- To avoid getting sick, don't drink from taps, purchase bottled water. If you have a fixed location, it is a good idea to purchase a bigger tank (like 10 l or 20 l) of sterilized drinking water to spare in expenses. A two-litre bottle costs around 20 Rs but a bigger tank may come to 5 Rs litre. At least iskcon Krishna Balaram Mandir in Raman Reti, Vrindavan sells 10 litre tanks for good rates.
- Remember to drink enough, at least two liters per day. Sufficient water is very important to keep you in a good shape, particularly during the warm season.
- When bathing in various kundas, don't take a big acaman. One or two drops is sufficient and helps you prevent disease. Some just take water and drop it over their heads. If you are doing Kunda puja with any local panda and he givs you a big palmful of water for acaman, feel free to play the part of a stupid Westerner and let most of the water flow out from between your fingers before sipping it.
- Don't spend much time outside in the mid-day heat unless necessary for a good reason. If so, always cover your head with a light chadar (for instance rip one dhoti into two pieces and use them as chadars).
- Be careful what you eat, don't buy ready-made food from the streets. The best option is to cook yourself, one can get a gas-bottle and a burner for 350 Rs and pots and utensils for 150 Rs or so.
- Use a mosquito-net to avoid being eaten up alive in the night-time. There are also handy herbal mosquito-coils you can burn to get rid of mosquitos in the evening-time, between 6.00 PM and the time you take rest.
- Though snakes, scorpions etc. are more common in Bengal than in Vraja, it is good to be aware of their possible existence. Don't go to dark places, such as the bathroom, without having light and seeing what's ahead of you. It is also a good idea to check your sleeping bag before going inside. Keep your bags closed whenever it is practical.
- Keep all foodstuffs well packed and sealed, otherwise they will be infested with ants and flies. Particularly if you have anything sweet around, loads of ants will come and infest the place. Sometimes you may need to hang something with a rope from the roof to keep it outside the greedy ants' reach.
- When you purchase fruits, vegetables and so from the market, keep them in a back-pag or a cloth bag. To use a transparent plastic bag means arranging a food for life for the local monkeys. They come and grab it without a second thought. Also keep watch on your camera, eye-glasses and so forth unless you want to give a donation to the local monkeys. If the monkeys become problematic, you may want to keep a stick with you to keep them at a distance. Strongly hitting the ground is generally sufficient to keep them away if they approach.
- Don't keep big quantities of money, passports, flight tickets etc. on you. Keep them somewhere safe and locked. Many Westerners have been robbed in Vraja, sometimes with guns even.
- If people come to beg from you, use good discretion on when to give and when to not. If you see a flock of kids around and you give a rupee to one of them, you'll not get rid of them for ages. On the other hand, donating to temples and to saints is recommended. Personally we like to donate to people who are not busy begging and hanging on to you, but to them also one may give something if he wishes.
- If you take a torch-light with you (a good idea), be sure to also take a stock of batteries. Average Indian batteries last about five to ten minutes compared to several hours of light you can get with Western batteries. Particularly at Radha Kund, there are frequent electric outages.
- If dhamavasis give problems to you, it is best to not think about it at all. Just think they are very nice and move on. To start harboring negative feelings about anyone or anything is the one thing which can really spoil the journey.
- If you need toilet paper or tissues, bring some with you, since they are rare and very expensive in Vraja. Tooth-brushes, washing powder, towels (gamchas) etc. can all be easily purchased there, so don't bother bringing too much things with you. In general, better to travel lightly, particularly if you need to move around. Most of the things you'll be needing you can purchase for a low cost there.
- When the nights are cold, be sure to wear a hat or any warm cloth over your head, covering your ears and possibly your throat, to avoid getting cold. Also in the warm season, don't sleep directly under the fan and don't keep the fan running too fast to avoid getting cold. Take woolen socks and a pull-over with you for the winter season.
