Sunday, April 19, 2020

Travel to Vrindavan, despite Corona ?!!



It's nearly a month since one took a free walk , leave alone travel.

To keep oneself if not fit but atleast to kill the ennui and digest the periodical intakes, people are devising their own methods.

Not the one fond of physical exercises, I was looking at indulging in my favorite sweating method of walk. Though I detest circling round the place for the sake of walking the invention made out of necessity was only that - I had to circle within our own apartment complex, which even after ten rounds showed only twenty minutes. Aiming to reach the normal forty minutes of the pre-Kovid days, decided to take this tedious exercise both in the morning and evening and that settled  the requirement.

Next step to kill the boredom of repeated rounds I decided to take refuge in music and it took few days to try and fix proper headset with the recently received ear buds and a day was spent with popular slokas and songs. During this evening walk, a casual browse of the library suddenly brought a big flash of smile- there were a couple of audio recordings made during my recent Vrindavan Yatra and each one was a very enjoyable briefing on the place of our visit in the Braj Bhoomi.

I was fortunate to choose the lecture in and about TER KADAM, a place deep inside a forest near Vrindavan where Krishna herded his nine lakh cattle and I was mesmerized by the metallic voice of Shri Maha Purushsa Dasa, the Yatra Director, asking us to call Krishna with a deep voice, as His friends did !!  I was thrilled that the voice took me back by two months to that secluded forest surrounded by numerous peacocks, that I never realised having completed the required number of laps and was proceeding way beyond that, completely oblivious of the present surroundings

Ter Kadam
Despite the near home arrest , I realised that if one really wants and strives , one could not only travel distances virtually but also enjoy the same pleasures be it orations or scenarios, from wherever he/she is . How blessed are we I realized,  as I ruminated over that evening in that beautiful environment, to convert killing of time to travelling back on the desired path, even virtually.

Thanks to technology; Thanks www.tirthayatra.org and respectful thanks to the learned Shri Maha Purusha Dasa, for those wonderful days , worth mulling over any number of times!!

Even Adversity throws up new vistas, it appears !!

Friday, April 10, 2020

Is the Patient treating the Doctor well ?

My late brother , who was a Mathematics professor, more by passion , used to say that 'teaching is one of the noblest professions' and I had never disagreed or challenged his conviction. I have heard enough comparisons of teacher with ladder etc., and the respect that a student pays when he sees the teacher even after decades is ample testimony of the encomiums heaped on this great profession consisting of selfless teachers.

Almost on the same lines I am tempted to put the medical professionals, despite the varied reactions that it could attract. Similar to the teachers in whom you entrust your ward's future, one entrusts the whole body itself to the men in white coats, more out of necessity than confidence. It is a matter of great satisfaction that the doctors too have by and large not belied the expectations of the suffering masses!

I could recollect, sometime in early seventies, my father rushing back from his professional work in Bengaluru holding a plastic mug in one hand suffering a urinary blockage and the relief he had when the block was cleared in minutes by our family doctor !

More recently I had occasion to visit the emergency of a nearby hospital supporting a broken hand in the dead of night and it was a relief to see a set of medics receiving me and immediately providing the necessary relief. In the prevailing pandemic situation the doctors and nurses were so professional and casual , trying to put  me at ease that I even managed to crack a joke while the sling was placed over a plaster of Paris pack. As my treatment was being completed there whined another ambulance siren which brought in a cardiac patient all the way from Telengana and the emergency team moved over to the gate with the same zeal !

While I was concerned about the atmosphere where patients with varied sufferings were being brought in, the medical team was just doing their job with a face mask and a pair of gloves, sipping some tea in between attending to suffering patients.

The next day after I underwent a surgery to correct an arm disorder, and as I was wheeled out of the operation theater to the Recovery room, the interaction between two attending nurses triggered this blog post. When one asked about the lunch as it was past noon, the other replied as "not sure... as my husband went for early duty ..... I think today also I have to manage with some curd rice". Later I learnt that her husband also belonged to the same profession. I was speechless by her priorities, dedication. Easily she could have also gone on leave !

As if this was not enough, when I was discharged from the hospital the next day after a satisfactory procedure, a friend inquiring about it exclaimed how the hospital could charge so much for such a small procedure ! That triggered anger, exhaustion and pushed me more to think about it.

