Friday, November 27, 2015

Kartiki Ekadashi celebration at my ancestral town

This year, on 22nd November, it was Kartiki Ekadashi / Prabodhini ekadashi. This is the 11th lunar day (ekadashi) in the bright fortnight (Shukla Paksha) of the Hindu month of Kartik. It is believed that Vishnu sleeps on Shayani Ekadashi and wakes on Prabodhini Ekadashi, which marks the end of the four-month period of Chaturmas.
This Ekadashi is linked with different things for different regions in India. In Maharashtra, Prabodhini Ekadashi is linked with the god Vithoba - a form of Vishnu. Varkari pilgrims throng the Pandharpur temple of Vithoba on this day. The celebrations in Pandharpur continue for five days, till the full moon day (Kartik Poornima).

Now, I am not really a huge believer nor I am a person who does lot of poojas, but I am from a family who does believe in god and have been serving as poojari (priest) at different temples of Balaji at Valkeshwar, Mumbai as well as Vithoba at Phopheri, near Alibaug, both forms of Lord Vishnu. My great great great grand parents had come to Pedhambe during early 19th century, the grand mother became an entrepreneur in that time as well as they did development like constructing a well for local villagers, constructing a temple for the villagers around the area. They gave a piece of their own land for building a temple of Vithoba Rakhumai, and since then the villagers have been celebrating one of the most important Ekadashis here. Since my ancestors have been taking care of the temple, being a priest and making preparations of the utsav (celebrations) for the day, it is very much special for my family. Since I was a child, I have heard about these celebrations as my grand mother has been going there for past 61 years and has a very strong bond with the place, people and the temple. I had been there with my grand parents when I was 5-6 years old. After that I never went for the utsav, mostly because I always had some or the other exams around that time. Later, perhaps it wasnt a priority as priorities were set on schooling, collage, work and all. This year, since it was a weekend, I decided to go for the utsav, probably after 25 years or so.  

The temple building is very old and has a tulshi vrundavan and deep stambha in front yard. There is small idol of another deity near deep stambha.  

When we reached at the temple, few of my extended family members were already there, preparing for Palkhi decorations. The temple was already well decorated. The murtis (idols) of Vitthal Rakhumai were looking beautiful and I instantly felt at peace. That is something I have never understood, but every time I see very ancient stone carved idols, I feel very peaceful and happy. And it was not any different this time :) For the whole day, people kept visiting the temple for offering prayers and get blessings for their family and new born children. 

Decorated temple
Deep stambha
New Palkhi


While there was a rush inside the temple, the small shops around the temple and many of the small merchants around the area were gathering on the temple street and preparing to sell snacks, sweets, toys, jewelry etc to the visitors. These merchants gather and setup their stalls from the morning and by evening no space near temple can be seen without stalls. As people start coming in the rush increases and after a while walking around becomes difficult due the crowd. It is quite a big day for people who come here and the atmosphere is not less exciting than any other big festivals in India. As the day progressed the rush of merchants increased on the street, making it more colorful and lively than ever. This jatra may not be very interesting for people who get all this stuff anywhere anytime in the city, but roaming around on the street, watching the enthusiasm in people, the rangolis and forts build by then during Diwali is definitely is a treat.

Ekadashi Special rangoli
Diwali killa

From around 3-4 pm a group of bhajan singers came to the temple and suddenly the atmosphere changed. It felt more peaceful inspite of the high pitched notes they sang sometimes. They sang bhajans for around 2 hours and then some of us sang some more till another villager joined and filled the air with his soothing voice singing more bhajans. 
 
Bhajan singers from village
Singers in my family
Palkhi ready for miravnuk
At night, around 8:30, it was the time for Palkhi miravnuk. An idol of Vithoba Rakhumai was kept in a decorated Palkhi. The villagers with tasha and musical instruments were ready by that time. One / two people with a lamps were ready, to make sure while walking around they show light to the god and the people walking with it. This miravnuk started from the temple, lead by the band, on a set path. 

