Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Jai Hari Vitthala - A road trip to Pandharpur

At a distance of about 400kms from Mumbai lies the quiet town of Pandharpur which bursts to life during Ashadhi Ekadashi when about a million pilgrims converge at the Vithoba temple for the annual festival. These pilgrims come walking in processions from as far as Dehu (250kms) which is the native place of Tukaram, Alandi (100kms) the native place of Dyaneshwar, the two renowned devotees of Vitthala (Vithoba). This pilgrimage is called the Vari and the pilgrims are called Varkaris. They take about 21 days to reach Pandharpur from their respective shrines carrying the Padukas (footwear) of the Saint in a Palkhi (palanquin). The chant of Jai Hari Vitthala will reverberate all through the route and all along the route, the villagers will look after the pilgrims by offering them place to stay and food to eat.
Somehow, due to various reasons, I have never been able to visit Pandharpur during the festival despite having wanted to participate in the procession at least for a couple of days. As a consolation, decided to drive down to Pandharpur a month before the festivities and get a feel of the place. The drive was beautiful meandering through sugarcane plantations and roads bordered with Banyan trees

and Mayflower trees (Gulmohar) in full bloom. Took us about 7 hours to reach Pandharpur from Mumbai with mandatory rest breaks and safe driving.
Pandharpur still has not been crassly commercialised but half way there. There are very few hotels with airconditioned rooms (needed as the temperatures soar to 40+Celsius in summer) that one can book online. Managed to book one though it did not have a restaurant and you have to go to a restaurant about 10 minutes walk from the hotel. Was surprised to see an ice cream parlour there and obviously was ‘the meeting place’ for the young and happening kids around town.

Hired an autorickshaw to reach the temple from our hotel at the standard rate of Rs.50/- one way, no meter. 

The walkway to the temple was flanked by shops selling offerings to Vithoba and Rukmini (Vithoba’s wife) who have separate temples next to each other.

There are 2 ways for ‘darshan’ – ‘Mukh darshan’ (see the idol’s face from a distance of about 10 feet) and ‘Matha tek’ darshan (touch the idol’s feet with one’s head) and yes it is more popular. We preferred the Mukh darshan, as we would be done with it in 20 minutes, while the other one would take a couple of hours. No cameras allowed inside and no mobile photography too. You can keep your cameras in the lockers operated by private individuals in the periphery for a mere Rs.20/-.

After the mukh darshan we went to the Chandrabhaga river that is just a couple of minutes walk away from the temple. There are plenty of temples along the way and the main one is Pundalik’s temple. 

Pundalik is supposed to have been responsible for getting Vithoba to Pandharpur and is also the founder of the Varkari sect. For more detailed info about Pundalik click here and the story of Vithoba coming to meet Pundalik is here.

Incidentally most of the ‘Dabbawalas’ in Mumbai belong to the Varkari community.

On the banks of the river there are enterprising young men who have modelled the replicas of Vithoba and Rukmini and you can get yourself photographed with the idols for a small price.
Then there are the boatmen who approach you to take you for a ride in the river, again, for a modest 

price. As he rowed he pointed out to a construction activity on the other bank and pointed out that as the upcoming ISKCON temple. It is expected to be completed in a year or two and once done, one can expect religious tourism all year round and the arrival of well heeled tourists demanding all the luxuries, and this peaceful town also, might go the Shirdi way, where now there are luxury hotels and an airport too.

While in Pandharpur do visit the Railway station. It is built like a temple and looks beautiful.

At the end of the day when we are done with our visit, we return with beautiful memories of a lovely pilgrim town that is relatively clean, physically and metaphorically too. I sincerely hope it remains this way.

Here is a short video of our road trip to Pandharpur.

Monday, May 6, 2019

A tale of 2 Dargahs

The Haji Ali Dargah was constructed in 1431 in memory of a wealthy Muslim merchant, Sayyed Pir Haji Ali Shah Bukhari, who gave up all his worldly possessions before making a pilgrimage to Mecca. Hailing from Bukhara, in present-day Uzbekistan, Bukhari travelled around the world in the early to mid 15th century. He travelled to India with his brother and finally reached Mumbai – near Worli. He then decided to reside there permanently for the spread of Islam.
Until his death he kept spreading knowledge about Islam and his devotees would regularly visit him. Before his death he advised his followers that they should not bury him in a graveyard but should drop his shroud ('kafan') in the ocean and should be buried by the people where it is found.
His wish was obeyed by his followers. That is why the Dargah Sharief is built at the very site where his shroud came to rest in the middle of the sea where it perched on a small mound of rocks rising above the sea.

There is another mausoleum built across the bay. It is believed to be the tomb of Ma Hajiani, the sister of Haji Ali. This mausoleum was built in 1908 in honour of Ma Hajiani, a saint believed to be the sister of Saint Pir Haji Ali Shah Bukhari.
According to legend, they died at sea and their bodies were washed ashore, a few metres from each other. They were then buried at the respective spots they were found. Subsequently, two tombs were built — Haji Ali for the brother and Ma Hajiani for the sister. At the Ma Hajiani Dargah, women frequent in large numbers, making offerings of red or green glass bangles, red indicating one’s wish for marriage, and green for offspring.

Above info sourced from Wikipedia and an article in The Hindu.