When I slipped at the dead of night and was writhing in pain I ran into the waiting arms of a medical team at challenging situation of exposures and infections while most of the common man were safe inside their drawing rooms, complaining of ennui more from claustrophobic confinement ; a specialist had to be disturbed from his sleep to relieve me from pain; dozen medicos from across specialties like anesthesia, surgery and attending nurses had to be summoned the next day in time; a hospital had to keep their doors open 24 by 7 ensuring uninterrupted supply of power for the conduct of surgery; the pantry was working round the clock to keep the patient and their attendants away from hunger;  a dietitian, a physio therapist ..... the list was endless. Who will pay for their services (note I am not calling it sacrifice, atleast not yet) at odd hours and how will they be paid? From where ?  Most of all, even if they have all the necessary materials to conduct a surgery , what about the specialized knowledge acquired by these professionals to relieve YOU from the pain ? My thoughts were more sharpened by the explanation of a young man who while attending to my arm in the theater was narrating as to how he managed to escape by explaining to so many police men stopping his bike.... all just to reach the hospital and to attend to the suffering mass.!! Come on, Is it not the right time to call these as sacrifices instead of their professional duties ?  - the one who had to answer cops on the way, the one who is yet to think about her approaching lunch, the ones who brave infections and keep receiving patients !!

My thoughts were further confirmed when I met the Executive Director of the hospital who went on to explain how unwisely people avoid hospitals fearing the pandemic and said they care more for the safety of the patients who come to them with other pains and then followed by their own safety. He also said how out of the three cases of cardiac problem, acute appendix and high fever cases who avoided the hospital fearing the spread of infection, one turned out to be serious due to the delay !

While I was working in the much envied and considered lucrative IT services, one of my young Managers used to often lament as to how much we are sacrificing for the sake of the organization vis-a-vis the treatment meted out to us. I never failed to politely remind him that we work for the fat returns while the organization earns out of our skills and that there is no sacrifice involved. I have also seen many outbursts on the social media by my banker friends lamenting about their sacrifice, rather justifiably. I do not mean to belittle the contributions of these professionals but was just trying compare these with the dedication of an ortho Dr who was disturbed from his sleep past midnight to drive twenty minutes and relieve the patient of pain, which cannot wait until the opening of next day's business hours. And while everyone has been advised to stay indoors these souls have braved the situation and exposed themselves, all for treating the suffering souls ; If this is not a noble professional service, I wonder what ever it is !!!

We believe more of social networks and information support systems available on Internet and easily question the cost of pain alleviation , little realizing that it just goes past the normal call of duty.

When a woman delivers, when a heart is revived, when a kidney is transplanted, when a bone is fixed, when a simple bleed on your kid is arrested we heave a sigh of relief and thank the doctor. When we are relieved from an excruciating pain, we say that the doctor was a God ! All we need to do is just to extend the thoughts until the bill is paid. That is all the men and women in white coats may expect. Of course, there are black sheep in every profession but then how wise it will be to paint all of them with the same brush, I leave it more to the suffering patients than to their paying attendants  After all, we were treated to normalcy by the doctors, but then are the patients treating the Doctors well for the services rendered? It time to think.

Dedicated to all the Doctors I know of and others too be it in General medicine, Cardiology, Pulmunology, Dentistry, Urology or any other branch . My salutation to these saviors of humanity!!


Tuesday, March 3, 2020

Radhe......Radhe !!



Prologue:
For the last few years we have been travelling wide within India , without any specific pattern, until we realized that we were covering more Divya Desams and Jyotirlingams. With a handful of Divya Desams left to see, we narrowed down our focus and thus ended looking for an yatra to Mathura and Gokulam. I am making an attempt to relive the pleasures I had at these places and trust and pray I make this useful to the reader

DAY-1 - 20-Feb-2020
Due to our increasing travels in the recent years,  when we embarked on a tour of Vrindavan in Uttar Pradhesh, we were more at ease in packing and getting ready early in the morning  as getting ready at odd hours has also been imbibed into us as an essential ingredient of a traveler !!

Despite a crowded schedule even before a fortnight of the travel date, we packed like a seasoned pro and were on the air to New Delhi looking for the ever loved Krishna and to some of the places He performed the leelas.  We were so relaxed that we slept through the flight oblivious of the smooth touchdown of the skillful Indigo pilot, well before the scheduled time. The well refurbished and swanky Indira Gandhi Airport welcomed us with a breath of fresh but chill air , as we kept walking through the long corridors of Terminal-3 to our waiting van. Overcoming the initial hiccups of locating the van, we were soon in the van to Vrindavan and the early morning chill of New Delhi, which was yet struggling with the winter, coupled with a faulty AC outlet and a staggering New Delhi traffic kept us awake until the early morning wake up won us over. After a four hour drive, we reached the Sar Kamla Dham Hotel at Vrindavn by around 2:00 PM just in time for a sathvic lunch.

