From being the favourite cover girl of international fashion magazines in the late 1980s to a yoga enthusiast, Rachel Hunter’s journey has been nothing less than splendid. She shares her love for India in a candid tête-à-tête with Nitasha Panda
A supermodel, actor, TV presenter, mother and yoga enthusiast – New Zealand-based Rachel Hunter had basked in the limelight in the late 1980s before choosing to listen to her heart and follow the path of spirituality. And India, she claims, is where she found her heart’s calling. In the past few years since she has taken up practicing and teaching yoga in Rishikesh, she has fallen in love with the country – its people, food, vibe and culture. She is all praises for the country that she says “has helped me discover my spiritual side”.
When did you first come to India? How was the experience?
I visited India in 2014 for the very first time. It was for a travel show that I was hosting at that time called Tours of Beauty, and India was one of the first 13 countries that we covered. I must admit that I fell in love with the country immediately – its colours, cultures, charm and soul. With thousands of years of history, it has many stories to tell. India also holds a special place in my heart for another reason. Two years from the exact date that I arrived in Varanasi, my mother passed away. I had this calling then; a voice inside kept repeating “You have to go to India”. I listened, and that’s when I came to Rishikesh and started reading the yoga sutras and Upanishads, and it calmed my restless mind to a great extent. Also, practicing yoga regularly has helped me connect with my soul.
What is it about India that appeals to you most?
Everything! From colourful streets and majestic palaces to vibrant rituals, myriad cultures and traditions, numerous places of worship and even the fragrance of this country – I find everything about India friendly and welcoming. Your senses are in for a treat here.
From the glitz and glamour of the runway to a yoga enthusiast, you have experienced the best of both worlds. Tell us about your journey.
When I was young, my mother introduced me to religions such as Buddhism, Christianity and Hinduism. I always wanted to be a ballet dancer and loved sports. I liked running on the beach and that’s where a photographer spotted me and asked whether I would like to try modelling. I went with the flow and gave it a shot. The next thing I knew, I was in New York City! Everything I did, every decision that I took have all led me to where I am today. I married a great guy [singersongwriter Rod Stewart] and have two beautiful children [daughter Renee and son Liam] and I wouldn’t change a single thing in my life as I believe that it was all divinely organised.
How did you find your way to spiritualism?
I was quite young when I stepped into the world of glamour. I married when I was 21 years old and by the time I was 29, I had two children and left that marriage. In 2014, when I was shooting for New Zealand’s Got Talent, my mother was diagnosed with cancer. During her last three weeks I had deep and insightful conversations with her that changed my life forever. I asked her what she regretted the most and she told me that she regretted not being herself for a major chunk of her life. That was when I made up my mind to do what I loved and not what was expected of me. I decided to start by practicing yoga, India’s gift to the world. The practice not only helps you to connect with your spirit but also in the evolution of your inner self.
Which is your favourite Indian city?
I absolutely love Haridwar in Uttarakhand. I can watch the evening aarti (a fire ritual) performed at Har ki Pauri ghat for hours. It’s so enchanting that I have goosebumps every time. The experience is so serene and peaceful.
Any other cities you have been to in the country?
I love Jaipur. The sunset is amazing when you watch from the Nahargarh Fort. The city is so colourful – the grand palaces, the cobbled streets, the scented flowers that decorate the narrow lanes – everything is just so beautiful. I have also visited Pushkar and its beauty is unparalleled.
Your favourite Indian cuisine…
I love chai (sweet milk tea) and pakoras (vegetable fritters). I also love vada pao (deep fried potato dumpling placed inside a bread bun sliced in half ). It is so spicy and tangy and hits all the right notes. I also love the crispy masala dosa (a pancake made from rice flour and ground pulses, typically served with a spiced vegetable filling along with coconut chutney and sambar, a spicy lentil stew) and dahi bhalla (bhallas, made with a paste of split black grams, soaked overnight and churned in the morning, are deepfried, which are then soaked in water and served with yoghurt and an assortment of spices). I just can’t stop raving about the endless food options that India has.
Any city in India that you plan to visit next?
I really want to visit Kolkata. I have heard a lot about that city and I am pretty excited about taking a tour.