Thursday, March 29, 2012

Mathura: An Introduction, Where to Stay, How to Reach

Ayodhyā Mathurā Māyā Kāsi Kāñchī Avantikā
Purī Dvārāvatī chaiva saptaitā moksadāyikāh - Garuda Purana

English Translation:

Ayodhya, Mathura, Maya (Haridwar), Kasi (Varanasi), Kanchi (Kanchipuram),
Avantika (Ujjain), and Dvaravati Puri (Dwarka Puri)
are the seven Moksha/salvation granting Holy Cities - Garuda Purana

Mathura - An Introduction

RADHE RADHE!

This is how the town had welcomed us. It had this timeless holy vibes affixed to it and there was something infectiously likeable about the place the moment we had stepped afoot on its sacred soil. The divine chant mixed with the tempo of ringing temple bells flooding our ears every other moment had instantly taken away all the weariness of a two day train travel bestowing upon us a fresh lease of energy and roving us to a state of holy bliss!

This was Uttar Pradesh, a northern state in India, where a small town infused with such level of divinity and piety does exist in reality – Mathura!


A mythic town of the olden days, Mathura is the birthplace of the most lovable, the darling of all Gods, the blue hued God of the Hindu Pantheon - Lord Krishna and aptly forms the heart of Braj Bhoomi (Brajbhoomi can be divided into two distinct units - the eastern part in the trans-Yamuna tract with places like Gokul, Mahavan, Baldeo, Mat and Bajna and the western side of the Yamuna covering the Mathura region that encompasses Vrindavan, Govardhan, Kusum Sarovar, Barsana and Nandgaon). A city steeped in historical tales, myths and legends dating many centuries back, it still retains relics of the same with its numerous historic temples and shrines very well holding guard its mysticism for any spiritual seeker setting foot on its holy soil.

Mesmerizing tales from this holy land find mention in many an ancient Hindu Scriptures like Mahabharata, Ramayana and the Bhagavat Purana and they all miraculously come alive in the narrow corridors of Mathura. Historical buildings stand in every nook and corner providing a rare glimpse into the past, their antiquity never failing to overwhelm you. Along with all the chaotic hustle bustle of the town, there is the serenely flowing Sacred Mother River Yamuna who has Her own charm and personifies the pious fervor of the city and its people to a great extent.


Lane of Mathura, Uttar Pradesh
Mathura - A land of mystical beauty

It’s a wealthy city - rich from the enthralling tales of a much-loved deity, rich from the age old cultures and traditions that it has long held on to, rich from all the antiquity of a distant past, rich from all the warmth and humility of its people and it willingly lets out all of it for You; the thirsty soul on a pilgrim trail.

You can hang around near the Yamuna River, pray quietly in its temples or watch sadhus and sages in orange stroll down the ancient alleys just as Krishna did many ages ago. Buzz, history, chaos, peace… it’s all here and anything you do or anywhere you go there is always something infectiously likeable of the place.

Every day is a festival here devoted to someone much adored and revered at the same time. Mornings start with people walking down to the Yamuna Ghats and taking part in the various rites and rituals. This is then followed by a visit to the many temples to pay reverence to their beloved God. Festivities peak during special days like Janmashtami, Holi and Diwali when the entire town gets draped with lively acts and performances depicting scenes from Lord Krishna’s life attracting pilgrims, historians and tourists alike to this intriguing city by the dozen.

Home to Lord Krishna and His many legends, Mathura today is a warm swirl merging history, festivals and chaotic fanfare; its currents drawing travelers from far and wide taking them deep in our ancient culture and heritage!

Mathura - Where to Stay

Mathura, being a popular pilgrim destination has a lot of options when it comes to stay, catering to all types of budgets and pockets.

However, beware of getting entangled in the rickshaw touts promising to get you to a good accommodation. It’s advisable that you do a search on the net and book one for yourself well in advance, especially if you are planning a visit in the peak months (Oct-Mar) or during the festival times. It’s always better to be well prepared even before stepping in the city rather than keep things for the last minute.

