any that you’ve been writing about? Mount Kailash seems to be a big one.
VJ Supera 56:04
I might’ve sent you a copy of it. I kind of wrote it out a little bit. I think I was probably in my 50’s then. Even though I was older, I was still young enough to go off on a cryptic message and find a Tajik who spoke broken English.
Andy Vantrease 56:17
That’s the one I was going to ask you about!
VJ Supera 56:17
That’s one of my all-time faves. I don’t know why. I was in Peshawar, and I had finished up my shipment and everything. India and I had a really old friend there, Colonel Khushwaqt-ul-Mulk. He was from the royal family of Chitral. India met him in ’68, and I met him in ’88. She gave me a cryptic message to find the Colonel when I went to Peshawar for my first trip. I used to stay with him, and he knew everything about adventure. I was with him, and I always used to carry a map of Central Asia with me—a really jungly one, because I always wanted to go travel in Central Asia. This is before it was opened up. But he said no, go to Chitral. He had heard there was a Tajik who spoke broken English, and have that Tajik take me to Tajikistan.
So, I went up there with that cryptic message in mind. On my cargo Jeep going up, there was just cargo Jeeps that carry stuff, I met this guy named Dominique. He was Italian, but he had a business in England where he took people out on horseback rides in those parts of the world, Sanskaar or anywhere like that. He was up there too, and we just made friends. He was going to meet his guy who was bringing the horses back from another camp. Anyway, as it turned out, Colonel told me to find his subedar, the man that takes care of the lands, and tell him to find me the Tajik. When I found the subedar, he said, “Do you have a note from the Colonel?” I didn’t have one. So, he said, “That Tajik’s gone back to Tajikistan.” But when I was in town for a few days by the fort, I was visiting Colonel’s wife. He could tell that I knew some people. I love this thing where me and Dominique are cooking at night, and he squats by our fire, and he says, “His name’s Abdul, and he’s in Choonch.” He knew then that he could give me that information.
Then I told Abdul, “Let’s ride the horses up next day, do you mind?” and we rode them up there. We found a Tajik, but he said he didn’t speak any broken English, and he didn’t want to travel with me because he didn’t know me, and the Taliban were giving trouble. So, Dominique and I came back, and I was really dejected and sad. And then Dominique said, “Well go to Swat, I know an apple seller there.” I said, “No, I’m not going to go off on another cryptic message.” A few days later I said, “Maybe there’s another Tajik who speaks broken English. Let’s go back to that chai shop and see if we can find him.”
But then I met this Mr. Beg, who was Colonel’s old driver. He was up there too, and he spoke pretty good English. I waited in the chai shop while he and Dominique went off to find Abdul and bring him back. It was the same Abdul, but now Abdul said he would take me. We were in this backroom and it was just my favorite, because there were big jerry cans of kerosene, there were hides, there was a slate table, and I was like, “Oh my god, I’m putting my first caravan together. What do we need?”
Mr. Beg said he’d go along with us, so I was trying to figure out how much to give Abdul, but Mr. Beg had to go shopping for sugar and tea and flour. How much flour do we need? How much sugar do we need? We didn’t even have the horses yet. We’d have to carry packs. I went up to Mr. Beg, that was a little farther up the road in a cargo Jeep, and then we had to leave at two in the morning to go way at the end of the road before the Wakhan Corridor starts. We packed my luggage up in plastic sheeting, so it looked tribal with a lot of ropes around it, and I wore some men’s clothes just in case. He did find us some porters to carry our stuff at first, so we went out with them. And there was one of those horrible bridges I called D-minus, where there was no place to hold on and nothing on the bottom. You’re crossing these rivers—and it’s a good thing you don’t know these things when you start out an adventure. You’d never go. You never would.
