Thursday, April 21, 2011


Krishna Janmabhoomi Temple

From Delhi,the heart of Indian tourism,myself and my wife Poonam reach Mathura, a distance of 145km by train,late in the night and get the last bus for Vrindavan 11 km further. As a matter of fact, Braj, culturally the land of Krishna,the colourful cowherd who also guides the world even today with His exposition of the philosophy of karma through Bhagvad Gita, comprises of the cities Mathura,Agra and Bharatpur(Rajasthan).It is 10:30p.m. as we enter the premises of RamKrishna Math with a sprawling hospital(providing very affordable services to poor people) and beautiful gardens.But the serenity of the Math,apparant even in the night, is disturbed by monkeys vigourously moving around amidst the trees and even screaming at times.Yes,Vrindavan is full of naughty,but normally harmless monkeys,who sometimes snatch away your spectacles too! Soon we meet the concerned Swamiji who amicably guides us to and hands over the keys of our simple but adequately equipped appartment,where we stay for three days.
Next morning, after having a simple but wholesome breakfast of chapatis,potato-cauliflower curry at the Math, we proceed to Mathura by an auto-rikshaw. This ancient city,the birth place of Lord Krishna, has a mention even in Ramayana, the oldest Indian epic. At present,it is an industrially developed place,contributing substantially to the economy of U.P. and has access by train from all the major cities of India.A strategically important place for the defence of the nation,it is also a hub of educational institutions in U.P. But,for the people of India and many in the West,THIS is the place of all aura,aroma and charisma of Lord Krishna! Obviously and accordingly with the historical and epical importance,we first locate the obscure, insignificant, underground temple (resembling a prison cell, constructed by Marathas) of Laddu-Gopal sharing a common wall with an elegant Mosque constructed by Aurangzeb,destroying the ancient Keshav Dev Temple.
The zealotry of invadors of the likes Mahmud Ghazni, Sikandar Lodhi slowly poisoned the sentiment of Hindus. We spend some time in the cool, fragrant- with- flowers, pleasant cell,while a group of old ladies melodiously sing laurels of Krishna in Brajbhasha(the Braj variant of Hindi). Then we move on to the new,main temple complex,constructed in the late 1960s after a movement led by late Pandit Madan Mohan Malviya,also founder of the temple of learning, Benaras Hindu University,the largest residential university in Asia admitting students and faculty of all religions!He said,"India is not a country of Hindus only.It is a country of the Muslims,the Christians and the Parsees too.The country can gain strength and develop itself only when the people of different communities live in mutual goodwill and harmony." In todays enlightened India and world,religious fanatism is a brutish phenomenon of the Old Stone Age and should be rightly dealt with. But all the important religions still carry the same respect and impact, as their common crux is nothing but a completely fructified philosophy for the benifit of all people.
We drift here and there, in the massive temple with big corridors and well ventilated halls,before we come into the great assembly hall in front of the Sanctum Sanctorum housing beautifully carved marble statues of Radha and Krishna aesthetically decorated with flowers. Here,in the almost empty hall(being noon time) we find a small group of white people sitting in a circle in front of the Sanctum Sanctorum and a cute,young lady among them dancing in tune to the cultural Rasiya music bieng tastefully played on the speakers in the hall.As the music and dance end,their guide puts a garland of marigold flowers around her neck as a token from the Lord and all of us clap with amusement as the lady bows courteously with all the charm and smile on her radiant face.Slowly,we move out of the temple and land ourselves up in a well known sweetmeat shop opposite to the temple!We order 2kg.of the famous Pedha for taking home,and indulge ourselves in a glass each of great,chilled,creamy Lassi with the fragrance of keora(pandanus odoratissimus:botanical) in big Kulhads (earthen pots).We also enjoy hot Samosas with sweet Imli ki chutni(made with tamarind and cumin). Our stomachs are full and we contentedly,lazily move out uttering "Radhe....,Radhe.....", the name chanted most adoringly and melodiously in Braj!
We engage an auto-rikshaw and go to the important Krishna shrine, Dwarkadheesh temple,built in 1815 by Seth Gokuldas Parikh, the Tresurer of Gwalior.This beautiful temple,with a very modest entrance due to a crowded,narrow lane in front,has its main deity Krishna and artistic images of Radha and other Gods around.Particularly, a frame of Krishna and Sudama meeting is very impressive.This temple,at a small distance from the river Jamuna,is the greatest crowd puller during the festivities of Janmashtami and Holi.We spend some time in the

