Sunday, February 28, 2021

A lovely Day Road Trip from Pune - Weekend ideas

A Great Road Trip from Pune - by Car

Dear Pune People, discerning travellers are always on the lookout for good trips including day trip. In this blogpost of mine, I will tell you about a wonderful day trip from Pune. This trip is about 140 km total from almost anywhere in Pune. 

What to Look for? 

This trip takes you to a rustic village-like environment where you can enjoy buying fresh fruits and Agriculture produce from roadside farmers and vendor. That is besides visiting four beautiful temples.

The Route.

This is a road trip hence one would need a car or a cab. The route will be from Pune to Prati Balaji temple at Ketkawale (in fact the route will take you to this place via the other two stops mentioned later, but going to Prati Balaji directly is a suggestion to optimise the time) and on your return trip, you will make stops at Narayanpur and Bhivari which are the other two places to visit. 

The route map looks something like this. For your destination, search Prati Balaji Temple at Ketkawwle on Kapurhol - Narayanpur road and then add Narayan Pur and Kanifnath Temple as the next stops. Roads are generally OK on this route. 



Your trip starts by taking Pune – Bopdev - Saswad Road. One passes through the Bopdev Ghat and Bhiwari till Amboli where one has to take a turn to Narayanpur (Right turn is taken, the straight one goes to Saswad). 

From Narayanpur you take Saswad - Kapoorhol - Bhor Road. On This road, at Ketkavale one has to take a left turn to reach the parking of Prati Balaji temple. The return route is just a reverse of the route taken from Pune to Prati Balaji. After the visit to Prati Balaji is over, head back to Narayanpur, which is the next stop. Once done with the Narayanpur visit, return on Sasvad – Bopdev – Pune route and go up to Bhivari, where a right turn will lead to the final destination. Kanifnath Samadhi. 

Ok, that was so much so about the road travel part. 

What to see in these places?

1. Prati Balaji at Ketkavale.

 A temple modelled, designed and constructed on the lines of Tirupati Balaji temple, the place acts and behaves like Tirupati. There is a queue for darshan, the Murti is the same as Tirupati, the ambience is also the same, in fact, Prasada(m) laddu also is supposed to be the same (but presently discontinued due to COVID).

Elderly people can skip the line and one member of the family can take them directly to the main gate for Darshan. The ambience is good and the darshans are great. This temple does not allow children below 10 and elderly as per current COVID guidelines in place. 

The car park is about 150 to 200 meter away from the temple. Chapples need to be deposited at “Chapple Ghar” and mobiles and Camera at “Mobile Ghar”. Toilets are available between the parking and “chappal ghar”.

Once one is done with darshan, if tea, etc are needed, there is a small canteen next to “Chappal Ghar” as also one or two restaurants at the car park. There are also some fruit and local produce vendors at the car park. One can buy a few things to eat till you reach Narayanpur where another set of vendors awaits you. Here are few snaps of Prati Balaji. 

 There is a roadside stall of grains and rice between Narayanpur and Ketkawale (Prati Balaji) where many things like Jowar, Ragi, Indrayani rice, etc can be bought. Also around this section, an upmarket(relative to all other eating places in this region) restaurant has just opened (was to open one day after our trip), in case some food replenishment is needed. 

Venkateshwara Temple Premise

Gopuram


2. Narayaneshwar and Ekmukhi Datta Mandir at Narayanpur, 

Narayanpur is situated at the base of the famous Purandhar Fort. In the present day, Narayanpur is known for Ekmukhi Datta Mandir,   However, Narayanpur had been famous from historical times as a place where an ancient Shiva temple exists, called Narayaneshwar Mandir. Some say this temple belongs to the “Yadav” period and the board there at Narayanpur reads “Pandavkalin Narayaneshwar Temple”. The period notwithstanding, this temple is sheer beauty in stone, though not as grand as the Chinnakeshava temple at Belur in Karnataka, that notwithstanding, it is beautiful and grand. 

Narayaneshwar Mandir

Closer View

Side

Garbha Gruh

Bahind the Shanar Syambhu Pind

Ganesh Murti

Another Ganesh Carved at the Back of the temple

View from the Rear  - Majestic



 Ek Mukhi Datta Mandir has been established by Sadguru Narayan Maharaj. The Murti of Shri Dattarya is Ek Mukhi, unlike other places where the Murti is always Trimukhi. This Ekmukhi Pritima is supposed to represent Lord Vishnu’s features. It’s a good temple to visit. The temple ceiling walls have frames depicting Stories from Guru Chatra and one more Granth (name of which I can’t recollect). 

