Travel Guide For Life; M.A.C.

What I See From Mountain To Sea

My first overseas trip was so long ago that the airline does not exist anymore.

A few souvenirs from Kashmere, northwest India. I stayed on Spring Flower house boat on Dal Lake. The brochures were given to me by Kashmir Travel Agency.

Souvenirs from other places I stayed in hotter areas of India. Sri Nagar is much cooler than Mayapur or New Delhi.

I was about to lay myself down to sleep on the bank of the Ganga River, just north of Navadwip, Bengal. Soon after lying down on my back, wrapped in a mosquito net, two men came over to me and asked me if I was going to sleep there. "Yes", I said (they were speaking very good English) "I have been walking all day from Mayapur." They told me that I should not sleep there because there are many dangerous cobras. They invited me to eat and sleep at their house. They were father and son who owned a tea trading company. They were tea merchants and they hoped that I would make a contribution to their business. I did offer 50 rupees which is a small amount but they seemed happy to receive it.

We were still outside of the village and it took us about 20 minutes of walking along a foot path between the Ganga River and agricultural fields. We entered a yard where we all washed our hands then entered a room with very little furniture and mats covering a cement floor. We sat on the mats and talked with family members who were coming and going until, after a few moments, a good amount of food was brought to us. After all the platters of food were brought out, there formed a circle of 8 family members, all facing me. One of the cooks, probably the older man's wife, served me some dal, subji, and chapatis. They served me first and intently watched me eat. They fed me a lot of food but I was quite hungry so I did not take too long to finish eating which was their cue to start eating themselves. The food was excellent.  I loved the subji which was a curry dish with squash and potatoes. It was really delicious. There were no forks or spoons given so we ate with the chapatis like Mexicans eat with tortillas. 

As they were eating, I had tea and sweets set in front of me. The tea merchants then told me that they asked for the donation because all of the families and businesses were raising funds for the village temple. After I told them about my week stay at the ISKCON Vaisnava temple in Mayapur and how I had been walking along the Ganga River for a few days, they asked me about my present destination. I told them that I was on my way to Varanasi. The father told me that his son was going to Varanasi the next morning and that I should follow along with him. We would take the train and I would not have to pay for the ticket. Although I wanted to continue walking along the Ganga and I believe they arranged this train ride just so I would not keep walking further up the river, I did agree to accompany the son to Varanasi. After a couple of hours talking like this, they put me up in a room where I was alone on a wide cot with a mosquito net. I had a great sleep there. The cot was comfortable and the mosquito net had no holes in it so I had no trouble sleeping soundly. 

The next morning after breakfast,  I followed the son to the proper train station in Kolkata and he paid for both of our third class tickets to Varanasi. I never asked him if he really had business in Varanasi or was he just bringing me there safely. I just followed along with their plan. The train was comfortable although it was third class because my guide found us corner seats surrounded by very nice people including a tea merchant who kept giving us tea. I was wearing Vaisnava bramachari dhoti and kirta of saffron color so he thought I was a real monk. When I offered to pay for the tea he got very upset. My tea merchant guide told me to not worry about his angry reaction, and he took care of the situation for me. I will never forget that incident on the train to Varanasi. Although we were on the train for about 10 hours, I  did not see any more the man who I had upset so much.

 

"Hello. This is Michael Anthony Cicchi."

"Hello Mr. Cicchi, what can I do for you?"

"Yes, I purchased a ticket to fly from Denver, Colorado to Calcutta, India  on the 13th of March and I have not received the ticket yet although I made the purchase over a month ago."

"OK, give me a moment and I will find out what happened to your ticket. Do you have a booking number? Wait, your ticket is right here on my desk. I will send it to you right away. Is there any thing else I can do for you?"

"That is all I needed but someone told me that I will be accosted by many greedy, insistent touts and beggars who will make it more difficult to enjoy walking places. Will this be the case?"