cool,calm,ventilated temple eating the Prasad of Kheer(a sweetened rice and milk porridge with dry fruits and nuts).Comming out of the temple in the narrow,usually filled with people lane,we move towards the river,listening to vibrant classical music based on different festivals of Brajbhoomi, played on speakers by shops selling C.D.s and D.V.D.s. Enthralled by the music,we just stop at a shop by the side and buy some music, listening to some more for selection.
We return to the Math,relax and get ready to visit the most important temple of Vrindavan(Tulsi,holy basil forest); The Banke Bihari Temple! " The Lord,thakur Shri Kunj Bihari Maharaj(Swami Haridas called him so), is the Ocean Of Love,the Cosmic Beauty and the Eternal beauty of this ocean is unfathomable," wrote Swami Shri Haridas, the Guru of Miyan Tansen,one of the navratnas(nine jewels) in the court of emperor Akbar.He discovered the image in Nidhivan in the 16th centurywhich was later on moved to the present temple in 1864.We slowly move through a friendly puzzle of colourful, very narrow, crowded lanes and bylanes filled with small shops by the
sides selling momentos,flowers,offerings in the temple and Chat and sweetmeat.We reach the temple,at a higher elevation than the streets around.It is sunset time, as we enter the temple through the ornamental entrance,most of the time not visible, even from a small distance, due to the the structures in the viscinity.Once inside the temple,we are engulfed by the soothing,golden light of hundreds of small earthen oil lamps lit individually by devotees as it is Kartik Mas(a particular auspicious month).The light inside matches the twilight hour light outside and at a distance we alsosimultaneously see the dark majestic,magnetic image of the Lord in the Sanctum Sanctorum amidst similar illumination.We move down some stairs,then on the floor of the huge hall ,surrounded by beautiful pillars and paintings and then again climb to the altar at an elevation to see Him from very much nearby.It is said that as the tender hearted Banke Bihari may leave the temple with anyone of the spellbound,true
devotees having continuous Darshan,
a curtain is drawn on Him at regular intervals!Definitely,we come out of the holy,historic temple in a very joyful state of mind. Moving amidst a veriety of people from different places(including whites) in the narrow lane,we stop before a sweetmeat shop and have small kulhads of Khurchan(A simple but tasty,mildly sweet, dessert made from the scrape after reduction of milk,with a pinch of cardamom powder added). As the taste excels, we carry some to the Math,to enjoy after a tasty,gratifying,dinner.
may leave the temple with anyone of the spellbound,true devotees continuously having
Next day morning we take a tourist bus,which takes us to
several important places of Mathura.First we go to Govardhan,a hill full of greenery and rocks, where cattle grazed in the days of Krishna.He once lifted the hill sheltering all the people and animals under it; protecting them from torrential rains and havoc caused by the arbitrary wrath of rain and thunder god Indra,for not getting the usual offerings from the people under Krishna's guidance.There is a huge,impressive Goshala(shelter for stray cows) by the side.You have to be barefoot to climb this holy hill.Then we proceed to Nandgaon,where Lord Krishna spent his childhood,fostered by king Nanda and his wife Yashoda.We visit the spacious temple and then proceed to Barsana,the childhood days town of Radha,Krishna's beloved Gopi. Philosophically,Radha and Krishna constitute the Absolute Truth and both of them are found together in every temple as also in the majestic Radharani temple on the verdant hill Ghevarvan in Barsana.In the unique Lath-maar(charge with staff) Holi festival in this place,ladies charge men with well oiled lathis,while thy protect themselves with leather shields amidst bursts of colours! This correlates with the romantic mythological episode of Radha with other Gopis teaching a lesson to krishna and his friends for stealing their clothes at a bathing Ghat!

