Five things I can’t miss in Malayasia

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Travelling to any country brings a unique opportunity for the traveller to explore the new country and get a slice of a different experience that is offered only by the country. These are the top five activities that I don’t want to miss in Malayasia –

  1. Diving in exotic beaches
  2. Participating in World Kite Festival
  3. Go close to nature at Langkawi Island
  4. Enjoy street food
  5. Taking a bite of the rich Malayasian heritage

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Diving

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Malayasia 3There is a larger world under the sea and Malayasia’s exotic beaches offer grand experience of exploring the underwater world. Images from underwater dives show us that a more beautiful and colourful experience awaits us inside the sea and not outside. The images say it all rather than the words.

World kite festival

Malayasia 2Kite was a favourite pastime in my childhood. In Kolkata every year we used to celebrate kite festival twice one in September on the occasion of Viswakarma Puja and another on the occasion of Saraswati Puja in January / February. This is a sport that lures all ages all across the globe.

Malayasian kites bring in a different flavour of enjoyment. It is mixed with Malayasian culture and their tradition. The big and colourful kites also bring in a dimension of fine craftsmanship of Malay masters. These are works of art to enjoy, collect and also to boast of.

Nature at Langkawi Island

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Malayasia 5Nature brings thousands of wonders around us. Different places have different natural wonders to offer. The pristine valleys of the island mixed with finest tourist facilities and sports developed by the Malayasian people will always bring in a special offer to my life. The experience will make my trip memorable and hence I can’t miss them while travelling there.

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Street Food

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Any place in the world brings in its special food buffet that can’t be ignored by any traveller. Food and culinary arts of the country makes the travel memorable and special to the traveller. I would like to try out the following food items while I am in Malayasia – Tarik Tea, Satay, Penang Rojak, Nasi Lemak, Lemang, Lor Bak and Assam Lasaka.

I will also not want to miss stroll around their special food streets like this one –

http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=d7fcIwECDzw

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Culture, heritage and monuments

Malayasia 7Visiting a country without experiencing their heritage sites and monuments is a waste of travel. It is more preferred to me than lucrative shopping option there. Thanks to opening up of economy Indian cities like Bangalore and Hyderabad too bring in lot of good shopping destinations. But no other country can give me the experience of Malaysian heritage. Today heritage is not only its historical monuments and places it includes world’s highest towers the Petronas Towers, Batu Caves, Legoland and other historical places of interest.

If I get a chance to visit Malayasia ever, these activities will be on the top of my itinerary.

All images except the third one mentioned are from Malayasian tourism site. Third image courtesy

The thrill of exploration

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God owns the heaven !

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 But he has given us the whole world to roam free –

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[above three images from internet]

From ages immemorial the mother earth has called the explorers like us to experience the thrill of exploration. That is why Christopher Columbus could explore into America, that is how Fa Hien has visited ancient India. Even today we have so many areas unexplored that we do not even know they exist. New terrains, aboriginals or new creatures give us the thrill of being human and experience all six senses in us. Yes, explorers need to have the SIXTH sense to venture into those alien landscapes.

On a bright April morning we descended in this comparatively unexplored land where traditional transportation is banned. We have parked our car in the parking place after which the exploration on a motored vehicle is not allowed.

Our little one stared at the far stretched land amazement, with a lot of unexpressed emotions in his eyes –

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A new unconventional vehicle was ready to take us inside the wonderland –

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They were set to take us to the unknown terrain. The riding experience was unique and a new exploration of its kind –

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She took us through the slope and rugged terrain of red muddy and urban landscapes. The overlaying trees provided a shade on our heads and even in the bright sunny morning the rugged terrain was hardly getting sunlight. Only a well lit spot ahead showed us the road.

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Thick dense forest created barrier in our way many a times but we had to make our way through the dense forest.

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After riding for almost an hour we have reached our shelter. A glimpse of the main gate from a distance signalled the end of a thrilling experience –

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We were tired due to so much excitement, pony ride and the uneven hilly rugged terrain. So decided to freshen up and take rest for sometime –

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..and then fill our stomach with the food cooked by the resort caretakers.

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 After energizing ourselves we went out to explore the surroundings –

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The view from backyard was also awesome –

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We decided to play for a little while with the kid –

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..and was swamped with a feeling of victory (video)

By the time it was 5 by our watch I wanted to survey the land

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..and the surrounding –

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and slowly we were engulfed by mesmerizing dusk of the wonderland –

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Our bungalow at the backdrop was looking like a haunted house

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Through a dense unexplored forest

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We returned to our rooms, and after our dinner in a royal dining room –

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We went to the verandah for taking rest and enjoying the darkness while our little ones was still busy exploring –

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Next day, before taking breakfast I have taken the kid outside –

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and we started exploring in the wild –

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Explored some flora and fauna –

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These caged birds were new delight to the kiddo

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As we set out, we realized that the dense forest had a lot more to offer

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and it took us to a small water body –

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and a bigger one

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The makeshift dam and natural unexplored terrain had one bigger surprise in store –

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We went ahead through the road shown by the jungle –

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…and met them. The aboriginals who were not humans..

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Dense clouds gathered by this time and in a flash of a lightning effect we saw a big obstruction in our way

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We took a detour to reach the bungalow –

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Next morning, we were set to vacate the place by morning 9 o’clock.

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We took the same route to come back and horses were put to rest –

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As we waited at the station

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the station clock signalled

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As the train started, we have seen this remarkable feet of a local vendor

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While we said –

“Good Bye – Matheran” (video)

The happy traveller in me

বহু দিন ধ’রে, বহু ক্রোশ দুরে; বহু ব্যয় করি বহু দেশ ঘুরে

    দেখিতে গিয়েছি পর্বতমালা, দেখিতে গিয়েছি সিন্ধু।

দেখা হয় নাই চক্ষু মেলিয়া, ঘর হতে শুধু দুই পা ফেলিয়া;

    একটি ধানের শিষের উপর একটি শিশিরবিন্দু।।

Rabindranath Tagore

The traveller that is in me always wanted something fascinating, something extraordinary, something that I experienced never before. And that is why I keep travelling around the world. As Famous Bengali poet Rabindranath said in above poem – “I have been travelling to all distant places, by spending huge money to see mountain ranges or oceans. However, near my home just at a distance of two steps we have beautiful nature that I have not seen.”

Challenges to anyone while selecting a destination are many. This increases when there is a family involved.

My family consists of my aged retired parents, my wife and child. All of different age groups and different tastes. I remember what Francis Bacon said about travel –

Travel in the younger sort, is a part of education; in the elder, a part of experience.

Obviously the choices differ. My four-year old son loves parks, zoo etc. My parents want to go to temples. Me and my wife both love museums, historical monuments etc. Also my child and old parents can’t walk for too long and hence I need to keep everyone’s health in consideration while making any travel plans. Rabindranath is always an inspiration for us and he showed the right path to me. What about visiting the places of interests in Hyderabad? and I got all places of interest in one single city.

Plan

Since I live in Hyderabad, I will have to make the entire plan on road and hire a cab for the same. My family and parents will arrive at Shamsabad airport by flight and will take rest on the first day. Next for another five days we will have our grand celebration at Hyderabad. The plan will be something like this –

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This trip would include park, water body, laser show, light and sound show, temples, zoo and a lot of food and entertainment. Something for everyone.

Day 1

Salar Jung Museum

After early morning breakfast we will start from our house at 9 am by cab.

This museum has a fascinating 1856 clock that charms every visitor

if not the Rebecca statue or other equally amazing artefacts.