Kalia Ghat
Kadamba Tree

After forty winks we were fresh and ready to be led by the stern and professorial  looking but very knowledgeable Sri Maha Purusha Dasa , our Yatra Director. The words he used to describe the deeds of Krishna to humble the most poisonous snake Kalia at the Kalia Ghat made every one realize how revered the place we were standing on. As he narrated as to how the river Yamuna was flowing exactly at the place we were standing, and how Kaliya with her thousand heads was spewing dangerous venom to attack Krishna until He chose to overpower him, the team members again went down to prostrate before the Lord as well as the Kadamba Tree, the place is known for.
As the apparently rickety but strong rickshaws native to the place wound through the Vrindavana Parikrama path and with the team overawed by the news of around 5000 temples in the town , we reached our next stop at the towering Madan Mohan Mandhir.

Vrindavan Parikrama route
The towering two and half towers standing as ample testimony of the repeated efforts of the then invaders to destroy such places of worship, which was well narrated by the Yatra Director, welcomed us.
Madan Mohan Mandir


Going through the beautiful deities amidst the captivating surroundings, it was hard to fathom how such beautiful structures irrespective of beliefs could be damaged !! The sight around the temple under the Twilight shade of the setting sun was a sight to remember.

Still munching the sight of towers in the fading light, we were taken by the careening Rickshaw to a temple where the Lord was also supposed to be bent in wavy curves - Banke Bihari. Banke means 'curved' , we were told, and a taste of the same was also evidenced as we wound our way through narrow curvy lanes, to the temple !!
Banke Bihari Mandir
The temple was well lit and crowded but with some patient wait, one could have a leisure dharshan, even repeatedly as we had. Unfortunate that we could not take our camera phones to capture the memory for repeated enjoyments !

Our next stop was at IMLITHALA a very popular temple situated right on the Vrindavan parikrama route. Imli Tala means 'under the shade of tamarind tree', we were told. The story goes that under a 5000 year old tamarind tree, still maintained there, Krishna and Radha Rani used to meet daily. On one such occasion, Radhe's tender foot was wounded by the sharp shell of a ripe tamarind that had dropped from the tree and a picture of Radhe showing this was beautiful, to look at:

Radhe Rani showing where she has been wounded

As the wound had delayed Radhe meeting Krishna, an upset Radhe had cursed that the tamarind trees in that area will never ripen and even today no tree in Vrindavan will ripen.

In the later years, it is believed that Krishna came in the form of Chaitanya Mahaprabhu and used to meditate under the tamarind tree. This incident is one more to believe that Krishna and Radhe are still moving around the town of Vrindavan, as we saw more of such evidences in the days to come.
 
5000 year old Tamarind tree





In line with the tradition of the place, it was heartening to see a bunch of people going round the tree and temple singing bhajan songs.









The last temple visit of the day namely JHARU MANDAL, carried yet another beautiful leela of Krishna. It is believed that some years back the devoted Jana Bhai was making a living rolling the dry grinder with her bare hands and when she operated that it had emitted a TRRRK, TRRRK sound that was disturbing to Radhe , as she was speaking to Krishna. In order that her flow of thoughts are not disturbed Krishna placed His left foot on the grinding stone halting the sound. Even now, one could see Krishna's footprints on the grinding stone placed there.

Krishna's left foot print 
Jharu Mandal











When Janabhai pleaded to Krishna as to how she could live as she was making a small living by grinding flour for others , which has been stopped by Him, Krishna seem to have said " As I have placed my foot before you, people will come to see that and will offer enough for you to survive". A place to see how Krishna acts in a way that is beneficial to many people at the same time !

A day of mixed beliefs, emotions and bewilderment- In this land, people firmly believe that Lord Krishna and Radha Rani are still wandering around Vrindavan and that they could be in any form or in any person. So, every person they see, they believe as this divine couple and so they address all as Radhe Radhe only, be it Greetings in the morning or evening and at time even for Excuse me . Thus a day in the land of Radhe ....Radhe, full satisfaction of having seen Him in close quarters and went to sleep believing that He is there to guard and take care of us, as the evening chill started to embrace us.

DAY-2 : 21-Feb:
Braving the early morning chill with a hot plate of Kitchadi, the enthusiastic team set out to BARSANA, a town about an hour away from Vrindavan.


Barsana - Radhe Radhe

Ladliji Temple, Barsana
As the van wound its way, the soft spoken yatra consultant Shri Sudhir Gauranga Das narrated in his own style the importance of the place and as he explained how the Rajasthani cultural style could be seen in the minarets, we climbed the small hill atop which was perched the beautiful temple of Ladli Ji , with Jaipur like towers tastefully tiled with white and black marbles.

Architectural attraction with Devotion at Barsana 
Due to early hours there was a sparse crowd and after a good dharshan , enjoyed capturing the beauty of the place in our cameras. As the place was also known for its delightfully tasting Lassi, the team was treated to a creamy cup of Lassi , by the tour organizers , the taste of which lingered for long.
Lip smacking Lassi
Lassi Shop, Barsana
 In Vrindavan area, we learnt that there are stories galore and if one is fortunate enough to get a good Yatra consultant, one can keep on travelling ignoring the weather and distances.