Friday, April 12, 2019


The first thing we did on arriving in Amritsar is visit the Golden temple. The Harmandir Sahib also known as Darbar Sahib, is a Golden Gurudwara of Sikhs located in the city of Amritsar, Punjab, India. It is the holiest Gurudwara and the most important pilgrimage site for Sikhs. It was founded in 1574 by the 4th Sikh Guru, Guru Ram Das and completed in 1604. Maharaja Ranjit Singh was the 

one who covered it in gold in 1830, two centuries after its construction. This took 162 kg of 24 karat gold, then worth about Rs 65 lakh, again in the 90s, it was renovated with 500 kg of Gold.
If you have driven to Amritsar in your own car/van, you will do well to keep it parked in your Hotel premises and commute using the local autorickshaws/e-rickshaws as the street of old Amritsar where 

you have to go sight seeing and shopping are extremely narrow and the traffic of vehicles and humans is absolutely chaotic.
Next morning we visited the Jallianwala Bagh, a public garden which has acquired the dubious fame thanks to the massacre of peaceful Indians on 13th April 1919, a hundred years back, when troops of the British Indian Army under the command of Colonel Reginald Dyer fired rifles into a crowd of Indians who had gathered to celebrate Baisakhi.

Hundreds of people jumped to their death into the well in the Bagh to escape firing. 

The bullet holes in the wall are still preserved as a memory to the martyrs.
Next visit was to the Durgiana mandir which is modelled on the lines of the Golden temple. It was 

built in 1921 by Guru Harsai Mal Kapoor in the architectural style of the Sikh Golden Temple and inaugurated by Pandit Madan Mohan Malaviya an Indian educationist and politician notable for his role in the Indian independence movement.
The evening was reserved for ‘Beating the Retreat’ ceremony at Attari, the border between India and Pakistan where every evening when the respective flags are lowered there is a show of patriotism at 

the gate by the Border Security Forces of both countries supported by nationalist slogans on either side. It is a spectacle that is very popular and very well orchestrated.
Apart from the sight seeing activity we did thoroughly enjoy the Amritsari food of kulchas, chhole, 

fish and lassi interspersed with shopping not in malls but in age old shops lined up in the Kartar 

market. You can get Punjabi/Pathani suits for men and women tailored and delivered to your hotel in a day and get some real bargains on leather jootis (footwear) to top it off. We did!

Wednesday, April 3, 2019


Finally visited Dalhousie, the hill station that was in my must visit list for a long time.
My first impression – crowded with people and hotels/motels/malls. Fortunately for us our hotel, though next to the Bus Terminus, seemed secluded once we entered and the view of the Pir Panjal 

range of the Himalayas from the hotel premises was magnificent.
Dalhousie, a hill station in Chamba district of the State of Himachal Pradesh, was named after The Earl of Dalhousie, who was the British Governor-General in India while establishing this place in the 1850s as a summer retreat, at a height of 1970 metres above sea level.
Our local sight seeing started with a visit to Panjpula where one can avail of the adventure activities

like walking across the rope bridge and zip lining or chill in a mountain café with a tea, coffee, soft 

drink or maybe a hookah/sheesha of your favourite flavour.  You can start your souvenir shopping 

right here or move on to Gandhi chowk where there is a pedestrian zone for a mall. Do check out the

St.John’s church established in 1863 in Gandhi chowk and then move on to the next chowk, the 

A tiny temple on the path to Subhash chowk.

 Rock art on the path to Subhash chowk

Subhash chowk seen from Gandhi chowk

The mall between Gandhi chowk and Subhash chowk

Coffee if you wish to feel refreshed in the mall.

Subhash chowk, where you can check out St.Francis church built in 1894.

In Shubash chowk there are plenty of restaurants that serve excellent food. We ate at Shere-e-Punjab 
which afforded beautiful views too apart from wonderful service and delicious food.

Next morning we decided to explore Khajjiar, 22kms from Dalhousie, as the roads had opened up a 

couple of days earlier after the snow was cleared. Khajjiar is famous for its bowl shaped, pine ringed 

meadow. It offers a lot of photo ops which we indulged in, had lunch there and started back to 

The return drive was made memorable due to a massive traffic jam in the narrow mountain roads. We were stuck in the traffic for an hour and a half.

A couple of nights in Dalhousie, I think, were good enough, and am glad I knocked it off my list.

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Camping getaway

Had been reading a lot about some great camping getaways from Mumbai. Finally we decided on this fabulous place called Sahyadri camping in Wai, on the banks of the Krishna River. What more can one ask for? Tents on the banks of a river and easily accessible creature comforts like proper toilets to ensure that the environment is cared for. They also have facilities to cook for you or if you wish you can light up a bonfire and have a cook up outside your tent. All this for very reasonable pricing.
We rode out on a Saturday morning and since the distance to the camping grounds was not much and 

we did not want to reach too early, we rode on to Panchgani and gorged on Pizza and thick 

strawberry shakes in the amazing Mapro garden, before heading out to Wai which was just about 20kms away. The ride was amazing. Generally good roads and pleasant weather to up our spirits.

Had a lovely time setting up our tents followed by a bonfire and a dinner that we cooked of our outdoor favourite – Maggi noodles!

The morning after was spectacular. As I unzipped the tent flap, the view blew me off. Could have 

spent a long long time sitting there but had to get back home too, to ride to yet another piece of heaven elsewhere, some other time.
Soon we wrapped up and started on the return journey. Stopped at a quaint little café on the way 

where tea was served in eco-friendly earthenware cups and there was a swing fashioned by aerial 

roots in the compound.
Click on the link below for a short clip of our ride.