Then we visit Radha Kund and Shyam Kund, considered to be supremely holy,which are full of devotees from

East and West and were rediscovered by Gauranga(a golden hued body)or Chaitanya Mahaprabhu,who propounded the philosophy of

devotion through Gaudiya Vaishnavism in early 16th century.Since the beginning of his Bhakti movement,Chaitanya had Muslim and Hindu participants and later in the 20th century histeachings were taken to the West and the whole world by Swamy Prabhupadananda with the movement known as The International Society of Krishna Consciousness(ISKCON).Krishnalogy is studied in several academic institutios of the world today! Salimullah Khan,a noted linguist maintains,"Sixteenth century is the time of Chaitanya Dev,and it the time of Modernism in Bengal.The concept of Humanity that came into frution is contemperanious with that of Europe." We move further by bus to the picturesque Kusum Sarovar,a place full of Krishna's favorite Kadamb trees and beautiful monuments on its bank, constructed by Jawahar Singh,in honour of his father Raja Surajmal(early 18th century) and his queens.Having beautiful gardens on the other side, the 60ft deep lake is an ideal spot for leisurely swim around the sunset time! This was the fragrant place with a veriety of flowering trees where Radha and Krishna met clandestinely!

It's evening as we reach the beautiful ISKCON temple in marble displaying Gauranga, in the light of the twilight hour! This temple,The Krishna Balram Mandir(has the divine brothers in the central altar),established by Swamy Prabhupadananda in 1975 is the first ISKCON temple in the world; also having his Samadhi on the left near the entrance. Here at Raman Reti near Jamuna,the divine brothers herded their cows.The first altar has Chaitanya Mahaprabhu and Nityananda Prabhu as deities and the third altar has the eternal couple of Radha and Shyam

with their confidential Gopies Lalita and Vishakha. This clean, live temple is full of people,energising music,dance and a sense of all pervading Happiness throughout the day,with complete freedom of movement and access to all sections! The temple has a great courtyard enclosed by gallaries with beautiful paintings depicting Krishna's episodes.It also houses momento shops in one of which I buy a T-shirt witha beautiful image of Radhe,Shyam; and of course,two vegetarian food joints serving mouth-watering sweets and snacks of the kind in Mathura,but bigger in size! I just love the Kachori I eat and we carry a Kulhad of Rabdi(a milk delicacy) as an
after-dinner sweet to the Math.

Next day morning after breakfast, ,we walk to Nidhivan,a grove of jasmines having the Samadhi of Swamy Haridas,the divine saint-singer. We find a number of playful monkeys all around in the cool atmosphere,as we move along the narrow paths
amidst the aged shrubs.But at present nobody believes that Lord Banke Bihari and Radha came to this place for relaxation after dancing Rasleela with other Gopis at Seva Kunj,another unbecoming,monkeys infested grove at present!Since last
250 years the scenic,fragrant forests of Vrindavan with the local fauna of peacocks,cows,monkeys and a veriety of birds have been whittled away by the local kings and subsequently by wreckless developers in the process of unruly
urbanisation.We spend some time in these legendary places and then move in the Kunj Galiyan(very small lanes) leading to where-we-don't-know! In a place we come across a huge camel seemingly charging at us with a small cart behind it and a
person driving it sweetly shouting Radhe...Radhe....Yes,this is the most beloved word in the land of Banke Bihari that solves all the problems for all the people with love and devotion! We too, just rush into an open door by the side and come backto see the cart past us!Soon we affectionately bid good-bye to Mathura,Vrindavan.

