Song of India

Song of India: Tales of Travel and Transformation

Song of India: Tales of Travel and Transformation, is a collection of 10 travel stories inspired by the scorched earth of the Rajasthan desert; the hypnotic currents of India’s most sacred river; the om-inspiring spectacle of the sunrise reflected against the white wall of the Himalayan mountain range in Darjeeling; the masses of people at the world’s largest spiritual gathering; and the intense, smoke-filled darkness of a night facing death on the river in Varanasi.

I “followed my bliss!” and set out on several lengthy voyages across the subcontinent to recover from grief, understand the essence of yoga and rediscover the joy of living by traveling, studying yoga and volunteering in India.

To buy Song of India

The print-on-demand (POD) version is available for purchase from by clicking this link: Song of India. Canadians can buy it from or from Chapters/Indigo. And if you’re in the U.K., you can get it from Amazon U.K.

$1.99 e-book price in effect

As of October 16, 2011, the e-book price for Song of India has dropped to $1.99. It is available at KOBO, Lulu, BarnesandNoble, and about 55 other Lightning Source International (LSI) distributors.

Or you can buy it from Smashwords — which carries it in a very wide range of reading formats from EPUB to PDF to HTML (for online reading) to KINDLE.


Jasmine D’Costa, author of Curry is Thicker than Water said: “Today I got a wonderful gift in the mail. Song of India, by Mariellen Ward. Thanks Mariellen, what a wonderful book and so poetically written. You capture and give depth to an unfathomable place and I would surely recommend it to any one who wants to know more of India. Thank you. As you know, I jealously guard opinions on books especially those on India. I congratulate you. I was thrilled to see you in new lights and facets I did not earlier.”

Sylvia Fraser, author of A Rope in the Water said, “Congratulations Mariellen on your luminous new book, Song of India: Tales of Travel and Transformation. Your intimate passion for these magical places has taken me by flying carpet into the heart and soul of India – to the mystical city of Benares, the lush tea-fields of Darjeeling, the glowing deserts of Rajasthan. PS. Mariellen also guides tours!”

Niranjana Iyer of on her Brown Paper blog wrote:” I’ll admit to a jaundiced-verging-on-chrome  eye when reading travelogues about India. In my experience, such books either romanticize the country–it’s all Rajasthani palaces and IT fortresses–or they  condescend, wherein the writer, on the strengths of a few Indian friends and few Kingfishers too many, decides to explain the country to us ignorant folk. Ward’s book however, steers well away from such cliches; hence this review.

Photograph of me signing Song of India by Yianni Tong

Photograph of me signing Song of India by Yianni Tong

Song of India (2011) is a (self-published) collection of travel articles that appeared in a number of venues, including the Toronto Star. Ward, who lives in Toronto when she’s not traveling, combines a journalist’s eye for detail with an unapologetic passion for India, and the result is a splendidly personal account of the country’s transformation of her philosophy of life (and death). Ward’s experiences center around Yoga and spirituality, but her uplifting, informative  tales will appeal to Indophiles of all stripes. If, at times, I was skeptical about the ease of her travels–all hardship is self-imposed, and the author has apparently escaped (how?) diarrhea/sexual harassment/taxi drivers demanding five hundred rupees to reach the idli-stall round the corner–Ward herself acknowledges the magical quality of her relationship with the country.

The pieces could perhaps have been thematically arranged for a more cohesive read (the collection occasionally feels a tad scattershot), but Ward’s tensile prose, free of any hint of self-aggrandization, goes a long way in helping the reader overlook such minor flaws. After reading Song of India, you can’t help being glad for Ward for finding herself a happy place; would that all of us could. Ward conducts tours of India as well; on the basis of this book, I’d say you couldn’t find a better guide.”

Mini Kolluri in Masti Magazine wrote: “Travelers’ tales centered on India often talk of transformation, particularly of the spiritual kind. But what makes Mariellen Ward’s narration so fascinating and admirable is her ability to don the Indian frame of mind.

She slows down and lets the cultural cauldron that is India churn her around till she begins to align herself with the poor Indian masses who manage to maintain unwavering faith in the face of pressing hardships.

In the course of the book, Song of India, Mariellen finds the Orient of her childhood fantasies in the architecturally rich desert town of Jaisalmer in Rajasthan. She also comes face to face with death as a part of the life-death-rebirth cycle in Benares, the holiest Hindu pilgrimage site.

The writer also experiences the vitality of river Ganga, the lifeline of North India, the therapeutic nature of simple ashram life, the love and warmth of Tibetans and the butterfly season in Dharmasala, the seat of the Dalai Lama, the dynamism of new Bengaluru’s (Bangalore’s) Electronic City and the relaxing charm of old Bengaluru’s gardens, café’s, markets and godmen.

But some of the Mariellen’s most compelling writings are those inspired by India’s amazing people. For example, when she takes a public bus in Rajasthan, a mode of transport she had avoided in the past, she sees crushing poverty and the generosity and friendliness that survive it.

Towards the end of her piece about the bus journey, she writes –“I turned away to look out of the window at the dry desert landscape, baking under the scorching sun, and dotted with mud huts and women walking with huge bundles of twigs and branches on their heads, or almost as equally large jugs of water. My eyes filled with tears as I realized the real reason I had avoided taking the bus.”

