Chapter-24: Kazakhstan-Katmandu-Delhi

September 22-October 16, 2002

By Indradyumna Swami

While in Kazakhstan, I corresponded with several devotees about visiting Nepal before going to Vrindavan, India, for my annual retreat. We made plans to trek to the Kali Gandaki River in the Himalayas during October to search for sacred salagram silas. The great Vaisnava saint, Gopala Bhatta Goswami, walked to the Kali Gandaki 500 years ago, after receiving an order from Lord Caitanya Mahaprabhu to look for salagram silas. I had made the three-week journey from Kathmandu myself, and found it invigorating and the exotic nature of Nepal fascinating.

We had already purchased our tickets to Kathmandu when I read an announcement from the American government warning its citizens of the risk of traveling in Nepal. The notice said that while Maoist insurgents are losing support for their guerrilla war against the Nepalese authorities, the situation remains dangerous for Americans.

Public Announcement
U.S. Department of State
September 2002

“This public announcement is being issued to alert American citizens that Maoists appear to be initiating a campaign of violence in Nepal in anticipation of a nationwide strike. There is a possibility of heightened risks to American citizens and American interests in Nepal, especially outside the Kathmandu Valley, from Maoist insurgency.

“Popular support for the Maoists has been waning and they have resorted to increasingly brutal acts of intimidation to enforce compliance. Government vehicles and public conveyances have been attacked with explosive devices, and as such American citizens are urged to evaluate carefully the movement of traffic on streets before undertaking travel and in general maintain a low profile.

“Reports of threats against and robberies of American trekkers, property destruction suffered by American businesses, and anti-American rhetoric by the Maoist leadership indicate continuing risk to Americans in Nepal.”

After sending the notice to the other devotees, as well as reading several newspaper accounts of the conflict, we cancelled our trip. However, when I later discovered that the airline would not reimburse me, it appeared the return date to Delhi could be changed so I decided to go to Kathmandu for two days to visit my godbrother, Bimal Prasad das, who was there to renew his Indian visa.

After the departure of Tamal Krsna Goswami six months ago, I resolved that this year I would attempt to get the association of as many godbrothers as possible. This seemed to be a good opportunity as well as a safe choice, considering the U.S. notice said the violence was mainly outside the Kathmandu Valley. I contacted a reputable travel agency in Kathmandu, and they told me that since the notice had been issued things had quieted down, and some foreigners had even resumed trekking in the mountains. I left Delhi with a few extra supplies, still entertaining the possibility of going to the Kali Gandaki with Bimal Prasad.

That prospect faded, however, as I boarded the flight from Delhi to Kathmandu only to discover the plane half full – and not one Western tourist. In Kathmandu I went through Immigration and Customs quickly and met Bimal Prasad outside the terminal. After we had embraced and offered obeisances, I mentioned the prospect of hiking to the Kali Gandaki. Bimal Prasad’s face became sober as he said, “Maharaja, just today I met an Australian girl who wanted to hike the same route we had planned. She was looking for a taxi in the remote region to take her to the point of departure, four hours out of Pokhara, when a car stopped and the driver asked if she wanted a lift. She refused his offer and he left. Just 30m down the road, a hand-grenade was thrown through the passenger window of the car. The explosion destroyed the vehicle and the driver was killed.”

“Well, that cancels any last hopes of making the trek on this trip,” I replied.

Bimal said, “Besides, the guerrillas are still robbing any unsuspecting trekkers, and still shooting anyone walking in the riverbeds (where the salagram silas are found) in case they are government agents.”

“OK Bimal, Kathmandu sounds like a great place to spend the next two days!” I said.

Bimal Prasad and I spent the day reading and chanting together, as well as reminiscing about our devotional service in South Africa years ago. The next day, before catching my flight back to Delhi, we went to Pasupati, a Lord Siva temple on the outskirts of Kathmandu. We also visited the home of a Nepalese man we had met on a previous visit to Pasupati. While in his home, he made my trip to Kathmandu worthwhile by giving me a beautiful silver necklace with 54 small, round salagram silas. It was a rare gift, something one treasures for a lifetime.

