Thursday, November 21, 2013

Pleasure Pilgrimage - Part 2

Udaipur Palace

Day 4 (Nov 7)

We got up quite early the next morning. As they had the kid Shreya with them, we wanted to give Suganthi and Guru some extra time for them to freshen up in the morning, and we alone headed up for the Jagdish temple within five minutes of the hotel. My ignorance was at play once again.  I had thought Jagdish to mean Shiva, but on reaching the temple I found it to be Lord Krishna’s temple.  A little browsing beforehand would have kept me aware.  The temple boasted of majestic marble construction with typical North Indian architecture, and I was happy to start the day with holy prasad from Lord Krishna’s temple.

Jagdishji Temple  Udaipur Palace  Shreya

We had our breakfast at Anna’s restaurant nearby and headed for the Palace Museum, at walkable distance.  We were advised to finish boating first in view of the surging crowd, and heeded the advice.  They charge a hefty Rs.340 fee for the boating, and take you floating around the palace in the middle and then to the garden restaurant on the other side for a brief break.  You can spend as much time as you want there and return by any other boat.  We enjoyed the boat ride, and headed for the museum (Rs.115 for the entry ticket), only to be put off by the unmanageable holiday crowd thronging to see the palace.  Because of the crowd, I could not enjoy the palace visit much, as I generally like seeing places like this at leisure, with enough time to compose shots the way I want.  This day offered no scope for me, and I had to endure the crowd and push my way out as quickly as possible.  I did manage some shots, though, and am sharing a few here.

Guru and I went back to the same Anna’s restaurant for a quick lunch, as the ladies wanted some shopping near the palace entrance.  After lunch, we contacted the driver over phone and asked him to take us around, for which his usual reply was ready – all roads are closed, you need to walk wherever you want to go. We forced him to heed our words and asked him to take us to the Sajjangarh Fort.  He was reluctant at first, but sensing our mood, relented from his tough stance and took us there, only to see the gate closed.  Fortunately for us, the family of a senior police official had also come wanting to see the place at the same time, and the authorities, while opening the gate for them, allowed all the remaining visitors too.  The fort was an enjoyable place, and the view of the folding mountains from the top on one side, and the Udaipur lake and city on the other side was breath-taking.  We spent a while there and returned to the city, and spent some time shopping at the Hathipol market, and dinner at a restaurant near Bawarchi in Surajpol.  After a day well spent, we returned to the hotel.  As we had to check out very early the next morning, we settled the accounts then itself and retired to bed.

Udaipur Lake  Udaipur Lake Garden  View of Lake from Sajjangarh Fort

Day 5 (Nov 8)

Surprisingly, all of us were ready on the dot at 4 a.m. to leave for Nathdwara, abode of Lord Vishnu in the name of Shrinath.  We were advised that it would be very, very crowded during the holiday season, as this temple is considered to be the equivalent of Shri Balaji temple in Tirumala for devotees in the North and West of India, and therefore it would be prudent to make it there as early as possible.   Fortunately, the road restrictions did not apply at this early hour and the driver was able to position our car right at the entrance to the hotel.  We took off immediately through the narrow lanes. Our driver wanted to enquire the route and we were surprised to see a mobile tea vendor ready to start business at that hour!  He had set up all the paraphernalia – stove, milk, water, glasses, etc. on his cart and was only too happy to take our order.  It was nice to even think of getting a hot cup of tea in the cold openness.  When the vendor brought two cups of tea towards me sitting in the car across the road, I eagerly got out of the car to take the tea.  To my surprise, he poured both the cups of tea on the road and went back to his cart!  Then Guru told me it was the custom in this part of the country to offer the first lot to Mother Earth and then only start business!  Seeing us enjoying the early morning tea, Shreya also wanted a cup.  The vendor obliged, but refused to take money for her cup of tea, saying “aapka beti hamaara beti hain”(your child is my child too)!  We were touched by his kindness, and left for Nathdwara.

It was dark and the road was pretty empty all through except at one place where we saw several vehicles including buses parked and a number of pilgrims walking on the road.  We sped fast, trying to make it to Nathdwara on time.   However, it took us a little longer than anticipated, and we reached the place around 6.30 a.m.  Already, many vehicles were parked.  Our driver asked us get down and showed the way to the temple.  Pilgrims were actually running to get an early darshan of the Lord.   We proceeded at our own pace, even halting to have another cup of hot mint-flavoured tea on the way.  It was interesting to watch the tea-vendor prepare the tea, and I have now learnt the recipe too.  When we got into the temple, we found that the curtains were drawn for a brief while and were informed that darshan would re-commence at 7.30.  We should have probably skipped both the tea halts.  Anyway, we were among the first to wait for the 7.30 darshan, and had a good darshan when the doors opened a little late, around 7.50.  By then, enormous crowd had gathered, and  I realised it was good that the Krios manager had alerted us about this.  We had not-so-good a breakfast at a roadside restaurant and continued our journey.

