Like the previous 2 year, in 2014 too I was all set to go for my 3rd padayatra to Shirdi along with Shraddha Padayatrik Mitra Mandal in January 1st week. I had given my confirmation to my group members and was looking forward to it. This year somehow I was not very enthusiastic about preparing myself for the padayatra…I just was not too motivated enough to get up early and go for morning walks…I don’t know the reason but it was just not happening for me. Just 2-3 days before my padayatra date, something came up and I had to drop my plans of going for shirdi padayatra in January.
In the 1st week of February, I was kind of free and I wanted to get done with my 2014 padayatra to shirdi. I contacted few known people and Mr. Anil Divshekhar and Kiran Patil informed me that a group from Khotwadi, Santacruz West was starting on February 12th. Name of that group was Sai Charan Padayatri Mandal. I was given the phone number of Mr. Praveen and Mr. Rane. Next day I spoke to Mr. Praveen over the phone, he said I was free to join them. He gave me the address of the groups starting point. It was from Khotwadi, Santacruz(W). I also made it a point to talk to Mr. Rane as well and he too said that I could join Sai Charan Padayatri Mandal for Shirdi Padayatra starting on February 12, 2014.
I reached Mumbai 2 days in advance and on February 12th, 2014, I was at Khotwadi Santacruz West by 9 am. I was the first person to the reach the starting point but I knew I was at the right place. Slowly crowd started building up. 90% of the people participating in the padayatra organized by Sai Charan Padaatri Mandal were residents of Khotwadi or nearby areas.
One thing that surprised me about this group was the fees to participate in 8 days padayatra to shirdi, it was just 400 rupees per person. On that, this group, Sai Charan Padayatri Mandal provided all participants with a T. Shirt, Cap, waist Pouch, and a small torch. This itself would have costed the mandal at least 300 bucks. Over and above this, Mandal was to provide participants with breakfast, lunch, dinner, water, tea/coffee for the entire 8 days….so I thought the fees of Rs. 400/person was very affordable one. After talking to few people, I got to know that this was possible due to 2-3 people. One of them was Mr. Bala Chavan who is the Upadyaksha of Maharastra Navnirman Sena (MNS) and a lead sponsorer as well as organizer of this Mandal and the other gentlemen is Mr. Chandrakant Talekar, high court advocate.
Here I met one gentleman named Kishore Dwivedi. It was his first padayatra and he too joined this group through a common friend of mine called Capt. Jadhav. It felt good to meet him as now I did have a company in this trip and having a good company does matter so that part was taken care before the beginning of the trip.
After completing the puja rituals at Sai Mandir at Khotwadi, the procession began. The procession of this group was far bigger and very grand compared to my previous 2 padayatras. There were 3 different music band accompanying the procession playing all kinds of musical instruments. The entire khotwadi came to offer their prayers to Baba’s palkhi. All women and children made it a point to go underneath the palkhi from one end to the other. It took almost 2-3 hours for the palkhi to move out of Khotwadi as Palkhi was taken to each and every temple in the surrounding areas.
In my previous 2 padayatra, the group did not carry palkhi. The palkhi used to be ferried in the car up to the border of Shirdi and from there the people carried the palkhi up to the Shirdi temple but with Sai Charan group, it was different. They had a beautiful silver Palkhi that was quite heavy considering that it had to be carried on the shoulder by any 2 people at a time right upto Shirdi. Walking itself is a challenge and here carrying the palkhi upto Shirdi was also the responsibility of the padayatris. This was my first experience of accompanying the palkhi up to Shirdi.
Here is a brief of Sai Palkhi procession: On the forefront would be the Nishani which is a huge flag with Om Written on it. Nishani leads the padayatra. No padayatri is allowed to go ahead of the Nishani(flag), this Nishani is followed by abdhagiri which has a picture of sun in front and Hanuman on the rear. Image of sun will be in front until 6 pm, and after 7 pm, abdhgiri is carried with the picture of hanuman in front, and that in turns is followed by Sai Dand or Raajgadha made up of Silver and then comes the Sai Palkhi. At the rear of Sai Palkhi again comes another abdhagiri which has the image of Swastik and Om on the front and rear. (See images)
Now coming to the padayatra, by the time we came out of Khotwadi, it was already 1 pm. Our lunch break was at Vile Parle which was sponsored by Mr. Sadanand Shetty and Mr. Dinesh Salvi. It was already 2:30 to 3 pm when we had our lunch. Our next halt was night halt at Mulund English High School first day distance was perhaps around 27 kms. Here I am not accounting for the 2-3 hours that we spend at Khotwadi itself. My friends Kiran Patil and Anil Divshekhar came to meet me and walked with me for a distance of around 5-8 kms.
