I'm writing this as the polls in America are open and the final crescendo of news hype in the presidential election pervades the media here. It's one day and a parallel universe since i landed from Vrindavan. It's such a different world-- India and Vrindavan-- from the West. For someone who is searching for transcendence, and particularly for devotion, Vrindavan offers hope and affection, while the West offers depression and distraction.
It's not that everything is better there. Lots of things are much better here and many things much worse there. Perhaps i will elaborate on this in a later post. But i promised to share some details of my experiences of my visit to Vrindavan, so i will start today with my arrival in India. I did not take notes or record a journal, so these impressions are from memory.
As soon as i walked off the Air India flight from London and took my first steps at the Delhi airport, there was a familiar smell in the air. It is the smell of India. I am not exactly sure wherefrom or what that smell is, but it is distinctive. It's always my first impression of India, since my very first visit there in 1973. Then as now, i'm struck looking at the faces of the airport workers, so different from the working class in the West. And the architecture, despite renovations, seems stuck in a 1960s retro mode, but that just adds to the sense that one has arrived in a different world.
Going thru immigration is painless-- no questions, just the formality of getting the passport stamped-- and keeping the slip of paper to give to the Customs agent on the way out. Then queueing up just outside the airport at the Pre-paid taxi stand. Usually a taxi from Vrindavan is waiting for me, but this time i'm spending a few hours in Delhi (it's 3 am when i land) and i'm going to the dentist later in the morning. I pay 330 rupees for a pre-paid taxi to East of Kailash, where the Iskcon temple is located. I'm going to spend 4 or 5 hours at the guest house before my dentist appointment. The agent taking my rupess for the pre-paid taxi does not give me change from the 500 rupee note i give him for the fare. I take the ticket and start to leave, before remembering he owes me 170 rupees. My first reminder: in India you need to pay attention to details. Sometimes people will be honest with you. Often they will try to cheat you. Westerners have targets on their backs for easy pickings. I ask for my change and he grudgingly gives it to me.
The taxi driver doesn't speak any English, but i keep repeating Hare Krishna Mandir and he knows where it is. When we get to the temple, the chokidar (guard) directs us to another gate for the guest house. That gate is locked and the chokidar is asleep in a house behind the gate. He doesn't want to get up and open the gate, but finally consents to letting me leave the taxi and walk thru the gate. When i finally find my way to guest house (no signs are visible), the worker there looks like he could have been there 100 years ago. He can't find my name in the guest register and tells me i have no reservation. I know i have one, since someone made it for me. After several attempts of insisting i had a booking, he makes a call and then tells me my booking is at "The New Guest House," which is outside the gates of the temple complex, about 300 meters away. I try to negotiate to stay where i am, but it's not possible, according to the peon who is the night manager. He does convince me that the "new guest house" is not far and i decide to go off into the black nite to find it. I walk out the gate and cross the street, walk down a lane where again there are no signs to be seen, but as i walk, the chokidar from the new guest house is waiting for me, and pulls me in. I sign in with a 25 year old life membership card i have, which entitles me not to a free room but a subsidized price of 150 rupees for my short stay. The chokidar walks me to my room on the third floor. It has a fan that works only on the fastest speed. It also has an attached toilet and water for a bucket bath.
It's 4:30 am, so i decide to go across the street and begin my pilgrimmage by attending mangal arotik for Radha Parasarathi, the Deities installed by Srila Prabhupada in Delhi in the early 70's. I need to walk thru a metal detector and security guard to get into the temple grounds. The guard asks me for my room number at the guest house and that seems to satisfy him. I walk into the temple and pay my dandavats to Srila Prabhupada, Gaura Nitai, Sita Ram Laksman and Hanuman, and Sri Sri Radha Parasarathi. The arotik concludes, i sit in the back of the temple room while one devotee makes some announcements and then i go back to my room to rest for 3 hours, lying under a sheet while the fan spins at top speed, until 8:30 am when i get up, take a bucket shower and leave the guest house with my things to catch an auto rikshaw to the dentist's office. My Kartik trip has begun.