One of the places suggested in the itinerary was Eklingji temple and we asked the driver to go there.  He told us we just crossed the place on our way to Nathdwara, and the way to our next stop, Kumbalgarh Fort, was in the other direction!  We now realised that it was Eklingji we passed early in the morning.  This time, we really got worked up and asked the driver to take us there unmindful of the distance or time or route involved.  Seeing our frustration, he had to obey and we went back almost half the way back to Udaipur to reach Eklingji temple.  The idol of Shiva in the Linga form but with a decoration of human face in front is very unique here.  For some reason, I found half of the temple was blockaded and we could not circumambulate the main shrine.   On enquiry, we were informed that the blockade would be lifted only on the Mahashivratri day when devotees would be allowed to go around the entire temple compex.

There was a saas-bahu temple nearby,  so named not because they held deities related as saas-bahu, but because it was built by saas-bahu (mother-in-law and her daughter-in-law)!  As we were already running circuitous and late, we decided to skip this temple, though I didn’t skip the temptingly hot and fresh chilli-bajji being prepared in the tea stall across the road.  After collecting our bags (cameras and mobiles not allowed in this temple also), we left for Kumbalgarh fort.

Nathdwara Charbuja Custard apples

It was a long trip, through a place called Charbuja, known for its Vishnu temple.  At the junction on the main road, we found a group of local vendors selling custard apple.  They were so fresh, just plucked and packed in sacks and kept on roadside ready for sale to passers-by.   When we selected about seven or eight ripe fruits for eating then itself and asked for the price, the woman could not come up with a price and just kept smiling.  On persuasion, she quoted a princely sum of Rs.15 for the lot!  My wife took out two crisp 10-rupee notes and gave to her.  The vendor woman didn’t have small change and gave three more fruits in return!  We ate two or three delicious fruits then itself in the car.  The deviation from the main road lead us into seemingly uninhabited countryside.  The only assurance was the stretch of well laid motorable road.  We wound our way through miles and miles of loneliness in ups and downs of mountainside engulfed by dense growth of all kinds of trees on both sides, especially custard apple trees.  Finally we reached Charbuja, which suddenly out of the emptiness, was well populated with a number of vehicles also present on the road.  We had to walk for 10-15 minutes to reach the temple, and we made it, chatting and eating the custard apples on the way.  The well-stocked vegetable shops on both sides of the road looked quite out of place for a small town like this.

Charbuja

The temple here is on a raised  level of about 10 stairs, flanked by life-size statues of grey painted elephants on both sides.  The temple priest told us though it looks recent, the temple is very ancient, installed and worshipped by Pandavas more than five thousand years ago and has been re-built several times since then.  After darshan we walked our way back to the main road, and continued our travel towards the Kumbalgarh Fort.

Even more winding roads and uneven terrain greeted us all the way.  Both the weather and the scenery were so enjoyable during the drive, good roads adding to our enjoyment.  After a long time, we reached a T-junction from where Kumbalgarh Fort was just about 20 km away.  We could see a lot of traffic on this route, and as we neared the fort, we were asked to stop and park the car well before the entrance gate, as the place was (again) crowded and there was no parking space inside!  By the time we got into the fort, we were a little tired and hungry and had to first look for food.  There was too much crowd at the restaurant in front, and the waiters had completely lost their patience.  Unable to bear their temperament, we walked away and found another restaurant a little away, where people were more polite and there was less crowd too.  But, to our disappointment, only limited variety of food was available here – only Alu-paratha and Maggie noodles, but they were in huge proportion and good too, completely filling our hungry stomach.  Suganthi, Vasanthi and Shreya were too tired and did not show any interest in climbing up to see the fort.  I requested Guru to accompany me and he obliged.  It was worth the climb and the fort offered a breath-taking view of the surrounding areas.  I clicked sunset to my heart’s content and got down, in time to leave for our next stop Panwapuri.

Kumbalgarh Kumbalgarh Kumbalgarh

There was a question mark on the accommodation at Panwapuri (also called Pavapuri here). Panwapuri is a sacred pilgrimage place for Jains, and we were told though accommodation at Dharamshalas would be available, we wouldn’t get anything to eat beyond 6 p.m.  As per plan, we were to arrive here by 5.30, but from the morning we were gradually getting delayed further and further.  With an estimated arrival time of 10 p.m. we worried whether they would even let us in if we go too late, and whether accommodation would be available at all.  Somewhere, as we were nearing 9 p.m., and though Panwapuri was just about 25 to 30 km away, it suddenly looked prudent to halt at any town large enough to have a good hotel, and seek accommodation there, though it would mean spending much more compared to what would be payable at the Dharamshala.  GPS showed Sirohi was just around the corner, and the driver also vouched we could certainly find accommodation there.  Soon we reached Sirohi and as guessed, we saw a big restaurant named Baba Ramdev, and a decent, modern hotel also behind the restaurant, the restaurant being the front for the hotel by the same name.  We decided to rent rooms and stay there.  Much to our comfort, the rooms were neat and comfortable.  Within these few days, I had got into the habit of having a hot cup of tea before going to bed, and did the same here too.

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