Entrance to Data Mandir


There is also a display giving information about Char (4) Dattadhams established by Sadguru Narayan Maharaj across India. 

There is a Naturopathy clinic run by Sadguru Narayan Maharaj’s organisation at Narayanpur. Those interested may seek more information about this at the temple. 

 Shri Kshetra Narayanpur is the place to visit both these temples as also to soak in a rustic village type environment. There are local hotels and I am sure one gets all that is famous in this belt, Vada Pao, Misal, etc. Also, the fruit vendors are there for you to buy fresh fruits grown in this area. 

Parking can be done on the roadside if the place is not crowded. Actual designated parking is behind the Datta temple. Somewhere there, there is a toilet complex also.

3.  Shri Kanifnath samadhi at Bhivari. 

While Prati Balaji and both the temples at Narayanpur are almost on the main road, to go to Kanifnath Samadhi and Temple on a hillock called Kanifnath Gad, one has to take a short few kilometre detour from Bhivari, on Saswad – Bopdev – Pune road. After a short drive one reaches Shri Kanifnath Samadhi. For those who may not be aware, Shri Kanifnath is one of the Navnath (one among the nine successive heads of Nath or Bairagi sampradaya). 

If you park at first parking, some steps need to be climbed, However, if skip the parking and drive up the hill for a few more meters, you reach another parking just behind the temple. The climb to the temple from here is very small. If you have the elderly or those who have difficulty climbing, parking at the back of the temple is a better option. 

Kanifnath Mandir

Samadhi Mandir. The Board notwithstanding, Photography was not objected to

Story of the birth of Shri Kanifnath

A decorated Tulsi Vrindavan

Pune as seen from Shri Kanifnath gad - a lot of haze though

The place is clean, nicely made and the hill is a great place to watch the sunset and have a birds-eye view of Pune. Enjoy your time there. Once the visit is done, when one is back to the main road junction,  buy local produce in a small market that exists at the junction, have Sugarcane juice, etc, and then it’s a drive back to your place after an enjoyable and well-spent day. 

When this trip is undertaken by some of you, you would come across many fun things that we did not notice. Do add information about them in the comments section of this blog post.

Monday, February 22, 2021

Historical Temples of Pune

Rapid Blog

Pune - Heritage Temple Walk


I did a heritage walk yesterday, 21 Feb 2021, with Sandeep Godbole (@GodboleSandeep) along with a small group of interested people at Pune. 

Pune, in its about 350 years of history had about 400 temples of various eras in the old town generally called the "Peth" area. Today's walk was focused on the old and beautiful temples of the historic part of  Pune city.

Omkareshwar Temple

We started from Omkerashwar Temple, a 17-century temple built by Chimaji Appa, brother of Peshwa Bajirao I and one of the greatest General of the Maratha Empire. It is built-in Cheere Bandi stone structure style. The Samadhi of Chimaji Appa and his wife Annapurna exists in the premise of this temple. Interestingly, this temple has 9 Shikhars including the main Shikhar.

This temple also holds significance in the freedom struggle. It is said that the first "Holi' of British Goods was lit in this temple complex.

The entrance of Omkareshwar Temple with Nakkar Khana

The narrow entrance to the Main temple, Seen from the temple Courtyard. 4 Shikhars can be seen

Nandi Statue in the courtyard

Omkareshwar. The door has a Ganesh Patti

Nandi Temple as seen from the main temple side of Courtyard

Colourful Houses of Shaniwar Peth

While moving from here to Kameshwar temple via Veer Maruti, there were colourful old houses (not "Wada") which I clicked for you to see.


Most "Wadas" in the peth area had beautifully carved Ganesh Patti on their main entrance. Here is one such Ganesh Patti which has definitely seen better days in the past.

A Ganesh Patti

Veer Maruti Temple

Next on our trip was a glimpse of the "Veer Maruti" (Veer Hanuman) temple. Not much is known about the origin of this temple but it seems to be connected with commemorating the Veer Marathas who fought and died in Panipat. 

