It was somewhere in early 2009 that I saw a booklet by some travel company, advertising their tours. I love such books, they give you ideas to plan the next tour. In that book, I stumbled upon ‘Samartha Sthapit akara maruti tour’ (Eleven Marutis by Samartha Ramdas Swami). This was the first time I ever heard the name. Intrigued, I started searching it online, and asking few friends about it. But apart from a few instances, there was hardly anything solid on internet. Many of the people whom I asked had no idea about it. It was hard to believe that a religious circuit that is in Maharashtra for more than 400 years is still unknown to many, and for someone like me who wants to visit, the guidance is scarce. The only information I managed to gather is, they are around Satara and Karad.
Then the idea of visiting them got subdued in work. Slowly, I forgot about it completely, till recently. Last Friday, Nandinee called me from work in evening.
‘I have to go to Karad tomorrow, a small work, but I have to be present there.’
‘Oh. OK.’. The picture of yet another Saturday spent alone lying at home was somehow not exciting to my mind.
‘Hey, how about we do motorcycle tour to Kaas plateau?’
That was certainly a good thinking. Kaas plateau attracted us for long, for its wild flowers blooming in this season. Also, we could also do the eleven Maruti circuit, as they spread around Satara and Karad. This seemed like a perfect God given plan, as Nandinee wouldn’t have to lose a leave, and we’d got to tour as well. Also, it was intriguing, that we were going to visit Samartha Ramdas Swami’s place, like we did in our last years’ ride to Konkan and Shivthar ghal.
I started frantically searching Internet for information on the Marutis, in the hope that after 1.5-2 years, there would be many blogs on the circuit. Surprisingly, the situation was not much changed! Very few sites with information, and that to scattered. Jotted down the points from those sites, and decided that after this tour, I will upload a proper tour plan for this circuit, so that the next pilgrim will have a proper help online.
The packing was done in jiffy, as it was hardly two days trip. The upper rain wear were pushed in the tankbag at the last moment on my insistence. ‘There is no rain for so many days!’ argued Nandinee, but I stood my ground. Little did we know how useful they would be in next 2 days!
We started at around 8 am from home. The event from Katraj ghaat was uneventful, but surprising devoid of any flowers. Last year, at this time the ghaat was all flowery, and romantic. This year, I couldn’t spot any color in the scenery other than grassy green! Had a quick bite on a roadway hotel named Amruta hotel. Lot of girls were there, seemingly from some all girls college. While having breakfast there, I saw some even posed around Vesta for photographs. Sighing about lost opportunities after marriage, I proceeded to focus on breakfast alone.
We reached Karad at around 12-12.30, maintaining constant speeds of 80-90 KMPH. Started inquiring in hotels for a doubles room, but suddenly all hotels seemed to be all full! I wondered who the hell ends up in Karad on a weekend, excepting some souls misguided by their wives. In a hotel named hotel Sagar, we were turned away similarly, and I have had enough of this. I asked the manager there:
‘This is a family hotel right?’
‘Family means husband, wife … ‘
‘and kids, yes.’
‘But we are husband and wife!’
Apparently, he thought there was no way a husband and wife could come on a bike all dressed up in motorcycling gear. It has to be a runaway couple!
‘Are you kidding me? Who the hell comes to Karad to have an affair! I could’ve gone to Mahabaleshwar on route or any other place if I wanted to have a illegal romantic weekend. What kind of an animal skips those places and comes here? What do you suppose….’
‘Alright, here are your keys!’
He shoved the keys in my hand and was quite relieved to have gotten over the awkward conversation. Running, we changed in more civilized clothes, and went to court for Nandinee’s work.
The plan was perfect. The work would get over in half, max an hour. Then we would have a nice meal and would visit the four Marutis around Karad. Rest in night, and would leave early next morning for Satara. We would visit the remaining 7 Marutis on way to Satara before lunch, and would have lunch in Satara. Then after visiting Kaas plateau and lake, would leisurely start at 5 and end up at doorstep by 8.
As will all carefully drafted plans, this one went haywire. The max one hour’s work took the whole damn day! Hours rolled by, and I kept thinking to myself.
‘2 PM, OK, we can start at 2.30 and can return by 6.’
‘3 O clock, still we can start at 3.30 and return by 7.’
‘4 O clock, damn, hope we can start ASAP!’
