Parking space is scarce for thousands of devotees coming to temple town everyday
Parking space is scarce for thousands of devotees coming to temple town everyday

Nightmare before dream encounter in Vrindavan

Spiritual trip of devotees, particularly those coming from faraway, often ends up in trauma, all credit to parking lot owners on prowl 

VRINDAVAN:  Spiritually electrifying — even this phrase doesn’t do justice to the experience one has standing in front of Banke Bihari, the Krishna, and presiding deity of the famous Vrindavan temple. Provided one is allowed that moment of stillness and peace in the 1,200 square feet courtyard packed with thousands any time in front of the idol.

“You are lucky if you have that eye contact,” says Rajendra Sharma, selling sweets in the 14-yard lane leading to the temple. But no amount of luck can help you escape the wrath of the notorious traffic and “parking mafia” of this temple town. They have flourished because of the sudden surge in the number of devotees, especially post Covid-19 pandemic. The influx now is almost 10 times more than the hosting capacity of Mathura-Vrindavan twin towns. Often the spiritual trip of devotees coming from far away ends up in trauma, all credit to the parking lot owners on the prowl.

These private parking lots have emerged as the biggest centres of harassment for devotees coming on a spiritual pursuit to the town, says Naveen Kumar, a Mathura resident. While the upper limit of the holding capacity of the two towns is 20,000, it has to host 1 lakh visitors on a normal day and the number jumps to 2-2.5 lakh on weekends and even 5-6 lakh on big days like Krishna Janmashtami.

The number swells unrealistically even on extended weekends like Sept 31-Oct 2 this year when the lanes of Vrindavan remained choc-a-bloc for three days, says Sharma. On weekends, more than 20,000 vehicles enter Mathura-Vrindavan city. Vehicles coming from Yamuna Expressway on Chhatikara to Vrindavan route, and also Mathura-Vrindavan route are all affected, says Vineet Singh, a local resident.

The local municipal corporation runs just three parking lots. Besides, it has given licence to 36 local residents to run private parking lots. The total capacity of these lots is not more than 4,500. Therefore, unauthorised parking spaces have mushroomed across the city and on the road leading to the city from Agra and Delhi, says Sankesh Srivastava, a lawyer, who lives in Old City area.

On the forefront of these illegal parking lots are musclemen and goons. While the local police use barricading and have issued vehicle passes to the local residents to regulate vehicles coming from outside, these private parking lot owners put their own barricades to catch unsuspecting outsiders on the wrong foot and force them to use their parking lots, Srivastava says.

The local residents of Mathura and Vrindavan have literally stopped visiting the temples owing to the traffic snarls and related harassment. “Not only do we face the traffic woes in any emergency situation but also feel left out when we fail to visit Bihariji and have smooth darshan of our own deity,” says Balbir Saini.

This often leads to scuffles. Recently, a video went viral in which attendants of a private parking lot were seen assaulting a vehicle owner. “This was not an isolated case. However, these parking lots have surfaced as a kind of necessary evil. Local civic and police officials choose to ignore them as without these, thousands of vehicles coming to the town would lead to unimaginable chaos,” says Srivastava who has many tales of harassment of visitors by private parking lot owners to narrate.

It has emerged as a lucrative business. Anyone who has even a small plot of say 1000 square feet has turned it into a parking facility, not only in Mathura and Vrindavan, but also on the climb to Radha Rani temple in Barsana. Some of these lots are so small that they can’t hold more than 10 cars.

Municipal Commissioner Shashank Chaudhury expressed his inability to speak on the issues related to perpetual traffic congestion in Vrindavan and the excesses of the private parking lot owners, saying that he had joined just four days back.

However, other officials say that the civic body does crack down on these illegal lots. Besides, it is planning to construct seven more parking facilities. Besides traffic management, the state government has proposed to construct a corridor to regulate crowds at the Banke Bihari temple, which is the strongest magnet.

However, the proposal is under litigation as the ‘sevadars’ of the temple have moved court against the proposal to use the offerings for the construction of the corridor. The two towns have more than 20 prominent temples, which attract devotees from across the globe. As per the official data of UP’s tourism department, Mathura-Vrindavan hosted nearly 6 crore tourists in 2022-23, second only to Varanasi.

“Earlier, Goa used to host the maximum number of tourists in the country. However, last year, the coastal state welcomed 80 lakh tourists. In comparison, Kashi alone recorded a footfall of 7 crore devotees. Similarly, 6 crore devotees reached the Braj region last year, showing the rise in inclination towards religious tourism,” Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath said recently in Mathura while reviewing arrangements for crowd control at Banke Bihari temple.

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