North American Youth Bus Tour Turns Triple Threat

By Madhava Smullen for ISKCON News on 29 Apr 2011
This summer, as he has every year since 1995, ISKCON Youth Ministry volunteer Manu Dasa will take a host of youth across North America on the trip of their lives, visiting incredible nature spots and participating in Krishna conscious festivals.
But this year’s a little different. This year, there will be not one, but three bus tours for different age groups.

Krishna Bus ToursThis summer, as he has every year since 1995, ISKCON Youth Ministry volunteer Manu Dasa will take a host of youth across North America on the trip of their lives, visiting incredible nature spots and participating in Krishna conscious festivals.

But this year’s a little different. This year, there will be not one, but three bus tours for different age groups.

One of them, of course, will be the original Krishna Culture Festival Tour, for older youth—boys and girls aged16 to 25. However, the tour will be shortened from its former nine-week run to only five weeks, so that it can share the summer with two other tours from now on.

“The shorter length is not actually all that new,” Manu explains. “From the tour’s inception in 1995 until about 2000, it lasted only three weeks. Then from 2000 until 2003, it was a one-month tour. And from 2003 until 2010, it lasted over two months. Recently, however, we’ve found that due to the bad economy and other factors, the kids can’t afford to pay $2,000 for such a long tour, or to take so much time off from their lives.”

For Manu and his wife Jaya Radhe, however, the tour will be longer than ever before, as they are merging two other programs for younger kids into it. The first is “The Summer Trip” for boys aged 12 to 15, which goes back even further than the Krishna Culture Festival Tour. Started by Ritadhavaja Swami for his boys’ boarding school in 1992, the several week-long trip would take them on the road to camp, see temples, and attend Rathayatras.

When Ritadhavaja Swami retired due to doctor’s orders weeks before the 2005 Summer Trip was set to begin, his older students decided continue the program in order to share the knowledge and experiences that had so impacted their own lives with a new generation. Now young men, Krishna-Priya, Dattatreya, Krishna Kishor, and Sugosh are still running the program to this day.

Meanwhile in 2008, Manu’s wife Jaya Radhe—who had run the bus tour with him for many years—and Bhakti-Kalalayam Dance Academy Director Anapayini decided to form a similar program for girls aged 11 to 15, seeing the success of the boys’ Summer Trip. Kishori Yatra was launched, with the girls also traveling for two or three weeks, attending Ratha Yatras and engaging in fun group activities.

“Initially, both the Summer Trip and Kishori Yatra were using vans, but there were problems with space and the vehicles breaking down,” Manu says. “Next, both groups would share an old hand-me-down school bus from the Krishna Culture Tour, using it during different times in the summer. It wasn’t the best facility for them, so when we got a new bus donated this year, and decided we were shortening our tour to make it more affordable, we thought, why not reach out and share resources?”

The new arrangement will see all three tours using the same fully kitted-out bus with bunk beds, storage space, a kitchen, and showers, during different parts of the summer. The tours will also share chaperones and bus drivers.

This summer Kishori Yatra will depart from the Alachua, Florida base first, running from June 7th through 28th. Up to twenty girls will attend New York Ratha Yatra and the 24 Hour Kirtana Festival in New Vrindaban, West Virginia, and visit the New York, New Vrindaban, Prabhupada Village, and Hillsboro, North Carolina ISKCON temples, among others. They’ll also enjoy activities such as camping, kayaking/canoeing, bicycling, hiking, swimming, sports, and visiting theme parks.

“On the tour for older kids, we have a much tighter schedule, since we’re on a mission to help Festival of India around the country, as well as to put on our own outreach festivals at theaters and universities along the way,” Manu says. “The younger kids don’t have the stamina or confidence yet to do those kinds of performances. So we spend more time doing fun little internal activities—for instance, last year the Kishori Yatra girls stayed with the kirtan group Gaura Vani and As Kindred Spirits in Washington D.C. for a couple of days, and spent some time in the studio recording a CD of Vaishnava songs that they had written about each other on the tour.”

The young boys’ Summer Trip is up next, running from June 29th to July 26th. Around twenty boys will attend Washington D.C., Montreal, and Toronto Rathayatras, and will also stop at various temples and do fun outdoors activities along the way.

“There’s a lot of opportunity for them to bond together, and get a good introduction to life on the road, as well as Krishna consciousness 101,” says Manu. “ We’ll do things like take six devotional topics that we want everybody to know about by the end of the tour, and have interactive discussions about them while sitting around the campfire.”

Before the younger boys’ Summer Trip concludes, Manu will return to Alachua to meet the attendees of the Krishna Culture Festival tour for 16 to 25 year olds.
There’ll be about a week of getting-to-know-you activities such as going to the natural cool springs in Florida, while youth will also rehearse the tour’s main drama production—which will be “The Three Lives of Bharat” this year—with ISKCON director extraordinaire Bhakti Marg Swami.

The up to 28 youth from all over the world will then hit the road from July 20th until August 21st, returning to Alachua in time for Janmastami, Krishna’s appearance day.

In between, they’ll perform at and help set up Festival of India tents at Rathayatras in cities around North America, including Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Vancouver. They’ll also perform at temples and public theaters in Atlanta, Houston, Tucson, San Diego, Laguna Beach, Portland, Seattle, Boise, Denver, Dallas, and New Talavan, Mississippi.

“This positive activity really inspires the older kids,” Manu says. “Because when they see the public appreciating Krishna consciousness so much, with big smiles and sometimes tears in their eyes, it powerfully reinforces their own faith.”

Of course the youth will also have plenty of good old outdoor fun: They’ll be whitewater rafting in the Rocky Mountains, visiting Olympic National Park on the Pacific coast, dipping in hot springs in Utah, visiting waterparks and themeparks in Boise and Dallas, and participating in a three-day Japa retreat while camping on the beach in Baja California.

Each year, the “shifts” for each of the three tours will rotate, so that each group will get to see different temples, festivals, and parts of the country every year.
“This will also give youth added incentive to attend multiple times,” Manu says. “Rather than doing the tour once and then crossing it off their list because it’s the same every year, they’ll want to come back to do the East Coast tour, or the Midwest tour, or whatever’s up next.”

Another bonus to the new arrangement is that now that the three tours are not overlapping, the older kulis who are involved in the running of, for instance, the Summer Trip, will be involved throughout the whole summer.

Manu hopes that this will allow him to phase into a more background role, and gradually hand the running of the tour on to a new generation.

“You know it’s time to pass the torch when the 16-year olds coming on this year’s summer tour were born the year the bus tour started,” he grins.

Today, each youth pays about 85% of the cost of the tour per person, with the rest covered by donations. In the future, Manu hopes to have the tours subsidized by devotees around the world, as is done with Indradyumna Swami’s Polish Festival Tour, to make them more affordable and accessible for youth at all levels of income.

“It’s just been one huge 16-year adventure, and we never know what to expect, or what Krishna wants,” Manu says. “There’s what we think we want, what we try to plan for; and then Krishna makes arrangements… sometimes way beyond our expectations.”

Space on the bus tour is limited. To register today, contact bustour2011@krishna.com

See photos and videos from previous tours at: http://www.krishna.com/bustour/photos.html

Posted in In the News.