Monday, June 23, 2008

Golden Palace

We went off on more day trips last weekend.

The first stop of the day was Prabhupada's Palace of Gold , crowded as we had never seen it before on previous trips. Their congregation is definitely growing in size, as is their elderly cow and peacock population. The chanting was as raucous as any that I have heard, hugely enthusiastic, with people of all shapes, sizes and colors swaying to the beat, some with arms 'raised in surrender'. I remember being horribly embarrassed on an earlier trip there by some gentleman who insisted that we join in with the chanting, hands up in the air- it requires a suspension of disbelief that does not come easy to me. Lissome teens in half-saris glided in and out of the crowd with their mysterious errands, or maybe out of sheer boredom with the routine. A particularly loud blast from the dholak was a cue to me to take M off to see the peacocks, and the rest of my family soon slipped out on their individual excuses.

We walked up to the peacock house and watched one of the males walk behind a female in circles, undeterred by the gawkers. Another male stalked off alone across the bridge, screaming in challenge after crossing it, and receiving a response from the woods behind. The white peacocks posed inside their shelter, climbing up on the roof.

A couple of swans glided down the pond in picture perfection, one of them giving me, I swear, a beady-eyed but incisive glance before tapping a bill against a trashcan on the pond bank. Was that supposed to be a hint of some kind? Either way, we (bird-brained??) humans didn't 'get it', and the swans glided away in royal disdain.

In the Palace, we traipsed around barefoot or be-socked as the tour guide showed us the chandelier-and-marble-and-goldleaf interior, carefully emphatic about 'completely constructed by devotees as a labor-of-love for the swami, who came from an unbroken 5000-year old line of gurus'. I couldn't help asking my smart-aleck "Who's that in blue next to Chaitanya in the oil painting?"feeling very pleased with my memories of the Amar Chitra Katha cover of Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, answered by a calm 'Nit-ya-nand' by the unflappable guide.

The guide was pleased at the end of the tour when I proffered a donation of $10 'towards upkeep' and handed me a color brochure of the Palace of Gold. M got to pick out a pretty multicolored handmade beeswax candle as a souvenir as well. The photos in the brochure were gorgeous, evidently done by a professional devotee, but there were puzzling cut out pages and whited-out names: more evidence of the internal politics which racked the ISKCON in the recent years, I suppose.

The rose garden was filled with fading rose bushes , some still possessing a trace of scent, others engineered for appearance rather than perfume, still had an echo of their earlier glory a couple of weeks before. We had evidently come a little late for prime bloom, but were at least able to catch of glimpse of the famed roses.

Then it was back to the temple, in hopes that the bhajan-kirtan session had gotten over and free lunch served. But we had come down too early. Being in a hurry to leave for our next destination, we settled for an unappetizing looking but quite delicious khichri and lime pickle. M and S turned up their noses at the fare initially, they deigned to gobble a few mouthfuls to stave off their hunger till we could make it to a nearby Subway eatery.

We escaped the main rush of devotees just as they started pouring out of the hall, made a quick beeline for the van and drove off to our next destination, which deserves a post all to itself.

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