Thursday, August 18, 2016

Mathura, Gokul and Nandgaon

So it began as planned. Early in the morning, along with my in-laws, I and my wife started for Mathura from Gurgaon.
Laddoo Gopal
We took the Sohna road to the KMP (Kundali-Manesar-Palwal) express way on to Palwal - Mathura. The expressway is very smooth and this being the rainy season, both the sides of the road were very scenic.

View from the KMP highway
Glimpse of the KMP highway
It was cloudy when we started and as we progressed on our route, it started to rain heavily. Thinking that the rain will be over soon, we continued on our way to Mathura slowly. We drove for sometime and realized that the rains were here to stay! So, we decided to take a breakfast break at a dhaba.

Dense clouds moving with us to Mathura

We were through with our breakfast and it was still pouring. A thought struck everyone "What if it continued to rain all through out the trip. We won't be able to tour the city." With a grim feeling, we decided to board the car. The moment we came out of the shaded dhaba, all of us had to run to the car to avoid getting drenched. This small run of about 10 meters just changed the mood. The rain drops infused a great level of energy and enthusiasm in us and we were now excited more than ever for what this trip had to offer.

When we took the left turn for Mathura from the highway, there were many pandits who were standing on the road and were stopping vehicles (with outside UP registration numbers) and offering their services as a guide to the city. We were using the GPS so far and were planning to first visit the Krishna Janm Bhoomi (birth place of Lord Krishna).

GPS works great on this route and we were confident that it will take us to all the temples and places in and around the city.
With confidence in the GPS, we decided not to take a guide and moved on.

In about a few minutes after leaving the highway, we were right in front of the Krishna Janm Bhoomi Mandir. It was now when we realized that there was no place to park the car. Everyone around acted really dumb when I asked them where the parking was. However, everyone whom I asked for parking did suggest to get a guide. I found that very weird. Luckily found a cop who was standing at the bus stop. I asked him about where the parking for the temple was. To my surprise, he said, "I don't know, why don't you hire a guide."
Entry gate to Mathura city
By now it was clear that without a guide, we could not go anywhere. So, we inquired and found a guide who was ready to offer his services for INR50. This was kind of surprising but we went ahead with him. He then took us right to the Krishna Janm Bhoomi Mandir through the narrow streets of Mathura and asked me to park in front of a house. When I asked him to take me to the parking lot,  he said this was it.
Entry of the Krishna Janm Bhoomi temple (mandir)
Mobiles and cameras are not allowed inside the temple. Moreover, it was raining all throughout so we left our mobiles in the car. We were asked to  deposit even the umbrella at the baggage counter. Here we were attended by a another guide who took us in and around the temple. Not many people (including myself until now) know that there is a Mosque constructed by Aurangzeb right on top of the prison in which lord Krishna was born to Devki and Vasudev. Another trivia is that the Azan (prayer) was offered only twice a year at this mosque and it is mostly closed during the rest of the year.

As we were wandering through the corridors of the temple, the guide informed us that the place where the current temple is constructed was dug out post the Moghul era. While roaming here, one can listen to to constant chants of 'Hare Krishna Hare Rama.'

By now, all of us were completely drenched. However, the calmness and spiritual sensation at this place had infused loads of energy and we were looking forward to the what Mathura had to offer.

We bought a Laddu Gopal from the Geeta Press store right outside the temple and also bought some sweets from the famous 'Brijwasi' sweet store. (This is on your right if you are facing the temple)

Geeta Press: We were told that this is a good store to buy stuff from

Next we were visiting Gokul. Gokul had two places where the guide took us:
One is Raman Reti: As per the stories, it is said that Krishna used to come here with the herd of cows and while the cows were busy grazing, he enjoyed rolling on the sand. When we arrived here, the rains had stopped. The way to the temple was through a knee high mini pool.

