A Few Good Things

"Traveling – it leaves you speechless, then turns you into a storyteller." – Ibn Battuta

A Few Good Things

Tag: How to reach Shirdi

A week in fascinating Jordan

How is Jordan different from other countries in the Middle East ?

  • It has no OIL
  • A liberal modern country with no dress regulations. That is credit to the royal family.
  • Diverse landscape – from the depths of the Dead Sea to the highlands of Petra & Amman where it snows in winter. The country is blessed with lovely mediterranenan climate

We had a perfect one week holiday. My first experience with a travel company Byond Travel – and they scored 10/10. Jordan has lots to see. We covered 1500 Kms in 6 days with 4 hops across the Dead Sea, Petra, Wadi Rum & the capital Amman. A small group of 9, a dedicated bus to us and a wonderful guide all added up to make this a memorable trip. Jordan is waiting to be explored – we had nice weather (In May) , almost no Q’s (thanks to Ramadan) – and we covered a lot – thanks to the wonderful planning of Byond Travel. When you travel with a good agency it takes a lot of your head – my earlier self planned family holidays were a project , this one was relaxed. I just followed the guide. Since all payments were made in advance we hardly had any expenses right thru the week – barring our lunch bills and  stuff we bought to carry back home.

Detailed Notes 

Day – 1 

There are no direct flights to Jordan from India and we took Etihad from Bangalore to Amman Via Abu Dhabi. An early morning flight on Sat at 4.30 AM from Bangalore got us to Amman by 12 noon with a 3 hr stop over at Abu Dhabi. Etihad is good – better than Emirates and you get Jet Airways miles. Leg space is comfortable, food is decent. At Amman we were received at the gate and whisked past immigration (Jordan has Visa on arrival) and in less than 30 minutes after landing we were in the bus with our luggage headed to the Dead Sea – Holiday Inn Resort. A nice property located on the Dead Sea. A 1 hr drive – past barren land and olive trees ( Jordan is full of olive trees) we reached the lowest elevation on earth – 1400 feet blow MSL . It was warm but bearable. The Dead Sea is shrinking and the locals say it may not last beyond 2050. The salinity of water is almost 10X that of the normal sea so you float. And there is no life on the Dead Sea.

The Holiday Inn resort is one of the many resorts on the Dead Sea – and many come here for the curative power of the water and the Dead Sea salts. After a few hrs at the beach we had a lovely dinner and hit the bed. A long day that started at 2 AM on Sat morning finally ending. Note that Jordan has a 2 1/2 hr lag with India – so when we slept at 9 PM it was 11.30 PM India time.

Day – 2

A 1 night stop at Dead Sea the next day morning we headed out to Petra and on the way stopped by a few interesting sights

Close to the resort was the Bethany church where Jesus was baptised by John the baptist. Thats a famous biblical location and borders Israel. All thru the tour we were almost touching the Israel border and at the Bethany church we could see Israel across the Jordan river a few feet away.

From Bethany we visited Mount Nebo – a famous place from where Moses is said to have pointed towards the promised land before he passed away. We travelled Via Madaba visiting one more church famous for its mosaic paintings and reached the historic city of Petra by 4 PM.

Petra is an iconic city almost 2000 years old – its a city of sandstone mountains. We stayed at a lovely property The Old Village Resort at Wadi Musa for 2 nights. Nice rooms , good food. 

Day – 3

After a sumptuous breakfast we left at 8 AM to Petra. The visitors centre was a few km from our property and we started the trek thru the maze of mountains by 8.30 AM. There is a lot of walking. 2 Km to the Khazana , 2 Km to the base point of the Monastery and then a trek of over 1000 steps to the top of the Monastery – all in all about 6 Km each way. It was hot – but the history and the stories of the Nabateans the rulers of Petra kept us motivated.

We were back in the hotel by 3 PM and most of the team went back at 8 PM to see candle lit Petra by night. To my consolation they came back and said that I did not miss anything great.

