It goes without saying that after a hectic week, even a short two-day break can recharge your batteries. Not only are you are fully refreshed but you also find yourself better prepared for another bout. So, after a maddening week, we too headed out of Pune to rejuvenate our spirits.
There is no dearth of places where you can go on weekend trips around Pune. Instead of the usual trips to Mumbai or Lonavala, we decided to explore some place else, a spiritual-historical trip, firstly with a visit to the holy abode of Sai Baba followed by a day at the Raigad fort. Being tourist attractions, there are umpteen number of taxis and buses that ply on these routes, but we decided to drive down at leisure in our own vehicle.
Pre Day 1 – Arriving at Shirdi
We had been to Shirdi even earlier but these had been hurried affairs, primarily restricted to the vicinity of the “Samadhi Mandir”. As such we generally used to reach at around 10 or 11 am and by the time the “Darshan” was over, it would be lunch time and soon, time to head back to reach Pune by night fall.
This time, however, we decided to arrive in Shirdi a day early and spend some quality time and also explore other places nearby. So, on Friday evening, we set off at about 4 pm, thoroughly enjoying every bit of the drive (Shirdi is about 190 km from Pune) and reached Shirdi comfortably by about 7.30 pm. We checked into our hotel, (there are a whole lot of hotels in and around Shirdi and most are quite affordable – best is to book online for good deals), had a quick dinner and retired early for the night.
Day 1 – Sai Baba temples in and around Shirdi
We were up long before daybreak and reached the temple by 4 am, in time for the “Kakad Aarti” (a Hindu ritual or prayer ceremony) . Due to the heavy rush, it is advisable to book tickets online in advance (visit https://online.sai.org.in for online bookings). Even at this early hour, there was a sizeable crowd of devotees lined up, but since we had booked our tickets in advance, we were inside the temple in time for the aarti.
The “Kakad Aarti” is the first aarti of the day which commences at 4.30 am. This aarti is a request to Lord Sai to wake up and give his merciful blessings to his devotees. If you plan to visit Shirdi, do make an effort to witness this aarti. Early in the morning, it is indeed a spiritual treat which rouses your inner soul. Make sure you reach in time as entry into the Sanctum Sanctorum closes around 15 mins before the commencement of the aarti. The other major aartis include the “Madhyan” (noon) aarti, the “Dhoop” (evening) aarti and the “Shej” (night) aarti (exact timings for the aartis along with other events can be checked online).
After the aarti, we went back to our hotel, fully awake yet dazed from the spiritual treat we’d just witnessed. After resting a bit, we had our breakfast at leisure and were back in the temple premises by 8.30 am. For the next 3 hours, we explored the entire premises at leisure (luckily for us, the weather was pleasant), which included “Dwarkamai”, “Chavadi”, “Dakshin Mukhi Hanuman Temple” and the “Sai Baba Museum”.
Sai Baba Museum
We spent a little more time at the museum which displays a host of things that Sai Baba used during his lifetime. I would suggest you to pick up a copy of “Sai Satcharitra”, a beautiful book which offers you an insight into the life and teachings of Sai Baba (in fact, after reading this book, we realised that we’d missed so many places on our earlier visits). You can buy the same at the bookstore inside the temple premises and must make an endeavor to read it at least once. All in all, the 3 hours we spent went off in a jiffy, indeed it is rightly said, “blessed is the soil of Shirdi as Sai Baba stayed here’’.
Kopargaon – Sai Baba’s first abode near Shirdi
After a blissful time at Shirdi, we proceeded to Kopargaon, a place which was frequented by Sai Baba. We first went to the Sai Tapobhumi Mandir, located about 14 km from Shirdi on the Shirdi – Kopargaon road. It is said that Sai Baba first arrived and spent some time here before moving to Shirdi. During his lifetime, Sai Baba used to make and serve “Khichadi” (a dish made out of rice and lentils) or sometimes “Biryani” to his devotees. As a symbolic gesture of reverence, “Khichadi” is served as “Prasad” after the noon aarti at the Tapobhumi Mandir. Believe you me, no matter how hungry or thirsty you are, this pious “khichadi” will quench your thirst and satisfy your hunger and you will love it no matter what your taste buds are.
Sai Dham Mandir
From here, we headed towards our next calling, the Sai Dham Mandir, located about 3 km from Tapobhoomi. Not many people are aware of this temple and so it is generally not crowded. This temple and its premises were constructed under the aegis of Late Shri Dhondiram Baba Chavan in the year 1999. “Chavan Baba” as he’s reverently called by the locals was a great devotee of Sai Baba. For generations, his family have been devout followers of Sai Baba’s teachings. The temple premises houses a beautiful sanctum sanctorum, made almost entirely in white with Sai Baba’s statue inside, a “special Dhyan (meditation) mandir, and a sacred neem tree. Near the entrance is a garden with lush green trees all around the complex. The entire temple complex has a “divine” air to it, just sitting in the temple makes you feel relaxed and at total peace.