"This is Kali Yuga and life is in a low quality condition through out the world. It may seem like it is worse in Baratam (India) but that is only because the population is immense there. You will never be alone there and I suggest that you stick to the ISKCON VAISNAVA temples. You can live in the temples and travel with the devotees. Since you will be arriving into Bengal during the festivities of Sri Chaitanyas' appearance day, you will easily find devotees with whom you can share a taxi from Howah Station to Mayapur."

 

 

 

 

 

 

During the first days I was traveling through India, it seemed to me that all business men were using falsehoods and exaggerations to make as much profit as possible. I even wrote that "Vedic civilization has come to an end. The vaisya (merchant class) often acts worse than the sudras (labor class)." In Kashmir (I visited Srinagar for 5 days), the search for money was pervasive but it is more patient because the merchant families will invite you into their home, feed you, befriend you, then wait one or two days before trying to sell you a rug or carpet. They would explain very clearly to you that they can ship anywhere in the world. 

It really was not as bad as that. Being in this country for the first time is occasionally conducive to culture shock. One cannot imagine how different India is from anywhere else except for India. I had not even been to any first world Asian country before (think Singapore or Brunei). When I first left the airport, walking from the airport to the streets, I was completely disoriented. I could not tell if it was dawn, dusk, or maybe even midday. There was an orange or beige dust in the air that seemed to reflect a sunlight that could have been intensifying or diminishing. I just stood there outside of the airport looking around at the dusty air and feeling the heaviness of the humidity. I continued to stand there until a Vaisnava bramachari, dressed in the signature saffron colored kirta and dhoti of the ISKCON devotee approached me. He asked me if I was going to Mayapur. I told him that I was going there. He then asked me if I would like to share the cost of a taxi there. The devotee negotiated a decent price for us to pay and I paid my half. I was fortunate enough to meet someone who had traveled extensively in this country. 

While we were in the taxi, it was hard to tell if it was fortunate to have gotten into the taxi with the devotee because it was one scary ride. It was as it we were running through a gauntlet of approximately 70 miles of pedestrians, bicyclists, donkey carts, goats, lone cows, noisy horn honking cars, and noisier horn honking trucks. We were rapidly passing through all these things which were all out in uncountable numbers while, at the same time, motorcycles were passing us and we were having to swerve out of the way of oncoming vehicles that were doing the same thing. 

If I was tired and sleepy from the overseas plane trip, there was still no way I was going to take a nap in this taxi. I intensely watched the road in front of us while looking around at everything and everyone we were dodging and passing with unnerving speed. Bengal is the fourth most populous state of India and this road between Calcutta and Mayapur made that quite evident. It started to get dark after we left Calcutta so it was dusk when I stepped out of the airport. Well,I would not have been able to do much sightseeing on the way to Mayapur anyway because the road itself and everything I saw on the road completely engaged my attention. 

Shoe store receipt from Varanasi, hotel receipt from Allahabad, bus receipt from New Delhi to Srinagar.

We arrived safely into the Navadwip-Mayapur area and the taxi pulled up to the entrance of the ISKCON property. I saw two large buildings that had already been completed and one more large building still under construction. The completed buildings were the temple (Mayapur Chandrodaya Mandir) and one of the ashram/hotel buildings. The building under construction was another ashram/hotel building. When completed, one of the buildings will be specially used as an ashram for the devotees and the other will be for pilgrims. They were also building a samadhi here for Srila Prabhupad although there already was a very beautiful samadhi for him in Vrindavan. I think they were going to keep Srila Prabhupads' remains interred in Vrindavan and have some relics of his interred in the Mayapur samadhi. This will be one of the most recent temple complexes built in Mayapur among hundreds of more ancient temples, large and small, in the Navadwip area. 

