Om Sai Ram.
(Shraddha Padayatrik Mitra Mandal) Thana to Shirdi Padayatra 2012, distance of almost 270 kms.
Many people have asked me as to what has been the source of your inspiration to go on a padayatra or is it that this padayatra is linked to some wish that got fulfilled but all I can say is..it was in no way linked to any wish getting fulfilled but in the year 2010, while I was at Shirdi, I saw a big group of people (padayatris) who had walked the distance of Nasik to Shirdi, a distance of almost 100 km. After that, I read about Mumbai to Shirdi padayatra online (it was a very brief article by Sai Ankita) and I became very interested in participating in one such padayatra myself at some point. Since I stayed in Hyderabad, getting in touch with padayatri mandals and groups in Mumbai was very difficult and moreover there was not much contact information about such padayatras on the internet.
I used some websites like Fropper, indiadivine.org and also www.shirdisaibabaexperiences.org to let people know of my intent to do padayatra with a hope that someone would contact me to join them for a padayatra but nothing came out of it until June/July of 2011 when one gentleman named Nivas contacted me and informed me that there is a group leaving for Shirdi in the next couple of days but that was too short a notice for me to take a break from my work for almost 2 weeks and I had to let go off that opportunity at that time but Nivas did inform me that there will be another one in December.
I contacted Nivas again in November of 2011 and was told that there is a group leaving on December 1, 2011 from Vasai(it was already last week of November). I was mentally prepared to join this group but in the meantime one of my aunt who was aware of the fact that I wanted to go on a padayatra put me on to one gentleman named Kiran Patil who goes on Shirdi padayatra every year and this was the best thing that happened. On contacting Mr. Kiran Patil, he informed me that his group is starting the padayatra on January 7, 2012 and that since most of the members of this group were from L&T, they complete the padayatra in 6 days as against 9 days so as to avoid leave hassles in the company. Approximate members in this group are around 250 to 300. For me, completing it in 6 days was perfect as I too had similar problem of not being able to take a long break from work and so I dropped the idea of December 2011 Padayatra and opted for January 2012 yatra instead. There, of course, were 2 more reasons for doing that…one was I had a problem of nagging back pain and was given a diagnoses of PIVD(prolapsed intervertebral disc) and the other was I wanted some time to get my body in shape for this yatra.
I started with my preparations first by contacting my Orthopedist, who prescribed me a set of medicines(to be taken for a month) and he also showed me some stretching exercises for my back which I did quite regularly. Secondly, I got back to my old routine of morning walk, I was very irregular until then but I made sure that I was very regular in that one month which I had with me. Instead of the usual 4 kms or 30-40 mins of brisk walking, I started walking a distance of 8 kms, on some days 10 kms and even stretching myself to 14-15 kms in a span of 2 hours, usually between 5 to 7 am.
By the end of December, Mr. Kiran Patil faxed me a list of things that I should carry with me for the yatra. He had also informed me well in advance to avoid wearing brand new shoes for padayatra as that will lead to getting some shoe bites or water boils on the feet and if I were to buy new shoes then I have to make sure that I use it for sometime before the yatra begins. I bought myself new shoes and made sure that I walked at least 150 kms using it so as not to have any issues during my yatra.
