Thursday, November 06, 2008

Bombay : Sanjay Gandhi National Park et al

It took us a lot of will power and collective strength to get over our office fatigue and laziness to set off for Boriveli at around 7 am one Saturday. A 45-minute train journey and a short auto ride later, we found ourselves at the gates of the Sanjay Gandhi National Park. A long walk ensued, which brought us face to face with a herd of lovely deer. We bought tickets for the lion and the tiger safari and boarded a bus, whose windows were all covered with wire nets. The safari was of extremely short duration and showed us tigers in cages!!! The fact that the lions were freely roaming reminded us that we were not in a zoo but a National Park.

After satisfying our mid-day hunger with chips, fruits and cold drinks, we took a bus to the Kanheri Caves, situated within the National Park. There are 109 Buddhist caves, cut by hand from the living rock of a 1500 feet high ravine in the 2nd to the 9th century AD. Inside the caves, there were colossal Buddhas, more than 20 feet tall, an 11-headed Bodisattva and even a nagaraja, an ancient pre-Buddhist serpent king guarding the most famous Buddhist chaitya hall

"Kanheri" is derived from the word 'Khaneri' meaning black mountain. The presence of these caves prove a well-organised existence of a Buddhist establishment, with connections to other trade centres like Sopara, Kalyan, Nasik, Paithan and Ujjain.

It was another Saturday morning, when we decided to visit the famous Siddhivinayak Temple in Dadar. It was a long queue before the temple and when we finally managed to reach inside, we were whisked away before we even realised! We could not even see properly, the smiling face of Lord Ganesha, who is depicted her with four arms bearing a lotus, an axe, modakas and a garland of beads, flanked by his consorts Siddhi and Riddhi!

Another place of interest which I always planned to visit but could never make it is the Haji Ali shrine. This time I was determined not to miss it, more so because I used to pass it every day on my way to office. One Sunday, I reached the Haji Ali Juice Centre, famous for selling a glass of juice for Rs. 100/- (!) and started my walk towards the island, where the shrine is situated. The walkway, which connects the shore to the shrine is the only way to reach it and can be used only during low tides. The structure inside has white, typical Mughal domes and minarets.

There are two local legends which claim to trace the Hazrath Haji Ali's antecedents. One story has it that Haji Ali was a rich, local businessman who gave up materialism after a visit to Mecca and then took up meditation. Another legend says that he was an Afghan mystic who lived and meditated here. He specifically ordered that after his death , his casket should be cast off into the sea off the shore of what is today Pakistan. However, the casket surfaced intact at the spot where the shrine is today.

The whole place was crowded and with people of all religion. I even overheard a man talking over the phone saying "Main Haji Ali Mandir mein hoon!!!" What he was doing there was spending a few private moments with his lady love, sitting on the rocks of the island. And I wonder who he was speaking to over the phone.

I missed out on going to Alibaug, Matheran and Lonavla with my friends because I was rotting in Delhi at that point of time. But I am sure there is a second time.

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