Then at 4.45 PM, rain gods turned up the volume and washed all Karad, thoroughly dampening the streets along with my spirits and hopes to visit any of the Marutis today. Finally, at around 6PM the work got over. Making a mental note to myself that ‘never plan on promises’, we started working on plan B. We could visit the 4 Marutis tomorrow, and rest 7 day after tomorrow. But this would extend a day, meaning a day’s leave. Besides, we were not packed for more than 1 night. For single guys thinking what could be possibly different in one night packing and two nights packing, just take my word for it, you will realize it after marriage. A hint: Women’s tolerance level for lack of hygiene is lot less than men’s.
This left with only one choice, do all the 11 Marutis in one day, and return home on the same night. The thought was exciting for me, to ride so much in one day (except that my tashreef wouldn’t be too happy afterwards). So that was the confirmed plan, atleast for then.
For the evening, we went to a place called Manore (meaning towers), and then Sangam, where two rivers meet (river A and river B, sorry my geography sucks to the core). The road to Manore goes through busy streets of Karad, where many Ganpati mandal’s were competing against each other as to which one breaks the sound barrier hardest. Being from Pune, I didn’t find that hard to adjust to. Finally reached the towers. They are no more that towers that are part of a big gate to a Masjid. Stood and watched them for a while, then after starting to get stares of suspicion from surrounding public, rolled away to Sangam.
Now this Sangam has a very well maintained garden named after Yeshwantrao Chavan (former CM of Maharashtra). We first went near to the river sangam. When we were approaching the sangam, Nandinee exclaimed.
‘Look! Ganesha idols!’
Ganpati visarjan was not on that day, it was already 2-3 days ago. Where could she possibly see Ganesha idols?
‘See there, lying in the water.’
There, I saw one of the most heart-churning sight ever. Many Ganesha idols, atleast a 100, were lying in the water, clearly visible because the water level had gone down. Some lying face down, some with broken hands and heads, and some still sitting (or made to sit) upright sank halfway, as if given a death sentence. Some overly religious people were going in the river to throw the ‘holy waste’, the Nirmalya into the rivers. The fact that they were stepping on the very same Ganesha idols that they worshipped 3 days ago didn’t matter, neither were they of any two thoughts when they drank the lead filled water of the same spot as teertha. What is it in religion and ceremonies that make people lose common sense?
Ganpati is my most favourite god. It may seem childish, but even since I remember, Ganesh is ‘my’ God, the one I feel special bond, the one I truly love. There lied hundreds of Ganesha idols, swinging in the current, getting crushed by feets of worshippers and boats, awaiting the countless days till they turn to sand, or atleast to some non-recognizable shape. The river resembled the scene in Lord of the rings, where Frodo sees dead people in the lake. Except here there were idols of God.
It stirred up many questions in my mind. And on many levels too. Some are:
1. Previously, when the idols were made of Shaadu, sand from river, and with natural colors, they used to dissolve very quickly. Then, plaster of paris became de facto standard for idol making, primarily because it can be molded sharply as well as it was more economic. But it screwed the nature’s balance completely.
2. Was it economic? 10 days ago, the combined cost of all these idols, assuming 500rs per idol x 100 idols was 50,000 rs. This is least possible figure, where the real figure can go well above 1 Lakh. Now the value of these idols was a big zero, and rather negative, if we consider the cost that has to be paid for cleaning up. Isn’t this economically wrong?
Stirred, we went to the garden. It is located at a strategic point from the sangam, and is maintained very nicely. We sat there for about 1.5 – 2 hours just chatting. It was surprising for both of us to realize so much time went. The day in Karad was well spent simply by this chat time.
Then began hunt for a good restaurant. We saw a sparkling new ‘Virangula’ hotel very near to the park. When we went inside, a waiter instructed us:
‘Please remove your shoes and go inside.’
What? Is this some kind of a theme restaurant?
We went inside, where there was a room with few people sitting, and a Satyanarayan Puja was done there.
‘Please do the darshan and have prashad.’
Had we walked in some house by mistake? What was all this? Then the person there replied, revealing the mystery:
‘Sir, today is the first day of this hotel, we are opening just now. Hence the Puja.’
We took the prashad and sat on a table. We were actually hungry, and all the hotel had on that day were ice creams. But it would be very rude and perhaps would be assumed to be unlucky by the hotel owner if the customers walked out on the first day! So had two ice creams to keep the manager’s heart. The ice creams turned up to be quite good actually! Hope the next time I visit Karad, the Virangula hotel is grown bigger, and started serving some eatables too!
Later, the day ended with uneventful dinner and rest. Next day, we would start as early as possible to make a big trip to home.