We woke up early to go to the Taj Mahal. We got there right before sunrise as the doors were opening. I highly recommend anyone going to see it to do the same. The view as you enter with the fog rising up from the river behind the Taj and the golden light hitting it just so is breathtaking. You also get the added benefit of a smaller crowd.
Today's breakfast consisted of stuffed paratha, aloo ki bhaji, aloo ki subzi, and chutni with a piece of badavi for dessert. Everything was delicious, especially the badavi which is apparently a treat made during Holi. It kind of reminded me of Peruvian picarones, but better.
We stopped by Vrindavan just before arriving in Mathura. Our driver got us a guide to walk us around town showing us the many different temples devoted to Krishna. Unfortunately he spoke in very broken English and we could barely understand him, but the gist of what I understood is that Krishna loved to steal and eat butter when he was a kid, which is awesome and really speaks to my heart. Lord Krishna is officially my favorite deity.
We'd wussed out of eating street food up till now, but for lunch, Raj, our driver, took us to get some street made samosas and they were da bomb. He also made us try this yellow spongy thing that none of us liked.... But then he redeemed himself by giving us another pastry made especially for Holi which was decadently sweet and delicious.
Since Marhura is the birthplace of my butter loving home boy, Krishna, there are many temples dedicated to him here and in Vardivan, where he grew up. We went around to check out a couple of the main sites in town including Dwarkadhish Temple, one of the main Krishna temples and Vishram Ghat, the place were Krishna rested after defeating the deamon King Kansa. Since we entered the Ghat from the side along the river instead of through the front we never realized we had to take our shoes off. That is until people started pointing and yelling at our feet. Oops. There were some people praying, lighting little oil lamps and floating them down the rive. There were also many boatmen offering a ride down the river for a better view of the ghats. We decided to pass on the boat rides since we'll be in Varanasi in a couple of days and nothing compares to the famous ghats along the Ganges there.
A little history on the use of colors during Holi. Krishna's skin was turned blue when he drank the milk of a she deamon. This made him self conscious as he was growing up and he worried that he wouldn't be able to get any ladies. His mother got tired of hearing his complaining and told him to paint the face of the girl he had a crush on and see what happened. Naturally she fell in love with him and they got married, because women love nothing more than when guys randomly assault them with paint. As a result, it became a Holi tradition to wipe powder color on people's faces while wishing them a Happy Holi.
Mathura and Vrindavan being the home of Krishna celebrate this aspect of Holi rather enthusiastically, which is of course why we came here in the first place. Holi proper falls on the 6th this year, but here they celebrate for days leading up to it and everyone and anyone is fair game! We were getting what I would consider a normal amount of powder and water thrown on us considering it wasn't Holi just yet, but then we unwittingly made a right turn into a parade. The street was lined with people on the side walks, windows, and roofs just throwing powder and colored water on everyone walking by below. We came out the other end looking like a unicorn had just peed on us!
Holi History, Part 2:
When the evil King Hiranyakashipu declared himself a god, his virtuous son, Prahlad, refused to accept him as one. Prahlad's aunt, Holika, and the King decided to trick Prahlad into sitting on a pyre with Holika believing that her magic blanket would protect her from the fire and kill Prahlad. Lord Vishnu intervened and transferred the magic blanket from Holika to Prahlad. As a result, Holi is a celebration of the triumph of good over evil.
To commemorate this, every year on the night before Holi, people burn Holika's effigy on huge bonfires. These pyres were set up in what seemed like every other block of Mathura. The pyres were made up mostly of cow dung and they were set ablaze between 9:00 - 9:30 as dictated by the priests. We went to see the burning of one of these near our hotel. The cow dung didn't burn nearly as fast as I thought it would, but we stayed until Holika's effigy was completely burnt.