Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Palace of Gold - ISKCON Temple in West Virginia

I am not a deeply religious person, and temples are not in my most visited places, but ever since I heard about the ISKCON temple in Moundsville, West Virginia, I wanted to visit it, for reasons like its absolutely beautiful location, the fact that the township is called "New Vrindavan" (yes, there is a township in USA called Vrindavan!) and I am a fan of the entire ISKCON movement. Their energy, belief and enthusiasm is incredible. To the non-believers, they may resemble some hippies singing Hare Krishna Hare Ram, but they say their prayers take them away to some other world, far beyond this materialistic one! It doesn't matter whether you belong to the Hindu religion or not, if you are a Krishna devotee or not, visiting an ISKCON temple is always a joyous experience. 
It was not my first time trying to visit this temple. I tried it in January of this year as well (when it was not even snowing in Columbus). The temple is about 2.5 hours away to the east. Its exact location is somewhere on the top of the hills, where very narrow tipsy-turvy roads take you (Yes, it is one hell of an adventurous ride). I drove the car right up to the hill, just about 3 miles away from the temple (3 miles are a large distance to drive on a snow covered hill), when I realized this was it. I could not take that adventure anymore, and with teary eyes, I returned back (Somehow I was sure I was going to fall off the mountains!). So, we waited for the summer season to begin to come back and here we were, on our way again to the temple in May. The wait for well worth it, as the day we chose to go, the weather was neither humid, nor hot, nor windy and not at all cold. It was just perfect. 
Enroute the palace and the temple on the hill top
Visitors are initially greeted by the building called Palace of Gold or American Taj Mahal (it is not made of gold though like our Golden Temple in Amritsar). The building is actually like the administrative office and a sort of museum to showcase the works and culture of ISKCON organization (ISKCON is the abbreviation of International Society of Krishna Consciousness, in case if you did not know that!). It is a photogenic building and a more peaceful one than the temple as well, as the actual temple is always bustling with chants, slogans and prayers by the devotees. The interesting fact is that this palace is built in a way where everywhere one looks, it oversees lush green mountains of West Virginia. 
Views of the palace from the entrance  
Around the palace, notice entire palace is uniformly decorated with peacocks and have same design all over the walls.  
The palace offers tours inside every 30 minutes for a nominal fees for those interested in knowing this organization more in detail, or we can just take a walk on our own pace as well. An interesting feature is the intricate design on the walls of the palace and the elaborate pieces of peacocks and other beautiful glass paintings which were actually made by hand by the volunteers! 
Beautiful interiors of the palace. Photography is actually prohibited here, which I understood after taking these 3 shots.
The palace doesn't take a long time to see around. Newbies to the Indian culture might take some time to appreciate the new form of wall art, but its not really very unique or new to those who have visited Indian temples (please note, I did not say the palace is not beautiful, it is really very beautiful, but not really unique to us, who know how temples look in India). The area around the palace, as I said before, offer amazing views of the hills. It's really easy to get lost in it's beauty. There is also a rose garden at the lower floor of the palace. We visited the gardens little early than the summer time and hence did not find any roses, but the layout of the garden is very beautiful and I can only imagine what it looks in full bloom. 
The Rose Garden near the palace. 
Views from the garden
Just about a quarter mile away from the palace lies the accommodation, temple and the canteen. The day we visited the temple, coincidentally it was a festival there, known as festival of inspiration and people all the way from New Jersey to Missouri, California and Canada were present there (or may I should say, lost there!). Devotees were chanting in their loudest voice, completely lost in time - 
Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama Hare Hare!
Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna Hare Hare!!

