An unexplored haven for Eco Tourism — Govardhan Eco Village
( A Nice getaway near Mumbai for some soul searching )
The purpose of writing this blog is twofold —
i.) to share our experiences at the Govardhan Eco Village at Palghar near Mumbai run by the ISKCON foundation.
ii.) to express neutrally our views about the model and structure of spiritual organizations.
We had the opportunity to visit and spend a night at the beautiful eco village called Govardhan, run by ISKCON and located on the Manor — Wada road in village Galtare, near Mumbai. It is around 120 kms from Thane and took us around 2.5 hours to get there by car. As soon as we entered we could sense the mannerisms of a spiritual voluntary organization in the way we were greeted by the dedicated staff at the reception and in the overall vibes of the place which exuded a sense of calm and peace. Having come from strong spiritual associations in the past and having visited several of them, we instantly recognized the same familiar feel at the eco village, although this was our first interaction with ISKCON.
We were escorted to our room where we had lunch and then were escorted by a dedicated volunteer Shri. Leela Kirtan Das who took us on a very comprehensive tour of the entire village. The eco village is one of its kind and a spectacular piece of eco friendly architecture by ISKCON. Spread over 90 acres of forest land, the village is lush green with acres of grazing fields for the cattle, plenty of organic farming, thousands of trees, a herbal garden and ayurvedic wellness centre, a swimming pool for guests, places of religious worship, a goshala and facilities for spiritual learning and development. Around 150 male volunteers, also called the brahmacharis live in the eco village and have dedicated their lives for service of the organization.
As we went for our nature walk along with our guide, we noticed the politeness and cheer on the faces of the volunteers and the students who come to study the Gita and enroll for various yoga programmes at the eco village.
We were also impressed by the fact that the building material and bricks used for construction of the cottages and the flat structured buildings in the eco village are all eco friendly, using very little cement and thus making all the structures into green buildings. What’s more interesting is that the bricks are all manufactured within the village by the ISKCON volunteers. Another activity worthy of appreciation at the village was the love and personal care that was rendered to the animals. Our visit to the goshala consisting of different breeds of Indian cows was a pure delight. It was absolutely heartwarming to see the cows graze freely in the green fields and respond so well to their care takers. We had a chance to milk the cows which was a unique experience. Apart from the goshala which has several very healthy and beautiful cows, there were also the horses, sheep, buffaloes, bulls and a whole variety of different species of migratory birds.
The organic farming, green house, herbal garden and the ayurvedic health and wellness centre with a resident consultant, spa and pool facilities were also remarkable, making the place equipped with the most modern facilities for comfort amidst the woods. It is precisely this balance of modern amenities and environment friendly practices in the eco village that makes it an ideal location for relaxation and rejuvenation for the spiritually inclined and also for those who just seek peace and calm, away from the mundane activity of daily life.
Some of the other eco activities of the village include alternative energy production, soil biotechnology, waste management apart from rural empowerment and rural education. The campus also has impressive facilities & training halls for various seminars on yoga and spirituality and sermons on the Bhagvad Gita and welcomes several inquisitive seekers from across the globle.
Also apart from the eco workshops, for the religiously inclined devotion lovers, there are regular artis performed at the temples. A beautiful replica of the Vrindavan temples consisting of idols depicting stories of diety Krishna from the hindu scriptures is a highlight of the village and attracts hundreds of devotees during the auspicious hindu festival of Janmashtami, which is celebrated as the birthday of Lord Krishna.
We had an opportunity to interact with our guide and question him about the philosophy, practices and customs of ISKCON. Shri. Leela Kirtandas seemed to be very profound in his understanding of the ISKCON philosophy and tried to explain several concepts around knowing one’s true self and God. We also learned that though the ISKCON philosophy encourages celibacy as a practice but does not consider it to be a compulsory aspect for spiritual evolution. The dedicated volunteers though, take a vow of celibacy and make sincere efforts to keep themselves away from material and sensual indulgences and invest their time and energy in offering services in the organization.
After a detailed tour for around 4 hours, we went back to our rooms for a good night’s sleep.
We woke up early next morning and after a quick shower and took a nature walk again through the village by ourselves. This was truly a very peaceful nature walk, exploring every corner of the eco village on our own, interacting with the volunteers and workers in the different departments and clicking loads of photographs. Every corner was unique and deserved a place on the chip of our camera. It was wonderful to see many school children who visited the village for environmental awareness and learning. The battery run cars and bullock carts to escort visitors and guests also gave a very friendly feel to the entire village setting. Though we did not avail the opportunity to eat meals at the village, but we did observe that the meals were prepared without using onions and garlic and were served as Prasad. The rates of the rooms and costs of meals are very nominal as compared to the quality of services provided.
So, if you are someone who is spiritually inclined, a teetotaler, loves going away to off beat places, a nature lover and photographer, an animal lover or just someone who would like to take a break from the busyness of daily routine for a peaceful weekend in a calm and serene environment, the Govardhan eco village is surely a strong recommendation to try out.
Now coming to the second part of the purpose of writing this blog — Our visit and stay at the ISKCON eco village and our direct & indirect associations with several other major spiritual organizations including the Brahma Kumaris, Art of Living, Isha Foundation, Aurobindo Ashram etc. and their retreat centres, ashrams etc. in the past have allowed us to see clearly the model on which they operate.
The key ingredient that holds them strong is ‘faith’. Every member of these organizations have very strong, almost rigid beliefs and ideas about the truth and most claim to be keepers of truth. Also each one of these organizations advocate a set of practices and rules to be followed in order to realize the truth or become complete or reach a higher spiritual goal. Some of these are rigid and orthodox while others are relatively easy and open to some alterations in practices.
However the questions that we have been pondering upon are
‘Is spirituality only limited to organizations or groups of people following certain practices’?
‘Is spiritual evolution about achieving a certain spiritual goal, does spirituality nurture a sense of achievement’?
With due respect to all of these wonderful spiritual organizations and their respective teachings and while totally appreciating their good contribution to the society at many levels, we would like to humbly quote these thought provoking lines of the famous philosopher & thinker
J. Krishnamurti —
‘The moment you follow someone you cease to follow Truth. When you look for an authority to lead you to spirituality, you are bound automatically to build an organization around that authority. By the very creation of that organization, which, you think, will help this authority to lead you to spirituality, you are held in a cage.’
After over 10 years of dedicated spiritual practices and deep associations with spiritual organizations and teachings, we deeply resonate with the above lines and feel that truth is probably ever evolving and cannot be known through any structured practices & teachings. However having said this, we also appreciate that life comes across differently for different people and no two persons are the same, but we would invite all of you to also honestly ponder upon these questions and allow life itself to answer them for you.
Written with love,
By Ranjana & Rohit