My Search for Tea and Transformation in India

Non-Fiction - Travel
290 Pages
Reviewed on 03/29/2024
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Author Biography

Bill Giebler is a memoirist, journalist, speaker, coach, and musician. His travel writing has been honored with the Solas Awards’ Grand Prize Gold and is anthologized in the books The Best Travel Writing, Vol 10 (2015) and The Soul of a Great Traveler (2017). His journalism has appeared in Orion Magazine, Delicious Living, Yoga Journal, Earth Island Journal and several other publications. He lives on the Colorado front range with his wife Margot.

    Book Review

Reviewed by Jamie Michele for Readers' Favorite

Steeped: My Search for Tea and Transformation in India by Bill Giebler is a non-fiction travel memoir that takes the reader on a journey of discovery at exactly the moment the author is certain that the whole thing is impossible. Ludicrous, even. He's the head of a division he's served for a decade and a half, he's in a relationship, he has children, and he is saddled with emotional baggage that's not so easily packed up. And yet, he takes the offering when all his excuses are squashed by those with his best interests truly at heart, and finds himself in India on an exploration that overwhelms the mind, body, and soul. Giebler takes readers with him from the streets of New Dehli to a Darjeeling tea plantation, from trains to luxurious hole-in-the-wall barbering, through meditation, culture shock, immersion...did I say culture shock? Eventually, he finds a forward-moving trajectory that carries him as he moves on to the land of Buddha's enlightenment and volunteers to assist a Dalit community, before moving again to Shiva's city and projects that are as meaningful to him as they are to those he interacts with. Nothing ever seems to go according to plan, but as the adventure continues Giebler begins to see that adherence to the safe trappings of a plan, and silly things like money and toilet paper, do nothing but hold him back anyway.

I have read my fair share of travel memoirs and am really comfortable saying that Steeped ranks among the top of my stack in terms of enjoyment and overall storytelling. Bill Giebler provides strong but level doses of intelligent wit and acerbic perspective as he weaves his way through a profoundly honest narrative. I've not had as much fun reading a memoir since finishing Alison Wearing's Honeymoon in Purdah twenty years ago [yes, really]. Giebler's vulnerability is on full display and the moments where he shines the brightest are when he allows himself to accept the comfortable rhythm that flows among the uncomfortable dichotomy of things like vegetarians who hunt, and a social construct of gender that segregates work but still has beautiful married women sweetly greeting him.

A lot of the writing plays out in a stream of consciousness that complements the eccentricities of the experience, while others are far more nuanced. We get a front-row seat to Giebler's evolution but not in the way that we, or even he, expected. It's less of a full demolition and rebuild and more of a work of spiritual planning, like an architect who has drawn up beautiful blueprints based on education, but still requires the refinement that only experience can bring. He sums this up nicely by saying, “It’s unlikely, then, that the I that will be packed up and shipped home in a few weeks will be a completed project of self-actualization, and that may be the hardest thing to accept.” There's a hint of disappointment, but from the point of view of a reader, it really is the “ah-ha!” awakening that makes the book so worthwhile. And Steeped is definitely worth a read.

Shrabastee Chakraborty

When Bill Giebler’s ex-wife gifted him with a trip to India, it was as much a welcome respite as it was an opportunity to rediscover his life. A tenuous job, the responsibilities of two teenage sons and an occasionally strained relationship made him yearn for a much-needed break. From the cool hillsides of Darjeeling to the unbearably hot Jaipur deserts, from the bustling cities of New Delhi and Varanasi to the serene Rishikesh, his travels took him to the heart of India. At times terrifying and confusing, at other times calming and rejuvenating, his experiences helped him to reflect on himself. Steeped: My Search for Tea and Transformation in India, a travelogue chronicling his escapades in India is also a profound story of self-realization.

As an Indian myself, Giebler’s observant and thorough detailing of the Indian rituals, customs, and culture let me view my own country through the eyes of a traveler. He carefully noted the striking dissimilarities in work culture and general mindset, including a slightly more relaxed way of life. I admired how Giebler never sounded judgmental or complaining, describing everything with deep respect instead. His book reflects his innermost thoughts and recounts a gradual move from constant worry to trust and acceptance. This book is about finding self-love while learning to become more involved as a parent or a partner, as well as a human being. I would heartily recommend Steeped: My Search for Tea and Transformation in India to readers who appreciate travel stories as well as those who are interested in visiting India themselves.

Foluso Falaye

Steeped contains the introspections and experiences of a man transitioning from one stage to another while he was on a trip to India. When Bill Giebler was gifted a trip to India in 2011, he decided to leave his long-term career and experience a different environment. On getting to India, he began to have second thoughts about his decision. From a "stampeding cough" to extreme exhaustion, Bill commenced his trip turbulently. Eventually, he was able to see the beauty in the country, in slowing down and letting hot food cool off, in giving up on maintaining his personal space in crowded vehicles, and in yoga, meditation, tea, train rides, and the community projects he organized and participated in.

Words cannot describe this amazing and beautiful book enough. You just have to read it for yourself to get the full experience. By contrasting his lifestyle in the US with that of the people he encountered in India, Bill Giebler came to realize that capitalism causes us to focus on wanting more while we appreciate what we have less. For anyone planning a similar trip, Steeped reveals the reality of what a trip to India really is like, and it is quite different from what is portrayed in Hollywood. The writing is thoughtful and poetic: "Sure, it is exquisitely beautiful here, but I think I seek these moments for the reminder to open my senses wherever I am, to reveal the magic that’s always present." I recommend Steeped to anyone who needs a story that will inspire them to take the first step on a different life path.