No matter which corner of India you go to, you are certain to find temples – there are ancient temples, some of them almost crumbling, yet standing distinguished by their wonderful architectures and sculptures, and then there are the newer temples, beautifully designed and well maintained, thronged by crowds who come to enjoy the ambience as much as they arrive to pay respects to the deity. My choice is clear – I prefer the older ones, even though they may be in ruins, though by no means do I avoid the newer temples. We visit all kinds of temples when we visit a place, and did the same on our Alibag visit.
As soon as our trip was finalised, we made a shortlist of the places we wanted to visit, and right on top, preceded only by the beach, were two temples, both ancient ones we had read about. Once we reached there, we were told about a newer temple worth a visit, and we added that to our list too. This final part of my Alibag travelogues is a description of these 3 temples.
Datta Mandir – Chaul
Chaul is about 15 Kms from Alibag, and the drive takes us through the picturesque villages of Akshi and Nagaon. There are three prominent temples in Chaul – the Rameshwar Mandir, Datta Mandir and the Hingulja Devi Mandir. Of the three, we visited only the second, which we had heard quite a lot about.
The Datta Mandir, one of the oldest temples dedicated to lord Dattatreya, houses the swayambhu padukas of the deity. The temple is situated on a hillock just on the outskirts of the village, and one has to climb about 700 steps to reach the temple. 700 steps seems quite a large number, but the climb takes barely half an hour. Even if you climb slowly, taking rest on the conveniently placed benches all over, it will not take more than 45 minutes. Though the hill is a bit steep at places, it is quite an easy climb. Even my father-in-law, who is 70 years old, managed the climb without much trouble.
We visited the temple in the afternoon, and there weren’t many people around, but the hill is covered with trees (in spite of some deforestation) and neither did we feel the heat, nor did we lack company, for while the trees provided us some shade, the constant chattering of birds provided us company. In fact, there were so many birds we heard, I climbed quite slowly just so that I could identify some of them. What a pity, I could identify only the birds I see everyday at home. If you are interested in bird watching, carry your binoculars. You never know when you might spot something interesting!!!!!!
There are a couple of smaller temples midway, which also provide you with a place to rest, and the main temple is right on top of the hill, providing a magnificent view of the surroundings and the sea, especially a great view of the Revdanda port.
The temple itself is a small one, built around the padukas (footwear) of Lord Dattatreya which appeared on a black stone at this place. Right behind the padukas is a beautiful idol of the lord with his three faces representing the holy trinity of Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva.
Behind the temple is a small shop selling puja articles as well as some toys and photographs of the deity for the devotees and the children they drag up the hill. But the real pleasure is in the refreshing lemon juice that he gave us. Sitting at the top of the hill, sipping the juice, feeling the wonderful breeze and enjoying the view is something I shall never forget!
The Hingulja Devi Mandir is accessible by a mud road leading down from the Datta Mandir, or by a set of steps from the opposite side of the hill.
One of the oldest Shiva temples in Alibag, the Kankeshwar temple is about 12 Kms from Alibag. Here is an interesting geographical fact about Alibag – the road leading from Mandwa to Alibag is the main highway, along which, there are frequent crossroads on both sides. While the roads on the right lead to the beaches, the roads on the left lead to the hills. In effect, the area is bounded by the hills on one side and the Arabian Sea on the other. Maybe that is why this place is so beautiful!
Getting back to the temple, this one is also atop a hill. The height of the hill is about 900ft and there are around 650 steps. However, it takes at least an hour to climb up this hill, unlike the Datta Mandir, which takes just half the time, in spite of having almost the same number of steps! The reason for this is that this seems to be not just one hill, but a small range of hills. The first half (about 300 steps) is the hardest, being the steepest of the lot. After that, most of the time, we walk on a sort of plateau, with a few steps in between, and in some places, we actually go down a little!
Another interesting thing about this temple (or rather, the steps) is that there is a board right at the entrance, followed by others at regular intervals, which state that the walk along the stairs takes us along 5000 ‘steps’ to reach the temple. This confused us for a while, until the explanation dawned on us. By steps, what they mean is – paces! One has to take approximately 5000 steps (as in strides) to reach this temple! The walk is of course, tiring, but again, the scenic beauty of the hill makes it worthwhile. The hill is part of the Kankeshwar forest, and is covered with trees – especially Banyan – which provide ample shade for the pilgrims.
The steps themselves are ancient ones, but made with pilgrim conveniences in mind. Every step is a small one, followed by a stretch at a slight incline, which allows us to relax before we take the next step. We climbed quite slowly, taking our time, photographing the multitudes of birds, resting at regular intervals, and reached the temple in one and a half hours. Shankar and Samhith had much more energy, and reached the top within an hour!!!!
