Train ride, helpful fellow passengers, the temple where Lord Krishna is said to have been born, Vishram Ghat, making a gaff in a sacred place….
Mathura is a town 185Km South of Delhi, where it is said Lord Krishna was born. For me, this became a must-visit place as my spiritual awakening and intrigue has been mounting since being in Rishikesh and undertaking the yoga course. It also seems to score me points when mentioning it to any of the locals!
Getting to the train was a bit stressful thanks to a messy Uber ride where the driver went around in circles leaving me with little more than 10 minutes to find the station (he had no idea), the correct platform, the correct coach (again, a very long train) but where my name was not printed on the list (what?!) but I was reassured by the breakfast vendor to just get on anyway (thank you!) and went about locating my seat and somewhere to store my luggage. It was a sleeper carriage (my first time) and the two families I would be sitting with had already arranged themselves but were very welcoming in making space for me. My seat had been switched by one of the fathers so he could sit with his son/companion, but I didn’t mind as I was only staying on for two hours – this train was heading all the way down South, some 36hrs or so! Even though I soon wished I was in the window seat as we passed by some gorgeous countryside with people working in the fields and realised there would be some great photo opportunities for my ongoing personal project.
Still I was happier that they could get comfortable for their long journey ahead. They were all very pleasant and even turned off the sound on their child’s game as they thought it was disturbing me – I was just trying to see out the window! The children were very well behaved and I loved the way the parents spoke to them when they acted out – all kind words and reasoning, was so nice. Quite different to some encountered back home! So the train ride was pleasant and I reached my destination pretty much on time. Then it was back to negotiating a price for a taxi ride to the hotel and saying over and over I didn’t want to hire him for the day to see all the temples! The usual 😀
The hotel (Hotel Silver Star) was nice, quite different from a hostel as there was no hub to meet other travellers and the restaurant below was closed for some reason, so I was to be room-ridden. Unfortunately HappyCow had no listings for eating in the local area and although the nearby town of Vrindavan (where Lord Krishna is said to have grown up) did have a few, I decided I wouldn’t go there after all as there wasn’t enough time to do that and see Mathura itself. Also, my stomach seemed to be a little upset so I didn’t fancy venturing too far away from ‘home’. Therefore the plan became visiting the local Hindu temple, Shri Krishna Janmbhoomi, the spot where Lord Krishna is said to have been born, then on to Vrishram Ghat and maybe stay for the aarti at sunset, where they offer flowers to the river, then back to the hotel for food.
After a lovely tuktuk drive with a fabulous driver, who kept saying Hare Krishna! to me (think maybe it was my orange scarf) down the busy street and putting in pretty much all of my belongings in the cloakroom (no phones, cameras, food etc is allowed in the temple) I entered the temple and felt immediately at peace. There were some talks and music going on in the courtyard area and lots of shops to buy trinkets, ceremony items, food and so on, as well as a museum with lots of archives and history. I wandered around quite happy and enjoyed a few giggles with some of the young girls and women with their babies.
From here I got another tuktuk to the Ghat, which made for a very bumpy ride down narrowing, busy streets until we reached the walkway that led to the Ghat. The tuktuk driver pointed me in the direction I needed to go, so off I went. And this became where I made my first gaff in a sacred place. As I walked along, I was welcomed by a man sitting in a shrine to the side of the walkway, which was really nice, but I still didn’t clock that the archway I was about to walk through was the entrance to a temple. I could see the river a few steps ahead so just thought it was the walkway to the ghat. Once I reached the steps of the ghat I had several guys ask me to join a boat ride, which I declined although was contemplating it as it could be quite nice. I took a couple of photos of the river with the colourful boats lined up… and it was then noted by the same guys that I still had my shoes on and that I was actually in a temple! Oops! I decided to hastily retreat and head back to the street to try and find another way to the ghat for photo opportunities but everywhere I came to was yet another temple… This is where all the culture proceedings and ‘what-to-do-in-a-temple’ became all too confusing in my pea-brain and I decided to make my way back to the hotel to recover. Especially as the evening aarti wasn’t until AFTER sunset…. I didn’t fancy hanging around after dark, although I’m sure it would have been safe to do so.
So turning on the trusty GoogleMaps (hooray!) I was led on a 20 minute walk back to the hotel. At first I just wandered through the busy streets with all the shop fronts, sometimes nodding or saying hello to the vendors or people passing by. But soon I was walking down a side alleyway, full of housing and local people coming and going. It was very nice and peaceful but I did wonder how I would be received waking around these more intimate parts of Indian life. I needn’t have worried. It was like being a celebrity! I had a few children running up to walk with me and say hello, women would smile shyly and appreciate and return my ‘namaste’ as I passed by, some would look inquisitively not sure what to make of my presence but I never felt scared. As the sun started to darken I hoped I would make it back before it got properly dark, as street lighting wasn’t really a thing in these alleyways. Soon the road widened and felt better but there were also less people walking, like me, and seemed to be an influx of guys on scooters riding by, getting a good look and giggling. Only one caused me some concern as he turned his bike around and came in closer as he passed. I scowled with my best ‘don’t even try it Mister’ look and he disappeared, thankfully. To be honest I do feel if anyone gave me any bother, some locals would step in. I just get that feeling. Which is reassuring. But staying open in heart and mind, having faith and being inquisitive about the culture and respecting the customs (particularly how you dress, as a woman) really helps.
That evening I had a tasty dinner of tadka dal, rice and chapati, which seemed to be fine on my stomach. Then slept like a baby until the next morning, where I rose refreshed, did some yoga and ate my favourite breakfast: peanut masala!
The I had to find the bus to Agra. Not only was I catching the bus for the first time, I was also travelling without any pre-booking – I wasn’t confident it was the right way to go! But I had to have trust, trust it would all work out. And if it didn’t, there will always be another way around it.
Next stop: Agra!