Anyway, we got to some other place, and I was so exhausted because we got up at two in the morning to go up there. And I didn’t know what I was doing or anything. We were on the porch of this man, he had given us some lunch, and I fell asleep in the sun. There was a big fight that woke me up because Mr. Beg had let the porters go, because he found some horsemen to take us up. Big fight there, but we gave the porters some sugar. That was a really good commodity to have up there because there wasn’t any sugar. And then we took off with them for a while. Mr. Beg, he was from the Wakhan, so after a few days, we were able to find his brothers that came to the pass to meet us. His horsemen came, and then we let our horsemen go, but they were pissed because we let them go, and it was a big fight with them.
Finally, we got to leave, and I didn’t have any proper papers for up there because I didn’t think about that. We just kept traveling together, and then eventually Abdul ran away, so I only had Mr. Beg. We didn’t make it to Tajikistan, but we went to his brother cousin’s out in the middle of nowhere because they were yak ranchers. We were camping with them and they had the horses, but the family was up at a farther camp, a summer camp. So, we looked around and rode around there. It was just so remote and primitive. Then we went up to the next camp where the yak ranchers were with all their herds. We stayed up there for a few days while they got the animals ready to bring down again, because it takes a long time. They had to pierce the noses of some yaks, and then he had to load them up in these cone shaped things. They had to bring everything back with them. It was quite adventurous to be on a yak drive. I liked that a lot, really, but that was a trip that I never knew what was gonna happen until after it happened. Abdul ran off. Lucky that Mr. Beg was with us.
And then Abdul had the nerve during Ramadan… I came back to America, and Mr. Beg wrote me a letter for the end of Ramadan. He said, “I saw Abdul. He said he’ll go with us next time. We want to go again. He’s ready to go for you, ma’am.” But those kinds of crazy things where you just can’t even believe you’re doing them. You can’t even believe you’re there. I was in that thin strip of Afghanistan called the Wakhan Corridor, that’s what you have to cross to go to Tajikistan. But since we didn’t go north, we went east or west with the yak ranchers. That was funny, just thinking that I could put together a caravan. Wow, I was just so impressed with myself. A chance to put a caravan together. All those books [in this room] are about caravans. In practically every one of these major travel books, everyone’s always putting caravans together.
Andy Vantrease 1:03:23
Are these historical books that are here in your library?
VJ Supera 1:03:25
Yeah, these are all history books.
Andy Vantrease 1:03:26
VJ Supera 1:03:27
They’re all history about Afghanistan, Pakistan, or Central Asia, just different explorers that did these different things back at the turn of the century.
Andy Vantrease 1:03:39
Do you see yourself as an explorer? How do you see yourself if you’re talking about mythical stories?
VJ Supera 1:03:47
I’d like to see myself as an adventurer. I have a little bit of a goal, like trying to get to Tajikistan. But if it deviates, or something else happens, that’s okay, too. Except for Kailash. I wouldn’t give that one up for anything. I knew I had to get there no matter what. Because I’d never been to Tajikistan before, I never knew that Tajik, and I didn’t know what to expect for any of it. I thought, well, anything I do up there will be great.
Andy Vantrease 1:04:13
There’s a bit of a life lesson in there for me. Everybody always says, “It’s not the destination, it’s the journey,” but it’s true.
VJ Supera 1:04:21
It is the journey and how you handle it and what you do, because we’re always thinking of the destination at the end. This is where we want to end up, but we don’t know where we’re going to end up.
Andy Vantrease 1:04:32
All of the elements that you have to withstand to do adventure like that. It’s really pressing yourself to the limit in so many ways, or even seeing where that limit is or where you thought it was.
VJ Supera 1:04:46
Right. And beyond your limit, because you don’t know what’s going to happen next. What kind of D-minus bridges you’re going to have to cross.
Andy Vantrease 1:04:54
It’s just interesting to think about the ways that what we want, and how we want to do it changes over time. Even now, I’m in my thirties, but I feel like I traveled differently than I did in my twenties. I look for different things, I want different things. The type of adventure I want to have is different. I’ve just been so inspired by how long you’ve done it. The story you just told, you said you were in your fifties.
