This land resounds with the call of 'Bolo Radhe Radhe' rendered by the priests, shopkeepers, workers, wherever you turn your ear to. The typical fragrant of sandalwood, flowers and incense wafts past and brings to the mind that this is the land where Lord Krishna was born, stole butter, played with the gopis and engaged in dances with Radha on moonlit nights. And it is for these reasons that Vrindavan-Mathura is still magical, in spite of the numerous changes that it's undergone. But set aside a minute or two, and imagine how a forest of basil would have covered this region, thus bestowing it the loving title of Vrindavan (vrinda-basil, van-forest). And watch thousands of enthusiastic devotees making their way through the winding lanes to offer their prayers and services for their most-loved Lord. And then there is the Braj Ras Leela, which is a centuries-old tradition of portraying Lord Krishna's pastimes, games and dances with the gopis. There's surely much more here, so visit it to watch a city trying to be what it always has been.
Cycle Rickshaws, auto-rickshaws and horse-drawn carriages are some of the modes of local transportation available in Mathura. Alternately, hire a private vehicle to move around town.
Vrindavan: Located about 8 kms from Mathura, Vrindavan is one of the most sacred regions of the Krishnalok. It is one of the stages where Krishna is said to have performed his romantic and sportive roles amidst the sacred tulsi forests, from where the city derives its name. Remember that it is customary for devotees to walk the parikrama around Vrindavan, and a paved road here is set for that purpose.
Mathura: This is a land held in great reverence because of the birth of Lord Krishna. This town is defined by the number of ghats that line it and the tall spires of temples celebrating the Lord's birth and feats.
Govardhan Hill: Located 25 kms west of Mathura, legend has it that Lord Krishna had protected the local people from the wrath of the rain God Indra by holding up the hill on his little finger. A parikrama of the hill is a sacred ritual performed by many believers.
Kusuma Sarovara: This 460-feet-long lake is said to have been the spot where gopis would pick flowers for Krishna.
Gokul: It lies 16 kms south of Mathura and is believed to be the place where Lord Krishna was secretly raised during his childhood days.
Mahaban: Another interesting site 18 kms southeast of Mathura, Lord Krishna is believed to have spent his youth days here.
The food available here is absolutely vegetarian and lacks onion and garlic too. Espcially popular are the snacks and mini meals, including a choice of aloo-puri, chana-bhatura, hing-ki-kachori and paneer pakora. The Goverdhan Palace has a 24 hour coffee shop serving Indian and continental cuisine for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Lazeeez Restaurant serves a variety of warm food with prompt and efficient service. We recommend trying out kachori-sabzi, best available near the Holi Gate at Oma. Multi-cuisine fare would be available at MVT Guesthouse - it has everything from thalis, lasagna, baked vegetables and cheesecake. Also worth trying is the ISKCON canteen Govinda, which offers thali-type meals. Mathura has the International Guesthouse, which offers thalis cooked in pure ghee. Sweet-lovers must head out to Shankar Mithai Wala near Holi Gate, which, along with chhole-bhature, also offers a fair share of the famous Mathura ke pedhe, laddoos, rabri, khurchan, kalakand, balushahi, jalebis and kheer. Shikanji and lassi are also must tries here.
Mathura is a good place to pick up religious items and its winding markets provide interesting options to look through. Different scented incense sticks, incense holders, prayer beads, devotional cassettes and CDs, images of gods and goddesses and religious books are popularly termed under 'Krishna-wares' - available at Rasbihari Lal & Sons! Also pick up some religious garments, especially the t-shirts printed with Krishna's image, and Krishna pendants and Krishna rings. The Radha Dhiraj Bazaar, adjacent to the Dwarkadheesh Temple, is the place to buy some silver jewellery. Holi Gate Darwaza is the main shopping area selling everything from eatables and clothes to stationery and handicrafts. Krishna Janmabhoomi is popular for its bangles. There are a number of stalls selling flowers, incense sticks and holy prasad along with prayer books. Small Astadhatu (8-metal) busts of Hindu deities are a must buy as are utensils for worship available at Bengali Ghats, Chatta Bazaar and Chowk. Mathura's milk products are something that are a must buy. A sweetmeat called Peda made of overly boiled milk is a must carry back. Varieties of Peda are available in Mathura; do try out the Kesaria Peda that has a generous dose of saffron. Shankar Halwai and BMB are famous for the Mathura Peda and anyone can point them out to you. Another well-known milk product called Khurchan is mouth-watering. The ghee here too is of the purest variety, so try and get a pack home.
