For a long time I wanted to go to Kolkata and visit places connected to Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa: Belur math, Kamarpukur and Jayrambati. This became a possibility when a friend called up inviting me for his marriage in Kolkata! I booked tickets but the train was full and I was kept on waiting list (WL). I could have tried to get the tickets through the emergency booking facility, tatkal but I thought I will leave it to destiny. I will travel only if the tickets get confirmed! Air travel was possibility but too expensive given my current financial condition. I did not book hotel accommodation thinking that, if at all my train tickets are confirmed, I would stay at an old friend’s house. I sent a mail to this friend informing of my visit. This was 21 days before travel.
3 days before travel date my booking status was updated from WL to RAC. So I could travel but I have to share the berth with another passenger! There was no mail from my friend with whom I expected to stay in the even that my tickets get booked. So I call him and tell him that I would be around for 4 days but mostly will be touring places connected to Sri Ramakrishna. He thinks! and tells me in the most humble way that it will be difficult to accommodate me! But then he also informs me that Belur math has a guest house and that I could book it. I did not know about it. There is no information on the Belur Math page about the guest house! I search again but in vain. He searched and found a page where one could give feedback about the Belur Math website. In the ‘feedback’ he wrote about my need for a guest room gave my name, email address and phone number. We decide to wait for a day before taking any other action. A day later I get a message that my request is forwarded to the Maharaj(Swami) who takes care of matters pertaining to the guest house! Another day later I get a message from the Maharaj asking me to give arrival and departure details in an attached form. I am excited. I fill the form. A day left for my travel and no communication from the Maharaj. I consult my friend. We agree that absence of a confirmation mail implies that it is confirmed! Looking back I can see how optimistically deluded we were.
The train reached 1 hour late. It is 6:45 in the evening but already dark. The taxi-wallah takes me to Belur Math and asks where I wanted to be dropped. I had no idea that Belur Math would be such a huge campus. We went inside the big arch entrance and then I got down thinking I could walk and ask for directions to the guest house. To my good fortune I crossed a young monk who tells me that if I have not got a confirmation mail then I do not have the guest room. In fact I am supposed to be carrying a print out of the confirmation! The guest house keeper would not accept me without a printed confirmation letter. Besides, the procedure is to apply 2 months in advance!
However, since I am single and with only a backpack for luggage the guest house authorities may consider me on compassionate grounds! The monk takes me to the math office for guest house accommodation. It is closed. They close at 6:30 pm. Then he takes me to the guest house. It is a small walk outside the math compound on a lane that leads to the ferry ride to Dakshineshwar. He leaves me at the guest house gate indicating that now it is between me and the guest house keeper. Here is the google map showing the location of the guest house. It is useful because the guest house building does not have a name board!
As pointed out by the monk, the guest house keeper asked me for a print out of the confirmation e-mail. I told him I had not received any. He was visibly unhappy; I did not have a document and I was ignorant of the procedure! He called up the Maharaj in-charge of guest house related matters. I told him I had come from Bangalore, had intimated the math a few days ago about my need for a room, and that I had not received any reply from the math office. He must have got annoyed, ‘we also have other works to do’, but quickly recovered and asked me to hand over the phone to the guest house keeper. I was allowed to stay but should vacate the following day. A single room, probably reserved for monks, was given to me! I was supremely grateful; I was saved from the trouble of going in search of a guest house that late after 26 hours of train travel. I would have agreed to sleep even in the courtyard!
Breakfast at 6:30 a.m. and lunch at 11:30 a.m. are served in the guest house. In the morning I toured the Belur Math campus: temples, museum, Sw. Vivekananda’s room and the place where remains of several of the first disciples were interned. When I was back for lunch I was told that I was to meet the Maharaj. Though, it was closing time for the office the Maharaj agreed to meet me immediately because I had decided to pack off late afternoon. The Maharaj took down my name, searched Microsoft Outlook and gave me the print out of my mail. Then he took asked me to accompany him to meet another monk, his superior. I sat outside the office, when he went in and spoke to the senior monk. The senior monk apparently dismissed it; it was not necessary for me to meet him. There was more good news for me. I could come back the day after the marriage and another room in some other place could be arranged for me! I was humbled at his efforts to accommodate me even after I had thrust myself on him, though out of ignorance. Truly grateful.
