A journey to the soul-Shani Shingnapur-Shirdi-Trimbakeshwar

8th Dec 2018

Day 1- Started the journey from Mumbai towards the holy town of Shani Shingnapur where the god of justice resides. This town is famous for the popular custom of not having any doors to their home. The journey was a smooth one. The route we chose was Mumbai-Nasik-Sinnar By-pass- Sangamner- Ruari- Shani Shingnapur. A word of caution to all. If you are new to this route please stick to a navigation system, especially while taking the by-pass. The roads upto Ruari Village are smooth but from there a 20-23 Km stretch is now being constructed. So expect a bumpy ride on the road which is pretty much unlevelled beyond Ruari village. The road on this entire route is lined with several dhabas and food points. At any such food joint there are two cusines easily found- South Indian dishes and Maharashtrian dishes. At any food joint you can enjoy the satisfying Idli sambhar or you can hog onto the lip smacking Misal Pav. If not this, you can choose to satisfy the hunger pangs with a Steaming hot Dal tadka and Jeera rice combo. Unless you are the one driving, end your food with a nice masala buttermilk(this deadly combo can give you a deep slumber). The views at Igatpuri are really breathtaking. Maybe you could pull over and get in some fresh air before you proceed onward. A bit of advise here is that if you are planning a trip on this route start early in the day because there is immense traffic on the way near Bhiwandi during the day time due to the coupling of road construction and heavy cargo movement. After a long drive and some minor delays due to not sticking with GPS, we reached Shani Shingnapur temple. The temple is surrounded by all the facilities and also a vehicle parking where I insist that you ask for a receipt for the parking fees paid. In the past there were strict rules of practicing the rituals only in holy clothes which were sold by the shops outside the temple. This clothes were often dirty and stinky. However the rules have now been done away with and people can worship the idol in regular clothes. However morality in dressing needs to be adhered to. The main offering to the lord's idol is oil which can be carried from home or can be bought at the store. You can just stand a little aside and pray to the lord and no security person will hush you out unlike other temples. The temple is also surrounded by eateries where you can enjoy the local delicacies. The town also has several lodging and guest houses if you choose to stay. If you are travelling from Mumbai there is also an alternate route to the town via Pune expressway which has good roads and also faster moving traffic. After soaking into devotion here, we proceeded towards Shirdi which is around 80 kms from Shani Shingnapur. On the way you can stop over along the roadside at any makeshift stall for a nice sugarcane juice which is mostly drawn by a crusher run by bullock. I suggest you refuse adding ice to the juice and enjoy the natural nectar. People also purchase the jaggery being sold at these stalls as they are processed by locals at home and free from chemicals. After the drive of around 1.5 hours we reached Shirdi, the land of eternal peace. Our stay was booked at the Temple view hotel which is situated right opposite the temple on the main road.

The road is lined with the rustic plateaus, patches of greenery and semi urban villages.

Photo of Shani Shingnapur Temple, Shani Shignapur, Maharashtra, India by Mihir Sharma
Day 2

