Hare Krishna nature-lovers from Zagreb, Croatia will be setting off for a Christmas Weekend of “Extreme Japa-walking” this December 25th through 27th. Japa is, of course, the practice of meditatively chanting Krishna’s holy names on beads. And extreme? Well, this trip is just about a textbook definition of the word—a hike up Velebit, Croatia’s largest mountain, in sub-zero temperatures.
It’s not all braving the elements though—the group of ISKCON devotees will be staying at the five-room Alan Mountaineers Home overlooking the coastal village of Jablanac. At 7am each morning, they’ll hold traditional temple programs with an arati ceremony, kirtan chanting, and class on the philosophy of Krishna consciousness. During the day, it’s off up the mountain with them, chanting Japa as they hike, with intervals for a bit of light-hearted fun such as sledding and other winter sports. In the evenings, they’ll convene back at the Mountaineers Home to talk about their day, share their spiritual realizations, chant more kirtan, and drink hot milk before going to bed.
All these devotees are part of the Kailash Mountaineering Association, Croatia (KMAC), an innovative organization formed in March 2009 by several lovers of chanting, mountains and nature in general.
“We all like to spend our time in nature,” says President Radha Madhava Dasa. “But members of most mountaineering organizations tend to drink alcohol, smoke tobacco or pot, and grill sausages and steaks while on hiking trips—all of which, of course, we don’t like to be around.”
Devotees—some of whom knew each other from previous informal Japa walks—began to discuss the issue on the forum of ISKCON Croatia’s website portal.vvz.hr. Wouldn’t it be nice, they said, to organize a proper devotee mountaineering association—one with spiritual standards?
And so the Kailash Mountaineering Association, Croatia was formed.
Interestingly, while all the Association’s founders are ISKCON devotees, being a devotee is not a prerequisite to becoming a member.
“The most important thing is that we are all on the same wave-length regarding spirituality, mountaineering, and ecology,” Radha Madhava says. “So, any person who is a vegetarian, does not drink alcohol or use drugs, and likes good recreation, nice company, and tasty vegetarian meals, is more than welcome.”
So far, KMAC has organized ten long Japa walks through woods and over mountain peaks. These events always consist of chanting bhajans at the summit, eating sanctified prasadam food, reading Srila Prabhupada’s books, and often, on the trek back, chanting accompanied by cymbals, guitar, violin, djimbe, and even camping equipment like pots and pans. Members even carry some of Srila Prabhupada’s books to give interested mountaineers if the opportunity arises.
“Our activities are now recognized as a contribution to mountaineering society,” Radha Madhava says. “In June, we officially became a full member of the Croatian Mountaineering Organisation. And in November, we were placed in charge of a small, yet historically important mountain lodge.”
KMAC is also building up its communication with interested devotees. The Association’s Facebook page has already gathered sixty-five members, while twenty people have signed up for the official mailing list so far. Each “Extreme Japa Walk” draws between five and fifteen attendees.
“Our goals are to gather devotees and spiritualists for active recreation, learn about and protect nature, and prepare our members for mountaineering, both technically and ethically,” Radha Madhava says.
He concludes: “What makes me most happy is to see more and more non-devotee folk, in their search for more uplifting nature experiences, become interested in joining our adventures.”
More details about this Christmas’s Extreme Japa Walk Retreat are available in Croatian at KMAC’s Facebook profile (just type “Kailash Mountaineering into Facebook’s search bar). Details are also available at portal.vvz.hr. (These are in Croatian too, but if you’re feeling adventurous try deciphering it with Google Translate)
KMAC’s official blog (in Croatian again—I know, sorry English speakers) is at pdkailash.blog.hr.[ croatia ] [ japa ] [ kailash ]