The best trips are those that are done without much planning. With hubby having caught a bad bout of the flu, we couldn’t go anywhere on the weekend. But, before our upcoming holiday to my hometown and then his hometown, I needed to visit the Tryambakeshwar temple- the one I hadn’t been able to go to two weeks ago because I’d taken ill all of a sudden.
I had no idea about the temple until I wrote my post on Benaras. As I was researching details about why Benaras was considered an essential pilgrimage site by Hindus, I learned that there were 11 other places that were equally important. One was Kedarnath in the Himalayas which felt out of reach to me. However, the others seemed doable. In fact, four of the remaining eleven, are in Maharashtra- the State in which I currently reside; one of them being Tryambakeshwar. For those of you who know Hindu culture, you know that visiting a temple town is easier said than done when one is a woman- it’s not only about having the inclination to go, making the time for the visit, having the money to embark on a trip but, you cannot be on your period. With so many filters, the window available to pay a visit with the family is small especially if you have your wife and daughters to consider.
Anyway, Monday was one of the days that got filtered out. Without further thought, we packed up and set off to Trimbak (the temple town) at 7.15 a.m., which is four and a half hours away from home. We stopped for breakfast on the way( there are a number of good restaurants and food courts on the highway) and by 12.30 p.m. we were at the temple town.
The journey was comfortable- wide roads with no bumps. The landscape started with green and then turned to brown when we were mid-way. Brown, ploughed fields, brown mountains with gentle slopes and different shaped heads – the absence of trees on the mountains has led to them being eroded away by the winds resulting in interesting shapes. The orange flowers of jacaranda trees in full bloom gave the otherwise unfeeling landscape a touch of emotion. As we neared Trimbak in the Nashik district, the landscape was dotted with grape farms- small ones belonging to individual farmers. Nashik boasts of some famous vineyards which I am yet to visit. But, just seeing so many individual farms is enough to say that Nashik is rightly called, ‘Grape county’.
Trimbak, the temple town, was unlike Benaras- there was no fanfare around it. Just a few stores selling sweets and other paraphernalia- idols, picture frames, conches, beads etc. The people were simple; untouched by time and modernisation- their homes, small and their lives revolved around the temple. We bought flowers from a flower seller in front of the temple who also did the business of providing bags to keep one’s shoes in before entering the temple. The yellow marigolds and red hibiscus, basil leaves, red oleanders are given as an offering in the temple.
The temple is visited by believers and not so much by tourists. Made of black stone, nestled between three mountains, Brahmagiri – the source of the Godavari river, Nilagiri and Kalagiri, the temple in the midst of a spacious courtyard is stunning in a quiet sort of way. Every inch of the black stone is intricately carved with flowers, Hindu deities and animals. A chandelier hanging from the black dome gently illuminates the inner hall or mandap of the temple. The deity is in the inner sanctum and cannot be seen easily because of the depth. A mirror is placed over it so devotees can see the reflection of the deity.
We were able to enter the temple after standing in queue for an hour- this with the VIP ticket which costs Rs 200 per person. However, despite it being noon and one had to wait in a queue in the open, it wasn’t uncomfortable because of the overhead cover and the fans provided.
What appealed to me most is that the 18th-century old classic architecture of the temple has been maintained. It was rebuilt by Peshwa (minister to the king) Balaji Baji Rao after it had been destroyed by the Mughals. The beauty is that it hasn’t been modernised unlike the Kashi Vishwanath temple in Benaras. And because it’s not been promoted as a tourist destination, it’s visited only by believers or history enthusiasts and not tourists. Nashik has several places worth a visit: vineyards, wineries, caves dating back to the 1st century BCE, and magnificent waterfalls, the place has not been promoted much. This is probably because the State does not depend on tourism as a major source of revenue- agriculture, industry and Bollywood are the major revenue earners for Maharashtra.
We did not see the other sites in Nasik as we needed to reach Shirdi (another place of pilgrimage) before dark. On the way, a procession, miles and miles long of people- thousands of them walked on a cordoned side of the road. Our driver told us they were on a pilgrimage and walking towards Pandharpur. I googled it and found out that it’s a yearly procession where pilgrims go by foot from different parts of Maharashtra to the temple in Pandharpur. The journey takes around 21 days. There they were, walking in the day, their belongings tied in a cloth and placed over their head. Decorated cows and horses were part of the procession. A truck carrying food for the pilgrims moved alongside them. There was also an ambulance and policemen to ensure no untowardly incident took place.
Our car went past them and was on its way to Shirdi which is two and a half hours away from Nashik. The last time I went there was three years ago just before the pandemic. However, we hadn’t stayed there- we visited the temple and returned home. This time, we stayed at one of the many hotels that have cropped up in the area in the last few years. St. Laurn calls itself a spiritual resort and rightly so- it’s perfect if you want to take a break and rejuvenate. The rooms only provide basic amenities. However, the entire ambience of the hotel- the meditation room, the prayers held in the morning and in the evening, the lush green lawns, and the soft music in the corridor make it impossible for you to forget why you went there in the first place. We spent the night there, attended the morning prayers at the resort and then visited the temple. It was an experience that I find hard to put down in words. But, I’ll try. The first time I had been there was when I was nine, with mom and dad – standing there this time, I imagined my parents praying in the very same hall- expressing their dreams, their concerns, their gratitude- being in the same place of strong faith as they once were, I felt closer to them.
We left soon after we were done and drove back to Mumbai. The return journey was tiresome as the roads were terrible- it felt like we were riding a bullock cart. There was not much to be seen too- stretches of caked land, mountains, mud houses with thatched roofs, thirsty cows drinking from water troughs and farmers bent double under the blistering sun. After two hours of the journey, a dash of bright colours caught our eye- women traditionally dressed were going around a banyan tree. The driver told us they were celebrating ‘Vat Purnima’. I googled it and found out that the festival is celebrated in Maharashtra, Gujarat and Goa- it’s where married women pray for the long lives of their husbands. There is a story behind why the banyan tree but I’m not going to talk about it here. I was amazed to see the women walking barefoot on the ground that must have felt like burning embers and dressed in their finest silks and gold jewellery in the blistering heat. I couldn’t help getting out of the car and taking a few pictures. I only wish I had gone closer and taken clearer pictures. They did seem willing to be clicked because at-least two of them smiled at me encouragingly. Next time perhaps.
The beauty of India is in its villages. It’s where people uphold the traditions and the rich culture and heritage of the country are maintained. We went to visit the temples but we came back richer with the sight of the procession and the women celebrating the Vat Purnima festival.
Below is a video of the procession- it will give you a feel of it.
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