Mayapur is located on a tributary of the Ganga River. It is in the region of Navadwip and the ISKCON temple here will be the headquarters of ISKCON. I came to visit here at this time because this is the birthplace of Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabu and his birthday, or appearance day, occurs this week when I arrived. Lord Caitanya Mahaprabu is considered to be an incarnation of Sri Krishna "in the mode of Radha" the number one gopi girl who Sri Krishna would secretly meet for His Rasa lila dancing. Of course, Sri Krishna met with at least 108 gopi girls but Radha is the main one. I believe she is actually an eternal consort of Sri Krishna. There is another beautiful white temple here that was commissioned to be built by Bhaktivinode Thakur in 1886. He was the leading Gaudiya Math Vaisnava who was in the same sisila (disclipic succession) that A.C. Bhaktivedanta Prabhupad was in. The temple that he had built is located at Ballaldighi, Navadwip, within walking distance to the northeast of ISKCON. Oh, and there are 2 locations here that hold claim as being the birth place of Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabu. One is in the town of Navadwip and the other is on the Mayapur side of the river. I consider the Mayapur location as authentic but that is not based on research, it is just a matter of who you believe. 

This catur I bought is Kashmiri but I bought it at the Krishna Balaram Mandir in Vrindavan. I continue to order the scented oils from the same temple till  this day. They have an online store called The Krishna Store and it is very easy to navigate the website and order products that are quickly sent and received. 

I decided not to rent a room or stay in the ashram the first nights. The weather was lovely and obviously would remain warm for a few nights. So I scouted out the grounds and found a corner in a verdant garden. I had an overcoat with me. This overcoat was a little worn out with a hole in one pocket which is the reason I brought it with me. I thought that it would be a good portable ground covering to protect myself from soil whenever I slept outside. It was now time to put it to use. I did not have any suitcases with me to worry about. I had only an old duffel bag with daily essentials in it. I was finally able to lie down once I had found my corner and I fell asleep quickly and soundly. After I woke up the next morning, I had to find out where to take a shower, shave, and meet Annutama Das. Annutama Das was the president of the Denver ISKCON TEMPLE and the one who told me how to contact the devotees who ran the travel agency through which I booked and purchased my tickets for India. After I showered and shaved, I did find Annutama Das sitting on the marble floor, next to a column, in the temples' main altar room. I sat down next to Annutama Das and we first talked about my arrival. He gave me information about where I could get my hair cut and obtain everything I needed to have the traditional Bramacharya sika and attire. The sika is the crop of hair on the back of an otherwise shaven head. To get the haircut, I had to walk to the back side of one of the ashram buildings to find a lone barber who was shaving the heads and faces of a few men who sat in the one chair he had placed there. When it was my turn, I sat in that one chair that was probably a dining room table chair, and he shaved my head and left a very nice sika in the back. After he finished, I paid him a couple of rupees and returned to the main temple room to wait for the next arati which is the altar worship that is performed by a pujari or two. Radha and Krishna as Radha-Madhava are installed on the altar as well as the Pancha-Tattva which are the five divine persons of Lord Chaitanya, Sri Nityananda, Sri Advaita Acharya, Sri Gadadhara Pandit, and Srivasa Pandit. The proper name of this temple is "Mayapur Chandrodaya Mandir". Prasadam is the food that is blessed by its having been offered to the dieties on the altar during arati service. At this temple, and a couple of other temples I visited in Vrindavan, anybody can receive a laddu dessert from the Pujaris after the arati by following the line of people up to the altar and by holding our right hand up so the pujari can drop the laddu into the palm of our hand while we pass. Prasadam is also sold to anyone who wants to buy some from numerous stalls on the property.

