Thursday, May 13, 2010

Pune and around

Warning: This is only a travelogue, more to jot down and record for posterity my experience of the recent trip to Pune.

Day 0. My wife and I went on a one-week holiday to Pune, to visit my sister-in-law who lives there and spend some time with her family. Though very hot for two hours on either side of noon, I found Pune pleasant and bearable at other times and actually very comfortable in the open in the mornings and evenings – unlike Chennai, where the humidity makes you sweat even if the temperature drops to 28 degrees and below.

We had gone there with no specific plans and had left it to our hosts to decide what was best and possible for us at this time of the year. My co-brother works for a nationalized bank at a senior level and could not afford to take time off from his busy work commitments. The only time he could join us, besides receiving us and dropping us back at the airport, was for the trip to the Raja Dinkar Kelkar museum on a Sunday afternoon and to take us for lunch the next Sunday afternoon.

Day 1. The museum is very impressive. They have a good collection of exhibits that tell you about the history and culture of Maharashtra. All the exhibits are well catalogued and very well maintained and unlike other museums, most of the exhibits are in good, undamaged and functional condition. I was feeling bad that we were a little late and had only two hours before they closed, but an extra outing on another day gave me enough time to visit the place again and view and photograph all the exhibits to my heart’s content. I have created a separate album for this museum in my flickr site.  Just a sample to begin with, and auspicious too:

We visited the Parvathi temple situated on a small hillock from where you could literally get a bird’s eye view of Pune city. It is a small, picturesque temple. The temple compound also houses a small museum, but it is not as meticulously maintained as the Kelkar museum.  A photo of the temple:

Day 2. As my sister-in-law had a child and aged parents to take care at home, we were left to ourselves to visit nearby places. We visited Shridi Sai Baba shrine on a Monday. Leaving Pune around 8 am, it took about 4 hours for us to reach Shirdi, and another 3 hours to come out after darshan. Being vacation time, there was crowd, but my co-brother’s colleague helped us to join the queue nearer the sanctum, cutting the waiting time to just about 15 minutes against the 2 hours that was estimated at that time. We had lunch in between, at the Woodlands restaurant opposite to the shrine. Though a little pricey for a remote location as Shirdi, the food was good but a too high on quantity that we had to waste almost a third of the portion served. From there we went further north to a place called Sani Shingnapur, where Lord Sanishwar is believed to reside in the form of a rock that is worshipped with flowers and oil anointment performed only by males. Ladies are not allowed on the platform, but are allowed to watch and worship from a distance. We left this place around 5 pm and made an attempt to visit another popular Shiva temple en route at Bimashankar, but could not do so because of the traffic. Had simple and very good food at Jeevan restaurant in Narayangaon and reached Pune at 11.30 pm.

On the way from Shirdi to Sani Shingnapur, we saw something interesting. Row after row of bullocks were on the roadside, tied to the wooden oilseed crushing equipment we call “chekku” in Tamil, and we were curious to know why there were so much of them. Only when we went near did we find out that there were being used for crushing cane and getting cane juice out, with the equipment slightly modified for this purpose. See the photo. Cane juice, any time, is refreshing. 

Day 4. After a total rest for a full day, we again left for Kolhapur by cab on Wednesday. About two hours on, at Satara, we visited a beautiful “Nataraja” temple built on the same style as the Chidambaram temple. We understood that Sri Chandrasekarendra Swami (aka “Maha Periava”), the senior Sankaracharya who is no more, had stayed here for more than a year to see to it that the temple was constructed strictly according to Vedic prescriptions. After a refreshing stay of about 15 minutes in this temple, we left for Kolhapur. 

The ride was very pleasant, with good roads and very good scenery all the way. We were warned of very heavy crowd and huge waiting time at the Lakshmi temple, but to our surprise, we were able to have darshan and come out in just about 15 minutes! After some shopping, we had a second darshan and left the place, after having light tiffin at the Sathkaar restaurant. Something that caught my attention here was the fig fruit that is sold in the market – the fruits are fresh, large and just rightly ripe that they so tender and delicious, and cheap too.

The road to Pandharpur was not that good and so, did not have a single toll booth either! It took us quite long to reach Pandharpur. Being ‘adhika mas’ or the extra-month that gets included in the lunar calendar every two or three years, we were warned of huge crowd at this temple too. For those who cannot afford to wait, there is a quick darshan available from a distance. We were able to have this within about 20 minutes and we joined the main queue at around 7.15 pm, little realizing that it would take another four hours for us to come out! We had to move inch by inch over five floors of the winding waiting hall. The people that throng this temple are mostly poor locals from nearly places, but with staunch religious beliefs and strong commitment and resolve to wait out and worship Lord Vittal whatever time it took for them to stand in the queue. They dare to join the tightly packed jostling queue even with their infants and aged parents and go through the horrible wait, because they firmly believe that a mere glimpse of His darshan is worth much more than all this earthly difficulties.