A lot of walking had tired us out – and the next day was relaxed

Day – 4

We woke late, had a relaxed breakfast and left by 12 noon to Wadi Rum. A 800 sq km desert with craggy sandstone mountains – the landscape is martian and this is where many of the movies Lawrence of Arabia , Transformer , Martian etc were shot. Its barren sand dune desert and houses about 30 camps.

We stayed in one such camp in tents for a night. Its hot during the day but gets cold at night. Tents are basic – we had a family tent with 3 beds and an attached modern bathroom – no fans. Electricity and Wi Fi from 4 PM onwards.

The set up and kitchen here is like that of a North Indian Dhaba- I did venture to the kitchen to make some potato curry and dal – as by now we were tired of Pita Bread, Hummus and Olives. The evening would have been alive in a starlit sky with belly dancing – but being the month of Ramadan we had to entertain ourselves with the dance of one of our colleagues. – who did an outstanding job.

Day – 5 

We departed Wadi Rum at 8 AM and after a 4 hr drive reached Wadi Mujib. This is a 2 km river trek. Its not open all the time as the water currents can get risky. We were lucky that it opened a week after being shut. But the water levels were high. This is fun but risky. You are neck deep in water at many places and the current is strong. The river bed is full of poky rocks and even with aqua shoes it can hurt. But this was the high point of the trip and we thoroughly enjoyed it. (Note only Children above 17 are allowed) – the trek took us about 3 hrs and we were back in the bus at 3.30 PM.

The drive from Wadi Mujib to Amman was less than 2 hrs and we drove by the Dead Sea crossing the Holiday Inn resort where we had stayed the 1st night. So we had almost done a round trip of Jordan.

We stayed in central Amman at the Millennium Hotel a nice property. Amman is a modern city with an active night life – but again the Ramadan period limited activities. Our guide took us for dinner to a beautiful local restaurant – buzzing with people.

Day – 6 

On our last day at Amman we covered the Citadel – an ancient Roman site and the Roman Theatre – sights we covered between 8 AM and 11 AM . Amman has a history that dates back to 6500 BC – Greeks, Romans, Persians, Egyptians – all this culture blends into this ancient arabic city which is now ruled by the Hashemite dynasty – direct descendants of the prophet.

We shopped for dates, baklava, olive oil in Downtown and were back in our hotel for lunch.

We had an early dinner at our guide Salah’s house – and his wife had cooked us a delicious spread. It was a wonderful gesture on his part to invite us home. 

Post dinner we walked around downtown and were back in our rooms by 9 PM. Again being Ramadan the streets were deserted and most shops closed.

Day – 7

The last day of the trip – we were free. Being a Fri and the Independence Day of Jordan – all the malls , parks etc were closed in the morning. We walked around Paris square and saw the famous Rumi restaurant before heading back to hotel to depart at 12.30 for our flight.

A week flew by and we enjoyed every minute of it. A big thanks to Byond Travel for planning and executing the trip to perfection. They are a good company – a little pricey but you get excellent service. When on a holiday you want the best. I don’t think we would have seen Jordan so well in 1 week on our own. So thank you Byond for a great trip – and looking forward to more. And a big thanks to the team of co travellers – thanks guys you were great travel mates.

Useful Tips

  • Jordan has pleasant weather all thru the year – winters are cold
  • 1 JD ( Jordan Dinar ) = 95 Rs
  • Veg food is available all thru the trip – though the focus is on Non Veg.
  • Free Wifi is everywhere including in our bus.

Some more Views

 

 

Shirdi Travel Tips

To visit Shirdi you need HIS grace. When the time comes the trip happens. I have been to Pune numerous times over the last 15 years but never realised that Shirdi was so close by. Since March this year I was getting repeated signals that the calling was coming and as per the Masters Grace a wonderful trip happened on Apr 23 / 24th. 2018 is the 100th year since Sai Baba attained Samadhi, and we were blessed with good weather and sparse crowds all of which translated to a very satisfying trip.