It is also possible to see children going  to school here because there is a Bhaktivedanta Academy on the property to educate the children of the devotees who are living at the temple. Children from the surrounding communities also attend. The devotee families who live or visit here are also fed Prasadam at no charge as are their living quarters. They are all provided for in return for some kind of service that benefits the temple complex and community. The fact that there is a Pushpa Samadhi here surprised me because I knew about the Samadhi in the Krishna Balaram Mandir in Vrindavan. If they cremated Srila Prabhupads' body then maybe they intend to keep half of the ashes at the Vrindavan Samadhi and the other half of the ashes in the Mayapur Samadhi. There is a large memorial shrine for Srila Prabhupad that is being built and it will be one of the largest of its kind in the country. There will also be many more garden areas on the property besides the one where I was sleeping. I decided to not try and find a room because the hotel portion of the complex was very busy and I slept very soundly the first night and I would be here only one or two nights more. My corner of the garden was nicely secluded by bushes and trees so it was easy for me to get by with sleeping outside there.

I did not explore any other areas of Navadwip or Mayapur. I used these 3 days here to relax, explore the temple grounds, attend the arati services for Srila Prabhupad, and for Radha-Madhava. I ate mostly just the freely distributed temple Prasadam after the arati services although I would occasionally go to one of the snack stalls for a limeade or lassi. After these 3 days at the Mayapur ISKCON temple, I grabbed my duffel bag from the place where I had stashed it and then walked over to the Ganga River. There are some nice foot paths all along the river so I started following the path towards the north west, where Varanasi is located. I decided to spend a week or two walking along the Ganga River. I would have walked all the way to Varanasi (also known as Benares) but that would have taken too much time out of the 3 months I was spending in the country. 

A photo of a mantle or traveling altarpiece. The center shows the Panch-Tattva. Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabu is in the center of the panch-Tattva. Srila Prabhupad is at the lower left corner position. His spiritual master is at his right side. To the right of Srila Prabhupads' spiritual master is HIS spiritual master and so on... This is the sisila parampara of the spiritual masters that descends from Lord Chaitanya Mahaprabu to Srila Prabhupad.

At the temple in Mayapur,  I was given a pamphlet about the proper way to eat. There is a common saying among the yogi communities of India that  states; "A yogi drinks a cup of water before eating, a man of passion drinks during the meal, and the man of ignorance drinks after the meal" (thus putting out the fire). The pamphlet stated that we should fill our stomachs as far as three quarters of the way full by eating Prasadam (eating only the food that is blessed on the altar by offering it first to the dieties.) The fourth quarter of the stomach would be left empty and no water would be consumed until after the digestion of the food was well underway. I followed the pronouncements of the pamphlet but I was eating very little during the three days I stayed in Mayapur. 

Before I started walking up the Ganga River towards Varanasi, I went to the temple shop and bought a catur (or dupatta) to wear at night when it might get chilly. A catur is like a cross between a scarf and a blanket woven with multifarious colors and motifs. The catur I bought was Kashmiri and woven with thick brown and tan wool. I also bought a couple large jars of honey so I could have some natural sweet to keep up my energy for the long walk. I never felt ill in any way during my stay in Mayapur nor at any time during my walk along the Ganga River. I did not have anything else to eat during the walk besides the honey I  had just bought and some nuts that I carried from home and still had not eaten. During the 3 months that I traveled around India, the only times I felt ill enough to vomit was when I over ate and drank in Vrindavan. One time I vomited on the roof of the Krishna Balaram Mandir because I was suffering from a very full stomach and also feeling the oppressive heat of the sun. During my walk along the Ganga River, I always felt like I was in optimal health and strength every day until my walk ended at the house of the tea merchant. 

I was probably walking too fast at times. I remember when a young man walked up to me and started to walk along side of me. No speaking or any kind of  communication was exchanged between us. He just  started  walking with me. He was wearing sandals and at one point he stubbed his foot on some kind of prickly plant which caused him pain and he started to limp but he continued to walk with me. In retrospect, I am sorry that I continued to walk at the same fast pace. I should have slowed down for his convenience or I should have stopped so he could tend to his foot but I did not do either. Eventually, he veered off into another direction and I continued along the Ganga. My feelings at the time were that he interrupted my solitary quest and he should not have been there but now I feel that this was wrong and should have helped him. 

Farmers plowing with oxen and people walking with cows or goats were always and everywhere to be seen.