A mystical-looking gold and white structure peeks over the tree line of the Hudson River between the Poughkeepsie and New Hamburg train stations. The Buddhist relic is a lost jewel in a vast valley, much like the area it marks.
The stupa, or Buddhist shrine, is part of the Kagyu Thubten Choling Monastery. It was built to reflect off the water, spreading spiritual learnings, said Ani Depal, a Buddhist worshiper.
Believe it or not, Wappingers Falls — part peaceful village with a picturesque waterfall, part Route 9 strip-mall/restaurant row — is also home to four religiously diverse, but culturally significant centers of Eastern worship: the Buddhist monastery; The Mid-Hudson Islamic Association and Masjid Al Noor mosque; a Hindu Samaj; and the Mid-Hudson Sikh Cultural Society.
Depal smiles when she says this area has a spiritual energy, probably emanating from the river itself. History might even agree with her. From the Native Americans to the friars of Mount Alvernia, the 29 square miles of woods and watershed hold a number of churches and temples.
But what attracted immigrants from India, Pakistan, China, and the Middle East was IBM in the ’80s. The region saw another influx after 9/11. When settled, these communities of affluent doctors, businessmen, and engineers donated heavily towards building permanence. While there are many temples and mosques around the valley, Wappingers Falls — and the Town of Wappinger — is a central location with access to New York City and a host of other services.
This is where East meets West, says Sultaan Mokal of Highland, the former president of the Masjid Al Noor mosque, as he describes the arched design of the building on All Angels Hill Road in Wappingers Falls. Constructed in the 1990s, it sits prominently on a hill facing the town’s WWII memorial. The decor, much like the temples, is a mix of traditional and modern designs — from brightly colored prayer rugs to a crystal chandelier.
Just off of All Angels Hill Road, on Brown Road, is the Hindu Indian Cultural Center & Jain Temple, with equally ornate design and rituals. Here, members attend services and take myriad classes including yoga and dance; children and adults also study the rich cultural heritage of India.
Next year, the Sikh community plans to build its temple, called a Gurdwara, on a 17-acre plot further down All Angels Hill Road. The community has outgrown its current brick structure in the neighborhood on Ketchamtown Road. Build a bigger parking lot, and they will come, laughs Daljit Singh Virk, President of the Mid Hudson Sikh Cultural Society. His temple hosts an open lunch of Indian food every Sunday.
What these Eastern faith-based centers have in common, apart from asking guests to remove their shoes, is that everyone is made to feel at home in these very different worlds.