What do we talk about when we talk about drive-down trips from Delhi-NCR? Quaint hill havens? Alwar with the spooky Bhangarh fort and the Siliserh Lake? Agra for Taj Mahal? Or parathas at Murthal’s dhabas?
The constraints of the pandemic have given us new ways to think about destinations that are closer to us and pack much more than we gave them credit for. For instance, Mathura and Vrindavan, just a three-hour drive away via the Yamuna Expressway, offer small-town charm, unassuming architectural wonders, round-the-year festive feels and matchless street food. Here is how to go about exploring them.
The Temples of Mathura
Even today, most people travelling to Mathura and Vrindavan are pilgrims to Brajbhoomi — Krishna’s birthplace and also where he is believed to have spent his childhood. Temples and dharamshalas abound here, but the Krishna Janma Bhumi complex is worth all the trouble of queuing up and giving up your mobile phones. Statues of menacing royal dwarapalas with spears stand guarding the impressive gates, over which Krishna’s chariot stands.
The place succeeds at retaining a prison-like ambience — this is believed to be the prison where Krishna was born and was secretly carried in a basket by his father Vasudev to avoid being killed by his evil uncle Kamsa. The Keshavadeva Temple within the complex is popular among devotees, as is the Garba Griha, apparently the very site where Krishna was born.
A little further lies the Potra Kund, a stepwell-style reservoir, where Krishna’s parents are said to have come for their daily ablutions. Closer to the Vishram Ghat on the eastern banks of the Yamuna, the 200-year-old Dwarkadheesh Temple, with its colourful premises and patterned walls and pillars, is a popular attraction. The ornate Sri Sri Krishna Balram Temple, a white marble structure with some fine architectural elements and murals from the Krishna-leela in the sanctum, must definitely be visited during Janmashtami.
Read In Krishna’s Country
History and Architecture in Vrindavan
Vrindavan easily trumps Mathura when it comes to temples. The fortress-like Govind Dev Temple, constructed in 1590 by Jaipur’s Raja Man Singh, is a formerly seven-storied, red-sandstone marvel that had four of its floors razed during Aurangzeb’s rule. The 1580-built Madan Mohan Temple, close to the Kali Ghat, is no less striking, with its red-sandstone construction and 60-ft shikhara. The Jugal Kishore temple, close to the Kesi Ghat, is another impressive red-sandstone structure constructed in the early 17th century. Those looking for a great confluence of north and south Indian architecture should head to Gandhi Chowk, where the exquisite Rangji Temple complex stands.
Dig into the Mathura Peda
In keeping with the hordes it attracts every year (especially during Holi), Mathura has a buzzing street food scene. The toothsome peda rules the roost in most of its shops (don’t miss the ones at the famous Brijwasi Sweets), but the flavourful delights of bedmis, and hing kachoris and puris served with aloo ki sabzi aren’t too far behind. Small eateries and stalls selling delicious tikki-style bhallas can be found at Holi Gate at any time of the day. Lassi anywhere in north India is hard to resist, but when in Mathura, try the kadahi wala doodh and rabri instead.
Take a Boat Ride
Walking up to the Vishram Ghat for a boat ride in the Yamuna and being willingly accosted by the kevats here as you make your way through huddles of mendicants is a joy in itself. The boats are lovely to look at, painted in vibrant hues as they are, and the clear waters of the Yamuna mirror the old temples by the bank. You must haggle well to avoid being preoccupied later when the boatman points to the Kamsa Kila, or in order to better appreciate his rowing prowess. Remember to time your ride so that you can witness the famed evening aarti at the banks when you’re back at the ghat.
Go Around the Govardhan
While the Govardhan ‘hill’ parikrama might not be your cup of tea if you’re a serious hiker and not just here for spiritual purposes, it is worth joining in if only for the sandstone chhatris at Kusum Sarovar. The lesser-known monument was built in 1764 by the Jat ruler Maharaja Jawahar Singh in memory of his parents, Kishori Rani and Maharaja Suraj Mal. The latter is known for having famously defeated the Mughal army at Agra. Close by also is the Narada Kund, where the sage is believed to have penned the Bhakti Sutra.