Janmashtami is obviously the largest and most revered festivals here. Celebrated in July or August, this marks the birth anniversary of Lord Krishna. The Ras-Leela is enacted showing events from Krishna life, especially his sports with the gopis. The midnight ceremonies at the temples include bathing the image of infant Krishna, following which, it is placed in a silver cradle and prayers are offered by devotees. The entire event is accompanied by religious songs. A day after Janmashtami marks the Braj Yatra, which lasts for 50 days. Along with several rules observed by devotees, they are also required to undertake the parikrama of the shrines within Brajamandala. Equally prominent is the festival of Holi, held in March and celebrated across Vrindavan-Mathura, especially at Varsana, Nandgram and Dauji. Powder and colored water is thrown on each other and great revelries take place to the accompaniment of music, songs, dance and plays. Celebrated at Ranganath Temple, Brahamosava Festival is held in March and includes the Golden Cart Festival. Also known as Rath ka Mela, thousands of devotees gather at the temple to place the deities on a chariot and tour them through the city. Another prominent festival is Ful Dol, when the idols are decorated beautifully with flowers, especially the choicest of roses.
Celebrated in July-August for 13 days, Jhulan Yatra Mahotsava is one of the biggest festivals here, when the idols of Radha-Krishna and placed and swung on flower-bedecked swings. Also celebrated in August-September, Radhashtami is the appearance day of Goddess Radha. An all-night kirtan is held at the temple in Varsana culminating in the mangala-aarti. Held 20 days after Dusshera, Diwali commemorates Lord Rama return to Ayodhya. Especially worth-watching is the Govardhan Hill, which is lit by thousands of lights. Held a day after Diwali, Govardhan Puja involves offering made to the sacred Govardhan Hill. Large quantities of holy food is made and distributed amongst devotees. Some temples also create a hill-shaped mound of the prasada, which devotees circle and then partake their share of.
Quite a few accommodation options, from budget guesthouses to high-end hotels. Among the better-priced hotels is Best Western Radha Ashok, located centrally and with easy access to all major attractions. Hotel Goverdhan Palace is a business hotel with a difference. Set in an expanse of 4 beautifully landscaped acres, the resort has an imposing yet serene presence. Located ten-minutes from the Mathura Railway Station, Hotel Sheetal Regency is ideal for those on a pilgrimage tour. The hotel lies in close proximity to Shri Krishna Janamabhoomi, River Yamuna and Shri Dwarkadheesh temple. Hotel Madhuvan located on the Delhi-Agra Highway in a great budget hotel. Mathura Museum, The Lord Krishna's Janamabhoomi, Dwarkadheesh Temple and the colorful Main Market are in the radius of five kilometers from the hotel. Further away from Mathura, the Country Inn Resort at Kosi is just 38 km from Vrindavan. The resort offers first class amenities along with the best in personalized service. Located on the Govardhan-Mathura Highway, Gaurav Hotel is among the budget hotels located overlooking the Govardhan Mountain. Other smaller properties include Gaurav Guest House and Gaurav Boarding House at Dampier Nagar. One of the prime hotels is Hotel Abhinandan, a 3-star hotel located extremely close to the Banke Bihari Temple.
When visiting the several temples around the towns, don't miss out on a visit to Raman-Reti and the Raman-Reti Tree. It is believed that Lord Krishna and Balarama used to frequent Raman Reti and enjoy their pastimes before heading to Vrindavan. Located here are two intertwined trees, one black and one white - black representing Krishna and white representing Balarama, hence rendering it the name Krishna-Balarama Tree.