I had no idea such a cheap flight would serve a meal, so I didn’t even think to ask. Being that it’s India, they had a veg option. I asked about cheese, and I was delightfully surprised by this delicious veggie burger that was vegan. Good on you, EasyJet!
After my sub-$30 flight arrived in New Delhi, I wound through the unnecessarily-long path to baggage claim and noticed that “moving sidewalk” or “conveyor belt” or “people mover” is no longer a good enough term. Ladies and Gentlemen: the Travellator!
While waiting in baggage claim, I tried to get on the “free wifi” they were advertising. You had to enter your phone number to receive a text with a code. Given that I don’t have a phone number (let alone one that works in India), there was a note that you could get a code from the information desk.
When I asked there, the guy told me that’s not true, and that you have to be able to receive a text message “for security purposes of India.” He literally hinted that, if you can’t receive a text, well…we’re combating terrorism. You do realize that’s not how fighting terrorism works, right? I explained that the people who probably need the wifi the most are the ones who can’t use their phones, thus it’s “I get both” vs “you get neither.” I finally either annoyed him enough or convinced him how stupid this logic was that he put in his own phone number and got a code for me. Victory!
From here, I rode the airport express train (less than $1!) to New Delhi railway station. I had over 2 hours to kill, so I went outside for a tuktuk. I laughed in the face of the first guy, because he thought I didn’t know where I was going. I wanted to go to the Starbucks at the nearby Rajiv Chowk Square, which is a shopping area/metro station less than a mile away. The guy said, “Oh, very far. 200 rupees.” Response: “I know how to read a map. Don’t lie to me.” I found someone to take me for 30 rupees.
Due to all of the 1-way streets around the square, I got dropped off on one side and had to walk to the other. I semi-fell for a scam, but managed to not actually spend any money in it. This guy started talking to me while I was walking to the Starbucks (always has free wifi/place to pass some time while working on my laptop), and he told me it was just around this next corner. He then led me to a travel agency, where they tried really, really hard to sell me all kinds of stuff. I wound up using their wifi for a bit, didn’t buy anything, and then went to Starbucks when I couldn’t stand saying “no thanks” another time.
After killing time and getting some tasks accomplished, I returned to the train station. It really was the pandemonium you expect. This picture doesn’t do it justice. There were also kids doing…something…on the roof and walking on top of the trains.
I took up my seat in “economy, sitting,” as described on the ticket and then applied a lesson I learned after the Myanmar disaster: I attached the straps of my bag to the shelf on the overhead luggage rack. It might fall, but not to the ground.
Now, a word about the passengers sitting around me. They were delightful, but they were clearly overdoing it on the “kids ride free with adult” thing. There’s an aisle down the middle, and the benches face each other. 3 per bench, it makes a little group of 6 people facing each other on each side of the aisle. In our 12 seats, we had a grandma & grandpa, their 2 daughters, their son + his wife, and 5 kids between the ages of 1-8. That’s 6 adults + 5 kids, plus me. It was cramped! I luckily had the window seat, at the edge of the fiasco, and they made sure to try to not intrude on me.
It was hilariously epic and awesome and so Indian, though.
I also bought 3 bags of water (which add up to almost 1 liter) for 5 rupees. I cannot express how mind-blown I am on the cheapness of this.
The people living along the train line made me really sad. “Destitute poverty” and “wow, what a hard life that must be” sentiments don’t even describe it.
My train arrived in Mathura around 8:30pm. From here, I needed to get a tuktuk to Vrindavan, the next town over. After laughing at a guy and telling him to “get lost,” when he quoted me a 500 rupees price, a guy quoted me 200, which I’d been told was around the average price, so I went with him. He led me to a bicycle rickshaw. I thought, “This can’t be serious,” but I allowed myself to climb in. This was the most beat-up bicycle or the most unfit person ever on a bicycle. I’m not sure which, but it was incredibly slow going.
So slow, in fact, that the guy realized it was going to take centuries and started trying to drop me off at other hotels along the way, despite numerous protestations. “I have a hotel already; take me to my hotel in Vrindavan!” Finally, I got out, when we encountered a tuktuk stopped at the side of the road, threw 20 rupees at him, despite the ride being worthless, and negotiated with the tuktuk driver, who swore he knew where my hotel was.
We even stopped for directions twice, I understood the hand gestures being used, and understood the the guy wasn’t following the directions. The only way we wound up finding the hotel was that I told him to take me to the giant Hare Krishna temple, knowing we’d find someone who could translate between us, get directions, and sort us out. After my 20-just kidding-45 minute ride, we finally got to the hotel, the guy wanted extra money for the extra gas used, “Not my fault, dude!” and I finally checked in, flopped down on the bed, and fell asleep.
