Where next? …The Ramayana Trail at Panchvati, Nasik
It is better to make plans to local places that work rather than grand plans to exotic places that don’t work.
With that as the motto for a long weekend, we embarked upon zeroing on a place at drivable distance from Mumbai that wouldn’t have us paying an arm or a leg or at least a very fat undeserved amount!
We zeroed in on the not-so-sleepy city of Nasik at an easy driving distance from Mumbai to be our first quick vacation distance. Nasik is a city at about a 4 hour fabulous drive from Mumbai.
My memories of Nasik from the days bygone, was a place I had visited before I got married to ward off the evil eye and basically indulge my parents in eliminating the evil ‘Kal Sarpa dosh’…some terrible planetary alignment that would have made my marriage prospects really bad! And all the evilness foretold could be done away with a mere Pooja at the holy city of Nasik at the ancient temple of Trimbakeshwar. That simple! Well, if it were not for superstitions, I guess, half the religious tourism wouldn’t be what it is today!
Religious tourism aside, Nasik has a lot to offer in terms of non-religious place to see as well, and one can easily spend 2-3 days exploring the city.
Fun facts about Nasik –
- Nasik has one of twelve Jyotirlingas at the famous temple of Trimbakakeshwar – A Jyotirlinga is considered to be a manifestation of Lord Shiva. It is believed that the Jyotirlingas are columns of fire piercing through the earth.
- Nasik is the largest wine producing district in India with the most well-known Indian brand Sula. Also home to winefests such as the SulaFest during harvest season
- The Currency note press and the India security press are located at Nasik to print Indian currency notes and government stamp paper
- Houses a unique Coin museum
- Is one of the four destinations in India that hosts the largest peaceful religious congregation globally – the Kumbha Mela
- Panchavati in Nasik is the setting of one of the most loved epics in India – the Ramayana
- The father of Indian Cinema – Dadasaheb Phalke was from Nasik. You can visit a memorial in his name here
Religion/Mythological sites –
The Kumbh Mela
Legend has it that the nectar from the famous churning of the ocean by the Devas and Asuras had fallen in four of the places, where the Kumbh mela is held today. These include Ujjain, Allahabad, Haridwar and Nasik. The Kumbh mela is touted to be the largest congregation of religious pilgrims in the world and has put Nasik on the global map for religious travel. The city is replete with temples, some really ancient, some less so and some really quite new to fool gullible tourists into parting with their money under the guise of religion.
In addition to the Kumbh Mela, Nasik is where the most important parts in the Ramayana played out. Panchavati and Tapovan where the trio of Rama, Sita and Lakshman had made their home is a part of Nasik. Earlier the picturesque forest, Panchavati is now alas, yet another urban jungle. In Panchavati, there is an entire Ramayan trail which traces the ‘Aranya Kanda’ (Book of Forest) from the Ramayan. On the trail, you can find out where Lord Rama, Sita, Lakshmana had stayed while at Panchavati, the location of the infamous cutting off of Surpankha’s nose, where the ‘Lakshman Rekha’ had been etched by Lakshman and where Sita was carried off by the evil Ravana. You can also see the banyan trees which give the forest its name of being the forest of the Panch or Five Vata (Banyan) trees. Another spiritually significant place is the Ramkund, which is a holy tank where Lord Ram and Sita used to take a bath during their exile. This is a place where ashes of the deceased are immersed to help them achieve liberation. However, I would take most of these supposed spots with a pinch of salt or kumkum or whatever! Apart from a few, many of these seem to have cropped up as modern structures in a concerted effort by all the tourist stakeholders in Nasik to add to some spots worth viewing. Of all the places on the Ramayan trail, I frankly liked only the spot on the banks of the Godavari below. Who’s to say it is real or not. But I don’t think the GPS really existed at the time, for us to be able to drop pins on where exactly these purported spots are.
A warning to those uninitiated into the religious travel – Most ancient temples in India are super crowded – probably seem to be more real than the modern ones. The temples of Trimbakeshwar, Someshwar, the Sita Gupha (cave) are ridiculously crowded with throngs of devotees lining up for an exalted ‘darshan’ or viewing of the Lords for ‘blink and miss’ facetime lasting roughly between 2 seconds and 10 seconds depending on how strong you can be to resist the pushes when you least expect them. So for a 2 second darshan you can expect to be in the queue for 2 hours and yet be contented after the darshan. You can also try paying your way (Rs 200 per person at Trimbakeshwar) into an express queue that will still take you 1.5 hours for the darshan. Thankfully, there are plenty of people manning all the queues and with the numerous barricades there is little possibility of breaking the queue and starting arguments.
Trymbakeshwar Temple (Wikimedia commons)
Popular religious places at Nasik are the
- Trimbakeshwar temple where the river Godavari originates. This temple is one of the 12 Jyotirlings in India
- Kalaram temple at Panchvati,
- Someshwar temple
- Muktidham temple
- Sundarnarayan temple
- Kapileshwar temples
- Sita Gumpha at Panchvati
A point to be noted is that most of these religious places do not allow photography, so whatever pictures I have are from wikimedia commons.
Nasik is now purported to be the wine capital of India. One of the warmest regions in the world to create wines, Nasik offers in India what Napa offers in the US. A wine tourist destination (if not the finest wines in the world)! As late as the 1990s an entrepreneur Rajeev Samant, set up the first vineyards in Nasik noting its conducive climate and soil. From a few acres in the 1990s the Sula vineyards are now a whopping 1900 acres of land and one of the biggest wineries and brand of Indian wines. The Sula vineyards now offer wine tours, wine tasting and a snazzy resort with lively restaurants. Expect hordes of tourists on all weekends!
The Coin Museum – The Coin museum set up in 1980 is a vast collection of coins tracing India’s evolution and history through the ages through its various currencies, dynasties and rulers.
The Pandavleni caves – These 2000 year old caves are a group of 24 buddhist caves built atop a hill. You need to climb about 200 steps to reach the caves and also feast on picturesque vistas osf the city below. These caves may not be as grand as the Ajanta-Ellora caves at Aurangabad, but they are quite amazing to visit if you are around.
The Pandavleni caves (Wikimedia commons by Mrunal12)
There are also plenty of other places around Nasik that are picturesque to visit. Amongst these are
- The Saputara hillstation
- Dudhsagar falls
- Bhandardara hillstation
- Bird Sanctuary
All in all, a great weekend destination from Mumbai/Pune with plenty to see and do. Not much to do for kids, but well, one needs to just find a park to keep them entertained.