Veiled Rebecca

Lunch
We will have our lunch in a restaurant to Mozamzahi market and eat ice-cream from Famous Ice Cream Shop. Their special assorted ice cream is a delicacy for anyone travelling that side. We will also not forget to buy designer ‘Hukkas’ from Mozhamzahi Market –
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After lunch we will proceed to see Purani Haveli, Chowmahala Palace and Charminar. The heart of Hyderabad.

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Not to forget the marketing bangles from the ‘Lad Bazar’, chappal from the ‘Omani Footware’ and pearls from the local pearl shops. Night dinner will be Bamboo Rice and Pakistani Mutton from Sadab near Charminar.

Day 2

This day will be completely spent in Ramoji Film City. I am sure our child will enjoy various rides and those special shows. Lunch and snacks will be inside. Day will end with the stunt show there –

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Day 3

On Day 3 we will go to Hyderabad zoo. Zoo is something that is liked by all, including older people. In the afternoon we will visit the Golconda Fort. We will also see the ‘Light and Sound’ Show there. My wife specially likes Big B’s voice.

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Day 4

This will be a long day for us as this day will start early in the morning and will stretch till 9 pm in the evening. My parents will like the visit to Birla temple, while we will enthusiastically wait for rides and fun games at NTR park . Entire evening will be spent in Lumbini park with adventure games, visit to the Buddha statue or the ‘Laser Show’ in the evening. The tiring day will end at 8:45 pm after the English show ends.

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Day 5

The last day of our travel will be deliberately kept simple and hassle free. My parents would like the Chilkur Balaji Temple visit as they want to pray for their grandson’s well being. They will have to take 108 rounds there. We will spend almost the whole morning there, and will take our lunch outside the temple. Mrugavani National Park is a small park that is on the way to Gachibowli. We will have a spectacular view of deer and other animals in the wild. Evening time will be spent in Shilparamam and buy artifacts from there. It has got market from all over India and it is a special tourist delight for everyone. In the evening we will enjoy the cultural program by the local artists and will come home after our dinner from Hi-Tech city 4-Seasons  restaurant. We love the special Tangri Kabab they prepare there.

These are the reasons why I will take my family to a trip to Hyderabad from Kolkata-

1.  My parents do not know English. I need to take them to a place where they can at least manage with Hindi and Hyderabad is the place for them.

  1. The place we visit should not be too hot or too cold so that my family members fall ill. So Hyderabad during Aug – Sep is the best place.
  2. Hyderabad weather is most pleasant specially during Aug / Sep. I will take them to these places so that they can enjoy a hassle free travel in the most pleasant weather.

  3. Hyderabad has most wide vareity of food available. Not only the shahi kindda food but also Mexican. Italian, Chinese or even Bengali foods are available in many places in Hyderabad.

  4. My parents are old people and may fall sick any time during their travel. Hyderabad has best and most economic medical centres to treat patients.

  5. The kind of vareity Hyderabad offers for all age group people is awsome, and there can not be a second choice to this place.

  6. Our (my wife’s and mine) favourite shopping destination is Hyderabad. Here artifacts are available from all over India in Shilparamam. Bangles from Lad Bazar, Chappals from Omani Footware, Ice cream or Faluda or Badam Shake from old city, Intricate art forms Bidri ware or minekari or Zari work is best available here. Women’s favourite saris Pochampalli, Zardousi, Gadwal and other types of silks are available in best forms in the shops of Ameerpet or Abids. For my parents I have the most awakened GOD, the Chilkur Balaji in Hyderabad. For my kid I have the zoo and the Ramoji Film City or the Snow World in the city. For young couples we have innumerable places to shop, party and have fun. And last but not the least, all these we can get in a very economic price.

So, if I would like to take my family anywhere on the globe, it would be my present hometown, that welcomes everyone so easily that they feel at home in no time.

Welcome to my hometown ! Hyderabad is calling, Hyderabad is rocking.

History calling @ Ajanta

Ajanta T-Junction

It was 4 pm when we came out of Ellora. I was amazed to see how correct Ilyas was. He knew we would get finish in two/three hours. May be most of the tourists does.

Ilyas was playing cards with other drivers when we came in. It was a game of 29 going on. He was not very surprised to see us.

-Oh. You came so fast.
There was little sarcasm in his voice.
-No. I thought we will relieve you at the earliest. Also the other half would have taken more time and I felt we would be late.

I tried to be normal.

It took around two hours to reach our Ajanta resort. It is at the heart of Ajanta called ‘T-Junction’. This is the place from where all eco-friendly busses for Ajanta start. Ever since I booked this resort online through MTDC site, I was tensed. There are only two resorts available online out of five and I was not able to talk to the manager ever since. The office phone number also never worked. This failure of mine led to huge concern about the quality of the accommodation here. I always thought that this will be middle of nowhere until I came here.

Ilyas stopped at a place which looked best as a town car parking place. It never looked like any entrance. There was no site of a resort, too.

-Where is the resort? I wanted to go to MTDC resort in Ajanta. I told firmly.
-You will have to go inside. Ilyas showed me a way.

I was skeptical but told everyone to wait there until I come back. I didn’t want to take out my bags off the car without making sure it was the right resort and I have confirmed booking there. I went inside a small iron gate and entered a well maintained garden area and then five small cottages came in my site.

As I was walking through the red tiled criss-cross pavement through the heart of the garden there was hardly anybody in site. I tried to see if any of the cottage doors was open but in vain. I continued to go inside the resort and lucky enough I found the door of one cottage to be open. I peeped in without caring if I am barging into someone else’s privacy as that was my last choice then. One young boy was cleaning the room.

-Excuse me. I said. Ihaan ka office kahan hai. I asked in Hindi as he seemed to be the service boy.
-Aap aabhi aa raha hain? He asked.
-Yes.
-Mere saath aaiye..he came out of the cottage
-Your name? I asked while we were approaching the farthest building. I was wondering if he would turn out to be the manager, too like our previous hotel.
-I am Raju, sir. I take care of all your needs, and he is the manager.

No, this time the service boy look like Raju didn’t change a shirt and became the manager. The manager was better dressed. He was a young chap just around 25-26. I confirmed my booking with him and took Raju with me as we came out to take our luggage.

-How is this place? The first question my wife asked me when she saw me back.
-This place is beautiful. I whispered in her ears as I didn’t want Raju to hear that. We still had to experience the services there.

Apparently both Raju and the manager looked to be very polite and helpful in the first meeting. I didn’t want to form an opinion though that early.

It was 6:15 pm and that area still had sunlight. As we walked inside with our luggage we started cherishing the beauty more. The cottage was built in a vast land of a 2/3 acres on the backdrop of Ajanta hills. Only 10% of this land was concrete construction and the rest was nature. The resorts are completely eco friendly with lot of free space. I knew my wife was very happy with this beautiful place to stay. Moreover, he we have AC, Water heater, fridge, TV, kitchen everything for a very minimum fees.

The first impression of the resort has won it all. Soon we forgot the pains of our Shirdi hotel. I set out to capture the nature in my lenses.

Night out

TV was on while Jayeeta and Piklu were busy freshening them up. Well, definitely mom helping the boy. I came back to the resort after one hour shooting. Nature has given this place all the beauties together. Birds, butterflies, trees there are so many things to shoot. Since the sunlight was fading away fast, I had limited time to capture the beauty around.

After the fall of dusk, I came back to my resort. Raju had fitted the swing in my balcony by now. I wanted to set free the child in me. It was Id that day and the moon was visible in the clear sky flanked by two stars on both sides. It was calm, serene and holy site to view. The same day was Ganesh Chaturthi as well. No wonder, the day was so fantastic.

