Sunday, September 30, 2007

Ashtavinayak (August 2007)

While the office continued to dominate my life for the last so many days, I did manage to sneak off to tour the eight Ashtavinayak temples on the weekend that followed the 15th of August. Nothing like a short trip to recharge yourself at least for a week if not more. This was my second tour of the Ashtavinayak and this time I really loved and enjoyed it. Partly the reason for this could be that unlike the last time there were only three of us making the trip—my brother, sis-in-law, and me managed to keep parents and other religious minded neighbors from joining us and (as mean as it sounds) converting it into an oldies picnic. We also had a comfortable drive this time around (unlike the last time when there were eight of us packed in a single Qualis with all our luggage). The lack of any elders in supervisory capacity also ensured that we didn't have to mind our Ps and Qs that very much. We could set our own pace, find some time to explore the areas around the temples a bit without having to feel like that we were abandoning the elders, and even sample of the local food. And though my brother and sis-in-law had misgivings about my choice of reading material (both of them, like my parents, are extremely devout), and despite of my sis-in-law lecturing me a bit about it (Actually, I didn't read the book at all during the trip, having carried another one with me, but it was worth taking along just to observe how much it discomfited my brother and sis-in-law.), much good time was had.

The tour was memorable, however, for the sheer amount of greenery that was on display. Maharashtra is primarily a dry state. Browns and yellows dominate the landscape of robust mountains and its the color that most of us associate with the region. But after a couple of months of rain it is amazing the amount of green that bursts forth from the soil. There is a coolness and a refreshing moistness in the air. The Ashtavinayak temples are bang in the middle of Maharashtra's agricultural belt. Fields of sugarcane, paddy, onions, vegetables, bananas and grape vineyards abound and are lush with green and produce. Rivers are full and the daunting mountains are transformed with a blanket of green covering them. It's a sight very soothing for the eyes and you may be as morose and as soul-weary as they make them, but you can't help feel a little joy in all that plenty.

You will find pictures of the Ashtavinayak trip here. To view a slide show, complete with detailed captions, click here.

If you want to see how much Maharashtra's landscape changes in the rains, take a look at these pictures from my last year's (January 2006) trip of the Ashtavinayak.

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Update: October 5, 2007

A couple of readers e-mailed to ask me to put in some more details regarding the trip. A few friends had expressed disbelief when I told them that we completed the Ashtavinayak trip in 1.5 days (The regular tours & travels package trips take 3 days). Most of them wanted to know how to plan the trip, particularly the order in which to visit the temples. While am unable to do a proper post, here are a few details.

It's best to make this trip towards the end of the monsoon and the days before winter sets in. From maybe the mid-August through to September and early October. In any case not after Navratri and Diwali sets in -- with the festive season setting in you can expect to encounter heavy crowds at each of the temples. For the same reason avoid the month of Shravan. Post Diwali, its "prime time" right through summer with resultant crowds. Avoid all Tuesdays, whichever be the month. Also avoid Sundays and, if you can manage it, Saturdays too.

We started early on a Friday morning and were back home the afternoon on Saturday.

The route that we took will work the best for people from Mumbai, New- Mumbai, Thane, Kalyan and the surrounding suburbs. Overall, you traverse approximately 750-800 kms on this trip. So if you are driving your own car, get a basic servicing done. We hired a Scorpio.

The route and other details:

Stage 1: To Ozar
We started early morning around 5:30 AM and headed towards Ozar. The road to Ozar goes via Kalyan, Murbad, through the fabulous Malshej Ghat to Otur. From Otur you turn off from the state highway towards Ozar which is situated on the banks of the Kukadi river. The road is bordered on both sides by sugarcane fields and makes for a lovely drive. We reached Ozar around 8:00 AM. Temple visit, photographs and all done in 20 minutes.

Things to do and look out for:
It is one of the best sections to drive through in the entire trip. Malshej Ghat is awesome but drive through cautiously as the ghat is usually covered in a thick drifting fogs particularly that early in the morning.

The shops around the Ozar temple are a good place to pick up miniature Ganapati idols and other religious paraphernalia.