On the flight back to Delhi, I was pleasantly surprised to be given a seat in business class. Next to me sat an elderly lady, who started up a conversation as soon as the plane took off.

“Are you a yogi?” she said.

“Well, yes, I am,” I replied. “I practice bhakti-yoga, a form of yoga for awakening our love for God.”

“That’s very interesting,” she said. “Do you live in Nepal?”

“No, I don’t,” I said.

“Where do you live?” she inquired further.

I thought for a moment, then with a laugh said , “Actually, I don’t live anywhere. I have no home.”

Surprised, she said, “You have no home! What about your family?”

Rather than risk drifting into the mundane, I decided to see if she had any interest in spiritual life. I quoted the first Sanskrit verse I ever saw, a verse written and left in my apartment by Visnujana Maharaja as he departed from a visit to my former wife and I just before we joined the Krsna consciousness movement. The verse had a powerful effect on me, and in many ways directed my life from that day:

naikatra priya samvasah
suhrdam citra karmanam
oghena vyuhyamananam
plavanam srotaso yatha

“Many planks and sticks, unable to stay together, are carried away by the force of a river’s waves. Similarly, although we are intimately related with friends and family members, we are unable to stay together because of our varied past deeds and the waves of time.”

[Srimad-Bhagavatam 10.5.25]

I waited for her reply, hoping our conversation would go in a spiritual direction, then she said, “I understand what you mean. I’m 72 years old, and I’m the only member of my family left.”

“Do you live in Nepal?” I asked, restating her previous question to me.

She surprised me when she said, “No, I’m from Columbia, but I don’t have a home either. I’ve spent the past 10 years traveling! I’m searching for something.” She paused, then looking at me said, “But I’m not sure what.”

That was my cue, and I immediately began explaining the basic philosophy of Krsna consciousness. In fact, because she was listening so intently, I spoke for almost the entire hour-and-a-half flight. When the plane touched down, she put her hand on my arm and said, “May I keep in touch with you?”

“Yes, of course,” I said, “but if neither of us have a place we call home, how in the world will we keep in touch?”

She replied, “Through the Internet! I may be old but I’m not out of touch!”

After exchanging email addresses we parted, but met again in line at Indian Immigration.

“Do you travel much?” she asked.

Chuckling a little and wanting to impress her, I showed her my passport – full with immigration stamps from all over the world.

She smiled and said, “He who laughs first, laughs last; just look at this,” and she showed me her passport, twice as big as mine and full with immigration stamps.

Joking, I said, “Oh, but it’s easy for you – you must always travel in business class!”

“Oh no,” she replied, “in the past year alone I criss-crossed America four times in a Greyhound bus, hitch-hiked the length and breadth of Australia, took a train from Moscow to Beijing, drove a car from the north to the south of India and back, and just finished hiking in the mountains north of Kathmandu. I saw plenty of those rebels, too!”

I stood dumbfounded as she cleared Immigration. Turning around, she left with a smile and a few words of comfort: “I think I finally found what I was searching for. Your words were very inspiring. We’ll keep in touch.”

Outside I hailed a taxi and headed for Vrindavan. Speeding through the countryside in the early hours of the morning, I held close to my heart the two precious things I had obtained in Nepal: the priceless necklace of salagram silas; and the opportunity to help a conditioned soul begin her path back home, back to the spiritual world.

bhavapavargo bhramato yada bhavej
janasya tarhy acyuta sat samagamah
sat sangamo yarhi tadaiva sad gatau
paravarese tvayi jayate ratih

“O my Lord! O infallible Supreme Person! When a person wandering throughout the universe becomes eligible for liberation from material existence, he gets an opportunity to associate with devotees. When he associates with devotees, his attraction for You is awakened. You are the Supreme Personality of Godhead, the highest goal of the topmost devotees and the Lord of the universe.”

[Srimad-Bhagavatam, 10.51.53]