Back in 1995, a young Manorama Das launched a two-week bus tour with his gurukuli friends, covering 1,500 miles and visiting Rathayatras and temples along the way.
Today, the Krishna Culture Youth Bus Tour is a phenomenon that has traveled across Canada, Mexico and every US state putting on theater festivals and helping out with Rathayatras and temple events. It has provided hundreds of Vaishnava youth with valuable peer association, made Krishna consciousness “cool” to the younger generation, and given hope for the future of ISKCON.
This year’s 20th anniversary bus tour ran for six weeks from July 8th to August 24th, with fifty youth including a large group from the UK, and gurukulis from Australia, Canada, Ireland, and India.
Beating the drum at Houston Rathayatra
For the first time in ten years, the group performed the same play – “Krishna Is,” depicting the Lord’s many qualities – as youth did during the 2005 bus tour. The piece was accompanied by Bharatanatyam dance and “Under The Influence,” a moving skit about the soul’s struggle that was performed and directed by the UK youth.
The youth, aged 17 to 24, presented this show at major Rathayatra festivals in Toronto, Vancouver, and Los Angeles, as well as at ISKCON temples across North America, and smaller, unique locations such as a cathedral in Winnipeg, and an outdoor venue in Saskatoon, Sasketchewan.
Cliff jumping at Crater Lake National Park
They also got the chance to share kirtan, prasadam and discussion with another large group of youth at The Sanga Initiative’s retreat in Houston, Texas; chanted in “epic” Harinamas through Las Vegas and Haight Ashbury, San Francisco; and received a book distribution seminar and practical book distribution experience.
“Although we would have been otherwise intimidated by the idea of approaching strangers, or just wouldn’t find it appealing, because we were with our friends, it was like a support group,” says Rukmini Priya Poddar, who has been on no less than eight bus tours. “Everywhere you looked you saw one of your friends distributing books, and making a difference. And that made it really inspiring.”
Janaki Dasi distributes books
The youth also spent a lot of time in nature, hiking in Yosemite, Yellowstone and Banff national parks, watching a metor shower in their sleeping bags in Jasper National Park, going horseback riding with the Navajo Nation in Arizona, whitewater rafting in British Columbia, snorkeling in Key Largo, Florida, and going on a sunrise hike in the Grand Canyon.
“We would have discussions about how all this beautiful nature is a spark of Krishna’s splendor,” Rukmini says. “Sometimes being in nature can be such a spiritual experience too.”
Running into the ocean at Henderson Beach in Florida
With twenty years of successful bus tours behind them, organizers Manorama and his wife Jaya Sri Radhe are beginning to pass the baton to the next generation.
In Europe, for instance, Gurukuli couple Kumari Kunti Dasi and Visvambhar Chaitanya Das have already begun organizing sister bus tours.
And this year’s 20th anniversary North American tour was planned by half a dozen youth, some as young as sixteen, who spent their weekends helping Manorama map routes and schedules.
Harinama in Vancouver
“Then during the tour, Manorama devised a captain system to spread out the authority to the older and more experienced youth,” says Rukmini. “Every time he made a decision, we would have captain meetings where we’d all talk about it, and he would delegate service to us.”
Until youth take on the responsibility in full, the 20th anniversary marks a new era for the North American bus tour, which will slow down to only once every few years for the foreseeable future.
One thing’s for sure, though – it will continue to have a sublime impact on the lives of ISKCON youth.
Relaxing at a Hotsprings in Utah
“The bus tour allows you to grow as a person – it teaches you self-confidence, compassion, tolerance, communication and many other life skills,” says Rukmini. “It gives you friendships that last a lifetime; connections you hold on to wherever you go in life that will always bring you back to Krishna.
“And it gives you your own spiritual identity. Whereas before you might feel like you’re kind of floating in your parent’s thing that you were just born into, once you go on a bus tour you feel like, ‘Yes, this is my family now, I’m part of Srila Prabhupada’s family.’ And that’s the best gift that Manorama and Jaya Sri Radhe have given us.”
Whitewater rafting on Kicking Horse River in British Columbia[ alachua ] [ bus-tour ] [ manorama ] [ youth ]