Thursday, October 9, 2014

Trip to Kolhapur and the adjoining tourist spots

I had already noticed that in the month of October 2O14, there was a long week end beginning from Thursday, October 2nd to Monday October 6th.  Normally, I avoid outings during such holidays as train reservations and hotel bookings are the first hurdles to be crossed for a smooth holiday. Secondly, the tourist places to be visited would be crowded. So I thought it better to spend time in the home city rather than venturing out during the long week end. But I was destined to travel during the long week end as I received an invitation to attend the engagement ceremony of one of my close relatives, scheduled to be held on October 3rd at his farm house in Sangli. The invitation was also received by my brother-in- law. So both the families decided to travel together to attend the function and to visit some tourist spots in around Kolhapur which is about 65 kms from Sangli.

October 2nd : Borivali-Pune-Kolhapur (432 kms.)
Since getting train reservations at the short notice was out of question especially when we required 8 tickets,   6 adults and 2 children, we decided to hire a vehicle. We started from Borivali at 7.OO a.m. Despite the holiday, there were lot of heavy truck traffic on Pune Expressway apart from larger than usual car traffic,  mostly of holiday travellers. There was a longish traffic jam of more than 2 kms just before Lonavala. It took us nearly 5 hours to reach Wakad via Hinjewadi junction to join one of our close relative for a high tea. After spending about one hour in his house, we started the journey around 1.OO p.m. There was a moderate traffic up to Katraj Ghat after which the traffic flow became normal. We reached Kolhapur around 5.3O p.m. We checked in Hotel K Tree, a newly opened boutique hotel. The rooms were big with clean bathroom and toilet. The service was prompt. The hotel has a multi cuisine restaurant. The food was good.
Hotel K Tree, Kolhapur where we styaed for 3 nights.
 After freshening up and taking about 3 minutes rest, we decided to visit Mahalaxmi temple knowing  that being the penultimate day of Navratri festival, there will be heavy rush of devotees for darshan of Goddess Mahalaxmi. At least, we would get a feel of a festive atmoshere on the eve of Dussera. As expected, there was a longish queue of devotees for darshan. A police woman told us that it may take about 3 to 4 hours to get into the sanctum sanctorum of the temple for a darshan. There was a separate queue for those wishing to have darshan from outside the sanctum sanctorum but with heavy crowd and jostling, we felt that it was not worth a try. So we decided to visit the temple on Saturday, when Navratri gets over. We returned to our hotel not before eating the most famous bhel of Rajabhau located in a by lane, about 5 minutes of walk from Mahalaxmi temple. We had light dinner at our hotel’s restaurant before retiring for the day.   

October 3rd : Kolhapur-Siddhagiri Math-Sangli-Kolhapur (16O kms.)

Siddhagiri Math and Siddhagiri Gramjeevan Museum

The engagement ceremony was scheduled at 4.OO p.m. in Sangli followed by some musical programme and dinner. So we had in effect only half a day available for sightseeing. Our idea was to cover places like Narsoba Wadi and Khidrapur which was on our way to Sangli. However, the host had entrusted us to bring with us a 3 kg cake specially ordered from Kolhapur on the occasion of the engagement ceremony. And carrying the cake in our vehicle with half a day sightseeing in relatively warm weather was not a good idea. So we decided to postpone the planned sightseeing of the day for the next day and cover Siddhagiri Math which was hardly 15 kms from Kolhapur. On our return, we would pick up the cake and continue the journey to Sangli.

After completing the breakfast around 9.OO a.m., we drove through NH.4 for about 1O kms towards Kagal and took an exit to the left on a small road which goes over NH.4 towards its right side for a drive of about 5 kms to Kaneri village. A board displaying the direction to Siddhagiri Math which is also called Kaneri Math, took us to the place. As soon as we reached Kaneri Math, a non descriptive village of Kaneri now looked like a well planned and a clean village. The place is very serene and peaceful. The entire area covering about 1O acres of land is full of flora and fauna. We first visited a temple of Lord Shiva and saw the real looking replicas of two elephants with mahout and passengers in front of the temple. There was a huge idol of Lord Shiva with his life size Nandi bull located in the opposite direction of the temple. Just by the side of the temple was a big hall for meditation. 
Entrance to Siddhagiri Math, Kaneri.

