The ancient Sanskrit name of the city of Vrindavan comes from its groves of Vṛndā or Tulsi (Holy Basil) with Vana meaning a grove or a forest. Lord Krishna is believed to have spent a considerable time here in these groves during his childhood, and thus this small town holds a special place in Hindu mythology.
Thousands of devotees visit Vrindavan every day absorbed in their devotion to Krishna. We ourselves had been had been thinking of making a trip to this legendary town for some time now. Finally it had materialised in the very first week of this year.Driving on the newly constructed Palwal Expressway, on a wet overcast day, yellow mustard fields on either side, felt good. In less than an hour we hit the old Delhi – Agra highway and started coming across the “branches’ of Dhabas you would get in Murthal. We took our “pit-stop” at “Vintage Haveli” just before we crossed the border into UP. It was a decent place to have some light breakfast and luckily took payment through Paytm (No POS). A big relief as we were really light on cash, still reeling from the effects demonetisation. The drive to Vrindavan from there was not long and we got to the point from where we had to get off the highway in about an hour, even that could have been lesser had there been no hold up at the only toll you would be crossing.
Vrindavan is a few kilometres from the highway. The religious zeal of this town becomes obvious once you drive pass the newly developed residential areas on the periphery. The street gets narrower and crowd gets bigger with a temple every few metres. We could hear the devotional songs being played and significance of this place becomes more evident. We drove pass the marvellous Prem Mandir and ISKCON and finally reached the heart of this ancient town. The street which we were driving on had gradually morphed into a narrow lane, teeming with people on foot, rickshaws and cars. A few inquiries helped us to a parking space because we were staying in Jaipuria Bhawan which did not have a parking lot of its own. That was one of the worries when we had planned the stay but now we have realised that it is not an issue as there are quite a few private parking spaces tucked away in and around these narrow lanes. A combination of E Rickshaw and the good old manual rickshaw helped us in getting our luggage to Jaipuria Bhawan, located right in the heart of the bazaar and at a walking distance from Shri Banke Bihari Ji’s temple.
Jaipuria Bhavan is an old ashram which has been here since years before the onslaught of the more urbane hotels, the veteran now seems to be adapting to changing times. In Vrindavan there can be no better place to stay because here you get the real pulse of this small town devoted in the name of Krishna and where Radhe Radhe is the way even the rickshawalas use to request people to get aside. We had just reached in time for a visit to Banke Bihari Ji’s temple which closed in the afternoon at one o’clock. So we walked down to the temple, only a few minutes away from our accomodation. It was packed with people, jostling with each other to get a glimpse of their lord. Everyone was struggling to get ahead but in spite of that they were all teeming with enthusiasm and sheer happiness, their faith had overcome the discomfort they were going through. It was not surprising as Bankey Bihari Ji’s temple is amongst the holiest and most famous temples of Krishna in India. It is believed that the statue of Bihari Ji installed in the Shri Banke Bihari Mandir is the one granted to Swami Haridas by the celestial couple themselves. Swami Haridas is a saint worshipped by the followers of Krishna, who had submitted himself to the devotion of lord. He did his “sadhna’ in Nidhivan, which is where he is believed to have been visited by Lord Krishna and Radha. A common sight in the temples of Vrindavan is how Radha Ji is worshipped; her presence is acknowledged in spirit with no separate statue of hers. It was a memorable experience to have spent a few minutes inside the sanctum of this legendary temple, absorbing the dichotomy of the place, physical energy complemented by a sense of mental peace.We then entered the outgoing traffic which automatically pushed us out on the narrow lanes. The temple was about to close for its afternoon break but still there were hundreds queuing outside.
On the way back I couldn’t resist stopping at one of the many shops which sold the famous “Pedas” of this region, incidentally almost everyone claimed sending the Prasad to the temple. I sampled the varieties which came with different textures, taste, and price.
The clock had struck two while we did this, so we rushed back to Jaipuria Bhawan to utilise our lunch coupons. Having lunch at Jaipuria was in itself a rustic and memorable experience. It was after a long time we had food sitting in the floor. A small wooden stool in front of us served as the dining table. The food was hot, straight out from the kitchen next door, the taste of cooking done on a chulha was very evident. Once we were done with lunch we decided to retire for the afternoon, the deities of Vrindavan had already gone for their hiatus and we would wait for the clocks to hit 5’o clock when all the temples would reopen.
We began the evening by visiting SevaKunj another place in Vrindavan which is associated with some legends of its own. It is believed that Lord Krishna and Radha appear here every night for their RasLeela. The basil trees which you see in the campus are said to turn into “Gopis”.It is forbidden for anyone to enter the campus at night as anyone who sees the act is believed to lose his sanity. When I inquired about all the multistorey houses which surrounded the premises, I was told that none of windows are kept open during the night.We walked around the cluster of basil trees on a concrete pavement enclosed by a “Jaali” which helped keep a huge number of monkeys at bay.After attending the evening “Aarti “at the temple here and came out.
In the land devoted to Krishna one cannot miss ISKCON’s Krishna Balram Temple. Established in 1975 it may not compare with other main temples in terms of history but the beauty of the architecture here will make you marvel it. A group sitting right in front the main idols of Krishna and Balram was chanting “Hare Rama Hare Krishna ” which echoed all around submerging everyone in a feeling of joy.
Once out of the ISKCON temple it was time to check out the tantalising variety of food which the lanes around Banke Bihari Ji offer.We began by having some wonderful Kachori and Dum Aaloo with the typical taste of UP. We then tried the Tikki Chaat and Lassi which is supposed to be famous here. There was so much more food to try – Dhoklas, Samosa, Dosa and even Chinese and we wanted to go on but our stomach had already put its hands up.
So we strolled back to our room and retired for the day.Since Jaipuria Bhavan was right in the heart of this buzzing market we could hear all of it. Gradually the entire humdrum outside started fading and it became relatively silent a little after midnight. The town had finally gone to sleep.