The light outside the resort was off as that would have attracted numerous insects to me. Only a few lights in the common passageway were lit. The whole place was abuzz with sounds from many unknown creatures some of whom were coming and sitting on me in the dark. I could only feel them but could not see them.

I couldn’t restrain myself from filming the moon. Where do I get so clear sky in Hyderabad or in Kolkata. Our sky is lost amidst the skyscrapers built for our comfort and luxury. That is the reason we come to nature once in a while.

-Get up! Get up, are you listening to me?

I felt a jolt and came back to the resort from the land of utopia. Jayeeta was calling me. I looked into my mobile and it was almost 8 pm. Time to go for dinner. We planned to go to MTDC Hotel in Fardapur for our dinner as we heard that there is no other better restaurant around.

We locked our resort and went out. In the meantime we had made planning for next day’s Aurangabad visit. Raju has called Ram, a local travel agent who rents out cabs to tourists. I couldn’t finalize the deal as the rate was quoted very high. I wanted to check with my Aurangabad agent before confirming and took some time before confirming.
As we walked out of our resort for the T-Junction to catch an auto both of us were amazed by the surrounding beauty. My wife was inside and she was overwhelmed by that.

-Oh, what is this?
-My god. It is only 8 pm and the place is totally empty. I just saw a bustling market sometime ago.

Both of us were very surprised and shocked to see a deserted T-Junction. We could not imagine that a bustling marketplace and parking area will soon turn into a deserted place. I realized that we were closer to nature but very far off from civilization. Anything can happen there. If someone wants, can kill us there and nobody will know.

We rushed back to our resort. All other resorts were also closed with an uncanny silence looming over the place. Some other resort lights were on from inside indicating that there were some life inside but nobody cares what is happening outside. The resort office is the farthest building and now there is a new service boy came for that night. He is Naga, I met him sometime back while enjoying my swing ride.

-Naga, Naga. Are you there? I was shouting at the top of my voice. We went searching for him as he was last resort for help in that no man’s land. I was not sure if he was in the office as the door was closed.
-Yes sir. He came out. His face was not visible as there was no light outside the office for insects. I was speaking to a silhouette.
-How can I get dinner today? I tried to go out but nothing is available outside. It is completely deserted. Will you be able to bring something for us?
-Umm…ok sir. Write down what needs to be brought. I can go only after one hour as someone is scheduled to come anytime now.
-Now? There is nothing outside. I felt like saying that only ghosts can come now but stopped there.
-Ok, go after 9.

I was wondering how he could bring food at that time. He didn’t have a vehicle either. But that was his headache. I gave him 500 bucks for some egg fried rice.

-Ding dong. The bell rang quite sharply reminding that our food has arrived.
-Naga, come inside. I opened the door and brought him in.

We can’t keep the door open for nature’s other beautiful creation, the insects. Otherwise we need to sleep with them. The door was opened only for a few seconds while he came inside but that was enough for the insects to barge into my abode.

He took 300 bucks including his auto fare. There is a place nearby from where autos were available till that time. I was surprised. I gave him some instant tips as well.

He didn’t go to Fardapur hotel, brought the food from nearby shop. Egg fried rice that was enough for us for one night. I asked Jayeeta to have her dinner first while I take care of Piklu as she had to feed him later. She took the dinner plates out and started taking her dinner on the dining table. I started watching some Bengali serials for the first time along with our son. He stays with his mom and already developed good taste for these serials. I can’t change the channel to a business or news channel now. He will cry at the top of his voice, may even throw up and soon we will be in a mess.

-Waaaalllk….Thhhoooo. I heard the sound of someone throwing up and I was very scared. Piklu is not eating anything now..then why the hell he is vomiting?? Can’t we have a nice good night sleep tonight?? I was looking around as I wanted to see the source. No it was not him, but his mother this time.
-What happened? I was scared.
-Fuck..is this the food they have here? Just see this.

I saw the rice. It is one of the lowest cost rice, thick, reddish fried in one of the lowest cost oil with all local herbs and flesh available in the nearby jungles. I hope the egg given in the rice is chicken egg and not of something else.

We could not eat that food at all. We would better be hungry that night rather than eating that rubbish and falling sick. We went to bed after Piklu took his last feed of milk for that day.

Day Three: Ajanta

We got up early on Sunday. I didn’t want to take risk of asking Naga again to bring food. At least now life is back again in this locality and I am sure the market will be open. I got ready quickly and got dressed while Jayeeta started making Piklu ready for that day’s trip. I went out to bring some food before we check out from the hotel.

-Where are you going sir? Do you need anything? Naga intercepted me on my way.
-Oh no. It is ok. I just ignored him. I was little upset with him for bringing substandard food for us the previous night.

I bought Puri-Bhajji from a market shop. He prepared fresh and given that in a parcel. Five puris for 20 bucks, not bad. I packed for two and went back in a hurry. We needed to check-out by 9 o’clock and proceed for Ajanta Caves.

We just took two small bags, one for our son and the other with our snacks and left for the caves. The main luggage was kept at the resort reception for picking up later. In the meantime I had to book Ram’s cab for Aurangabad trip in the afternoon. Even with best of my intentions Ram didn’t want to reduce the charge from 1500 bucks for that 115 Km journey. By any standard that was high and again I ended up paying for both sides of the cab journey. I only thought I was wiser enough to book a single cab for this entire three days of our trip. That could have been more economic.

We wanted to take the AC bus for the caves from T-Junction but that was not available. These buses start little late once the heat becomes more. We had to catch the normal one. We saw fleets of Buddhist monks and elderly people accompanying heading towards the caves in different other buses. Ajanta came to life with hustle and bustle of tourists.

The bus took us to Ajanta entrance. Just beside the ticket counter there is a MTDC restaurant and a cloak room. After crossing these we went through a small revolving gate to enter the foothills. There is a staircase which we will have to climb to reach the caves. The stairs were too steep indeed. One will get porters or small hand held chairs for the invalids. Porters will even carry your luggage or baby if you wish to. We already planned that Jayeeta will sit at a comfortable location with our son and I will go around taking the snaps for our memory. At least this worked out better for us previously.

After climbing some forty-fifty steps we reached a sloping road that led to the main entrance for the caves. This road is fully metalled and the best thing is there is no dirt anywhere nearby. It is great to see that in-spite of attracting so many tourists daily the authorities could successfully keep the area neat and clean.

We could get some really good snaps and my joy knew no bounds as I found Ajanta to be better maintained and a lot of subjects for my photography. After visiting two/three caves Jayeeta wanted to take some rest with Piklu while I continued with our water bottle for other caves. The writing before each cave gave me good insight about the history of the caves and I didn’t need a guide for my tour.

There are a total of 29 caves here. These are mostly Buddhist caves and they attract a lot of Buddhist monks and Japanese tourists. I found a couple of tourist-guides who knew Japanese as well. The day was perfect for good photography. Enough of sunlight and the curvature of the hills is just right to give a good opportunity to take nice snaps.

I travelled to each cave learning little bit of history everywhere. Ajanta road is well constructed and very clean. This is a delight for the tourists. I travelled till the end of the row to the last set of caves too. The road came to almost an end and I saw a billboard on the railing. It read –

‘Van Udyan

     –

A muddy road goes inside the gate through the heart of the forest. I stepped in carefully with the camera in my hand. I didn’t know what is at the end but expected some adventure for sure. After walking for two minutes even in this forest I saw a couple of vendors selling local artifacts. They were trying hard to attract each tourist passing by them. I was in no mood to buy anything as everything is available in Aurangabad and we have plans for shopping there.