There a tradition of the eldest son of the family of such "Veers" comes for darshan of this Maruti one day after Holi Purnima. It is said that this darshan ensures the continued presence of those Veers of Panipat in Swarg. There is also an Utsav from Hanuman Jayanti for some days to commemorate the dead Maratha warriors of  Panipat. It is a very small temple in the middle of a road at Shaniwar Peth.

Murti here is very beautiful and small. It has a demon under its feet. Interestingly, this Maruti Murti has big Moustaches.

Veer Maruti, See the Moustaches of Shri Maruti

Kameshwar temple

From here we proceeded to Kameshwar temple. Situated at Nene ghat of Shanivar Peth, this temple and ghat were established by Sardar Lele about 250 years ago. It has a Nakkarkhana at the entry. This temple was closed for maintenance. We could not see the temple but it has a Shivalinga and three more Murtis, Shiva Parvati Vihwah, Devi Kameshwari and Ganesh. Since the temple was closed, unfortunately, no photographs.

Varad Vinayak aka Gupchup Ganpati

Gupchup Ganesh came next. It is actually Varad Vinayak Mandir. However, One gentleman named Gupchup gifted this temple to his Guru Moreshwar Shashtri Dixit, hence Gupchup Ganesh. It is not a very old temple but it is a beautiful temple. It has Wooden Sabha Mandap with Glass Chandeliers. 

Varad Vinayak (clicked through its latticed locked door) aka Gupchup Ganesh


It has Nagmandals on both sides of the “Garbh Gruha” of the temple. It is a privately owned temple.

Nag Mandal

Joshi Shri Ram Temple

Joshi Shri Ram Temple is again a privately owned temple with full wood and stone construction is about 150 years old. It had a Nakkarkhana which is now closed. It has columns and beams which are carved. This place gives very peaceful vibes and this temple is worth a visit.

The Entrance

Ram, Laxman and Janaki

Beautiful Wooden Columns

Harihareshwar Temple

Harihareshwar temple near the "Phutka Burj (Damaged Bastion) of Shanivar Wada in Shanivar Peth is over six hundred years. Peshwa's seem to have renovated it as Harihareshwar (Situated at Srivardhan in Konkan) is the family deity of Peshwas. 

Those who can't visit Harihareshwar in Konkan visit the temple here. The Shivaling is situated a little deep compared to sabha mandap but there are mirrors place at important locations to ensure darshans of Harihareshwar without going down the steep 5 or 6 stairs. There is a beautiful stone Nandi here. The Shikhar of this temple is also unique.

Harihareshwar. It has a unique Shikhar

Nandi@Harihareshwar

Shri Harihareshwar


Ganesh Temple in Harihareshwar complex

A Hanuman and Shani Temple of this complex

Ganesh Patti in one of the Temples

Belbag Vishnu Temple

Belbag Vishnu Temple is on busy Laxmi road at City Post Chowk. It is on a property that was owned by Nana Phadnis, the Peshwa Administrator and still is held by his descendants. This temple also is a private one and does not allow photography, hence I can not show you how beautiful and majestic this temple is.

Pune Nagar Vachanalaya

Pune had a Public Library as early as 1848 which was started by the British for common people. with the name Poona Native General Library. Now it is known as Pune Nagar Vachan Mandir, situated on busy Laxmi road. The photograph below shows its building constructed in 1889 in Budhwar Peth (perpendicular to Laxmi road) which now seems to have a Bank in it while Pune Nagar Vachan Mandir is just a few buildings away on Laxmi Road.

Poona Native General Library


Tulshi Bag

Our Heritage walk finished at Tulshi Bag, about which famous Marathi writer Chi Vee Joshi once satirically and famously wrote that Tulshi Bag is a famous market visited by ladies and girls of Pune and it happens to have a Ram Mandir (while it was originally a Ram Mandir in a Bag of Tulshi which acquired a very busy and crowded market around it with passing time).

Built around 18 century, This temple is within an enclosure with a Nakkarkhana. This has a full wooden Sabha Mandap and a Garbh Gruha of stone. Its Shikar is about 150 feet tall. This temple has been recently renovated and retains its old-world charm and its calm even within this busy and crowded market of Tulshi Bag. Photography inside was not allowed so only external area photographs for you.