As the team was hearing the story of  purifying the body and soul , the touring party was led to the Pavan Saraovar , in Nandgaon.






Pavan Sarovar


'Pavan' means purifying and 'Sarovar' means lake. Thus , it is widely believed that anyone taking a bath here will be washed off all his sins ! It is also believed that Krishna used to bring all his nine lakh cows here to quench their thirst !!  Story goes that once  Nand Maharaj desired to go to Sangam in  Prayagraj in order to have sacred bath in the confluence of River Ganga, Yamuna and Saraswati. But he was unwilling to be separated from his aged parents and so  Krishna advised his foster father to travel the next day, on the auspicious occasion of Akshaya Tritiya. Next day, when Nand Maharaj woke up early in the morning and when he went to Pavan Sarovar to have his morning bath, he saw a black complexioned person who seemed a stranger to him. As Nand Maharaj knows almost all the persons in that small town and he seemed a stranger, Nand Maharaj enquired him about his identity. He replied that he is the King of Tirthas at Prayagraj and has come to wash off his sins, which are left to him by pilgrims, in the sacred Pavan Sarovar. He said he had also come along with other rivers and Tirthas. Nand Maharaj was amazed to see that even the king of Tirthas, who washes off the sins of all pilgrims, has come to Pavan Sarovar to wash off his own sins leftover by the pilgrims. Thus, he admired the sanctity of the Pavan Sarovar and decided not to visit Prayag for bathing as the King of Tirthas at  Prayagraj himself visits Pavan Sarovar for sacred bath to wash off the sins left by the pilgrims. Thus, it is believed that, even as the Prayag has come down, those who take a bath here attains the same cleanliness of the soul as they attain when they bathe in the Sangam at Prayag !
At the sacred Pavan Sarovar, Nandgaon
 Still ruminating over the sanctity of the place we moved over climbing a small hill called Nandhishwar Hill to yet another mammoth structure of the NAND BHAVAN temple in Nandgaon, again built with a liberal dash of marble.

Nand Bhavan, Nandgaon
Nand Bhavan
This is a place where Krishna was believed to play with his friends, graze cows and as it is close to Barsana,  where Radha Rani  grew up, Krishna used to like this place. The place is also the house of His foster father Nand Maharaj and in the beautiful temple Krishna was seen with his brother Balarama along with his parents and also Radhe. The priest explained that Radhe was seen not close to Krishna as always, because this is the place of her In-laws and as is the tradition, she is seen at some distance away from Him !!

Siveshwar Temple
I had also read that Lord Shiva wanted to personally witness the leelas of Krishna and so did a penance, accepting which Krishna allowed Him to take the form of a hill and witness them. Thus the name of   Nandhishwar Hill, as well a small temple of Siva called Siveshwar temple, which we were blessed to see on the day of Maha Shivarathri.

Having had a heart-full of dharshans on the day of  Maha Shivarathri, we travelled towards the nearby VRINDA KUND, where a temple for Thulasi Matha is tastefully constructed. Enroute, the path was lined on either side with lush green agricultural fields and the weather matching the renowned Tamil month of Margazhi, we were only too pleased to walk a short distance, when the road was dug up and made unfit for vehicular traffic.

Enroute to Vrinda Kund
The temple with a beautiful pond was surrounded by fields and the lone Thulasi Tree was mobbed by a bunch of parrots whose chirping could be heard even from a distance. The parrots here were different from others in that they have a distinct yellow colored belly, as against others which are completely green !!
Communicating parrots

It is believed that the parrots act as messenger to Thulasi Matha and inform Her of any visitor even when they are at a distance. The temple is more known for its approval as it is a known fact that unless one has the dharshan of Thulasi Matha and obtain Her approval, one is not sure to get dharshans of the temples in the Braj Vrindavan area, as it is popularly known.
Vrinda Kund Pond
 The lone pundit at the temple performed a detailed pooja and haarathi to Mathaji and explained the efficacy of the deity , after which
Prasadam
an elaborate meal was served with multiple sweets and it was a delight to eat at such simple surrounding.

The touring yatris then had to reluctantly leave the place after having some snaps devouring the full beauty of the area in its natural environs.


When the satisfied souls with the filled belly were just moving into the clouds for an afternoon nap , the van dropped us at the hotel and post an hour's rest, which is a rare luxury that this tour organizer seems to offer compared to others, we were ready to explore some the popular places within Vrindavan itself.

The choice of PREM MANDIR as first point of visit for the evening could not have been better, as the tastefully built structure offered so many opportunities for the visitors that we soon found our Giga Bytes of the phones were bursting at the seam, getting overflown with beautiful photos.

