On the trail of the elusive stepwells of Vrindavan.
Driving south to Fatepur Sikri we diverted to a town called Vrindavan. I apologise for my ignorance but I didn't realise it was one of the holiest Hindu sites in India. I was on a search for stepwells and there appeared to be some unusual ones.
On the outskirts of town we found a delightful faded arcade on the side of a dried patch of flat land that doubled as a cricket pitch.
The young cricketers didn't know anything about a baori or stepwell but we found what we were looking for a little way further down the track - incongruously shielded by metal gates. A delightful shady place looked after to some degree by a couple of priests; the forehead of the younger one is smeared with dried mud.
We headed into town which became a gridlocked mess of cars, including ours, trapped in small lanes that the drivers should never have attempted. Vrindavan, we realised, was a holy town full of Krishna devotees here to cross the river in colourful boats and visit all the shrines. The narrow lanes were crowded with stalls selling food and devotional gifts for the gods. Our car was stuck so we jumped and arranged to meet up later.
"You must take off your glasses, the monkeys will steal them" were our driver's parting words. I was sceptical but Tsering, my Ladakhi companion, insisted. Outside the car it was mayhem, though everything was a bit of a blur. Add it up: A holy Hindu town; monkeys are sacred to Hindus and run free; there are stalls full of food and shiny objects; and strangers who don't listen to advice.
Thousands of monkeys were running riot, stealing food and being threatened by small boys and stall keepers with long poles and water bomb catapults. We put away our phones and cameras and made it out of the chaos to the apparent safety of the riverside with colourful boats taking people across the river to a holy island.
We start to walk along the quite river bank, I relax and ignoring Tsering's cautions, put on my glasses. I want to see what's going on. Wham! I think I've been jostled but a monkey has landed on my shoulders and stolen my glasses. It runs off and jumps on to a low roof. Sits there looking at me and chewing them. I climb a ladder and get the full bared teeth and frightening face of an aggressive monkey. This is not a good idea. What to do. I don't know, it's only two metres away but isn't going to give up. Rabies? Going after the monkey isn't a good idea and besides it can jump and run to places where I couldn't go.
Local knowledge comes in: a stallholder throws it a carton of orange juice which it grabs and drops the glasses. So that's what to do in future. My glasses are slightly the worse for wear but at least I can see again.
What looks like a dried up old stepwell with elegant Chhatris near the river bank is actually a bathing ghat no longer reaching the water.
We venture back into the centre of town but all the stepwells we find are only open for certain ritual times of day. Nearby is the town of Mathura where we find a magnificent lakeside palace that we can't enter and a few strangely modern water tanks.
Next stop: Fatepur Sikri where we discover the Octagonal Stepwell and the Old Caravanserai stepwell located outside the famous Elephant Gate.
Back home I find a delightful aromatic Vrindavan incense made by Pure Incense; the name and the aroma bring back memories of the few hours we spent in this intriguing town. Recommended.