It had been quite a while and we were not able to go for an outing, so, one lazy afternoon, we all got together and decided that we needed a break. Trek was not on cards as it was beginning of summer, so we thought of visiting some pilgrim centres.
As always the route, dates and entire trip was meticulously planned. But, for a change, this time around, we tried to be bit more adventurous, we decided to cook ourselves, to effect more savings in our hotel bills. We carried just everything, from utensils, to foodgrains, from vegetables to stove.
We planned to visit Tuljapur, Akkalkot, Ganagapur, Pandharpur & Shikhar Shingnapur. This trip was one of our longest trip, we had booked a Tata Sumo for the same. One learns quite a bit when he travels and we gained many experiences on this trip.
We set off for our journey directly from office that friday evening. We reached the home of our colleague to collect utensils etc, and from where the tour was to commence. Unfortunately, the tyre of our vehicle got stuck in the gutter. Nearly whole of the locality came to help us out that night. Our journey started at eleven in the night. Nobody slept that night, we were all joking, singing, teasing, laughing and merrying around.
Next day at around eleven in the morning we reached Tuljapur, in Osmanabad District, the State Goddess of our state Maharashtra. The entire complex was huge and there was a very long serpentine queue over there for entering into the sanctum sanatorium. To our amazement though, we were told that we need to make an offering of Rs.101/- each so as to make an entry into the temple. Not the ones to take these diktats to our liking, we decided not to enter the temple. We firmly believed that god is not restricted only in temple, one can see his existence just everywhere.
We returned from that complex, we all were angry at the way people fleece, the rising sun on that plateau only raised our anger. Only to be stopped by two cops in uniform. The driver inquired, the cops checked all the papers and found everything in order, but, still persisted for Rs.100/-, obviously, he was asking for bribe. Now, we decided not to take it lying down, we all came out of the vehicle, informed the cops that we too were government employees and asked the cops for their identification number so that we can lodge a complain against them. The cops were taken aback by this kind of aggression, they might have never faced before, in that rural hinterland. They told the driver to go. We laughed our way over that little victory over those cops.
We were now travelling towards Ganagapur in Karnataka and we reached Maharashtra Karnataka Border. It was around 1 pm, the heat was scorching and had become unbearable. We found a huge traffic jam over that stretch of highway at Umerga. Our driver helplessly parked the vehicle in front of another stationery one. We in our inquisitiveness went to find the cause of traffic jam. We thought that some accident must have taken place. But to our surprise, we found that the local farmers were agitating against low rise in sugarcane price. They had blocked the highway in protest. We were witnessing all this for the first time.
All this had however resulted in our missing our schedules. We were to make a halt near the first source of water either a river or some well and cook our food, but now it all seemed improbable. So we had our afternoon lunch in one of the roadside dhaba over there. It was very hot and we were sweating like anything. We saw some action taking place. The police force arriving, the Magistrate approaching. Soon the State Reserve Police Force came in marching. They were equipped with shields and sticks and showed no emotions on their face. They just marched and stood parallel to the agitating crowd who were sitting on the road. I still wonder how they sat on that tar road in that heat.
Soon the magistrate signed the orders for lathi charge viz. to beat up and disperse the crowd using lathi sticks. The commandant ordered the cops to take position. An then he just said “charge”. The cops weilding sticks and shields within seconds charged on the crowd. The hapless crowd just ran for their lives. The entire stretch was cleared in a matter of two minutes or so. The sight that we saw was cops running after those farmers and farmers running for their lives and limbs. What remained behind was hundreds and thousands of shoes, chappals and slippers. I do not necessarily endorse this brutal use of force, but, the measures meant that we could move ahead. Soon the traffic was cleared and we could move ahead.
It was around 4.30 in the afternoon. We had witnessed how law machinery works. In a quite questionable fashion though. For the issues raised by the farmers were not answered but just suppressed. Not that the peasants did very correct a job by blocking the road and causing incovenience to hundreds though.
The evening had begun to set in, cool winds were blowing and we were now feeling bit relaxed. We were into deep inside the heartland of Maharashtra. Sugarcane farms were to be seen on both the sides of this fertile land. We reached one non-descript village at around 5.00 pm only to be stopped by some local youths asking for some kind of donations for some local temple repairs. Their tone was dominating and forceful. We did not pay heed to their demand. May be that their attitude mattered here. Else contributing 50-100 rupees was not a big deal.
We reached Ganagapur at around 7.30 pm. Now Ganagapur has a myth attached with it. It is said that this is a place where people possessed with evil spirits get relieved from the troubles. There is a tradition that before entering into the village you have to take prasadam from local brahmin family. So a local person who almost uninvitedly joined us, took to one brahmin family and they chanted some mantras and gave us handful of cooked rice mixed with curd to eat. We paid Rs.100/- and paid the impromptu guide Rs.20/- We, infact did not paid him for his services, but to free ourselves from his long boring tales.
Tha Maha Arti took place at 8 pm. As the tone and rhythm of the songs increased we noticed that some people were behaving unnaturally. Some of them started shivering, shaking, dancing, crying, some shouting, making strange and frightening gestures. There was a a steel structure of poles and some women folk even climbed those. One old lady ran away to that structure and held the pole firmly with her teeth as if some evil spirit was doing all this. We were confused and really did not understand what was happening. People were behaving as if they were into some kind of trance. Whether this was for real or was being enacted was not known. After the songs and prayers ended, everybody started behaving normally. I enquired with one little boy who was selling flowers about the ladies who climbed the pole, and they boy said that they were regular ones and came during prayers. Was this some kind of a trick being played on by somebody to make a non-believer like me to force believe something that was non existent ? I could trust the words of that small boy for he would never had lied. A mature person might surely had taking into consideration the economic benefits they derive from.
Anyways, without debating much about the authenticity of what we saw, we eat the food that the temple offered and made our journey backwards towards Akkalkot. Akkalkot is a place of Swami Samarth.
We reached Akkalkot at around 11.45 in the night, we halted at the Dharamshala in the temple complex. Within seconds of lying our bodies down, we fell asleep. That was a longest day, i guess, we witnessed so many a things that day.
Next day, at around 5.40 we got up, bathed and after daily chores, we took the Darshan at the temple. Since it was early morning, there was not much rush. We then had our breakfast in the canteen of the temple and started making way to reach Pandharpur. We began our journey towards Pandharpur at around 8 in the morning and by 9.30 am we reached Pandharpur. Pandharpur is one of the major pilgrim centres since many a centuries. It remains crowded all twelve months. We first proceeded to sacred river Chandrabhaga, dipped into the holy waters and then proceeded to the temple after changing our dresses. By 2.00 pm we were out of the temple and shopping.
From Pandharpur we descended for our journey to Shikhar Shingnapur, a Shiv Temple atop a fort. A relatively lesser known of pilgrimage centres. Nothing much about to write about.
All the way in our journey, we bathed either in river or used village wells. We cooked food only once or twice as our scheduled went haywire much of the times due to unforeseen reasons.
Finally after two nights and three days we all reached back.