Recommended place of stay:

1. Jamuna Mahal Hotel

Situated off the main roads, the hotel is recommended for a peaceful stay in this rather chaotic city. The rooms are good and the bathrooms are fairly clean too.

Jamuna Mahal Hotel signboard
Jamuna Mahal Hotel, Budget Hotel - Mathura
Jamuna Mahal Hotel, Our place of stay.

Room of Jamuna Mahal Hotel, Budget Hotel - Mathura
Jamuna Mahal - Hotel Room

Rates: Rs. 1150/- for the 4 bedded deluxe room, shown in the pic

Address: Kampu Ghat, Mathura.

+91 - (0565) - 2406032/3296032/2504416

Other Hotel Recommendation:

Yamuna Palace Budget Hotel, Mathura
Shree Yamuna Palace Hotel in Mathura

Shree Yamuna Palace - Situated in the bustling bylane of Mathura, this one is a budget hotel and can be considered as an option for stay too.

Address and Contact nos.: Rajadhiraj Marg, Askunda, Mathura. 0565- 409990

How to Reach Mathura

Mathura is well connected by rail and road with major important cities in India.

Railway Station:  There are 4 railway stations in the city, the most prominent one among them being, the Mathura Junction connecting it to the rest of India.

Road Distances from Mathura: 
Vrindavan (15 km), Agra (56 km), Jaipur (218 km), Delhi (147 km), Bharatpur (39 km)

From Mumbai, the best way to reach the city is via the train. A convenient option would be the Rajdhani train that leaves Mumbai at 6.30 PM in the evenings and reaches Mathura at 9 AM the next day so that you have an entire day to explore the town.

Air: Mathura does not have an airport to call its own but one can still take a flight till the nearest city airport that’s Agra. From here on, hire a car or an auto to get to your final destination.

Getting Around In Mathura

The best way to explore Mathura would either be on foot or a cycle rickshaw which besides being cheap also lets you soak in the feel of the town at a leisurely pace. One major landmark of the town is Holi gate that acts as a gateway to the old part of the city housing the Vishram Ghat, the Yamuna River and the Dwarkadheesh temple.

Apart from the cycle rickshaw, one also has the option of auto rickshaws which are not metered. These should be used only for longer distances and are best dumped for cycle rickshaws while traveling within the city.

Friday, March 23, 2012

The Braj Bhoomi Yatra... Begins!

The narrow alleys and pathways, ancient structures and dilapidated buildings and havelis, the slow paced and the carefree human life staring at you, the occasional soothing chimes from temple buildings – both old and new, mischievous monkeys - though adorable but far from friendly, the river Yamuna – both calm and confused at the same time, the honky calls of the rickshawallah’s and the footprints of the darling God of all Hindu Gods – the naughty and the very endearing Lord Krishna... this is precisely what our next pilgrimage is all about... an eclectic mix of chaos, buzz, peace and antiquity cluttering everywhere in between.

Braj Bhoomi, it is. Yes the twin towns of Mathura and Vrindavan that are situated at the bank of the River Yamuna in the state of Uttar Pradesh and collectively known as Brajbhoomi.  A historic town of numerous shrines and temples, the sacred land of Braj has been kind enough to beckon me multiple times, 5 to be precise, and every time I was there, it has taken away one more piece of my heart... I am glad, as this has only ensured that I am right there again... again, and again.


Mathura Vrindavan - Land of Lord Krishna
Braj Bhoomi - The Land of Lord Krishna

It’s been quite a while since we returned actually, but the memories that I have of this trip have declined to get buried in the veils of time. The other day, as I was browsing through the photographs stacked in one of my drives; I was pretty pleased to realize how all those small little moments... of me wandering down those chaotic alleyways, of me strolling down the markets and taking in all the aromas or of me praying quietly in one of the temples... were acutely engraved in the confines of my heart - some fresh, others fudgy but all of them, very much there.. integral and intact! I felt a strong urge of reliving all of it, once again; though not possible by travelling actually but definitely very feasible by traveling virtually, here in My Yatra Diary...!