Of course there are other dimensions to travel, for example, food, adventure sports, shopping, etc. But as far self-discovery goes, Mariellen, who took to yoga to overcome pain caused by personal tragedy and traveled to India to find peace, gives us a wonderful book that could serve as a template to anyone looking to explore themselves by exploring the world.

Christine Garvin, on her site Living Holistically wrote a review called Song of India enchants with tales of transformation:

Mariellen Ward recently released her book, Song of India: Tales of Travel and Transformationabout her six-month experience of living in India post-tragedy. She even opens the book by confronting the inevitable comparisons to Gilbert; yes, she felt similar “discontent” and “yearning” as Gilbert did; no, she did not write it as a follow-up of sorts to the bestseller – she was already in India before the book was published.

Ward lays out her book almost as if she has written short vignettes in praise of the country, the people, her experience there, what it has given her. Butterflies exemplify the children she worked with at a Tibetan refugee camp, the desert of Jaisalmer creates the scene for the non-tourist outlet. She explains how yoga is a way of life in India, not a physical practice as we think of it in the West, and her living and eating conditions as she stayed in an ashram (the naan for breakfast certainly would not treat me so well).

What may come as a surprise is her general lack of adaptation-issues – she seems to blend and move into new situations with great ease that I’m not sure everyone would relate to in going to India.

She pulls you in with her story of crossing the Ghanges River toward Manikarnika Ghat, where bodies are cremated throughout the day and night, which can be witnessed sitting on the boat. Not to mention the bodies wrapped in white floating in the river; apparently Benares is the ultimate place to “cross over”, so there are any number of bodies not fully cremated found in the waters.

She even tackles the “other side” of India: Bengaluru (better known as Bangalore), with its tall buildings, call centers, and the only people you talk to now when you call customer service. Many who like to see India as a sacred place don’t like to acknowledge that “business” India is, in many ways, taking over and over-shadowing ‘traditional’ India.

Given, there is a hodge-podge of beliefs around India now at play, not simply defined in one way or another as many other countries are, but it can be disconcerting to think commerce-focused is what the center of spirituality may become. But Ward makes a visit to the Art of Living ashram just outside the city, where the Guruji said to he: “Bangalore is called the IT city. I have a different meaning for IT – inner transformation. Bangalore is a yogic city. It’s not too hot or too cold. No extremes. Very congenial for spiritual practice.”

“Song of India” gives you a deeper look at India than many of the other similar stories on the market today, though again, maintains a mostly positive spin. I don’t have anything against positive (well, most of the time), but I couldn’t help but wonder if she hid some of her harder moments for the sake of the beauty. Sometimes, hardness is part of the beauty.

But overall, her love affair with India is obvious and enchanting, and her writing style pulls you into both her stories and a sense of place. If you need inspiration to visit the land of bindis and curry, this book will get you there. Just gotta fork over the plane fare.

Fellow writer Alison wrote: “I’m just loving Song of India. A lifetime of experiences, of ups and downs, has given you a rare gift. The ability to write with a lightness of touch and a searing clarity. It’s amazing how memoirs get published that involve next to no critical thinking or introspection. It’s like the authors haven’t even begun to try and understand themselves. Not you. Congratulations! Keep writing.”

Mayank Bhatt on Generally About Books wrote: “Mariellen first visited India in 2005, after a series of tragedies, but India transformed her. She discovered a new purpose in life.

‘My life revolved around sharing what I discovered there – the beauty of India, the transformative power of travel and the magic of mystery.’

She is a consummate travel writer, combining a keen sense of observation, lucid description, interviewing the right people, extracting the right information or opinion from them, providing a perspective, and writing with empathy.

Perhaps more important in the Indian context, she’s unafraid of the heat, dust, dirt, smells, chaos, too many people – features about India that intimidate Indians returning to India after a long stay in North America.”

Yoga teacher Bibi of YogaSpace said, “Before I dived into Song of India I had no desire, none what so ever, to travel to India. I love my country and my home, I feel safe here.  Now that I’ve read Mariellen’s Song of India I’ve had a change of heart. I want to experience all of India suddenly,  the crowded trains, the dirt, sufferings,  dust, rivers, sunsets, ashrams. I am yearning for India, I feel the need to get our of my little bubble and taste India, get real. Thank you Mariellen Ward. I will travel with you to India, see India thru your eyes and feel India in my soul.

Your love affair with India is enviable.  I know many who love India too, but no one writes about India like you.  Easy, easy read.  Writing is your art, the way the information is presented is what I love about Song of India.”

From the back cover

“Follow your bliss!” Joseph Campbell famously said, so she did. After several harrowing years of losses, author Mariellen Ward set out to recover from grief, understand the essence of yoga and rediscover the joy of living by traveling, studying yoga and volunteering in India.

The stories in this collection are inspired by the scorched earth of the Rajasthan desert; the hypnotic currents of India’s most sacred river; the awe-inspiring spectacle of the sunrise reflected against the white wall of the Himalayan mountain range in Darjeeling; the masses of people at the world’s largest spiritual gathering; and the intense, smoke-filled darkness of a night facing death on the river in Varanasi.

They are geographically diverse, but thematically linked by the author’s transformative journeys across the subcontinent and her obvious love for the culture, the country and the people of India.