Siddhagiri Math Office, Kaneri.
Shiva Temple, Siddhagiri Math

 Shivling covered with Shiva idol with Kolhapuri pagdi.

 A decorated Nandi in Shiva Temple.
Statue of sitting Shiva with Nandi Bull. Siddhagiri Math.
A life size replica of an Elephant with Mahout and passengers, Siddhagiri Math.
A restaurant inside Siddhagiri Math, Kaneri.
But what made our visit really worthwhile and memorable was an open air museum called Siddhagiri Gramjeevan Museum which is spread over 7 acres of land. A part of the museum is located inside the manmade caves which depict the roles of some of the prominent sages in Hindu mythology with their life size statues and their expertise in arts, science and commerce. I found these displays to be very educative. For example, Sage Jaimini specialised in Mimansa Philosophy. Sage Prashar specialised in Botany. Sage Kashyap was the master of Ayurvedic medicines.
Entrance to Siddhagiri Gramjeevan Museum, Kaneri.
Since photography is prohibited in Siddhagiri Museum, I have taken this picture from the website just to illustrate how real it looks. The scene is of a village well from where villagers bring water. There are multiple choices of  carrying water  as depicted in the picture. In the background is the real sugarcane  field.
This is also taken from a website just to illustrate how real it looks of the activities of trashing the harvested crops.
In the open air museum, there are more than 3OO statues depicting the rural life in India. The main features of some of the displays concerning farmers and agricultural fields are that except for statues, the surroundings are real. Even the statues of man, animals and implements look so real that  I got fooled by the display of shepherds grazing  their cows and buffalos in an open field to be real one until I saw it from a close distance. There are also displays of rural games which I am sure most of the current generations of kids would be unaware of. Then there are a series of displays on agricultural operations in a traditional manner starting with ploughing, sowing, irrigation, harvesting and finally trashing of harvested crops. One can even see the various modes of carrying water from a village well. 

The aim of this open air museum seems to be to make the present generation aware of the rural heritage of the past which is slowly crumbling because of the technical advancement. The museum also emphasises the importance of caste related vocations for the self sufficiency of the rural economy. It also shows the importance of inter personal relationship and  the inter dependence in a rural setting. I would highly recommend to those on a visit to Kolhapur or Sangli not to miss Siddhagiri Gramjeevan Museum especially if they are accompanied by children who have been brought up in an urban environment. It is very educative for them. My two grand children enjoyed this visit to the museum. We  spent about two hours which was not sufficient to study the displays in their entirety.

The entry fee for the museum is Rs.1OO per head and Rs.5O for children below 12 years of age. At first, we thought that the entry fee was steep. But at the end of the museum trip, we felt that it was more than worth. The additions to museum displays seem to be an ongoing process as we noticed some more works underway.    Since it is an open air museum, it is advisable to carry sun lotion and water bottles as the sunrays are very strong. There are two restaurants in Kaneri Math, one at the starting point of the museum and the other at the end point. There is also a shop selling mementos and other items of show pieces. Photography inside the museum is strictly prohibited.

We returned to Kolhapur to collect the cake and started the journey to Sangli to attend the engagement ceremony. It took us nearly 2 hours to complete 65 kms of journey due to many bad patches on Kolhapur-Sangli road. After dinner, we returned to our hotel in Kolhapur at around 11.3O p.m.

October 4th : Kolhapur-Panhala-Jyotiba-Narsoba Wadi-Khidrapur-Kolhapur (179 kms).

