The second wave of Covid and the ensuing lockdown were physically and emotionally draining for most of us. Over the past three months, there is hardly anyone who hasn’t lost someone to this illness. Life has suddenly taken a different meaning. So, when the cities started unlocking and it seemed we could step out a bit from the confines of our homes, for some reason I thought of driving down to Vrindavan. The ISKCON temple at Vrindavan was beckoning and in a jiffy, we planned for our day trip to Vrindavan.
To start with, the road to Vrindavan from Delhi NCR is fantastic! The Yamuna Expressway was smooth, and traffic ridden. Within 2 hours we reached the exit point to Vrindavan on the expressway and had to navigate some meandering roads for another 20 minutes before we got to the temple. There are 2 toll plazas on the way to Vrindavan and both have public conveniences and a restaurant right after. The drive was truly a delight even through the scorching 42-degree Celsius summer heat.
The first thing that anyone taking a road trip needs is parking. As we approached the temple, we couldn’t find any earmarked parking spots that were open. All parking gates were closed, and we were asked to park on the road itself outside the temple. There is a parking ground right next to the temple, but the gates were closed, and the sign board said it was through temple management’s permission only, so I am not sure if that is for visitors staying overnight or for all visitors. Anyways, due to the pandemic situation there was hardly any crowd so we could get to park our car right opposite to the temple gate. During regular times, this can be a challenge.
There is a shoe stand as soon as you enter the temple. While we took off our shoes there, we realised later that there were shoe stands further inside too, so you don’t need to burn your feet on the sweltering floor right from the entrance. The temple doesn’t have too many stairs (just 4-5 steps) which makes it much accessible for the elderly. I did not see any ramps though for wheelchairs.
The ISKCON Krishna Balaram Mandir Vrindavan is where the founder Srila Prabhupada’s samadhi is situated. It’s at the left before one enters the main temple. The temple has a courtyard in front and has various donation offices, book stalls, prasadam stalls etc around it. The temple is very strict about its timings and is closed from 12:30 p.m to 4:30 p.m. We had reached at 11 a.m so had enough time to spend there. As with any other ISKCON temple, the deities were beautifully dressed and ornamented. There are three sections in the temple, one for Shri Krishna and Radhaji, the second one for Shri Krishna and Shri Balaram and the third one for Shri Nitai Gaur (Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu and his friend Sri Nityanand Mahaparabhu). On the left side of the temple is the statue of Srila Prabhupada.
There was a kirtan happening throughout and anyone could participate. There are no donation boxes near the deities as in other Hindu temples. All donations are made at the donation office with a proper receipt. One can spend long hours sitting around the courtyard and listening to the Kirtan. We were able to see the Arti during which some of the devotees started dancing as well. The Kirtan reached a crescendo during the Arti and one cannot help being captivated in such an environment.
The prasadam meals are served in their main hall at 9:00 a.m and 3 p.m. Since we had to leave earlier, we had our lunch at the Govinda’s restaurant which was the only disappointment of the entire experience. Unlike the overall ambience of sewa and devotion one experiences in an ISKCON temple, the staff responsible for serving at the restaurant were disinterested and rude. They were even quoting different rates for billing vs the monks at the billing counter. The restaurant was dingy and the food was truly average. I would recommend that one spends their time at the temple to enjoy the spirit of devotion within the temple and have a meal somewhere outside.
The one thing I noticed there was no one was pushing anyone to buy something or pay for anything. Overall, it was a delightful experience to be at one of the oldest ISKCON temples and spend our time there meaningfully. The temple was closing for the afternoon by the time we left, and the traffic was also much lesser on the road. The return trip was even more amazing as the sun gave us some leeway and with the temperature coming down the Yamuna Expressway was enjoyable to cruise along.
Few things that might be helpful to note:
- There are clean washrooms in the temple campus. Since the ground was burning hot, the monks who were manning the shoe stand were kind enough to lend us chappals which we gratefully returned as soon as we got back.
- There are no charges at the shoe stands or for the washrooms.
- The temple has a guesthouse for visitors and life patrons behind it. One would need to make bookings in advance. I do plan to spend a couple of days there sometime.
- There are ample dhabas and sweet shops outside the temple, so you don’t need to depend on Govinda’s for your meal, just drive around towards Prem Mandir which is 500 meters from the ISKCON temple. We stopped at Sukhdev ka dhaba on our way back and had sumptuous parathas.
- There were very few people wearing masks within the temple and there were no checks for Covid protocols. We wore double masks for our own safety.