The people with lights walk with or near by the Palkhi. The people who carry the Palkhi, take it in all directions in the village where villagers are ready at their home entrances to perform a small pooja of the deity in Palkhi. They offer fruits, lights to the god, they perform some rituals and offer respect to the people, who carry the Palkhi and the lamps or even are walking with it to make sure there is enough space in palkhi and people can place their offerings in it. The people who carry the Palkhi around, keep rotating as the Palkhi miravnuk takes around 2 to 2.5 hours till it reaches back at the temple. One important reason for rotating these people is that they love their god and carrying Palkhi is a form of offering a service to the god and it gives them satisfaction of being near to the god. So generally when the miravnuk starts it starts with 15-20 people and by the time it gets back to the temple lot more people gather at the temple to get blessings in the form of prasad of Naral & Tulsi mala. At this time the entire space inside and in front of the temple gets filled with the villagers. Inspite of it being almost midnight, children to grand parents everybody comes there. Aarti is done in presence of so many people before distributing prasad and then people leave for the day with a hope to come back next year and be part of these celebrations once again. 

Offerings to the deity in Palkhi
A villager doing pooja
For me, it was very interesting and overwhelming experience as I experienced this kind of celebrations after very long time which I had been hearing from aji ajoba for past so many years. I recently got to know about the history of our ancestors and in what conditions people used to live and what my ancestors have done in everyone's interest, including building this temple. And it was overwhelming when people were talking about my grand parents and great grand parents while talking about their memories of the old times. 
I also met many of my relatives, and had a good time with them.  In all, it was a quite happening and busy day, and it was fun helping as much as I could in all the celebrations. More importantly I felt proud of being a part of the family who has been there for many years to make sure that the devotees coming to the temple feel the warmth and feel the belongingness and become a part of these celebrations for many years to come.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Trip to Nagzira


I recently visited Nagzira Wildlife Sanctuary. I have been doing treks so far and had visited a jungle only once. Since my last jungle visit was to Melghat, some years back, and we had not had much sightings of mammals / birds / butterflies, I was curious about what wild life we would see there.

Parth, Pranav, Aditya and myself had decided to visit Nagzira along with Abhijit, and his family. 4 of us went from Pune and all of us met at Gondia, near Nagpur. Pune Bilaspur Express - 12850 is very convenient for those who want to start from Pune. It leaves at 5:40 pm and reaches Gondia Junction around 11:30am the next day. We started from Pune on 22nd Feb 2013 and met Abhijit, his wife Dhanashree, son Sanskar and his mother on 23rd. From Gondia Abhijit had arranged for a private vehicle to reach the Sanctuary. It takes around 1.5 hours to reach the main gate of the sanctuary.  After having lunch in Gondia, we reached at the gate around 2:20pm.

The sanctuary gate opens twice a day when the cars / jeeps can enter inside, in the morning around 6 and in afternoon at 3. The morning slot for the safari is from 6:30 till 11:30, the afternoon slot is from 3 to 6.

There is a loghut and some rooms available for stay, inside the sanctuary. These are the best places to live, since you live inside the jungle, you can start safari exactly at 6:30am / 3pm, directly go in the core zones. Else it takes some time to reach the enquiry room from the gate, it is around 11 kms. The guides who accompany you from the gate, gets the zone assigned to your vehicle from the enquiry counter. The zones A / B are given to the vehicles, generally alternately so that you get a chance to see all the trails.. From 23rd to 26th Feb, we took 6 rides in all, got equal rides in both the zones.

We started back from the sanctuary on 26th, after the morning ride, took Vidarbha Express around 3pm from Gondia to Nagpur and then Garibrath Express around 6:35pm from Nagpur to Pune, reached Pune by 10 in the morning.

In all we heard or saw around 50 bird species, few mammals in the sanctuary. Only 4 of us were fortunate to see a Tiger. But ultimately it was a good trip since we got see such variety of wildlife in such a short time.