1. Panhala Fort (25 kms)

After breakfast, we first visited Mahalaxmi temple at around 9.OO a.m. As expected post-Navratri, there was no queue and we could complete the darshan of Goddess Mahalaxmi in less than 15 minutes with reasonable time to spend in sanctum sanctorum. A drive of about 25 kms on Kolhapur-Ratnagiri road took us to Panhala Fort (84Om). We took an accredited guide to get detailed information about the Fort.  
Intricate carving on the  stone wall of the Eastern side gate of Old Rajwada near Mahalaxmi temple.
Intricately carved pillar  of the Eastern gate of Old Rajwada, Kolhapur. This the main entrance to Mahalaxmi temple area.
Panhala Fort was constructed by Raja Bhoj of Shilhara dynasty in the 12th century. Since the Fort was located on a strategic pass between Konkan and the Deccan plateau, it has been the centre of skirmishes between different rulers like Adilshah of Bijapur, Yadavas of Devgiri, Mughals, Marathas and later East India Company. After the death of Afzal Khan, the commander of Adilshahi dynasty of Bijapur, Chatrapaty Shivaji Maharaj took control of the Fort in 1659. However, there had been frequent change of occupation of the Fort between Marathas and  Mughals. Finally, in 1782, the seat of Maratha Government was shifted from Panhala to Kolhapur and thereafter the Fort was given to British Raj in 1827. Except for a brief period in 1844 when rebels occupied the Fort, it remained with British Raj until 1947. The most important event that took place was the seige of  the Fort by the armies of Adilshah and Johar of Kurnool for over five months requiring Shivaji Maharaj to escape in disguise through secret routes to nearby Vishalgad  at the cost of the life of his trusted aide Bhaji Prabhu Deshpande in the battle of Pavan Khind.
Road to Panhala Fort.
We started with Andhar Bawdi (Hidden Well). It is a three storied structure with two stories located underground. At the base of the underground is a hidden step well. The idea is to protect the well from the enemies whose first act is to poison the water in the well. According to our guide, the water level in the well remains constant throughout the year. This well was the drinking water source for the inhabitants of the Fort. There is one archway above the well where some armed guards would always remain to protect the well. Since the third story of this structure is constructed at the road level, the enemies can neither see the underground structures nor the guards protecting it. So it is advantageous for the guards to take on the enemies by surprise. The back side of Andhar Bawdi is well fortified by a two layers of thick stone wall followed by a man made steep sloping landscape. There are escape routes from this place in case of emergency.  From the wall of the Andhar Bawdi, one can have an excellent view of valley on the western side.
Andhar Bawdi (Hidden Well) located at the bottom. The significance of this structure of Panhala Fort is that the the upper floor is at the road level. So when the enemy comes near it, the santries on guard in the basement can take the enemy by surprise.
Behind the grill door on the basement of Andhar Bawdi is the well which has  water throughout the year more or less on a constant level.
View of the valley from Andhar Bawdi part of Panhala Fort.
Another important part of the Fort is Teen Darwaza (Three gates or doors) which can be reached in about 1O minutes by walk after passing by the side of Bhalji Pendharkar Memorial Garden.  It is one of the gateways to the Fort from Konkan side. The three doors have been constructed in such a way that the enemies entering from the main gateway from Konkan side cannot see another two doors until they fully enter by which time the guards can launch a surprise attack. At present, there are no doors to three gates but there are huge stone hinges which indicate that the doors must have been very heavy to withstand the onslaught by elephants. Between first and the last gates, there is an arcade constructed probably for armed guards to protect the entry from Konkan side of the gate. There are inscriptions in Persian on a stone on the top of Konkan side gate which indicates that Teen Darwaza was constructed during the reign of Ibrahim Adil Shah in 1534.
Memorial of Bhalji Pendharkar on way to Teen Darwaza art of Panhala Fort.
Teen Darwaza seen from inside the Fort.
The intricate architecture of balancing stone arches, also known as groin vault in architectural terminology, inside the first door. Note the huge stone hinges on both side of second door.
The ceiling and  archways of the first door.
Lattice work on the second door of Teen Darwaza.
The stone plaque in Persian above the third door.
Our next visit was to Ambarkhana (Warehouse) located at the centre of the Fort. Here there are three granaries constructed in black stones. They were named as Ganga, Jamuna and Saraswati to store rice, varai and nachni. The first one, Ganga is the largest of the three having the capacity to store about 25OOO quintals of rice. The rice collected from Konkan would be poured from a few holes created on the top of a high ceiling. Inside the rice granary, the high ceiling is rested on three rows of stone pillars, each one of them joined by the arches to give support to the ceiling. Once upon a time, the Ambarkhana was fortified by 15 metre deep trenches to prevent attacks. Now, the municipality has filled the trenches to avoid accidental fall but the sign of them is still visible.
The first and the largest granary for storing rice. The capacity of this granary was 25OOO quintals.
Rice used to be poured from a big hole in the ceiling. The capacity of this granary was 25OOO quintal.