Day 2- Having reached late at night and having had a long road journey, our cushy beds and the pleasant climate gave us a long and deep sleep. The rooms at the hotel are really good and comfy. The ambiance is nice and the hotel ensured that our stay was pleasant. We enjoyed a nice and hot breakfast at the restaurant downstairs. The menu has a wide offering ranging from the south indian dishes to north indian varieties. Over the two day stay I found out a few dishes that one must definitely try in breakfast, lunch and dinner. These include (for quicl meals)- Poha, Idli sambhar, sabudana khichdi and masala dosa. For main course meals one can try from a variety of vegetables offered followed by a combo of dal and rice or veg biryani. Dal Tadka and jeera rice is a dish served hot on this entire route at any restaurant and generally cannot be prepared bad in taste. The day was then engaged in relaxing and scouting the local markets. The markets are filled with shops selling idols, worship articles and local jewellery. You can also find various eateries and tea stalls. There is a newly opened attraction near by- Sai Tirth. It is devotional theme park where adults as well as the kids can enjoy reliving the mythological stories. We couldn't find the time to visit it but have received a lot of positive feedback from several people who visited it. We had a darshan booking at the temple at 5 pm. For those of you who do not know, the Sai Baba Sansthan, trust managing the Sai baba temple, has mandated registrations before darshan which can be done locally at several sansthan counters. Besides these the trust has also started darshan slots for those people who want to avoid the ques, which can be obtained online from the trust website at a cost of Rs. 200 per person. The normal darshan ques extend for upto 2 hours or more on weekends or festivals. A word of advise would be to book darshan at any time slot after the aarti timings and avoid slots exactly before the aarti. Once inside the temple every worry of the world fizzles out as one gets enchanted with the devotion in the environment. You can hear the mantras being played on the speakers along with the frequent chanting of Baba's name by fellow worshipers. There may be pushing around a lot by some overly hyper worshipers who tend to rush as if they are missing some flight to catch. The best thing is to step a little aside and allow these people to go ahead(holds true in almost all Indian temples). Let yourself devolve into the piousness and feel the purity as you enter the holy darbar of Sai. As you step towards the samadhi, you feel as if the lord is sitting there watching you with a smile. Once the darshan is complete you must visit the sai gurusthan, a neem tree just right outside the samadhi temple. Follow this with a visit to Dwarkamai, the place where Baba resided. You can stay in the temple premises and meditate. Adequate sitting facilities have also been provided in the temple premises, or you could visit the Lendi Baug inside the premises itself and watch the sun set. You can also visit the Sai museum inside the temple premises, where Baba's articles have been displayed. Following this we had a booking for the Shej aarti (Last aarti of the day). For this aarti you can choose to get in a que and sit in the samadhi mandir at a distance from the main idol and sing along the aarti or book a slot at the website at a cost of Rs. 400 per person and get a chance to stand near the idol in the darbar. The aarti at any place is heartwarming and lets along a wave of devotion in you. The temple is closed after the aarti and opens up in the morning.

The samadhi mandir

Photo of Shirdi, Maharashtra, India by Mihir Sharma
Day 3

Day 3- The day was a monday and hence Shirdi was relatively less crowded. If you wish to enjoy the serenity of the town, I suggest you plan your trip on a weekday. You can also get to sit for meditation in the main temple at a separate section located at the back in the Mukh darshan area. This is almost impossible on the weekend. There is not pushing around or forcing you out on weekdays. On the third day we left Shirdi. We were on our way to the jyotirlinga Trimbakeshwar temple. The temple is located almost 30 kms from Nasik city and from Shirdi it is a 2-3 hour drive. The roads are absolutely smooth with fast moving traffic. After the drive we reached Trimbakeshwar temple. There are free parking areas created for vehicles at a 10 minutes walk from the temple. The entire path to the temple is lined with restuarants, sweet shops, shops selling religious paraphernalia and offerings to lord shiva. Do not purchase coconut from any shop. People sell it even though taking it into the temple is strictly prohibited. Once you reach the temple you find two options of entering. One with the standard que or one with a shorter que at a cost of Rs. 200 per person. Once inside the temple you move towards the main sanctum. However no one is allowed to enter the main sanctum sanctorium except for in proper pooja clothes(a dhoti) and that too only in the early hours of morning. You can worship from a distance and can also see the reflection of the Shivlinga in a mirror placed right above the shivlinga. There is adequate place to sit and meditate the name of lord. After having visited the temple you can satisfy your hunger pangs in the market. We visited the Vithal Kamat food joint in the market. The food joint offers you a traditional maharashtrian taste in its dishes which is a must have in the region.

The Trimbakeshwar temple

Photo of Trimbakeshwar Shiv Mandir, Trimbak, Maharashtra, India by Mihir Sharma

Then we proceeded towards Mumbai back, having soaked in the purity and serenity of all the three places, only to be greeted by heavy traffic in the Bhiwandi area. This made me realize how in a bid to outrun each other we have outrun our bonding with god.