Amazing Amsterdam

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12th September 1896.

Screen Shot 2015-06-24 at 10.49.26 pmSwami Vivekananda arrived at the Amsterdam Central Station with Dr Paul Deussen, a renowned German philosopher of those days, and the English couple, Captain and Mrs Sevier. The group booked two rooms at the Victoria Hotel This was where they stayed for the next three days. Swami Vivekananda visited several museums. Of them, the Rijksmuseum was one… Swamiji also visited the Tower of Tears (Schreierstoren) and the Royal Palace… Swamiji enjoyed seeing the canals in the city. The party left Amsterdam and Holland on 16th September for England. 

Courtesy : http://www.vedanta-nl.org/history.htm

Cycles, cycles, cycles galore

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Swami Vimokshananda at the New Year deco in Schiphol airport

That was the evening of Sunday 31 December 2014. My Emirates flight A380 landed  at the Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam. The Christmas and New Year deco lights were bright and  twinkled like stars. As I stepped into the arrival hall I could immediately feel the festive mood, but there was a sense of quietness at the airport. It seemed that the  travellers were less. Perhaps celebrating the New Year’s eve with family and friends?

The airport shuttle bus took us through the town. The narrow, cobblestone streets somewhat reminded me of the old Howrah city of Kolkata. Hundreds of whirring bicycles almost flew past us. I saw a massive parking garage. To my astonishment it housed thousands of bicycles not cars!  The streets were lined with gabled houses, colourful markets occupying the fronts. A wonderful sight for tired eyes!

Support from a stranger!

The weather was extreme chilly. We had to adorn thick warm clothes. I thanked mentally the devotee-couple from Durban who equipped me with the right winter garments!  We travelled to the ashram by tram. We were sure that we were in the correct vicinity of the ashram. We however got off on the wrong platform! It was a desolate road in Amstelveen.

The address slip was in my hand. But whom to enquire? The road was empty. While standing for some time we saw a small car going past us and we all gestured the car to stop. To our surprise the driver offered to help us by asking us to ‘jump’ into the car. Happily we all squeezed into the small car and started searching for the ashram. All attempts to locate the ashram failed! The driver was almost tired and was about to give up; he saw one old man with his pet dog, walking on the pavement. On enquiry, lo! he could exactly specify where the house was. 

IMG_8263What a relief when we arrived at the right spot! Glad to see the monogram of the Ramakrishna Mission. To show our deep appreciation, we offered the driver a few Euros, to which he very politely refused and said in a friendly tone, nodding his head, “will not someone help me in case this happens to me somewhere? ” I was nonplussed and said “God bless!” We were standing on the road till that small car disappeared from our vision! Humane feeling lives. What more do we expect in a strange land from a stranger who understood the unspoken law of karma? Did not Holy Mother remind us that no one is ‘stranger’ in this world?

Munching the marshmallows

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My brother monk Swami Sunirmalanandaji is the Minister-incharge of this centre. He welcomed us cordially. The Amsterdam ashram is a three storey building. It looks like any other house in that locality. The shrine is on the ground floor. While kitchen is on the second, the monks’ quarters is on the 3rd with an office in the mezzanine floor. That was the 1st January, the most welcomed New Year Day. That was again the auspicious Kalpataru Day. The Swami in the morning had done worship with flower offerings. Bhajans and reading from the Gospel were over. We relished a sumptuous and most delicious lunch prasad prepared by himself. He didn’t forget to include the tasty Amsterdam marshmallow sweets.

Museum musings

The Swami prepared an itinerary for sightseeing. Our first tour was the well-kept Rijksmuseum which is a work of art in itself. Swami Vivekananda visited this museum in September 1896. The museum houses ancient artefacts of Nederlands and the world. I enjoyed viewing the part where Asian images are displayed. Especially of Hinduism and Buddhism. The image of Lord Shiva in the dancing pose of Nataraja was really captivating. Who could believe that we managed to get a few pictures thereof?

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Miniature marvels

Madurodam is another marvellous place that held our attention. Visit to this place is a must if one is interested in miniature objects.  I read one review about this : The models are beautifully constructed and very accurate, and the grounds are landscaped with lawns and gardens and hundreds of bonsai trees, many of them 6o years old but only 1/2 metre high! The models are exact replicas of real buildings in Holland. if you are having a trip to the Netherlands it is really worth checking out some of the interesting buildings you might see by going to see them in Madurodam first! Utrecht cathedral, the canals of Amsterdam,many historic houses, the Dutch houses of Parliament, palaces, castles… all accurately reproduced in landscapes. But also windmills, flower markets, industrial buildings, concert hall, all kinds of engineering projects, and some beautiful up to date trains, it has a massive train and transportation system. Many of the models move. You can even get the chocolate factory delivery truck to deliver you a sweet!

In the shivering cold I enjoyed seeing these miniature marvels.

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Viva Victoria!

Next day the Swami joined us for the breakfast at the hotel. He took us on a cruise through the Unesco World Heritage sights. We saw the oldest building which is a church. We passed by the famous  Anne Franks House.  We also saw the Royal Palace of King Willem and his family, the city centre of 17th century canal houses etc.. And it was charming to see many more ancient buildings in the evening. Among them to our great delight we reached a spot that is nothing less than a place of pilgrimage.

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That was Victoria Hotel. Herein Swami Vivekananda stayed for three days in 1896. Standing at the Reception of the hotel I had a feeling of blessedness. Never did it occur to me that one day I would have the golden opportunity to visit the faraway land – the very place that Swamiji blessed! All by His grace!

Sunirmalanandaji handed over as our padkos some delicious sandwiches and aromatic coffee in a huge flask.  We thanked the Swami profusely. As the Swami bid farewell to us, we both uttering  “Durga Durga”, the train began to move on.

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I settled on my comfortable seat. The soothing subdued sound of wheels clacking down acted as a musical lullaby. My mind went on floating to those olden days – who were those blessed people who saw Swamiji and his group of devotees off ?

|| Aum Shri Raamakrishnaarpanamastu ||