Tulshi Bag Ram Temple. See the beauty of Wooden Structure. This temple  has a very high Kalash

With this, we finished this over two hours of heritage walk. Thanks to Sandeep Godbole, Pune, a full-time cyber Security professional and passionate history buff for conducting this walk.

Hope you all enjoyed reading this blog as much as I enjoyed putting it together rapidly.

 


Friday, February 5, 2021

Riga - The Largest City in Baltics - Part III - Road Trip from Riga

                                          Riga Travel Blog - Part III - Road Trip from Riga

Recap - Useful Information

Here is the link to Part I of the blog - https://harshad-datar.blogspot.com/2020/12/riga-largest-baltic-city-part-i-riga.html

Here is the link to Part I of the blog - https://harshad-datar.blogspot.com/2021/01/riga-largest-city-in-baltics-part-ii.html

Introduction.

Riga is the capital city of the Baltic state of Latvia. It also is the biggest Baltic City with about 7 Lakh population. Some interesting statistics are, Riga is home to 1/3 of Latvia’s and 1/10 of total Baltics States’ compound population.

Situated at the Gulf of Riga, at the mouth of Daugava river on Baltics Sea. Riga is almost the same age as Tallinn. This city was founded in 1201 AD. IN its long existence, Riga has seen rules of Sweden, Germany, Russia, USSR, etc. till Latvia achieved its independence from USSR in 1990.

Riga of today is a modern city generation about 50 % of Latvia’s GDP. It is a major Baltic Port and the main gateway for the export of wood, Software, Metallurgy, etc.

How to Reach.

Riga is a well-connected city. It has flights coming from over 80 countries which come to Riga International Airport.

It can be reached by sea from Germany and Scandinavian Countries. It has rail connect with Moscow and St Petersburg in Russia. It is well connected by highway network and bus services operate between all three Baltic States. Bus presents a low-cost option for travel across Baltics. Most buses in Europe ate Volvo kind of airconditioned and comfortable ones with a toilet and some service providers also provide hot tea and coffee during the journey.

Stay Options.

Riga gets over 3.5 million visitors a year. With that kind of influx of the visitors, the stay options available are plenty. They meet the need for all types of travellers with the rentals that they can afford. There are a variety of hotels, highly rated hostels and B & Bs. There are small boutique hotels in and close to the old city, mostly in old historical buildings. A hotel in which we stayed was in an over 100-year-old building with real wood furniture. It was beautiful and it was very close to the Old city.

Local Travel.

Riga has plentiful public transport. There is also an option of hiring Cras and Bicycles. However, for all the sights mentioned below, except for Day trip, no transport is needed. All these places are convenient to walk and the walks are pleasant in Riga with the places to visit and parks, small and big are intermingled. My recommendation is to walk but for those who can not, there is public transport.


Day Trip from Riga

The places visited -

1.  Salaspils Concentration Camp Memorial

2.  Rundale Palace

3.  Hill of Crosses (in Lithuania)

4.  Kemeri National Park and Bogs

5.  Jurmala (Covered in the blog but not visited)

Our third day at Riga was kept for a road trip around Riga. We hired a car through our hotel from a local car hirer. It was a Hatchback with a seating capacity of 5 but not much luggage space (that was ok. One does not need luggage space for a day trip). The car had a manual transmission.

The car was in good condition. After signing the documents and mentioning to the representative of the hirer that we will go up to Hill of Crosses in Lithuania (a neighbour country) we were all set to go. On our return, we realized that it was necessary to enter the fact that we would travel to another country (and back) in to the agreement. The company claimed that we need to pay fine as we did not disclose that we will cross the border but after explaining that their executive was told, they agreed no to take fine from us.

I have put a blog giving all the Do's and Don’ts of hiring a car, especially abroad. It can be read here – https://harshad-datar.blogspot.com/2019/07/renting-car-for-road-trip-in-europe-and.html.

Here is the map of our drive from Riga to various sites and back to Riga.

The Map of this Drive

We started from Riga around 9 am. Our departure got delayed due to late arrival of the hired car. We took off and used mobile-based navigation because the car did not have a navigation system. First stop was just 20 Km. It was Salaspil Memorial, created in memory of prisoners who died in Salaspils Concentration Camp created by Nazis.