Prem Mandir

The icing on the cake was the Kalia Marthana scenario where the snake Kalia was seeing spewing blood after Krishna overcame its venom and stepped on it to dance. The structure with blood flowing out of Kalia's mouths was a sight to be relished.


Similar beauty was the one of Krishna lifting the Govardhana Giri and the actual rain water appearing to stream from the top.

Govardhana Giri at Prem Mandir

Krishna Leela





Our initial urge to see the various Leelas at Prem Mandir,  in daylight did not seem to be that brilliant as when darkness fell, it was looking more beautiful with myriad color lights. The sheer efforts of the organizers in not only (re)creating all these Leelas but also to maintain well to appeal to the minds of the visiting devotees, should definitely require a hearty applause.


Glowing !

Wonderful Companions 
The place was spotlessly clean and well maintained, for the crowds that come in, depicting all the Leelas of Krishna and to mark Sivarathri, there were some flower bedecked Shiva pictures too. We left the place still wanting to capture all the beautiful sights but then were beckoned by the harathi time at ISKCON, where there was chanting and dancing of Hare Krishna in full swing, after witnessing which we retired for the day, of having had a surfeit of Krishna, but still desiring for more !!




DAY-3: 22-Feb:

The second leg of  yatra offered many attractions like parikrama and Divya desams and I was naturally excited when we covered the initial distance by the van, in the morning chill. Then, at the designated spot, we moved over to battery operated rickshaws for the exciting GOVARDHANA PARIKRAMA, which was 24 KMs around the sacred hill. But our guide also warned us to look out for so many other attractions attached to this ride and the need to be alert. After praying for a successful parikrama and also mentally seeking the blessings of Tulasi Matha, we moved smoothly on the tarred parikrama route accompanied by the constant companions of monkeys which were invading in groups, looking for eatables thrown by the excited and satisfied devotees.
Kusuma Sarovar
 After capturing the memory before the Jaipur like domes at the KUSUMA SAROVAR, we also prayed at the small but colorfully decorated  temple of Sri Radha Bana Bihari temple


As the ecstatic mind was involuntarily chanting Radhe Radhe , the speeding rickshaw was taking us through winding narrow lanes of the place to stop at MANASI GANGA , where adjacent to the sacred tank, a small time professional barber was also doing his job on a make shift chair !!

Manasi Ganga
As we moved towards the next temple on the sacred path, we saw many devotees crawling over a piece of thermocoal and prostrating repeatedly over the entire parikrama route and this happened not only on the secluded paths but even on the busy roads that came in between.


We witnessed a similar devotee right on a busy road in front of a mandir, which was on a crowded street swarming with heavy vehicles. The devotion with which such acts are being done by both old and young ones in track suits were a delight to watch. We later learnt that such acts are common across the Braj area and people take even months to complete the parikrama with such repeated acts on the streets !!



The LAKSHMI NARAYAN MANDIR we visited next was an ancient one that reminded of temples in Varanasi

Lakshmi Narayan Mandir
After a small ride, we then reached the sacred place of SRI GIRIRAJ GOVIND MUKARA VINDH which was supposed to be the nearest spot to the sacred hill and from here devotees could touch the hill though not allowed to step on it as it is believed by people living here that the Hill itself is Sri Krishna!


At the foot and as near to the Giri, as possible 
After a prokshan (sprinkling)  at the nearby tank, we were walked through the sthala purana of the place wherein it was mentioned that this is exactly the place where Sri Krishna listed the Govardhana Giri on his tiny finger and we prayed our heart out wondering how fortunate are we at the place where He also stood protecting the people, cows and other living things from nature's fury.

SRI GIRIRAJ GOVIND MUKARA VINDH

SRI GIRIRAJ GOVIND MUKARA VINDH

Personally I had a blissful experience at the sacred spot. After our touring party left the place and started moving towards the van, I was hanging around to take more closer pictures without interruption. Surprisingly, the panditji who was performing pooja there called me and my wife and asked us to open our palms. When we did , he poured some honey and asked us, to anoint Lord Krishna with honey. I was stunned beyond imagination. I never asked him even for prasadam and  were about to leave but he calls and voluntarily provided an opportunity to bathe the Lord with Honey !! I felt it was a call from Him and that our yearning to come to the Divya Desams in the Vraj area was answered by the Lord Himself and it took us some time to come out of it. Even now, when I think of this calling, I feel it is a call from Him and definitely this was the Greatest Goosebumps moment of our life !!
Our Milk and Honey moments 

Abishekam
Milk and Honey moments
















Still under the daze of the great dharshan and greater opportunity that beckoned us to as near a place as possible and to anoint Him with milk and honey, as we proceeded on the parikrama, we reached one edge of the great hill, which was a unique site.
Over the Hill !!


