There was definitely something different about the New Vrindaban community when Seri and I left the Temple, and then it hit me: the grounds were empty. There weren’t any kids on the playground or climbing all over the giant plaster elephant. No one was milling about in the courtyard or strolling along the lake.
It was just us.
And the 18 pounds of food playing Tetris in my stomach.
We sat underneath a lakeside gazebo for a few minutes, admiring the view and hypothesizing if we could ever get Henry and Pete to come back with us and rent one of the cabins on the edge of the woods.
Because that’s not a horror script that’s been written 87 times.
The lake was so serene. There was a swan at the other end and I tried to focus on that and not the 30-foot dancing acolyte statues in the distance, which were sincerely making me nervous.
Jonny Craig was there, too!
I was afraid that if we sat there any longer, we’d end up seeing something we wouldn’t be able to unsee, like a murder, so I suggested we keep walking. We kept hearing loud plops along the edge of the lake, and I was so sure it was a large frog so we both edged our closer to the water JUST IN TIME TO ALMOST STEP ON A LARGE SNAKE AS IT SLITHERED BACK INTO THE WATER. And then Erin and Seri, as animated by Hannah-Barbara, screamed and did their best unintentional cartoon run back up to the path.
That might have been my most religious moment there.
Shaking off that disgusting brush with nature, we continued walking down the path—albeit with our hands on our hearts— toward the large gazebo-like structure on the lake.
“Can we go in there?” Seri asked, but I was already trampling down the gravel-path to the door. I figured, as honorary Hare Krishnas, we were allowed to open any door we pleased. [Cue Pandora’s Box parable.]
I actually screamed a little when my eyes adjusted to the darkness and I saw a big ass swan boat staring back at me.
There was a throne-type structure built above the seat of the boat, which made me think this was reserved for special occasions, like Anglo-sacrifices. Boxes of fireworks lined the boat house walls, and I considered snagging some but with my luck, the swan would spring to life. Meanwhile, Seri was trying to get inside the boat and I very honestly said to her, “Look, if you fall in, I can’t promise that I’ll come in after you.”
Not now that I knew there were snakes in that water.
Leaving the boathouse, I finally realized what this place reminded me of. “The Wicker Man.” And not that shitty Nicolas Cage remake, either. Yes, everything was beautiful, but it came with an artificial, uncomfortable quality.
Plus, it was in the hills of West Virginia.
And teeming with Hare Krishnas.
Just then, we noticed that the peach-robed conch-blowing priest was standing further down on the path, watching us.
“We didn’t do anything wrong!” I said to Seri. “Just act normal.” Which means we continued walking with suspicious mannerisms illuminated by a beacon of guilt.
The peacock enclosure was next, so we were distracted by that for awhile, until I turned around and saw that he was following us at this point. So we continued on, across a small bridge, right smack into the feet of the dancing acolytes.
Are you kidding me?! Tell me these things don’t come alive at night.
This is basically what everything there looked like up close: cracked, broken, decrepit. What was once meant to be a flourishing testament to their gods and Swami was now grossly depreciating. Even the boathouse was full of cobwebs, and the swan boat was chipped and looked more scary than regal. It wasn’t hard to imagine this being the setting for tragedy and murder in the 1980s, when Swami P-dawg’s successor had fanatic cult members commit murders for him. Twenty years later, and it must still be hard for the community to shake that stigma, considering that’s the reason why Henry wanted no part of this little day trip. Of course none of this stuff is mentioned during the tour, though.
Chugging the blood of sacrificial white girl lambs, it’s what keeps them pacified.
And then Seri called Pete to tell him that we were being chased by who she thought was the Dalai Lama, who at that point was meditating in the grass by the boat house. I was actually offended that he wasn’t really trying to chase us down to convert us. Who wouldn’t want two nervous white girls? Seri could arts-n-crafts that bitch up! And I could….eat their food? Start a New Vrindiban blog? Teach them about Jonny Craig?
At that point, we had been there close to 4 hours, so we mutually agreed it was time to leave. Rather than backtrack and have to walk past the meditating priest, we opted instead to climb a hill back to the main road. It was a great ascent with my food luggage in tow. I didn’t want to die at all.
Somehow, we still managed to spend another hour back at the Palace grounds, admiring the rose garden and sitting by the lotus pond. On the way back to the car (to grab my unicorn mask; Seri promised she would pose in it!), we passed the cashier from the gift shop who exclaimed, “You girls are still here!?” Which made me realize that it had been about two hours since Henry had last heard from me and it didn’t occur to him to check in to make sure I hadn’t been slain. Thanks for loving me, Henry.
On the way back to Pittsburgh, we both agreed that this was totally worth it and that we would definitely return. Probably with more animal masks.
The next morning, I received a voicemail from someone named Jay Sree of New Vrindaban, claiming to have found my wallet, which I didn’t even know I had lost. She described it as “black, with a heart that has a picture of a young girl in it.” Definitely sounded like my iCarly pocketbook. I called Henry to tell him and he immediately got all disgusted and spat, “You were probably pick-pocketed!”
Luckily, I had my debit card at the bottom of my purse, because I’m so lazy when it comes to putting it back in my wallet. Ugh, all that zipping and tucking? So exhausting. So the only thing in my wallet that I really needed was my drivers license. When I returned the call, I spoke with a man at the Palace who sighed and said, “Yes, it is here in Lost and Found.” He sounded disappointed in me, like an Indian Henry.
It arrived in the mail several days later, and I was crestfallen to see that they didn’t slip in any religious pamphlets or sign-up vouchers. WHY DON’T THEY WANT ME!?