This Blog will provide all the details that a first time traveller to Shirdi would need

Getting to Shirdi

You have many options to get to Shirdi. There are direct AI flights from Mumbai & Hyderabad that reach around 4 PM. There are trains and buses. Travelling from Bangalore the best way for us to get there was to take an early morning flight to Pune and then drive to Shirdi (Indigo 6E 408 departs Bangalore at 5.25 AM and reaches Pune at 6.50 AM) – yes that means you wake up at 2 AM to get to the airport. Our flight reached before time and we had our car from Savaari.com waiting for us (https://www.savaari.com) – this is a reliable, reasonably priced company with excellent service for booking outstation cabs.  The distance from Pune to Shirdi is ~ 200 Km’s and we reached our hotel at 11.30 AM. Its a 4 hr drive including a 30 min stop – excellent road, lots of places to stop for tea / restroom breaks.

Where to stay 

Like in any temple town there are multiple options, including rooms  that are provided by Shri Saibaba Sansthan Trust(Shirdi) – https://online.sai.org.in. We picked Hotel Bhagyalaxmi a nice hotel, very clean, spacious rooms, reasonably priced ( Rs 2200 per night for a double occupancy room), and a nice restaurant attached. Its a mere 2 min walk from the Temple. (In the map below it is at the bottom where you have Hotels and lodges written)

Other options to stay suggested by friends included Vasavi Bhawan (http://www.saivasavi.com) and Saish Hotel which is owned by the great grandson of Baijamma a great devotee of Baba.

Temple Darshan

Shirdi can get very crowded. So ensure that you book your Darshan online. You can register to get a customer ID and book your Darshan tickets here. Shri Saibaba Sansthan Trust(Shirdi) – https://online.sai.org.in. You have two options – you can book tickets for Aarti that happens 4 times a day or Darshan tickets  for slots thru the day. (The Kaakad Arti was priced Rs 600/-  and the Darshan Arti Rs 200/- per head. You are allowed to book tickets for multiple people – but ensure to carry your ID)

  • Kaakad – Early Morning
  • Madhyan ( Noon)
  • Dhoop ( Evening)
  • Shej ( Night)

We attended the Kaakad Arti – its at 4.30 AM , but you stand in the Q at 3 AM even with a VIP ticket to get a front row spot. The Arti goes on for almost 45 minutes. the good thing about Shirdi is it is very well organised and you can get enough time at the Sanctum Sanctorum – its not a Tirupathi where you will be pushed away in a few seconds. ( TIP – while standing in the Q try and be in the inner line – this allows you to to take a U turn and come out from the open space in the front of the Sanctum Sanctorum – giving you a lot more time in the main temple, the outside row exits from the left)

We also attended the 5 PM Darshan on day 1 with pre- booked VIP ticket – there were less than 100 people at that time on a Monday, the Kaakad Arti had over 500 people.

The Temple Complex – What is there to see (On a good day you can cover all that is to see in less than 90 minutes)

The main Temple or the Samadhi Mandir – is where you have the Samadhi of Sai Baba and the marble statue of him in a sitting pose. There are a few more places to see inside the temple complex

Gurusthan – The seat of the teacher. This is right next to the Samadhi mandir. Gurusthan is the place where Sai Baba first appeared to the world as a 16 year old boy. The place is situated under a massive Neem tree. It also has a shrine on which Sai baba’s portrait is placed with a Shivalingam and the Nandi bull right in front of it. Gurusthan means- the seat of the teacher.

Dwarkamai –   They say that Dwarkamai is the heart of Shirdi, the place where the great Sai Baba spent a significant part of his life including his last moments. This site, at first, was a dilapidated mosque. Dwarkamai is probably the only mosque which has a temple in it! The original Dhuni of Baba is still active here. You can walk by it and see the place where he slept and lived.

Chavadi – During his last years, Sai baba used to spend alternate nights at Chavadi. The place is located right next to Dwarkamai mosque from where the procession of Sai baba along with his followers was carried out in a palki. Even today, the procession takes place on every Thursday with the idol of the saint inside the palki. The Chavadi & Dwarakamai are located outside the main Temple complex – but its a 5 min walk after you exit from Gate 3 (Shani Gate)

Lendi Baug – Sai Baba used to spend a lot of his time here watering the plants daily in the mornings and evenings.