Edge of Govardhana Giri
Atop a small hillock when we climb, we could see a small but beautiful Narasimha temple, from where one could view the edge of the Govardhana hill, the spot where yatris doing parikrama will take a turn and walk towards the starting point.

After a long ride on the rickshaw and when we could almost infer that we were nearing the end of the parikrama task came the UDHAV KUND - The two attractions there , apart from the beautifully decorated deity was an odd shaped tank and a blind man singing with a harmonium  and though we could not understand the meaning of the words, it was blissfully soaked in pleas to Krishna and we could not leave easily from there without standing mesmerized for few minutes











During the following ride, the rickshaw wallah took us on a tour of speed racing through the narrowest lanes of Vrindavan that again reminded us of similar lanes of Kasi, until we reached the nice looking twin ponds of  RADHE KUND AND SHYAM KUND, both interconnected

Radhe Kund



Shyam Kund
After near five hours and riding through 23 KMs, our Govardhan Parikrama concluded right in the midst of the road amidst the traffic of vehicles on a busy road .

Govardhana Parikrama End Point
 In sheer ecstasy and hearts filled with satisfaction the yatris were found prostrating flat on the road without a care in world. After lunch and a short breather , the relentless team then set out for seeing some more popular temples in Vrindavan and the commanding voice of Shri Maha Purusha Dasa at the entrance of GOVIND MANDIR, drove any leftover tiredness away, as they prepared themselves for another satisfying evening at the holy land.

Govind Mandir
 As we stood before an unusually tall entrance of the temple and was wondering about the history behind the tall roof of around 30 to 40 feet as against the normal height, our Yatra Director shocked us with the purana of how the top floors of the temple were demolished on the orders of the the Mughal emperor of that era, who did not want any structure taller than his own palace ! But, even the demolished structure was looked at awe as we were allowed to stand at a good distance for the darshan of Govindji ! Again, at the Vridavan temples we were reminded about the monstrous monkeys out to grab anything they could.

The RANGJI temple we visited next had two facades in that the exterior was matching the trend of temples in the Vraj area but inside was a gopuram that was in typical south Indian mold. The Ranganthar temple has been built on the lines of Srivilliputhur by a North Indian businessman, we were informed by a bhattar who attended to us.



Different faces of Rangji Mandir
The GOPESHWAR MAHADEV MANDIR , we visited next was decorated with colorful streamers, serial bulbs and with speakers blaring Shiva slokams, the moving Bhajan groups added festivity to the streets reminding one of the Shivarathri the previous day. The crowded temple was difficult to enter but once inside we could see a ground level Shiv Linga, and close to that mountains of used garlands being feasted upon by a handful of monkeys right inside the temple making the devotees speed up in moving away






























With mother Yamuna round the corner can the Harathi be far behind? We were then led to the YAMUNA HARATHI, skillfully maneuvering through the accumulating crowd by the Yatra Director, not forgetting to mention how the fraudsters could take one over. Though not comparable to the Ganga Harathi I had witnessed in Varanasi, the crowd was slowly accumulating and so we took a vantage position at a high, from where one look gave me some giddiness.

Aerial view of Yamuna Harathi
Not sure what is preventing the authorities from illuminating the ghats of Yamuna better, we waded through pitch darkness towards NIDHI VANAM. The place though not heard by me before has some astonishing features, as described by the Director. The place which has visible vibrations is believed to be still visited by Krishna and Radhe every day and the sacred Thulasi grows there as a tree , not as a stand alone but in an inter-wined manner as young lovers; We saw a room wherein everyday new sarees along with fruits and flowers were kept everyday, which will appear disturbed the next day, indicating its use by the divine pair. The place , as is with other popular ones in Vrindavan, is hounded equally, if not more, by hordes of monkeys more than the visiting devotees. But, as the doors are closed to Nidhi Van by 9 PM, it is believed that every single monkey leaves the place in order not to disturb the celestial couple. The place is so vibrant that one could be there for long, closing the eyes and mediating - aspiring for peace.

Having been satiated with the inputs, we retired for the day wondering what more is in store tomorrow, the last day of the yatra.

