On the auspicious day of the Bengali new year, Poila Baishakh, I went for a day trip to Mayapur at the break of dawn. We started our journey at around 5.30 A.M. Mayapur is 130 Kms from Kolkata by road.
We took the national highway 117 and passed through Santragachi Station and turned our way towards the Airport. The road after reaching the Airport is straight without many twists and turns. From Barasat we took the NH 34.The entire stretch of road is good and well maintained. After crossing the town of Barasat the highway turns into an aisle painted on both side by lush green agricultural fields. The highway is frequented by roadside shacks selling snacks and tea.
We stopped for a tea break before reaching our destination. However, I found out that though the shack is quite large in size it sells only tea, biscuits of the indigenous bakeries, yogurt, the 'Bapuji' cake and soft drinks! Weird combination but this is the character of most of the shops in the stretch I guess! We reached Mayapur around 9.30 A.M. (The estimated cost of the trip is given on a per head basis and we were 6 people traveling so please keep that in mind. It will be more for solo travelers)
THE STAY AT MAYAPUR~A REFLECTION OF MENTALITY
The area under ISKON is huge! We put up at Geeta Bhavan. There are many guest houses under ISKON apart from Geeta Bhavan like the Gada Bhavan, Chaitanya Bhavan. All have varying tariff and facilities attached. So one get to choose from a wide range. You need to carry one I.D proof to have a room in one of these guest houses. Couples trying to put up here need to prove they are married in order to get a room.
I am not much inclined on arguing on a topic still considered 'controversial' in India in a travel blog but I severely disliked the mentality reflected via this policy of ISKON. I am not much into religion and stuff and my aversion got a little encouragement here. Yet another incident reflected on the take the receptionist had about the 'equality' of men and women in the society. While taking the room you need to fill up a form. When my father asked me to fill it the receptionist forbid it and said either my father or my uncle(the male members) must fill it up and not me.
I could not have hated the man more I guess. The room tariff was INR 300 and it was very very clean. The room was spacious, enough natural light poured in.4 single beds, a dustbin and a bucket were there in the room and no other furniture. Two beds at the two ends of the room and another bed stacked below the two beds, you need to pull them out. Each floor had separate washrooms for men and women. The washrooms are spacious, clean. Both Indian western type toilets are present and 7-8 curtained bathrooms.
Food in Mayapur is entirely vegetarian.The menu of the stall selling breakfast near our guest house read: Pasta- 50, Pizza-70, Cheese Sandwich-40, Dosa plain and masala-40-70, Alu, Gobi Parantha etc etc at prices I do not remember. However the stall sells these only till 10'o clock in the morning since we were late we were not served any of these. All we chewed were ready made food.
A collection of pastries and sweets were available. I am a born sweet lover I happily munched them on. Strolling further in the complex we noticed food coupons were being sold at a counter. Lunch Coupon for INR 70 and INR 150 were available. We purchased the coupon of INR 70. These coupon grants one a lunch meal at Gada Bhavan in the afternoon from 1P.M- 1.30 P.M. At 1 P.M we entered the dining room of Gada Bhavan. It was baffling huge. There was at least 10 rows of arches and people sat on the floor on carpets in rows on either end of the arches.
Each row accommodated at least 50 people. So yes the place has the capacity to feed 1000 people in the least at one go!It was an experience worth taking. Dining together with all kind of people coming from different walks of life is a good and nice experience. Here the philosophy that all human are equal could have been very well reflected if not for the existence of the INR 150 coupon! Our INR 70 coupon included salt, drinking water,a spoonfull of Pulao( sweet rice), a beguni(fried brinjal), plain rice, daal,2 vegetable dishes, chapati, tomato chutney, payesh. The Pulao and Beguni are not repeated but the rest are repeated 3 times. It is a pure art how the food is served and a very very commendable job performed by the devotees at ISKON. Cooking for such a huge population on a daily basis and serving to the population at one go is a very grueling, tedious and stressful job. The taste of the food was good and everything was very fresh.Happy from this experience as I moved out of the dining hall I found a huge crowd of people walking with food and as I peeped in a room attached to the corridor I found people eating on dinning tables there. Later I found out its for the people who bought the INR 150 coupon. INR 150 entitles one for a buffet.
The main temple complex is adorned by a water body and fancy trees. One needs to buy a ticket to go to the floors above the ground floor. In the ground floor a huge hall with a domed ceiling is home to some divine idols. The ceiling flaunt paintings depicting Hindu Scriptures and stories of Lord Chaitanya. Idols and Hindu scriptures are also sold here. Before entering temple premises one need to deposit her shoes, electronic gadgets, luggage in a counter developed for the safekeeping of these.
GLIMPSE OF LIFE AT ISKON
During casually strolling in ISKON Mayapur I caught a very good glimpse of a full grown bee hive. The complex can boast of a huge green patch with long grasses adorning it. One can breathe in pure fresh air here. Several white western people can be found draping on conservative dresses and riding scooties and bicycles. The ISKON complex also have a collection of shops selling relevant dresses and cultural artifacts of the place, often,handmade by the people there. The entire stretch of Mayapur is adorned by pretty temples dedicated to the Lord Krishna. The architecture and decorations of these temples are very catchy and a treat to the eyes.
The locals of the village of Mayapur are very friendly contrary to the devotees living in the ISKON complex. Our breakfast break at a local eatery was delightful as the shop owner very happily served us the 'prasad' from the puja being held at his shop on the auspicious day of Poila Baishakh. However again here the gender inequality was notable. The lady serving the breakfast skipped the female members and served the males first! A person living within the ISKON complex narrated to us how roaming about at night time is unsafe due to the huge population of foxes in the locality!
Basking in all these memories we set off towards home biding adieu to Mayapur at around 4.30 P.M. Watching the sunset on the green fields encouraged a poet in me. With sunset NH 34 was engulfed in complete darkness. We reached back at 8.30 P.M cutting our way through the festive spirit of Barasat crowd! I guess our Noboborsho (New Year) had a good start.