A pilgrimage is not only about reaching a divine destination but also having a divine journey. When my parents and grandparents planned a trip to Shirdi for their first-ever group pilgrimage, I decided to join them and experience what it is like to be on a holy journey.
From Pune, where we live, we had to travel 186 Km further northeastward to reach Shirdi. We rented an affordable car in Pune with a driver who knew the route well and would bring us back. The ETA to Shirdi from Pune as per map is a little over hours. But we turned our trip into a memorable journey with interesting stopovers on the way.
We left the city of Pune and Hinjewadi and followed NH 60 for nearly 138 Km. Then as we took the Sangamner – Kopargaon Road, the interior countryside of Maharashtra offered us a refreshing visual treat. Most of my travels have been along the coast, this was a new side to the state that I discovered. It was well after the rainy season, so the landscape was back to life in different shades of green, complemented with clean and well-maintained roads, making our drive comfortable and scenic at the same time.
A scenic stopover
We had started quite early in the day and made our first stop at Igatpuri. A small town in the heart of the Sahyadri, this quiet little settlement with rolling hills and a wide valley dotted with country homes, appeared like a painting.
Among all its natural beauty and quaintness, the town is famous for housing one of the largest meditation and spiritual learning center of Asia. I would not have believed if we had not taken a detour to the International Vipassana center. The massive complex boasted a golden stupa which is the most significant part of this center. I realized that a complete tour of the place would take us an entire day and one needs to plan a separate trip for the same, or maybe enroll myself for a 3-day session sometime. Igatpuri also has quite a few forts, temples, and waterfalls, and intriguing sights to savor.
On my earnest request for a little adventure, we stopped at the Kavnai Fort. I had caught a glimpse of this ancient fort while driving, peeping out of the hill on which it is located. But to reach the fort one has to trek for about an hour and a half, which I had to leave for another time.
Back on the road
As our car cruised out of the country roads and headed back on the highway, I rolled down the window and soaked in the fresh and clean air. It truly felt divine.
By afternoon, we stopped again for lunch at Kopargaon, which was 25 Km before Ahmednagar. This stretch of road is dotted with small local eateries, fruit and juice vendors, catering to pilgrims and tourists.
It was almost evening by the time we reached Shirdi. Although it was crowded, we managed to get a good ‘darshan’ and also join in the evening ‘aarti’. The holy abode of Sai Baba invites not only pilgrims and devotees but travelers and explorers who experience the hallowed energy of the place and remain in awe of this revered saint and his stories of miracles.
While everyone rejoiced on making their pilgrimage successful, I was glad to have had a fulfilling journey that was no less divine for me.
- Always book a reliable and economical cab from Pune to Shirdi, especially if you plan to come back the same day.
- Start early to avoid the office-hour rush from Pune and Hinjewadi.
- Plan your tours on weekdays and mornings, so you can reach Shirdi by afternoon and have a good ‘darshan’.