At this location, I was having a problem finding a place to charge my phone. So I just took my chance and went to the neighbourhood building and asked one gentlemen if he could charge my phone at his house. His name was Rajesh and he obliged though it was already close to 10 pm. He also sent me some sai baba’s original snaps via whatsapp to me. It was really kind of him to help me out with it as I wanted to take snaps and videos of the trip.
Our 2nd day was suppose to be the one of the longest walking distance. It was from Mulund to Padgah, my guess is, it is a distance of approximately 48-50 kms. This group starts their day quite early. Volunteers will wake you up by 3:45 to 4 am. By 4:45 am, palkhi is out. Lunch halt was at kalyan phata at Sai Mandir and night halt was at Sardar Tara Singh Hall at Padgah.
One thing about this group was they take a long break in the afternoon. Second session of the walk starts only at 4 pm. So we reach our lunch halt by 11 then you get a good 5 hours break. But, if you think that everyone gets 3-4 hours of sleep in this break then you are mistaken. Afternoon heat and plenty of house flies are enough to keep you awake.
On day 2, there was an evening break at Shangrila Resort where we were served some nice upma. This was sponsored by Shangrila Resorts for all padayatris.
Day 3: Lunch break was at Shahpur at someones house. This place had a nice well which is where all padayatris had bath. Night halt was at Kalamgaon near Hotel Sai Shraddha about 2 kms after the dargah.
One unusual phenomena of these padayatras to shirdi is of a dog. I have seen this with my previous 2 padayatras as well. Some or the other dog joins the padayatra from somewhere and accompanies the group right up to shirdi. This time I made it a point to take snaps and video of the dog that accompanied Sai Charan’s 2014 Padayatra. In all of my 3 padayatra I have seen a dog accompanying the padayatris up to Shirdi but I had not taken their snaps in my previous 2 journey to shirdi by walk.
About Sai Charan Padayatri Mandal, I must say one thing that they were certainly in better control of things. There would be a vehicle every 3-4 kms serving water to padayatris, similarly they would have points where they would serve tea/biscuits as well. This helped most of the people to walk without carrying anything with them though I still carried my shoulder bag with my bottled water, snacks, towels etc but as such it was not required in the company of this group.
Now, coming to my personal self…not preparing for this arduos journey of walking all the way to shirdi, covering a distance of 300 kms on foot started showing. On the 2nd night itself on reaching the night halt, I started getting shivering bouts and both my ankle started swelling but swelling was more prominent on my left ankle and it was also paining. This I attribute it to my lack of preparation. Second reason for having problems with my feet was probably wrong choice of shoes. My shoes were light and very flexible which was good but it lacked proper cushioning when compared to shoes that I had worn in my previous two trips in which I did not have any issues with my feet or injury. But, on the flip side, in this entire group of 250 people who were walking, I was the only person wearing shoes, maybe 2-3 more people who would have been wearing shoes. All others were wearing slippers, sandals and more than 80-100 people were walking barefoot. So, I don’t know how right am I in blaming the footwear for problems with my feet while walking. If that had to be the case, what should be happening to the feet of 100s of others who were not having nikes or reeboks but were walking with Hawaii chappals and sandals. All those people certainly were of the tougher lot, who could manage walking 300 kms on slippers and sandals and barefoot. I cannot think of performing this feat….ever. In fact, the last 3 kms in Shirdi where there is a huge procession leading to the temple, I walked barefoot and I could sense the affect of it that night itself. Though many walk with slippers and sandals, but for a first timer who intends to go to Shirdi by walk, I would advice them to spend money on buying good shoes and enough thick cotton socks to last through your journey to Shirdi on foot. That’s very important.
Day 4: Our lunch halt was at Latifwadi, Paitha, near Saptashrungi temple. After the lunch halt, we had to cross the kasara ghat. Here, I experienced my first rain during padayatra. Rains in February was not expected. We could not rest during our afternoon break because of rains which was quite heavy. Due to rains all the bedsheet like mattress and pandals provided by the mandal got wet. Here the mandal made arrangements to cover the palkhi from rains. They managed to get some big plastic sheets from Kasara market so that we could continue walking in rains. Our evening session began with walking in rains but it was made sure Palkhi was taken care off. In my previous 2 trips, we covered this ghat in the sun, but this time, we were walking on the ghat in the evening hours with rains so it was quite pleasant. Mandal also distributed 500 ml of Maaza and oranges to every padayatri for this session. We reached gatandevi temple after crossing the ghat by 8 pm but this was not our night halt destination. At this temple, the group had to offer prayers and conduct aarti, so by the time we reached after completing all due formalities, we reached our night halt destination at around 9:30 pm. This spot was comparatively a better one and was specifically made for shiridi padayatris and could easily accommodate 300+ people.