We proceed to Agra by bus from Mathura and reach the place by 14hrs.Our aim is only to see The Taj as we have to board the train for Hyderabad the same night! Understanding the importance of the value added time we have at our disposal,we reach the complex as quickly as possible,buy tickets and enter the Great Gate by hook or by crook,in spite the long week end queue.Hmm.....we see the glimpse of the Wonder of the World through the arc of the darwaza and rejoice at our success!Ya....we have made the happy,around the sun set hours;the most gratifying time to be in the dreamy,extensively treatised, Taj Mahal complex!We

romantically drift amidst the lush gardens trying to find the best and most soothing places to relax with different views of Taj.The nuances of Taj, as the sun starts setting are surely the most memorable with its various golden hues. Surely,the soul of Mumtazmahal, who died during the birth of her 14th child, blesses all for health,romance,peace and well being!The sun has set and along with the crowd we happily bid good bye to a memorable moment in our lives.
Our tour complete,I fall asleep in the train,sweetly recollecting the good time we had.I dream that it is full moon night and I am again in gardens of Taj, gloriously luminescent. "Hey,behold", I also see Lord Krishna,Radha and the Gopis playing Raas to sonorous heavenly music!
"Oh Lord,how come you are here," I devotedly ask Him,completely charmed."Surely,this is the right place for Us in Braj at present",answers the Lord dancing pleasantly.

Raja Ram Atre

VaishnoDevi,The Enlightened Damsel

maa vaishno devi

A View of Katra
It is the third time we are visiting Goddess Vaishnodevi,residing in a cave in the beautiful Trikuta range of the great Himalayas.Yes,every time the trek is enjoyable and frolic filled and with an amount a person spends for ten i-max movies,one can make this awe inspiring,health giving,THE- REAL- THING- journey by train!We go to Katra,2500ft. above the sea level, from Jammu and climb around 14km. to reach the shrine visited by 8 million people every year;next only to the Balaji temple at Tirumala! Once,full of hurdles and dangers,now the whole way is well paved and with good,hygienic facilities for food,snacks,soft drinks and icecreams.Drinking water and toilets are also provided at convenient distances.Hindus and Sikhs regularly throng to these beautiful peaks tallest at around 9000ft.,but our journey takes us to a height of 6500ft.only.The majestic valleys and mountains are joyously climbed by all comfortably taking their own time,chanting "Prem se bolo Jai Mata Di" and so on.....But remember,unless the Enlightened Damsel gives us a call,we don't reach the place.Don't worry,just go to Katra and you are through to Her benevolence along with all; experiencing the thrill at all important places where She created mythology,being followed by a crafty Tantric Bhairobaba, against her wishes, with malice in his heart.

Prem se Bolo...... Jai Mata di.....

Accompanied by a faithful Langur,She dodges Bhairobaba in the arduous terrain of Trikuta mountains.She also has a lion to protect Her!Soon we find a nice big pool of water(Ban-Ganga),created by Her by shooting an arrow into the earth,for the Langur.Here,the people take bath and happily proceed further giving slogans like "Has ke bolo Jai Mata Di"(hail the Mother with smiles).We have a hearty brekfast of tasty Chhole and Bhature, and proceed. Three km.ahead and at a height of3500ft. She turns back to see whether Bhairobaba is following.Her foot-prints(Charan Paduka) are established here and we see the fresh landsape of Katra through morning mist from a curved path nearby. Here we enjoy a lively dance with a group of youthful students to the tune of drums from drummers sitting by the side on the way!.The climate is exhilerating as we climb another 4km. to Garbh-Joon-Guha,a cave into which She disappears for nine months to mislead Bhairobaba.This cave,about 25mtrs. long, resembles a uterus with a surface of various sizes of smooth,rotund stones.For God-fearing fatsoes or nervous skinniy people it is supposed to be a suspense-filled experience to pass through the cave! It is said that one

is cleansed of all his sins once he comes out of the cave ; and also the gynic problems of ladies are rectified! At any time there will be a long queue for this event and one stands for hours together thoroughly tiring oneself but enthused by the slogans hailing the Mother.It is next morning with soothing sunshine and rejuvenating breeze, when we head towards HaathiMattha(elephant's head shaped), a point at a height of 6500ft. and a distance of 3km.On the way,beautiful needle-shapedpine leaves in bunches shine like emeralds in the sunlight, against the far off huge cliffs in the background.

