“If there’s one thing I have learned it’s that if you carry on as though nothing strange is happening, it usually stops being strange” ― Sarah-Kate Lynch, On Top of Everything
So, you’ve heard the term “Hare Krishna”. Right? If you came of age in the late 60s and 70s, you must have. More on that later.
Because of delays, we couldn’t make our destination in the daylight Monday, therefore postponing until Tuesday morning. The day then became a relaxing one on the river. Sights included people bathing, doing laundry, brushing their teeth in the river, sampans heavily laden with their cargo going by, funeral pyres, water buffalo, music occasionally blaring from shore; all the while greetings from shore by the local people.
After dinner we were invited to the upper deck for a special surprise. Our lovely stewards, Manish and Mahendra were in a sampan upstream, releasing candles into the water, creating a magical trail of light along the river. When their vessel neared our ship, they sent lanterns up into the sky. Awesome.
Our morning make-up excursion was to the town of Mayapur. Mayapur is the international headquarter for ISKCON; The International Society for Krishna Consciousness, aka “The Hare Krishna Movement.” In the Hindu faith, Krishna is the eighth incarnation of the god Vishnu. Totally legit. Our guide, purely from an intellectual standpoint, told us that the negative association we have with The Hare Krishna Movement thirty-some years ago (opium, brainwashing, child abuse) has disappeared. Their new temple under construction (which will rival St. Peter’s in Rome, funded by Alfred Ford); their “buy a brick”-style donation offerings for up to $250,000; the scores of western followers who have migrated and live there, including numerous children; overhearing the sales pitch by one such western Hare Krishna monk, with an American accent, to other monks-in-training (for lack of a better term); the signs offering ISKCON lifetime membership; their fancy off-limits headquarter offices; or condo offerings, sounding similar to buying in a Florida golf course community (www.pancatattvavillage.com): all of these and so many other subtle red flags made the whole place feel eerily cult-like. I could not wait to get out of there. I don’t think this is what Hinduism is all about.
Happily back on board, we had an opportunity to have henna drawings. Manish did my hand, Mahendra my foot. I’m pretty much loving it, and wishing it would be sandal season when I get back to NY.
Leaving Mayapur our boat got stuck on a sandbar for two and a half hours. Mother Ganga didn’t want to let us go. Before being freed with the help of another boat, we wondered, at one point, if we’d need to leave the ship temporarily. And seconds before we were again moving downstream, a butterfly fluttered around the deck. Hmmm….
Sadly, we’re soon back to Calcutta. Next stop, much anticipated Varanasi.