Then came the big day, January 7, 2012, the start of the yatra. I was put up at Nerul, Navi Mumbai and had to be at Thane, Wartak Nagar Sai Baba temple by 7-7:30 am. Here again Mr. Kiran Patil helped me by putting me on to Capt. Vinod Jadhav who too lived in Nerul and was to be a part of the yatra. Capt. Jadhav offered to take me along in his car to Wartak Nagar. During the Journey, I got to know that Capt. Jadhav was on his 26th Padayatra to Shirdi and his son told me that his dad and their group walk really very fast and that coping with them will be very tough. We reached Sai Baba Temple of Wartak Nagar and saw that the there was a local group of Wartak Nagar also scheduled for a padayatra along with our group but their group consisted of almost 1000 people and they were scheduled to do the puja at the Sai Baba temple before our group which meant a significant delay in starting our yatra. That group got done with its puja and started its padayatra by 9 with a lot of fan fare, fire crackers, music, band, colors etc. Our group completed all its formalities in the temple and started our padayatra by 10: 15 am. In the meantime I met Mr. Kiran Patil for the first time with whom I was in touch only over the phone and he introduced me to his team members Darekar, Kiran Patil, Vilas Parab, Shekhar Mahadik, Vinod Jadhav, Kisan Duglas. So I had found myself a group…a group of expert padayatris. Mr. Kiran Patil was on his 6th padayatra, Capt. Jadhav on his 26th Padayatra and so on. We were served breakfast at Wartak Nagar which consisted of samosas and tea and as the padayatra began enroute there was a stall put by someone to serve idly and wada to padayatris. We started walking and were walking at a very brisk speed, it was also very sunny and hot, after walking for more than 2 hours and finding no sign of lunch break, I started wondering, as to what is this..how long more are we to walk and I kept asking Kiran Patil…how much more do we have to walk and he would say we are almost there…almost there meant walking more than 30 minutes, we had already walked more than 2 hours until then. I must make a mention here that there were people who were walking barefoot, or were wearing slippers or sandals. I cannot even imagine what it would have been to walk barefoot in such testing weather conditions and no proper road during the course.
Finally at around 12:45 we reached Ovali for a lunch break, our halt was at a Navnath Temple of Machindra Maharaj. Our group was among the fastest and so we reached there well before many other people which gave us some time to relax. Everyone immediately found a place for themselves to lie down and elevate their legs with the support of the wall. I didn’t know the significance of it but I too followed suit and found it to be very relaxing for the legs. After an hours rest, we had our lunch, lunch consisted of Chapatti, 1 vegetable, rice, dal and one sweet item. We started walking again at 2:15 pm and it was the same story…hot sun and walking nonstop without a break for more than 2 hours and still no sign of the evening destination, legs were aching, feeling tired but we kept walking and walking and finally at 5:30 pm reached Padgah(Sardar Tara Singh Hall) which was at a distance of 23 km from our lunch halt and around 40 km from Thane. Here again our group was among the fastest to reach the destination giving us ample time to choose the best spot for sleeping, taking bath with not much crowd etc. Before the beginning of the yatra, I was a confident man, but by the end of day one, my confidence was a bit shaken. Day one itself was so tiring and painful and we had another 5 days of walking left…having to cover a distance of 45 kms everyday and more so I was in a group who were experts, would walk very fast, and would not take a single rest break during walking not even for tea or light snacks which was something I longed for but the theory behind not taking any breaks was once you take a break say for 20-30 minutes then it takes quite some time to get your walking rhythm back as your leg muscles would pain more after the break and so I did not have a choice but to follow what the group practices. There were more than 30-40 people who probably were more than 50-55 years old and there was one gentleman by the name Mr. Purshottam Keshav Raje who was a 79 year old gentleman and was on his 17th padayatra to Shirdi. Dinner again consisted of rice, dal, chapatti and vegetable but it was different than the one served for Lunch.
Day 2 started with getting up at 4 am, getting done with packing, freshening up, and having a tea with some biscuits and beginning to walk at 5:30 am. We walked for little more than an hour until our breakfast halt which was some place near Washim. Breakfast comprised of wada sambar or rather sambar wada and tea. We again started walking at 8:00 am until we reached Shahpur at 11:15 for lunch, total distance covered on day 2 until lunch break was around 20-23 kms. We managed to get ourselves some good rest and again started walking at 2 pm with a halt at around 3:45 at Peer Baba Dargah. This was a small dargah but a very pleasant one and provided a cool place to rest in the hot sun. After taking a break for 30 minutes we again started walking until we reached our night halt destination at Khardi by 6 pm. We were served fantastic hot tomato soup which was followed by a very interesting bhajan session. One thing I must mention, despite having walked more than 40 kms at testing weather condition, when the bhajan session began, there was absolutely no sign of tiredness among many Sai devotees who were dancing to the tunes of melodious Sai bhajan. Dinner was served after the bhajan session. Total Distance covered on Day 2 was around 42 kms.
