In the Airport Island – Agatti ;-)

18.01.2017:

Relieved of the stress and strain of the journey after a good sleep, I woke up to walk around the island to join my people who are out there to explore more of Agatti. Walking through Agatti Island, I get through the narrow, paver-blocked streets, small schools, large mosques and of course the beautiful beaches. Almost all the produce consumed on these islands is flown in from Kerala. Coconuts are plentiful, but almost all other veggies are flown in, just like the tourists for whom they are brought. The beach is full of activity with women bringing their children for a play and youngsters playing beach football. Time flowed gently, as if the rest of the world didn’t exist.

I couldn’t find Imran or aunty anywhere in my quest along the beach and so I sat at one of the shacks munching a samosa. I couldn’t see much of tourists here and as I read somewhere before coming to these islands, Lakshadweep follows a low-impact model of tourism which wasย calibrated not just to the local ecology but also to human life upon the islands. 99% of the population follows Islam and their social relations are still conservative. ย People either work for the government or go for fishing and this suffice their needs. I felt so like an outsider crashing a family reunion as I could see that I am the only tourist among them standing like an odd man out ๐Ÿ˜ฆ

No main lander can buy land here and the shipments of food and fuel that wend their way to these islands are heavily subsidized. To my surprise, I came to know from Jaleel that the entire power supply to the islanders is based on diesel generators! Powder white sand cocooned by calm, azure waters, postcard scenery, no hordes of tourists, sleepy fishing villages nestled among the coconut trees – Lakshadweep is one of India’s best kept secrets!! My eyes ain’t getting enough even after spending so much time along the coasts, beaches and in the lagoons. It’s such a pure bliss! ๐Ÿ™‚ ๐Ÿ™‚

Not able to find any one of my gang, I returned back to our room and started watching TV when our people came and took me for dinner. The dinner was simple; we ordered a couple of dosas while Imran had Malabar Parota which is a local delicacy. We cycled back to our room to grab some more sleep as I have to fly back to Cochin the next day!

19.01.2017:

We were up at 04.30 hrs to witness the sunrise in this beautiful island. We started walking towards the eastern jetty from where we can get a good glimpse of the rising sun. By the time we reached the jetty, a cargo vessel is offloading it’s cargo and few islanders getting their fishing equipment ready for an early morning catch! Slowly the sun was above the horizon and it was such a mesmerizing sight with the orange colored sun in the background and the dancing dolphins in the blue waters in the foreground! The experience is beyond description!

Just near the shore, we could see wide varieties of brightly colored fishes hovering around the shallow waters. Turtles were swimming lazily along looking for food or sunbathing at the surface while the islanders were trying their luck at catching the other edible fishes for their meal! I asked Jaleel how would a standard meal at home like and the answer came instantly as “Tuna fish curry” ๐Ÿ™‚ย The secluded beaches with swaying palm trees, the unending rhythmic dance of waves playfully teasing the silken sands, the sun and clouds creating magical light shows in the skies, transports us to a transcendent state where there is only bliss and ecstasy.

Though I wanted to try my hand at fishing, I was not able to do so as no one was ready to lend their fishing rod to me ๐Ÿ˜ฆย  If not this time, might be the next time ๐Ÿ˜‰ We returned back around 07.00 hrs as I have to leave to the airport early!ย For people like me who are looking for an amazing exotic travel experience in a budget and a destination brimming with natural beauty, untouched by human activities and far away from crow, Lakshadweep is the right spot! ๐Ÿ™‚ ๐Ÿ™‚

Hope you all would also be visiting these beautiful islands so soon ๐Ÿ™‚

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At the feet of Shri Shirdi Sai Baba..

14.11.2016:

03.45 hrs – Our bus reached one of the famous shrines in India, Shirdi. Many a people from Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra and Gujarat visit this shrine every year to offer their prayers and my mom so wanted us to visit this temple from a long time. Though this was not a part of my plan at first, Mythri told me that we can visit the temple and I readily agreed. I don’t know how it happened, but everything came to us ย like a miracle. Firstly, we didn’t know that we will make it to this sacred place. Secondly, the bus reached so early leaving us with a chance to attend the aarti and thirdly, it so happened that today i.e. 14.11.2016 is a full moon day of the ‘Karthika’ month, which is considered to be one of the most auspicious months according to the Hindu tradition.

