Saturday, February 2, 2008
Travel – A pilgrimage…… Part 1 (MUMBAI-KOLHAPUR-BELGAUM)
Travel has become a religion for my wife and me. It is very fulfilling as it also gives us a spiritual connect. Have also noticed that to visit exotic locales garnished with history, all that one has to do is to ensure that one visits the local religious places, which are inevitably located in some of the most beautiful, and scenic locations. Apart from the natural beauty, one is also treated to some enlightening history. And so, this time when we decided to drive down to Mangalore by avoiding the NH17, we decided to drop in for a while at Kolhapur where the deity of Mahalakshmi, also known as Ambabai resides in the heart of the city. We set out from Bandra at 0530hrs to beat the traffic on a cool January morning. The weather and the wide-open roads were all very encouraging to eat up the road and soon we were cruising on the Mumbai-Pune Expressway. The tummy rumbled for attention as we neared the second food mall on the expressway and we decided to satiate our hunger and stopped for ‘vadapav and chai’ breakfast. The ambience was good but the food was ordinary. I suppose the first food mall must have been the better of the two as there were plenty of buses and cars parked there – precisely the reason that put us off, as I hate to queue for food. Having fortified ourselves, off we went back on the road, not wanting to miss out on the pleasure of making the best of the pleasant weather to drive in. Soon the Kolhapur exit made its presence and there we asked for directions to the famed temple. The directions were simple. Turn right, go under the flyover, enter the welcome-arch to Kolhapur, and then go straight till the third statue in a roundabout. This statue is the Shahu Maharaj statue where you turn left and bingo – the temple! The signage is pretty decent too. There are parking restrictions around the temple so you just follow the ‘Pilgrims Parking’ signs and park in the designated parking lot for a fee of Rs.10/-. The walk to the temple is a mere five minutes. We parked at 1130hrs having covered a distance of 386kms. The temple has three entrances and you may choose any. There are manned shelves to keep your footwear at all the entrances where they charge you Rs.1/- per pair. Being a Tuesday, the devotees were aplenty but orderly, as the temple had made good arrangements for disciplined darshan for all. Of course, you could barely glance and bow down your head in obeisance and you were urged to move on to ensure that all devotees got ‘darshan’. The whole process from the time we queued up till we stepped out after paying our respects just took us fifteen minutes. As photography was prohibited inside the temple, took some outside. There were some very intricate carvings on the outer walls of the temple. The temple tops were freshly painted and stood out in stark contrast to the rest of the stone colored structure. On our way back, we came across a monument atop which there was a figure of an athlete! It took me by surprise as it was the first time that I saw an athlete being adored and revered in India, ahead of cricket players. At the bottom was a plaque honoring all the Olympians from Kolhapur. Now it was time to taste the famed spicy Kolhapuri food and as advised by various foodie friends we decided to head towards ‘Opal’ restaurant for our lunch. On our way to the parking lot, we saw a school and a junior college housed in a heritage building which looked like a fortress! Wow! Walking along we spotted a residential block, which again seemed to belong to history. Kolhapur sure is a city wrapped in history. To get to ‘Opal’, we were directed to retrace our route back towards the highway till ‘Tara Rani Chowk’ – again the third roundabout where we would take a right. And there on our left stood a mansion like structure christened ‘Opal’. We were welcomed very courteously and ushered to our seats for a typically non-vegetarian thali which was accompanied by some yummy ‘sol kadi’. The vegetarian thali too was delicious. This sumptuous repast put us back by a couple of hundred rupees. Well spent. The food was good and the service – excellent! Got back on the highway onwards towards Belgaum – the preferred place for our night halt. Checked in at 1530hrs with the odo reading 501, in Hotel Ramdev and since we had an evening to loaf around, did precisely that. Had read about the famed fort in Belgaum and it turned out to be just a couple of kms from the Hotel. So after refreshing ourselves with a hot cuppa we strolled out at 1700hrs towards the fort. It is a straight road from the Hotel till the Sungoli Rayanna Circle where you turn left and adjacent to the main Bus stand is the Fort. Just inside the gates of the Fort is the Military Durga Temple. The Fort has a church and a mosque too, apart from the many government and military offices as it seems to be occupied by the military forces. All the religious structures in the fort are apparently run for and by the military forces and are open to all. Strolled back leisurely to the Hotel for a delicious South Indian meal at their in house restaurant and retired early for a restful night to ensure a refreshed departure next morning for an exciting destination – Agumbe!