Entry to the temple at Raman Reti
There were songs being sung by the devotees inside the temple. There was an ashram right next to the temple. With colorful trees in the surrounding, the small huts, the place was simply beautiful. I kind of liked it more than the earlier temple. All of us took a roll in the sand too!

Songs sung by the sadhus
The open ground where Krishna used to roll and relax
Statues of the Deity 
The Raman Reti temple

Ashram 1

Ashram 2
 Another sight that caught our attention was right on the opposite side of the road - a fenced area (of Karshni Ashram) which has deers, ostriches, elephants, ducks and of course cows.

Wildlife at the Karshni Ashram
The second place for in Gokul was Nandgaon, the place where Vasudev took Krishna after he was born.
Picture depicting the arrival of Krishna in Gokul via Yamuna
The guide informed us that the sacred home of Nandbaba is still there with some new constructions. According to the guide, the house has 84 pillars (which are from the days of Krishna) that signify the whole of Brij area and that devotees must do a revolution around these 84 pillars as a symbol of paying homage to the deity. We were also told about the four pillars of the different Yugas, Satya Yuga, Treta Yuga, Dwapar Yuga and Kali Yuga. Names of people who donated INR11,000 or more were engraved in the marbles on the floor of the mandir,

The pillars of four Yugas
Names of people who donated INR11,000 or more
Goshala (cow shed) at Nandgaon
Another trivia as told by the guide was about the peeple tree right in front of Nandbaba's house. The tree is mostly dry with just a few green branches. Around Diwali (October/November) every year, the tree bears flowers of five colors which is quite unique and beautiful as described by the guide.
The peeple tree
Then we entered the main temple where the a mini statue of Krishna was kept in a cradle. The pujari here started telling us stories and said that there are three types if Bhog/daan (donation) that one can choose from and has to be done here.
  1. One is for INR11,000 where the temple will direct towards the care of cows and brahmins,
  2. Second was for INR5,000 where the temple will take contribute towards the well being of the cows
  3. Third was for INR2,500 where the temple will take care of something related to cows
This is what I did not like about that pandit. He made the four of us sit in couples and first did some rituals with my in-laws and asked for the donation. They gave INR2,500.

Post this, the pandit repeated the same rituals with me and my wife and asked for donation. I said,  we just gave the donation and that we are together. The pandit just refused and said now you are two families and you will need to please the god if you want good things to happen to you. He started saying "tera tujh ko arpan, kya laagat hai mera" (whatever is your's is offered to you, it was never mine). He said whatever you donate will be recorded and a receipt will be given to you. He tried to assure that the funds will be directed for charity related to cows and brahmins. Sitting at the place, I did not want to argue and donated INR2,500.

Immediately after this, the guide took us to Balram's temple in the same campus. It was just next doors. The pandit here said that this is the temple for ladies and that they should offer a minimum of INR365 for the safety and security of their husband. With this INR365, some puja (prayers) will be performed everyday for the next year which will bring good to the family. This is where a feeling of being cheated started to creep in. This experience did not end that peacefully.

I am a believer. Until I witness something, I won't comment on it. These events reminded me of the movies Oh My God and PK.

After witnessing such act from people who were claiming to be pandits, I gave my piece of mind to the guide who was accompanying us. I also now understand why someone was willing to be a guide and spend 3 hours with you for just INR50. All of them, the guides and the pandits are a part of some network who are just manhandling the emotions of the devotees.  All the money that I gave as donation or for that matter what others are giving must be getting split between the guides. Is this right?

To all the devotees and tourist who go there, please get this donation thing clarified beforehand and enjoy the place.

How to reach Mathura: Mathura is well connected through Railways network, you can take a train from your respective location; you can get on a bus or also drive to Mathura

Best time to visit: October to February; based on my experience, I would definitely include the rainy season there

Tip: Do not fall for the traps of the pandits and guides, donate only as per you want/can and not as per what the pandits ask you of...most important - just enjoy the place.

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