See photos here

Birdlist
  1. Black Hooded Golden Oriole
  2. Spotted Dove
  3. Rufus Tree Pie
  4. Paradise Flycatcher
  5. Lesser Goldenback Woodpecker
  6. Rose Ringed Parakeet
  7. Red Spurfowl
  8. Indian Peafowl / Mor (in Marathi)
  9. Oriental Honey Buzzard - light morph
  10. Jungle Babbler
  11. Crow Pheasant / Bharadwaj (in Marathi)
  12. Indian Roller / Neelpankh (in Marathi)
  13. Plum Headed Parakeet
  14. Yellow Footed Green Pigeon / Hariyal (in Marathi) - Maharashtra's state bird
  15. Crested Serpent Eagle
  16. Changeable Hawk Eagle
  17. White Eye / Chashmawala (in Marathi)
  18. Common Kingfisher / Small Blue Kingfisher
  19. Green Bee Eater / Veda Raghu (in Marathi)
  20. Grey Hornbill
  21. Indian Common Myna / Salunki (in Marathi)
  22. Grey Headed Fish Eagle
  23. Black Drongo / Kotwal (in Marathi)
  24. Racket Tailed Drongo
  25. White Bellied Drongo
  26. White Cheeked Barbet
  27. Shikra
  28. Brain Fever Bird
  29. Coppersmith Barbet / Tambat (in Marathi)
  30. Grey Wagtail
  31. Intermediate Egret
  32. Red Throat-ed Flycatcher
  33. Asian Brown Flycatcher
  34. Red Wattled Lapwing
  35. Yellow Throat-ed Sparrow
  36. Brahmani Myna / Brahmani Starling
  37. Red Vented Bulbul
  38. Chestnut Shouldered Petronia
  39. Magpie Robin
  40. Indian Robin
  41. Brown Capped Pigmy Woodpecker
  42. White Eyed Buzzard
  43. Rufus Turtle Dove
  44. Tickle's Blue Flycatcher
  45. Orange Headed Ground Thrush
  46. White Breasted Kingfisher / Khandya (in Marathi)
  47. Jungle Owlet (Malabaricum)
  48. Iora / Subhag (in Marathi)
  49. Pied Kingfisher
  50. Common Hoopoe
  51. Black Naped Monarch / Neelmani (in Marathi)
  52. White Rumped Shama
  53. Nightjar
  54. Leaf Bird
  55. Brown Headed Barbet
  56. Chestnut Tailed Starling

Mammals
  1. Gaur / Gava (in Marathi)
  2. Spotted Deer / Chital (in Marathi)
  3. Sambar
  4. Black Langoor
  5. Nilgai
  6. Mongoose
  7. Sloth Bear
  8. Wild Boar

Monday, December 26, 2011

A trek that tested our strength

In past couple of years, since all of us got a bike / car and have started working somewhere, we have started enjoying luxurious treks with respect to food variety, taking vehicle till the very end of the road before we can start climbing up some fort. It has become very easy and time saving with a vehicle at our disposal and we can cover any forts at far distances, but every time, at some point we feel that we should now go to a real trek.

Having a last 3 days weekend of this year, Parth & myself decided to go for a trek that can actually be called a real nice trek. So, on the 22nd afternoon we talked to couple of friends and booked bus tickets for Ashish, Parth and myself. We started for Nashik by 11:59 pm bus and had to get out of it at Narayangav around 1:30 in the morning due to a punctured tyre. We took another bus to Nashik around 2 am and reached there by 5:15 am.

23rd December 2011
Koldher
After having cleaned up and having some breakfast at Padmalaxmi, the best south Indian restaurant on the bus stand, we walked to the old bus stand and got a Nandurbar bus around 7 am. By mistake we got down at Kheldari village, instead of Kheldari phata. We started from the village at 8:45 am, and on the way to Kheldari phata, saw lots of Grape plantations. Kheldari phata (near toll) comes after Kheldari village and the phata is nearer to the Koldher fort, so it is advisable to get down at the Kheldari phata and start walking on the road opposite to the toll. From this road we need to take left turn after Kheldari substation and veet bhatti (the place where bricks are made) to go in the cole, which leads to Koldher fort. We need to cross couple of farms and Mr. Damu Sonavane's house on the way. By the time we passed Mr. Sonavane's house, it was 11 am. The way to reach top of the cole, goes from the right side of the mountains, even though the Koldher fort is on the left side.