A Unique Tall Hill Midway...

Bhairobaba is again able to find her after 9 months but She vanishes into her final abode leaving the mighty Langur to stop him. But the adament Tantrik easily vanquishes the Langur when the Mighty Mother appearing with all her prowess in the most terrifying form just beheads him with her trident making his head spin off to a place 1300ft. higher and the body dropping dead at the entrance of the cave,The Bhavan at present(Here accomodation,food and all important things are managed
by the Temple Trust very efficiently and at the most reasonable prices)! But the highly attained Bhairobaba's head is still conscious as he repents before The Almighty Mother.Being kind hearted,She not only pardons him but also grants him a
boon that one's pilgrimage will not be complete unless the person visits Bhairobaba's temple 1300ft. higher!From Her Darbar(or Bhavan) at a level of 5200ft.

Mata Vaishno Devi Darshan Package

At the shrine we get very good branded tea,coffee and also icecreams,everywhere.At the big eateries provided by the Trust we get great hot Alu ,Gobhi Parathas with sliced onions,pickles for breakfast; and yummy Kadhi withPakodas,Rajma,rice,parathas and curries for lunch!Yes,you are fit for the tough climb to Bhairoghati,full of langurs(perhaps they are friends of Bhairobaba now). One really feels happy, particularly after seeing the pleasent head of Bhairobaba!From here beautiful views of valleys,mountains and gorges is your lot:you are bound to return a healthy, tuned and energised person after this romantic, friendly trek!
Bhairo Baba's Friends Now!

Man,don't try to emulate Bhairobaba with a lady against her wishes, for a boon; today a woman is much more powerful by the grace of Mother, but far less benevolent! You will be deep in the soup!


Raja Ram Atre.
Ph.040-40077565. Cell:7893145237


Even the month of July is simmering hot in north India and after tiring checks and halts even 50km. on the way to Jammu,though the people give us excellent welcome at the Bhandaras(where food,medicine and even staying facilities are made free of costfor the pilgrims) the journey is boring and alarming with the threat of terrorists for the disconcerted pilgrims from different parts of the country till they reach Pahalgam.But be rest assured that there will be no problem except a lot of discomfort after which you step into the heavenly Pahalgam where Shiva is said to have left his bull as he started with his paraphernalia and consort Parvati in search of a place where he could explain her the secrets of Eternity.
We spent a lovely evening in Pahalgam having a simple dinner of piping hot parathas and cauliflower curry with Kashmiri spices,sitting by
the side of a walnut tree with raw walnuts in the lawn of an inexpensive hotel.Then we had along walk on the almost empty roads on which a pair of ducks walked carefree;a bit further a group of children were making kababs by the roadside.further down some people were calmly coming out of a Goddess's temple.All these activities were smoothly going on under the vigilance of security people moving in armored vehicles looking for unearthly terrorists!Yes,it was pilgrimage season and we too moved freely enjoying a rare event of our life.Next morning,the beautiful Pahalgam with snow clad mountains all around and the youthful river Lidder playfully flowing through it,bid us farewell for a dream filled journey to Amarnath.
We reach Chandanwari,16km. farther,by a van.It's a small cute spot garlanded by river Lidder with colourful tents of the security people amidst.Here Lord Shiva is supposed to have left the Moon which adorned his head.From here onwards we are on a trail with pine trees around adding freshness to the atmosphere.The first trek itself is a tough climb to Pissu Top,a distance of 3km.taking us to a hight of 11000ft.Then,soon we are in the vicinity of huge ice chunks allowing clean chilled water of Lidder through them.We move further through beautiful rock formations with small waterfalls everywhere.
It's almost noon and we are heading towards Sheshnag,a gradual climb of another 750ft.and a distance of 11km.We are already tired and move on monotonously a long way,up and down,without much marginal attention.Around 5p.m. we reach
the legendary Sheshnag lake,where Shiva is supposed to have left the snakes that adorned his body.Behind the lake is the huge multipeaked Sheshnag mountain.In the late evening both of them together invoke a cautious curiosity with the weird story that on some particular days a huge snake appears standing erect in the
We proceed further and reach the camp where our moods are immediately elevated as we see two or three well lit bhandaras bustling with people and music.Each bhandara has quality food items and sweets to serve the pilgrims.It's just like a 5 star night(in urban terms) in the Himalayas!