The road is just beside a small river. At the end of the road lies a small bridge connecting the other bank of the river. I saw a few people crossing the bridge and joined them soon. The bridge gives a view of far off hills and the running stream on both sides. I could also hear sound of a falling waterfall.

I continued till the end of the road after crossing the stream. At the end there is a small area where people can assemble and from there I saw the beautiful white stream of water coming down a height of approximately 70 meter. I could see only two cascades but I came to know that this comes through seven cascades from the hilltop. This experience of true wild nature in Ajanta will keep this in my heart for ever.

I came back to the place where my wife and son were resting. My son was nice this time and took one round of food without vomiting. We wanted to go out at the earliest as it was around 11:30 am by my watch and we wanted to go back by 1 pm after lunch at the MTDC restaurant near the caves.

The restaurant had a good variety of food to offer at reasonable price. We took plain steamed rice with chicken and egg curry. The lunch was really good even though we felt that the place could have been air conditioned for better comfort for weary travelers.

We came back to T-junction by 12:30. We still had half an hour for shopping. The market has a lot of things to offer and we really liked the handicrafts on display there. Idols made from Basalt rock were amazing.

We felt like buying a lot of stuff for our collection, but I had to restrain myself considering the money to be paid for our transfer to Aurangabad. It was another one thousand and five hundred rupees for 115 KM journey.

Mesmerising Ellora

Piklu has again thrown up during lunch. He is not eating anything and his mom is getting impatient about his health. I was in a fix as to what to do. We decided that Jayeeta will wait somewhere in the caves while I go around and take snaps. These snaps would be our only memory for the future.

We took our lunch in MTDC hotel Kailash which is just beside the Ellora caves. Food was decent and the price was also moderate. I was really delighted to come to a non inflated Indian tourist spot. Piklu was initially very energetic as we walked into the restaurant. There was one bunch of beautiful young ladies sitting at a distant table.

Immediately after entering the restaurant my son had a loud chat session with those ladies for the first five minutes (the time when his mom was in ladies’ room). He was shouting at top of his voice in his own language and those ladies responding to the child’s screams and being part of his fun.

I thought Piklu has recovered from his travel sickness and he would not have any problem with his lunch now. But actually when we tried to feed him we realized that the problem is far from being over. In fact he has vomited again in the restaurant. I realized that the girls have left and Piklu has come back to his normal behavior.

Ellora caves are just beside the hotel. In fact, this proximity to the caves helped the climax of the Ray’s film where three of feluda’s associates visiting the caves in the early morning hours and busting the gang responsible for stealing Indian heritage.

We took our tickets and reached cave 16 or the Kailsh temple.

-Well it is 1:30 pm now. Please come back by 3:30 pm. Ilyas told us as we were about to proceed towards the caves.
-Why? Is there any time fixed for our coming back. This is not what I discussed with your agency. I was totally irritated.
-No, I just wanted to say that it would take two and half hours to reach Ajanta. He ate his words, seeing my reaction.
-I know. I have already planned to reach there by 8 pm and that is how I discussed from the day one.
Ilyas didn’t have anything else to say after my firm reply.
-Guide sir guide! Very economical sir.
-No thanks. I tried to check my expenses as I am already been robbed enough in this three days trip.
-Idhaar har paththar kuchh kaheta hai, sir. Aap ko unki bhasha aati hai. Nehin to sab kuch sirf paththar dikhega. (here all rocks tell you a story. If you don’t understand their language you will see only rocks).

I didn’t pay any heed to those last words as I was crossing the rock garden. The whole of the garden was abuzz with tourists from all over the globe most of whom were busy in taking beautiful snaps of the enchanting architecture of the temple. I also got busy in taking snaps of everything there from all possible angles

The Kailash Temple is the most important, most beautiful and central cave of a row of 34 caves. This is one of the 17 Hindu caves or should I say a Hindu temple. I came to know that this mountain was initially covered with thick white coat to give it a look of a snowy mountain (Hindu god Shiva lives on Kailash). The moment I came to know the name of the cave, I remembered Satyajit Ray’s famous Bengali film Kailashe Kelenkari.

After crossing the main gate of the temple we came inside a courtyard. I was stunned by the beauty of the U – shaped yard. One huge elephant welcomed us to the court yard. The trunk of this elephant was broken though. In the middle of the courtyard lies the original temple flanked by huge rectangular pillars on two sides. These were punctuated with carved with sculpted panels and sculptures of various deities.

The side walls of the temple was also full of carved animals like elephant, lions and other animals carved out beautifully from the rocks. The main temple is that of lord Shiva. All the four sides of the temple had various postures of Shiva carved out by the ancient architects.

We were not feeling like coming out of this cave as history mixed with golden architecture made this place heavenly. But this experience at the beginning of our trip only made our expectations to rise.

By this time both Jayeeta and Piklu were exhausted. They decided to rest under a tree while I carry on my visit to other caves. It was 2 in the afternoon, and the sun was at the scorching us alive. One small cap was not enough to keep the toddler going.

My spirits were still up and I decided to continue with the Caves 1 – 15. These are mostly Buddhist caves. These caves had Buddha statues in different postures and forms. I liked cave 6 the most. It has got some beautiful sculptures some of which suggested some Hindu deities. Cave 11 is unique in a way that it was initially a Buddhist cave but later on Hindus took it over as the Buddhists have abandoned the cave.

The history in these caves has a lot of tales to tell. In fact each stone has a different story to tell. The details written in front of each cave are not enough to give you the true essence of Ellora history. I felt that I would have appreciated the beauty better if I were a history student.

By the time I was done with first 15 caves it was 4 pm and I was hardly left with any energy to continue further. I knew that I have missed some other Hindu and Jain caves in Ellora but this was enough for me. In the end it became little boring too. I remembered what the guide at the main entrance was saying. May be I should have checked the history of the place before visiting Ellora.

A Road Trip to Daulatabad Fort

-Get up. It is already 6.

I pushed my wife vigorously so that she doesn’t sleep any more. I didn’t know whether my mobile alarm didn’t work or I overslept. Luckily I got up this time else we would have been late. Packing was done the previous night and there was nothing much to do this morning except taking our bath and preparing the baby for the journey.

Our cab came at 8 am. This visit was planned one month back through a travel agent in Aurangabad. This was Rs. 3500 package for the whole day. The package included a non a/c Indica for the entire day (12 hours) and trips to Daulatabad fort in the morning and Ellora in the evening. Both these places are in Aurangabad around 120 KM from Shirdi. Ajanta is another 115 KM further away. Since Aurangabad comes in the middle, I had no option but to make the tour plan like this to shorten our overall travel. We left our luggage in the car during these sightseeing and never bothered about them until we reached the Ajanta resort.

It was very difficult for us to find a snacks vendor as we were travelling by the highway. Finally after one hour drive I saw a street vendor and asked the driver to stop to have our breakfast. It was already 9 and we desperately needed some snacks before we move on. Jayeeta’s stock of snacks was dwindling fast and we wanted to keep them safe for the last day.

He had very few varieties to offer. I saw Vada Pav and tea and that was enough. After all when in Maharastra you need to check out different Pav varieties. The Vada Pav was hot and delicious. I offered tea and snacks to the driver as well as he seemed to be hungry. By this time I knew that he is Ilyas and lives in Aurangabad.

Ilyas was driving at a constant speed avoiding all road craters and maneuvering the little cab well. He seemed to be very focused in his work. I didn’t feel like disturbing him either. It soon became a very boring and monotonous journey as there was no great view on this road.

