Even though this trip lasted only for two days, there were several places that I visited. I used to leave early in the day and return late in the night. So much so that my room was only used for rest after roaming around the city for the entire day. So many places covered in 48 hours and so many things to say.
So this entire trip memoir will be a 4 part series. To be honest, no one likes to read a long monologue, even I don’t. Secondly, keeping it short and simple (The KISS principle of the BPO) will help readers understand what to look out for and where to go in case they are planning. Thirdly, I honestly want you to be a part of my experience and memories. So breaking up the long post.
2015 was a year full of bad experiences. Right from the day one of the new year, one bad experience followed the other culminating in two major incidents that rocked my life.
The first shock came on 30th March 2015, when I lost my dad to prolonged illness. With this, I lost one of my biggest support. The person who had taught me to follow my dreams at any cost was no more.
The recovery from this shock was under way when on 10th June 2015, life took another turn for the worse. My mom, who was in a terrible shock after my dads death was hospitalised on 4th June due to high sugar and resulting complications. Unfortunately, she never made it back home and passed away on 10th June 2015.
These twin shocks left me vulnerable. I was in acute depression and pain. The results were immediately visible. I became a recluse, work suffered badly and it was a pretty tense situation where on one hand I was struggling to stay afloat and on the other hand risked being jobless because I was unable to concentrate on work.
But luckily, help was on the way. Right from the managers at work to my friends, they all backed me up and aided the healing process. Regular talks with colleagues and friends helped ease the pain a bit. It was during one such talks the idea of staying away from the city for a while was suggested. Though, initially rejected by me, I began thinking more on this idea as time passed by.
For those working in a BPO, the month of December is always the busiest. With the Christmas season and the upcoming new year after that, there are plenty of people who are on leaves. So its common for the leave requests of people who have taken holidays previously getting rejected. And that year, I was on leave for almost 4 months due to various issues. Without much hope of getting leaves, I applied for it in November and started planning for a mini vacation.
I always like to plan my trip because I just hate the uncertainties of an unplanned trip. Since it was a short vacation, the location had to be nearby and at the same it had to clear my mind. One of my colleagues, who was a native of Kolhapur, suggested that I visit the city. Now I always wanted to visit the temple and when she suggested strongly, I started searching for details on the internet. And I was pretty impressed with what I saw. The place was chosen and now the fingers were crossed for the leaves to be approved.
The December roster came as a relief as my 5 day leave was approved. 29th December to 2nd January. It was time to plan the journey. With help from Cleartrip and IRCTC, tickets were booked and I was ready for my first solo trip to the city of the goddess of wealth – Kolhapur.
29th December 2015 Mumbai CST, 8:23 pm – Abroad Mumbai Kolhapur Mahalaxmi Express.
Finally the D-day arrived. I left home from Bhandup to Mumbai CST. The train in question was 17411 down Mumbai Kolhapur Mahalaxmi express, which would depart from Mumbai CST at 8.23 pm and reach Kolhapur at 7.20 am the next day.
For me, travelling by train was always the first priority. May be because my dad was in the railways and I had spent most of my life travelling by train. The Mahalaxmi Express was chosen because of its timings. Since it would drop me early in the morning, I did not have to spend my time waiting at the train station. Also, this was convenient as I was travelling to a new city and did not know anything about the place before hand other than what I had read online. Travelling by road was out of question because of the costs and time involved.
If you are travelling to a new place alone, then plan your trip in way that you reach your destination in the morning. This will ensure that you’ve enough time on hand to make arrangements for your stay and sight seeing. This would also help in planning for contingencies, should they arise, which is difficult if you reach your destination at night time.
Since it was night time, there was nothing much to do. So after sometime, I went off to sleep. Sleep was hard to come though, partly due to the excitement and partly because of the December cold. In my excitement, I forgot to carry a blanket. This meant that I was kept awake due to the cold winds blowing outside. Not a happy moment any way.
Kolhapur Railway Station and the biting cold.
The train dropped me at Kolhapur right on time and the first thing that I did was to find myself a tea shop to warm myself up. One of the adventures of being in a new city altogether is that you do not know what to expect. The city is nestled between the ghats on the one end and the lush Konkan region on the other. The winter temperature can fall up to 10 deg C. On that particular day, morning temperature was 15 deg C. I was not carrying warm clothes and was shivering like hell. Luckily I found a local tea shop and over a cup of hot tea, enquired about my hotel. I was happy to know that the hotel was just at 10 mins walking distance from the station.
Check in at Hotel Atria
If you are a traveler, you would agree with the fact that your entire travelling experience depends on your accommodation. A well chosen accommodation can make your trip memorable and if your choice of stay is not good, then it ruins your entire travelling experience goes for a toss.
So my plans for this trip started with a research about the staying options. There were two things that I had in mind while selecting the hotel.
- Easy access to the location that I planned to visit.