I was back early next day. The guest house keeper who had by now become friendly gave me the key to a different single room in the same guest house. I had no sleep the previous night-the marraige got over by 2:30 a.m. So I slept. A lot. The guest house keeper told me meet another Maharaj if I wanted to book the car to Kamarpukur and Jayrambati. But before that I wanted to got Dakshineshwar. However, by the time I came back from Dakshineshwar it was time for the prayer in main temple at Belur Math. The office closed by the time I was out of prayer hall. When I returned to the guest house for dinner the keeper was annoyed that I did not meet the Maharaj. How was I to go now? I pleaded. He spoke to the Maharaj and yet again he obliged, ‘was I ok with joining 3 others in the car to Kamarpukur the next morning?’ Of course, I was. The Maharaj also suggested I stay at Kamarpukur. The accommodation in Kamarpukur could be arranged!
The car was ready at 7:00 a.m. The 3 others were a devotee, his mom and nephew from Andhrapradesh. The driver was good at conversation and regaled me with stories related to Sri Ramakrishna’s life. He was driving devotees since 1974! and knew Ramakrsishna’s life story like the back of his palm. Among other things he told me the story of Rani Rasmani, which is not in the Gospel (at least not in the English version). We reached Kamarpukur at 11:00 a.m. after a break for tea-the best tea I had in my 5 day trip, on the way.
The Maharaj in-charge of the Kamarpukur math was happy to note that I had a research background, ‘more students should pursue science’. He was aware that the nation highest honour, Bharat Ratna, was conferred upon the leading scientist Prof. CNR Rao. I informed him that it was possible now to do good research because more funds are allocate for research. ‘Yes, but it is not enough.’ I was surprised. It is the first time I heard a non-scientist saying that more funds should be allocated for research. Usually it is the scientists who complain of the lack of funds. There were others waiting to meet him. So we decided to meet again but for now I was allotted a room usually reserved for monks! I was given a special lunch coupon with VIP written on it! It being a weekend a large number of people would queue for lunch. With the coupon we could skip the queue. It did help me save time. It was unbelievable. Having a degree in research can also be an advantage. Who could have thought in India!
In Kamarpukur, after seeing the Jogi Shiva temple, Haldarpukur (the pond) and the main temple, which is built in the place where Sri Ramakrishna was born, we went to Jayrambati a few kilometers away. Holy mother was born here and spent several years after the passing away of Sri Ramakrishna. We attended the evening prayer there and were back before dark to Kamarpukur. I spent the evening until dinner in the prayer hall where a Maharaj was reading from the Gospel. It was in Bengali language; I tried to follow the language but soon realised that I cannot understand beyond the simple pleasantries in Bengali.
The next day we had breakfast and started for Aantpur as suggested by the driver. It was in Aantpur that the idea of starting the Ramakrishan math and misson occurred to Swami Vivekananda. The Maharaj in-charge of Aantpur math offered us fruits and asked to leave only after having lunch. We saw Swami Premananda’s house (now belonging to the math) and the dhuni (fire place) where Swami Vivekananda along with other monks decided on the idea of the math and mission. We then went behind the house to see the pond that was used by Swami Vivekananda. There seemed to be ponds everywhere and in fact all along from Howrah to Kamarpukur and Jayrambati. Having spent my childhood in a relatively dry region of Maharashtra I found this much water beyond imagination.
I was back in Belur by early evening. There was time enough to visit the Kali temple at Dakshineshwar once more. But before that I met the Maharaj, who had arranged the car, and paid the car charges. My stay and food in the guest house at Belur Math and Kamarpukur and food at Aantpur was free! I donated modest amounts for my own satisfaction in all these places.
- I have not included descriptions of the places here. Please read here and here for exhaustive and minimal information, respectively of both the places.
- There is a private lodge in Kamarpukur. It looks good though I haven’t checked the rooms. Here are the details: Relax Lodge, Ph. no. 03211 244699
- On a walk around the Belur Math compound I came across a good lodge near the main gate. The rooms are good. They even have AC. It is called ‘Om Plaza’ , Ph. no. 26540378
- If you want accommodation in the math guest house please contact the math office 2 months in advance. The guest house is available for devotees. It helps if you come with a recommendation from a monk. For instance, if you are from Chennai you should have met or known the Maharaj in the Ramakrishna Math in Chennai.