Wednesday, September 10, 2008

A quick trip to Shirdi and Shani Shingnapur

Mumbai to Shirdi is a pilgrimage I have been fortunate to make a number of times in the recent past. The first time I visited Shirdi was with my mother, travelling in an ST (Maharashtra State transport) bus, one of those rickety ones we see on the roads. The journey was nothing much to write about, except that we were sore, and every bone in our body was aching when we returned at last after a tedious journey which we had endured for the sole reason that we desperately wanted to have a darshan of Baba, a  pleasure which we had yearned for till then. Yes, the pleasure of the Darshan (twice- one after waiting in a queue which seemed designed to test our patience and insistence on having darshan, and the second which was so quick, and so wonderful, it was surely a gift, or a prize for having endured all that we had, and coming out with flying colours) obliterated all that from our hearts and our minds. After that, Baba seems to have summoned us often and that too in all comforts, for I have never again had to endure the back breaking ST ride. Instead, I have travelled in luxury, in cars, or with the whole family in a bus hired by us. One mode of transport I had never used while going to Shirdi was the train, and this weekend, we tried that too.
Beggars can’t be choosers, and when you plan a trip on a sudden whim, and that too on a holiday, you have to take what tickets are available. Thus, we ended up with tickets for Shirdi by the Devgiri express to Kopargaon, and by the Pune Poorna passenger for the return journey. These trains are very convenient, time-wise, but in comforts, they rank way way down.  The Devgiri express leaves VT station at 9:00PM, and arrives at Kopargaon at 5:30AM,halting at Manmad for about 2 ½ hours along the way for our coach (the only one going to Daund via Kopargaon) to be connected to the Nanded-Daund Express. We wondered what it would be like to be in a stationary train for 2 hours, but surprisingly, though the coach was an old one, we hardly realised when the train stopped at Manmad, and when it left. We woke up only when someone called out that Kopargaon was approaching. Everyone in the coach seemed bound for Shirdi, as it was completely emptied at Kopargaon. Plenty of autos and tempos converted into autos are available from Kopargaon to Shirdi. They operate on a sharing basis, but one can hire an auto/tempo for oneself, which is what we did.  The driver charged us Rs.200/- for the half an hour trip, and even volunteered to pick us up for our return journey.
There are a few hotels at Kopargaon itself, and the station itself has retiring rooms available for Rs.200/- , but we elected to stay at Shirdi at the Shanti Kamal hotel, where we have stayed before. Hotel Shanti Kamal has two buildings, the original hotel, and a newly-built Bhakta Niwas. The advantage with this hotel is the availability of rooms with 4, 5 and even 6 beds, which is convenient for large families like ours. The standard rate is Rs.1000/- for a 3-bedded room, but he charged us Rs.900/- as we were leaving the same evening.  After a quick wash, and a delicious breakfast of Poha at the hotel restaurant, we were ready for the queue at the temple.
We were expecting large crowds at the temple, it being a Saturday, and also the Ganesh Chaturthi weekend, and the arrangements made at the temple complex assured us that the authorities too were expecting a huge influx of devotees. We took our place in the queue, and were happy to note that it was moving, which surely boded well. The queue was long, and the time for the Abhishek was approaching, and we were herded along as fast as possible to clear the area, with the result that we were out within an hour. It was just 11:00 AM, and we had the whole day before us, so we decided to go to Shani Shingnapur.
We looked for an auto to take us to Shani Shingnapur, and found a young boy driving one of the tempo-autos who offered to take us there for Rs.150/- per head. I have always travelled to Shani Shingnapur by car from Shirdi, taking the main road, the highway. This time, our auto driver took us through the by-lanes, along villages, on roads which no large car would traverse. The mud roads were more suitable for the auto than the tarred highway, and, in fact we found ourselves bumping less along this route than when we were on the highway. The best part of this, however, was the sight of lush green fields of cotton, corn and sugarcane lining the village roads, and people picking cotton. Samhith was fascinated by the sight of cows, whose horns had been painted bright red or blue, and had been decorated as if for a festival. Though it wasn’t easy sitting in an auto and being thrown up every time we went over a speed breaker or a pothole, we enjoyed every minute of the 2 hour journey to Shani Shingnapur.
Saturday is a special day for Lord Shani, and the temple at Shani Shingnapur was packed with devotees. It is a custom there that only gents are allowed near the idol and that too only after taking a bath and approaching the idol with wet Dhotis provided there. There is a special queue for those who want to approach the idol, and this was quite long. We elected to have darshan from afar, and joined the shorter queue, which comprised mainly of women. We had darshan soon, and started on our return journey, stopping along the way for fresh sugarcane juice.
Our auto-wala was surprised that we had left Shani Shingnapur so soon, and, as we had time on our hands, he suggested that we visit the temple of Renuka Devi nearby. We had never heard of this temple, but visiting a temple is never a problem with us, and so we agreed. This temple is about 15 minutes away from Shani Shingnapur, and was built by a local saint. The main temple has an image of Renuka Mata, with walls and pillars inlaid with glass. Hence this temple is also locally known as the glass temple. Under this temple is the sanctum sanctorum approachable by steps, where the original image of the goddess worshipped by the saint is placed. The temple is currently being renovated, and we were unable to see some other idols in the temple. There is also a Samadhi of the saint, which is also under construction. This is an interesting temple, one I would like to visit again, after the construction is complete.
We returned to Shirdi around 5:30PM, drenched to the core after a sudden rainfall, as the auto had no means of protection from rain. Samhith, however enjoyed every minute of it, delighted at getting drenched, and when we finally alighted at our hotel, he stepped out, jumping and playing in the water. I wish I had my camera with me to capture the moment, but I had left my camera in my bag. These days, every temple we go to has so many security restrictions that we carry only money while visiting any temple, leaving everything else in the room. This time too, I had left my mobile, camera etc. in the room before going to the temple. Since we had left directly from the temple for Shani Shingnapur, I hadn’t been able to collect my things from the room. That is the reason this post has no photographs, for a change. 
We had dinner at the Sumeet restaurant attached to the hotel (their Gujrathi Thali, especially their Khichdi is excellent!). Our auto driver of the morning was waiting for us – he had turned up early so that we wouldn’t take another auto, and we started on our way back to Kopargaon.
Kopargaon was in darkness when we arrived. The electricity was erratic, we learnt, and the station was plunged in darkness except for a few stray lamps here and there running on the generator. Our train was supposedly on time (9:15PM), but an hour passed by and there was no sign of it. Samhith was tired enough to fall asleep on a bench, while we passed the time making comments on the state of Indian Railways. A couple of trains came and went, their announcements unintelligible. The electricity came suddenly as the Pune- Jammu Jhelum Express approached the platform. Suddenly, the platform was transformed; lights shining bright, the announcements loud and clear, indicators came on, displaying the train number, the coach number, etc. From a small wayside station plunged in darkness, Kopargaon was suddenly transformed to a station with all the amenities one could expect at the station nearest to Shirdi, which is visited by people from all over India.
This train, like the train we came by, halted at Manmad for 2 ½ hours, but we could hardly make it out. We slept comfortably, waking up only to alight at Dadar at 6:30AM. Thus ended a journey we had made a number of times, and which we shall hopefully make a number of times more, but each trip special in its own way.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Magnificent Munnar Part III – Goodbye to the hills