In the morning, I figured that, since most of Vrindavan is laid out in a circle, I’d work my way around it in a clockwise pattern. After checking out of the hotel and leaving my bags in their storage room, I walked out, entered through the Bhaktivedanta Swami gate, and I was in central Vrindavan.
Vrindavan is THE holy city of Hare Krishna/a holy city for Hindus, because it is where they believe Krishna grew up and played as a child, during his human incarnation. Tell me if this story sounds familiar: born on December 25, raised by adoptive parents, was god in human form, was mortally wounded, and ascended to heaven. So, there are a lot of temples here. The main road and the gate through which I entered are named after AC Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, who started the International Society of Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON / commonly “Hare Krishna”) in the 1960s. His famous converts include the Beatles (read the Hare Krishna English versions of books, and the ‘foreword’ is usually by George Harrison) and a large portion of the US punk & hardcore music scene in the 90s.
I got a good laugh out of stumbling on this. Can I only travel to holy places within Hare Krishna, or would you let me buy a ticket to somewhere else?
This is the giant ISKCON temple. I went in.
There wasn’t much happening, I had a mediocre lunch at their vegetarian restaurant (where they were monumentally clueless about veganism and kept trying to sell me dishes with cheese), and then I continued my self-guided tour.
Near the East end of the city, I entered into the Loi Bazar.
Follow the music, and you stumble into this small room.
Leaving here, I was walking down some small street when I felt a SMACK. Before I knew what had happened, a monkey had jumped off a building, onto the back of my neck, stolen my sunglasses, and was back on top of a roof. Unbelievable. Some kids offered to catch him and get my sunglasses back (for 200 rupees – $6), but I wasn’t sure they wouldn’t hurt the monkey and/or never get the sunglasses back. I’d only paid $7 for them, after donating my others to the ocean in Thailand, so it wasn’t worth it.
I stopped at a pharmacy, got some alcohol wipes to clean my face & neck, just in case, then continued walking through the back alleys.
From here, I came across the Shri Ranganath Temple. It was closed for lunch break, so we sat in the shade collectively for a bit, then a bunch of religious people hip-checked, clawed, and otherwise beat each other to be the first ones in the door, when it opened.
No pictures inside, but it was really interesting. I couldn’t understand what people were chanting, and I definitely laughed when a monk asked if I wanted to buy a bowl of food to offer to the Krishna statue. Why? He’s not going to eat it.
From here, I came across the Govind Dev Temple. It’s abandoned, and I’m not exactly stoked on stray monkeys in cities at this point (saw lots of them hanging around), so I didn’t go in.
As I continued my walk, I came across this temple whose name I can’t determine. It’s full of glass and mirrors inside, which creates a really strange lighting/atmosphere.
From here, I cut through the center of the circle around the city and went to a rooftop bar to have an iced tea to get away from the heat and take a break.
As I continued my walk, I noticed some super misogynistic/sexist billboards for this home furnishing company. This one was the least inappropriate.
Back near the hotel, I encountered this parade.
There was really nothing left I wanted to see, and there was a lot of activity/music coming from the ISKCON temple, so I went back inside.
While I was filming this video, a white monk, who was clearly foreign, came over to ask me why I wasn’t joining. He appreciated my honest atheism, and we talked for a while. He’s from DC, knows the guys from a bunch of bands I listen to (Shelter, 108, Youth of Today, Slapshot) and gave me a tour of the temple while trying desperately to get me to buy some of their books and/or attend some lectures. Hare Krishna really had a profound impact on his life, I could tell, but that doesn’t make it true. He knew I was right but wouldn’t admit it.
After talking for a while, we parted ways with me promising him that I would at least think about the religion (I’m only thinking about how silly it is, but your blue god is definitely interesting). I stopped at the snack bar near the front entrance and tried a few new Indian foods (Kachori balls, Bunda, and this awesome Mango-flavored soda they make in-house) and wound up in a conversation with a guy who was telling me the history of Krishna consciousness, how much it’s changed his life, etc. From a psychological and sociological view, religions are FASCINATING. I’m not interested in following any, but the history and the why and the chemical processes in the brain are very interesting to me, as they relate to people following religions and how the religions came to be. At the end of the day, though, following Stone Age beliefs in a technological age just continues to baffle me.
I hadn’t originally planned to visit Vrindavan when planning my India trip, but, after hearing about it and its proximity to my next stop (Agra), it was definitely worth 24 hours.
I grabbed my bags, got a tuktuk back to the Mathura train station, and waited to catch the same train I’d come in on the night before, continuing on to Agra.
Thanks for some great times in a short period, Vrindavan!
Next up: Agra and one of the 7 Wonders of the World.