Indore to Shirdi – 406 km – NH 52/NH 60/Manmad Shirdi Road. Started at 8.30 am; reached 3.30 pm.
At Indore, just outside the hotel premises, there was a petrol bunk where we filled the tank to the capacity and also got the air pressure checked in tyres. It is always advisable to check the air pressure when the tyres are cool. It gives an accurate value. Checking the air pressure after driving 20-30 km is not worth it as the air inside gets hot and gives an inaccurate reading.
We switched on the Google map for directions. The city of Indore is on NH 52. The road passing through the city is world class. It is six-lane as far as the boundaries of the city is concerned. Each part of the city is very well connected to the highway. Beyond the city limits, the highway is four lane and very well laid. The drive was smooth till Dhule, a city in Maharashtra, approximately 250 km from Indore. After Dhule, we had to take NH 60, NH 16 and NH 10, most of which were just 2 lanes. Driving was obviously not as pleasant as in 4 lane highways. Though the 2 lane road was well maintained, vehicular movement was heavy, especially the multi-axle trucks which were slowly progressing mostly because of the heavy load taken beyond their capacity. The road from Indore to Shirdi also passes through some low altitude valley roads where sharp turns and bends interspersed with rumble speed breakers reduced our speed considerably. The saving grace was the green scenic surroundings which were more than compensating the slow progress. The rain washed trees, the lime green grass cover on the hill slopes and fresh swaying crops on the small patches were a treat to the eye. Though I was driving, I could steal the views from the corner of my eyes all the time. The Sahyadri range of hills are of low altitude going max 4000 ft. however, these ranges are not rocky or barren. A kind of grass which covers the range comes alive during the rainy season creating awesome meadows and breathtaking vistas. This is the primary reason I like to visit places like Shirdi or Nashik during the rainy season. There was one more problem faced in this route and that was the proliferation of rumble speed breakers. Till the time we were on MP roads, the speed breakers were few and far between. However, in Maharashtra, there were a lot more, all rumble strips, without the painted strips and very bumpy. For long stretches, these speed breakers were regularly appearing on every 3-4 km or even less when the villages were nearby. The condition of the highway was pretty bad whenever it passed through a small town.
After passing through Dhule and Malegaon, we were on a two-lane highway, with heavy traffic of heavily loaded trucks and congested stretches whenever passing through a small town or bazaars. The upkeep of the road was not uniform. A lot of patchworks which made the ride bumpy.
Still, with all the speed breakers and patchy roads, we could maintain an average speed of 60 kmph by driving 100+ kmph wherever good and relatively less congested roads were available. As we approached Manmad, the Thumb Hill was visible on the horizon. It is a unique hill on top of which a thumb-shaped giant boulder stands. I don’t know since when it has been there. I had seen it for the first time two decades back when passing through Manmad by train and since then it is kind of a landmark to me whenever I look for it.
Shirdi was 60 km away. The two-lane patchworked road and the congestion at Yeola town took us 90 minutes to reach our hotel Golden View at Shirdi by 3.30 pm.
The road trip experience has been mixed so far. While the driving was smooth and less strenuous on 4 lane highways with central verge, it was daunting on the 2 lane roads with no dividers. The roads in Maharashtra so far had more speed breakers than in Rajasthan or in MP.
The hotel at Shirdi, selected from options given in the app turned out to be a smart choice. It is located just across the temple, has its own parking area (paid parking was Rs.80 per night), has a good restaurant and above all the room was spacious. We noted to come back here on our future visits.
Surprisingly, there was hardly any crowd in the temple. In my all visits so far, I have witnessed large and sometimes unmanageable crowd. A simple visit to the main sanctum sanctorum had taken anywhere between 2 to 4 hours, that too with a lot of efforts and jostling in the queue. This time it was smooth sailing, literally. We went to the temple around 5.30 pm and by 6 pm our visit was over. The evening Aarti, a much sought after the period, was at 6.30-7 pm. We waited inside the temple compound for the Aarti to begin. By 7 pm were out of the temple premises. There are two more auspicious places adjacent to the temple and are must visit. The Dwarkamai (hut of Saibaba) and Chavadi (sleeping place of Saibaba whenever he felt like). There is also a Hanuman temple between these two which is revered by devotees due to the idol’s unique direction. As there was hardly any crowd, we could manage to visit these places with ease. For the first time in my numerous visits to the Shrine, I received a handful of special dinner served to the Baba after the evening Aarti. Similar experience at Hanuman temple where I received Halwa, my palm was dripping ghee.
