Through the centuries many poets and saints have written about the sacred land of Braj and created mental images of a serene lush paradise. Those descriptions of a Braj before the 20th century regale us of a time of resplendent sadhus living in the verdant bounty of nature. Time has marched its feet upon that past version of Vrindavan. If you want to enjoy the natural beauty of India today you don’t think of Braj as the place to go.
Writers who describe the Vrindavan of today tell us of either the spiritual benefits in associating with the many sadhus, ashrams and temples in the area; or conversely they warn us about the ongoing degradation of the environment along with the effects of that on the once peaceful spiritual culture. The unstoppable force of modernization is written about and lamented over by so many for years now.
The many different people involved in creating a tourist attraction out of Braj have understood the desire of modern tourists. They want modern facilities in order to have a pleasant experience on their vacations. Because there are so many people who see the potential of Braj as a tourist destination for Hindus, there are also many plans to build and build all over Braj as has been going on for some time now.
Vrindavan as a concept for spiritual tourism is seen by many as the death knell of Braj. They fear that modernization will only make the current environmental and social problems worse and worse. They want to stop it all and remake Vrindavan into what it was in the past – a quaint bucolic hamlet surrounded by the India of old. As sentimentally appealing as that is, it is also unrealistic. Vrindavan and all of Braj is being transformed into a tourist destination for Hindus. It cannot be stopped – but it can fail and make things worse than they are now – by increasing the load on an already fragile overburdened ecosystem. That failure will come if the experience of Braj is not what the tourist wants it to be when they come to visit.
What they will find in Vrindavan, unless change comes on a large scale, is similar to what is found in many non-tourist places in India – many social and environmental problems causing an unpleasant experience for people who want to relax and enjoy a vacation.
If you build a nice resort hotel or condominium project near Vrindavan to attract tourists, why would they choose Vrindavan over some other place in India? The attraction is the spirituality of Vrindavan. Braj cannot compete with the many naturally beautiful areas in India like beach, mountain, or hill resorts. Nor can it compete with big cities which have so much to offer a tourist. Building a resort complex in Braj is in the hopes of bringing Hindus to experience the land of Krishna. It is a spiritual vacation. They come for Krishna Lila.
They may know that Krishna lives in the mythical Vrindavan of the ancient past, but still they want to experience as much of that beautiful past as they can when they visit today. The Braj plan by the many developers seeking to turn it into a mecca for Hindus, is dependent on its success in creating the sense that Krishna would want to live there today. Tourists will want Vrindavan to be a place worthy of Krishna’s Lila. They will come back over and over for a beautiful and serene Vrindavan experience. Will they come back to what Vrindavan is now?
The handful of groups working to improve the cleanliness and environmental problems in Braj are not nearly powerful enough, and not nearly supported enough as it is today. What Braj needs is what can be seen in other successful tourist areas around the world where business interests work together for the common good of them all. They form associations and with that group power they do what needs to be done to make sure the tourist experience is as pleasurable and safe as can be for visitors. If you go to Hawaii or any other modern and successful popular tourist dependent area, you will find that any and all environmental problems are promptly taken care of – because the tourism industry understands that their job is to make sure the tourist feels like they made the right choice for a vacation. They know their business model depends on a beautiful experience for their customers so they will come back and recommend it to others. Otherwise those customers will take their vacations elsewhere.
Why is that not happening in Vrindavan? Why is the business and political community not getting together to fix the obvious problems as they build and build in the hopes of a spiritual tourist stampede? Braj may get the serious spiritual seekers coming to Vrindavan over and over, but those types of people will put up with the unpleasant environment. Most Hindu tourists are not like that. There are far nicer environments in other sacred tirthas where they can spend their vacation money on if they want to take a spiritual vacation.
Vrindavan CAN be saved from its own popularity. But that is dependent on the government and developers understanding the importance of fixing the problems on a permanent basis as fast as possible. Otherwise all the new development will place more burdens on an already bad situation. The longer they wait to fix the problems permanently then the bigger the problems become. Thereby making it more difficult and expensive to fix them. The UP government with the developers need to act now to Make Vrindavan Great Again.