Day 5. Pandharpur is not a good place to stay, as the hotels looked very dirty and unkempt in line with the general appearance of the locals here. So we decided to move on to Solapur for the night’s stay. We had been recommended the Shiv Parvathi hotel and checked in there. All air-conditioned rooms had already been booked and we were able to get only a normal room. Though initially hot, the temperature became bearable within 15 minutes of switching on the fan and opening the window and we had good night’s sleep.

This essay would not be complete without the mention of Santosh, our young driver, who was a skilled driver but unfortunately for us, did not know much of the places and therefore took us round and round the same place asking for directions. It was particularly frustrating when we were searching for a hotel to stay in Solapur at an hour past midnight. The only consolation was there was absolutely no traffic at that time, so the goings-around were fast and quick.

After breakfast, we made a quick trip to the Bavani temple in Tulajapur. This goddess is the one Chatrapati Shivaji worshipped. Though a little crowded, we were able to have darshan and come out in about an hour and a half. We got excellent, tender cucumber for Rs.5 a kilo here. We proceeded back to Solapur, to fulfill a major agenda in my wife’s itinerary – that of shopping for bed spreads and bed sheets that Solapur is so well known for. The reception manager at the hotel we stayed recommended Chilka Textiles and a close relative recommended Pulgam Textiles, so my wife shopped in both showrooms to 75% of her heart’s and 100% of my purse’s content.

While waiting outside as my wife was shopping, I noticed beautiful typical South Indian style temples in that area, of Lords Rama, Muruga and Venkateshwara and even came across people speaking Tamil and Telugu. Looks like people migrated from Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh to settle here and engage in textile business, and by virtue of their toil, flourished well.  A close up of the Rama temple tower:

A quick lunch at Kamat (Rs.40 – choice of Chapati/poori along with regular rice and other items – what was surprising was they give 3 big chapaties or 8 medium poories – which alone will fill your stomach!) and back on road with brief stops for tea and photography of setting sun saw us reaching Pune in the middle of the night. Exhausted, we just dropped on the bed and sank deep into sleep.

Day 6. The next day, after the two of us travelling alone, we got an opportunity to travel together with the family. My co-brother was still unable to make it, but all others including the child and my aged parents-in-law clubbed together to visit the Balaji Mandir at Uttarakshetram done in typical Tirupati style, following similar rituals too. The place and the route were both scenic, with abundace of trees, flowers and birds. From there, we went to a Dattatreya temple nearby. Here again I saw excellent figs being sold at an unbelievable price. As I am the only person who likes the fruit, I only bought half a kilo, for just Rs.15! The vendor woman was a typical illiterate village person. I took permission to shoot a photo of her, to which she initially refused but later agreed with a blush. On seeing the photograph on the lcd screen, she blushed more! It was a good moment of fun for all of us.

The next stop was the Khandoba temple atop a hillock in Jejuri. It is a place my in-laws had long been wanting to go. There is a pathway with about 200 steps, but it was too much for the aged couple. On enquiry, we found that the vehicle could go up a little further, from where there are only about 50 steps to climb. I was able to cajole them to give up trepidation and encourage them to slowly climb the steps. The temple was totally different from the other temples we were visiting all these days. We took quite a number of photographs to store for the future and left the place before the dark fell. On the way back, as the situation necessitated food for in-laws, we halted at a good way-side restaurant (Shivanand). The food was really good for a remote place like this. We returned home around 10:30.

Day 7. However much exhausted by travel and drained by the heat, just one magic word is enough for ladies to recoup all their energy – shopping. That word ensured that my wife and sister-in-law were back in Pune city centre the next afternoon. I saw an opportunity to get some free time and hitched a ride with them to get dropped at the museum to patiently complete the remaining part of my tour of the museum that I missed during the previous visit. 

Day 8. No outing today. We had lunch at the famous Shreyas restaurant with typical Marathi thali. The restaurant boasts a waiting time of about 1 hour during peak time, and after lunch we had just enough time to reach home, pack and leave. The Kingfisher flight was comfortable, arrived much earlier than scheduled and we reached home comfortably.

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