Crushing misconceptions at Krishna Village in Australia
Leading luxury travel and food writer Mary Pratt, founder of The Caviar Spoon, ventured away from the crowds of Byron Bay to experience Krishna Village.
Byron Bay is hippie central through and through and so of course the Krishna Village Eco-Yoga Community would be based nearby. About an hour’s drive away, you’ll go from the breezy beaches or Byron to being nestled in rolling hills and lush greenery, with thick grass and fresh water creeks. This is Eungella, a town in New South Wales with a peaceful, back-to-nature vibe that’ll transform even the most plugged-in of urbanites, given enough time.
Since one of my mantras is #lovelife, I thought, why not pay a visit to Krishna Village to get a taste of their joyous and mindful approach to life? Maybe they could help my brain stop whirring at top speed and get me to unplug and relax!
When you visit Byron Bay, you will, without a doubt, be greeted by happy clappy Hare Krishnas somewhere along the line. Perhaps they’ll be joyfully waltzing down Jonson Street or dancing and singing along the beach. They’re part of the landscape here and make up the wildly varied and eclectic environment that is Byron Bay’s signature.
But after visiting and speaking with the Hare Krishnas at the retreat, I found out that these people only represent a small portion and personality of the multifaceted community. Don’t let first impressions fool you!
So let’s start with some of the misconceptions of Hare Krishnas because it seems like those are what come up first in conversation whenever they’re mentioned.
First of all, you don’t have to become a Hare Krishna in order to stay or live at the village. They make a point of allowing visitors to choose their own experience, whether it’s to treat it more as a yoga retreat supplemented by delicious vegetarian food and never stepping foot into the temple or to learn about and embrace the spiritual aspect by including the temple.
And then there’s the possible perception that all Hare Krishnas live in strict ashrams and sing and dance in the streets all day long (remember what I mentioned above?). Well, it turns out that whilst some of them do do that (and you’re more than welcome to join in), most have regular jobs, raise families, and go to the temple on Sundays, much like other faiths. Actually, whilst we write this, we’re hanging our heads in shame with the realisation that we’ve obviously been wired into the modern world where the open mind has been somewhat crushed!
So, for those of you who screw your face up in fear that you’ll walk away in an orange robe, open your mind! I’ll admit that I was a teensy bit hesitant at first myself and definitely received a few startled looks when I said that was off to the Hare Krishna Retreat, but I left with the most positive, awesome vibe and memories and wouldn’t hesitate to go back.
Getting There & First Impressions
Before we even get to my actual arrival, I need to give a huge shout-out to Henrike, the director of the retreat, who was not only the fastest and most professional about responding to my queries, but also the most helpful. (Sorry, tourism board but it’s a fact. Might be time to start answering some of those emails!)
Krishna Village isn’t about people who just run away into the hills to get away from life, as some would think. It’s actually a retreat which understands the importance of ROI (stick with me here!). Take, for example, their yoga course. Running for six weeks, it is a holistic full-immersion program that focuses on BEING a yogi, not just learning about sun salutations and feeding off the energy of Mother Earth. They also make sure to focus on learning about business and how to market YOU as a yoga instructor.
I’d place a bet on how many do this course or something similar and end up going back to their droll 9-to-5 office job because they simply don’t commercialise their work. And before you think I’m being ruthless, consider this: the temple set up the global restaurant chain Govinda’s.
Listen, even the monks and nuns know that bills need to paid but they figured out a way to do it without breaking their beliefs. The restaurant in Burleigh Heads and the catering trucks you’ll see driving all throughout Australia belong to the Krishna Farm. Around the world, the restaurants are usually associated with and provide funding for their local temple.
Krishna Village is such a picturesque place and just so natural. Needless to say, my friend’s Louis Vuitton hold-all looked out of place, as did her BMW with its electric pink number plate!
A steep walk up a hill (or a little drive) reveals the temple and two Ashrams. It was just fascinating and humbling to hear the morning prayers. I had the opportunity to speak with a nun who has lived in the female Ashram for 5 years, which was a fabulously eye-opening experience. Plus/minus 30 years old, she revealed that she had actually owned her own wellness centre in Byron Bay before coming here and has travelled all around the world. She’s also about to start doing massages down at the Eco Village!