Finally Ilyas broke the silence –

-Sir, aap Daulatabad fort jana chahete hain?
-Haan..kiun? I asked, surprised with this question.
-Udhar 2 KM upar uthna padta hai. Gaadi nehin jata. Aap ko bachha le kar uthna parega.
-No problem. We will see what to do.
-But this is a roundabout way to reach Ellora.
-No problem. I said. Let’s decide after reaching the fort.
-Why don’t you go to Ellora first, that is nearer?
-No no…I have already made the plan like this and informed your agency. I don’t want to change anything now. This time I was really irritated.

I was worried that he is planning to save some time and fuel by making hurry. However, I was very clear when I made the plan and negotiated the pricing based on this. There was no point in negotiating further. I didn’t want to spoil my Ellora visit by visiting there in the morning and missing out the opportunity to take some nice snaps.

He stopped directly at the parking area of the fort. Some guides approached us but I preferred not to take one. Jayeeta will anyway have to take rest with Piklu and they will not be able to travel. Paying a guide anywhere from 200 to 500 seemed to be an extra expense for me. I wanted to depend on information written at different sites.

As we crossed the parking area we got the first glimpse of the fort wall. This is the palace in ‘City of Prosperity’ as the meaning of ‘Daulatabad’ stands for in Hindi. History says that this city was built as the capital of the ‘Tughlaq Dynasty’. Md. Bin Tughlaq once brought people from Delhi to this small city and wanted to make this the capital city. Unfortunately they had to leave this place in two years for water shortage. The most of the earlier city is now deserted and this reduced to a village.

Some of the ancient texts found about this fort categorize this fort as ‘misra durg’ (mixed fort). This is seen as combination of a mountain fort, God’s fort and land fort. The fortification walls were built in different periods. Hence, the touch of different styles of architecture is evident everywhere.

The fort is surrounded from the outside by a wall three miles long at the foothills. I came to know that the wall is called Mahakot which is now the boundary of the fort. It was difficult to believe but there was another outer wall called Amberkot covering the Daulatabad city. Mahakot has eight gates to enter the fort. After these gates there is a deep waterbody (moat). I wasn’t sure if the kings used to have crocs in the moat. There is only one small bridge to cross the moat and after this is a pitch dark zig-zag path called Andhari.

I reached till the moat and was hardly in a position to go further. I came to know from the returning tourists that the original fort (the mountain fort) is still 400 steps away and I didn’t have interest to climb the stairs any more. It was already 12:30 and I realized that it was late for visiting Ellora.

I came back to a huge canon (called Mendha Tope) kept nearby and took some memorable pics. The canon is huge and the rare end is shaped like a ram’s head. There are some beautiful carvings on the canon. I was not sure why a canon needed to be so beautiful when it was made to only kill people. This canon used to be mounted on a pivot so that it could be rotated freely. However, it is kept beside the pivot now. The canon is kept in an open area and the front side is completely open and the view till the nearest city was very clear. One can be very sure that even the nearest city was in its range.

It was time to say good bye to the fort and the history of Daulatabad. The design, architecture and the military tactics used to build this fort made it almost invincible. Even the mountain around the fort was chiseled to make climbing up the hill for any side impossible for the intruders.

While coming out we wanted to spend some more time and the complex of Bharat Mata mandir was the best for that. The actual complex starts above the ground level after a few steep steps. The area below is surrounded by trees. This is the most calm and quiet place we have seen in the fort. We spent good one hour in the cool breeze under a tree. It felt like all our strains were gone in no time. Jayeeta fed our child in the meantime.

This temple seemed to be a very good spot for lovers as well. People coming to see the fort hardly visit this temple.

We really enjoyed our stay in the fort as we could feel the history very easily. In fact I was amazed to touch so many historical objects. The canons that were used to win battles, the garden where the sultans made love or the water-body where the royal family members used to take bath all were live history to us. It was only made more evident with the inscriptions kept near each monument. We could make out many things ourselves. We really didn’t need any guide for help.

The main entry road to the fort is heavily broken and dangerous, even if you walk alone. Everywhere on this road sign of ruin and destruction was prominent. Part of which could easily be attributed to natural cause like rain rather than any war or historical means. This is a sure case of lack of preservation effort by the govt. or may be they want to keep history alive and natural by keeping the ruins as is.

We came out of the fort after two hours to have lunch. Ilyas took us to a nearby roadside restaurant. But we wanted to have our lunch in a decent hotel..so we headed for Hotel Kailas in Ellora.

I was thrilled by the first site of the hotel. Feluda’s ‘Kailase Kelnkari’ was shot here. From the time I saw the Bengali movie, I always wanted to visit this place. It reminded me of some dialogues from Feluda while we were heading to the caves.

Shirdi Chamatkar

Planning the visit

“Forward this mail to 14 friends within 14 days and see his chamatkar, else face bad luck”.
No, I have not forwarded this mail to my friends and spammed their mailbox rather I have sent it back to the same person 14 times for wishing me GOOD (or BAD?) luck. It was a great shocker for him as I have forwarded the mail to his official mail ID. Also I have asked him if he had received all 14 mails else I promised to send this mail 14 times everyday to him. Well, not to mention that he got a shock of his lifetime and I knew for sure that he would never forward any bulk mails to me. I really didn’t know if Baba was angry with my sin so wanted to take his blessings and experience the chamatkar myself.

Our company holiday list is published at the beginning of each year. This is an indication for the employees and their managers to make their holiday plans in advance. The three days weekend in September instigated an urge to plan a small trip. This is the time when the rains will stop and we will have a beautiful weather. I searched for a weekend destination from Hyderabad that could be reached in one night by train. Shirdi scored over many other destinations as the first choice. The only close contender to this place was Tirupati and Horshley hills. However, September being a festive season (Brahmotsav starts at the same time) in Tirupati I decided in favour of Shirdi-Ajanta-Ellora-Aurangabad (later on I came to know that this year there were record pilgrimage in Tirupati during Brahmotsav in September).

As usual my planning started four months in advance by finding out the places to visit in these locations. Accordingly I booked railway tickets three months in advance, to ensure our choice of berths. This being my first travel with our one year old, I was cautious to book all lower berths.

As I began planning, my first consideration was the following constraints and risks –

    1.Shirdi to Ajanta road distance is about 150 Km or more than four hours by cab. Train is available but takes a roundabout route. That would have wasted almost the whole of Saturday, increased overall ineffective travel.

2.Ajanta caves need to be visited in the morning for better photography as these caves face eastward. Ellora caves on the other hand need to be visited in the afternoon as these face west.

3.One option was to visit Ajanta first and Shirdi in the end but that was not possible as the connecting train to Jalgaon (nearest station to Ajanta) reaches the station at a very odd hour.

4.I had to include two other historical monuments – the Daulatabad fort and the Bibi-ka-Maqbara in our itinerary.

5.The time limit to cover all these was only three days.

I went back to my planning board for planning this trip and roped in all my project management skills for this.

Initially I was in a dilemma as to how to start the journey. Trains to Ajanta from Hyderabad reaches at odd hours and that automatically made the choice of visiting Shirdi first. My travel experience says Shirdi is worth one night stay. I planned for an early check out from our Shirdi hotel on Saturday. Same day I scheduled a visit to Daulatabad fort in the morning and Ellora caves in the afternoon. The Saturday night stay was booked in Ajanta and the third night was our transfer to Hyderabad by train.

The final plan looked like this –

Shirdi

The whole planning was completed seventy days in advance. Train tickets were already booked. Next it was time to book our hotel rooms. I booked the “Ajanta T Junction” resort through MTDC website. Thanks to internet the whole world is in our bedroom now. Everything is ‘just a click’ away. Only two of these resorts that can be booked online out of the five present. If you are planning a visit you need to book well in advance for confirmation. There are three resorts available to site people but it depends on the rush and your luck.

