After I had spent the night on the bench in the lobby of the guesthouse, I decided to go to the reception of the main building, the castle. That morning was the first time I got to actually see this amazing castle. Throughout my stay it kept astonishing me, especially at night when the sky was filled with beautiful stars. As I walked in, the inside was just as stunning with the incredible architecture and all the portraits and statues spread out. I seated myself on the bench next to the reception, looking around sluggishly due to the uncomfortably night’s rest that I had. Not much later, one of the Devotees – someone that believes in Krishna – came up to me to see if I needed help. When I had explained that I had come to the community to work as a volunteer, he invited me to breakfast, which is eaten together in a small room, but if preferred to eat alone or somewhere else that was possible, which plenty did.
My first few days I struggled with the food, ( partially because I sometimes forgot the times and therefore had to skip a meal ) in the Netherlands we have a saying which pretty much comes down to: “What we don’t know, we won’t eat”, and sadly this counts for me as well. Hearing all the unfamiliar names and seeing the weirdly looking food lead to me avoiding the strange food in the beginning. I knew though, that there were little options left for me by doing so and as a traveller I should at least try different food. I eventually did so by putting all kinds of strange food on my plate and I learned to love this food. It truly was delicious! The sweets were awesome as well. I later on found out that these are often found, together with other food, fresh cow milk and tea, in the small kitchen downstairs. That was the moment I didn’t have to go through a day whilst being hungry anymore, both because I now loved the food and I knew there was almost always food somewhere.
Working with the cows
During my breakfast I was introduced to another volunteer Santiago, a guy from Mexico that would show me around and let me know where everything was, such as my room. Now I at least knew where I could sleep. When he was done, he walked me to the main kitchen where I had to wait for Ross, the man that runs the cow work. He once started as a volunteer as well, but ended up staying there for long-term and now it’s already been two years for him. I learned that when the morning shift starts at 10’00, that means that it starts at 10’15. The day starts off with getting the buckets and a bag of carrots down to the cow shed where we then muck out the stables. These cows are indian, which are the type of cows filled with character. They stayed in three separate stables: Ganga and Bhumi the two females on the far right ones and then all three males together on the left side, Gaura, Jamba and Dharma. Gaura was the one you did not want to be in a stable with when he is unleashed. Someone made that mistake and ended up with stitches in his armpit, but to be fair, that guy does bring a bad vibe to the cows which makes them upset. Besides that all of them are more gentle, although Bhumi can get a bit aggressive when she has gotten her food. I would know since she teared my pants by ramming her horns when I went in the stall in for the milking. Nonetheless she is a sweetheart. Milking usually comes right after they have gotten their food. To milk a cow is more difficult than I had expected, I did slightly progress after a few times, but I still was not able to get good at doing it before I left. Ross told me it took him two months of milking for him to really get the hang of it. When finished with the milk, we had to fill the feeder with a lot of hay and straw and give a few arms full to Ganga. She used to bully Bhumi away from the food and ate too much, so now she has to be separate with less food. Also, one of her bumps is swollen, so she gets medicine for that three times a day. When all that was done we cleaned everything and went up to do it later on all again at 7PM.
This was my service which allowed me to stay and eat without having to pay any money. It usually was about three hours work, in total about six per day and I could get two days off per week. Sometimes there would be a little bit of extra work and sometimes Bue or Wesley would help with. They were also both volunteers, Bue from Denmark and Wesley from Ireland. Then in the afternoon Ganga needs her medicine again, but you can hardly call that work as it is always fun to go see the animals. I sincerely enjoyed doing this work, a type of work I normally never do, with a talkative college and these awesome animals.
