Shirdi Chamatkar – Planning the visit

Planning the visit

“Forward this mail to 14 friends within 14 days and see his chamatkar, else face bad luck”.
No, I have not forwarded this mail to my friends and spammed their mailbox rather I have sent it back to the same person 14 times for wishing me GOOD (or BAD?) luck. It was a great shocker for him as I have forwarded the mail to his official mail ID. Also I have asked him if he had received all 14 mails else I promised to send this mail 14 times everyday to him. Well, not to mention that he got a shock of his lifetime and I knew for sure that he would never forward any bulk mails to me. I really didn’t know if Baba was angry with my sin so wanted to take his blessings and experience the chamatkar myself.

Our company holiday list is published at the beginning of each year. This is an indication for the employees and their managers to make their holiday plans in advance. The three days weekend in September instigated an urge to plan a small trip. This is the time when the rains will stop and we will have a beautiful weather. I searched for a weekend destination from Hyderabad that could be reached in one night by train. Shirdi scored over many other destinations as the first choice. The only close contender to this place was Tirupati and Horshley hills. However, September being a festive season (Brahmotsav starts at the same time) in Tirupati I decided in favour of Shirdi-Ajanta-Ellora-Aurangabad (later on I came to know that this year there were record pilgrimage in Tirupati during Brahmotsav in September).

As usual my planning started four months in advance by finding out the places to visit in these locations. Accordingly I booked railway tickets three months in advance, to ensure our choice of berths. This being my first travel with our one year old, I was cautious to book all lower berths.

As I began planning, my first consideration was the following constraints and risks –
1. Shirdi to Ajanta road distance is about 150 Km or more than four hours by cab. Train is available but takes a roundabout route. That would have wasted almost the whole of Saturday, increased overall ineffective travel.
2. Ajanta caves need to be visited in the morning for better photography as these caves face eastward. Ellora caves on the other hand need to be visited in the afternoon as these face west.
3. One option was to visit Ajanta first and Shirdi in the end but that was not possible as the connecting train to Jalgaon (nearest station to Ajanta) reaches the station at a very odd hour.
4. I had to include two other historical monuments – the Daulatabad fort and the Bibi-ka-Maqbara in our itinerary.
5. The time limit to cover all these was only three days.
I went back to my planning board for planning this trip and roped in all my project management skills for this.
Initially I was in a dilemma as to how to start the journey. Trains to Ajanta from Hyderabad reaches at odd hours and that automatically made the choice of visiting Shirdi first. My travel experience says Shirdi is worth one night stay. I planned for an early check out from our Shirdi hotel on Saturday. Same day I scheduled a visit to Daulatabad fort in the morning and Ellora caves in the afternoon. The Saturday night stay was booked in Ajanta and the third night was our transfer to Hyderabad by train.

The final plan looked like this –

The whole planning was completed seventy days in advance. Train tickets were already booked. Next it was time to book our hotel rooms. I booked the “Ajanta T Junction” resort through MTDC website. Thanks to internet the whole world is in our bedroom now. Everything is ‘just a click’ away. Only two of these resorts that can be booked online out of the five present. If you are planning a visit you need to book well in advance for confirmation. There are three resorts available to site people but it depends on the rush and your luck.

Initially, I wanted to stay in Shirdi temple and intentionally did not book any hotel there. The Sai Baba Sansthan has confirmed that booking can be made only after visiting Shirdi. This was only gap that was itching me constantly until I tried to gather more information from other sources. I realized that one needs to have recommendation from some VIPs to stay in the temple.
Unfortunately, I had only 10 days then.
Without any delay, I booked a serviced apartment in Shirdi for one night. We thought that at least we could cook something on our own there, as the food is very costly at Shirdi.

Jayeeta (my wife) was very enthusiastic in this planning. It was three days to our travel when one night I woke up and saw Jayeeta writing something on a writing pad. It was real surprising. I looked at my watch, it was 2 am. I asked her –
– What are you doing at this hour? My voice was shaken and broken, half asleep.
– Nothing. Making a list..
– List, shopping list? I told you I am already out of pocket.
– No. This is a list of the things to be taken to Shirdi. So that we don’t forget anything.
Oh. There was a sigh of relief in me. At last she is doing something useful. I went to sleep again.
Next morning she gave me the list.
– I told you to travel lite..
– But I can’t reduce this any further. Everything on this list is important. Please have a look.
For the first time in our five year married life I saw her doing something voluntarily and for the first time I saw such a big list for a three-day travel. Apart from clothes and other normal stuff, the list also included emergency light (proved useful in Ajanta resort at night and during Shirdi blackouts), medicine, baby diapers, toys, hand-fan (this was for baby – for Shirdi power cut), feeding bottles, flask … So far it was ok but the last entry was a big surprise.
– What is this? I shouted..
– What?
– The last entry… why do you need this? You need the ‘BABY-POTTY’ for these three days?
– Yes. Don’t you realize that he may be young but he needs to be comfortable all these days? Do you understand that his discomfort can make the whole travel a bad experience for us? After all, he is also a human being.
Not to mention, that it was the conclusion of the discussion. I realized we have a very important member with us…our one year old kid, Snehal.

The real excitement of a travel starts when you start packing the bags. As I was travelling with my mini-family I have started packing early. It was no better than shifting our house to a different city. I could not reduce the list to any significant extent and finally agreed to pack four bags for this travel. This was surely more than what was needed.

The D-Day
It was not the perfect day at all. In fact everything was in a mess. None of us was well. Jayeeta was sick, Piklu had running noses and fever and so was I. I thought of cancelling the trip once but later retracted from that decision as everything was booked. Sometimes planning ahead may really become a problem. This risk of falling sick was already in my initial planning and I was ready with all the medicines per the mitigation plan. Surely, project management helps us in every walk of life.

We started at 3:30 pm from our Kondapur home. The train was at 6 from Secundrabad but I wanted to reach the station one hour in advance. This was only to avoid last minute rush for the right compartment and the right seat.

I have booked till Manmad. My plan was to board off peacefully and to avoid all last minute rush with the luggage. We were already tired when we boarded the train and ready to sleep at the earliest. To make things worse, my son started rejecting all types of food. He didn’t drink his favourite baby-food for dinner either. Even worse, he started vomiting with the slightest glimpse of food. My trip was sure to be a bad one.

I could hardly sleep that night.
Next morning I got up early and went to brush my teeth. It was 6 am when some people were getting ready to board off the train. I met Mr. Das among them. After retirement he is now spending his time in visiting places of worship with his wife and in India there is no dearth of them.
– Where are you going? Mr. Das started the conversation in Bengali. He could understand that he has met another Bong there.
– Shirdi. Will board off at Manmad.
– Oh. We are also going there. But we’ll get down at Nagarsol. I guess that is nearest to Shirdi.
This was a surprise to me. I have done enough searching but missed this valuable information. I couldn’t believe that my internet skills were so poor. I hid the feeling to say –
– We are travelling with our kid and huge luggage. I wanted to avoid the last minute rush as the train will stop only for five minutes there.
– No problem at all. The whole train will be empty there. He said.
Now, that was surprising. I couldn’t believe that I didn’t find this information in the early stages of my planning. Obviously, it was not a huge risk as I have collected the information in time rather just-in-time. Nagrsol was 15 minutes away and we had to get ready before that. It was better to start early for Shirdi as that would avoid the heat en-route to the temple.