Day 3: My group had informed me that Day 3 is the toughest of all the days as we had to cross the kasara ghat, and as per the schedule we had to walk almost 46 kms on day 3. We again started walking at 5:30 am and on this day we had to walk much longer for the breakfast halt which was at around 8:30 am at a place called baba ka dhaba near the foot hills of the ghat. We were served nice vegetable samosas and pav. After having our breakfast, we started walking and the lunch destination was only after crossing the kasara ghat..this was a tedious section. I was carrying a shoulder bag, which contained some light clothes, light mattress, towels, water bottles, hand gloves, torch, and some light snacks…it was quite irritating to walk in the hot sun for hours together and also having to carry a bag which would weigh almost 10 kgs but there was no choice. Let me also mention to those people who intend to undertake this padayatra in future, as a part of my preparation for the yatra, I use to walk 8-15 km everyday for a month but I only walked between 5 am to 7 am in order to avoid walking in the sun and with no baggage but when it comes to actual padayatra, you will be walking 70% of the time in the hot sun and will also be carrying some light weight so do keep this fact in mind and prepare accordingly so as not to have any issues during the actual padayatra. Kasara ghat stretch was really a very tiring stretch in our entire padayatra. Finally…we completed the ghat section and came across a well where most of the padayatris took a break to take bath. Water from that well was ice cold but the bath was refreshing. Well was located on top of the hill but it still had a lot of water considering it was the month of January…not sure where it was getting the water from but it was really a very refreshing break for us. We again started walking until our lunch halt at gatandevi temple after the ghat. We had almost covered a distance of 28-30 kms on day 3 until lunch, but in terms of stress and pain, those 20-30 kms would be equivalent to having walked 50 kms considering that we had to walk uphill. Difficult part of the padayatra was done. After lunch we again had to walk a distance of 16-18 kms until our night halt destination which was at Ghoti(Igatpuri taluka). Ghoti is a small town and our place of stay(Rajaram Salvi Subhagruha) was right in the market area where you could find all kinds of shops. On day 2, the zip of my haversack bag broke because of excess luggage, giving me some anxious moments as this is the bag which goes in the truck and I had to make do with tying some rope around my bag but I could get that problem fixed at Ghoti which took some pressure off me. Please note that most of the shops in the market at Ghoti close down by 7:30 pm…so if anyone wants to buy any stuff then they have to do it well before 7:30 pm. Our place of stay at Ghoti was filled with mosquitoes until about 7:30 pm but surprisingly once we hit the bed at 10:00 there were no signs of any mosquitoes but it is preferable to carry mosquito repellants with you on such padayatras. Some of the padayatris started getting boils on their feet as can be seen in the picture below but not one would stop the yatra despite the pain and discomfort. Boils would be punctured with a needle and a tape put on it.
Day 4: As usual started walking at 5:30 am, breakfast halt at a place near bhandardara at 8 am, breakfast served was Misal Pav. Lunch break at Kavatdara which was at a distance of 22-24 kms. This was a nice hall, I suppose this place was managed by the Shirdi Sansthan itself. Night halt was at a temple called Prayag Tirth at Pandhurli(Sinnar taluka) 18 kms from kavatdara. Since we reached quite early at this location, we got a chance to visit this small temple of Khandoba on a hillock. View from the hillock was great and cool breeze that was blowing was very pleasant. At the temple, most of the padayatris had to sleep out in the open courtyard and it was chilling cold. I had to wear a half sleeve T.shirt, then over it a sweat shirt and over it a thick woolen sweater, monkey cap, woolen hand gloves, socks, blanket and still I couldn’t get a good night sleep as I kept waking up because of the cold weather. My guess is temperature at this place would have been around 8 degrees at night if not less than that. I should mention here the fact that attending to natures call is done in the open areas in the fields or behind bushes but do not expect proper restrooms or toilets facilities during such padayatras. Even bathing is done in the open as can be seen in the pictures below..so stop using hot water if you intend to go on a padayatra, just enjoy the cold shower even in winters.
