Our small group arrived at Howrah Station at 8:30am on the 17th of March 2001. We were looking forward to visiting ISKCON Mayapur – the Headquarters of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness and Birthplace of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu.  Mayapur is one of the nine islands near the Ganges estuary.  Navadvipa-Mayapur Dhama is about 130 kilometres from Calcutta.

Unsure of how I was going to get to Mayapur, I enquired at the ticket office about trains from Howrah to Navadvipa.  Meanwhile, Padmanabha prabhu arranged a taxi for us.  He had a way of arranging things in such a way that neither of us paid.  It was the culture, after all, in India for householders to take care of brahmacaris and sannyasis.  

Calcutta looked like a big, sooty machine.  The timeless Ganga slowly made her way out of the city past carnival lights, crows, street vendors, ferries, and metropolitan pilgrims.  I thought of Joseph Conrad’s Heart Of Darkness.  The British colonial influence stuck like a fading tattoo. It took some time for our cab to exit the ornate Victorian ‘Old Station’ and edge its way, through a sea of hooting taxis, over Hoogly Bridge.  Advaita Charan, the elderly South American devotee, was quietly chanting – Hare Krishna Hare Krishna/Krishna Krishna Hare Hare/Hare Rama Hare Rama/ Rama Rama Hare Hare.

People and cars…crowding and competing…crowding and competing.  Victorian statues and statues celebrating Independence from British rule.  Corrugated iron structures.  Corrugated iron roofs.  Rusty Victorian warehouses.  I saw typically British parklands through the cab window, as we veered around the stately Indian Rajbhavan.  Billboards offered contemporary western delights against a gothic background of British Imperial architecture.  The taxi’s stop-start driving turned into an even flow as we encountered the more pleasant atmosphere of suburbia – schools, parks and gymnasiums.  Twenty minutes later we were out of Calcutta.

The tar soon became a dust-road, flanked by palm trees and brilliant green rice paddy fieds.  I thought of the poem Prabhupada was fond of quoting, ‘God is in the country; man is in the town’.  Some time passed.   Padmanabha asked the driver to stop the car.  The South American couple were tired. We got out, and sipped some dobs (drinking coconuts) through thin plastic straws.  The driver disappeared somewhere (to get a cup of chai), and re-appeared 15 minutes later.   Padmanabha prabhu gravely pointed to one of the small towns we were passing and said, ‘Shantipur’.  Shantipur was the town of Lord Chaitanya’s personal associate and expansion, Advaita Acharya.  The beauty and serenity of Gauradesa soothed the heart.  And now we were approaching the very heart of Gauradesa – Sri Mayapur Dhama.

The taxi braked as we entered the back gates of the Sri Mayapurachandrodaya Mandir. Padmanabha and I took the elderly South American couple’s bags, and helped them check into the guesthouse.  Padmanabha, silent and mystical as ever, arranged comfortable lodging for us in the brahmacari ashram.  We had hardly put down our bags when he said in his matter-of-fact way: ‘Prabhuji, fetch your gamcha.  We going to take bath in Ganga.  Afterwards, we take darshan of Srila Prabhupada, Radha-Madhava and Sri Pancha Tattva’.

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