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Be careful - Fake Ashrams in India can bring you in Trouble - 25 Oct 11

25 Oct 2011  Vrindavan, India

Category: Ashram

Accommodation in Vrindavan

As promised, I want to explain you a bit more about the situation of Ashrams in India and especially the question of how much it should cost to stay in one, how high the expenses really are and what a tourist or traveller can expect when coming to stay in India.

When you come to Vrindavan as a pilgrim and find a priest to perform religious services, ceremonies and more for you, it can well be that this person is not a real priest. He could be a former office employee, as I already explained, but it could as well be a criminal. Are you surprised by this statement? If so, you may not know how easy it is for a man who is running away from the law to turn to becoming a Sadhu. It just takes a change of getup and he will look like a Sadhu, like a preacher or like a priest. Wearing the traditional clothing, putting on the religious make-up and wearing hair and beard long is all that it takes. Additionally some spiritual behavior, some malas, some prayers murmured and there you are – a new Sadhu or priest. There are of course also real Sadhus who have fully renounced from worldly life, but these usually don’t try to get tourists to pay them. In this Sadhu getup however they are respected by people all around.

This all is connected with the question of staying in Ashrams, too. Some of these people, criminals in religious getup, have built their own temples and Ashrams. They convert old temples into guesthouses, they illegally possess some building and make it their Ashram or guesthouse and they try to get tourists and visitors to stay with them. They get donations in their temples and get paid for the rooms.

While the local population of Vrindavan obviously knows about their history, tourists from outside don’t and they can be cheated easily by the deities in the temple and the religious behavior of their priest. Even if the Sadhu smokes drugs in front of their eyes, they think ‘Well, this is India, it is normal here and for them to take drugs to get into trance’. The reality looks different though. They can be criminals and getting in touch with such people can be harmful for you.

If this person has made his guesthouse, Ashram or temple on illegal property, you can get involved in a lot of trouble. Such cheaters obviously don’t pay any tax for having that land or running their business there. They have no registered charity to which you can give your donations. They have not even paid for owning that land, they just started living there and declared it theirs. If you are a foreigner and are staying there, they don’t actually have a permission to have foreigners there and they won’t bother to register you anywhere, which would be required by law. They might not even be paying for the electricity they are using. So if a police raid takes place and you are found on that property, living there and giving money to a criminal, you will spend some time of your holiday explaining that situation. There may be more things going on there that you are not aware of. It is a lot unnecessary trouble, even if you are not guilty of any crime yourself in the end.

I have experienced that, people who came here have told their stories and we get to know about such trouble that they had. This all is why I will always recommend tourists to stay in places that have a good reputation. I don’t want to make you afraid but I also don’t want you to come to India with much enthusiasm and great mood and then get into trouble. If you think now that it is not easy to know whether a place has a good reputation or not, just look at the obvious signs. How did you find that place? Obviously, an internet presence is helpful. How big is it? Is it frequented by others? Are there recommendations? Another question is, how did you get there? Was there a guy at the Chai shop at the corner who told you he has a cousin who has a great Ashram? Did he lead you through tiny streets into a back corner with no official sign of an Ashram? Don’t stay there, no matter how friendly this guy was, it most probably means that they don’t have any official Ashram or guesthouse there.

After this explanation, do you really think it is not worth spending a bit of money to stay in a place which actually is an Ashram and which is legally allowed to accommodate you? Now maybe you understand that such places have lower expenses than we do, with no official taxes, no staff to take care of and obviously most of the times much less comfort than in our Ashram. Wouldn’t it be worth at least covering our expenses so that you can stay here instead of in that dark alley?

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Tags:: Ashram, Money, Pilgrimage, Fake, Vrindavan, Crime

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Posted By Swami Balendu

Swami Balendu

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I like this blog very much as I find it very informative but unfortunately I read this all after making such an experience on my own. I I would like to share it here. Two years ago, when I was in India for the first time, I met an American woman at a temple. We became very good and close friends in just two or three days. I didn't even realize how fast it all happened. She was taking care of everything, helped me out and showed me around. If I had taken a guide for all that, I would have spent a lot of money. I also felt safe and good with her as she told that she had been living there for long time and she really knew everything about the town. On the fifth day she insisted that I would go and stay with her at her place. She said it is more cheap and safe and a more holy, religious and spiritual place. It was a temple or religious ashram. I fully believed her and in our friendship, so I left my hotel and went with her. From the very first step into that place I did not feel well there. It was an old, small, dirty temple and I never saw a person inside that temple except for her and me. There were some rooms where this woman was living and where I was accommodated. I had been paying $45 at my hotel and she asked me to pay $25 for that room. I would never have gone there if this woman had not taken me. What I found strange was that she had visitors over night whom I never got to see. When I asked her about the noises I had heard, she told me that it was business partners and friends who had come late but somehow I did not believe her and assumed what was really happening. She introduced me to the owner of the property, too. It was a man who was not looking holy or spiritual at all. He looked rather criminal but that was not my problem. One morning, while I was walking on the roof I saw beer, alcohol bottles and garbage that looked like used condoms in the back yard of the place. I did not feel good at all at that place. I spent four days there and in the last night i heard someone knocking at my door. It scared me and I did not answer or open. When I asked her in the morning, she told that someone must have confused her room with mine. That was enough and without telling her I went back to my old hotel to get a room there again. Unfortunately I had left my stuff at the temple and when I came back, the door to my room was open and all my money, my mobile and my MP3Player were gone. The woman was of course nowhere to be found. I went straight to the police station but also wanted to leave that place as soon as possible. The only good thing was that my passport and credit cards were not stolen, so I could pay my hotel and tickets to move on. I never saw this woman again. Later I got to know that the 'owner' of that place was a criminal and this American woman his lover. The property where I had been staying was illegally taken into possession by this man. This is how I learned the hard way that saving some money in beginning does not mean you save much in the end. Hope someone reads this and gets a benefit from it. Thank you Swami Ji for writing about this topic!

Reply By Andrea on October 25, 2011 02:49


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