Salaspils Memorial

As a human being, it breaks one's heart when one visits the Tower of Skulls in Cambodia (where thousand  Skulls of victims of a despot communist ruler Polpot is preserved) or a concentration camps in and around Germany. One wonders how and why tortures were inflected by some on their fellow human beings.

Salaspils was one such concentration camp some 20 km outside Riga, near the town of Salaspils by occupying Germans in the year 1941. It is, in one sense (some solace) not a concentration camp where people were exterminated by Gas Chambers. It was a prison to house Russian Prisoners of War (POW), leaders of local resistance and Latvian, Russian, German and other Jews scheduled for further transit to main Concentration Camps. At various times there were about 20 thousand prisoners in Salaspils. Among the prisoners of all kind, there were many children who suffered the worst fate.

This Salaspils Memorial Ensemble was erected in memorial of those 2000 people who died in this camp and also in other places. This memorial opened in 1967. It has a symbol of the border between Life and Death. It is a 100 m long concrete box inside which there an exhibition of photographs and other details of life in Salspil Jail and Correction Center. There are Seven very moving concrete sculptured titled “Mother”, The Unbroken. The Humulited, Protest, Red Front, Solidarity and The Oath. The wall (concrete box) has very poignant words written on it, they are “Beyond these gates the land groans”.

Memorial Wall - It reads "Beyond these gates the land groans"

The Statues are in the background


Statues depicting the Jailed and their resistance

Memorial for the Children victims and the respect people have paid to their souls

Humiliated

Three of them, from L to R, Solidarity, The Oath and Red Front

The Mother

The Unbroken

Set amid forested area, created in a creative way, this memorial should be included in a place worth visit, to pray for those unfortunate souls who have to endure much pain and suffering and to pray to supreme power to never endure such things on Mankind.

 Rundale Palace and Museum

After spending some time at Salaspil Memorial and praying for the unfortunate souls who died here and elsewhere, we started our journey for Rundale Palace, about 70 km from Salaspils Memorial. While we were on the road, we did not have much idea s to what to expect there. What we knew was that the gardens of Rundale Place were supposed to be good.

When we reached Rundale Palace, its scale was mesmerizing. After buying tickets for the Gardens, we entered the premise. Grand was the word for the gardens themselves. The palace also looked grand but we were short of time to visit the palace and the museum.

While for the sake of completeness and blog writers duty, I will give researched information about the palace, however, the description of the Gardens is out of personal experience.

Rundale Palace was constructed in two phases from 1736 to 1738 as a family home to the Duke of Courland, a vassal of the Russian Empire with many independent rights as Count. The partial independence made the count administer his area and that made him rich out of taxation, etc This rich Duke made two grand Baroque style palaces, Rundale was one of those two palaces. It had been Duke’s Summer Palace, being less important compared to Jelgava Palace, the other Baroque-style palace.

This palace is not as big as Versailles or other European palaces, none the less, this is a charming palace having two wings, Eats and west, which house the official areas (formal areas) and private residential area respectively. 40 of the 138 rooms of this palace are open for visitors.

This 14249 Sqm, 16 building palace spread over 43 hectors (out of the total area of 85 hectors, rest are garden and forest) has seen many ups and downs during its over 250 years of history. It has been used for many other purposes including Military headquarter, school, hospital, etc. It has been painstakingly restored since 1972 and some work is still going on.

Hallmark of the palace (like many other castles and palaces in Europe) is the French Garden. No Baroque Style palace is complete without a well laid out garden and the garden of Rundale Palace confirm that fact.

The Franch Garden, spread over 10 hectors, consists of Ornamental Pattern garden, Rose Garden, Green Ampitheater and fountains. If it is to be experienced properly, one would need at least 1 hour 30 minutes. Now, instead of talking more about the Gardens, let me take you on a photo tour of Rundale Palace Gardens.



Rundale Palace

Rose Garden, Rundale Palace in the Background

Geometrical Pattern Crystal Maze

A Water Fountain

Tree Line

Green Amphitheatre

Another Look

Majestic Rose Garden

Beautiful Ornamental Pattern


The Palace, Fountain in the Foreground

The drive to Hill of Crosses

This place, Hill of Crosses, is about km fro Rundale Palace. The road is very good and very scenic. It is mostly two-lane but the traffic is thin. Enjoy the drive till we reach the destination.

