Sunday, March 30, 2008

See how Sugarcane juice is made !!!!

In my earlier post, I had mentiond how we enjoyed freshly-made sugarcane juice at Shani Shingnapur. Now I can show it to you.......




If you are not able to see the video directly, click on the link below:

http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=8882978345805173439&pr=goog-sl

Friday, March 28, 2008

A Quick Trip to Shirdi and Shani Shingnapur- with Ranjangaon Mahaganapathy as a Bonus…….



Samhith’s holidays have started. At least, he has 10 days off till new term starts, and he goes to U.K.G. As usual, holidays mean travel, and that is what we have been up to, since the 22nd of March.
The trip was totally unplanned, decided on the spur of the moment. No buses were available.. It was, after all, the Holi weekend, or rather, the Good Friday, Navroze, Id-e-Milad, and Holi weekend, and everyone seemed to be on their way somewhere…. So, we did what we usually do- hire a car. We decided to visit Shani Shingnapur first, as it was a Saturday, special for Lord Shaneeshwara, and then Shirdi, and return home the same night, as Shankar and my father-in-law were supposed to go to Karjat on Sunday for the Sai water project.
We started at 5:30 AM, my mother joining us from Thane on Friday night. We took the expressway to Pune, and from there, the Pune – Nagar (Ahmednagar) Highway. The ride was smooth as the roads in that part are excellent. Babu, our driver, is an excellent driver who knows the roads like the back of his hand. He proved his worth by announcing that we were near the temple of Maha Ganapathi at Ranjangaon, which is one of the Ashta Vinayakas.( Look out for a post on the Ashta (eight) Vinayakas around Pune).We have visited the Ashta (8) Vinayakas earlier , but had absolutely no idea that this temple was on our route, and were only too happy to sop at the temple and offer prayers.
I have made the Ashta Vinayaka circuit twice, and both times, all the temples were very crowded. This is because most people visit the temples in the same order, so that they can cover all the 8 temples in the shortest possible time. This time however, we were in for a pleasant surprise. The temple was almost deserted. It was clear that they were expecting quite a huge crowd by the arrangements that were being made, but at that moment, it was just us and the God. We came away thoroughly satisfied. In India, it is considered auspicious to start everything by paying obeisance to Lord Vinayaka, and we were happy that our trip had started on the right note.
We continued our trip, hoping to reach Shani Shingnapur by mid-day, but unfortunately our car developed some trouble, and we got delayed by an hour and a half. We reached Shani Shingnapur by 1:30 PM, and the crowd there was absolutely staggering! Shankar, Appa (as I call my father-in-law), and Samhith had a bath and wore the saffron dhotis provided so that they could go near the idol and bathe it with the oil we had brought. Unfortunately, however the crowd was so huge, that as a form of crowd control, as well as for preventing accidents, they did not allow any one to approach the idol. Everyone had to handover all the puja material to the priests, and have darshan from afar.
Amma and I managed to give the crowd the slip, and soon had darshan. However, Appa, Shankar, and Samhith were still standing in the queue like good people should. So, off I went to look for them, and then managed to get them to come in the front for darshan. Thanks to this crowd-avoidance tactic, we managed to leave Shani Shingnapur by 2:30 PM.
All of us were very hungry by then, and none of the hotels nearby seemed to have place to seat one, leave alone 6 people, so we decided to stop over for a glass of fresh sugarcane juice. I must mention that the whole place is covered with sugarcane fields, and the farmers yoke bulls to the mill-like- wheels to crush the sugarcane and produce fresh and tasty juice. This is something we all enjoy watching, and we made the most of it-relishing the juice, as well as the sight of the juice-making process.
By the time we had lunch at a hotel where the food took ages to arrive (It was far too crowded, and the waiters were too few, and overworked --- poor chaps, one actually felt sorry for them, and didn’t have the heart to shout at them when we realized that the curry ad no salt!!!) and reached Shirdi, it was 5:30PM, exactly 12 hours since we had left home. If the crowd at Shani Shingnapur had looked forbidding, it was nothing compared to the crowd at Shirdi!!! The temple authorities had made good arrangements, and there were people everywhere trying to help deal with the multitudes who had arrived there for darshan of their Sai. We were so overwhelmed by the rush; we forgot to buy flowers or Prasad to offer to the Lord. We just entered the complex and took our place in the queue, which seemed endless.
In reality, the arrangements were good, and the queue wasn’t as long or the wait as endless as we had anticipated. It took us exactly 2 hours to have darshan, and we were able to have a really good darshan by the crowd standards. What turned out to be unbearable was the behaviour of the crowd. People in a crowd always seem to have a herd mentality, and they kept pushing and jostling to get to the front, never mind that they couldn’t get more than a few steps ahead. The temple authorities had thoughtfully provided areas just outside the queues, where one can get water, go to the toilet, or women can feed small kids. However, when you see people using these areas to jump the queue, it really raises your blood pressure! Anyway, people will be people, and we really aren’t concerned with the behaviour of others. We came away satisfied that we had the blessings of Sai Baba.
After a quick dinner of Pav Bhaji and Curd rice at a small hotel opposite the temple, we started back on our return journey, finally arriving home at 4:00AM, ready to start a new day, full of activity. Shankar and Appa were to leave for Karjat at 7:00 AM and return for lunch, after which Shankar, Samhith and myself were due to leave for Kumbhalgarh on the Ranakpur Express.
Look out for my next post, which will be about our Kumbhalgarh trip!!!!!