The day being spent well, surprisingly we were not at all tired. With a prayer in our hearts, we headed back to Pune.
Day 2 – Raigad Fort
After the spiritual feast of Day 1, we were up and ready early morning for yet another excursion and were on the road by 6 am. Today’s itinerary consisted of a visit to the “Raigad” fort, the capital of the great Maratha, Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj. The road from Pune to Raigad takes you through the Tahmini Ghat, a picturesque route which is indeed a treat to drive on. However, at places, there are bad patches which are in fact quite anoying. Although just 135 km from Pune, it took us almost 4 hours to reach Raigad (with a breakfast stop in between) but we were lucky as the weather was quite pleasant and the view as such mesmerizing, making the drive an enjoyable experience.
By 10.30 am we were at the base of the fort. The fort which is atop a hill amidst the Sahyadari Ranges, rises up to 2700 metres above sea level. You can either walk up the 1700 odd steps (which is quite a climb) or go for the easy option of the ropeway which takes just about 5 mins to reach the top. The cable car has a waiting period, but luckily we just had to wait for about 30 mins for our turn. The view along the way is breathtaking to say the least. As the ropeway inches its way up, the landscape changes to a panoramic view of the area all around. You slowly start to appreciate the character of this imposing fort. It offers a dominating vantage point with a 360 degree view of the entire area.
On reaching the top, we donned our hats and caps and sunglasses as the fort does not have any overhead cover. Although mostly in ruins, it indeed has a mystical aura to it.
As we went along, here’s the gist of what we saw and learnt…
History of the Raigad Fort
The fort has changed hands many times, but it is most famous for being the capital of the Maratha Kingdom under Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj. It was constructed by Chandra Rao More, a feudatory of the Sultan of Bijapur and was called Rairi. Shivaji seized the fort in the 17th century and made it into his capital and rechristened the fort as Raigad (the King’s Fort). In fact, this is where the coronation ceremony of Shivaji took place when he was crowned “King” in the year 1674 (6th of June as has been accepted by historians) and bestowed upon the title of “Chhatrapati” (ruler with the Umbrella or Parasol – the Paramount Sovereign, a term used mainly by Marathas to denote a true sovereign ruler).
The main entrance to the fort is through the Maha Darwaja. In case you decide to walk up, the path takes you up in a steep climb before reaching the entrance from where the top of the fort is about 600 feet high. The upper station of the cable car or ropeway is near the Mena Darwaja. This was a special entrance for the royal ladies and the Queens. As you proceed further, you can see the Queens’ Chambers or Rani Vasa, total six of them which were used by Shivaji’s mother and other royal ladies. Then is the Palkhi Darwaja, the special entrance for Shivaji’s convoy, ahead of which is the office area, the granaries and. the market place
As you cross the granaries, you come across the palace of Shivaji Maharaj, which is called Raj Bhavan. This is where the Maharaj had his daily “durbar”. Next to this is the royal bath with two huge water tanks and a well planned drainage system.
Hirkani Burj (Hirkani’s Bastion)
The fort also has a famous wall called Hirkani Burj (Hirkani’s Bastion). In those days, villagers used to come to the fort to sell their wares. They would come in the day and had to leave before sunset when the fort doors were closed and were opened only the next morning. The story goes that one day a woman by the name of Hirkani had come to sell milk. By the time she’d sold all the milk she had brought, it was already sunset and the doors were closed. She had a small baby at home and had to rush back to feed him, but despite her pleas, the doors were not opened.
In desperation, she climbed down the steep cliff in the dark, bruising herself along the way but reached the bottom and to her baby successfully. The next day when she turned up to sell milk again, the guards were astonished to see her and became suspicious. They took her to Shivaji Maharaj who saw her torn clothes and bruises and was impressed by her story (involuntarily, she had discovered a vulnerability in the fort’s defences which could be exploited by the enemy). She was suitably rewarded and a bastion in her name was made at the place in her honour.
Other attractions in the fort include the temple of Shirkai Devi, the presiding deity of the fort, the Jagdishwar Temple, the “Samadhi” of Shivaji and memorial of his faithful dog, Waghya (Tiger). The fort also overlooks the Gangasagar Lake, a huge water reservoir and you get a view of Takmak Tok, as well, a steep cliff from where sentenced prisoners were thrown to their death.
It was already 3 pm and time to head back (we had to reach Pune by night fall). Thanks to our guide, we had been given a well conducted tour of the fort, which gave us a good insight into an important piece of Indian history.
We reached Pune by about 8pm, tired but happy and indeed recharged. The two days we had spent filled us up with countless memories that we shall ever cherish.