Vrindavan – the Banke Bihari temple, ISKCON temple and Govardhan Parikrama

Of Vrindavan’s private temple, VIP tickets, temple promotions, and Godly siestas…

Banke Bihari temple, ISKCON temple, profound religious history, unimaginable faith and devotion; when I thought of visiting Vrindavan these were just top-of-the-mind recall phrases that were shared by my nears and dear ones. A quick Google search gives similar results. And I am sure Vrindavan is a name that will evoke these emotions in perhaps your mind too, like it did in mine. Except, the experience I had was slightly different, I learned a lot of things which were not in my agenda, nonetheless, the prime motive was accomplished, the religious experience was outstanding.

The “private property” that Banke Bihari temple is   

Banke Bihari temple is said to be the number one attraction, the most important temple in entire Vrindavan. We decided to visit it first. By the way, before I forget, let me tell you there is one very interesting fact about the temple timings, I’ll take it up pretty soon.

Anyhow, coming back to the Banke Bihari temple, it is amazing to say the least. Its history is interesting and importance unparalleled. The deity is matchless and devotion of pilgrims nothing short of unbelievable.

But that’s not all. The very first gate you’ll encounter when you enter the temple complex (it functions as Exit gate from the temple building) has a banner with a message meaning the temple is private property of Swami Hari Dass and his descendants. I also have a temple at home but never thought of it as a private property (I may have been thinking so at a subconscious level, who knows. Reading that message on the Banke Bihari temple and now writing about it has arisen some doubts).

And then, inside the temple there are “VIP tickets” for getting closest to the deity and for getting special calendar. The pujaris at the sanctum sanctorum are open about it, particularly about money. When my mom-in-law requested for a calendar she was told she needed “VIP ticket” – which took a woman who is a strong devotee totally by surprise and she snapped back saying how much you want for it – 1 lac or 2 lacs. The pujari perhaps got ashamed (perhaps) and handed her a calendar.

The temple timings and the siesta

And yes, about the fact about the temple timings. All the temples in Vrindavan are closed from 12:30pm to 4:30pm, that’s the time the Gods enjoy their siesta. And the timings are sacrosanct. So when you make plan to visit, make sure you keep in mind – you must reach as early as possible in morning to be able to visit lots of temples before doors are closed.  And then you can continue visiting temples later in the evening.

One quick tip; if you are going by your car, the 12:30pm to 4:30pm time can be utilized for lunch and for Govardhan Parikrama. For lunch, not sure if you will get the option to use credit/debit card, we didn’t. But there are quite a few ATMs, so no worries.

ISKCON temple, Prem temple and temple promotions

ISKCON temples have a charm of their own (click for ISKCON temple in New Delhi) and the one in Vrindavan was no different. It has supposedly come to be recognised as the second most popular temple in the area. I would also recommend it. We went there at 4:30pm when it reopened and had a great time.

Beyond this there is a long list of temples which are already there and are many more are coming up too. Mind , these temples may have highlights (selling points for some, and could be apparent only) which are other than religious. And there are all sorts of tricks and ways that are being adopted to promote these temples and get the innocent devotees to pay a visit and pay their respect (which obviously involves some monetary donation). Take for example the Prem Temple. Let me clarify, I did not visit it and I am only sharing what happened with me.

The auto we travelled in passed through this temple and the driver told us it’s a popular temple which has amazing lighting effects and we must visit at evening to see that. Then a guy walks up to us while we are waiting for the ISKCON temple to open, chats us up and starts talking about this temple. He repeats the same thing, this temple has amazing lighting effects and we should visit in evening. No one talked about the “temple” as we look at temples. Or maybe it was given that since it’s a temple in Vrindavan, it is Krsna temple.

Weekend road blocks and parking woes

Vrindavan is close to Gurgaon, about 140km, and a lot people visit it from NCR on weekends. In any case, Vrindavan attracts lots of devotees on Saturdays and Sundays from nearby and far off places and this means too many vehicles. The administration there has done some arrangements to manage things during weekends. This is an assumption though as police barricades were put up and half a dozen police personnel and parking lot attendants were managing it. However, the parking lot guys seemed more involved and were the ones talking to visitors, arguing with them and taking the heat in getting visitors to move and accept what was happening. May be it was because it was their primary revenue day.

Also, I saw a lot of cars beyond the barricade and most had UP number plates and from the looks of things, most of these were tourist vehicles. In the evening, traffic police men challaned and towed away many of these cars which were parked in no parking zone. So If you mange to take your car inside Vrindavan, make sure you park at the right places.

The narrow lanes and missing signages of Govardhan Parikrama

Like I was saying, the 12:30pm to 4:30pm time can best utilized for performing the Govardhan Parikrama, we did that. This path is on the other side of Delhi-Agra highway. As you come out of Vrindavan and hit the highway, take a right turn and then in 50m take a left (we missed left turn and ended up travelling over 5kms before we realized something is wrong, asked around and look a U-turn).

You’ll need to be careful on two fronts here. One, there are signboards to guide you around the Govardhan Parikrama but these have few shortcomings like these are not at all the places, not at critical places where these are must so keep asking people around at points you are confused. Some of the spans across the road are just too narrow for even one car to pass and there are cars coming from opposite side too. You’ll need all your skills to navigate these parts.

You’ll still be happy

Surprising, confusing, tiring (single day 6am to 9pm, ~400km trip; driving from Gurgaon to Vrindavan, in fact Mathura, I took a U–turn from near the janmsathali, then to Govardhan  then back to Vrindavan and then back to Gurgaon) and above all satisfying, this was a trip that made me happy and I am sure will make you happy too.