Of Nasik, Trayambakeshwar and Panchwati
Even before the train pulled into Nashik Road railway station, I was smitten by the landscape of this grape valley in the Sahyadri range, in North Maharashtra. Hills encircling the city looked more like mammoth Shivalingams, set against the blue sky and green vineyards!
Shivji in samadhi
It was only later I learnt that Nashik was Shiva's city indeed, with a Jyotirlinga at Trayambak, at the base of Brahmgiri hill. River Godavari, revered as Ganga of the South, also originates from this hill.
Rivers Godavari and Kapila criss-cross the land which hosts the prestigious Kumbh Mela every 12 years. The year 2015 will see the next Kumbh Mela when a sea of spiritual seekers will find their way here. Our taxi driver showed us the metal bridge over the frothing Godavari that sadhus and Naga babas use to climb to the other bank for meditation, especially during the Kumbh congregation. This holy river confluence reminds one of Himalayan rivers in a hurry. A ten year old, local boy escorting us to the confluence did not permit us to bend and touch the water for fear of us toppling into the mighty current!
Panchwati forest, several well kept bathing ghats and temples glued us to the exploratory trail here
Sita Ram's jungle stay
Panchwati forest, several well kept bathing ghats and temples glued us to an exploratory trail. Panchwati gets its fame from the Ramayan. Ram, Laxman and Sita stayed in this forest while in exile. This is where Surpnakha earned Laxman's wrath, and Ravan kidnapped Sita, according to Ramayan.
At Kale Ram's temple in the old area of the city, the pundit explained that the revered idols in black sandstone of Sri Ram, Laxman and Sita were salvaged from river Godavari. Therefore, the deities are not bathed daily for fear of eroding the non-resilient sandstone. This magnificent temple, also in black sandstone was renovated by the Peshwas a thousand years ago. Hanuman sits admiring his beloved master, in a pillared hall right across the main alter. And one can sit in his company to imbibe devotion for the Lord.
A bus ride to Trayambak 30 km away, found us in the presence of Trayambakeshwar. Even though it wasn't a Monday or a festival, there was a serpentine queue at Shivji's doorstep. Devotees had thronged the premises from near and far off places. A gathering of grass sellers, cows and bulls, outside the temple kept us happily occupied in feeding theem. Colourful stalls selling offerings of special flowers and leaves for the Lord, including lotus, bel-patra, brahma-kamal, marigold, chrysanthemum, rajnigandha and roses.
Shivji was busy accepting adulation from devotees, amidst chanting of mantras from temple priests. We were in time for the noon arti, which we saw in a periscope like mirror, as Shivji sits here below ground level. The door to the main shrine was a rich display of currency coins down the ages, nailed securely. We offered the locally available sweet, black raisins as bhog.
A sacred Amrit kund in the temple courtyard had tortoises in there, and was out of bounds except for taking water for Shivji's abhishek. But, another sacred pool at Ganga-Godavari temple was accessible for obeisance.
There's more to Nashik...
Nashik unveiled only a fraction of its abundance during this short visit. A tacit message from the landscape here says that, a lot more awaits the diligent seeker. After all, Sri Ram, Laxman and Sitaji, chose this very place to camp.
On a different note, I hear that Nashik, in North Maharashtra is equally enticing for winemakers as it is for tourists. It is India's wine-grape producing hub. From seedless table grape varieties to French and Italian wine grape varietals: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Shiraz, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Sangiovese, Nero d'avola and Grillo, among others are responding well to the climate here.
The Mumbai-Nashik highway is the other side of Nashik, poles apart from Panchwati in ambience. Its sprawling vineyards, hi-tech wineries and even a wine spa at Tiger Hills, speak of the new Nashik vis a vis the cultural hub it has been for millenai courtesy Godavari Ma, Sita Ram's stay here and the mega event every 12 years, the Kumbh mela!