I am not a great traveler. Though I have my share of devotion towards God and my country and love for other countries, I prefer to sit on my armchair and read about them, rather than taking the trouble of actually visiting them. Shirdi, Nasik , the jyotirlingas, Shivneri fort - I had read about all of these places, but if not for my parents' coaxing, I do not think I would have budged from Bangalore. Finally, after two full months of planning, our trip to Maharashtra happened last week. R, Biyadiya and I, my parents, my brother and grandmother, and my sister's family formed the group of travelers (=pilgrims).
The first leg of our journey was by train. I love traveling by trains. For one and a half years, when I was working in Madras, I travelled by train almost every weekend. However, one big difference from those journeys to this one, was the length. Journey from Bangalore to Chennai takes about 7 hours. This journey took nearly twenty hours. While the Bangalore-Chennai journey does not interfere with one's bath and breakfast timings, this one definitely did. R and I did not want to eat before taking bath, but were forced to eat some food to sustain ourselves.
The closest little Biyadiya had ever been to a train other than Thomas, was when he had once waved at it from a distance of more than one hundred meters. The second we got into our seats, he stated wailing pitifully, asking to get off. I knew that there would be some resistance, as he had shown earlier that he disliked bus-travel also. But half an hour after the train started moving, R, my father and a policeman ("rona nahin!"), were successful in calming him down. He gradually took to the train so much, that he actually did not want to get off the train, when we reached Kopargaon!
I hail from Bellary, as I have said elsewhere. The vegetation in those parts of Karnataka is mainly the 'jaalimuLLu' plants. The fields are usually sown with chili and jowar. Now, I have not visited North Karnataka in quite a while, and it was really nice to see those same things again. My eyes feasted again on the stony hills and the black soil. Shirdi and the surrounding places are also what we can call 'bayaluseeme', unlike Pune and its surroundings, which is more like malenaaDu.
At Shirdi, The cleanliness of the premises and the discipline at the temple and at Bhaktanivas, which is the travelers' lodge, were very impressive. There are a few colorful fountains at the entrance to the temple. Both of us (my little one and I) were quite taken by them and spent a long time in front of them. Since elderly people are let in without adherence to the queue, with an escort, my Mother who was worried about Biyadiya, bade me go with my grandma and finish my darshan. It was a very rewarding experience.
For two full months, we had debated on whether we could take little Biyadiya for the trip. Finally, the Great Man at Shirdi made us take him. And we never regretted it once. The only problem for him was food. He is as picky an eater as I am, and sourcing food for us was R's biggest worry throughout. I did not find the idlis and dosas of Maharashtra palatable. Biyadiya agreed with me and went on a hunger strike. I had to then buy Cerelac for him, to keep his energy levels (and mine) up. However, Maharashtrians make Vada pav and Batata vada, which are tasty even when eaten at roadside stalls. I succumbed to those, and hunger pangs did not bother me a lot, afterwards. An interesting thing about the hotels there, was the 'upvaas' menu. I did not try it out at all, but was impressed to see that there was somebody paying enough attention to their upvaas, even while traveling.
This trip was the longest one we have undertaken in at least five years. Since I wish to do it justice, I will continue the travelogue in the next one or two installments.