Day 5: Lunch halt was after Ghoti at Parees Hospital and Night halt was at a function hall at Dhamangaon.
The ease with which I am mentioning about the lunch halt and night halt in this blog is one thing and the pain of having to wake up at 4 am and walk all the distance, help carry palkhi, and then reach your halt destinations and hit the bed at 10-11 pm really cannot be explained in words. Everyday is a challenge. It just doesn’t get easier at all until the time you reach Shirdi border.
On Day 5…there were some unfortunate developments. My companion Kishore Dwivedi was down with chicken pox and he had to leave the yatra midway which was very disappointing for him as well as me.
From this destination onwards, I came in contact with one Mr. Vijay Kadam, with whom I became good friends and he was my companion right until our return journey back home.
Day 6: Lunch halt at Pandhurli and night halt at Baba Saheb Ambedkar hall at Sinnar.
Day 7: Lunch Halt at Saibaba Sansthans Palkhi hall at Panghari and Dinner halt near Hotel Vanrai at Pathre
Then the most awaited day…last day of padayatra, Day 8: Lunch halt was at Bhai Thakur hall at Nimgaon which was 3-4 kms away from Shirdi shrine. This place is a boon for padayatris. It is a massive complex which can house 1000s of padayatris. It has a huge prasadalay. There are enough bathrooms and toilets and importantly there were no issues with water supply.
By the time we reached this place at around 10-11 am, there were more than 100-150 family members and friends of padayatris who had come from Mumbai in 2-3 buses to join us at Shirdi.
All padayatris after refreshing themselves, and having lunch at the prasadalay, started with bhajans session, their family members too joined in for the bhajans. This was over by around 3 pm and then began the preparations to go to the final destination..Shirdi Samadhi Mandir which was at a distance of about 3 kms from Bhai Thakur Complex at Nimgaon. There were arrangements made for a music system on a van, and then entire groups of around 500 people accompanied it dancing along. One entire side of the road was blocked due to the procession which lead to an argument with cops who got the van playing music to pull over. Padayatris proceeded nevertheless and reached Samadhi mandir by 7 pm. It took more than 3 hours for us to cover a distance of 3 kms from Nimgaon to Samadhi Mandir Shirdi.
Until a couple of months back, all palkhis and padayatris use to get entry from a special gate but this year Shirdi Sansthan stopped that special entry. Everyone was made to go through the main entry but sansthan helps by paving the way inside for padayatris. It probably took us 30-45 minutes to get done with Darshan.
With this, I was able to successfully complete my 3rd padayatra to shirdi with the help of Sai Charan Padayatri Mandal.
I have to make special mention of few of the people who were the main organizers of Sai Charan Padayatri Mandal and who really helped me out and made my trip with group a memorable one.
First and Foremost is Mr. Praveen who is an ardent devotee of Sai Baba and has tremendous faith in Baba. He has had many wonderful experiences of Baba. He was one of the lead organizers of Sai Charan Padayatri Mandal and had really worked hard throughout the padayatra. He would overlook the functioning of the cooks, make arrangements for all items at different locations. He did relate to me some of his experiences with baba which increased his faith and confidence.
Mr. Nandu Satam: Mr. Nandu would follow the padayatis in his car, offering padayatris water or fruits or biscuits etc. He would be among the sevaks to serve food to padayatris. He was really very helpful to me with regards to helping me get my phone charged. Phone charging is a big issue in such yatras and I was carrying a phone which would run out of battery very soon and so I had to get the phone charged almost every night and here Mr. Nandu really eased out my problem. He would also keep checking with me if I was having any problems or if I required anything. My only source of taking pictures and videos was my phone.
Mr. Deepak: He was responsible for Palkhi and I must say that he really discharged his duties to the best of his abilities. Palkhi was on the forefront always and it was because of Deepak who really would push the palkhi carrier to walk fast.
Mr. Deepak Bhat: He was the pandit who would perform puja and aarti. He discussed with me about how he got involved in such yatras and how he got trained to do palkhi pujas. He also gave me information about padayatras that are conducted only for women. I needed this information for my sister who stays in USA and is interested in completing one such padayatra to shirdi.
There are a couple of more people from Sai Charan organizing team whom I would like to thank and write more about them in days to come but till then I will only post some of their pictures.