03.50 hrs – We started looking for an auto-rickshaw to our resort and one needs to bargain hard with these auto-walas, otherwise you will be on the verge of getting looted. Though we bargained hard, as it was the wee hours and there were not many autos around, we paid him a hundred rupees to drop us at our resort and asked him to wait for few minutes so that we can reach the temple in the same auto and thank God, he agreed.

04.05 hrs – Checked-in to the hotel and quickly refreshed ourselves and made a move. The whole idea is to attend the aarti. Aarti is an ancient yet living ritual that takes place every day across India. We left our mobiles back in our rooms as mobiles were not allowed inside the temple complex. Though there were cloak rooms there to safe keep our belongings, we don’t wanted to waste our time there. 04.30 hrs – Started back to the temple and it was so cool early morning. When the driver dropped us at the entrance of the temple, we started running so that we could be among the first people who can get a chance to see the aarti. But we were late by few minutes and we had to stop in the ground floor and watch the aarti in the LCDs that were arranged there ๐Ÿ˜ฆ

Aarti (aa meas ‘complete’ and rati means ‘love’) is part of a Hindu puja or act of religious worship and is always performed facing the deity. Integral to any aarti puja is the circulation of the lamp around the deity, which acquires the deity’s power. The priest then offers the lamp to the devotees, passing on the deity’s blessing. In the temples of South India, the lamp may use camphor or oil, and it is then presented to the devotees, who hold their hands over the flame and touch their hands to their eyes. The simple gesture signifies a desire for spiritual insight: “May my eyes be opened up to the knowledge of the unity of life.” And the temple icons are often wrapped in silk fabric and beautified with ornaments – these offerings are another way of enhancing the relationship with the Divine, and is part of the ritual of temple worship.

The aarti is performed at Shri Sai Baba’s Mandir, which is the place where his body is resting in Samadhi.ย We moved towards the deity when once the aarti was completed and we had a good darshan (sighting) of the Lord Shri Shirdi Sai Baba. The Samadhi (resting place) is constructed of marble stones and the railings around it are of ornamental decorations. The unique feature of this temple is that it is visited both by Muslims and the Hindus equally and the Muslims offer Chaddars (Shawls) to drape the Samadhi. The idol present here is made up of Italian marble and is life size.

Shirdi Sai Baba is a guru of the Nath tradition, a tradition formulated by Lord Dattatreya based on the instructions of Lord Krishna. The text Sripada Srivallabha Charithamrutham mentions the saint Sripada, incarnation of Lord Dattatreya, calling upon Hanumanji to take birth as Shirdi Sai Baba.ย The distinct feature of the Navanath tradition is the absence of formal procedures or teachings; everything happens in the presence of the guru. Proximity to the guru is paramount; by just being present in his energy field, one gets cleansed and liberated.

Considered to be one of the greatest gurus, it is told that Shirdi Sai Baba often asked for the two coins of shraddha (devotion) and saboori (patience) from those who came to him. The path may sound simple but it is difficult in practice โ€“ since even a speck of ego or doership is unacceptable. Had our darshan and gone around the temple complex to see the other important features of it. Dwarakamai, which was an old mosque and Lord Sai turned it into Dwarakamai is situated on the right side of the entrance and has two levels. The importance of this is that it hosts all the things once used by Shri Sai Baba and the legend is that this is the very place where Sai has proved that God is one – Sabka Malik Ek Hai!

They gave prasad (sugar coated boondi) and we were out of the temple by 06.00 hrs ๐Ÿ™‚ . For me, this trip would always remain a miracle, as everything was so hassle-free and smooth ๐Ÿ™‚ ๐Ÿ™‚

Seeking Divinity.. Being Secular..

12.11.2016:

The plan is to wake up at 5.30 hrs and start at 06.30 hrs, but as usual we were late ๐Ÿ˜ฆ It was only at 06.30 hrs we were up and only at 07.30 hrs we started. We decided to visit theย Siddhi Vinayak Temple which is quite famous as almost all the rich and famous, poor and needy, actors, politicians equally visit this temple. The only hope was that it won’t be too much crowded as it is a weekend!

