Wednesday, 22 October 2008

Car journey to Shirdi

We travelled to Shirdi last weekend - took my own car along for a good self-driven road trip.

The road is quite straightforward - from Mumbai take the Eastern Express Highway to Thane and Bhiwandi. This is the NH3 to Nashik, but we took a route avoiding Nashik. Left from home at 7:30 am.
First stop was for snacks at Manas Resorts Igatpuri at around 10:30 am. The resort has been nicely done-up and looks a good spot for a weekend getaway a la Fariyas.

7 km after Igatpuri is the town of Ghoti which has a bypass road to Sinnar, which avoids Nashik completely. There is a board on the highway pointing to a right turn to Ghoti. The off-road leads through a market for about 2 kms, but ask for directions to Sinnar/Shirdi if confused. It leads to a railway crossing and a toll booth later - and then the bypass road smoothens out.
This route was a scenic drive through some unspoiled lands. The photos show the windmills and lakes seen along the Ghoti-Sinnar bypass road. Another advantage was no high-speed overtakers on this route, since the road is well-hidden. There are no boards informing you of this route, and you get 60 kms of peaceful leisurely driving.

At Sinnar, you rejoin the SH10 which is a straight road to Shirdi. Back to the superfast buses and crazy drivers. We reached Shirdi at 2:15 pm and quickly found a hotel for ourselves.
The Hotel Sai Baba International - which is right opposite the main gate of the temple complex. The rooms were adequate, 3 star hotel with clean facilities.

Road distances:
Andheri East - 0 Km
Ghatkopar on EEH - 13 Km
Shahapur - 74 Km
Igatpuri - 124 Km
Ghoti - 131 Km
Sinnar - 190 Km
Shirdi - 250 Km

The journey took 7 hours on the way out, but we spent 1.5 hours in breaks.
The return was quicker since we knew the route well, 6 hours in all including lunch at Foodplaza beyond Igatpuri (Avoidable!) .

Tuesday, 14 October 2008

St Alphonsa canonized

There's been lots of news recently over Sr. Alphonsa - a Catholic nun from Bharananganam, in Kottayam district, Kerala being proclaimed a Saint on Oct 12th 2008. She will now be known as St Alphonsa of the Immaculate Conception. This is newsworthy since she is the second saint from India and the first woman.
Many would have expected Mother Teresa to be the first woman from India - but things dont move so fast in the Vatican - St Alphonsa has been canonized 62 years after her death.

I was watching the news on Sunday - CNNIBN I think it was - an over-excited reporter outside Mahim church had found a Kerala-ite lady who "had actually been to the church of St Alphonsa" and was asked in true AajTak style - "How do you feel about it?" "Kaise mehsoos ho raha hai"types.

As over-the-top as that was - it truly hit me then how proud a moment it was for people like myself and my family - those who have a small (and I mean really small) association with this saint, the town and the church. Bharananganam is a town 4 kms away from my mom's native place of Edamattom in Kottayam district, Kerala. My mom has in fact studied in the same convent school attached to this church - and when she was a student, there was the buzz around the church and convent - that of Sr Alphonsa - the recently passed away nun who led a simple and pious life. She was a model for all other girls to follow and this was part of the school's christian studies too.

Sr Alphonsa was beatified by Pope John Paul II on his India visit in 1986. [Beatification is the penultimate step in the process of sainthood]. This led to the mass following there is now - the hope that she will be declared a saint one day - and that she will intercede and miracles can happen. Throughout my childhood, we used to regularly visit the church on each visit to Kerala. This has continued till today - and is one of the things we do without fail.

I think the difference now that she has become a Saint - means Christians from all over India and even abroad will now make this a pilgrimage place. Similar to St Francis Xaviers church in Goa and Vailankanni in Tamil Nadu. So the roads have been widened, the town painted. On my last visit, the church had been restored and the gardens had been replanted completely. The church becomes a pilgrimage centre and the town prospers too. Since this is in Kottayam, a visit to the church might soon be added on tour itineraries along with the Kumarakom lake and houseboat rides.
I do hope things remain as they were - small and simple. Not turning into the commercial circus most religious places become.

Well time will tell.