The Road to Mathura

The guidebook showed a photo of a river with the caption, “Every evening at sunset, the river is full of lighted lamps, set afloat by the faithful.”

The text explained the evening ritual: at nightfall small lamps are lit, flowers are tossed into the river, and the lamps are floated onto the river with prayers. This sounded very holy. And very peaceful. And it appeared to be on the road on the way home from Agra, where we had just visited the Taj Mahal and Agra Fort. What better way to end the day than with a peaceful, serene visit to a lovely riverside village?

Everyone was up for it. The driver turned off the main highway. He slowed down and asked for directions. A few minutes later, he slowed down again, rolled the window down, and my colleague sitting in the front seat who also speaks Hindi asked for directions. I listened carefully and realized he was asking for the birthplace of Krishna. “No, no, no,” I interrupted. “Not the birthplace of Krishna, Vishram Ghat. Where Krishna rested. Look, here in the book.” Ahhh, the man pointed straight ahead. This practice continued, slowing down, rolling down the window, asking for directions – to police, to soldiers, to men waiting for the bus, to a man on a bicycle – and we eventually got closer and closer and closer to Vishram Ghat. At one of the intersections, the kind direction giver pointed to the right. The three of us in the backseat said, “Thank god we don’t have to go down that street,” pointing to the left to a narrow alleyway teeming with people, rickshaws, bicycles, and motorbikes.

I was surprised the driver didn’t park the car and tell us to take a rickshaw. Or walk. I probably would have, had I been driving. That’s another thing I admire so much about India – the persistence. It will happen.

And it did. We arrived to the river front and were told, by a priest, that basically only amateurs light the lamps to float on the river. The *real* blessing happened at his spot at 7 pm. We continued to the waterfront, followed closely by a cow. Even though we weren’t going to see the idyllic scene we had imagined, we figured we could throw the flowers into the river, light the candle, say a prayer, and set our three lamps afloat.

Once back in the car, we realized the alley was too narrow to turn the car around, so we continued in the same direction. Right to the street where we earlier had uttered, “Thank god we don’t have to go down that street.” Famous last words. We eked along, trying to avoid pedestrians, bicycles, motorbikes, rickshaws, and the occasional other car. A couple of times my colleague in the front seat had to get out of the car to move a parked motorbike over a few inches, so that we could continue. Most people walking by laughed as they watched us try to navigate the tiny alley, although a few hit the car, raised their hands in a questioning position, and asked what I believed to be the Hindi version of “WTF?” We were the sole source of what must have been the village’s worst traffic jam in ages.

After what seemed like forever, we were back on the highway. Several minutes passed in silence until my colleague said, “I don’t think that guidebook is so good.”

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