DAY-4 : 23-Feb:

Final day of the yatra, being Amavasya, commenced with paying obeisance and thanking our illustrious ancestors, without whose merciful blessings, such yatras would not have been possible. After a 45 minutes ride, we reached MATHURA, the birth place of Krishna, a Divya Desam. The place was swarming with so many of security personnel that would have made even the child Krishna scared, but then these were wise guys who did not bother the devotees much. As we walked through the first place of KESHAV MANDIR, there was a crescendo of Hare Krishna and Radhe Radhe raising within and after the dharshan of YOGA MAYA, we were at the JANMASTHAN, the very place at which little Krishna was born. Such a small room , similar to the  drawing room in any house the place was reverberating with religious fervor and surprisingly there was little noise and more prayer. Not sure whether due to the early morning February chill or due to my own body dissolving down in front of the imaginary Krishna at the place, I felt the chillness of the floor getting completely into me , when I lay face down, praying for His blessings. It was 'belly chilling' experience for me and though I had earlier visited this kshetra earlier in Dec'2007, I had to rush through the closing hours of the temple then, as against a leisure dharshan without any 'jarugandi' from temple officials or the gun totting securities !! 

We were still basking under an almost Ekantha sevaa of Krishna at His Janmasthan, when we leisurely circumambulated the magnificent temple built by Birlaji and Malaviyaji. The temple has so much see, we mentally made a note to visit the Divya Kshetram again, His willing !! As is with the most revered and important sacred places we could capture the lovely scenes only in our minds as the electronic instruments were not allowed inside the temple 😒 .

How come a visit to the land of Krishna be complete without a creamy cup of Lassy , which was surprisingly priced not high even within the precincts of the temple!

After purchasing some memorabilia, we travelled a short distance to RAVAL, the birth place of Radhe.

At Raval, the birth place of Radha Rani

It was interesting to see the temple in the small village having dressed up Radharani , too as little Krishna !!

Radharani

Raval Dham




The temple was managed by a family without much frills and they freely allowed the yatris to go around temple and it was a great moment to be at the exact place , under a tree, where Radharani was found.

At the place where Radharani was found
After a short ride , we reached RAMAN RETI,  yet another area of Divya Desam GOKULAM. The place wore a festive look with streamers and people dancing everywhere to the sound of drumbeats.

As we entered the temple, the crescendo rose and everyone was encouraged to dance to bhajan beats and chants of Radhe Krishna, and the crowd kept coming.

Bhajan and Dancing at Raman Reti
After a beautiful dharshan, we were led to a small playground like place where during Sthala purana we were briefed that this was the sand over which Krishna played with Balaram and his cowherd boy friends ! The fine sand there, the guide explained, will not stick to our body even if we roll over here. All the yatris were then asked to roll over thinking of Krishna and his assurance of the sand not sticking to us was indeed true ! It was a divine experience to roll at the same place where Krishna also played with his friends!!

Rolling in the playground of Krishna at Raman Retti
In our quest to cover optimum places and to make up for the lost schedule the day before , we accepted the offer of our tour organizers to have lunch at the local 'Bandaar', instead of going all the way back to Vrindavan and that did prove to be a good one.  Bandaar , later I understood roughly as a food shop, turned out to be a free meal providing center to all yatris with the only condition that wastage should be avoided. A sumptuous meal of Poori, sabji and Rasam was enough for us to get our appetite under check as we proceeded to our next important place of visit viz., Nand Bhavan, in Nandgaon in the rising heat, with the hitherto complained AC vent helping us to keep our cool.



Nandgaon, as mentioned elsewhere, is the home for Lord Krishna built by his foster father Nanda Baba, to protect Him from the evil demons sent by Kamsa who were trying to kill him. Krishna lived in this village for over nine years with his foster father Nand Baba and mother Yasodha. NANDA BHAVAN is one of the highly revered temples in nandgaon. The Nanda Bhavan in Gokul is one of two places identified where Sri Krishna was brought up by Yashoda also known as Chaurasi Khamba temple due to its 84 pillars. The Nanda Bhavan at Gokul is called Nanda-Yashoda Bhavan.

The ancient temple known for its 84 pillars reverberates with reverence


There was a clamor to be photographed at the popular pillar and we were no exceptions:


There were many catchy images and pictures to see before we were led to a hall named Yasodha Bhavan , where we were made to sit and given a brief of the place. At the sanctum sanctorum, there was another briefing by a senior pundit who after elaborating on the efficacy of the Lord  also listed out the various sevas and the accompanying costs. 

Lecture at Yasodha Bhavan
It was slightly disappointing to see him insisting on higher dakshinas and when I stood my ground at a lower dakshina  against his insistence of Rs 1151/- , he moved over to other yatris but little did we worry about it and remained focused on the Lord, before checking out. 
Novel way of seeking Alms !
When we came out of the temple, we could not help smile at the novel way of a boy seeking alms, finding it hard not to compare the various ways of seeking money inside such punya sthalas.

