The day finally came when we closed our books, turned our backs on the college library, and packed our bags. The adventure begins on a cool Monday morning with missing car keys. The gray construction van emerges from between the trees and offers us a lift. Its doors are not reassuring, but we are late for the train, so we get going. With spinach pies in our hands we settled into our seats and watch the trees go by.
UK, here we come! The education students on tour.
It’s Tuesday, and it’s Ekadasi, but you can’t tell from looking at the breakfast: it’s a feast at Bhaktivedanta Manor. Today we visit London. Arriving at Euston Station, we make our way to the British Museum. At Tavistock Square Gardens we pose for a picture with Gandhi’s statue, then stop to pay respects to good old No. 7 Bury Place, the first ISKCON temple in London, which is now is a dental practitioner’s office (it used to be transcenDENTAL). From Oxford Street, we turn left at Soho Street. The sidewalk sign ahead reads “Govinda’s,” next to the Radha-Krishna Temple. We go upstairs and enter a small, beautiful, crowded temple room. The restaurant downstairs is also buzzing, but it’s worth the wait, because the prasada is out of this world. Later, on our way to see Big Ben, we admire Leicester Square, Trafalgar Square, and Parliament Square. We cross Westminster Bridge, then sit down for ice cream and watch the London Eye as the sun set.
On Wednesday we hop into the Manor bus and make our way to the Avanti Court Primary School. James Biddulph, the headteacher, and three school ambassadors greet and escort us to the dining area for breakfast. After getting our visitor tags we begin a tour. Avanti Court is a new primary school in Redbridge, distinct for its “value-based approach to humanities.” The school also offers studies in ethics, philosophy, Sanskrit, leadership training, meditation, and yoga. The rest of our tour consisted of working with students. We made a list of breads and wrote similes on what they taste like. We made it back to the Manor before lunch. In Srila Prabhupada’s room, ISKCON Educational Services is hosting a large group of secondary school children. Indriyesh has the students act out a story. After that excitement we took darsana together, had kirtan, and ate lunch. The Bhaktivedanta Manor also has a primary school, and we had the opportunity to tour it and watch the students organize their Ratha-yatra. The Manor grounds, gardens, and farm provide a perfect learning environment for the children. The small class sizes make for a strong academic foundation. Then our day changed, from being with young people to being with older people at the BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir, a “masterpiece of exquisite Indian design and workmanship”. We could only marvel at its intricate marble and wood carvings.
Perhaps the most anticipated day of the trip finally arrived: Oxford! We all were looking our best. It was a long drive. The Oxford Centre for Hindu Studies, on Magdalen Street, is an independent institute for the study of Hindu cultures, societies, philosophies, religions, and languages, recognized by Oxford University. We spent time in the Centre, with its wonderful staff, before heading out into the Oxford buzz. Oxford is a beautiful city, with stunning architecture, an interesting history, and an academic culture. It includes ancient and modern colleges, fascinating museums and galleries, and lots of parks, gardens, and green spaces. In the garden at St John’s, the richest college in Oxford, we had a scrumptious lunch with the OCHS staff.
Friday was our last official day in the UK, and we passed it at the Krishna Avanti Primary School in Harrow. The state-of-the-art building has facilities that encourage both learning and playing. After touring the premises and appreciating the Deities, we were treated to a delicious lunch of pizza and cake. Our official journey had finally come to an end. Some headed home, but some of us stayed behind to enjoy the London Ratha-yatha. The ETR students are grateful to Rasamandala and Abala for making their trip a success.
Written by: Phelelani Mdabe