Mathura, the birth land of Lord Shri Krishna, is less than 60km northwest of Agra; in fact it is on the route from Delhi to Agra. The plan was to catch one of the Deluxe buses going to Delhi from Agra that stop at Mathura as well. So we checked out of the wonderful Tourist Resthouse in the morning and took an auto to the Idgah Bus Station hoping to catch a 10am bus out. But at the bus station we learnt that due to President Pratibha Patil’s visit (not sure where or what she was visiting), all road routes between Agra and Delhi were blocked for 2 days. So our only option was a train to Mathura.
At the train station we were told that the next train that would stop at Mathura was the Mangala express and that it would reach Agra at 10:15am. But we could only get ‘General’ tickets – Rs.32 each – for it. Madhu and I were not sure what this meant – we thought that it meant that we don’t have reserved tickets. We thought we may not find seats … since we had no other options and it was only a 1 hour journey, we decided to go ahead with it. When the train arrived, we got in to the compartment closest to where we were at the platform and this happened to be the Sleeper Coach. To our relief, we found the compartment to be quite empty. We happily settled in and thanked our lucky stars for such a comfortable ride. Well, 10 minutes in to the journey, a ticket-checker got into our compartment. When he checked our tickets, he informed us that we had ‘General’ tickets, which are for the ‘General’ compartment and definitely not for the Sleeper Coach. He said that for Sleeper Coach tickets we would have to pay Rs.108 per ticket extra. Before we could react, he smiled and got up saying ‘baaki aap tho samajhthe hee hain’. We eventually paid Rs.100 and that was quietly taken. It was all a little bizarre and entertaining.
At the train station, we took an auto to Hotel Brijwasi Royal, which was rated in LP as one of the nicest hotels in town. Because of its reputation of being one of the filthiest places, we didn’t want to risk staying in a cheap place in Mathura – so we chose Brijwasi. The hotel seemed to have plenty of rooms available so we were able to get their Deluxe Double room for Rs.2,095 – this was the cheapest available. Breakfast is complimentary and they have an in-house restaurant, which was also rated highly in LP. So we knew that we were in the right place. After checking in and unloading our bags in the room, we ate lunch at the hotel restaurant and then headed out.
Our first stop was the Mathura National Museum. It is just about a kilometer away from the hotel so we hired a cycle rickshaw to take us there. The lazy bum dropped us off at the back entrance saying that this was the right way. We didn’t know any better so we entered from the back door, which was open. We passed a few guys doing some carpentry work; they all stared at us strangely. We eventually found the main entrance. The museum is a big, round building that encloses a big courtyard in the center with galleries in the building surrounding it. However, most of the galleries were closed except 2 – one of the 1st century Terracota sculptures and one of 16th century Bronze sculptures. Both were simply superb! We loved browsing through the artifacts placed here and were saddened that such brilliant stuff wasn’t showcased better. The rest of the museum seemed to be in repair and there were quite a few people working on it. I hope that someday it is restored and updated completely.
From here, we decided to visit the main attraction (if I can call it that) of Mathura – the Janmabhoomi, as it is locally called. But when we got there we found that no cameras or mobile phones are allowed in to the complex. Since we had no car to store our bags and since we didn’t trust the cloak rooms outside the temple to hold our expensive camera equipment safely, we decided to go back to the hotel, drop the bags off and then come back later. And that’s what we did … except that after getting to the room, we slept off for a while … nothing like a great afternoon siesta. When we finally headed out to the temple, it was past 5pm and most of the day crowd had disappeared. We found a lot of security at the site – each person was checked thoroughly before being let in. We later read that this was mainly because of a mosque that Aurangzeb had built right behind the main temple. After the 1992 Babri Masjid issues, there has been security round-the-clock to protect both the mosque and the temple, which looked beautiful right next to each other.
I was expecting crazy crowds and a very chaotic temple experience given how important this place is to Hindu devotees. But to our pleasant surprise the visit was very peaceful and a great experience. Thankfully, the place was quite clean and well organized. After leaving our shoes at a shoe stand, there were signs pointing to the ‘Mandir Marg’. By following these signs, we were able to walk thru the complex, which started off by a temple and arch commemorating the actual place where Krishna was born. Then it led to a small room where some devotees sat and sang bhajans in the name of the Lord. From here, it led to the main, big temple where the idols of Lord Krishna and his consort, Radha, were absolutely glorious. Madhu and I sat in the temple for a while and enjoyed the atmosphere there. I was thrilled that we were able to get darshan so easily. The crowd, for a change, was unhurried as well and seemed to be enjoying their religious visit quite peacefully.
It was almost 7pm when we left the temple. Since there was nothing else to do, we came back to the hotel and relaxed the rest of the evening. Everybody we spoke to, had warned us against Mathura. They said that it’s filthy and that there’s nothing to see there. We’ve been here 2 days now and it doesn’t seem any more filthy than the average rural Indian town so we are surprised that it has such a bad reputation. But it is absolutely true that there’s nothing out here to see. The only reason to visit this town is to see the Shri Krishna Janmabhoomi. We knew this … kinda … but we were also looking forward to enjoying the atmosphere of a small, religious town … and that’s what made us come here in spite of what everybody said. Unfortunately, there’s no such feel. Thankfully, the temple itself was good but apart from that the town has nothing to offer. It’s crowded and chaotic as any Indian town – nothing special. But then again, I’m not really sure what I was looking for in the first place…