Initially, I wanted to stay in Shirdi temple and intentionally did not book any hotel there. The Sai Baba Sansthan has confirmed that booking can be made only after visiting Shirdi. This was only gap that was itching me constantly until I tried to gather more information from other sources. I realized that one needs to have recommendation from some VIPs to stay in the temple.

Unfortunately, I had only 10 days then. Without any delay, I booked a serviced apartment in Shirdi for one night. We thought that at least we could cook something on our own there, as the food is very costly at Shirdi.

Jayeeta (my wife) was very enthusiastic in this planning. It was three days to our travel when one night I woke up and saw Jayeeta writing something on a writing pad. It was real surprising. I looked at my watch, it was 2 am. I asked her –

-What are you doing at this hour? My voice was shaken and broken, half asleep.
-Nothing. Making a list..
-List, shopping list? I told you I am already out of pocket.
-No. This is a list of the things to be taken to Shirdi. So that we don’t forget anything.

Oh. There was a sigh of relief in me. At last she is doing something useful. I went to sleep again.
Next morning she gave me the list.

-I told you to travel lite..
-But I can’t reduce this any further. Everything on this list is important. Please have a look.

For the first time in our five year married life I saw her doing something voluntarily and for the first time I saw such a big list for a three-day travel. Apart from clothes and other normal stuff, the list also included emergency light (proved useful in Ajanta resort at night and during Shirdi blackouts), medicine, baby diapers, toys, hand-fan (this was for baby – for Shirdi power cut), feeding bottles, flask … So far it was ok but the last entry was a big surprise.

-What is this? I shouted..
-What?
-The last entry… why do you need this? You need the ‘BABY-POTTY’ for these three days?
-Yes. Don’t you realize that he may be young but he needs to be comfortable all these days? Do you understand that his discomfort can make the whole travel a bad experience for us? After all, he is also a human being.

Not to mention, that it was the conclusion of the discussion. I realized we have a very important member with us…our one year old kid, Snehal.

The real excitement of a travel starts when you start packing the bags. As I was travelling with my mini-family I have started packing early. It was no better than shifting our house to a different city. I could not reduce the list to any significant extent and finally agreed to pack four bags for this travel. This was surely more than what was needed.

The D-Day

It was not the perfect day at all. In fact everything was in a mess. None of us was well. Jayeeta was sick, Piklu had running noses and fever and so was I. I thought of cancelling the trip once but later retracted from that decision as everything was booked. Sometimes planning ahead may really become a problem. This risk of falling sick was already in my initial planning and I was ready with all the medicines per the mitigation plan. Surely, project management helps us in every walk of life.

We started at 3:30 pm from our Kondapur home. The train was at 6 from Secundrabad but I wanted to reach the station one hour in advance. This was only to avoid last minute rush for the right compartment and the right seat.

I have booked till Manmad. My plan was to board off peacefully and to avoid all last minute rush with the luggage. We were already tired when we boarded the train and ready to sleep at the earliest. To make things worse, my son started rejecting all types of food. He didn’t drink his favourite baby-food for dinner either. Even worse, he started vomiting with the slightest glimpse of food. My trip was sure to be a bad one.

I could hardly sleep that night. Next morning I got up early and went to brush my teeth. It was 6 am when some people were getting ready to board off the train. I met Mr. Das among them. After retirement he is now spending his time in visiting places of worship with his wife and in India there is no dearth of them.

-Where are you going? Mr. Das started the conversation in Bengali. He could understand that he has met another Bong there.
-Shirdi. Will board off at Manmad.
-Oh. We are also going there. But we’ll get down at Nagarsol. I guess that is nearest to Shirdi.

This was a surprise to me. I have done enough searching but missed this valuable information. I couldn’t believe that my internet skills were so poor. I hid the feeling to say –

-We are travelling with our kid and huge luggage. I wanted to avoid the last minute rush as the train will stop only for five minutes there.
-No problem at all. The whole train will be empty there. He said.

Now, that was surprising. I couldn’t believe that I didn’t find this information in the early stages of my planning. Obviously, it was not a huge risk as I have collected the information in time rather just-in-time. Nagrsol was 15 minutes away and we had to get ready before that. It was better to start early for Shirdi as that would avoid the heat en-route to the temple.

Shirdi

The train was almost empty at Nagarsol. As if this was the terminal station. Many of them had plans to visit the temple in the morning and then proceed towards Aurangabad to stay overnight. I felt that would have only increased our tiredness. Also we didn’t want to travel to the temple without being cleaned up.

Immediately after getting out we saw a crowd approaching us. I could make out from a distance that they were all cab drivers trying to woo potential passengers. I didn’t want to fall prey to these drivers and travel in a crammed Tata Sumo with people sitting on each other’s lap. I wanted to take some time before making any decision and after wasting some time on the platform I came out to get rid of the crowd. My idea was to catch the cab left without any business and to get some good bargain in the process.

There are three different modes of transportation available from Nagarsol to Shirdi. The Maruti vans normally take 7-8 people and charge anywhere around 60-70 rupees per person on sharing basis. The Tata Sumos take 9-10 people with same rate. There is a public bus facility too but the condition of the buses was not too enticing for us to board them. Some of the locales decided to board the bus. I planned to hire a Maruti van for our own.

I was really surprised at the price where the bargain started. It was surely double the rate should be and nobody was willing to reduce it. I couldn’t believe that someone could charge me rates higher than that was prevailing in Hyderabad. The longer I waited the possibility of a good bargain looked slimmer. With my wife and kid both sick, I had no choice but to take one of those expensive Maruti Omnis. Later on I realized that they have only one business for that day and they were charging me for to and fro journey as mostly they would not get any passenger on their way back.

As soon as I got into the cab I realized that it might have been scrapped by its owner a few years ago. This special vehicle didn’t have a front window pane, the seat covers were cut off and the sponge lining was visible from inside. The whole van was stinking like hell as if it was soaked in mud just the previous day. Within five minutes of hiring the cab I realized that I will repent this trip throughout. I couldn’t believe that for a journey that should have cost me not more than 300 rupees at the most, I am paying double the amount. Now, I will be happy if we reach Shirdi in good condition without any disaster.

The cab came to a screeching halt in the middle of nowhere. Only a few huts were visible at some distance.

-What happened? I asked the driver. I was worried that he would ask for more money by giving some reason or the other.
-The driver will come. Said the man who negotiated with me and whom I thought was our driver.

What the hell. I have booked this person’s cab and negotiated the price with him but he had never told that someone else is going to drive. I felt like giving a big blow on that bastard’s face for keeping me stranded in the middle of nowhere, risking all our lives.

Immediately I realized that if that guy wanted he could have robbed us instead, if his intentions were really bad. To add to my dismay, the driver disappeared in one of the huts after waiting for 10 minutes.

Now I had no choice but to wait for the unforeseen driver and didn’t have any choice of taking another cab / bus to my destination instead. We were left alone to wait for the unforeseen.

I was almost falling asleep when the original driver appeared from behind like a chamatkar after 20 minutes of wait. These 20 minutes was like two hours to us.

I confirmed the pricing again with the driver before he started driving. I wanted to make sure that all my initial bargains should not fail with this new man coming in. He was not surprised at all rather he seemed to be disinterested to know my bargain. So far I was happy with this bargain, but now I felt I didn’t get a good bargain at all.

-You know there is a village here where we don’t have any lock in our doors as there is no theft or robbery. The driver wanted to start conversation.
-Oh that’s great. I murmured while I was thinking what was the need to steal from the villagers when they could rob the tourists daily in broad daylight? I didn’t have courage to utter those words though.