We were very satisfied with the visit and felt very elated. Tomorrow we are supposed to get up early as we had planned an early morning visit to the temple. Hence we had an early dinner, went back to our room and retired early.
Today is ‘the special day’ around which the entire road trip is centred. Today is the 25th wedding anniversary for us. We had planned for this day almost 4 months earlier. The road trip was planned, replanned and finalized. Our children made their decision not to accompany us and to leave us on our own. The itinerary was, of course, made in consultation with them. Ishani helped in selecting the hotels to stay.
We had planned to be at Shirdi on this day and to have the ‘darshan’ of Saibaba first thing in the morning. I had booked two special darshan tickets online anticipating crowd. However, it was not necessary as we found out later as there was hardly any crowd.
We got up early and congratulated each other for having completed the peaceful coexistence for the last 25 years of our marriage. After completing the bath etc. we were at the temple gate by 6 am and were out of the temple by 6.30 am. We thanked God for His blessings and the good luck that He has been showering on us.
By 7.30 am we had breakfast in a Udupi style restaurant where the idli, vada, sambar and coffee tasted distinctly South Karnataka. By 8 am we had checked out of the hotel and then we were on our way to Shani Signapur, another temple town 75 km away on Shirdi-Ahmednagar-Pune road. Today our road trip would be around 250 km. We were expecting to reach Pune before 3 pm.
Shani Signapur is famous for the Shani temple, a Hindu god, dreaded by all Hindus, known mostly for his anger, curse and wrath on the non-believers. The place is also known for unlocked houses as no resident of the town put lock in his/her house. No one dares to steal lest he would invite the wrath of the god.
After driving for about 50 km on the highway, a detour for 25 km is taken on a district road, partly good and partly bad to reach Shani Signapur. The temple had certain strict rituals to be followed by devotees wishing to pay their tribute to the god a few years back. Women were not allowed near the sanctum sanctorum. Men were supposed to take bath clad in a saffron dhoti only, the upper body would be bare. After the bath, no towels to be used for drying and one had to walk and enter the temple in that drenched status. Sesame (til) oil is the main offering to the deity. Earlier the devotee would queue up and could pour oil on the idol established on a raised platform. The entire system has undergone a radical change.
Now the bath is not required neither the saffron dhoti. Women are allowed near the deity. The offering of sesame oil is to be poured in a tank. The tank is connected with a pipeline which opens over the head of the deity. The pipeline is powered by a motor and the oil is thus poured mechanically on the deity continuously. Last year I had asked a temple employee as to why the practice of pouring oil by the devotees was stopped. He replied that pouring oil made the place very slippery and there had been few serious injuries. Hence the practice was stopped. And recently some women groups protested against the practice of barring women. The temple administration and the govt. relented. So it is free for all. True democracy and welcome development.
The road to Shani Signapur from the highway is flanked on both sides by villages and agricultural fields. There is an agriculture college also. The most notable crop is sugarcane. We have seen a market (Mandi) for sugarcane sale. Onions are also a favourite crop and we have seen onions stored in open enclosures and sold in 5-10 kg bags on roadsides. The next favourite crop is pomegranate. It is produced on a commercial scale and in the season you may find vendors selling different sizes of pomegranate on roadsides every 50 meters. The prices vary according to size. We could see the low height pomegranate shrubs plenty. While returning we bought 2 kgs of the fruit. Such was the size that only 5 pieces weighed more than 2 kgs. We observed people buying in excess of 5 kgs. The prices also vary as per supply. This year it seemed that the produce is plenty and hence the drop in prices.
By 10 am were back to the highway to Pune. As we approached Ahmednagar, the Google map guided us towards a route which was bypassing the city. However, the bypass road was still under construction, pebbled and not pucca at certain stretches. Google map doesn’t know the road condition and the extent of development. We followed the Google map directions and shortly we were on narrow, potholed village roads. For the next 10 km, we were on that kind of road. We asked a biker who affirmed that this road would take us to Pune. I was very sceptical but had no choice at the point. There were very few vehicles seen on this road. No buses and only a few trucks. This could not be the road to Pune. After quite a few lefts and rights as directed by Google lady, we came upon a proper road which was a temporary relief as after a couple of km, we were directed to take the two-lane road, very badly maintained, on our right. This road, after a couple of km, finally led us to the 4-lane absolutely superb Ahmednagar Pune highway. We had suffered miserably for the last 45 minutes and about 15 km on various kinds of roads which were termed as ‘by-pass’. We thanked God that the ordeal was finally over. My vehicle, a Honda Civic 1.8V petrol is not an off-roader and has a very low ground clearance. I was afraid of getting stuck somewhere in the middle of nowhere. Thankfully, mercifully and fortunately the car gave superb service throughout the road trip of 3600 km.
