Returning the Yamuna to the old ghats of Vrindavan by Members of Braj Vrindavan Heritage Alliance
Please take the time to read the following letter through which we hope to make you aware of and active in the creation of alternative development plans for Vrindavan. The letter makes three very important points:
1. Returning the Yamuna to the old ghats of Vrindavan via a channel will be easy and will result in a beautiful ghat area that attracts and can accommodate many visitors.
2. A development plan for Vrindavan that includes protection of the old town can result in economic growth, beauty and efficient flow of traffic.
3. Current development and infrastructure plans (or lack thereof) are posing greater risks to Vrindavan’s people and environment every day and therefore the time to help create and implement alternative plans is NOW.
We invite you to express your opinion in these matters by participating in the Braj Vrindavan Heritage Alliance, which meets weekly. Meeting information and public online forums for discussing the heritage, development and environment of Vrindavan can be found at www.bvhalliance.org and yvhf.wordpress.com
This letter is addressed to all of the following: The President, Chief Minister, Chief Justice of India and Political Party Leaders, the Mathura Vrindavan Development Authority, The District Magistrate of Mathura, the ADM, Chairman of the Municipal Council and its members, State and National Government Executive Officers and concerned citizens.
Every one of you is responsible for providing your people with proper waste disposal, sewage and rain and storm water management, water supply, river action plans, public works, security, traffic, planning, tourism, commerce, and local pradhans. With all respect, let me make a few observations for the benefit of your children and grandchildren regarding the heritage of Sri Vrindavan and Braj Mandal:
We need not reiterate the importance of the heritage of Braj; it is known worldwide and attracts millions of tourists and pilgrims each year. Thus it is of utmost importance both for heritage integrity and the continued prosperity of the area that the following issues be addressed: returning the Yamuna to the ghats of Vrindavan, a regulated plan for preserving Vrindavan’s heritage areas that embraces continued economic growth, and a discussion on why such plans must be formulated and implemented immediately.
The Advantage of Returning the Yamuna to the Original Ghats of Vrindavan:
To have a beautiful historical monument like the ghats, especially the Keshi ghat, is an extraordinary gift. Beautiful structures like this are also called landmarks, because once you have seen them you can never forget them. They are very rare and they remind us of some glorious past. Nothing should obstruct the vision to see such monuments, not even other beautiful buildings. The Vrindavan skyline on the Yamuna was the actual entrance door to Vrindavan at a time when people used to arrive by boat from Mathura.
The debris that has been dumped over the ghats over many years has become the base of the parikrama motorway in front of Vrindavan’s ghats. It undoubtedly represents certain practical features for those who drive along this motorway, but at what cost? First of all, the beauty of Vridavan’s sandstone ghats has been needlessly marred. Second, the Yamuna and thus sweet water has been sent farther away from Vrindavan. Third, peaceful movement has become impossible for yatris due to the abundance of motorized vehicles, dirt, black nalis, and business encroachments. In addition to all of this, the artificial debris encroachment is continuously utilized as a garbage dump. Since the whole road is illegal dumping, the public has become apathetic and has decided to keep throwing waste and constructing shops in this precious and sacred area.
Thus deprived of its natural beauty, the most picturesque part of Vrindavan has become a dumping ground. It has also become a breeding ground for many dangerous diseases. In recent years, it has even become the toilet of Vrindavan. Regardless of what plan is finally chosen, the court has ruled that sewage water is not allowed to go into the Yamuna. Finally there was a sane decision to protect the citizens from contamination.
We therefore suggest that Jai Prakash Associates, Ltd. draft a plan for bringing the Yamuna back to the ghats. If they are unable to do so, a group of engineers specializing in canal construction can be called upon. Illegal encroachments will have to be removed, but the universal gain will be great and those who face losses can be compensated.
If we can bring the Yamuna back to the ghats via a channel at least 10 meters wide and deep enough that typical Yamuna boats can navigate upon it, we would have a boating place more lovely than the canals of Venice, Italy, which millions of people go to see yearly. A restored riverfront via a channel that runs water to the old ghats would instantly turn Vrindavan into one of the most beautiful medieval cities of the world. Additionally, the ghats can be safely extended where the movements of large masses of people are obstructed and thus also be made safe for use by people with disabilities. Since Vrindavan is a city with a living spiritual culture where people come by the millions to see Banke Bihari, Radha Raman, Radha Damodar and the other famous deities, a properly cared-for Vrindavan could become an international showcase for architectural beauty, saintliness, devotion and hygiene.
Such a display of respect for Vrindavan’s heritage and culture, along with a sensible plan for managing the town’s infrastructure, will continue to draw even more pilgrims and visitors to the city most associated with Sri Krishna. A half moon flyover could never do this. It will only further mar the view of the town and the river and allow tourists to literally bypass the heart of Vrindavan without stopping or spending money there.