The next morning, the sun rose bright and early, leaving no signs of the fog of the day before. The view from the room was unbelievable, visibility extending to the road on the other side of the valley. Take a look at the two panoramic photos I took of the view from our room during the fog and the one the next morning in sunlight.
From Munnar Aug 2008

From Munnar Aug 2008
The View from our room --in the fog, and early in the morning......

We had to start back early so that we could reach home and give Sankar a break from driving, as well take some rest before getting back to work. Besides, Samhith wanted to go back to the crocodile park at Amaravathi Nagar.

 Samhith feeds the rabbits (he saved the carrots we bought....and fed them himself) and chases the sole rooster at the resort. It must have been relieved when we finally left!!!

We had a heavy breakfast at Whispering Meadows, where Samhith played with pet rabbits and roosters, finally bidding them goodbye when we had to leave. We planned to drive home, without stopping for lunch, but again, our plans were changed by hands unknown to us.

An hour beyond Munnar town, we stopped for tea at a roadside stall near a waterfall. We thought it was one of the many waterfalls along the route, and appreciated it while having our tea. It was only when we looked for a washroom that we learnt that a little way up the hill, where we could have a better view of the waterfall; washrooms were available for those whishing to change after a bath in the pool formed by the waterfall. This was good news for us, especially for Samhith who wanted to bathe in a waterfall. So, then and there we delayed our departure and climbed up the few steps to the waterfall. 

While the Attukal falls were breathtaking for the sheer force of the water, these falls were simply beautiful. The water was ice-cold, and absolutely wonderful, and we all stepped into it, enjoying the numbness in our limbs induced by the chill. We were content with our feet in the water, but Samhith really looked forward to having a bath, and we let him in after taking off his clothes. The chill was a surprise to him, to be sure, but he really enjoyed it. I am sure he will grow up to be unafraid of water, and always ready to take a dip in any body of water, whatever the conditions might be. 

The Lakkom Falls

The experience we had in the Lakkom falls cannot be expressed, but you can get a feel of our experience by taking a look of the videos I recorded there. Samhith was shivering in the water, but he didn’t want to get out of it either. Shankar and Sandhya made the most of it, egging him on, making him take a dip in the cold water, while Sankar and I recorded the fun, hoping to show it to him when he grows older, and remembers little of the wonderful trip he had……………

It was difficult for us to leave Lakkom falls and carry on with our plan of getting back home, and it was something we did with a heavy heart. We stopped at Amaravathi Dam and had a look at the crocs again, as we had promised Samhith. This time, they seemed to be waiting for us, as a couple of them were actually awake, and opened their huge beady eyes to peer at us suspiciously. This was immensely satisfying to Samhith, and also helped us prove to Shankar that the creatures were actually alive!!!! Some of the sluices of the dam had been opened, probably due to the rain, and it was a wonderful sight to see the canal overflowing.

All good things must come to an end, and our journey too ended with our arrival at Tiruppur. Of course, Sankar made the journey interesting by driving at a speed we scarcely could imagine! Our qualms at such speeds notwithstanding, we were all relieved to reach home early and get some much needed rest.And it is at this point that I must put a full stop and call an end to my recital of a wonderful trip- one which is not just etched on my mind, but now, also on  the net.......


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