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08.00 hrs – We are here! The temple has a tight security system and didn’t allow me to carry my camera and asked me to deposit it in a locker. Careful with these locker people, as they won’t care about the stuff. After depositing the camera, we made a move toward the inner sanctum to seek the blessings of one of the most powerful deities according to the Hindu tradition. As hoped, there wasn’t a big crowd, but it was decent. We stood in the queue and it took us around 10 mins to reach the main deity Lord Ganesha ๐Ÿ™‚ . The central idol in the temple is of Lord Ganesha and the inner roof of the sanctum is plated with gold. There is also Lord Hanuman in the temple complex.

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08.30 hrs – Breakfast time! For a change, we wanted to have our breakfast at one of the carts on the pavement. While Ryan ordered for a Masala Dosa, Mythri opted for Idli and I chose Misal Pav ๐Ÿ™‚ .Misal Pav is one of the traditional Maharashtrian dish and also a popular Mumbai street food! This dish is almost same as that of Pav Bhaji, except that Misal is a thick spicy gravy made with mixed sprouts or moth beans. It is said to have different variants like the Puneri Misal, Kolhapuri Misal, Nagpur Misal etc. My Misal is garnished with mix farsan and served hot. The food here tasted as good as that of a good restaurant. The idlis were served hot and the masala dosa ordered by Ryan is soft, crisp and yum ๐Ÿ™‚

09.00 hrs – Time for some juice too! We quickly had our juices from a outlet just beside the Ganesh temple and looked out for a Kaala Billi to continue our religious quest. It was in this car, an interesting thing unfolded. While we told our driver to drop us at the famous Haji Ali Dargah, the guy who is a muslim asked us whether we have visited the Mahalakshmi temple and we told him that we will do that after we are done with the Dargah. And further he was like how come you are visiting the dargah first and the temple next? Do visit the temple first as she is your deity and then visit the dargah. A perfect scenario of religious tolerance. Where else other than India can this be found?

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09.20 hrs – We were dropped at the famous Mahalakshmi temple on the Bhulabhai Desai Road. History says that the temple was built around 1831 and the main goddesses in the temple are the Goddesses Mahakali, Mahalakshmi and MahaSaraswati. There weren’t so many people and we had a quick darshan and headed towards the backside of the temple from where we can watch the Arabian sea as well as the Haji Ali Shah Dargah. On our way back to the road, we also visited a small old temple dedicated to Lord Shiva and the smaller Mahalakshmi temple.

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09.45 hrs – We started walking towards the Dargah as it is located just beside the temple. The mosque seems to be floating in the sea and is visited by people of all religions alike. What makes this a unique landmark in Mumbai is the pathway leading to the dargah from the main road and it is said that during the full moon and new moon days when the sea would be rough, this pathway would be covered by the sea water and it almost looks like the Dargah is inaccessible. History says that the Dargah was built in 1431 AD.ย Haji Ali Dargah has the tomb of the Muslim Saint Pir Haji Ali Shah Bukhari and also a Masjid (Mosque).

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There were lots of stalls selling the chaddars (shawls), flowers and food along the pathway and lot of photographers who could give an instant Polaroid photograph of yours with the dargah near the dargah. As we entered the complex, while Ryan and I were permitted to visit the tomb, Mythri was stopped as she was wearing a sleeveless frock! The person sitting there handed over her two shawls to cover her head and legs and I too was given one to cover my head ๐Ÿ™‚ .

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The Haji Ali Dargah is made of marble and the architecture of this monument reflects the styles and patterns of Mughal and Indo-Islamic architecture. It is said to occupy 4,500 sq. meters space and is 85 feet tall. A marble courtyard with the central shrine, and the main mosque brocaded with a red and green sheet welcomes us! Artistic marble pillars, mirror work with kaleidoscopic patterns and minarets sentinel the shrine in the center, making the monument a grand sight for all. We prayed for a while and made a move out of it to continue our quest ๐Ÿ™‚