Groups of people were dancing well to the tunes. A thing that stroke me most was most of the Indians who were visiting that day were wearing casual attire like jeans and shirts / tops, while "all" the Americans (and may be Canadians too) were wearing Kurtas, Dhotis, Sarees, Lehengas and Salwars. I also met the most cutest 3 year old dancer named Raji (that's my name too!) who was so energetic that it was hard to catch one single moment of hers.
The temple priest performs Aarti every evening at the fixed time and leaves no stone unturned in evoking heightened sense of devotion right then and there with the loud conch, bells and other musical instruments. The nicest feature in the temple is that photography is allowed and is encouraged as well to take pictures and send it to as many people as possible.  
Idols of Lord Krishna in his various forms 
Idols of Prabhupada, Lord Narasimha and Lord Krishna
As the sun began to set, we finished our dinner in the canteen. The food tastes great and it is not even pricey, however the volunteers seem to run short of patience. We took a walk near the pond and sat down watching the sun set over the hills and hearing birds (including colored and white peacocks) screaming on the top of their voices to match the energy levels of the temple. For the last time, we still were unsure when was the last we experienced peace and tranquility so undisturbed in a region where only devotion ruled!
Larger than life statues of animals. Live peacocks were an absolute delight to watch.
Pond near the temple housing the statues of devotees 
Close up of the statues on the pond, with swans swimming on the pond and peacocks walking near by and wild flowers covering all the grass. 

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Old Man's Cave - Hocking Hills State Park

My first brush with the region of Hocking Hills was in 2011, when I visited a tiny town called Patriot, OH. The idea of seeing houses in the foothills and lots of trees and greenery always came from foreign locations in our Hindi films. But it was the first time I ever saw villages or towns in the middle of the hills and you not being able to see anything but hills and mountains, covered with fog or clouds in every direction you look. The town is actually located near the Wayne National Forest. If you are a small town lover, you can rest assured that you will find some memorable peaceful times here.

I recently visited the Old Man's Cave in Hocking Hills State Park. The park lies just outside the national forest and is contagious with the Hocking state forest. The park lies only an hour away from Columbus and what a little gem it is. The park features predominantly some gorgeous rock and sediment formations. 

Above pics show the entrance to the state park. We luckily selected a rainy day to visit the park and it resulted in some very lush greenery in the pictures. As soon as we enter the park, we are greeted with a wonderful waterfall. 

At this point, one may proceed to either left (leading to old man's cave) or to the right (leading to the Devil's bath tub and Upper falls). We started to move towards the old man's cave. The entire region, as seen in the pictures below, was really green, owing to the dense forestation and algae. Old Man's Cave is approximately a mile long, however, it has enough twists and turns to make it feel longer, but it is a relatively easy track. 

As we reach the Old Man's Cave, the water fall becomes more dense and is called as Middle Falls. From the middle falls, one can cross the falls with a stone bridge succeeding a very small cave. It is a little scary for some one like me, not to have people around and it getting darker outside, but nevertheless, we tried and it was very very small, so I could proceed with it. 

We do not have to come back in the same path to cross the entrance and go to the Devil's bath tub and Upper Falls.  As soon as the bridge is crossed, the way back to the upper falls is more exciting with having to walk in between two very huge rocks. They are stable and are not swinging, but the idea that you are walking in between to hanging rocks with barely any light reaching the insides is very inviting. As we start walking backwards, we cross the bridge which was seen from a lower angle while walking to the cave. Also, there are some cabins on the way back which, I suppose can be rented out, if you like spending a night right on the cave.

The trail to the devil's bath tub looks very similar in sight and sounds and boasts of equally large rocks. I am not sure why is it called a Devil's Bath tub but it sure does very beautiful and the greens are reflected very well. The entire path boasts of lots of seasonal waterfalls and the sounds of trickling waterfalls can de-stress people immediately. 

What follows this bath tub is perhaps the most beautiful scenery in the old man's cave, called the Upper falls. Since we visited the falls early in the spring time, the water was still receding in the pool, but in the regular summer and the falls season, the pool is filled with water and the falls reflect very well in the  pool. 

Old Man's Cave is only one of the many beautiful regions in the state park, like Ash Cave, Cedar Falls and more. I hope to cover them soon and inspire people to visit this wonderful natural treasure in the central Ohio.