A Complete Guide To Vrindavan: Where To Go, What To Shop And Eat

From the prachin mandirs to where to find the best pedas, find out everything you need to know about the holy city of Vrindavan
A Complete Guide To Vrindavan: Where To Go, What To Shop And Eat

This is Braj, the land where Krishna, the last of the nine avatars of Vishnu, was born and spent his early years. This is where he performed his first miracle (making the Yamuna part when he was barely a few minutes old), found his first love (Radha), killed his first demon (Putana). Pilgrims from the world over come to visit his Mathura, his birthplace Gokul, where he was taken to his adopted parents, Nanda and Yashoda Vrindavan, where, fearing for Krishnas life, Nanda took him for safekeeping and where he played his Ras Leela and Govardhan, where he lifted a mountain to help his people fight off the anger of Lord Indra. Devotees come to Vraja to bathe in the consciousness of Krishna, breathe the air he breathed, talk to the people he loved. The Krishna within is whom they come to meet. They meet disappointment.

Where is Krishna? Now a more apt question would be when, not where. The answer Between 6 and 7.30 pm. That's when you hear the sublime and uplifting clangs of temple bells, as every temple begins its evening aarti. The whole town wakes up to a joyous celebration. Each clang knocks at the soul, cleansing it of all frustration, all danger, all disappointment. Everything is in harmony, there is only oneness each body a part of one spirit. As the clangs ring shrill, you can clearly differentiate the duality of tourists (who gape open-mouthed) from the unity of the locals, who are completely integrated, men, animals, statues, bells... Peace.

Holi celebrations in Vrindavan
Holi celebrations in VrindavanDeposit Photos

Places To Visit In Vrindavan

Of course, it is the temples that the pilgrims come to visit. The truly prachin mandirs are just seven: Baanke Bihari, Gokulananda, Gopinath, Govindadeva, Madan Mohanji, Radha Damodar and Radha Shyamsunder and they are a must for every devotee. Walking is the best way of getting around in Vrindavan and its unlikely you will need more than two nights and three days here.

The Prachin Mandirs

A pundit who looks as old as the decrepit high building he stands on claims that Madan Mohanji, currently being renovated by ASI, is Vrindavan's oldest temple. Old or new, as you climb its steps, you can feel the presence of a rich and inspiring past. As he moves within its ruins, he claims this building was constructed in 516 CE, though 1580 would be more realistic. But it doesnt really matter In this quiet, high corner of Vrindavan, Krishna embraces you in silence.

The pundit at Madan Mohanji temple
The pundit at Madan Mohanji temple

Apart from the statues of Krishna in the quaint Radha Damodar Temple, you will find many small samadhis of saints. Most of these belong to Goswamis (saints), seven of whom would do the Govardhan parikrama (a walk of more than 35 km) everyday. Pleased with Jiva Goswamis bhakti, it is said, Krishna gave him a darshan in his dreams. And the stone on which Krishna stood still carries his footprints, along with the hoofmark of a cow.

But to see it, you need to give a donation. It is said that when Mirabai sought audience with Jiva Goswami, he refused, giving his celibacy as a reason, at which Mirabai chided him and enlightened him that there is only one male Krishna. Today, as good neighbours, the small but sweet Mirabai Temple, humble in its design, is just across the road from Jivas samadhi. The ancient, three-storeyed, brick-coloured Govindadeva Temple is architecturally delightful. It is believed that there were seven storeys when Raja Man Singh completed it in 1590. The top of the temple could be seen from as far away as Jaipur. It is said that when Mirabai came to Vrindavan, it was in Govindadeva that she found her Krishna.

Other Temples

Besides the prachin mandirs, there are two others that attract many devotees. Rangji, constructed in 1851, is a huge temple compound that contains many smaller temples. It is laid out in sublime symmetry, with each small temple a part of a larger whole. Here you get to see, for a nominal fee, the Sone ki Palki and a set of eight vehicles elephants, horses, chariots made of gold or silver covered by a thick layer of dust. In their prime they must have radiated the lustre that a gods vehicle ought to. The ISKCON Temple is the first temple you see as you enter Vrindavan. It is white in more ways than you think both the building and the people manning it.

The ISKCON Temple
The ISKCON Temple Deposit Photos

The Ghats

For those seeking to find Krishna in the silence of this holy space, the ghats are without doubt the sole destination. You can sit here for hours, watching the waters flow by and the only sounds that break the silence are the splashing of waters as turtles come up for air or the drone of a pandit sitting on the ghat, reciting his wisdom.

Keshi Ghat
Keshi Ghat Deposit Photos

Walk the river, beginning from Suraj Ghat, through Cheer Ghat and finally to the Keshi Ghat that ends just short of a pontoon bridge over the river. Cross over and see Vrindavan from a different perspective. Some ecologists believe that Krishna was the first environmentalist and the driving away not the slaying of Kalia is a metaphor of removing pollution from the river.

Shopping In Vrindavan

What do you carry home from a city that has nothing but sentimental intangibles to offer portraits and mini statues of Krishna? The scores of clothes made for his various forms, malas, books, all this and more are available in abundance in Vrindavan's bazaars.

Near the Janmasthan in Mathura is Brijwasi Sweets, a shop that makes the worlds most delicious pedhas.

Where To Eat In Vrindavan

Mathura and Vrindavan are both mainly dhaba-type places. In Mathura, if you stay in an expensive hotel, the in-house restaurant should do the trick for you. There are many dhabas in front of the temple gates offering food at reasonable prices. However, the dhabas near Vishram Ghat are more interesting, catering as they do to various ethnicities of tourists.

Outlets of Brijwasi sell the most delicious pedhas. They make great gifts back home since Mathura is famous for pedhas.

The MVT Guesthouse Cafetaria, near ISKCON Temple, is outstanding. They give a great veg thali, lasagna, pizza and cheesecake.

The ISKCON canteen, Govinda, also serves a very sumptuous vegetarian thali. No non-vegetarian food or alcohol in Vrindavan.

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