Vrindavan is located along the Yamuna river in the state of Uttar Pradesh. It’s about 2/3 of the way when driving from New Delhi to Agra.
Never heard of it? That’s okay.
Me neither until we were stopping there.
And I’m slightly ashamed to say that because of the town’s connection with Hindu mythology and history. The town is often associated with Krishna, the god of compassion, tenderness, and love in Hinduism. It is believed that he spent much of his childhood in this area. All this lore makes Vrindavan a pilgrimage site today for many who believe.
The town had so many religious sites and temples with the rest of the town’s buildings just being built around them. As we drove through the town you can see temple after temple, each with their own unique architecture and their own mythology and story to tell. If Hindu myth and lore are of interest for you, a visit to Vrindavan is a must.
It wasn’t before long that we were dropped off to explore the town on foot. Before our arrival, our tour guide joked that this town probably had more cows than people and shortly after arriving, I believed it. They really were just wandering everywhere.
A monkey encounter
Cows weren’t the only animals wandering the streets though. There were plenty of monkeys. Our guide warned us to hold onto our hats and glasses. I’d let go whenever the coast was clear, but even that wasn’t enough.
There was a monkey on a rooftop across the street and when we had passed them, I thought it would be okay. Until it wasn’t. Before I even knew it happened, the monkey flew past me onto the rooftop of the building next to me and with him, my glasses. If it weren’t for a small nick on my arm from where the monkey grabbed onto me, it happened so fast, I could have dreamt it.
My guide thinks it was a scam as there was a nearby boy wanting payment for the release of my glasses. The boy had grabbed a juice box from a nearby stand and the monkey released my glasses. Instead, knowing what was up, my guide only paid for the juice.
Never more than that day did I want to be wearing my contacts.
Bankey Bihari Temple
Our first stop was at one of the most visited temples in the town right in the centre of the market area. Access is only by foot. This temple is dedicated to Krishna and houses a sacred idol of him called Bankey Bihari. People from across the country flock to this temple to get a glimpse of him.
This was the most uncomfortable I felt the whole time I was in India. As we were there late in the afternoon and close to when the temple opened to the public, the area was packed with people. It didn’t help that my parents and I stood out like a sore thumb amongst the crowd.
The heat. The staring. The tight space. To crowd. I was feeling claustrophobic and I could feel the panic set in a bit. We didn’t stay long, but it would have been interesting to wander more around the area in hindsight. However, at the time, I was definitely happy to have been moving on.
Kesi Ghat along the Yamuna River
We made our way on foot to the nearby river where a number of temples overlook the water including the Kesi Ghat. With the setting sun, the area was peaceful and beautiful despite the heat. The area was named after a demon horse, Kesi, sent to kill Krishna (check out the full mythology) and Ghat which means a flight of steps leading down to a river.
Like other places in Vrindavan, be wary of the many monkeys. There are numerous areas that you can wander through and it’s easy to find a moment of peace as you look out at the river. Among the nooks you’ll walk past many who flock to this religious place.
Already a holy river in Hinduism, Krishna, as a child, is said to have played and bathed in these same waters of the Yamuna River that runs by Vrindavan. Today, pilgrims and believers would come to the temples set along the river to bathe in the water as it is said that the river removes sin and purifies you.
Prem Mandir Vrindavan
Of all the temples that we visited in Vrindavan, this was the most impressive. I’ve seen many photos of the white temple (Wat Rong Khun) in Thailand, but when we pulled up to this temple, I was confused for a moment as to the location of that temple because of the beauty and whiteness of Prem Mandir.
This temple was built relatively recently, starting in 2001, and is dedicated to Krishna as well as Sita Ram, a Hindu goddess and her husband. Surrounding the temple are a number dioramas depicting Krishna’s life and some of the antics he got up to when he was in Vrindavan.
There are no photos allowed inside, but wish I could have snapped a few. The interior was completely covered in bright, colourful flowers which offset the white marble of the temple itself. Everywhere you go you can smell the sweet fragrance of the flowers. There are two levels inside with many recesses for devotees to pray to various deities.
In the evening, the temple puts on a mini light show, with different colours projecting onto the temple. We had originally wanted to stay, but after a long day exploring Delhi and then Vrindavan in the heat, we were all exhausted and just wanted to get to Agra.
Final Impressions of Vrindavan
This was a hard post to write. Everything was fascinating to learn about and to see, but at the same time I didn’t particularly feel comfortable while I was there. I couldn’t shake the feeling of everyone watching me. Also, being not particularly religious, I found it difficult to relate to and understand the people visiting these temples and making them such a huge part of their daily lives. In many ways, I felt like I was watching them while they were watching me and I was trying my best to be respectful. Everything was just so foreign and I think a bit of culture shock had set it by this point of my trip.
Vrindavan, being a much smaller town, is so different from New Delhi and its religious associations made it all the more difficult for me. I’m glad that my tour guide put this into our itinerary as a bit of a surprise. It showed me a different side to India and I feel like this town is something that most foreign visitors to India doesn’t get to see when traveling the typical Golden Triangle route and for that I’m thankful.
Have you heard of Vrindavan before? Have you been to any pilgrimage sites? What was it like?