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Winding from the temple up the hill, Palace Road bisects New Vrindaban and is named for the Palace of Gold (launch photo gallery in new window). The palace and its surrounding gardens are an anomaly on a road otherwise lined with trailers, simple ranch houses, and the main temple down the hill. Three years after it was completed in 1979 The New York Times called it “the Taj Mahal of the West.” Millions have visited it in the past three decades, but it’s as far as most visitors — both Hindus and others — venture into New Vrindaban’s grounds. The palace emulates classical Indian architecture but was not designed to withstand the Ohio River valley’s cold winters.

Despite harsh winters’ toll, the temple is still striking. No photography is officially permitted in the palace — a rule intended for “unruly Indian crowds,” says Chris Fici, 27, who has lived in the temple down the hill since the fall of 2006. His soft voice lacks the blustery confidence of some other long-time residents who met Prabhupada before his death and can recite verses from his diaries and the Bhagavad-Gita. He often wears a plain black hooded sweatshirt over his white robes, and his hair is cut short except for a small tuft on the crown of his head. That bit of hair and the mixture of clay and water on the bridge of his nose and between his dark eyes signify his devotion to Krishna. His boxy glasses are more Brooklyn hipster than celibate Hindu monk.

Construction of the palace began while Prabhupada was still alive in 1973, Chris says. By the time it opened in 1979 Prabhupada had died, but an eerily lifelike replica of him still sits cross-legged in his intended study, a beanie on its bald head. Although he favored simpler surroundings, his followers still insisted on building the palace and gardens to honor their founder.

New Vrindaban's Palace of Gold was built for the movement's founder, Prabhupada, but he died before it could be completed.

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all content copyright Rob Hardin and Eric Hornbeck 2008