Badrinarayan says that when he returned and began giving realtors this shopping list, "I had people hang up on me. One guy said, 'This isn't funny, Charlie,' I guess I sounded like one of his friends, and he thought it was a practical joke.
"But here's the beautiful part," he continued. "One of our senior monks was visiting. He's an old friend of mine, and he said, 'How's it going with the land?' And I said, 'Well, we're not finding anything.' " When his friend asked for a car and driver to help with the hunt, "I thought, well...maybe. We believe in miracles. And it'll keep him out of my hair for a while." The first day his friend had no success. "Second day, they got lost out in Escondido. Instead of going down Country Club, they were going down Rincon, and they ran up against these hills and realized their error." Getting out to stretch his legs, the visiting monk noticed a sign announcing that a 24-acre site was for sale. "He said, 'Hey, wait a minute. High in the south. Slopes in the north. Single road in front.' He called me, and I said, 'Hare Krishna! Just stay there!' " When he saw the shape of the property, he realized it conformed to what the Indian pundits had ordered. "Lion-shaped means wider in the front," he explains. "A piece of property like that will cause you difficulty. They will gobble; they will eat. It will cost you money. And cow-shaped means it's thinner in the front and wider in the back, and it'll give milk. It'll be sweet."
When Badrinarayan later toured the land with a real-estate agent, "I didn't see any water flowing across it." Although he knew building a pond would rectify this, he thought he might negotiate a better price by pointing out the deficiency. "But she said, 'Come with me.' We went over these small hills into the back of the property, and there was a flume from Lake Dixon that runs across it there. So then I thought, 'Well, that didn't work.' And I said, 'There should be five types of fruit trees growing spontaneously.' She said, 'Well, check it out.' There were avocadoes. There were olives. There were persimmons. There were oranges. There were lemons. Five types of fruit trees growing spontaneously."
Later, in accordance with additional Vedic instructions, Badrinarayan and some of the other temple members dug a hole on the property to the depth of an elbow. "You pour a little less than a liter of milk into the hole, and you chant the first line of a sacred prayer called the gayatri. And as you're finishing that mantra, the milk should have drained away. Not before. Not after. And it did that." He sent maps of his find off to India, and the pundits e-mailed him back: "Land all auspicious," it read. "Perfect for temple. Get at all costs."
Badrinarayan says ISKCON acquired the Rincon Avenue property for $560,000, and "The escrow papers were stamped and signed and recorded on Krishna's birthday in 1999. That was in August." The group then sought a conditional-use permit from the City of Escondido, and an extended battle ensued, with community critics complaining that the mass and scale of the project would change the rural character of their neighborhood, and increased traffic going to and from the temple would harm the environment. In June of 2000, however, the council gave the Krishna devotees a green light, and the architects in India began producing detailed drawings. They came up with "great elevations. Great floor plans. Great site plans," Badrinarayan says. "But, as they say, the devil's in the details. I'll give you an example of the kind of thing we went through. You have to do a complicated ingress/egress study that shows how the handicapped will have access to everything." The Indian architects' plans did this for all the changes in elevation that were more than two feet high. But for obstacles under two feet, "Nothing was detailed; it was as if they had never looked at it. So I called them in Delhi, and I said, 'You know this isn't going to work?' and their response was, 'Won't their friends help?' Which is kind of sweet, you know? And in India, it's true. There's no question. If someone is in a wheelchair, there'd be 15 people ready to help him. But I said, 'You know, it's a little colder here in the West. It doesn't work that way.' And there were just so many things like that, where they didn't quite put Tab A to Tab B."
Realizing, at last, that having the Indian architects design the new temple wasn't going to be practical, the congregation embarked on an extended search for an American firm. Early in 2005, they hired Hyndman & Hyndman, the Cardiff architects who oversaw the construction of the Mormon Temple on Interstate 5 and won a Grand Orchid award for the design of St. Gregory's in Scripps Ranch. "They're very competent. We couldn't be happier with them," Badrinarayan told me. Another delay in the project resulted when problems with water pressure caused the City of Escondido to impose a building moratorium. That has since been lifted, and the city has signed off on all the site plans. The religious leader says final construction drawings will be submitted to the City by the end of the year, and "We hope by the grace of Krishna to break ground by the spring or summer of 2007. But," he rolled his eyes, "it's a spiritual building. And sometimes Krishna has his own way of doing things."
When the new temple opens, the one in Pacific Beach will continue to operate. "There's already a congregation big enough to support this," Badrinarayan says. "We have a lot of people who live in South Bay or La Jolla or downtown. There's a lot of kids there — college students. They come to the temple. You'll see people on their way to work or school. People just stop in, offer some prayers, and go on." As if to confirm his words, a young Indian couple who had entered the temple and knelt before the altar rose to leave, greeting Badrinarayan as they passed him. They were tourists from India, the young woman said, but they loved visiting Hare Krishna temples on their travels. "Wherever you make a trip, you feel like your family is there," she enthused.