Time taken: Approximately 3 hours

Stage 2: Ozar to Lenyadri
We left Ozar at 8:30 AM for Lenyadri. Take the road that turns to the left after leaving the Ozar temple and ask the locals for directions towards Lenyadri. Lenyadri is quite close to Ozar and the drive shouldn't take you more than 30 minutes. The road passes alongside sugarcane and onion fields. You will know you are in Lenyadri when the sugarcane makes way for banana plantations and vineyards.

The Lenyadri Ganesha is in a cave at the top of a mountain. So be prepared to haul your bulk up and down 307 steps.

Things to do and look out for:
Lovely views of Shivneri (the birth place of Shivaji) and the area around from Lenyadri.

The "tapris" at the foothill of Lenyadri are a good place for breakfast. Most of them will offer excellent Kande-Pohe, Misal Pav. Try either or both (lunch on the Ashtavinayak trip is usually had late).

Lenyadri is also a good place to stock up on a variety of raisins at throwaway prices.

Time taken: Approximately 1.5 hours

Stage 3: Lenyadri to Ranzangaon
We left for Ranzangaon from Lenyadri around 10:00 AM. You drive through Junnar, touching the foothills of Shivneri, and on to Narayangaon. The drive from Narayangaon till you hit the Pune-Ahmednagar highway is wonderful. Fields of sugarcane, pulses, bajra, and vegetables, and the occasional thicket of woods border most of the route.

Things to do and look out for:
Keep an eye out for the local wildlife as you drive. Mongooses are frequently spotted. You will also glimpse an occasional snake.

As you cross Narayangaon, keep looking to your left and you will soon see the huge dish antennas that make the Giant Metrewave Radio Telescope.

Time taken: Approximately 3 hours

Stage 4: Ranzangaon to Siddhatek
Siddhatek is across the Bhima river. The drive is through the heartland of Maharashtra's sugarcane growing region. (In the harvesting season, you will find yourself stuck behind a line of endless tractor-trailers hauling the sugarcane away. While the progress is slow, you can lean out of your vehicle and pluck a sugarcane stalk from the trailers passing by.) In August, the roads were clear of any traffic apart from the occasional bullock cart or a state transport bus and some two-wheelers. You do get caught in some traffic in the town of Daund but that's about it.

Things to do and look out for:
Kandi pedhas in the shops next to the temple. These spoil quite quickly so polish off whatever you buy on the same day.

Have lunch on the banks of the Bhima. There are a few small huts on the bank on the other side of the bank. You place your order on the way to the temple. By the time you are back from the darshan piping hot Maharashtrian fare is ready and served with much hospitality. The food is basic: a choice of bajra and jowar bhakris, zunka, thecha (crushed green chillies and garlic, with some oil), a vegetable, rice and dal, raw onions and some chutney -- all of it as much as you can eat. And once you are done, the hosts will insist on serving you some more food. The food is cooked over wood fires in earthen chulas and is very tasty. You eat sitting on a mat next to the river. Awesome experience especially for city slickers. A word of caution: go easy on the thecha. It easily can cause a stomach upset if you are not used to having hot, spicy food.

Time taken: Approximately 3 hours

Stage 5: Siddhatek to Morgaon
You have to retrace most of the drive back to Ranzangaon from Siddhatek before you take the turn towards Baramati and Morgaon. The countryside after you take the turn towards Morgaon off the highway is different from what you would have got accustomed through the day. Not too many fields but there's a lovely ghat to cross.

Things to do and look out for:
The trees inside the temple premises that are identified by my name.

Have some tea at any of the tapris outside the temple. It is the end of the day and you will need it.

It will be dusk by the time you start back from Morgaon. Keep your eyes peeled for peacocks once you hit the open country. If you are lucky, you might spot one. If you are really lucky, you might spot two. We did. Morgaon, in Marathi, means the village of peacocks.

