I had never experienced Holi, the festival of colors, in a way than I experienced it this time. Since childhood, I was warned of not involving myself into playing Holi with others as because of the the chemical components of the color are harmful for skin and bla bla bla. Shedding the fear and the warning that had prevented me from experiencing the limitless joy of being drenched in colored waters, I let the inhibitions finally go off. One fine morning being bored of the repetitive schedule of every day life, I called up my photography partner and we planned for a trip to Vrindavan, Barsana and Nandgaon to be a part of the most mind blowing celebration of Holi that happens in India or around the world. These places are the core of this celebration. The origin. The holy place of Vrindavan, the city of Gods and temples provided us an inn for our night stay. We were on a very tight budget as we were spending from our savings. It was one of my long cherished desire to just set off for an unplanned tour someday for a while beyond regular travel companions or family. So this was it.
Barsana is some 42 kms away from Vrindavan and Nandgaon, 8 km even more from Barsana. In short, these places were the dwelling places of Radha and Lord Krishna and their love that kindled and blossomed in their times. People here celebrate the legacy of their love affair even today with colored powders and jets of water. So, as obvious these places have great historical significance to Hindus and most importantly for Holi.
We started our journey from Howrah in Avatoofan express, at 9 o’clock in the morning. Personal advice, don’t take it. It was 8 hours late and it usually does so. As it was a last minute plan for us we were out of options. Anyways, we were scheduled to reach Mathura at 4 pm next evening, but reached at 11:55 pm. Autos are available at night, so not to worry for road transport service even if you land up to such a situation. Reached our hotel, Sri Radha Palace, near police chauki, for 200 rupees. The hotel was decent for about Rs 600 a day, though services like food on call was below the level of expectation with hardly any variation and late service for food. Anyways, all set for next day, cameras packed in rain covers and plastics to be sheltered from the colored powders and unprecedented water jets.An auto at 8 am, just outside the hotel charged Rs 100, for going to Chatikara, the point on the high way from where bus and auto are available for Barsana. Bus costs Rs 34 each, auto around Rs 40. Don’t take advice from auto drivers to take you directly to Barsana, they charge a hefty amount ranging from Rs 200 to 400, which is insane!!! One more suggestion, usually it’s cold enough to be comfortable, but chilly wind in the uncovered autos makes the cold bitter. So an advice, don’t take too much of heavy winter clothes as you are bound to get drenched by the water jets, rather a rain coat suits everything, from fighting the cold to remaining safe from water jets. Keep a pouch bag for small and essential itinerary items. The view from the road is a sigh of relief with extensive green fields and some unrecognizable birds at a distance similar to cranes, sipping from water bodies.
Anyways, coming to the point, we reached the main entrance of the Temple village of Barsana. A large gate at the entrance of the village welcomed us in. Hundreds of photographers and visitors from different corners of the country and beyond thronged the road up to the temple. The narrow pakka lanes had turned colorful and people waiting on the balcony of their abodes were welcoming the people passing by with water jets and powders of gulal. Children were mischievous and mostly the women were the target of the water jets. No mercy for anyone, photographers, women or children. Caucasian women travelers and photographers of far away lands beyond the border are often the prime target, be careful, if you are uncomfortable with some unprecedented attack on you.People dance and sing all along the way up to the temple, through the narrow lanes and the rugged terrains. On reaching the main temple there is another one, a few hundred meters away and some feet higher than the main. People rejoice here too.
Outside of the temple from a distance, an aerial view of the village can be seen.The journey on foot to reach the hilltop is tiring and people rest for a while overlooking the village below.On reaching the main temple which remains open to the public from the morning till 12 noon and then reopens its doors at 4 pm in the evening, witnesses a sea of people rushing in. The colored powder here is mostly red and it over saturates the air inside the temple at times too much to make it difficult to breathe.It is a divine scene to witness. Photographers throng around them and from the upper tier of the temple terrace from where red gulal is thrown at the men singing below.
People roll on the floor either in a form of offering prayer or in a playful manner.The floor turns red by the gulal, it feels like red clay and is slippery. Be careful.In the mean time, women of Barsana get prepared with bamboos to beat up and prevent the men coming from Nandgaon and to plant in the flag of their village on the temple of Barsana as a symbol of their victory. This is why it is named as Lathmar or Latthamar Holi. It is done in a ferocious yet playful manner trying not to hurt anyone, as the men prevent themselves by a shield while the women shower with the blows of bamboos.Finally the Latthmar takes place in the evening, upon the arrival of the men which continues from around 4:30 to 6 pm.Towards the end of the day, it was hard for us to find a vehicle to be back to Vrindavan. I mean it’s seriously hard luck, autos refused to go, no surety of buses as dusk sets in. But finally found some luck. A word of caution, take light packaged food for the day as nothing much is available while one wonders in the lanes of Barsana. Get some breakfast early morning. We were too excited for the day to leave early morning without a breakfast, except a packet of bourbon biscuits. Some snacks, fried stuff, lassi etc are available but that hardly suffices at the time of lunch. We practically went without food all day until we reached back hotel to a delight of roti and sabji, that felt like being in paradise. We hardly realized in the excitement that we remained practically empty stomach the whole day, until we saw the plate of food. Next day, we set off for Nandgaon. This place appeared a bit steeper than the uphill climb for Barsana. Frankly speaking somewhat we and many other fellow travelers and photographers found the people of Nandgaon, a bit offensive and hostile. May be it was our bad luck that we came across a handful of such men in the midst of some great people who welcomed every visitor to their village. Unlike Barsana, the deities are open to the people to be photographed without restriction. The area of the temple is vast. Without going into much details I would just put in some pictures as the events are nearly the same here too.
The view from the top of the Temple roof of the village and the far away land in the beauty of setting sun is amazing. To get the bird’s-eye view shots of the events happening below or that of the surrounding village, one has to have a prior permission as the roof remains heavily guarded by police, but one can always find a way for taking shots with a little coax and smile to the policemen who will let you climb the stairs to the rooftop.
The third day was for Vrindavan. The Banke Bihari Temple was a kilometer away from our hotel. It was drizzling since morning with overcast condition and we knew the shots of light filtering in the temple and creating beams and rays would be missed. Nevertheless, we had to go with whatever the condition was. As the gates of the temple opened in the evening, we just went with the flow of human stream. The curtains from the deities were taken aside and a rain of flowers pelted down upon us. It was mesmerizing. For one moment it lets you to stop clicking and just feel the moment of tranquility. At this point, one really feels to be in paradise, like the TV programs of the 90’s that showed us the gods and the goddess in heaven welcomed by flowers. It was magical. I bet one would hardly experience anything like that anywhere else. A few moments later the pushing and the shoving of constant stream of people finding way into the temple made me realize I was there to click. From one side comes the rain of flowers, the lumps of colored powder from the other end and the jets of water from another. This phenomenon goes on for 5 days at a stretch from morning to noon and afternoon to evening on daily basis. Unfortunately, we could experience only for a day as we were on a tightly scheduled tour.
Finally we had to pack our bags for the train at 4 o’clock in the next morning, Chambal Express. Though I had to regret as my camera stopped functioning properly and somewhat the images inside the temple lacked clarity, but the experience, the memory that I gathered, will forever remain fresh, functional and clear. It’s a life time experience even for an agnostic. There were still many more things to be covered and one trip is not sufficient enough to quench one’s thirst for the search of something more that is always a possibility in this land of the lords and gods, the creator, the Almighty.