A thorough research on all the major travel sites gave me some interesting options. Finally, I zeroed in on an offer by MakeMyTrip,com. This was hotel Atria which took care of both the budget (Rs 1200 /- per day for non ac room) and the location (as it was located at a walkable distance from the railway station and was close to the bus station from where I could plan my onward trip to all the destinations that I planned to cover.
A budget hotel with a pleasant and courteous staff. This was Hotel Atria in short. Located just 10 mins away from the Railway Station and 10 mins away from the Central Bus Stand (CBS), this hotel was centrally located and had easy access to all the major tourist destinations. Clean rooms with 24/7 hot water and free WiFi, coffee machines, complimentary breakfast (lunch and dinner not included), 24/7 helpdesk, a bar and a terrace garden, made this hotel attractive for first time budget backpackers like me.
I had booked this hotel through MakeMyTrip and had got a cheap deal. Check in was smooth and quick. After a hot water bath and a power nap, it was time for breakfast. Breakfast was yummy and there were many choices, right from poha to dosas. After having breakfast, it was time to proceed to my first destination of the trip – the Mahalaxmi Temple.
Do a thorough research before booking hotel rooms.
Some important factors to look for are budget, travelling time to the tourist spot from the hotel, availability of medical help in case of emergencies and a help desk that is available in times of need.
There are many travel apps available. I got a cheap deal from MakeMyTrip. So make sure you compare prices from major sites and then make a decision.
And the important piece of advice:- Make sure that you confirm your reservations at the hotel at least a week in advance before leaving for the trip. This is particularly important if you have booked your hotel through the online sites. Sometimes the bookings data from the online site does not reach the hotels or reaches them very late. In such cases, it becomes extremely difficult for the staff to make alternate arrangements. (One of my fellow guests had this issue at Atria and had to wait for an hour at the reception). Let them know a week in advance about your bookings so that they can plan for any contingencies and you are not inconvenienced at the last moment.
Mahalaxmi Temple – Kolhapur
Mahalaxmi temple (Ambabai temple) is just 20 mins away from Kolhapur Railway station and 30 mins away from Hotel Atria. A ride by the rickshaw will drop you at the main gate. Photography inside the premises is permitted, but no photography is allowed inside the temple.
The Main Temple Complex (Source)
Temple of the goddess Ambabai was built during Chalukya reign. Mounted on a stone platform, the murti of the crowned goddess is made of gemstone and weighs about 40 kilograms. The image of Mahalakshmi carved in black stone is 3 feet in height. The Shri Yantra is carved on one of the walls in the temple. A stone lion (the vahana of the goddess), stands behind the statue. The crown contains an image of the Sheshnag, the serpent of Vishnu.
In her four hands, the deity of Mahalakshmi holds objects of symbolic value. The lower right hand holds a mhalunga (a citrus fruit), in the upper right, a large mace (kaumodaki) the mace of Vishnu with its head touching the ground, in the upper left a shield and in the lower left, a bowl (panpatra). Unlike most Hindu sacred images, which face north or east, the deity faces West (Pashchim). There is a small open window on the western wall, through which the light of the setting sun falls on the face of the image for three days around the 21st of each March and September.
There are a number of other shrines in the courtyard to the Navagrahas, Surya, Mahishasuramardini, Vitthal-Rakhmai, Shiva, Vishnu, Tulja Bhavani and others. Some of these images date back to the 11th century, while some are of recent origin. Also located in the courtyard is the temple tank “Manikarnika Kund”, on whose bank is a shrine to Visweshwar Mahadev.
Depending on the time of your visit, the entire visit can take up to 20 mins to an hour to complete. You enter from one end and exit from the other covering all the shrines on the way. The entire place is lit by artificial lights as there are no windows for natural light to enter.
The temple is constructed in such a way that the light of the setting sun falls on the feet of the statue of the goddess three days in a row. This happens twice in a year making us appreciate the engineering marvel that this temple is. This is celebrated as the Kiranotsav – or the festival of Lights
- 31 January & 9 November: Sun rays fall directly on the feet of the deity.
- 1 February & 10 November: Sun rays fall directly on the chest of the deity.
- 2 February & 11 November: Sun rays fall directly on the entire body of the deity.
There’s a very interesting legend about why Goddess Mahalaxmi came to earth and made Kolhapur her abode.
God Vishnu had borrowed heavily from Kubera, the God of wealth for the marriage, with a promise that the entire loan with interest will be paid off by the end of Kaliyuga. He came down to earth and made Tirupati his abode. He made a promise to his devotees that who ever makes an offering at the temple will never be sent empty handed. So whenever an offering is made at the Tirupati temple, we are helping Lord Vishnu clear off his debt.
Being a dutiful wife, Goddess Mahalaxmi also followed her husband and settled down in Kolhapur. She is waiting for her husband to return. This is the reason that a visit to Shri Balaji temple at Tirupati is considered incomplete without visiting the Ambabai temple at Kolhapur.
After completing my darshan at the temple, it was time to move on to my next destination in the list… The Panhala Fort. But more of it in the second part of this trip diary. Please leave your comments and feedback. See you soon with the second part of this memoir.