Monday, March 17, 2008

Trains v/s Planes- A Dilemma with Kids


Over this weekend, I got to know what it feels like, to be a regular business traveller. Samhith and I spent the weekend at Chennai with my sister-in-law, Sandhya, attending a function at her place. We went by train, leaving Bombay on friday evening, and returned by a night flight on Sunday, as Samhith had to attend school today (Monday). Whew! Were we tired!

Of course, the trip was worth it, because we had a blast ! Shankar's family was all there, as well as friends and relatives, many of whom we didn't remember...The function, a puja to Lord Ayyappa, went off very well.We all enjoyed it. I esecially loved the decoration (ook out for photos ..I shall upload them soon....) Samhith enjoyed the bhajan, and even sang one song !

But this post is not about the function. This is about the journey........

As I mentioned earlier, we went by train, and were lucky to get a good group of co-passengers, mostly 25 year-olds going back home after a conference in Bombay. Samhith made friends rather too fast, and thankfully, they diidnt resent it, and played with him, all through the journey, letting him listen to music on their mobiles, and showing him videos on their laptop... but even after all that, he was really tired and fed up with travelling, and wanted to get off the train... This, in spite of going in a Third AC Coach this time ! I have always enjoyed train journeys and want him to do the same, so I take along loads of books, and play some games with him almost all the time, but somehow he stil doesnt enjoy it. God alone knows how i can make him enjoy train travel a lot more.....



While returing by air, he was quite happy........after all, it is only a couple of hours...... and he asked me why we hadnt flown to Chennai too.... I tried to explain that we travel by air only when it is necessary, and that train travel itself is part of the holiday we are taking, but I dont think he was convinced...... Anyway, now he feels that it is perfectly possible to go to Chennai for the weekend, and asks me why we can't do it every weekend....



Explaining financial constraints to children is never easy, but important, and a task that I have to perform some time or the other. But I still dont know how to g about it..... We shall be travelling again, by train , during our summer holiday, and am already planning out activities to do while we are sitting indoors for 12 to 24 hours at a stretch... Hope this time around, I have more luck, and actually succeed in making him look forward to a train journey..........




All you young moms out there, Please do suggest some games or activities to keep a 5 year old busy in trains.......



Incidentally, here is another thing I have noticed..... Samhith seems happier in the II Class compartment when we are travelling more than 20 hours in the train.... Maybe because he can look outside, buy things from the vendors who swarm around at every station, and in general interact with a lot more people, than he can in an AC coach.



Now, is this something I have imagined, or is is something you too face ? I ask this of all of you, as my husband doent agree... He says that the II Class is too noisy and dirty, and there is to much dirt... Samhith can't possibly enjo it... He says I am imagining things, and now refuses to book in II Class, unless of course, nothing wlse is available.. Please do get back to me with your ideas...........