VJ Supera 1:05:26
Yeah, because I started that kind of traveling when I was 25. And that was kind of late because most hippies started earlier, around 23. But since the marriages and things…
Andy Vantrease 1:05:37
You mentioned, “I don’t know how many years I have with that type of travel left.” The things that you think about when you get to a certain age, and people you love passing away, and then life changes. It changes and then it goes on. I’m curious of where you are with understanding of life, because of the—in theory—closeness to death.
VJ Supera 1:06:07
Right, I agree with you. And that’s what happened after I had COVID, and after I went to Mexico, I knew I couldn’t do it. That was really an eye-opening experience for me. I think I’m glad it happened like that, even though at the time I was a bit disappointed. But at least I was smart enough to know that I couldn’t do it. I think being content is the best part, because then you don’t have the desire to go do those things. You don’t have to prove anything to yourself or anybody else. You don’t know when you’re going to die. Once you get older, every day could be your last, more than it was when you were 20 or something. I think about that more. Not that I’m afraid of death or anything, but I think I’m coming around the clubhouse turn into the homestretch! That’s how it is. And hopefully with age, you get wiser too.
Andy Vantrease 1:06:57
You and India were sisters, you had a ton of adventure together. You spent summers here at the Ranch, and she ran that whole show for 46 years. Do you still connect with her? What’s life been like since she passed a few years ago?
VJ Supera 1:07:14
I really miss not having a sister. I really do. Although we fought a lot, we could yuck it up and laugh at the stupid things. And that’s what we loved about each other so much. We were in Nepal, and I took a shortcut and got bit by leeches. And then I pulled my dress up so she could see the blood, and we were just cracking up. We could crack up at the same things, like only sisters can do. I think you just see the impermanence of life. We’ve always heard of it, but I think as you get older, you can see it easier.
Andy Vantrease 1:07:50
To end, the tagline of our podcast is “the magic of living a connected life.” How are the ways that you are doing that these days? How do you stay connected?
VJ Supera 1:08:02
I think by now making this extension over there where I have a place to hang out and bead, and I’m not always on my kitchen table, cleaning up squalor. I think that I finally made a place for myself, a little hive where I can do yoga, I think I’ll feel more connected. And I’ll have places for people to stay and visit. I want to spread out a little now that I know that I might not be traveling as much. I’m not going to be gone six months a year anymore, that’s for sure. Happiness comes and goes, and sorrow and this and that. But if you’re content, that feels very positive. I think my whole life before I was never content, always looking for something else, always having to prove this or that or do something. But now I feel content.
Andy Vantrease 1:09:00
VJ Supera: A force to be reckoned with. This woman has inspired me so much over the last six years—the ways she has built a life that fits and fulfills her–never getting sucked into a version of someone’s else’s dream. To hear her stories makes me yearn for exploration, freedom, and movement, a bubbling up that starts somewhere deep in a place in my soul that can only be filled with the terrific and somewhat terrifying feeling of embarking on something totally unknown.
I imagine that after the last few years we’ve all had, I’m not the only one craving the excitement that travel brings, a chance to shift perspectives, gain new knowledge and push the limits of your capacities and capabilities. I also appreciate the ways VJ talked about contentment, listening for and honoring the ways that our needs and wants change over time. If you visit the Feathered Pipe Ranch this year, make sure to find her and say, “Hi” to her. Any time with VJ is time well spent.
A special thank you to Matthew Marsolek and the Drum Brothers, whose music you hear at the beginning and end of this podcast, as well as Dr. Jean Shinoda Bolen, who first turned us on to the phenomenon of the Dandelion Effect and how ideas move through the world.
This podcast is a production of the Feathered Pipe Foundation, a 501c3 dedicated to healing, education, community and empowerment. If you’d like to help support this project, please visit FeatheredPipe.com/gratitude or leave a review on Apple podcasts and share with your friends. Be sure to tune in to our next episode in two weeks. We cannot wait to share another amazing conversation with you. Until then, have a beautiful day!