Next day morning,we start for the highest spot of the journey,the Mahagunas Top,an altitude of 14000ft.Though the steep climb is less than 5km.,the rough terrain definitely exhausts one,and lack of oxygen gives a gripping headache.The top is also susceptible to unpredictable rough weather.We quickly move towards Panchtarni at a lower hight of 12000ft.This trek with wild mountain scenes around and the five rivers contentedly flowing in the plains,give us great relief and relaxation after the hard climb to Mahagunas.We happily cover a distance of 9.5 km.,sometimes wading through chilled waters and reach the camp late in the evening again to find festive food arrangements and an atmosphere of celebration as we shall be reaching the Holy cave next day!
Early in
the morning,we start on a curving and risky trail,mostly surrounded by ice,for our final destination.In the beginning as the sun rises when we look back from an elevation,we see the beautiful plains of Panchtarni with the rivers snaking glitteringly over them and a huge range of mountains behind them washed by the sun rays all over!This is said to be the place where Shiva danced Tandava in happiness.But take care,walk without looking here and there;the route sometimes curves with edges which may throw you into abyss,if you miss a single step!When we reach the Sangam point 3km. midway and peep,we see a confluence of pleasant green waters with neat tents in the plains between them.From there roughly,the 14km.,tough Baltal route starts.Go on further chilling yourself and also finding lonely vendors selling cool drinks on the way.You are quite near the Cave where you can take bath in the chilling waters of river Amravati flowing towards you from the side of the cave.From here you can see the Himalayan fantasies in ice!After that you may think of doing away with the artificial snow-worlds of theworld!
Now you are moving through a lane with people selling Prasad and Pooja material on both sides.A very good number of them are Muslims.If you have hired a pony,your ponywalla is a Muslim!When I talked to a Muslim businessman in Pahalgam,he said that Muslims also visit Baba Burphani(Lord Shiva) for ''Mannat"(wish fulfillment).Well,
the cave is about to appear.
And lo!Suddenly
the huge marvel appears from a distance!The Magnificence,facing south,brilliant in sunlight,more so because of the light from a huge rock face somewhere in the opposite side,is definitely a Nature's wonder at an altitude of 13000ft.!The Cave has been visited since hundreds of years by great saints like Adi Sankaracharya,Swamy Vivekananda,Ramtirth, and so on.V.S.Naipaul visited the Cave when he was in India and wrote of the joy and happiness he experienced on seeing the mighty cave along with other people!

This Grand Cave,40yds. wide at the outer mouth,75ft. high and at least 80ft. deep sloping down in the mountainside was also visited by Francois Bernier,the French physician accompanying Aurangzeb to Kashmir in 1663.The physician exclaimed about the Cave in his travelogues,"Grotta full of wonderful congealations!"
The wonderful congealations are Amarnathji(Lord Shiva),the undefinable Himalayan Mendicant;His consort Parvati and son Ganeshji, for the Indians.

Raja Ram Atre