Thursday, 22 December 2011

Blessings of Shirdi Saibaba - Day 2 - Great Central India road trip

Total Distance - 600 KMs
Departure time -6.30 AM
Arrival time - 9.30 PM
Road condition - Mixed
Breaks -Two hours in Shirdi. Half hour in Maheshwar.
Max speed - 130 KMPH (I never crossed this limit throughout the trip)
Best stretches - Yeola - Malegaon, Malegaon - Dhule, Sendhwa - Gujri

After good sleep, we get up early and want to get out of Pune before the traffic picks up on the road. We are able to leave the hotel by 6.30 AM. The hotel guys had arranged to clean the car at night. But the heavy overnight mist had drenched the car and I have to wipe the wind screen again.

HVK had recommended us to take the university road and then straight on to Nagar road and then to Shirdi. Being Sunday, there isn’t much traffic in the morning. Even morning joggers seems very few and reluctant to get up from their beds. Pune looks nice early in the morning with tree lined roads. We easily get onto Ahmed Nagar road – some parts of which is still getting done up.

Leaving early, we hope to reach Shirdi in three hours. Traffic increase dramatically on the highway – trucks to Industries in Pune –Nagar belt who latch on to the right side of the road , pilgrims going to Shirdi on weekend and two wheelers – all delaying the drive.

Maneuvering the traffic and crossing Nagar takes time. We heave a sigh of relief as we leave behind Nagar. But our joy is short-lived as we reach Rahuri beyond which the road is bad with many potholes – some of them quite deep – which reduce our speed drastically. We reach Shirdi at 10.30 AM and went to our regular parking slot in front of Gate No 4.

I had stuck “ARMY” sticker on the car after lot of deliberation and after hearing the views of some "drive" loving friends. I have never done this on any cars so far. After reading HVK’s story of getting detained by cops during his trip to Gwalior a year back, I felt this may be useful. The first instance of its utility was in Shirdi.

I park the car and the attendant comes close.

“Saab, aap fauji hai”


“saab, apke liye, special entrance hai, usme jayiye, zaldi darshan hojayega”

“Sach?” I couldn't believe my ears as we were expecting to spend at least two hours in the queue being Sunday and I had never used this privilege in the last three visits.

“Haan, saab. Aap ka ID dikhayiye aur special entrance me jayiye”

" "

For the first time I am using my Fauji privilege in my life. Fortunately, I am carrying my ID.

We take Puja materials and join the special darshan queue meant for NRIs – I don’t know why NRIs should get this benefit -, Faujis, Senior citizens etc. I show my ID and buy the special darshan ticket by paying Rs 100 each.

We are ushered in from the special darshan gate and are also fortunate to enter the temple before 11.30 as the darshan gets closed during Aarthi around 12 Noon. We had good darshan of Baba and Brinda is thrilled. We come out of the temple around 11.30.

Since we had not had any breakfast and had survived on Varrier biscuits and tea, “our stomachs were on E”. We decide to have early lunch in Shirdi and then proceed.

“Why not have Italian lunch”, my wife asks

“What? Italian in Shirdi??”

“Yeah, you remember there is Little Italy in Sun-N-Sand hotel we stayed last time?”

You have to grant to our wives to remember these kind of stuff!!

“OK” I agree (Can I say NO??)

We go to the hotel – a familiar place having stayed twice there – and get the chef to cook for us as we are the first customers. Food is excellent and now we start our long journey to Dhar.

We leave Shirdi around 12.30 PM and proceed towards Manmad. We check the road condition to Manmad in the hotel and the guys say it is good (I have not understood what they mean by “Good”). I take it with a pinch of salt and my fears come true as we leave Shirdi behind. Till Yeola toll gate, the road is bad after which it turns out to be good.

The monsoon has transformed these places lovely. We drive with green hills flanked on either sides at a distance. There is a rail track running parallel and we notice a goods train passing by. The bogies are painted in blue – thanks to railways to get rid of dull rusty colors – it presents a lovely scene with the hill in background. We stop and click.

The train and the hill

The hills of are different hues and shapes. Suddenly we see this unusual hill at a distance. It is stunning and looks like a huge Buddhist stupa. I am not sure what is this named. Even the locals were not of much help.

Is this a Hill or an ancient Stupa?

It turns out to be a pleasant drive as we reach Manmad and then to Malegaon. At Malegaon, we join NH 3 at the bye pass.

We are happy to see nice 4L NH 3 as we leave behind Malegaon. Again our joy is short-lived. The road is good till Dhule after which  we start maneuvering numerous diversions till Sendhwa. It kills speed.

As we near Palasner, we see a pile up of vehicles. The road is single lane, other one being kutcha road under widening. A long line of trucks - must be more than a KMs - in front of me. I tell my wife that it will take at least an hour to get out of this mess as they are not moving at all. I wait for some time. I remember P Kumar’s - another friend - adventure of going behind an ambulance to beat the jam in Ichapuram during his GQ drive. The advice is to follow the local vehicle to get out of the mess.

I notice an innova with local registration taking the Kutcha road. I tell Brinda that this is our chance and let us follow the guy. She consents and I am after him. He drives quite fast on the road and thanks to Scorpio, I keep pace with him. We come and join the line at the place where the bottle neck is. He pushes the car into the lane and I follow suit. I have to grant it to truck drivers that they do oblige the carwallahs in all this. We join the line and go at snail pace for another ten minutes and cross Palasner.

Now we are on Toll road and breeze to Dhamnod. It is evening and I tell Brinda that Maheshwar is close by.

“Why don’t we see Narmada Aarthi and then go to Dhar” she asks

“It will take at least an hour and half and I am game”

“Let us do it”

We take a detour and go to Maheshwar. We ask local for directions and confirm timing. They confirm that the aarti happens around 6.30 PM. Fortunately, the road from Dhamnod to Maheshwar is excellent and I drive fast to make it in time. The road goes through the town. the navratri fervour is alreday high and we notice stalls selling Durga idols - like stalls selling Ganesha idols in Bangalore. This was a big surprise to me as i always thought that Durga pujs is popular only in Bengal.

Durga idols on sale

We cross the small barrage on Narmada as the setting sun sprinkle brilliant colours in the sky.

Sunset over Narmada
From the main Chouraha, the road to ghat is very narrow and I am generally scared to take the beast into these small roads. With prayers on my lips, i get in. We reach the ghat at 6.30 PM and park my vehicle. Brinda has already seen boards’ advertising “Maheshwari sarees”. She is thrilled. I hold her back saying that we will come next day for shopping.

There seems to be no signs of any aarti at ghat. Weekend picnickers from nearby villages are still hanging around. I go to the temple and ask the Pujari about the Aarti. He says the Aarti will be at 8 PM. He also confirms that the Narmada Aarti is not the same like Ganga Aarti in Banaras. What a disappointment.

We depart and hit the highway. After driving for ten KMs, we see the signage for DHAR and we enter. It is now misery all the way to Dhar. The distance is small. The road is bad with potholes and is broken throughout except for small good patches in between. It is night and it is a ghat road with huge truck traffic. We thank that we are in a Scorpio and not in a car with low GC.

There is no other option unless we go all the way to Mhow and take the road from there. We take two and half hours to cover a distance of 50 KMs from Gujri to Dhar.

We reach Jhira Bagh Palace at 9.30 PM.

Next post - Jhira Bagh Palace Hotel  

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