View of first and second granaries,  Panhala. There were three granaries for storing Rice, Varai and Nachni.
On the way to Sajja Kothi, we saw some  ruins in the Fort like Rangmahal. Sajja Mahal is located on the eastern side of the Fort overlooking Warna valley. It is a single story black stone structure. It was here that Sambhaji was kept under house arrest by Shivaji to prevent his alleged defection to Mughals. From the first floor of this kothi, one gets an excellent view of Warna valley.
Govt. Dak Bungalow. Sajja Kothi is partially seen on the left.
View of the valley from one of the arches of Sajja Kothi on the first floor.

Persian inscriptions on Sajja Mahal.
 2. Panhala to Jyotiba (4O kms)

We drove back on Ratnagiri-Kolhapur road. About half way through it, a left diversion took us to Jyotiba Hills where a temple of Jyotiba, an incarnation of Lord Brahma, Vishnu and Mahesh is located. The temple complex is also known as Kedareshwar. We reached here around 12.3O p.m. There was not much crowd in the temple and we could get darshan with ease. About 2O years back, I had visited Jyotiba when there was no direct access to the temple by vehicle. One had to climb hundred of stone steps from the road end to reach the temple. Many devotees still follow the climbing route rather than coming by vehicles upto the entrance to the temple.
Jyotiba temple, Jyotiba Hills. 
3. Jyotiba to Narsoba Wadi (65 kms.)

We left Jyotiba at around 1.OO p.m. It was a long drive on a road of bad patches. Somewhere on Kolhapur Sangli road, we took a lunch break at a Dabha serving what they call as akka masur with rotis or bakharis. Masur is one kind of lentils. It is prepared in the Kolhapuri spices as a dry dish to be eaten with rotis or bhakris. The food was tasty. We ended our lunch with a glass of kokam kadhi (Kokam juice mixed with coconut milk seasoned with green chillies), which is regarded as good for digestion. After a drive of about one hour, we reached Narsobachi Wadi, also called Narsingpur which is located at the confluence of Panchganga and Krishna Rivers. This is one of the holiest places especially for Dattatreya devotees. The temple is located at the banks of Krishna river. In the temple, Swami Narsinh Saraswati is worshipped as incarnation of Lord Dattatreya. There is no image of Swami Narsinh Saraswati but his Padukas are worshipped here.  

The temple is constructed in an unconventional manner in that it does not have sphire or dome. In fact, it has got a flat roof. It does not have the conventional sanctum sanctorum. Another aspect of this temple is that there is a complete peaceful atmosphere in the sabha mandap where a large number of devotees sit with closed eyes probably chanting in their mind Digambara Digambara Shripad Vallabh Digambara. Swami Narsinh Saraswati stayed here for 12 years practicing penance. The location of the temple itself is serene. No doubt, devotees find solace and peace of mind when they visit such a holy place. I like to visit such kind of temples where there is not much of a crowd and the atmosphere is peaceful and serene which naturally generate devotion and sprituality in mind.
Unending sugarcane fields on way to Narsoba Wadi.
Krishna River, Narsoba Wadi.

Dutta Temple. The stone staircase leads to Krishna River ghat.
Krishna River seen from Datta Temple.
After buying some kandi pedhas and kunda which are the speciality of Narsobachi Wadi, we proceeded to our last lap of 17 kms of journey to Khidrapur to see Kopeshwar temple. But this temple is such a  architectural marvel that I have decided to cover it in my next blog.




Aadarsh Dash said...

Great blog Sadanand, I really enjoyed reading about your experience. I found it to be really interesting. I have never been to Kolhapur but it surely seems like a very interesting place. This particular post is very informative and I learnt a lot about Kolhapur.

Govind said...

Really nice work. It will help thousand of people who visit kolhapur. I would suggest add one more place Vishvapandhari 5 minutes drive from Mahalaxmi temple. A must visit place.