|The Sai Baba Idol that we brought home|
We decided to go to Shirdi by Neeta Travels and I booked our tickets for Monday, November 25, 2013 on a Mercedes Benz. The bus left at 8.30 am from Sion. It was quite comfortable with pushback seats and an excellent AC.
We had already booked a room at Hotel Sai Moreshwar after checking the excellent ratings on www.makemytrip.com. In the meanwhile, the Neeta Bus attendant did his best to persuade us to book a room at Neeta International Hotel at Shirdi. We tentatively agreed that we would consider it after checking out the rooms there. We did not want to commit ourselves as we had never heard of this hotel and had not seen it recommended on the net. The man went on to make a receipt in our name – he already had my cell number as I had used it for booking the bus tickets – and insisted that we pay Rs. 1000 advance. The worst part was that he said that we had to pay up immediately as he had to get off at Thane. I don’t know what kind of fools he thought we were!
|On the way|
The bus reached Shirdi at around 3 pm after stopping twice for breakfast and lunch on the way. Luckily for us, Hotel Sai Moreshewar was just a 2-minute walk from the bus stand and we checked in without any difficulty.
We found out the timings for darshan at Shirdi Temple and decided to go after the 5-7 pm arati got over. For those interested, the Shirdi Temple opens at 4.30 am and the last darshan is at 10.30 pm. The temple was a few minute walk from our hotel. We stopped for a snack at an Udipi restaurant and then went for the darshan.
|In the garden at the hotel|
I had been to Shirdi five times before this trip, if I am not mistaken. We used to just enter the hall and pray to Sai Baba, do namaskar, get out from behind the shrine, visit Dwarkamai, the Chavadi and the bazaar. It used to be child’s play.
Not so now! The marketing bhoot has taken over Shirdi also and the place has become extremely commercial. A guy approached us and said that darshan could take 4-5 hours and he could help us get in by a special queue. While the charges were Rs. 500 per person officially, he could give us a deal at Rs. 300 per head. We refused him as we did not have much else to do and were not too fazed by waiting for darshan for a few hours.
We were surprised to enter the temple and walk in and out of snaking queue-lines – the crowd was not much, actually. We walked round and round, went down a staircase and went up another before entering the main hall of the temple. Luckily for us, we took barely 25 minutes to reach the hall. After that, it was another 10-15 minutes before we could get near Sai Baba. There was a ratio of one security person to ten pilgrims. I felt it was atrocious. They kept pushing the devotees making it impossible to pray. One kind of tends to forget why one is visiting the temple. Marketing at its worst!
|Lord Hanuman at Shirdi|
We finally managed to come out of the compound only to realise we were nowhere near where we had entered. When we showed the mobile-camera receipt to a security, he guided us to return to Gate No. 1. We had to walk for a few minutes before we found the place. There are at least six gates there to my knowledge.
The next day was Tuesday. Venkat and I hired a car to visit Shani Shingnapur. In the evening, we again went for Sai Baba’s darshan. This time round we managed to complete the darshan in 20 minutes. We also got to visit Dwarkamai, Chavadi and the market place.
I was shocked to see the dhuni (sacred fire) had been enclosed in a metal mesh on all sides. The dhuni used to be in the open – with a roof – and was a source of joy and solace to devotees. I don’t know what has come over the trustees. I could not see the dhuni at all, could just feel the heat coming off the metal.
We also had a darshan of Lord Hanuman at a shrine near Dwarkamai. We went inside the Hanuman Temple the third day morning as there was no crowd at that point.
All my prayers I managed to complete in the hotel room as it was not possible to pray at the temple.
All in all, an excellent trip with a lovely darshan! Thank you Sai Baba!