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!!!!!