Time taken: Approximately 2 hours

Stage 6: Morgaon to Theur
Your drive to Theur will be largely after nightfall. Most of the drive is along the highway that goes to Pune (Theur is the closest Ashtavinayak temple to Pune) so expect much fast-moving traffic till you take the turn that leads towards Theur. Theur is set in the midst of banana plantations, sugarcane fields and, off-late, stud farms. There are also a number of jaggery making units in the small town. In season, a sweet aroma lingers overs this temple-town.

You should be in Theur by 8.00 PM and this is the place where you will stay for the night. The accommodation is basic: clean rooms with beds and a bathroom attached (300 Rs. a night). If you are looking for comfort and luxury, stay in Baramati or in Pune. Most of these "boarding houses" will also offer home-cooked meals for a nominal cost.

Things to do and look out for:
Reserve your temple visit for early next morning (6:00-6:30 AM) when there are hardly any devotees around and the temple has just been swept clean and it's premises sprinkled with water.

Take a shower, have dinner, and then browse through the small shops around the temple. You might find some lovely miniature Ganapati idols.

There's a Vada-pav vendor near the temple's entrance who makes very good vada-pav. He shuts shop as soon as all the vadas are sold. This can be as early as 8:00-8:30 PM.

Sleep.

Time taken (to reach from Morgaon): Approximately 2 hours

Stage 6: Theur to Mahad
Start early from Theur, at around 6:45-7:00 AM. You have to get through Pune and it is a good idea to start early to avoid traffic and hit the Mumbai-Pune Expressway. Leave the expressway at Khopoli. From Khopoli, Mahad is 3 kms away.

Mahad is the closest Ashtavinayak temple to Mumbai. Expect to see some crowds here.

Things to do and look out for:
Turn off the road on the outskirts of Pune city (towards the Expressway) and drive into a "Joshi Vadewale" for breakfast. Hot batatawadas and bhajiyas with lots of elaichi tea make a good breakfast.

The shops around Mahad's temple are a good hunting ground for miniature Ganapatis and other religious items. Also a good place to pick up boiled/roasted corn on the cob and groundnuts.

Time taken (inclusive of breakfast): Approximately 3 hours

Stage 7: Mahad to Pali
This is a lovely drive, along the Sahyadris, through thick woods and paddy fields. You might encounter some traffic in Khopoli. Drive carefully: the road passes through numerous small villages and Pali itself is a town of narrow streets and too many buses.

Things to do and look out for:
Good place to shop for papads and other similar dried foodstuff. The shops also sell good kokum and Amla sherbet without any artificial preservatives. Most shops will allow you to sample the sherbets before you decide to buy them.

Time taken: Approximately 2 hrs

Stage 8: Pali to Mumbai/Thane/Kalyan/Ambernath
There are quite a few possible routes from Pali. You could drive back to Khopoli and take the road that goes to Mumbra. You could also come back to Khopoli, go on to Karjat, and then take the road that goes parallel to the railway tracks right up to Ambernath and then goes on to Kalyan and Thane. From Karjat to Ambernath this is a lovely drive with the Sahyadris and paddy fields on one side of the road and more fields and the railway trucks on the other.

Alternatively you can take an even more scenic route back. Take the road that goes to Roha and Nagothane from Pali. Most of this road parallels a river on one side and dense woods on the other. Then it hits the Mumbai-Goa highway which in this season is a strip of tarmac amidst fields and wildflowers. You drive through Vadhkal Naka (in case you haven't picked up stuff from Pali, this is another good place to stock up on papads and assorted stuff) Karnala and Panvel and to Shil-Fata from where you can turn into New Mumbai/Mumbai on one side and Kalyan and Ambernath on the other. This is the route we took.

Whichever the road you take you should be home by around 3:00 PM on the outside completing the Ashtavinayak tour in a day and a half.

Things to do and look out for:
Drive carefully and enjoy the scenery.

Time taken: Approximately 2.5 hrs

Overall Time taken: Approximately 34 hrs

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15 comments:

Geetika said...

Lovely post, Mandy!
Hey, how 'bout writing a lil bit bout the Ganpati idol/temple in each of the eight places and why it is special.

mandar talvekar said...

