By Chandrabhaga Dasi
Padayatra Iceland was a joint event largely made possible by the efforts of Bhakta Pavel, who had initially traveled to Iceland’s main town of Reykjavik last year on a book distribution mission. Happy with the success of his undertaking, he planned another visit for the summer of 2016 both to the city and to a remote tourist area of northern Iceland called Akureyri. I was inspired to join when I was in Mayapur. I was attending the ‘Padayatra Ministry’ seminars during the ‘ISKCON Leadership Sanga’ event. I was thinking of ways to do more padayatras so we could reach our goal of 50 padayatras to celebrate ISKCON’s 50th anniversary. Being inspired by the stories of worldwide padayatras, I returned home to Sweden and inquired from Bhakta Pavel about the opportunity to convert Iceland’s book distribution mission into a padayatra program. He agreed and a plan was devised for a one-week padayatra . We advertised the padayatra far and wide looking for recruits even amongst former padayatris. We ended up with a small team consisting of Bhakta Pavel from the Czech Republic, Gaura Bhagavan from Rekjavik and myself from the USA. The three of us set off for the remote villages surrounding Akureyri.
Akureyri is a bustling outdoor sports and recreation town in Iceland. It has become popular with international tourists who come to hike, bike or watch whales whale watch. It’s also famous for its natural hot springs and volcano guided tours. When we landed at the Akureyri airport I was surprised to see how small it seemed to be: it looked like it could accommodate no more than 40 people. After leaving the airport and entering the parking lot we were surprised to see it completely empty. No taxis, no buses or even people to be seen. So, with the address of the campground at hand, we started off on foot, asking the locals we saw along the way for directions. A few hours later we were on a steep hike up a mountainous road. A young ‘alternative’ couple driving by saw us and stopped their car. They asked if we wanted a ride and just like that our preaching in Iceland began! As they drove us to the last few kilometers to the campsite, we explained our mission: we were part of an international group that travels the world teaching people about bhakti yoga. The teenage girl was very interested and took a ‘Science of Self-realization’ book from us. We left with a hug and good wishes as these fortunate Icelandic youths drove away with the time bomb of Srila Prabhupada´s book in their four wheel drive SUV.
The campground was an interesting place that consisted of the camping area, a community kitchen, and a common room. It was packed with international sports enthusiasts –I must have heard people speaking at least 6 different languages. Our small party was also a hit. I received many positive comments on my sarees. One girl was from California in the USA. She shared her experiences with devotees with me while cooking together in the community kitchen. She gave me some olive oil, and I, in turn, shared some prasadam with her. Some of the other people there were able to catch a short darsana of the Lords while I was making offerings in the common room. The utsava deities of Sri Sri Nitai Gaurasundara accompanied us throughout the padayatra.
Every day during our short one week program we would leave the camp and walk to the edge of the town for about a distance of 3 kilometers. On our way, we visited different neighborhoods we would then end the day in the town center doing kirtana and book distribution for several hours. The atmosphere was very favorable, with many ‘ISKCON 50th Anniversary’ magazines and books going out, some in the local Icelandic language from the North European Bhaktivedanta Book Trust in Sweden. As well as meeting the locals we also met many tourists in the town center. One young German man was looking at the Bhagavada-Gita we were distributing. Soon after, his mother and sister joined him they were surprised to see him looking at the book. The mother exclaimed, “Oh, Bhagavada-Gita. We have that at home. In fact, they have studied it in school.” We were quite shocked apparently there are secondary schools in Germany where Bhagavada-Gita is included in the curriculum. Despite having a copy at home they left with ‘Bhagavada-Gita As It Is’ from us. There were also a few tourists from the USA who told us that they had actually been to the Potomac ISKCON temple. We even met a troll-like man with rainbow-colored fingernails and waist-length grey hair and beard who exclaimed, “Hare Krishnas without the orange?!” when he saw us.
In addition to visiting the town of Akureyri, we visited the nearby town of Hrafnagilshverfi, a small community of approximately 600 people. We went door to door distributing books. While there we met a Swedish migrant and former active Jehovah witness. He invited us into his place and showed us his extensive garden. Then, in exchange for a small book he gave us some vegetables. In fact, we begged alms like this from several homes in this village to get supplies because there were no shops anywhere there.
In general, the local people had no previous contact with anything to do with ‘Hare Krishna’ or Vedic culture. In the capital city there were several yoga studios and two vegetarian restaurants, but in the north, there was little worldly influence on the culture. It was indeed an isolated place where devotees had never, yes never been before. The response was overwhelmingly favorable and with approximately 100 books distributed there is a plan to continue regular preaching in this zone.
Note: Devotees interested in contributing to this Iceland mission which, is expected to expand every year, are invited to contact me:
candrabhagad#hotmail.com (please replace the # with @ before using this email address)
 Also known as ‘hipsters’ or ‘non-conformists’
 There are 7 Bhaktivedanta Book Trusts (BBT) worldwide: North American BBT, North European BBT, Chinese BBT, Mediterranean BBT, Indian BBT, Latin American BBT and Western Pacific BBT.