In search of tranquility: road trip to Shirdi

There are a million things in life we would never do, if not for others. The list is extensive but if I were to pick something that I distinctly remember, it would be the road trip to Shirdi with my parents in the November of 2011.

I wouldn’t tag myself as an atheist but for some reason, I can’t get myself to submit to idol worship. I would rather say a little prayer before I go to sleep and expect the Big Man up there to listen to me. However, my parents, being the devoted religious selves that they are, were keen on driving down to the famous Sai Baba shrine during this trip of theirs to Mumbai. A rather reluctant mutual concession was reached, and off we went.

Our road trip began half an hour past schedule at 4:30 am. Sleepy and already tired, I drifted fast asleep only to wake up at 6 am outside a huge out-of-the-way dhaba. As I stepped out to sip a cup of coffee, I felt the winter chill after days and immediately felt fresh enough to push away the drowsiness. Wrapped in my mom’s shawl, I witnessed the quiet composure around, the cracking of dawn and the slowly fading night. It felt great to have escaped the city.

Preparing for the long road ahead

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Peeping Sun

Once in Shirdi, the ambiance completely changed. There was an air of urgency in spite of the calm that faith demands. It was evident that people had travelled miles and spent recklessly to be there. I recalled our driver, Madan, pointing out a few men who were briskly making their way up a slope on the road. He casually mentioned that they would walk their way to the shrine and probably make it there in the next 3 days. Extraordinary were their ways and perhaps, I would never comprehend why.

After spending two hours a midst elated devotees and walking long queues, we were all in the need for some food. Ignoring the crowded restaurant around the temple, we decided to drive away and parked ourselves outside a small empty one instead. I can’t be sure if it was the hurried temple visit, but we were all too lost in our thoughts to pay attention to anything other than the butter chappatis. A quick meal later, we were back on the road.

In the five hours back home, with neither sleep nor lack of daylight causing any hindrance, I must have exhausted every second missing my camera. The vast expanse and the locals dotting it provided picture perfect moments to us on the road.

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Vast green fields lining the road

Immediately after leaving the town of Shirdi, the street was lined for a distance with local women selling ripe tempting guavas. Tomato fields appeared after every two kilometer and men in white dhotis rode towards them in their noisy motorbikes. After an hour or so, we passed huge rocky hills lined with a dozen white wind mills and a clear lake that perfectly reflected the blue sky. While small villages came into sight and ended as soon as they began, the road also gave space to lavish resorts living up to the demands of those craving a piece of both nature and luxury. On a stretch, in the midst of deserted fields and roads, I saw shambled red brick houses that were so beautifully demolished that I began to wonder if it was intentional.

And yes, I did spot the same pilgrims that we had passed by earlier in the day. I wouldn’t know what distance they had covered in the meanwhile but the fact that they looked far from tired was enough relevant information back then.

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Found these five little puppies playing around in a corner of the dhaba

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Sea green, see blue

The scenic drive later as we found ourselves on the busy streets of Mumbai again, I realised I was anything but disappointed by the long road trip that I had actually been dragged along to.

Perhaps, the Big Man up there has a way of getting us to love him. One way or the other.

Want to hit the road? Read on.

Take an easily available flight or train to Mumbai from all Indian cities. For the five-hour onward drive to Shirdi, you could use the services of Car Rental if you prefer driving yourself or choose Om Sai Cab to book a cab with a driver. Remember to leave early to avoid both traffic and longer hours in queue once there.

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