The road to Pune, henceforth, was one of the best highways that we travelled. Surprisingly, there were no toll gates on this road for about 200 km. Since we have left Shirdi this morning, we have not paid any toll charges so far. We have been paying toll charges so far almost at the rate of Re.1 per km. This was a pleasant surprise on this road.
The surroundings on this road were beautiful. Lush green valleys and the ever winding road along the valleys presented an awesome scenario. I love rainy season and love to visit this part of the country during rains and hence I was all the happier.
Since the stop at Shani Signapur, we made no further stop till our hotel at Pune. Our guess was that we would be able to reach Pune by 2 pm hence we did not stop anywhere in between.
The congestion on the way to Pune started at least 50 km ahead. There were quite a few suburbs on both sides of the highway. There were many cuts, most of which were without traffic signals. We Indians, anyways, do not follow traffic rules and the absence of such a system gives us full freedom to create our own rules. Hence the progress slowed down as we approached the city. From the city limits, the Google map showed our hotel at 24 km but time to cover the distance showed more than an hour.
We entered the city on the road having BRT corridor, then moved to the right of a fork towards Deccan college road. A few km on that road, we turned towards Rangehill road wherefrom, after few red lights and a flyover (which had two exits), we were onto Baner Road for 8 km. Soon we reached the underpass over which the NH 48 zoomed past. Google map took us to the closed entrance of the hotel. We had to take a U-turn to reach the entry gate of the hotel. It was 2.30 pm.
It was so far the shortest distance in our road trip, just about 250 km. But driving through the city traffic was very tiring with the added hazard of speed breakers typical to the city. Immediately after check-in, we went for lunch as the restaurant closes at 3 pm. We were tired and hungry.
Our room was on the 6th floor of the Hotel Orchid. The hotel is in Balewadi area of Pune. From the hotel window, there were two great views. The first one which attracted immediate attention was the Balewadi Sports Complex. There is a football stadium where big matches (Indian Soccer League, etc.) are played. There is also an athletics stadium where we observed sportsmen and women were practising running on the track. The second attraction was the NH 48 where a continuous flow of traffic, especially at night when it seemed that the headlights of vehicles were connected to one another to form a chain of lights as seen in Diwali days. Pune city has a hilly terrain. A great swath of the city with its skyscrapers was visible from the hotel window. It was, once upon a time, a very quiet city with a beautiful weather and neat and clean localities. However, all that is lost with so-called progress. Now Pune is just another big city with the usual negatives, chaotic traffic, overloaded infrastructure, unending flow of immigrants and resultant pollution despite a very favourable weather.
I have been to the city on occasions of just passing through or to just a day’s stay to a week’s stay since 1984. On my first visit, I had to change a train to Kanpur and I had 12 hours at my disposal. In that 12 hours, I had visited Aga Khan’s Palace where Gandhijee was held captive with his wife Kasturba who died there. I am a history buff and liked to use the available time to see this remarkable place. I visited Pune thereafter a number of times. One of my close friends was from Pune and I had visited his house at Rastapeth area of Pune. In 2008, during Mumbai terror attack, I was in Pune for a week doing a course at National Institute of Bank Management. There has been a colossal change in the city’s skyline. There has been tremendous ‘development’ in the city which is known for its excellent educational infrastructure. It is also known for many industrial activities, two wheeler and four wheeler manufacturing industries. Now Information Technology has also made inroads in the city and the city is an IT Hub catching up with Bangalore and Hyderabad. The cool climate of the city also attracts people from all parts of the country. Besides education and industry, the city is house to major army related activities and has a couple of cantonments. The city has grown exponentially without the matching infrastructural development. The roads are traffic heavy and the average speed within the city is hardly 10 kmph. The speed breakers are unique as I have not seen such kind in any other city. In the evening, we had gone out to the Hinjewadi area. Till 10.30 pm we were in that area and the traffic was miserable.
I had wished to visit Rastapeth in the old town to inquire about Mr Vinod Kulkarni, a very old friend of mine. However, I had to abandon the idea due to time constraint and considering the pitiable condition of traffic.
It was drizzling all the time since we had entered the city. The slush and the muddy roads added to our woes and hence after spending a couple of hours at Hinjewadi area for some shopping and dinner, we returned to our hotel and called it a day. The drive today, though short as compared the earlier ones, was tiresome. We needed a good rest for the drive tomorrow on hilly terrain.