We reached Shirdi in approximately two hours. We were approaching the temple and I was very happy that I booked a nice services apartment around half kilometer from the temple. Our plan was to visit the temple in the afternoon so that the rush is less.

At a first glance, I felt that Shirdi is an upcoming town and the signs of a village turning into a town were evident everywhere. There were some malls and shops and a lot of hotels on both sides of the main road.

My hotel was in front of the water park. I wanted to visit the water park after the temple. I was just imagining how much fun we would have in the park when the driver took a left turn from the main road and shattered my string of thoughts.

-Where are you going? You need to go to the ‘Silver Oak Holiday Home’ just opposite to the water park. I tried to confirm the location as he was driving into a muddy area full of big craters and all of them filled with muddy water. I have never seen this kind of road in my lifetime. Even the prehistoric roads were better as I have seen them in my history books.
-Yes, I am going in the right direction.
-What are you saying? I have booked a three star accommodation. At least from the room rent I felt so.
-Sir, there is a five star hotel on this road, too.

His reply came as a direct blow to me. All my dreams were shattered in no time. I couldn’t believe that they had five star hotel in a muddy and bumpy road. I was never so dejected even when I was rejected by my first love.

-Oh shit, is this the place you have booked? You always try to save money in small things and never take care of our comfort. I don’t know what my father has seen in you when he had chosen a worthless fellow like you. My wife groaned.
-My bad… I didn’t have information on the approach road of our hotel on net. I tried to be bold.

As we went in I could only see water on all sides of the car and anytime that could come in through the big holes under our feet. I started praying in all possible languages to Baba that the car should not stop here suddenly as I could not get out to push the vehicle. But that possibility seemed to be greater as we went in with no sight of our hotel.

-See your hotel there. It is only another turn away. Driver pointed to something towards the left.
-Oh, that’s ok. You concentrate on driving… I almost screamed. I didn’t want him to lose focus and go into deeper water or even worse to turn turtle.

I will never forget the vicious smile he had on his face after seeing me scared. I felt like kicking his ass and throwing him out of the window, but restrained myself considering the greater danger of getting down and pushing the car to my destination.

He took another left turn through a bushy area. I never wanted this trip to be so adventurous. Already taking the one year old baby in Indian train was enough of adventure for me.

No, the last part was not so bad. The final 10 yards was free of any water or craters and we reached an apparently new building with a cute school for toddlers in front.
It was 8 am by my watch.

Before paying the driver off I got down to meet the manager.

As I entered the premises I could see one table with a huge register kept on it but nobody was in site. The table was probably taken from an old furniture shop as a reject. The chair was one of the typical chairs used in govt. offices and this one was repaired several times and still put to use. I was looking for the manager when one person came out of the watchman’s room.

-May I see the manager please! I urged.
-Yes, tell me. The fellow replied.

To my utter shock, the person who seemed like room servant or at the best the watchman of the premises turned out to be the manager, too. Good money saving tactic.

-I have booked a room online. Can you please check if this is confirmed? I wanted to confirm first as I couldn’t believe that I have booked this hotel online with a price of a three star hotel.

At the back of my mind, for the first time ever I was thinking that may this turn out to be the wrong hotel. I didn’t want to take the risk of staying in an island in Shirdi and definitely I didn’t pay the premium price for an area like this.

-Yes, this is confirmed.

Oh god! What a shock with this confirmation. I couldn’t show my true emotion to him. Instead, I smiled and went back to pay the driver.

-One more thing. Our check-in time is at 12 noon. Pat came another shocker.
-What! Do you mean I need to wait for four hours to get a room?
-Yes
-See I plan to vacate your room by tomorrow 8 am. Why don’t you adjust? I tried to calm down and show patience.
-Ummmm well, I can do one thing. I will not give you generator back up for four hours in the morning.
-Four hours! What do you mean? Don’t you have any electricity? I almost screamed as I continued to get shocks from this man.
-Sir, we have daily six hours of power cut. Four in the morning and two in the ..
-Ok..ok..by this time I remembered that I already read it somewhere in the web but I was not prepared for this.
-But can’t you adjust this little bit as we are planning to visit the temple in a while and you can put the lights off then.

I tried to negotiate.

This time he agreed. I patted my own back. I am mastering negotiation skills.

Meanwhile, one servicing person came from inside the watchman’s (sorry manager) room. Probably he was the only other person apart from us and the manager in that building. I was wondering how the building will look like in the middle of the night when there is mandatory power cut. As a positive thinker, in this scenario I could only think of another adventurous night in Shirdi haunted house. I was planning to write a best-selling novel out of my experience.

The temple visit

    Ek Do Teen Chaar!
     Sai ki hai Jai jaikar!!

We were standing at the long queue for the last one hour in utmost hunger, hoping to see Baba in another one hour or so and then run for lunch. A bunch of young Baba devotees just came in the line and they were chanting many slogans like the one mentioned above. I felt it was more like a political rally rather than devotees shouting for a deity.

We came to temple around 11 am after freshening up in the hotel. The bathroom light in the hotel didn’t work but thanks to glass window panes we could complete everything in a hurry. I was not sure how much time the manager would give me before he switches off the light. Then we had one more vomiting session by our son as my wife tried to feed him. This could have also happened in the temple.

We came downstairs from our room. The manager was sitting at his desk, keeping his balance well on the serviced chair. For a moment I felt that he was one of the trapeze artists who could not make it big in his professional circuit.

-How do I go to the temple from here? I asked.
-You can catch an auto sir. They will take 30/40 rupees. You will get an auto about half kilometer away.

Is he crazy? I wondered. How do I go this half kilometer wading through knee deep mud?

-Can they be summoned here? I asked again.
-The boy will call an auto sir. He pointed at the other person who looked like a forty year old man. Not sure how he seemed to be a ‘boy’ to the manager.

The auto came in 10 minutes. As I thought, he wanted Rs. 40 for this trip. Rates are always higher for tourists. But it was better to bear that extra cost rather than wading through the mud. I thought positive and soon the rate seemed to be less.

It was a 10 minute roller-coaster ride again and at the end of it we reached the temple.

-Come sir. Keep your shoes with us. It’s free. Will also give you token.
-Is it? Ok keep our shoes then.
-Sir, what do you want as an offering to the Baba. Garland, Naryaal…
-No nothing, give me the token.

I was standing there for five minutes asking for the token at least three times but there was no reply from his side. I realized that nothing is free in this world and I will get this free service only if I buy something from him. What a time waster, I thought.

The temple must be having some arrangement 0and I directly asked the security guard at the main entrance about the place to keep our shoes. Oh it was in front of our eyes but I couldn’t see that till he pointed to that direction. Even though camera, cell phone, wallet nothing is allowed inside the temple we had to bring a bag with baby food, water, our favorite caps and umbrella too considering the rainy weather. I was carrying the bag as Jayeeta was carrying the baby. The door keeper stopped us at the entrance –

-Kaun sa gaon se aa rahe ho? He asked while he was checking our bag.

I kept mum as this was none of his business.
-Kaun sa gaon hai tumhara? He asked again.
-Tumhe isse matlab? I asked. I was scared if there was some reservation for Maharastrians here. You never know how it turns out.

He asked the question a third time and I gave the same reply. This time harshly. He stopped asking and let us go. Not sure if he was asking the questions after seeing the content of our bag.