Where You’ll Sleep
This isn’t about luxury. Forget the plush bathrobes or brand-name amenities. Your stay here will be in simple accommodations that allow you to refocus your attention and really immerse yourself in the Hare Krishna way of life. Plus, the beautifully stunning surroundings will make it pretty easy for you to forget about all of those other little ‘extras’.
Sleeping in a converted donga reminded me of my backpacking days but it was fabulously clean and comfortable and I had no complaints about the view when I opened the doors. Just green, green, green for as far as my eye could see, with nary a peep from the urban soundtrack of cars, beeping, or sirens. It was about keeping it real and indulging in nothing but Mother Nature. What relief!
…You can also camp but, er, no, this option wasn’t for Pra!
What You’ll Eat
I’ll admit that I was initially dubious about the food here as it’s served from buckets by volunteers and members of the temple and ashrams. But then I had a harsh word with myself as I remembered that they have one of the best reputations at food festivals and are the founders of Govinda’s!
The vegetarian Indian-style Krishna food was phenomenal—fresh, wholesome, flavorful, and surprisingly filling. Meat, fish, and eggs are not part of the diet but you won’t even miss them. It was like a banquet, whether at lunch or supper, with so many varieties of dishes to choose from. Eating here felt like I was just going down the Govinda’s menu and saying “I’ll try this…and this…and this…and all of these here…”
The setting itself is very simplistic. We all sat around on cushions on the floor or on benches, chatting away with others whilst stuffing ourselves to the brim. And when we were finished, we each washed our own plates and cutlery.
Where To Unwind
Even if you’re not here for a specific purpose, like the Yoga Teacher Training Course or the Certified Massage Course, there are still so many things you can do and take part in simply for the experience. Try participating in Kirtan singing with a group or a meditation session which you can do at the temple or find a secluded corner of the farm and go solo. You can also take yoga classes for a good stretch and to connect with yourself or even get a massage.
And if Kirtan, meditation, or yoga aren’t your things and you fancy just relaxing, then this is also your place. Take a walk up to the Ashram, learn and be enlightened, or make the most of being in one of the most gorgeously lush areas in Byron Bay and swim in the fresh waters of Massage Rocks, one of the special places here among the Hare Krishna.
The options really are endless. The only thing you have to remember to do is unplug, forget about the outside world, and let yourself just be in this environment.
I know, it’s easier said than done! I was still in hustle-and-bustle mode and my 24-hour stay just wasn’t long enough to switch off my crazy brain! In hindsight, I definitely think I should have stayed longer and am almost certain that I would have zenned out completely if I had.
Other Things To Do
Take advantage of your time here and do the things that you may not normally do. I opted for a Life Coaching session with Henrike who was just fabulous (yup, in addition to being the director of the retreat, she’s also a coach). Coming from a pretty logical mind and being a coach myself, coach-on-coach sessions can be hard as there’s often a lot of “I know this stuff” but Henrike approached this session in a way that had me walking out with a few big ‘a-ha!’ moments.
And those ‘a-ha’ moments are shaping Pra’s life. Because it isn’t about dreaming up some mood board and being whisked away into dreamland; it’s about keeping it real, detaching yourself, and getting back to what makes you happy. It’s time to get off the hamster wheel of life!
Those who like hands-on work and giving back to a community should consider becoming a volunteer here. There’s a minimum 2-week commitment (which is probably still too little time in this green haven) and you can immerse yourself in the 1,000 acres filled with orchards, vegetable gardens, cows, and horses.
We had a chance to engage with a local (non-Hare Krishna) couple who visit the temple on a weekly basis with their young child to embrace the food and ambiance. This led me to realise something. Coming from a corporate background where companies are paying thousands to find out how to engage people, it was really interesting speaking to the Hare Krishnas and learning about their beliefs and takes on life and people.
They are rooted in simplicity and never veer from it, staying steadfast in their values. I think more than a few companies would do well to take a page out of the Hare Krishna book because too often a business’s values are blurred with little adherence to them!
The phrase I often use in my consulting work is “I hear the words but do not see the behaviour”. That phrase would be absolutely obliterated here because they do exactly as they say.
What a humbling and amazing experience!
Embrace Byron Bay with a stay here…and remember to keep an open mind because when you do, lots of amazing things WILL happen.
525 Tyalgum Road, Eungella, NSW, 2484