Day 25: Thursday 16th March
We began walking out of Agra just as the sun rose. After about an hour of walking through the streets at dawn, we passed a magnificent building that we quickly identified as the tomb of Akbar the Great. Everyone decided to go have a look and we spent a few minutes admiring the ornate facade before moving on.
The city seemed to stretch on forever and it took most of the day to pass through all of its outer rings of industrial landscapes.
We stopped for lunch in an empty area near a water pump, behind a chai and soda shop building on the highway.
At sunset, after walking almost 30 kilometers to Farha, we came to a beautiful temple with lush gardens and banana trees, a wide area of brick-paved ground, and a water pump. They offered it to us for the night. We had space for a fire and were able to cook a full dinner of stew, rice, and roti. We fell asleep to the sound of bells and singing from the temple.
Day 26: Friday 17th March
The walk from Farha to Mathura was through a similar highway string of industrial pockets as the ones we saw the day before.
This is a very densely populated part of India. The highway we are walking alongside of now is wide, fast, and crowded with every kind of vehicle. There are also more billboards and other forms of commercial advertising. One in particular, a ubiquitous shoe ad, taunts us with: “Don’t Walk. Drive.”
This part of India – Uttar Pradesh — also celebrates Holi with extra fervor and people are still dousing each other with colored powders and liquids.
Trucks filled with people doused in a dozen different colors are constantly passing by, and occasionally someone runs up and tries to throw a bucket of colored water on us. Here, people also take the celebrations one step further by play-fighting with sticks, trying to hit each other. By the time we arrived at the edge of Mathura, we had come to a friendly stick-fighting crowd of several hundred people, in addition to hundreds more attending Holi celebrations in a huge tent.
We ended up being very lucky and found a very friendly and comfortable place to spend the night. A man by the side of the highway read our flier and introduced himself, telling us that he was from Bhopal and had been affected by the gas himself. He first offered everyone water and then offered us a large and beautiful room underneath his roadside restaurant, Neel Kalam. Feeling very relieved and grateful, we stayed there for the night.
Day 27: Saturday 18th March
We didn’t have to get up early today but we are too used to getting up before 5 a.m. to be able to sleep very late. Most of the padyatris chose to spend the morning going to see some temples in the centre of Mathura. Mathura is a major religious site because it is the birthplace of the Hindu god Krishna. The whole city revolves around Krishna. We even passed a billboard advertisement that showed Krishna as a child talking on a cell phone.
Krishna: “Hello, Krishna speaking. Want to do multimedia?”
Our first stop was a beautiful temple perched high on a long staircase flanked by two statues the size of four-storey buildings, one of Ganesh and one of Hanuman. Hindu and Muslim padyatris alike climbed the stairs, rang the bells, and circulated admiringly through the temple.
The group then spread out through the streets of Mathura, many
checking out the inside of the Hare Krishna temple just down the road. Here the streets were filled with Westerners dressed in flowing gowns, people who obviously had been living there for a while. It made for a very surreal street scene.
Hare Krishna HQ
As people gathered back around the first temple, we were attacked by some monkeys. One monkey ran up and grabbed an orange out of somebody’s bag and when Munna Lal approached it the monkey jumped on his shoulders and gave him a good shaking. This part of Uttar Pradesh seems to be filled with monkeys, so we’re dealing with the same, very crafty monkey tactics every day.
After wandering through temples it was time for some more serious work — we headed to the center of Mathura for a press conference. The commercial center of Mathura is an extremely dense, chaotic place and it took quite a push to get through the main drag with our banners.
People in Mathura seemed especially interested in both our presence and what we had to say, snapping up fliers as fast as we could hand them out.
After stopping for about 45 minutes to speak to the press at a restaurant space given to us for the occasion, we continued through the maze of Mathura until we got back out on the highway to Delhi. Vikas and Sateesh went ahead on the motorcycle in search of a place for us to spend the night. They found a man named Ravi Pappu who happily let us take over his empty factory property on the side of the highway.
That night was especially celebratory. Although we become more and more excited and anxious the closer we get to our journey’s end in Delhi, there is also a sense of not wanting this padyatra to end, as difficult as it is. The stars shone bright as people drummed and sang together, now with countless pairs of bells people bought for 5 rupees each outside of the Krishna temple in downtown Mathura. All together, we made a beautiful sound.
Day 28: Sunday 19th March
On Sunday morning we finally broke through the seemingly endless industrialised zone that stretched between Agra and Mathura and found ourselves walking through wide open fields again.
For lunch we stopped at a small building used as the office of the District Cane Manager, which handles all things related to farming sugar cane in the area. It was a real refuge of a place, with lots of shade and a meticulously kept garden behind a water pump.
After food and some afternoon naps, we continued on to our goal for the night — the town of Chhata. The walk took us through more crop fields.
These things kept crowding us off the road – and almost knocking us off our feet – carrying wheat husks, we think.
The sun set on us just short of Chhata and we ended up stopping at a small, yellow school building for the night. It had a water pump about 50 meters away, but no electricity. Sathyu, Rachna, Champa Devi, Rashida Bee, Irfan, and Lila Bai cooked a particularly special dinner of Kadhi — made from chickpeas, flour, and yogurt, served with rice. After dinner, everyone quickly went to sleep, despite the persistence of clouds of mosquitoes.
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