The Sai Baba temple complex is spread over an area of 200 Sq. Mtrs. Apart from the main attraction ‘Samadhi Mandir’ which is basically Baba’s Samadhi site, there are other sites that are worth a visit. ‘Khandoba Temple’ is believed to be the site where Baba first came in with a wedding party. This is considered to be the site for young people. Gurusthan is located to the north of the Samadhi Mandir and is believed to be the Samadhi site of Baba’s guru. There is a pair of marble padukas kept on the pedestal there. On the right side of the entrance to the Samadhi Mandir is Dwrakamai where the Baba was living throughout his life. Chavadi is another place where Baba used to take rest and sometimes even sleep. Lendi Bagh is a garden where Sai Baba used to take rest in the evenings. There is a perpetually burning lamp lit by him and placed between two trees. The main attraction though was the Samadhi Mandir

While we were going inside the mandir, Jayeeta started –

-You know, Baba is actually not from Shirdi. He was born nearby to Shirdi and came to this village at the age of 16. At this age he started hard penance that nobody could think of doing at that tender age. The Baba didn’t have this fakir’s attire in his initial days. He has taken this dress after losing a wrestling match.
-Even he was interested in wrestling? My idea of a Baba is typical calm and composed person completely away from any sports.
-Might not be. But this was one incident. Jayeeta replied.
-Hmm interesting. I added. I have one more story about him.
-What is that?
-Baba was fond of lighting earthen lamps with oil in his mosque during night time. One day he didn’t get any oil in the local market but he lit all the lamps with water.
-That is amazing.
-Yes. I said. Likewise there are many. He once had correct premonition about a field-fire that was not visible. This saved huge crop of a poor farmer. Another time he has stopped rain to save his devotees.
-Oh…I know one such story. Jayeeta interrupted. I came to know this from one of his devotees. Once a child was passing by the well in his village. He was very thirsty and wanted to drink some water but accidentally he fell in the well.
-Oh no. That is shocking. I said.
-Yes. But when people came to rescue him after hearing his cries, they were spellbound. Tell me why?
-Why? Obviously I was equally amazed.
-The villagers saw that the boy was hanging in the air in the middle of the well. He was safe and secure. Baba has saved his life.

The queue was visible from the main enclosure. I was not sure how to catch the crowd. The guards directed us upstairs to join the queue. I thought that there are two different queues and this one will give us a better Darshan. But no, the queue was so long that it extended to the first floor.

After almost one hour the queue suddenly stopped moving. It was time for the mid day Aarti. It lasted for one hour and we were fortunate to see that live on TV screens kept on the sidewalls. At one o’clock we started moving again. By this time the queue has only got longer. We were directed to the ground floor and then again to the second floor for final Darshan. The wait was three hours long but the benches kept along the queue gave us some rest and helped lessening the pain of waiting. There was only one issue, it was long past our lunch time and we were almost dead with hunger. But there is no gain without pain and I thought there might be pilgrims fasting since morning, I tried to motivate myself for the Darshan.

As we approached the main darshan area, I took control of our son as we anticipated some jostling and pushing around by the devotees. This is common in every Indian temple I have visited and always there is fight to have the darshan before anyone else. I tried to concentrate all my energy together to save our child from others’.

The crowd increased exponentially as we approached the main area and everyone was fighting for a glimpse of the Baba. Police personnel posted there were releasing more people in the queue at times making the situation even worse for the devotees. It was extremely difficult to tackle the child but somehow we managed to have a safe darshan.

A small door led us to the main area. We were mesmerized by the beauty of the surroundings. The whole area is covered with beautiful gold carvings. Even the pillars are gold plated but these are protected with wooden boxes to prevent the pilgrims from scraping the gold off the pillars. In the middle of these golden marvels, the white marble statue of the Baba is kept on a golden throne. Baba’s calm and composed eyes are looking straight at the eyes of the devotees. I felt as if he was looking into my eyes and saying ‘Don’t worry, everything will be alright’.

It was like Magic. Magic that lasted only for a few minutes. But I took the full advantage of these golden moments before we were slowly moved out along with the crowd. It was the true chamatkar of Baba that made me forget all the pains I had gone through in the morning. I saved this picture permanently in the closet of my heart. Unfortunately, this can neither be shared with others nor be captured by any high end camera.

Before Darshan, we were in a hurry to have food. After Darshan however, we forgot everything. As we were going out I went to collect the ‘prasadam’. Another long queue but this time no fatigue in any one of us.

We came out of the temple complex around 2:30 pm. It was well past the lunch time and I was worried that no hotel would serve us Lunch. We went to the nearest hotel that seemed to have an AC restaurant. We couldn’t visit the Bhojanalaya of Shirdi Sai Baba Sansthan and I would repent my whole life for that. Everyone who had food there praised the food for its quality and above all for lucrative (I don’t use the word ‘cheap’) pricing.

The restaurant was around five minute walk from the temple. It seemed to be a costly hotel. We entered the hall and I stood by a table with Piklu on my lap while we were discussing which table to take. We normally prefer corner seats but those were already occupied by others. A bunch of sexy college girls were occupying one corner. The whole restaurant was abuzz with their incessant giggles. Not sure what these girls discuss and what makes them laugh so often. They surely don’t need to visit any laughing club ever. Other corners were used for something else and had no tables.

Two/three other tables were occupied by other families, some of them had toddlers in their group too. They were comparatively calm as they were discussing their next travel plans. This was seemingly upmarket place all and present there seemed to be quiet rich.

Suddenly there was a huge thud and the whole place was silent in one moment. I was also looking around for the source and saw all the eyes on me. I had never attracted so many women’s attention in such a short span, I felt good. My wife must be very jealous.

But why is everyone staring at me? I wondered. I looked around and looked at the floor behind me as the sound seemed to have come from there. Oh no, my son had done his job again. He thought that the finest bone china plate kept on the table was his favourite football and he shot that down breaking it into pieces. I realized why everyone was staring at us.

Oh no. I don’t want to attract attention for all the wrong reasons. I tried to scold my son for his behavior.

-Babbba….(father…) my son uttered those beautiful words when I looked at him in anger. No one can scold an one year old after those sweet words.

I hugged him even tighter and went away from the table and took our nearest seat very fast before he could make any more mess. One of the waiters came forward to clean the mess.

We took a side table with a sofa. These seats are also our favourite seat in any restaurant. I summoned the waiter and asked for the menu card. The crowd got back to their business. Girls started chirping and giggling again, this time some of them were giving me an askance look at times. Families started their own discussion. The older ones got busy in some serious talk.

The menu card was presented and we were expecting some more shockers as we opened it. By this time we were convinced that Shirdi is expensive, even more than Hyderabad but this hotel was too much. One plate of steamed rice cost Rs. 90. Side dishes were all above 100. The amount given is only sufficient for one person and two people can’t share one plate. I wondered if the hotel management consideres this as a three star hotel.

I met Mr. Das again at the exit. They were staying in that hotel. Room rate as they said was 4,500 per night. The rate seemed quiet high for the ambience facilities provided. His informed that his son Aditya also lives in Secundrabad.

We went back to the hotel around 4 pm in an auto. This time I paid him thirty rupees. No other activity was planned for this evening except sleeping and packing for next day. All of us including the kid had a good afternoon nap. This gave us some much needed rest and helped to rejuvenate ourselves on the eve of our Aurangabad tour the next day.

We didn’t dare to venture out in the night fearing a power cut. There was possibility of falling in the mud in the middle of darkness. I had to drop my evening shopping plan. Even though I was aware of the power cut, I didn’t know about the muddy road condition there. As an emergency measure we took three cups of ready to eat noodles and these were the only option to us for our dinner that night. We always carried hot water for our baby and hence preparing noodles was not that difficult.

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