Any person must have at least once in their life heard of religious cults, one such cult that took over the West by storm during the 1960 and later was ISKCON – The International Society for Krishna Consciousness, most famously recognized in popular culture by the chant ‘Hare Krishna Hare Rama’. Such was and still is the influence of the cult that it is almost unmissable.
I do not follow any religions as such but it always intrigues me to witness the energy surrounding these cults. The interest to witness all the Krishna devotion first hand made me visit ‘Mayapur‘ the birth place of ISKCON and the headquarters for the same.
Weekend in Mayapur:
Mayapur is an experience in itself, ISKCON HQ is a massive area and 2 days is enough but not sufficient to take it all in, although it is on the weekends it is most bustling with energy and music. The mornings and evenings are filled with hymns and chants of ‘Hare Rama Hare Krishna’. The quaint place suddenly comes to live and the devotion of the people for Lord Krishna and his greatest devotee – Swami Prabhupada – Founder of ISKCON is unmatched.
For a true experience you got to try these:
Stay at one of the guest houses in ISCKON: You might not be the religious types, but witnessing the morning aarti is a must, and best way to make that possible is stay in the guest houses. And why not, it is super economical and cheap, very well maintained and clean with all basic necessities, what else is required.
Enjoy the mass lunch: Eating in a mass lunch with a 1000 others all at once is an overwhelming experience. So do not missing the delicious lunch at Gada Kitchen or Sulabh Kitchen priced at as low as Rs 70 & Rs 30 respectively. One can even get tickets to free lunch meals which can be purchased early morning.
Witness the aarti: Aarti is a way of offering prayers to the Almighty. Witnessing the devotion and the spirit inside the prayer hall during the morning and evening aarti is extraordinary.
Elephant Procession on Saturday: Not to be missed, the Elephant procession takes place in the evening and is a exotic display of Indian culture, music, songs and of course 2 colorfully dressed up elephants with energetic mahots.
Spend time at the Goshala: It is the protective cow shelter in ISKCON, Mayapur. I have to tell you this place has such handsome cows and the most amazing milk products for sale I have ever had. Try the lassi, milk, ghee and the desserts here. Mindblowingly yum!
Eat your heart out: Food is a form of service and food in ISKCON is super yum, real healthy, totally vegetarian and really affordable. Do not miss eating at the Govinda’s and Radha Madhav’s Mahaprasad restaurant.
Watch the world’s largest temple in the making – Temple of the Vedic Planetarium: In the making, hopefully this massive temple sprawling over six lac square foot area will be the world’s largest temple by year 2022.
Beyond ISKCON: Nabadwip, the birth place of Chaitanya Mahaprobhu is a tiny little place on the banks of River Bhagirathi, this place is of great spiritual importance and all full of ancient building, temples and trees. Worth paying a visit.
Best time to visit:
Summers in West Bengal get pretty uncomfortable and real hot and humid. The best time to visit is in winters from Oct to March. A weekend is good enough to visit the place, of course one can choose to stay longer as per will.
The ideal place to stay in Mayapur is inside the ISKCON Headquarters campus. There are many types of guest house options one can choose to stay in all of which are at 5-10 mins walking distance from the temple such as Conch, Gada, Vamsi and Gita Bhawan, Nityananda Kutir. The prices range from as low as Rs 300/4 bedded room for the humble ones to as much as Rs 2500/4 bedded room. Best to book online through the official page, I stayed at the Gada Bhawan for Rs700/4 bedded room and trust me it is worth each penny. Spacious, neat and clean and well equipped with all basics.
Good to know: Any kind of addiction is not permitted, which includes tea and coffee as well. So if you are a tea or coffee addict prepared to be caffeine free for a few days or come prepared!