A Plan for Growth that Respects Heritage:
Vrindavan needs a comprehensive plan that addresses the need to preserve the sacred character of the town that is so dear to pilgrims and tourists while also allowing Vrindavan to prosper as it receives all of these visitors.
If you think about it carefully, we don’t need and we don’t want to have motor vehicles on the steps of the ghats. It is worth considering that in the classical cities and medieval towns and villages of Europe, as well as in settlements in other parts of the world where the cities are not that old, the center of town, the riverfronts and the landmarks are intensely protected and kept traffic free; only pedestrians are allowed. Therefore, in addition to the plans for ghat restoration that include extended walkways as mentioned above, here are a few other suggestions:
The old town of Vrindavan should be designated as a heritage area and motor vehicles should not be allowed inside. There should be strict guidelines in place to retain the heritage architecture of the buildings and only original materials such as sandstone should be used in restoration work. Thus, uniformity will be achieved, creating a charm more alluring than any easy access motorway or today’s often traffic-jammed lanes could offer.
Access to these areas would still be incredibly easy. We propose that the town accomplish the two objectives of traffic accommodation and environmental beautification simultaneously by creating a grove of original Braj trees on the other side of the Yamuna and making a parking area behind that grove. Visitors could then enter Vrindavan over the existing pontoon bridge or over an additional pontoon bridge established near Madan Mohan Mandir. Perhaps even a pedestrian bridge along the lines of the Laxman Jula in Rishikesh would work well. The old town can then be visited either by cycle rickshaw or on foot; motorized vehicles will be prohibited. Exceptions would be made for emergency vehicles and night delivery of goods.
The area of the old town is small, and it is very likely that the setup We have just proposed would provide for faster transport than the system in place today; traffic is often at a complete standstill because the roads cannot handle the large vehicles that travel upon them. Thus, whether considering the issue as one of heritage protection or of traffic efficiency, our proposed plan is the only sensible one. The only hurdle is educating the public about the efficiency of such a setup, making the very points we have brought to your attention here.
A Discussion on the Importance of Taking Immediate Action:
It is of utmost importance that these long term plans for promoting growth while respecting heritage be formulated and implemented immediately because the current situation allows time neither for any one of you as leaders or any one of us as citizens to delay. The continued atrophy of Vrindavan’s glory caused by irresponsible development must be stopped. If it is not stopped, health hazards, environmental damage and loss of livelihood greater than that occurring at present awaits Vrindavan.
Current actions being taken in the name of development for Vrindavan are unplanned and lack an overall vision for the future of the town and its residents. There is talk of developing tourism and a master plan for Braj tourism in Uttar Pradesh has been formulated. However, officials have not considered the main impetus for tourists, Indian and foreign alike, to make the trip to Braj mandal. The trip is made to experience the culture of a place famed for its greenery and ancient temples. All current initiatives seem to act to the detriment of this cultural image that attracts so many people. The India Ministry of Tourism’s “Incredible India” campaign does a beautiful job of marketing the things that draw people to the country’s tourism destinations. Browse through their advertisements and website and you will see that pristine heritage unobstructed by modern development is what “sells.”
There is a need not only for ghat restoration and heritage protection, but also for local infrastructure and consideration for human health. Right now, Vrindavan is not a city. It is a concrete slum. Building debris litters the broken streets everywhere. The entire town suffers from aesthetic degradation. While the rest of the world is trying to take combustible engines and pollution out of their towns, Vrindavan is trying to bring them in! This is not only an unappealing occurrence that complicates the traffic of this small-laned town. It also contributes to air and water pollution.
Structures built in the Yamuna, such as the illegal landfill being used to construct the contested flyover in front of Keshi ghat, are restricting the river’s already pathetic flow. Stagnant sewage thus slowly seeps into the groundwater to poison the people. Such water is also the breeding ground of several water borne diseases, including dengue, malaria, diarrhea and dysentery. We reiterate: regardless of what plan is finally chosen, the court has ruled that sewage water is not allowed to go into the Yamuna. Therefore it is imperative that untreated sewage immediately stop being dumped into the Yamuna and all constructions in the river be undertaken with plans to obstruct the river’s flow as little as possible.
Let us wake up! No more indifference or passivity. Vrindavan could be clean and organized like any beautiful heritage city in Europe or Singapore. We are the hosts to the pilgrims coming to Braj from everywhere around the world. Who can take action? Who can keep up a standard when administrators change all the time? A permanent forum with the power to protect Braj is necessary which includes a special administration of true welfare workers who will oversee development projects in the area.
Please do what YOU can do. We did our duty by bringing this to your attention. Now it is your duty to act.
- Save Vrindavan Dham from the flyover in the Yamuna.
- Participate in the planning and execution of sensible, holistic development plans.
- Give your support to gain World Heritage status for Braj and Vrindavan Dham.
- Demand that no more garbage or sewage flows into Yamunaji. If not we are slowly killing our wells and citizens.
Members of Braj Vrindavan Heritage Alliance