Tuesday, October 14, 2008

First Trip To India: Mathura & Vrindavan - Krishna territory

Chapter Two - Mathura & Vrindavan - Krishna territory

I left Delhi by the Grand Trunk Road. Every couple of miles, you could see a heavy accident involving a truck or jeep. The drivers of these types of vehicles are definitely bad, anywhere in India. I headed for Mathura and Vrindavan.
The ISKCON Krishna Balaram Temple
The ISKCON Krishna Balaram Temple and mausoleum in Vrindavan seems to have been completed by now and they're in one word impressive ! All this beautiful white marble... The place had a great atmosphere with sect followers chanting religious songs all over the place. Unfortunately, as in so many other places in India, all of it was disturbed by people asking for money or to put it in other words, asking me to become a member. I could, for only about 11000 rupees ! "You don't want to ? Okay, you don't have to. You can also give a donation. Five hundred rupees." No, thanks ! In fact, all of that bullshit got me rather annoyed and I left. A pity, because this could have been a great visit. The Bankey Bihari is a similar place : a good atmosphere, but the same money-crazy people. I sat down to listen to a priest telling some obviously religious stories. After he had finished, all the (Indian) people could leave except for me. I was supposed to pay Rs 500 ! Not surprisingly, I didn't pay that and left with another "hangover".

There are so many places in Vrindavan that it would lead a little far to try and cram them all in a guidebook, but a particular nice (and a bit different) place was near the Yamuna river. In fact, it's two places in one. First, there's the so-called Cheer Ghat, where the clothes of Radha & friends were stolen by Krishna and nearby is the Kalia Dhahan where Krishna's playing ball was swallowed by a huge snake (Kalia). Krishna fought the snake and recovered the ball. These places are different because of the looks of the place. It's a bit out of the way and makes a special impression (at least it did on me). At the former place, people will try and make you buy a scarf to tie onto the sacred tree branches.

On to nearby Mathura. I was told that in the Kans Qila fort there is the piece of rock that was carried by Krishna on his little finger. Who will tell ? Fact is that I saw a piece of rock there. The Shri Krishna Janmbhoomi temple is heavily guarded by the army. Photography is strictly forbidden. You have to make your way through a metal detector and past a body search. Bags with photography equipment can't be taken inside. On the marble mosque walls facing the Janmbhoomi temple, patterns can be made out. Guides over there explained me that once there were no patterns. Only after an earthquake, they appeared. And, what's more, they are on the only wall that hasn't developed any cracks because of the quake. The Hindus over there believe that the marble slabs are "magical" and see all types of gods and stuff in the patterns. I have great respect for all religions, but during the explanations of the guide about these figures, I sometimes had to try hard not to laugh out loud.

The archaeological museum of Mathura was very interesting with some beautiful and/or fascinating sculptures. I spent a lot of time there, enough to draw the attention of the curator, who turned out to be an interesting and friendly guy. Opening times now are from 10.30 AM to 4.30 PM (7.30 AM to 1 PM from May 1st to June 30th). Closed on Mondays and as their leaflet states also on "Sunday followed by second Saturday of the month and on gazetted holidays."

While dwelling through the Mathura streets near the Dwarkadheesh temple, I came to a large iron gate of which I was told that it was originally in the Red Fort in Delhi.

In Mathura I stayed in Hotel Madhuvan. A single room non-AC was Rs 400 plus a luxury tax of 5% (doubles are Rs 700). There was an excellent bathroom, fan, TV. It was very clean. The people were all very kind. To be short, a very good place. You can play table tennis in the basement. The restaurant was very good with very good and not particularly slow service. As a matter of fact, I have been thinking back a lot to the service of this place when comparing it with other. I ordered Tandoori food which - as it should - took some time to prepare, but nothing exuberant.

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