Geetiks,
the details of the temples/idols are along with the photographs. Didn't add it here as i felt the information was more appropriate along with the pictures.
You can view the pictures here.
Slide show here.

Anonymous said...

Hi Mandy,

Your post on the Ashtavinayak darshan in 1.5 days gave me a great confidence to venture for the similar journey for the darshn when most of my friends discouraging it saying the journey requires atleast 3 days. With your detailed Itinerary, I could complete the lord Ashtavinayak darshan in 2 days with ease (March 20-21,2008). The route map and Temple & idol history availble at www.ashtavinayak.net was also very informative and useful.

Thanks a lot mandy

mandar talvekar said...

Anon, you are welcome. Hope you enjoyed the trip and loved it.

Anonymous said...

I appreciate your efforts! Well done! My wife said she wants this trip, and I was searching the web for the quickest route when I found this blog. And I was satisfied.
Just a suggestion - It will be good idea to post a route map.

namita said...

Hi Mandar, khup chaan ani informative blog aahe...was googling around for a 2 day tour plan and found it thanks to u.

Anonymous said...

Vishant Said..

Perfect time management, Will you be able to write the km between the each stops. Is it safe if a couple travels in their own vehicle.

mandar talvekar said...

Hi Anon,
As far as i know it is perfectly safe for a couple to do this trip. The temples are highly frequented -- so there will be some traffic on the roads. About the only precaution i can suggest is to avoid traveling very late in the night -- if for nothing else then to avoid the truck traffic.

Distances from one place to another -- i have no clue. I can offer one bit of information though -- the round trip (from home to all the temples and back) if you are in Mumbai or around should be around 750-800 kms.

If you need distances between two temples, assume an average speed of about 50 kms an hour and multiply with the times i have indicated. Discount a bit of time -- about 20 minutes -- for the temple visits.

Hope that helps.

namita said...

Hi vishant
its perfectly safe for a couple to tour ashtavinayak...me and my hubby did it in two days...we stayed at pune on friday night and began our tour on sat morning with morgaon as that is the first ganpati you have to begin your tour with ideally :)
All the best for your trip and god bless you!

shri said...

Hi Namita,

I would be thankful if you could tell me the route that you chose after Morgaon.

I am planning to do this trip & some members coming from aurangabad & I will be starting from mumbai. So I think it would be an good idea if we meet at Pune and then take the route which you traveled.

Also please help me with the places to stay in Pune.

rgds,
Shripad

mandar talvekar said...

Shri,
I am afraid my knowledge in this case is restricted to what i have written in my post. Beyond that I can't really help you.
For places to stay in Pune, perhaps an Internet search might help.

Namita said...

HI shri

sorry for delay in replying. hope u havent yet made the trip. here is the path that we followed

Day one

1)Pune-Hadapsar-Saswad-Jejuri-Morgaon

2)Morgaon-Supa-Chauffula-Patas-Daund -Siddhatek

3)Siddhatake-Daund-Patas-Chuffula-Theur

4)Theur-Hadapsar-Pune-Sikrapur-Ranjangaon. Ranjangaon-Shikrapur-Pune.

Day two

1)Pune-Chakan-Khed-Manchar-Narayangaon—Ozar

2)Ozar-Narayangaon-Junner-Lenyadri

3)Lenyadri-Junner-Narayangaon-Manchar-Khed-Chakan-Talegaon-Khopoli-Mahad.

4)Mahad-Mangaon-Kolad-Vakan- Pali. Pali-Khopoli-Lonavala-Pune

i have no idea about places to stay in pune as i stayed with a relative. you can find about that on the internet i guess :)
to make the trip easier i think you should take a print of the map for asthavinayak from internet...following the route will be more easier.
enjoy your trip :)

shri said...

Hi Namita,

Thanks a lot! this will definitely help me in my journey.

Rgds,
Shripad

mandar talvekar said...

Hey Namita,
Thanks. The route you've outlined should be excellent for people looking to travel from Pune.
Shri, best wishes for your trip.

Namita said...

welcome guys :)