Dixit Wada Museum – The Wada museum is located in the vicinity of the Shri Sai Baba Sansthan trust that showcases vintage pictures of Sai baba with his followers. It also displays his leather padukas, long robes and a smoking pipe along with gramophone records, bathing stone and cooking utensils, among others. The museum is open for public to visit from 10 am to 6 pm. Between the museum and the Lendi Baug are a few Samadhi’s of Sai Baba’s closes devotees both Hindus & Muslims.

Few Important Points for visitors

  • Cell phones are not allowed inside the temple complex – so leave it in your room. Also leave your belts and bags. Only wallet is allowed.
  • Footwear has to be left outside – you can leave it in any of the shops outside
  • You get prasad as you walk out after darshan – a packet of Boondi and some small pouches of “Uddi” (ash from the holy Dhuni) – you cannot buy extra.

There are a few more important places you must visit. The first of which is the Mahalsapati Kutir – located very close to the Chavadi. Mahalsapati was a great devotee of baba and to this day the afternoon prasad from the temple is delivered to their house. If you are lucky and are visiting around 1230 – 1 you may get the prasad. The house is currently inhabited by the 4th generation

A minutes walk from Mahalsapati’s house is the residence of Laxmibai Shinde Patil. She used to cook for Sai baba and on the day before he left his body he gifted her 9 silver coins. these are on display. Ask the locals and they will guide you to these places.

Between 23rd afternoon and 24th early morning we had experienced to our hearts content the energy and divinity of Sai Baba and left Shirdi at 9.30 AM on 24th. On the way back we took a 90 min detour and stopped by at Shani Shingnapur.

The unique Shani Shignapur Temple of Ahmednagar district is well-known for the magical and powerful Lord Shani, who is believed to reside in a black stone. The Hindu God symbolising the planet Saturn is referred to as Swayambhu, which means that he has emerged himself in the form of the black stone. It has absolutely no architectural beauty, and just the simple stone with the spiritual aura of the lord entices scores of devotees every year.

The trust of people in the lord is so strong that none of the houses in this village has doors and locks. People believe that Lord Shani is protecting their valuables

The drive from Shirdi to Pune is partly scenic / partly barren. This is home to lovely Pomegranate and Guava orchards and you can pick them up at throwaway prices. So do remember to keep some bags handy.

Our flight to Bangalore was at 10.20 PM and we had time to visit the Samadhi of Dnynaeshwar at Alandi. A 13th century Marathi saint considered an incarnation of Lord Vishnu he took samadhi at the tender age of 22. Alandi is located 20 Km from Pune – the Temple complex that houses his Samadhi is located on the banks of the Indrayani river and is accessed by foot. The Dnyaneshwar Samadhi Complex  includes the Samadhi,the Shri Sidheshwar temple and the famed Ajanvriksha tree. The Sidheswar temple is an ancient Shiva temple and a “Swayambu”. The whole complex is a highly energised space – within a few minutes of meditation you can sense the  intensity of the place.

We were back in Pune by 6 PM and met up with a close friend at Vaishali – and as we walked down FC road and JM road could not but help compare Pune with Bangalore. And Pune does score high on all counts. After dinner at Shreyas (A nice homely place that serves authentic Marathi Thali) we reached the airport by 9 PM well in time for our 10.20 PM flight to Bangalore reaching home by 1.30 AM.

It was a long day waking up at 2 AM for the Kaakad Arti – almost 24 hrs of no proper sleep. Two consecutive days of waking up at 2 AM. There was a sense of happiness at having accomplished a lot and we thanked the Masters and Sai Baba for an excellent Darshan and a safe and fruitful journey.

Other Useful Points 

  • Weekends and Thu are very busy at Shirdi – avoid school holiday season – best time to travel is Nov – Feb
  • Nasik is 100 Km from Shirdi – so is Aurangabad. You can make Shirdi as your base and cover these two cities. They both have a lot to see including a Jyotirlinga each. Aurangabad is also the getaway  for Ajanta and Ellora
  • The total cost for this 36 Hr trip was ~ Rs 40,000 for the 3 of us ( Rs 13,000 each ie $ 100 / day ) inclusive of Flight, Cab, Hotel, Darshan Tickets , Food – that is value for money

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