There was a time when I would wonder why so many people enjoyed being on a pilgrimage. But after experiencing life for nearly six decades, I have come to enjoy the warm and liberating feeling that these holy destinations render. While most call it ‘pilgrimage’, I call it soul-seeking, for which I have been traveling quite a lot around the country and explored some remarkably divine destinations in India. On all such soul-searching trips, a recent one to Nashik is worth talking about.
Last winter, when the cold air barely touches Mumbai, I wanted to do two things. One-to be in a cooler place than Mumbai, at least for a few days, and two- experience the hallowed energy of the famous pilgrim sites of the ancient town.
Before I start, I always ensure that I book cabs in Mumbai with verified drivers that are safe for long distances. So, I rented a car and headed out on a cool January (that’s the best the city gets in peak winter) morning. It took me nearly four hours to reach the town via NH 160. Thankfully, my cabbie turned out to be an entertaining individual with a great sense of humor and I decided to use his services further when I reached my destination.
A Day in Nashik
While Nashik is shaping up to be a resort town for the new-generation travelers, its traditional significance lies in religious history. It is one of the places where many incidents of Ramayana had taken place. Also, Nashik is one of the four holy destinations that host the Kumbh Mela, every 12 years, along with Allahabad, Ujjain, and Haridwar.
As We Entered the City, I Could Already Feel the Holy Energy Engulfing Me
My first stop was at the Ganga Ghat. The beautiful Godavari flows through this part of the city and is considered to be as holy as the Ganga. I learned that it is also called the Ganges of the South. The banks of the almost still river are dotted with temples, each dedicated to different Hindu deities. Being afternoon, there was no hustle bustle around the ghats. My driver suggested that I should return around evening for an entirely different experience. And so I agreed. I was glad to have booked a quality cab from Mumbai to Nashik at an affordable rate, which let me a tour for the entire day, without burning my pocket.
Meanwhile, we took a tour around the town, stopping at a few prominent and popular temples, before I had to release my driver.
Temples of Nashik
Nashik hosts some of the most beautiful temples in the country, and if I had known in my younger years, I would have come here just to admire the temple architectures. But the most fascinating thing I observed here was the profound presence of Shiva Temples.
A little outside of town lies the famous temple of Trimbakeshwar. One of the most sacred places of the Hindus, this temple enshrines one of the 12 Jyotirlingas of Lord Shiva. It is not just the temple but its surrounding environment that adds to the serenity. Surrounded by the lush green Brahmagiri Hills on one side and the Godavari River on the other, Trimbakeshwar truly mesmerized me.
The Kalaram Temple was truly a visual delight. Built centuries ago, this Hindu temple has a lot of stories around Indian political history and mythology. Dedicated to Goddess Sita and Lakshman, this is a highly revered temple in Maharashtra. The temple deities are carved out of black stone, rendering its name. There is a Sita Gufaa, the spot from where Sita was said to have been kidnapped by Raavan. The legendary garden of Panchavati- an enclosure of five old banyan trees are also located on this temple premise.
By evening, as recommended by my cabbie, I returned to the Ganga Ghat. By sundown, the skyline had changed with brightly lit temples and streetlights reflecting on the river. As the evening prayer started, the chanting of the priests followed by the lights of aarti on the river and in the temples, simultaneously, cast a divine glow. It was truly a sensory delight.