The temple was as much of a surprise as the walk to the temple. While I had expected a medium sized temple with nothing else, the temple was rather big, surrounded by many smaller temples. There were quite a lot of shops too, selling every kind of snacks and beverages. There were also a few houses there, occupied mainly by the priests, but there is also accommodation for pilgrims.
Since we went there early on Sunday morning, there weren’t many people around, and the priest who was busy with his regular duties helped us with the puja and then told us that the temple was quite crowded on Mondays and other special days. He was too busy however, to give us more information about the temple and accommodation.
Right outside the temple is a sweet water tank, known as the pushkarna kund, which is now closed to pilgrims.
There is also another water-tank near the temple, known as the Brahma kund. Right next to this is a temple of Lord Hanuman (Maruthi), which, it seems, is a popular temple with the devotees visiting the temple.
Even on Sunday morning, there were a few people along with us who climbed up the hill. Most of them were regulars, and soon left us behind. In fact, a few returned even as we were still climbing the steps!!! One such gentleman was praying in the sanctum when we arrived, and it was a pleasant surprise to hear the beautiful way he chanted not only the usual slokas, but also the rudram!!!! Can you imagine a better way to begin the morning, sitting in the small sanctum, next to the lingam, the whole place echoing with the sounds of the Vedas?
After a short rest and a cup of tea to refresh us, we were ready for the downward journey. While the journey up was tiring, I had great trouble getting down, my sandals letting me down every now and then, slipping due to the incline. Finally, I took off my footwear, and climbed down as fast as I could. Even then, it took more than an hour!!
On the way down, we saw this beautiful sight of a train weaving its way along the fields, on its way from the RCF factory at Alibag to their factory at Bombay. It made a wonderful scene….
No autos are available at the foothills. One has to cross and tracks, walk to the village on the other side, and then one might find autos at the main road. We weren’t so lucky, and had to wait until our host got his car out and collected us. If you hire an auto to get to the temple, make sure he waits for you, or at least comes back after a couple of hours for you… otherwise, hire a car!!!!!
Vikram Vinayak Mandir
The third and last temple we visited on this trip was the Vikram Vinayak Temple at Salav, about 20 Kms from Alibag. This temple, built by the Birla Group as part of its Vikram Ispat Factory Complex, is like all such other temples, popularly called the ‘Birla Temple’.
The white marble dome of the temple is visible from the Revdanda port while we approach the temple, and the temple itself is built on a small hillock, every inch of which has been beautifully and tastefully laid out and maintained.
The main deity (unlike most other Birla temples) is Ganesha, and the idol is a beautiful one of white marble. There are also other deities, such as Shiva and Parvati, Radha and Krishna, Bhavani and Surya who have their sanctums around the main one.
The lush green grass surrounding the temple was an inviting sight for our tired feet, and we blissfully laid ourselves on it, while Samhith picked up seeds which had fallen from the trees. Every evening, after the sun sets, lights are turned on, and the aarti is performed. As it gets dark, the sight of the translucent marble reflecting the light is a wonderful sight and we waited for it. Once the lights were on, we decided to move, and headed home, tired after all our exertions.
These are not the only temples in the area. Indeed there are many more, but we didn’t have time to visit any more….
Here are a few more temples in the vicinity which we couldn’t see on this trip.
Someshwar Temple : The Someshwar Temple is an ancient Hindu temple built by the Satwahanas. It is in Akshi which is only 3 km away from Alibag. Enroute to the beach there are many shilas. One of the shilas is close to the Someshwar Mandir. This temple is situated near the deepasthambh.
Nagoba Mandir : The Nagoba Mandir is 16 km away from Alibag. It is at a distance of 20 minutes walk from the Sasawane Beach. The main idol is a hooded snake. It is believed that someone was bitten by a snake, and the venom magically disappeared here. The temple is also the house of the Samadhi of a saint who had divine powers.
Gokuleshwar Mandir: 3 Km from Alibag
Before I complete my travelogue, there is one more place in Alibag worth a mention. This is the ancestral home of Nanasaheb Karmarkar, the renowned sculptor, which has now been converted into a museum housing some of his original works.
V.P.Karmarkar, popularly and affectionately known as Nanasaheb Karmarkar, was born in Sasawane in 1891. The son of a sculptor of Ganesha idols, his talent was recognized at an early age, and he was sent to study art at the JJ School of Arts. Many of his sculptures and busts have won awards. Since he generally made busts and sculptures in bronze, he first had to make them in clay before their casts could be made, and later the bronze sculptures cast from them. These original clay sculptures are on display at the artist’s ancestral home, close to the Sasawane beach, about 18 Kms from Alibag.
We were sent to the museum by our host, who insisted that it was worth a visit, but I must admit, we were rather skeptical. When we found nobody there, we were even more bored, but once we entered, we were lost in admiration for the man who created these beautiful works with his hands. Take a look at some of them…….
The last two are my favourites... which are yours?????