While on a trip to New York from the Middle East in 1980, I spent a day visiting the nectarean Prabhupada places of pilgrimage like the Bowery, 26 Second Avenue and Tompkins Square Park. I took along my trusty camera and snapped the following pictures.
The corner of Houston and Bowery.
The heavy traffic on Second Avenue is loud and relentlessas it roars past the storefront next to the Mobil filling station.
26 Second Avenue on the Lower East Side. Once a curio shop ("Matchless Gifts"), it became the first headquarters for Srila Prabhupada's International Society for Krishna Consciousness. It has since been renovated and reopened by the devotees of New York in 1991, 25 years after ISKCON was founded.
When I arrived at "Matchless Gifts," it was closed down, the door was locked and it appeared abandoned with old garbage cans lined up in front of the building. I was very disappointed and stood around waiting, hoping that someone would eventually open the door to get inside to their apartment. But no one came. So I waited and waited. Then, when I was just about to give up after what seemed like hours, a stranger came along and said, "Would you like to see inside?" Of course I said yes and he opened the door, leaving me alone to absorb the serene transcendental mood inside the courtyard where Srila Prabhupada had passed daily to and from his first ISKCON temple in the West. This man just unlocked the door and left, and I have no idea who he was. A simple gesture of kindness from a stranger; but for me, it was a miracle indeed.
Srila Prabhupada's windows on the second floor of the rear apartment building above the courtyard.
The inner courtyard behind 26 Second Avenue.
"Now, because it is my duty, I have brought some message for you people. Because I am ordered by superior, my spiritual master, that 'Whatever you have learned, you should go to the Western countries, and you must distribute this knowledge.' So in spite of all my difficulties, all my inconveniences, I am here because I am in duty. That is my personal convenience, if I go and sit down at Vrindavan, I shall be very comfortable there. And I'll be, I'll have no anxiety, nothing of the sort. You see? But I have taken all the risk in the old age because I am in duty-bound. I am in duty-bound. So I have to execute my duty in spite of all my inconveniences. That is the idea."
(Srila Prabhupada Lecture, New York, March 4, 1966)
First stop was 94 Bowery where Srila Prabhupada preached and translated Srimad-Bhagavatam in a shared loft on the fourth floor. The Bowery is famous for its large homeless population and dangerous streets. We know from history that Srila Prabhupada had to step over drunkards slouched in the doorway of his building's entrance. If you look closely you can see that things hadn't changed much since then except for a cosmetic remodeling of the ground floor. The dark colored double doors are the entrance to number 94 and leaning against the left door is one such fellow to the immediate left of the fire hydrant. There is another man seated on the far left of the photo and on the far right is a man slouched against the door. A plastic bag is blowing in the wind.