There were four other people already sequestered inside the small lobby, waiting for the next tour: an older Indian couple and an OLD Indian couple. The way they looked at us two blonde-haired girls as we stood there unsure of what to do next, it was like we oozed heresy. I saw that they were all replacing their shoes with blue scrub-type booties (no shoes allowed inside the Palace) and I asked the younger of the two men where he got his. He kind of harumphed and pointed lazily to a large bin next to his bench. I fished around for two booties and just as I was trying to figure out how to stretch out my feet to fit inside them, Seri ran over and whispered, “Don’t! Use these ones instead” and she handed me a pair that were folded, with the elastic still taut. That son of a bitch had directed me to the used bootie bin, and would forever be on my list after that.
So then we just sat there, taking in the stained glass around us, the fresco of the Heavens above our heads, the fact that were Those People touring a place of which we were completely ignorant. (My knowledge of the Hare Krishnas goes as far as what that George Harrison song, airports, and Mr. Emmerling’s high school history class taught me, and that’s basically just the mantra. I guess I should have paid more attention to the booth they had at Warped Tour.)
Thank Krishna for me and Seri, an older woman and her daughter, whose hair was either wet or REALLY REALLY greasy, arrived right before the next tour was about to start. They were your typical brazen rural West Virginians, and they were really took the heat off us. They snickered a lot. Literally snickered.
Meanwhile, I was completely verklempt, sitting on my hands and searching the room for any hint of the cafeteria I read about on the website. That cafeteria might have been the biggest draw for me and I even texted Seri the other day with nothing else but a screaming CAFETERIA!!! I was a little excited to eat with the Hare Krishnas.
Finally, a young girl, maybe 19 or in her very early 20s, came to retrieve us for the tour. I was surprised that not only was she was friendly, she was also white. But she walked the halls of the Palace bare-footed and with a purpose, that’s for sure. She apologized in advance for being new at giving the tours, but I thought she was doing quite well and she was pronouncing all the names that my eyes skip over. Like Prabhupada. I heard that man’s fucking name 870 times that day and still can’t say it. In fact, it’s tedious to even just type his name, so from herein, say hello to Swami P-dawg.
There were no cameras allowed inside the Palace; I kept fingering my iPhone inside my purse, but the guide seemed to direct most of her eye contact on me, so just imagine four long halls full of various marble, Austrian crystal chandeliers, vibrant stained glass (there were 4 peacock stained glass windows that each had over 1,500 pieces of glass in it), and intricately-cut woodwork handcrafted in India. It was like being engulfed in a corridor of opulence, and the fact that every single inch of that place was built by hand (and for FREE) by the disciples P-dawg had collected upon moving to the States from Calcutta in the 60s made it all the more stunning.
I guess they didn’t know how to install central air, though. Krishnadamn, it was hot in there.
From one of the doors opening to the outside courtyard, our guide pointed out a pond full of lotus blossoms, but I could only barely see it because my Indian nemesis who tried to pass on filthy foot diseases to me had planted himself right in front of my line of vision.
Way to keep up your dharma, dumbass.
In the center of the Palace was a small office with a mannequin model of Swami P-dawg sitting at his desk in half lotus, which is good because otherwise we might not have been able to picture him in there. This is where we learned that he only slept for two hours a night and spent most of his time writing and translating religious tomes; our guide urged us to read some of his writings, that we’d be sure to have our lives changed. She had such a dancing twinkle in her eye at that moment that I almost bought one in the gift shop, but I’m fully aware of how easily influenced I am.
I don’t know how hot I’d look with my head shaved.
The other room we saw was what was to be the living quarters, this tiny little four-walled box with a giant portrait of the Butter Thief hanging above the eastern-flavored linen-draped bed-thing. (This is why I hate no-camera policies! I need memory aids.) I now want a room in my house decorated with as many depictions of the Butter Thief that I can find. The attached bathroom was small, but just as lavish as everything else, and would probably make a fine portajohn for Donald Trump.
I tried to take a covert photo of the last room—-the temple—-but my reaction time caused a blur. (I could feel so many Krishna-eyes on me!) This room literally left me speechless. (Even Seri was uncharacteristically mute through the whole tour.) Chandeliers, giant portraits of gurus and deities (maybe that’s what they were?), a mural of all of Sri Krishna’s favorite past times edged the length of the ceiling (he apparently liked to wrestle gargantuan rattlesnakes in the ocean), and the pièce de résistance: a shrine to Swami P-dawg himself, located in an alcove of the temple directly below the main dome of the palace.
It was breath-taking. And also air-conditioned.
This was the portion of the tour where the guide smoothly segued into a request for donations to help repair the shambling Palace. $10 could get us a tour of the rest of the grounds, some hand-carved candle wonder made by one of the other community members, or a poster of the Butter Thief. I really wanted that poster, but I have a feeling giving the Hare Krishnas more of our hard-earned money might have elicited more than just a Frown of the Day from Henry.
The only thing I really took away from the Palace of Gold is that I need to get me some motherfucking disciples. I bet if I try hard enough, I could collect 3 or 4 and have them build me a spiritual outhouse with stained glass windows made from old Mad Dog bottles.
(Ed note: please excuse any errors as this was written on my phone while en route to and from Lakemont Park today. I’m either super dedicated, or extremely obsessive, but I’m definitely not the best multi-tasker.)