Day 5: This is the day when we had to walk the maximum distance..a distance of 30 kms until our lunch break and then again almost 18-20 kms until our night halt destination. Lunch halt was at Hotel Tulsi at Sinnar. We were served some good hot bhaakris here. Night halt was at a place called Vavi or Wavi. At this place, one gentleman Mr. Pandharinath Tajne sponsored the dinner of the entire padayatris(300 people) at his expense and also arranged for a music DJ for Sai Baba’s palki yatra through the entire Vavi village, only Sai Baba’s songs are played. The mood at this yatra was electrifying with loud music, lights, fireworks and everyone dancing to glory, the entire village witnesses Baba’s palkhi yatra. This was 2nd year that they had conducted such a yatra through the village, the previous year being the 25th year of Shraddha Padayatrik Mitra Mandal when this palki yatra at Vavi started. Now coming back to our place of night halt at Vavi, we were holed up at a local school and only 3 classrooms were opened for the entire set of 300 padayatris. ¼ area of each classroom was filled with the benches so at max only 15 people could be accommodated in a single classroom, which meant more than 200 people had to sleep in the open area of the school. Vavi was really very very cold and I had never experienced such cold weather in India before. Night temperature would have been 3-4 degree. It was very difficult to be out in the open even to have our dinner and imagine what it would have been to wash our hands in that ice cold water. People started making bonfires to keep themselves warm. I was lucky to have gotten myself a place to sleep in the classroom…but imagine the plight of the people who had to sleep outside…unthinkable. But, in the midst of all this problems of weather, there was a feeling of excitement….Shirdi was only 35 kms away. Job was almost done and we couldn’t wait for the 6th day to begin and have the darshan of our Guru…Sai Baba.
Day 6: Began walking at 5:30 am, pitch dark, when we had to find our way through the village but we didn’t have to worry much as we had an expert amongst us…Capt. Jadhav, who led the entire group on Day 5 and Day 6. Challenge was to keep pace with him. Breakfast break was at a temple after covering about 18-20 kms where we were served Sabhudana wada since it was a Thursday. Please note that despite being on a stressful padayatra, there were people who were fasting on Mondays and on Thursdays. Official lunch break was at Rahata which comes after walking about 30 kms but about 15-20 people took a slight detour and took a break at a local farmers house, where we took bath and had our lunch. This was a good experience….getting to see the rustic village life, tasting food cooked on a chulha which was bhaakri, onions and 2 vegetables. After the lunch break at Rahata, the distance to be covered was only 5 kms but this was distance where we had to wait for all the padayatris to assemble and walk together as each padayatri would get a chance to carry Baba’s palkhi. We started the palki yatra to Shirdi at around 3 pm and reached Shirdi Temple by 5:30 pm and by 6:45 we were done with the darshan.
All padayatris get special entry provided the Shirdi Sansthan is informed in advance about the padayatra details like number of people, start destination, number of days taken etc. After the darshan….vast majority of the padayatris catch the night bus back to Mumbai while few others stay back for one additional day in Shirdi. There are many mandals or groups that organize such padayatras. During our padayatra trip, we saw a group from Dombivli which had 1200 members and most of the members were wearing dhotis and were walking barefoot, then there were groups from Prabhadevi, Parel, Mumbra, Vasai and as far as from Surat and many more. We also witnessed a cycle yatra from Vasai to Shirdi to be done in 3-4 days. Every year lakhs of devotees go on a padayatra which is something I never knew until my personal experience of padayatra. Thus ended the beautiful experience of padayatra to Shirdi without any problems faced by me. I thank all those who helped me in making my wish come true…and a special thanks to Mr. Kiran Patil, Capt. Vinod Jadhav without whom things would not have been smooth and trouble free.
For people interested in doing the padayatra, here is the list of things to carry:
Preferable to walk in track pants. Avoid Jeans.
Carry thick woolen sweaters if walking in the winter season.
Track suit(Top). Still better to carry a hooded jacket.
Woolen Gloves(1 pair).
Insect repellant like odomos.
Light weight shoes…but let it not be a brand new one. Use it for few weeks rigorously to avoid getting shoe bites or water boils.
Carry enough pair of socks..one pair each day as washing and drying may not be possible. Your feet will feel fresh.
Sun Tan lotion.
A waist pouch to carry your mobile, cameras and cash.
A haversack to dump your clothing for the entire trip.
Small shoulder bag to carry light items during your padayatra.
First aid kit like bandaid, antiseptic cream, pain killer etc.
Finally do prepare yourself for the yatra by walking atleast 15 km daily for a couple of weeks before the padayatra.