Monday, March 10, 2008

Dandeli- Kali River Lodge


A view of a cottage and tent at Kali River Lodge, Dandeli

I have been thinking and thinking about my next blog post. “Which place shall I write about?”- That is the question. Now, you might think I have visited so many places, that it is difficult to choose one of them to write about, but that is not the case.
I have always wanted to travel. I remember cutting up travel articles from magazines and newspapers, wanting to go there sometime; reading about a place in a book and imagining myself there; wanting to see everything, from the ruins of ancient civilizations, to the modern mega-cities. I have yearned to visit the deep jungles of Africa, as well as the modern amusement parks and zoos of the world….
All this was just a distant dream, one of the many dreams that I had, but this dream is at least coming true, if only up to a point- For, one of the few interests that my husband and I share is traveling. We both love going to new places. Of course, there are differences-- I love historical places, and can spend hours in a fort or a temple, lost in the beauty of the architecture, he can’t stand looking at anything for long, and can’t imagine what’s so interesting about a fort that is almost completely in ruins…..But we both love jungles, isolated, and out of the way places. And, thanks to my mother-in-law, he enjoys visiting temples (as long as it’s not only temples on the agenda J ).
In the last 6 years since my marriage, I have visited so many places, some just with my husband, some with the whole family, and every one of those trips has been memorable. I would love to write about many of those trips, but unfortunately, I am no good at keeping a diary, and, though I remember the places we went to, the details are lost, making it difficult to write about them.
I have gained so much from these trips, apart from the magical experiences- how to make a plan (No one in my family will move out of the house without making a detailed itinerary, with the last maps and distance charts), how to manage my son, who, like me, suffers from travel sickness… the list is endless, as are the places we went to……

One of the first places I visited with my husband, was Dandeli- the Kali River Lodge, a part of the Jungle Lodges and Resorts, Karnataka Tourism. We had just been married a few months then, and Shankar had a few days off. He had visited the Jungle Lodges and Resorts camp earlier during his college days, and wanted to visit the one at Dandeli. He asked me to make the bookings. It was the first time I was booking anything (other than train tickets J ), and was rather apprehensive about the cost, the quality of accommodation, etc. All my fears were baseless, however. I went to the Karnataka Tourism office at the World Trade Centre, Cuffe Parade, where the person in-charge of the Jungle lodges section was very helpful. My booking was done in minutes. Incidentally, they are always very helpful and efficient, and I would recommend them to anyone wanting to travel in Karnataka. Of course, they are not cheap, but then, one comes back from a holiday, satisfied that our money was well spent.
Traveling to Dandeli was the only problem that we faced, as there was only one bus going there from Bombay. Thankfully, as it wasn’t the holiday season, tickets were available, and after a 12 hour quite-comfortable bus-ride, we were at the resort. The resort is right at the edge of the forest, and is really a beautiful sight. The two days and three nights that we spent there were really divine
.
Enjoying our first real vacation together !! on the river and in the quarry
One morning we went for a coracle ride, which was the only adventure activity available then, but it wasn’t so much an adventure as a pleasure… and then we went crocodile-spotting… Of course, the crocodiles didn’t want to e spotted, but the guide didn’t give up, and finally we did manage to see a few of the lazy ones who were busy sun-bathing, and obviously didn’t want to be disturbed. We even went for a jungle- safari in a jeep, but didn’t see anything much except for a few monkeys and deer. There are supposed to be herds of bison in the forest, but they managed to evade us… The guide took us to an abandoned iron quarry in the jungle, from where I brought back a piece of rock as memento.



On our return to the resort, we were lucky to see the beautiful bird, the Great Indian Hornbill… a sight which I shall never forget…..

my first coracle ride !!!
We enjoyed ourselves roaming around the vast area of the lodge, walking along the river Kali which flows through the lodge, and going for treks with the local guide. We even visited a tribal village there, and brought back lots and lots of photographs as memories.
Some photos of the tribal village.. and their art !!!
For more details about Jungle Lodges and Resorts, visit their website at http://www.junglelodges.com/

