She says it came during that first yoga class, a flash of truth in a field of fire, and her search was over. She became Ganga Bhajan Kaur Khalsa, one of the "pure one," an American Sikh.
"Suddenly everything came together like two crashing cymbals, like a neon sign saying 'THIS IS IT," she says, her high white turban dipping with each sip of her Yogi tea.
She had wandered in her fringed vest and dirty blue jeans through the '60s, from her comfortable home in California to the East Coast to Europe and back. She had bloomed in love with the flower children, lived like a Hopi Indian in a desert tepee. But now it was 1969 and time to settle down with her "ultimate truth."
Today, Ganga is 35 and one of 100 Sikhs in the Washington area. As a religious group, these white-clad, white-turbaned people worship in the ancient, East-Indian Sikh tradition, letting their hair and beards grow long and chanting prayers in nasal, mystic tones.
As an 11-year-old society, they are refugees from the Woodstock nation with a twist: though they live as vegetarians in communal houses and practice yoga and meditation, they have -- unlike other stylized '60s groups and cults who have since disappeared -- adapted their lifestyle to the '80s, transforming themselves from social dropouts into aggressive middle class entrepeneurs.
They own the Golden Temple natural food restaurant on Connecticut Avenue above Dupont Circle and a georgetown natural food emporium which grosses a half million dollars a year. Their leather and cork "earth" shoes and sandals, manufactured by Kinney Shoes in Pennsylvania, are sold in stores all over the world, with sales over $1.5 million last year. And their natural soda, Honey Pure, distributed by Schlitz beer, is expected to gross over $1 million next year when their new, Essex, Md., bottling plant opens.
Known also as members of the Happy, Healthy, and Holy Organization, Sikhs own carpet cleaning, landscaping and carpentry concerns.
They ride bicycles, jog, go skiing and see movies. And, over the years, they have become concerned parents, worried about their children's teachers and playmates and preparation for college.
On a recent afternoon, Guruharri Singh, 33, is waiting on customers in the shoe department of 3HO's Emporium on Wisconsin Avenue in Georgetown. He is mellow, serene. No hard sell here.
He wasn't always this way, he tells a visitor. For years he had lived in the Canadian underground, an army deserter who sold drugs for a living in Toronto, existing on a nightmare's edge.
He grew up middle class in New Jersey, was drafted in 1969 when he was 22. "Five months later I was at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio and received orders that I was to be shipped out to Vietnam as a replacement medic.
He got 29-day leave, said goodbye to his parents and left.
"It was a merry-go-round in Toronto," he says, fiddling with a silver bracelet around his wrist. "I couldn't get any work, so I settled into the drug business. A lot of the dealers in Toronto were draft dodgers or deserters, and we were pretty close. But we were always high."
It went on for three years. One morning, after being up all night tripping on acid, he went over to a yoga class being given by some local Sikhs. "It was the kind of high that I needed, a natural high," Guruharri says. Whithin six month he left for Detroit, falsified identification in hand, to work in a 3HO restaurant.
Then, in the summer of 1974, President Gerald Ford declared amnesty for Vietnam draft dodgers and deserters. "I turned myself in, and was processed out in 24 hours. I applied for alternate service and qualified under the auspieces of being a drug counselor for 3HO . . ."
Four a.m. Q Street NW. The Ahimsa Ashram, is quiet and calm. Ahimsa is the oldest and most important of the five 3HO community homes. There are others in the Dupont Circle, Cleveland Park and Great Falls areas. A visitor knocks on the door of the stately old townhouses and is answered by a young woman with sleek black hair that hangs below her waist. "We usually get up a little late here," she explains, hurrying off up the stairs.
Men and women carrying white blankets and sheepskin rugs drift sleepily into a large living room. At the front, between the bay windows, is a white carpeted altar, illuminated by a single light behind beige curtains. There are two covered silver bowls and a portable alarm clock to the right, an Indian carpet on the floor. In the back, a large brass gong sits below a wooden ceiling fan. Pictures of the Yogi Bhajan, the founder of 3HO, adorn the walls.
Though Sikhs are quick to point out that the Yogi is their teacher and not their prophet, he is clearly their focal point, their pope. It was this former Indian customs official who brought his Kundalini Yoga to the West inspiring his new-found followers to build a network that is now represented in all 50 states and around the world.
Much of the 10 percent tithe on their yearly earnings that members pay to 3HO goes to finance the Yogi in his travels from one city to the next as he exposes his "ultimate truth."
It is time for Sadhna, the focal point of the day. Sikhs from all the ashrams arrive for a morning of prayer, yoga, meditation and song.
They sit on their rugs take out prayerbooks and begin to chant singing slow, melodic sad tones responsively, one line for men, one for women and so forth.
Little children and babies in miniature Sikh garb huddle in their mothers' laps or go to sleep. Chanting over, exercises begin, Sat Peter Singh leading.
Forcing themselves into contortion, they do the stretch pose, camel ride, platform pose, frog pose. With each exercise, they breathe the breath of fire, hyperventilating through their noses.
Sat Peter then pushes the group into an hour-long, four-part meditation. When that is over, a woman brings out a guitar and the group sings. Finally, the curtains around the altar are parted and the man reads from the sacred scriptures.
It is over at 7 a.m. and most go home to get their children off to school and themselves off to work.
For eight hours each day, Bhramara Devi Held dresses in Sikh garb and works as a cashier in the emporium on Wisconsin Avenue. She has worked there four years and was once on the verge of joining 3HO. But she says, her two children weren't really interested and besides, "they are very insulated. I tend to be more eclectic. I was raised Roman Catholic and have been Buddhist and was into Gestalt for a while. All are rivers leading to the great one. You find truth in all of them.
"Besides, they can become kind of one-minded and persuasive on subtle levels. They want to get right in there and help you run your life. I guess I'm a little too independent for that."
Bhramara, whose landlady calls her Bambi, got into the 3HO concept like the others, by taking a yoga class. She had lied through the sixties, married to a Price Waterhouse accountant, says she started to feel she had missed something and was divorced after ten years.
Even though she decided the 3HO lifestyle wasn't for her, Bhramara, 36, kept her job. "There is a real feeling of ease and serenity here.What I felt at first was that they really attempt to live up to an idea, and you have to admire them for that. But a lot of times I feel I don't really know them. They won't admit what's really on their minds sometimes. They retreat into being a Sikh, but you can see trouble in their eyes.
Back at the restaurant, Ganga reflects on 11 years as a Sikh."I guess we've really come a long way," she says.
In the beginning, when Ganga and her husband organized the Washington chapter of 3HO, the Sikhs lived a more communal, socialistic lifestyle. They used to buy food and eat as a group and work was exchanged for room and board. But today, she says, Sikh workers get their own paychecks and some work outside the community as doctors, teachers and computer programmers. Women cook only for their own husbands and children. Shelves and cupboards are divided, each family's food is kept separate.
"We aren't kids anymore," she says, "we have kids."
"For a while, we were becoming socialistic, but it didn't work. Our religion is upper class in origin, and that's why it suits us so well. Most of us had been raised with upper middle class values, but when we were young we saw corruption in society and tried to disregard the whole system, not just the part of it that was corrupt. Now we have taken the parts of society we believe in while still trying to convey that we believe in the dignity of the human spirit. By living righteous lives we feel we set kind of an example. Inspiration is our best contribution.
"We have started to care about having a yard, a good school system for our kids to go to, good neighbors in a neighborhood without a lot of traffic," she says.
"Right now, we are working on a deal to buy eight houses in a cul de sac in McLean . . ."