Last year in Himachal Pradesh, we met two American women who lived in Vrindavan. After bumping into them repeatedly on the mountainside, they encouraged us to come and visit the following year. Vrindavan is near Mathura, the Hindu deity Krishna’s birthplace, about 160 km from Delhi. Krishna is said to have spent his childhood in Vrindavan and where he met his lover, the deity Radha. Vrindavan is an important pilgrimage site and visited by many Western Radha Krishna followers, a number of whom, like Anita and Suleta, have made it their home. Sitting on the Yamuna river, it is an ancient town, a maze of narrow streets, populated with temples dedicated to Krishna and Radha. Up until just a few years ago, only bicycle rickshaws shared the streets with the cows. Now it’s quite different, with ear piercing motorcycle horns very similar to Varanasi.
Since we were passing so close and had such an amiable time with them both a year ago, we asked if we could pay a visit. Suleta was out of town, but Anita was most encouraging. Getting off the train in Mathura on a Saturday night, the place was packed and the pollution was horrible. Nevertheless, we survived the 30-minute auto rickshaw ride to Anita’s ashram. She was waiting for us outside.
After we checked in, we were given dinner served on a banana leaf and ate with our fingers. After the questionable hygiene in Varanasi, this was a welcome change! For the next two days, Anita was our personal guide through the twisting, winding lanes of Vrindavan.
All the while Gerard asked questions about Hari Krishna and her guru. She was forthcoming, explaining everything thoroughly, and it wasn’t at all what we had thought. All those we met are devoted and sincere in their practice…and it showed on their smiling faces.
Both in Varanasi and Orchha we had been warned about the monkey menace in Vrindavan. Unique to this city, the monkeys had developed the skill of approaching from behind and yanking the glasses off your face. But all is not lost, we were told. Some boy will offer to retrieve your glasses for a mere 100 Rps. How this is accomplished, the boy tosses a small carton of Frooti drink up to the monkey now perched in a tree who, in order to catch the delicious Frooti, drops the glasses. We were told the threat was real and you could not wear glasses outside. That meant I wandered around Vrindavan in a blur, with the little vision I had focused on the ground to avoid falling into an open sewer or cow flap. I was dependent on Gerard’s pictures to see the real Vrindavan.
Our second day, Anita suggested taking a boat across the Yamuna through the cultivated fields to a small village.
Walking along a pathway we came to a flooded area and were about to turn back when a bullock cart pulled up piled with sacks of grain, women, and children. They called us to climb up and ride with them to the village.
We squeezed on board and as we bumped along the rutted track, the women laughed all the way. Entering the village, it was as though we were a parade, people smiling, pointing and laughing.
After staying too long in the village, walking back through the fields to the river was brutal, the sun high in the sky, beating down on us fiercely.
We arrived back in Vrindavan hot and dazed. Stopping for a cold drink, I had forgotten I was still wearing my prescription sunglasses (monkeys were not a problem across the river). Suddenly I felt a thump from behind, and my glasses yanked off my face in one swoop. Everyone was yelling while a monkey perched in a tree above, gleefully clutching my glasses. We paid a boy the obligatory 100 Rs, who threw the Frooti and the monkey dropped the glasses. I was fortunate he’d not chewed on them; it was a cheap 100 Rs to get the glasses back in one piece!
Before sunrise the third morning, Anita led us through the still darkened winding lanes to the bus stand for Delhi. She’d been a wonderful host for a fascinating all to brief visit of Vrindavan.