Every day hundreds of human beings board long-haul flights to India on extended breaks from their everyday lives, in search of something seemingly easy to find: themselves. That quixotic quest for understanding has drawn much of the world’s population eastward ever since Buddha first assumed the lotus position, and writer Mara Altman needed to know why. So she flew around the world in search of an answer not only to that mystery but also to the deeper questions that plague all who yearn to define the meaning of life.

What Altman found in her wild, comic 18-day reporting trek across India – a journey that took her on a laborious 37-hour cross-country train trip, onto a mystical flat rock by the ocean in Pondicherry, and eventually into the emergency room of a cut-rate Bangalore hospital – will make you laugh, learn, and ponder. By the end of her epic odyssey, it will also take you unexpectedly and thrillingly close to the pulsing heart of human existence.

After graduating from Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism, Mara Altman worked as a staff writer for The Village Voice.

In 2009 HarperCollins published Altman’s first book, Thanks for Coming: A Young Woman’s Quest for an Orgasm, which was optioned as a comedy series by HBO. She has published seven best-selling Kindle Singles, including the number-one best seller Bearded Lady, and has written for New York Magazine and The New York Times.