Dear disciples and friends,
Please accept my blessings. All glories to Srila Prabhupada.
I last wrote to you about 10 days ago from the Rome airport, on my way to Dubai. I arrived there around 1 in the morning on the 10th, and went to the flat of my aspiring disciple Bhaktin Karin from Estonia, her husband Sandip, a Gujarati finance and investments expert, and their two sons Gopala and Keshav.
Dubai is in the middle of the desert and is an extreme Arab/Muslim country.
I had to come in in disguise, as they do not allow devotees to enter in traditional dress, and the first thing I noticed was how gruff the man on the visa counter was. He asked me “where are you staying? Hotel?” I replied “Maybe”, and he said “Which hotel”. I told him I didn’t know where I was going to stay, and he just stamped my passport and told me to go. Not very welcoming…
However when I met Karin and Sandip it was all completely different. They were very blissful and happy that I had come, and we quickly returned to their flat. While I was there I did two programmes – one in their flat, which was attended by almost 100 devotees, all expatriots from different parts of India, and the other one in a very large flat that one devotee is renting just for the purpose of holding Krishna conscious programmes.
The devotees were very enthusiastic, and started planning out the details of my next visit, which will be on November 3rd, a Friday. Friday is the weekend in Dubai, and the devotees make the most of it by having three programmes in different parts of Dubai. I will be landing around 6 in the morning, and the first programme will be at about 8. Then the second will be around 11, and the third around 3 or so. It will certainly keep me fully engaged in devotional service, although I don’t know when I will sleep or chant my rounds that day.
Finally on the 12th night I flew from Dubai to Delhi at about 10.20, and landed there around 5am. Under these circumstances it is very difficult for me to sleep, so I had not actually slept at all that night by the time we landed. Off we went to Sri Vrindavana Dhama, where a group of disciples were in the process of videoing the Vraja Mandala Parikrama.
Lokanatha Maharaja had requested me to do this service for some time, and he is such a wonderful devotee that I couldn’t refuse him, even though it was an extremely daunting task. We were going to have to keep up with a group of about 500 devotees, walking often at top speed through Sri Vrindavana Dhama, and very briefly stopping at the different pastime places. Things were then further complicated when I had to go to the GBC meeting in Prabhupadadesh in Italy, but the devotees in Vrindavana, headed by Svarupa Damodara prabhu from Novosibirsk, had made a good start and were getting a lot of nice footage.
I rested on the 13th, but during the day received the news that Lokanatha Maharaja had been in a serious car accident and had sustained some injuries.
Early in the morning, on his way to join the devotees for their Govardhana parikrama, the devotee driver swerved violently to the left to avoid a branch in the road, sending the car flying off the car, after which it rolled. Maharaja was in the back seat, on the left side, with two other devotees to his right, and when all this suddenly happened the other devotees were thrown on top of him and he injured his left arm and hand on the ground as the car skidded to a halt on its side. He need stitches and was not going to be able to participate in the parikrama for at least a week, or more.
We joined the party at their camp just outside Radhakunda, and he first person I met was Kavicandra Maharaja, who had also been in the accident. He was telling me how irresponsible the driver was, and how recklessly he was driving, and how he wouldn’t listen when he was told to slow down. We have to drive carefully when we have devotees on board. They are very valuable cargo.
We started off on the road to Deeg, about 20 kms away. I walked barefoot, but noticed that the pace was really intense, and I became concerned about how my body was going to be able to take it all, particularly my feet. Sure enough, by the half way point my feet were wearing out and I was feeling very tired, but I decided to carry on with shoes on. However the shoes cut into my toes, and about 3 or 4 kms out of Deeg I had to get in the van that our video crew was using.
We drove to Deeg and went to the palace there. It was the summer residence of the Maharajas of Bharatapur, which is about 30 or so kms away, and the whole complex covers about 8 acres. It was quite amazing to see how they lived. The palace complex has 2000 fountains, fed from a very large pool on top of the largest building in the complex. There are numerous holes in the side of the pool, feeding different pipes which go to particular fountains in particular parts of the complex, and they would put colours in the different holes so the water would be different colours in different places.
They even had a tiger cage for their pet tiger!
The Indian government nationalized the palace in 1951, and since then it has been a museum, although gradually it’s now falling to pieces. Still it was very interesting to see how these people lived.
The next day we came out to stay with the parikrama party for 5 nights. I must say it was very nice visiting so many wonderful places, like Badrinatha in Vraja and Kedaranatha in Vraja. Actually these places, along with places like Manasi Ganga at Govardhana Hill, are the original places, and the places in the Himalayas, and the Ganges to the north of Delhi are just manifestations from these original places.
Badrinatha is probably the most beautiful place in the whole of Vraja Mandala. It’s a mountainous area where hardly any people live, and is the most natural part of the whole area. Kedaranatha is also very nice, being on top of a hill, with 300 steps leading up to it.
Somehow I managed to climb all the way up, and on the whole I was able to deal with the conditions we were encountering, but I was suspicious that my body might give in at some point, as it was really a great strain. On the 19th it rained for some time, and then at about 2.30 in the morning on the 20th it rained torrentially, and I had to go out in it to take my cold bucket bath at the hand pump at about 3.30. I couldn’t understand how I was able to carry on. Finally that morning, as we returned to Vrindavana town, I came down with a bad cold, which I still have now as I write to you from the Bombay airport, on my way back to Durban for Govardhana Puja.
Let us hope it clears up before too long. I will let you know what happens shortly.
Hoping this meets you well.
Your ever well wisher,
Bhakti Caitanya Swami