It all started with the question “होली कब है? कब है होली?”. Inspired by Sholay, this question became the nitro boost for a mind-bending trip across the heartland of India. Next thing I know, I was packing my bags and the planned food pilgrimage in Delhi & Lucknow had transformed into a playing_Holi_at_the_holy_land and food trip. Holi at Mathura and Vrindavan was suddenly irresistible.
The research had been done. The all important question of “where to eat” had been answered. Calls to true blue Lucknawis had been made. The fraud food guides were not to be trusted. Delhi, we knew “what” and “where”. Mathura and Vrindavan, we left it to the Lord. There was no other purpose of the trip but to eat. A chikan here, some ittar there, but essentially, eat your brains out.
The trip from airport to Old Delhi was peaceful, thanks to Delhi Metro. Exactly at 8:30 am, IST, I was at Karim’s, behind Jama Masjid, waiting for the life-saving Nihari-kulche to arrive.
After polishing off the bowlful of manna, we (my friend joined me at Karim’s) decided to walk around and kill some time before catching our train to Mathura. Five metres from Karim’s and we saw Md Younus’s Milk Shop and the massive glasses of Lassi and malaai and everything in between.
We looked at the glasses and did a quick mental calculation of whether we can take on those mean glasses. If you have eaten Nihari Kulche (one and a half plate nihari), you would know. We didn’t struggle much and the immediately latched on to the fun stuff.
Pure milk, cream and bliss. Now, we had to walk around. We sauntered for some time and then took a rickshaw from the lanes around the majestic Jama Masjid, and paid a visit to Mirza Assaudulla Khan Ghalib’s haveli in Balli Maran. A visit to old Delhi is never complete without it and our pilgrimage was complete.
The feeling was back and then off to Hazrat Nizammuddin station. Some hilarious railway announcements later, we were off to Mathura on the Holi-day.
Holi at the Holy Land
The moment you land in Mathura, the first thing you realize is how much you suck at Hindi, the pure form. After years of Kendriya Vidylaya education and Gulzar lyrics, realizing that you still suck at it, isn’t a good feeling. However, hope wasn’t lost and we soldiered on. Destination was the Banke Bihari temple. No reservations had been done and we just hoped we will get a dharmashaala somewhere in Vrindavan despite the flood of people, especially the equally jobless firangs.
We hadn’t changed into our Holi costumes, yet. No, not the capes and masks but worthless clothes about to be dumped, almost on their last seams.
Ten minutes and it happened. A shot of stirring water hit me from one side of the auto. I almost cursed myself at ruining my new white linen shirt only to realize it was plain water. Harmless prank. Strike one. We laughed it off and went ahead and a kilometer had passed when a second ray of plasma gun hit my friend from the other side. Still no colored water but it was strike two and like smart sports loving men, we decided not to stretch our luck. We asked the autowallah to park the auto on the side of the main road, stripped and changed into battle fatigues. On the road. Now, it was “bring it on, baby”! We eventually made it to the temple by-lanes with our luggage and had to walk our way through the maze of people already high on Holi.
We managed to find a dharmashaala with accomodation and immediately checked in, dumped our luggage and readied ourselves mentally for things to follow. Five minutes and we were in the battle zone.
The Nat Geo type lens-Nazis were making us cringe and wanting to go back to our dharmashaala and get back with our well rigged cameras and lenses. However, we decided to f&*# pride and get on with the “higher purpose” of life. Yes, eating. Eating everything one can, in this lifetime and sly benchmarking on the side. But first we decided to pay a visit to the Banke Bihari temple and see what’s the big deal about. Alternatively, we just walked into a stampede.
Yet, in our quest to become one with the Lord, we ignored all attempts by the fellow worshippers, to “outrage our modesty”. There was only one mission, survive. We were part of an almost-stampede, a higher life form which had taken control. Every living soul in Vrindavan, around Banke Bihari temple had just one mission, blast out colours with all the force they could muster. We were getting carpet-bombed by colors or gulaal from all angles. All angles. There was no hope of survival.
We survived, made it into the sanctum sanctorum. Interestingly, the chief pujari (priest) who was guarding the idol with a cloth cover was giving furtive jerks to the cloth to allow the people a two second glance and immediately covered it again. Apparently, it was to save the people from the glare of the Lord. We survived the glares, the molestation and the nauseating sweaty bodies and yet, came out unscathed (we still believe that’s what happened). On to the streets now.
We hadn’t even realised what hit us when we heard someone shouting “क्या दुबोएँगे आप?” on the streets.
We immediately knew, this is THE place. Always eat at a place where the people speak your language. So, while I was undecided on what to dubaoo (dip) given my choices were aloo tikkis and massive slabs of paneer sinfully deep fried, I heard a noise. It was the crunch of an aloo tikki which had been recently crunched by a nearby customer. That’s it, the crunch did it. Aloo Tikki was dipped in mutter gravy and served. Bliss. Lords were remembered.
No, we weren’t done. Not yet. A quick round up of the bhaang shops and we zeroed in on a seller who looked visibly animated. Copious amount of bhaang made us incredibly hungry. We proceeded to eat in a nearby restaurant which claimed it used unadulterated shuddh (pure) ghee or what we also call as “death by cholesterol”.
We polished pilaafs, rotis smothered with ghee and any dish which was named Navaratna. We had enough, we thought and decided to retire back to our dharmashaala and call it a day. We had another whole day to go through the entire routine, all over again, not necessarily in the same order though.
To be continued….