Fort Kanchana till Fort Dhodap seen from Koldher
We reached at the base of Koldher fort around 12 and after resting for few minutes started climbing up the fort. There is nothing much to see on the fort although it is spread quite far on the both sides from where we climbed up. After climbing up for around 15 minutes, on the left side of Koldher, there is a stone with a carving of Lord Hanuman, which is quite difficult to find on the fort but we coincidentally saw it. Since there is no marked path from this level, we randomly started climbing up the fort towards to topmost area. To reach the base of the dyke, a stone level needs to be climbed. We thought of climbing up that level from wherever we could as there is nothing but lot of thorny hay and cactus on the entire fort but as we reached the stone level, we found some carved steps leading to the base of dyke. We had a quick lunch of bread, butter, sauce, karanji etc. in the shades on the steps. As per the books we referred, technical climbing is required to go up the dyke so it was not an option for us. So we went up to the left of the dyke to see the view behind it. We were amazed to see the range of forts and hills, from fort Kanchana to Fort Dhodap, so nicely arranged that make a fabulous view.

Rajdher
Around 2:10 pm we had to start walking down, as we wanted to go on Rajdher fort for night's stay. We went back to the cole on the right of Koldher and took small path towards a plateau opposite to Koldher fort. In half an hour we reached a small dam, built above Shindewadi. The dam water is used by cattle but on the other side of the dam a small pond is available with potable water. It was already passed 4 pm by the time we filled water bottles and it was crucial to move towards Rajdher, as one of our friends had told us to climb up the ladder at Rajdher in the day light, otherwise it is pretty difficult to find it. He had also told us that the Koldher to Rajdher trek takes around 4 hours and we had reached the dam in less than an hour. Fortunately one of the shepherds, Somnath mama from Rajdherwadi agreed to show us the path towards Rajdher and we started from the spot around 4:30 pm. The climb was quite steep and with heavy rucksacks it was not possible to climb up very fast. It was due to Somnath mama, we sprinted like never before and reached the ladder just before 6 pm. As Somnath mama left for Rajdherwadi, we started climbing up the ladder. The ladder is around 50 feet and take us to the stone carved steps to the fort. The amazing thing about this ladder is that at around 25-30 feet, there is an overhang. It is scary to climb up with heavy weight on back but it is scarier while climbing down as it is difficult to see the steps below. But at the same time it is exciting..

Ladder at Rajdher
We rested on the steps for couple of minutes and were on our feet again in search of a place to stay. When we climb up the stairs and come on the flat grounds, there are 2 small pillars standing, forming a way to enter the fort. On the right side, there is a bastion at the end of the fort, on the way there are remnants of buildings and another structure with 3 arches, which can be a place to stay. Facing towards the topmost area of the fort, there is a cave carved in stone, upside on the right and an area on the left is marked around a grave. If we face the cave, on the left there are some stairs, a temple like but closed structure and a water tank hidden in a cave. The water is potable and cool. If we take the stairs and keep walking on the path, towards the upper part of the fort, couple of trees can be see n on the left side, one of which is a some palm tree. This tree is the landmark to find a lake which mostly have been a stone build water tank. On the right side of this lake there is a temple and path alongside the lake reaches there. We climbed up from the side of Palm tree and had to go from the lake side stones, but it is better to follow the steps and the path which directly takes you to a spot from where it is easy to fill up water from lake and the same path goes towards temple. Temple is situated exactly above one of the side of lake and it seems a bit hidden. It is a lord Shiva's temple and can accommodate 3 people. We had soup and Khichadi for dinner and went to sleep in the temple around 11 pm.

24th December  2011
We had been walking for around 12 hours the day before so we rested more than expected and woke up around 7:30 am. Packing up, breakfast took quite a while and before we proceeded to see the fort, it was 11 am. It took around an hour to see all the places on the fort. We started climbing down and had a snack break at a cave like place by the side of stairs near fort entrance. The view from this cave is fabulous, Indrai is spread over a large area, only hay and cactus is spread in region, a beautiful and quite large water reservoir adds up to the beauty of the view.