As I wondered about the different needs of people at various places, we were led to a place where the Lord showed that the whole world could be swallowed with a handful of mud. As we stepped down at the blazing sun, the cool breeze from the nearby river yamuna welcomed us to BRAHMAND GHAT

Attractive depiction of the significance of the place
Brahmand Ghat is the place where the child Krishna  swallowed some mud while playing with his friends. When checked, He revealed the entire universe in his mouth, to the bewilderment of foster mother Yashoda. Hence the name of the site is Brahmand Ghat, literally meaning, the universe. Brahmand Ghat has an old temple near river Yamuna along with the most striking ‘Braj Ki Raj’―meaning 'the mud of Braj'.

Temple at Brahmand Ghat
When once the cleaning of Ganga is completed, it will not be out of place to pray that Yamuna cleaning is undertaken , as was evident at the state of the sacred Yauna at the Brahmand Ghat.

At Yamuna near the Brahmand Ghat
Irrespective of other distractions by eliciting money and unclean environs still the Braj yatra has its one charm in that we could be at the place where the stories we heard from our mother like Krishna showing the world in His little mouth! As if this was not enough, the place we visited next - UKHAL BHANDAN STHALI will not be new to anyone who has been pampered by one's mother !  It is the place at which little Krishna was tied to Pounder (Ukhal in Hindi and உரல்  in Tamil) by Yashodha matha. Little did I expect to see the actual Pounder at this place !!!


Touching the Ukhal which kept Krishna to the place
Still basking under the ecstasy of having seen some of the places associated with many of His leelas, we set out to catch up with a pending place. After travelling for about an hour and a half, we reached TER KADAMB, a place thickly covered with greens. 

Ter Kadamba
The fading light of dusk with the occasional calling of peacocks, which were plenty in number, along with the prevailing silence added serenity to the place. We ensured treading carefully not to disturb the peace as well as the peacocks that were roaming around freely . 




















As we sat around the beautifully decorated  Krishna with an attractive conchs on either side that had an embedded cow and calf within, we were treated to a cat walk of of peacocks who chose to ascertain their priority over the place by moving slowly without even giving a side glance to the assembled entourage! Our Yatra Director, like the little master of Cricket who reserved his best for the Finals, provided a master piece of his sermon, on the last place of visit in of the Yatra. 

With his soft voice, he walked us through the scenario of Krishna herding his lakhs of cows deep into the forest and how his friends would call him for lunch. He then asked us to call Krishna and corrected us to be more tender in our voice decibels reminding that we were dealing with young Krishna and resultant chorus calling of 'Krishnaaaa......', was and will remain the defining moment of this four day yatra. 

We were then walked around the place repeatedly reminding us to be silent so that the hordes of peacock walking around and perched atop the trees were not disturbed. The little pond , over which the trees were lined up was a sight to behold !

Pond at Ter Kadamba
We were then treated to the site of the Kadamba tree, perched atop which Krishna would be playing His flute to call the cows.

With the holy Kadamba tree that hosted Krishna
The sthala purana, the Master's voice, the peace and serenity with the place made it extremely difficult for us to move away, as we had concluded our Vrindavana, Mathura and Gokulam Yatra at the place where He used to be along with His friends and the favorite cowherds. The satisfied souls departed with repeated looks at the place praying for His blessing to the welfare everyone of this great Nation !

Epilogue
As with every yatra, I was in a trance, as I concluded my yatra planned for two Divya Desams of Mathura and Gokulam. In line with the current strategies, as an accompanying bonus He had also blessed us , may be for our thoughts, focused efforts and followup towards our cherished goals, many more places of His leelas, which  we were not even aware of !! Normally, we strive to make a study of the places before the planned visit in an attempt to gather as much info as possible so that we could relate this knowledge , when we are at THE place and this was at the best during our Char Dham Yatra, which will remain a milestone in our Yatras. But, as mentioned earlier, we had little time to prepare but it was well compensated and supported by the scholarly inputs of our Yatra Director respected Shri Maha Purusha Das, whose voice and masterly inputs would remain with us whenever we think of this Vrindavan Yatra. We would like to place our pranams and deep gratitude for this great gentleman , who added more flavor to the yatra by bringing Krishna before us at every place of His leela, he took us to.

With Shri Mahapurusha Dasa, the man who made the difference to the Yatra
 As is after every tour, I have attempted to recollect my thoughts, my feelings, expressions and sights that I enjoyed during these four days.  My efforts were put to severe test in choosing of photos to share from some Giga bytes of photos, audios and videos.  I would like to reiterate that I have no or very little knowledge of these holy places and this is certainly not aimed at introducing the places to the readers which I am neither capable of  nor competent, too. I have just lived through these beautiful days and tried my best to recollect the points I had made a mental note of and resisted from providing extracts of these places from the world wide web, as our learned readers are well capable of doing it themselves. Any errors , factual or historical, that might have crept into these lines are more due to my ignorance and my inability to recapture. Hope people who read this will pardon me for any such incorrect information, if any, and continue to bless me with your valuable feedback.

Radhe...Radhe