Green Countryside

One More

Busy Driving the Car

Good Road, No Traffic

Fields Glore

Wild Flowers

Hill of Crosses

We have seen crosses in Churches, Cemeteries and some other place. There may be one cross or a few crosses, maybe one hundred, maybe 500. If I tell you about a place in Lithuania, a neighbouring Baltic state, which has not one, not 100, not 1000 but a place full of Crosses, over 200000 and counting, what would be your reaction?

That place is Hill of Crosses, a famous place of pilgrimage in Lithuania, just across from Latvia. This place needs to be seen to be believed.

As believed, Crosses started on this hill in 1831 when during the uprising against the rule resulted in many deaths where the relatives were unable to find bodies of their near and dear ones. As a symbolic ritual in place of burial, they seem to have left crosses in their memory.

Another legend has it that a Lithuanian farmer, whose daughter was seriously ill had a dream, where a lady asked him to plant a cross on this hill and pray for the recovery of his daughter. It is said that after he followed what was said in the dream and planted a cross, his daughter recovered. This belief that the prayers get answered if a cross is placed on this hill and prayer for recovery is made here, making this place a place of prayer to seek blessing.

Whatever may the origin of the Crosses on this hill, the fact is, people believe in the legends. The size, shapes and decoration on the crosses are good. Since traditionally the crosses are wooden, most of them are carved and the carving could really be intricate and beautiful.

This hill was demolished twice by Soviets during their occupation but the Lethunian’s belief was so strong that they braved soviets, KGB, etc to go and plant crosses on this hill. Most notable cross here is a statue of Jesus Christ under a roof.

One must visit this place when on a trip to Baltics. It is a mesmerizing place but it could be overpowering too because such a huge number of crosses can be overwhelming for few. Let the photos take you on this trip-


Look!!!!!

Stone Cross

Can not believe my eyes

Oh Jesus!

All sizes

Wooden, Metal or any other, a cross is a cross

Beautiful

Have you ever walked in the midst of so many crosses?

Faith and Belief

Scary


Parting Shot

Kemeri National Park and Bogs

Bogs are essentially wetlands where the water is acidic in nature. The plants and vegetation that grow here are special as they can survive in Acidic water. Such bogs are found in cold countries were vegetation growth rate in the bogs is low and the decay of plant and animal material is even lower. Most of the bogs are over 12000 years old. The decaying vegetation becomes Peat, an essential energy source for burning. Peat is used in industries, homes for heating and distilleries.

10 % of Latvia’s surface is covered by Bogs and Latvia is one of the major supplier of peat across Europe. As for Kemeri Bogs and National Park, it has forests, lakes and mires also called bogs. Ths park also has hot springs and sulfur baths. There are many treks for the walkers. However, when it comes to bogs, one has to be careful. To experience bogs, walking trails made of wooden planks have been made over the bogs and one must stick to those trails only. The bogs are dangerous, deep and unpredictable. Hence only a wooden boardwalk is recommended if bogs are to be experienced. It is said that a few German tanks were swallowed by these bogs during WW II.

Visiting Kemeri National Park and enjoying it to the full would be at least a days activity if not more. In our case, we had a short time and it was already nearing sunset. We, therefore, did only the famous Bord Walk and enjoyed the Bogs, nature, birds and vegetation and a wonderful sunset. Here are a few photos -

Wow Nature

Boardwalk

Beauty in the Wilderness

Leaving Boardwalk is unsafe


Jurmala

We had to skip Jurmala during our trip as it had become very late in the evening. However, I am covering Jurmala for completeness of the information in the Blog.

Jurmala is the only official resort town of Latvia. It has everything a resort town needs, white sandy pristine beach spreading 25 km in length. The town also has curative Mud bath spas, Mineral water and also Pine forests to boost.

This town also has an open-air museum depicting what Jurmala a few years ago (decades). A fishing village. The town has historical wooded Architecture, a water park, a great concert hall and a typical small-town market.

The town is worth spending time but it somehow did not fit in our programme.


With this road trip, we have finished our virtual trip of Riga, Latvia. We had a grand time over these four nights that we have spent here.

In the next blog, we will embark on Loire Valley road trip in France, going from Paris, through many castle towns to Mont St Michel and back.