When we returned it was time for lunch. At lunch, I met a Polish guy that does tours at Radhadesh. He is THE guy to talk to if you want to learn a lot about Hare Krishna, not only because he has a lot of knowledge on different aspects, but he also loves to talk about it. Especially to new faces that is. In total we must have at least spent a few hours talking about Krishna, the soul, the spiritual and material world and about the religion in general. I was very curious to learn about the way these people live and think as I had no knowledge on that subject yet, so I didn’t mind the endless chatter. During my stay I have had many conversations on these subjects with others as well, yet almost no one was able to explain it the way he did. I had a great experience amongst the Devotees and I felt welcomed and everyone seemed to appreciate my service and curiosity towards the religion and community. I ended up staying roughly 10 days, where of I had two days free, and I might return if I ever feel like I need a short break again.
Visiting the little village Durbuy
On one of these two days I went into the small village Durbuy to have a wander. This village is very touristic and for that reason the shops are usually closed on weekdays in the winter. Luckily my day off was on a Saturday and all the smaller shops were opened. Durbuy is a lot different than what I am used to. They have a medieval-like architecture that gives off a cozy and warm ambiance. Walking in the streets I could smell waffles being made, hear people having a great time enjoying a beer in the bar and see people amazed by all the great shops with diverse collections of tea and chocolate. Children were stunned by the delightful Belgian fries and everyone was digging the vibe. The surroundings here are amazing as well, with a lot of streams – with a possibility of kayaking – that add so much sound to the nature. A great place for a walk.
Now that I was staying with the Devotees for time be, I figured I should participate with their traditions, which is something I didn’t get to do yet. This was, because I usually had to work in the evening when it started and I overslept a few times for the 4’30 AM one. One day though, I was able to get myself out of bed that early to follow the traditions and I also went to the evening one two times. When entering the Temple I noticed a statue on the right. It was a man in a sitting pose. “A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada”, I read. He is the founder of the Hare Krishna movement. Everyone lay down with the body straight flat upon arrival out respect, it is said that it connects your heart with the earth. This is repeated a few times during and when leaving. Then there was a lot of singing going on, people making music and some other traditions such as feeding the plant water to show your respect. After that there was the possibility to chant, which would be for the next two hours, one could leave or join at any moment though. When chanting, the words: “Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna, Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare” are spoken or sung out loud and while doing so you have to really focus on the sound of these words. Whilst doing this, beads on a rope are used to count how often it is done. One string has 108 beads and it is told that you should do 16 rounds a day, but many say that it doesn’t matter how often you do it, as long as you do it. I have to admit that bowing down to a god I do not believe in and many of the other traditions are not for me, but the chanting was something I genuinely enjoyed doing. In the beginning I needed to keep track of what I had to say and in the meanwhile not forget to move the beads through my fingers without using my index finger, but when it started to go more smoothly I felt way more into it. It gives you a good focus point for meditational purposes and I ended up doing it for an hour and a half as time flew by. Some might say that saying the name of the Supreme Lord Krishna gave me a good feeling and others will say that it was the meditation and that the words didn’t matter. All I know is, that it helped me calm my mind.
Time to leave
Besides all of that, I spent a lot of quality time down in the cafeteria writing, messaging my family and friends and befriending the staff and visitors. I found out that it was the perfect place to make friends, as it provided me with a few pizza slices and free tea. The tea I had was spiced tea and my favourite one is the ‘Bengal spice’, one that blew my tastebuds away. Very delicious! If there weren’t a lot of people or it was closed, I’d go down to the submarine (small kitchen) to get some food and interact with the people there. What I really like about this community, is that it wasn’t just the Belgians or people from the neighbouring countries that you’ll meet, but from all over the world. People from England, France, Lithuania, Ukraine, India, Australia, South-Africa, Mexico and so on. It was great to be able to get to know all kinds of people and I have met plenty in these 10 days, all of whom were super friendly and a great help to enhance my experience in a positive way. But then it was time to say goodbye to all these newly made friends, which includes the cows of course, as I was heading to Cologne (Köln) for a few days. I would be staying there with a student and she was able to let me sleep at her place for this time. I got a new piece of cardboard and I wrote down my new destination.