While the title sounds like an essay topic from schooldays – I maintain, it’s deliberate.
Hello friends. It’s good to be back on my writing bench (read: desktop computer). The end of 2018 was truly an amazing one – involved a lot of travel. I DO NOT mean COMMUTE – I know one from another (thank you). It kickstarted with an industrial visit to Gujarat. It was immediately followed by an ultra-short trip to Vadodara and back. I closed the year with a spectacular trip to a sleepy town Saswad nestled along the banks of the Karha River.
Just a few things about this city. It’s about 33 km southeast of Pune. Take whichever route like i.e. from Shivajinagar or Swargate (Punekars would know better). I’d choose Swargate since it’s 2 km closer to Saswad. After driving (read: crawling) through the congested roads of Pune city for about 15-20 min – one breathes a sigh of relief on seeing the ‘great outdoors’. The magnificent striated Western Ghats a.k.a. Sahyadri welcome you from afar. Now, Saswad stands at an average elevation of 1000 m (3280 ft) which, by itself, is wonderful. This is the most elevated city I’ve been to/stayed in yet.
It all started with an old-time pal calling me up for a meeting – he stays in Nagpur and I, in Mumbai. He was coming to Pune for some work and we set Pune Central Station as our rendezvous point. From there, his nephew drove us to the idyllic climes of Saswad (his place). After lunch and a post-lunch siesta, my friend and I drove off for some sightseeing.
We had shortlisted two destinations from the data we had compiled from various online searches.
- Changa Vateshwar Mandir (चंगा वटेश्वर मंदिर)
- Purandar fort (किल्ले पुरंदर)
Changa Vateshwar Mandir (चंगा वटेश्वर मंदिर)
Though an agnostic, archaeology fascinates me and hence I chose to go see the 700+ years old temple. The temple is an excellent example of Hemadpanti architecture. Since this form of temple architecture originated in the 13th century, the temple definitely cannot be older than that. This means the temple was built during1200-1300 AD. Although the presiding deity is Lord Shiva, the temple is named after a local mystic yogi Changdev Maharaj (or just Changa Dev). He reportedly lived in a village nearby.
For a good measure, photography was not banned inside or outside the temple. I still chose not to stir the hornet’s nest by keeping my phone in my pockets while within the sanctum (गर्भगृह). I then sought the permission of the custodian of the temple and clicked pictures. Too bad – not much info could be gleaned from the custodian (I couldn’t understand the dialect of Marathi he spoke in). I decided to get some more info from the internet only to find that there is very little information about this wonderful temple even on the internet. (The next time I go there, I’ll take a local with me – one who understands the dialect, get as much information possible and upload it for the multitude to read).
One is welcomed by two flights of stairs on approaching the fort-styled entrance to the temple. After climbing the first flight (definitely after washing your feet in a small pool next to the stairs) one reaches the main entrance. On entering from that gate, one needs to climb the second flight of stairs to reach the temple. On entering the temple, you are welcomed by an imposing statue of Nandi (Lord Shiva’s ride) – as is the wont in all Shiva temples. After crossing Nandi, one can enter the sanctum (गर्भगृह) to offer prayers to the deity. One look at the ceiling and one can just marvel at the intricate stonework done on it. The ceiling, the pillars, the walls – they all bear the marks of fine ancient stonemasonry. What surprised me was that the dome of the temple was resplendent (probably re-painted) while the rest showed signs of ageing. Some structures had taken too many beatings at the hands of time. the temple premises also boasted of a huge column of lamps known as दीप ज्योति स्तम्भ or simply दीपस्तम्भ. The experience was refreshing, in toto. From there, we moved on to our next destination – Purandar fort. It was almost a 1-hour drive from the temple.
Purandar fort (किल्ले पुरंदर)
The drive to the fort was a scenic one – meandering through the hilly terrain – we reached our first checkpoint – the gate to the Army Training Center. After getting our car thoroughly checked by the army men, we headed off to our next checkpoint – the car park. That’s only as far as you can go in a vehicle, as a civilian. Don’t be alarmed at the presence of heavily armed combat-ready jawans. You’re in their territory and not the other way around. So just move on – without doing anything that may get their attention.
Now comes the sad part. No sooner had we started walking towards our final destination (the main entrance to the fort) than we started getting out of breath. I could attribute this to the following reasons:
- Age was catching up with us.
- It was 17:15 already and as per the jawans, the army entrance closes at 17:30.
- We were already at an altitude of 1,300 ft (4,265 ft) above sea level.
At this height, oxygen levels (for men who don’t have a healthy lifestyle and not ‘fit’) start getting depleted. For the first time in my life, I (think I) experience the effects of the lack of oxygen. We had to beat a hasty retreat to the car park. But whilst doing so, I still managed to capture the scenic beauty of the fort, the hills around and the panoramic view of Saswad. One could see Pune clearly from that vantage point.
One valuable lesson I learnt that day is that life’s really short and that one must grab each travel opportunity by the collar and milk it dry. I will – from now on. Enough of counting candles on cakes and the greys on the head (the more one counts – the more the mind tells about the proximity to old age). Just go out there and explore. Sitting on the armchair, with a full head of greys, one can only repent and let out cold sighs of despair. Well… I’m going – you go too – pack your bags.