- There are a lot of people who are enthusiastic to engage you in puja to get donations. Do remember that you have the freedom to choose with whom you wish to do puja of Radha Kund. When someone eagerly comes to engage you in doing puja (and in giving donations), better to start small to avoid being tricked to pay massive amounts of money. Many people think that Westerners have unlimited pockets full of money, which is often not true. An example of one of our pujas:
Panda: Now, some donation for Radha Kund seva. 5 kg, 11 kg, 21 kg rice
donation to Radha Kund, as you like.
We: How much is rice donation per kg?
Panda: On the market, rice costs 15 Rs per kg.
We (in a generous spirit): We'll donate 11 kg then.
(Then Pandaji does the ceremony at Radha Kund, confirming our vow. Then, to our surprise, he takes us to Syama Kund, though generally only Radha Kund puja is done.)
Panda: Now Syama Kund puja. To Syama Kund, same donation 11 kg rice.
(Pandaji gives acaman-water and confirms the vow.)
We (slightly annoyed): Oh, OK.
Panda: Then milk-sweet seva for Vrajavasis, 5 kg, as you like.
We (thinking: anyway, whatever...): OK, then 5 kg milk-sweet seva for Vrajavasis.
Panda: (Sprinkles a little more water.)
We: By the way, how much costs milk-sweet seva?
Panda: On the market, milk-sweets are 60 Rs per kg.
We: Right. So that makes a total of 630 Rs is that so.
Panda: And then also donation to priest, 100 Rs or as you like.
This took place right after we got out of the taxi and unloaded our baggages to the sidewalk. The Pandaji was eager to show us the place where we are going (though we knew it full well ourselves), and knew a "short-cut" (over Sangam where he stopped us and told we should do puja). Of course we couldn't refuse from the donations once the show got going. We would really have prefered to do it peacefully after bathing and so forth after the two days of travel behind us. In fact, we did puja again with Mathura Prasada (you'll find him mentioned in Tinkudi Baba's biography), and were very happy with it. Then the other panda saw that his customers had gone to others. They have a bit of quarrels over people there. He later tried to convince us that he is the Panda for all Westerners who come to Radha Kund, and that we should also tell it to others.
It is an art to promptly avoid encounters such as this. One needs to learn how to politely refuse and move on without offending anyone.
- Take some tee-trea oil or other antiseptic liquid with you to clean any wounds. It is important to desinfect and cover any wounds you may get there, particularly so during parikrama. When you go for a longer parikrama, be sure to keep a piece of cloth, the antiseptic liquid and some plasters with you.
- If you walk with sandals on (at least don't do it during parikrama!), it is a good idea to not bring your best air-cushion hyper-fashion sandals in. Whenever you go into a temple you'll have to leave your shoes outside, and this is a very convenient way to never see your sandals again. Rather purchase a pair of slippers for 60 Rs from the bazaar, or otherwise make arrangements to carry your sandals with you hidden inside a bag as you shouldn't really bring them in at all.
- If you want to move around the Vraja Mandala with a tight budget, you can use tempos (largely over-sized three-wheeled scooters with 30 people packed in) and buses for moving around. Generally you get around by paying 10 to 20 Rs instead of the 200 or so Rs it would take to go with a taxi or a moto-rickshaw (the junior brother of a tempo).
- Before going to a shop to purchase anything, ask around about the prices. If you are new there, you will easily be ripped off. Sometimes they have a sign "fixed price" on their wall, which means no bargaining allowed, but amusingly enough there are no price tags -- the fixed price is whatever the shopkeeper decides to tell you, sometimes something really outrageous. It helps to bring the prices down if you just start laughing and walking away. Before doing this, be sure that he is trying to rip you off, though.
- When going to bathe in any kunda, it is proper to first take some water and sprinkle it over your head instead of going in with your feet as the first part to touch the sacred pond. The same principle of respect applies to basically the entire Vraja Mandala. Do not think it is ordinary soil you are walking on, regardless of how it may look like to you.