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Shivaratri Experiences




6th March is Shivaratri… the day , or rather night which is especially dear to Lord Shiva, when all over India, North to South, East to West, people worship Shiva through the night. Rich or poor, young or old, whichever caste they may belong to, people put aside their differences, and gather together to worship His symbol, the Lingam. Shivaratri means different things to different people- for some, it makes no difference whatsoever-it’s just another festival, just like any other…. For some, it is the night of devotion….For some, like my parents-in-law, it’s the night they spend at the temple, singing bhajans, and soaking in the atmosphere…. For my mother-in-law, the ultimate Shivaratri would be at Prashanthi Nilayam, watching Sri Sathya Sai Baba take out a lingam from his mouth…. For me, personally, Shivaratri meant little till my marriage. I accompanied my mother to the temple, and that was all… Now, however, Shivaratri brings to my mind, the magical atmosphere at Nainar Kovil, our family temple…. I was fortunate to celebrate Shivaratri at Nainar Kovil twice, and memories of both occasions are etched on my mind forever….
Nainar Kovil is situated in the Ramanathapuram District, about 40Kms from Paramagudi. Sri Naganathar and Soundaryanayaki Amman are our family deities, and we try to make a visit to the temple, every time we go to the south. In the days of my husband’s father, it must have been difficult to travel all the way from Bombay to Nainar Kovil regularly. One must appreciate the fact that they have managed to keep up the tradition of going there at regular intervals there till this date. Another fact to be appreciated is how the family has managed to keep up the traditions of regular puja, etc, at the temple by means of a trust formed just for the purpose. The family is HUGE, and today, spread out all over the world. Yet, every Shivaratri a group from the family lands up at the temple, ready with all the preparations and materials required for the puja, a portion of which has been part of the family tradition since ages. I had heard a lot about all this fro my mother-in-law, and had a great desire to be part of it, when the opportunity came in the form of a trip to Madurai. We jumped at the chance and since my son was still small, and hadn’t started going to school, decided to participate in the Shivaratri festivities.
We started from Madurai in the morning, and went straight to Devipattinam (around 120Kms), where three are 9 rocks in the sea, arranged like the 9 planets , or navagrahas, said to have been worshipped by Lord Rama himself. They are called the Navapashanams, and are said to be extremely sacred. Indeed, it is an unique experience to perform the puja to the rocks, standing in knee deep water, an experience, which to my belief, one cant get anywhere else. One thing I must add here is that I have visited Devipattinam, twice, and have been appalled by the changes in just over two years... The first time I went, there was quite a lot of water, almost up to my waist… maybe due to high tide...(It is the sea after all..), but the next time , it was awful.. The water just barely touched my knees…..and God! Was it dirty!!! The water was almost stinking….one couldn’t believe it was the sea out there... It was more like some stagnant water…… Really, it reinforces my belief that humans don’t know how to take care of the beautiful things that they have been given…

Navapashanam
Anyway, we then visited the Darbharanyeshwarar temple there, and then proceeded to Rameswaram. (About 70Kms from Devipattinam)We had darshan of the Lord there, who was being prepared for the grand Shivaratri Abhishekam, and then proceeded towards Nainar Kovil.
Rameswaram Temple
We arrived just before the first Kaalam, or the 1st phase of the Abhishekam was going to begin….
The temple was full of the local population. But there were others like us… First and foremost, the other members of our family, some of whom I had never met before…Thank God for my mother-in-law, whom they all knew, and who introduced me to everyone……Then there were others who had come from far away.. Members of other families now settled elsewhere, but who still returned to their roots, at least once a year…. It was absolutely amazing!! I have always been a believer in the concept of a joint family as it existed in India from ancient days, and before getting married, always regretted not being able to trace my roots to my hometown… Yet here, in my new family, the first thing I found was the door that opened up endless connections….it was absolutely delightful to meet so many people, who belonged to the same family, and invariably tried to meet up once a year at the place they all originally came from…
One of my major worries when we were planning our trip was how my child would react. He was then just a baby and we wondered how we would find a quiet place for him to sleep amidst all that noise, because, if he didn’t sleep, he would be cranky, and not let us enjoy…… My fears were absolutely baseless…. Samhith slept like a log…..right in the temple corridor…. amidst all that noise... without even tossing and turning… it seemed to be the greatest miracle there to everyone… Complete strangers first scolded me for trying to make him sleep in that noise, and then, after the programme was finally over, came and asked me how he slept like that... a question I had no answer to…. Maybe, he too felt secure, knowing that he was at home, connected to his roots….
We came back to Bombay, re-connected to our roots, knowing a lot more of our relations by their first names, wondering when we would get to see them again...
The opportunity came again, the very next year…. This time, my husband was busy. So it was just me and Samhith with my in-laws…. And this time, we visited a couple of other temples- Kalaiyar Kovil and Thiruvadanai before reaching Nainar Kovil…
Again, the experience was the same… the atmosphere of spirituality blended with that of a family reunion… and again, Samhith slept through it!!!!
Samhith of course, doesn’t remember anything of any of these trips….one doesn’t really expect him to, but I certainly want to take him again when he grows up. The only hurdle to the plan is that Shivaratri usually falls during school exams, and it is difficult to get away, but I am sure the time will come, for both of us; again, to experience the same feelings… for now however, I am at home, planning to go to the nearby temple for Shivaratri. I have got the puja articles ready to be given to the temple while this year my husband makes the trip to Nainar Kovil... He will represent our branch of the family along with an uncle, while my mother-in-law will celebrate the festival at Prashanthi Nilayam.
Thus each of us will celebrate the festival in a different way, our own way, but all of us will , in effect, be connected to the same Lord….


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