So then, here I am, ready again to embark on a new yatra series – The Braj Yatra! And here’s hoping to have your company all along too!

Thursday, March 15, 2012

My Guest Post for Indie Travel Podcast: 4 Things To Do In Jaipur!

I had recently written a guest post article for Indie Travel Podcast, an independent travel hub with regular audio and video podcasts along with articles by travelers from all over the world hosted by Craig and Linda Martin. I am very happy to see the same going live today.

Following is a small preview of the post -

Jaipur is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful cities in the world. Everywhere you look it’s like stepping back in time, with its colorfully-attired women, men in their spotless dhotis and equally colorful turbans and the sight of the camels finding their way amid the vehicular traffic. You can’t help but be amazed at what this city has to offer; you can shop, take in art and culture or just enjoy the city’s romance...
 Colorful Pots in Jaipur

Here's the link to the complete story - Four Things To Do In Jaipur, India

So, kindly head over to Craig and Linda's space to read the entire thing. Thank You!

Previous contributions to the site -
2. A Mystical City - Varanasi

Thursday, March 8, 2012

The Sacred Fire of Holika Dahan: Choti Holi

A Photo Essay on the Ritual of Holika Dahan on the Choti Holi day (one day prior to Dhuleti/Dhulendi/Color Day/Dhuli Vandana) :-

8 March 2012:

On the Phalgun Purnima or the full moon night of the Hindu calendar month of Phalgun,

Phalgun Purnima full Moon - Chotti Holi

A bonfire is made up of dried leaves, logs of wood, old wooden furniture, cardboard and other combustible material piled up in a heap.

Collected Heap of twigs, leaves and branches for Holika Dahan
Holika Dahan Bonfire lit up on Choti Holi

People of the society and nearby areas come together to be a part of the tradition. Somewhere at around 9 PM in the dark of the night, the bonfire is ceremoniously ignited brightly illuminating the entire arena.

Holika Dahan Bonfire completely lit up on the festival of Holi
Holika Dahan bonfire

Incense sticks and oil lamps are lighted, offerings of new seasonal grains like wheat and barley are made.

People Praying to the Holika Dahan bonfire

The fire, an image of success of good over evil, is then circumambulated three times with slow pouring of water from a container.

Offering water to the to the Holika Dahan bonfire on Choti Holi

Prayers for peace, happiness, prosperity and a better future are made.

People Praying to the Holika Dahan bonfire on Choti Diwali

Past animosities are buried; hatred and anger give way to new hopes, wishes and aspirations. It's a silent tranquil time... time to reflect and delve deep... within..

Reflections over Holika Dahan

Sacred ash and coconuts are collected as prasad marking the culmination of an age old tradition – Holika Dahan;

Taking of coconut prasad from the Holika Dahan bonfire

... the holiness from the billowing fumes continue to linger around till the next festival year.

Coconut prasad from the Holika Dahan bonfire

--- HAPPY HOLI ---

If you wish to read more on the festival of colors - Holi in detail, kindly check out this link -

Sunday, March 4, 2012

A Real Bond: An Ode to My Grandpa

A few days back, while seeding manjaris (Tulsi/Holy Basil flowers) in one of my flowering pots, my mind suddenly rolled back to that day when it had all begun...

My first grade exams had just concluded, marking the beginning of a much awaited summer-vacation. Activity classes hadn’t gained popularity then, laptops/computers were a luxury and DD was the only channel that existed in the name of television. With schools shut down for a good 2 months or so, my days would be spent either by playing with my friends outdoors, fighting with my brother or idling around in my grandpa’s house which was just a storey below ours.

My grandpa was there in the kitchen, deeply engrossed in activity, digging out something from one of his three pots with the help of a spade. A small airtight wooden box lay besides him in addition to a scissor and a rough cloth. Intriguingly, I went up to him and questioned - Dadaji, what are you searching for? May I help you?

I am seeding a Tulsi plant, dear - he replied adorably, his eyes very much fixed on the pots. Ok, now pass me that cloth and get me a glass of water. That was the beginning... beginning of a fascinating relationship, that of companionship between me, my Dadaji and Tulsi.