After climbing down the stairs while facing Indrai, the path on left goes to Rajdherwadi. The whole path is marked with white paint on stones and it is quite easy to find it. It took us 2 hours to reach Rajdherwadi. On the way we met Mr. Vasant Vithoba Jadhav fom Rajdherwadi, who has climbed up all these forts and explained the route to us and shared his experiences. Mr. Prakash Pawar, who let us cook our lunch at his house, showed us from where we need to climb up the Indrai fort and asked us to take his number so that if required we can call him to ask for directions.

Indrai from Rajdher
Indrai is spread from west to east, as seen from Rajdherwadi. We started climbing from east side of the mountain, shifted towards west side and climbed up on a plateu. We thought the stairs would be somewhere in the rock on the far east side which we could see from the village, but as we turned around the east corner we had seen, there was another wall standing there which added to our worries. Now there were 2 ways going up and we didnt know which one lead to the stairs. Ashish and Parth went to check out these paths, one on the Chandwad fort's side and on the Rajdherwadi's side respectively and as the sun was going down on the other side of the fort, drowning everything around in a starry night, Ashish came calling for us, telling he had finally found the stairs. It took us another 10 minutes to reach the stairs and by 6:30 pm we were on the fort. Finally once again we had managed to climb up the fort before everything went dark. Now another issue infront of us was finding caves to stay. The problem was that the books said the caves were on the right side of the fort facing Rajdher and caves we knew, where our friends had stayed few months back were on the left of the fort facing Chandwad fort. After climbing up the stairs we started climbing up on the left side and kept walking on the path which we thought was leading us correctly and finally in another half an hour we reached the caves. Few people were already camping in one of the caves and they showed us the water cistern with potable water. We decided on staying in a cave and literally danced there to level the soil in the cave to have a flat ground to sleep on. It was quite chilly and it felt great to drink soup then. We had a nice Corn - Mint rice and went to sleep around 11 pm.

25th December 2011
The Indrai fort has spread over a large area and we can feel the vastness of it in a glance anywhere around.

There are these caves facing Chandwad, which does not have any carvings, only pillars outside some caves have some carved designs. In the same line as these caves there are water cisterns on the left and right. Climbing up on another level from the caves, walking towards tho top most area of the fort on the west side, there is a temple of Lord Shiva. Temple is quite big with couple of pillars in it. But due to the pillars there isn't much space for staying there. There is a small dry lake / rock cut cistern in front of the temple. On the upper plateau of this temple, there is a huge rock cut water tank with stairs to reach the water. Nearby, some remnants of buildings can be seen.

Lake near Lord Shiva's temple
Lord Shiva's temple and water tank
Caves facing Chandwad

We wanted to find the caves facing towards Rajdher and it was already 11 am, so we decided to skip Chandwad and find the caves. We climbed up and down the fort and got great views of the surrounding forts but unfortunately didnt find those caves and had to start back by 12:30 pm. We took a stop at a water cistern where the stairs to fort start going up. After having nice lemon sarbat, we started climbing down. Originally the plan was that if we skipped Chandwad fort then we could come back in Pune by a sensible night time. But when we started climbing down from the stairs, it was past 1 pm. On the way down we saw a rock carved Hanuman, which I suppose is referred as a temple by villagers. We kept climbing down and reached Vadbare village by 3 pm.

After unfruitful wait for a transport to reach the Mumbai - Agra highway, we started walking the 2 km distance and reached the highway in another half an hour. We saw an old but renovated temple of a deity Renuka. The temple is very big and the deity is situated in a cave inside the temple. 2 beautiful 'Deepmala' (Big pillars with number of slots to put lamps on), and old stone entrance are standing in front of the temple. Beyond this entrance, Chandwad village is situated.

We took a rikshaw to Chandwad bus stand. We reached Nashik by 7:15 pm, had some snacks and boarded a 8 o'clock bus for Pune. It felt like we were disconncted from the outside world for so long and it was so peaceful then. Now when I am writing this, I realised, even though there was an urgency while walking for 9-10 hours a day to reach on a fort in time, it never felt that tiring, but booking seats for the 8 o'clock bus and consuming snacks in those last 10-15 minutes, listening to the noises around felt so tiring. Among all this clutter, the only thing we could think of was how great the trek was and we should do such treks again.

See more photos