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Friday, July 18th, 2003

Ankara, Turkey

Historic First

Sannyasi delegation arrives in Turkey

Paramahamsa Maharaj and I take off from London's Heathrow International airport at seven o' clock on Turkish Airlines, fly across the cloudy English Channel and through the sunny skies of a Europe baking in one of the worst heat waves in decades, to the Black Sea port of Istanbul, Turkey.

Istanbul — formerly Byzantium (660 B.C.) and Constantinople (330 A.D.) — is the largest city in Turkey. The city lies on both sides of the Bosporus strait, so it is has the unique distinction of being situated in both European and Asian Turkey.

I'm not sure what to expect as we disembark and walk over to Customs and Immigration. Turkey is a Muslim country: how well will two Vaishnava monks — Srila Gurudeva's first ever sannyasi emissaries to this country — be received?

Very well, it turns out, by the grace of Sri Guru and Vaishnava.

The Immigration officers are polite, and stamp our passports with the comment: "Welcome to Turkey." The Customs officials wave us through to the domestic terminal with a smile: "Have a pleasant connecting flight, sir." Even the police give us directions courteously: "First turn on your left, sir."

I'm impressed, but then this is not your typical Muslim country — for one thing, almost all the women seem to wear jeans. The men also wear western attire, and most of them are clean-shaven. No Muslim stereotypes here.

After a brief layover, we board a tiny fifty-seater RJ70 Duroliner, bound for the capital city. The plane is so small (although it does have four jet engines) that our window seats are below the wings. We touchdown in Ankara just before three o' clock in the afternoon.

We were met at the airport by Ramaray Prabhu, the director, and Rukmini Devi Dasi, the manager of the Sri Govinda Math Yoga Center, as well as Onat, Fevzi, Krishnendrani Devi Dasi, Vinodanandini Devi Dasi, Navagauri Devi Dasi, and about a dozen of the devotees from the Ankara center.

The devotees are very enthusiastic and happy to see us, and we are treated like royalty: garlanded, given beautiful bouquets, and whisked off in a convoy of cars to the elite suburb of Cankaya, where we are given a superb prasadam feast — Turkish style.

I know that Srila Gurudeva will be eager to hear how his first sannyasi delegation to Turkey has fared, so just before midnight I send Mahananda Prabhu four photographs and a preliminary report.

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