Dry autumn air of had taken away the leaves of his earlier plant, I learnt later and he was in the process of seeding new ones. He was sitting down on the floor totally immersed with all the apparatus scattered besides him. After spreading a few dried seeds (manjaris) that he’d collected over the years and carefully implanting them in his earthen pot, he sprinkled a few drops of water and carefully put the pot back in the open again. All this while, he chanted his favorite Krishna hymn and I simply joined.

Manjaris of tulsi plant, collected by me over the years
Assortment of Manjaris (dried Tulsi seeds)

The process of nurturing a green life was a new understanding for me. It was my first meeting with the sacred sphere – nature - in such close proximity. The next few days, I observed the pots very carefully trying to find any hint of green in the midst of the grainy browns and blacks, only to find nothing. Dadaji, why are the plants not coming up? Why are they so slow? I'd ask, to which he'd respond - Talk to Her, request Her and listen silently with lots of love!

Tulsi leaves
Tulsi Leaves

I remember how he once tried explaining to me about the sacredness of the plant, talking on and on about them and then probably realizing it was too much for a 6 yr old to grasp, he stopped short and started to chant. I can still recall that pure delightful joy on his face and the glimmer in his eyes that were hard to miss whenever we spoke on the Tulsi plant.

Through all of this though, my knowledge on the plants developed into a very basic one A Tulsi plant is a sacred plant. Even more importantly, a Tulsi plant is dear to my grandpa and serving her and taking care of her in any way pleases my grandpa no end. That was enough, to get me excited. I felt a sharp need of taking care of her somehow, whose experience I had begun to feel deep inside. I watered her two times a day as advised by my Dadaji, sometimes bothered her with my inane questions and stared at the pot for hours hoping for any positive response. Relentless, I kept at it till I felt exhausted but it was also refreshing in a way... Because she dint seem to mind any of it. The water that I offered her would be usurped in no time leaving me and my immature mind gleaming with pride. This plant indeed has life, I would amaze!

Young sprout of a Tulsi Plant
The little green sprouts, Real magic of nature!

A week or so passed by and... one day... I spotted a tiny winy green popping out through the reddish-brown mud! I was thrilled and ecstatic! I jumped in joy - Dadaji! See!! I can never forget that experience, it was like witnessing a real magic, like stepping into an unknown world! He held the pot in his hand, gazed at the tender sprout for a long time and patted on my back for having done a good job while I just stood transfixed, admiring his sincere devotion and passion towards Her. I don’t know what gave me more happiness, the fact that the small little sacred seedling was finally up, his patting my back or was it his enchanting smile while he gazed at our new member for long lengths of time... I still cannot fathom. But all I can remember now is that, I felt a tremendous exhilaration run down my body and I felt a sense of pride and achievement. Dadaji, She heard me! The sprout soon grew into a plantlet, its tender leaves reaching for the skies and I continued to dedicatedly assist my grandpa in looking after her...

So many seasons have passed since then... his pot lies abandoned today and I am no longer a first grader anymore... The wooden box is nowhere to be seen and with no one around, emptiness is the only sound resounding in the corridors...

Empty Tulsi Pot, Nature sepia
Dadaji's abandoned pot...

Ah, but there... there I am, sitting with my treasured assortment of manjari seeds, a spade, a rough cloth and a glass of water... As I sow those heart shaped seeds in my pot, I realize my initial attraction to growing the plant has still not faded away, neither have my beliefs dwindled with the passage of time... Yes, I still find her interactive and I still irk her with my mindless rants...

My tulsi plant

Because, for me, the plant reflects him and I feel his radiance... his presence in Her joyous realms...

In my Tulsi plant,

An ode to Grandpa-Miss You Babaji

HE remains alive as an inspiration to me… Forever…

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This post is also my entry to the 100% Real Experience Contest by Kissan and IndiBlogger. If you are an IndiBlogger and wish to vote this article up, Please do so by clicking here. Thank you.

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