This summer, the Krishna Culture Youth Bus Tour, whose directors Manorama Das and Jaya Sri Radhe Dasi are based in Alachua, Florida, toured Europe for the first time ever.
The Bus Tour, which has given youth a fun experience while engaging them in devotional service since 1995, has traveled across the width and breadth of North America and Mexico. But while a European tour has been a dream for many years, it was never realized until now.
Things changed when Sita Bell from the UK, and Kumari Kunti and Visvambhar from Radhadesh, Belgium, themselves all second generation ISKCON devotees, stepped up to help Manorama and Jaya Sri Radhe organize the tour.
Thrilled that the dream was finally happening, forty-four youth aged 16 to 25 from North America, England and Italy all got on board as participants.
The tour ran for just over a month from July 15th to August 19th, beginning at Bhaktivedanta Manor in England. There, youth went sightseeing in London, visiting both typical tourist spots and places of historical interest to ISKCON devotees, as well as chanting Harinama in the streets for the benefit of London residents.
The group then drove in vans to Plymouth and Glastonbury, camping along the way and adding numbers and youthful enthusiasm to the small Rathayatra festivals held in each town.
“Next, we took a ferry to France,” says tour photographer Rukmini Priya Poddar, 20. “There, we met up with our huge luxury tour bus, which held 44 people and was the most amazing bus ever.”
In France the group visited the rural community of New Mayapur near the Loire Valley, famous for its historic towns, vineyards and chateaus. There they helped the temple residents out by doing service, and toured the community’s early 20th century chateau temple, 80 hectares of forests and pastures, Krishna Balarama flower and vegetable garden, and cow protection program.
Jumping for Joy at the Arc De Triomphe, Paris.
The youth next visited Paris for sightseeing and Harinams, and then traveled to ISKCON’s famous Radhadesh rural community in Belgium for its annual summer festival.
“In Radhadesh they were super supportive of the youth and hosted us all for free,” Rukmini says. “We reciprocated by doing a lot of service and performances for their festival.”
These included a mime entitled Giving Your Heart to Krishna, in which Rukmini and two other actors movingly portrayed the soul’s journey as he tries to give his heart to different people in the material world, then realizes he will be most satisfied by giving it to Krishna.
Youth also led kirtans and presented Odissi dance by Mohini Chacon, and a mridanga show featuring Amala Harinama Das, Narayan Johnson, Gopinath Bloch and Kalindi Patel. This cultural presentation was performed several times at different temples and festivals throughout Europe.
Next, the tour went on to Germany, where the youth saw Berlin and visited ISKCON guru Sacinandana Swami, who took them sightseeing to the Berlin wall and gave a talk on compassion as well as a Japa meditation practice.
Poland and the famous Woodstock festival was next, with the youth joining Indradyumna Swami and his team in delivering kirtan and prasadam to the crowds of 700,000 people.
“That was really exciting,” Rukmini says.
The tour then moved on to Prague, in the Czech Republic.
On Harinama in Prague
“Prague was probably the most beautiful city in Europe,” says Rukmini. “And we had a really nice Harinama there. People were super receptive. Street performers would join us, people would crowd around to take photos, and random ladies would just come and hug me. It was amazing.”
The youth also visited a sustainable ISKCON farm near Prague, where they put on a performance and kirtan for the devotees.
“They were very excited and grateful to have us,” Rukmini says. “They showed us how they made bread, and how they took care of their cows and horses.”
The next stop on the tour was Hungary, where youth visited the beautiful Budapest temple and its presiding Deities of Doyal Nitai and Vijaya Gauranga, and attended classes by Sivarama Swami.
“The devotees were very friendly, and the temple was so clean it looked like a museum,” Rukmini says. “It was a great example of what a temple should be.”
During the daytime, the youth would hold Harinamas in the city of Budapest, and have dinner at Govinda’s restaurant. Then it was on to the 660-acre self-sustainable Krishna Valley farm in rural Somogyvamos.
In Krishna Valley, Hungary
“They have the most amazing temple and hand-painted temple room, beautifully dressed Radhe Shyam Deities, a huge farm, gurukula, and goshala,” says Rukmini.
<>From Hungary, the bus tour travelled to the Simhachalam farm in Germany’s Bavarian Forest for Kuli Mela, a festival designed to educate, inspire and entertain youth. There they pulled their weight with four hours of service a day, including cooking and serving prasadam. They also participated in the multi-national soccer tournament, and walked the runway in gurukuli-designed clothes for the Mela’s fashion show.
“Then we went camping in the Swiss Alps near Interlachen for three days,” Rukmini says. “We hiked up the mountain, and went paragliding, canyoneering and white-water rafting. It was an amazing, once in a lifetime experience, being in the Swiss Alps with all your friends.”
Camping in the Swiss Alps
Finally, the tour youth attended Kirtan Mela in East Germany with Sacinandana Swami and Kadamba Kanana Swami, and the Rathayatra festival in Amsterdam, Holland, before flying back home.
All in all, the tour was an inspiring breath of fresh air for the different ISKCON communities around Europe who hosted the visiting youth.
“I think devotees were rejuvenated to see forty youth come out of nowhere to visit their temple and participate in their festivals,” Rukmini says. “At the smaller Rathayatras in English towns like Glastonbury and Plymouth, we were the festival, we would practically do everything. And that was very nice for people to see, so many youth being so organized and coming together like that.”
The tour was also an extremely transformative experience for the youth themselves.
“I think in the end it comes down to relationships,” says Rukmini. “Being constantly around each other for five weeks, we all bonded really well. And I think the friendships we built are going to keep us connected for a long time.”
Building friendships on the bus
The tour also taught youth responsibility and made them feel a valuable part of Srila Prabhupada’s mission.
“Everyone had a singular spiritual goal, we were all working towards something,” Rukmini says. “And everyone had their role in keeping everything afloat. It was very empowering.”
Plans are already developing for a second tour next summer, focusing on the Mediterranean including Italy and Croatia. Sacinandana Swami is expected to be involved, and the tour may be approached in a similar way to the annual winter Mexico tour, with youth putting on their own Bhakti Yoga festivals across the region.
“The youth are just really excited,” Rukmini says. “I think it’s just going to grow more and more.”[ bus ] [ bus-tour ] [ culture ] [ iskcon ] [ krishna ]