Pandav Leni Caves
A small detour to Pandav Leni Caves after we visited Panchavati was also on the cards and so we hired an auto rickshaw to reach there. All the way there the feisty driver sang songs of popular Hindi tracks, old and new, one after the other, as if he had someone to see urgently, a girlfriend without a doubt, after dropping us on the Nashik-Bombay highway. We were so thoroughly entertained inside its cabin, all for free!
“Mero peeko pawan, iss gali le chali,
Koi roko meri zindagi le chali…
Mujhse roothi kaheen aur yeh zur gayi,
Zingadi ajnabi raasta murh gayi…
Ek umeed thi aakhri le chali…
mere peeko… “
I remembered a song and somehow managed to sing it despite my grim and constricted feelings – which were a direct result of my falling in love with a girl in the wintry valleys of the ancient temple town of Tryambakeshwar; it was a delightful Timmy Thomas song.
“… and I was dying inside to hold you
I couldn’t believe what I felt for you
Dying inside… I was dying inside
But I couldn’t bring myself to touch you… “
Pandav Leni like the nearby temple Raam Kund located in the town of Panchavati is a place soaked in mythological history. This is the place where Pancha Pandavas visited and rested during their journey to their banvaas (exile) of 14 years. It is believed that Lakshmana, devoted brother of the great Bhagwan Ram, cut the nose of poor Surpanaka (sister of the demon-king Ravana) in the vicinity of Panchavati.
Pandav Leni is actually a collection of caves of Buddhist origin, similar to the ones you will find at the famous Ellora Caves located a few kilometers away from Aurangabad city. It houses the great statues of Jain Tirthankaras, Pandavas, and other great Buddhist saints and is situated atop a steep mountain. We were told that we can view the Sunset from up here, and sure enough the view of the setting Sun from that vantage point was simply SPECTACULAR! A deeply enhancing experience it was. Something very rarely do we come to behold such a great view of the setting sun! Ethereally romantic! An opportunity that comes by only once. We enjoyed ourselves there on the Pandav Leni mountain looking at the distant Sun setting little by little at the crimson horizon; we clicked many pictures of ourselves with the Sun shining like a big orange halo sparkling above our heads.
“You’ll remember me when the west wind moves
Upon the fields of barley
You’ll forget the sun in his jealous sky
As we walk in the fields of gold…
As we walk in the fields of gold… “
Eyes refused to close for the night even as we got tired and hardly had any stamina left in us. Strong, Sati and Arindya, all three of the travelling musketeers remained awake like owls very late into the night. The bus they were traveling in careened through the countryside, rushing speedily through the meadows and the valleys back towards the city-unforgettable Nashik.
After snugly seated inside the moving bus, Strong was perhaps thinking about the next leg of the journey to the land of Shirdi Sai Baba and where to get budget hotels. Sati was a keen eater and was probably assessing about “where to have dinner” and “what to have for dinner” in Shirdi (to which Arindya added jokingly: “how much to have for dinner!!!”), and Arindya was looking out of the window lost in his somber thoughts, knowing full well that Strong will take care of their Hotel bookings and Sati (our very own Kumbhakaran!) their dinner feasts – of course, lest you forget his “filter kaapi“. All’s well that’s end well, but the loss of the Lotus-Eyed girl was obviously hard done on Arindya’s soul. He could not dig out of his grave situation. Strong enticed him to a strong brew of Tea, his favourite, but to no avail. By late evening we reached Shirdi and we booked a double room with an extra bed arranged in it. After taking shower we got dressed and were ready for dinner, and Sati naturally was so excited about it! The open balcony of the off-white room we stayed in was the nicest, surprising attraction. It allowed us to a direct view to an almost lucent Moon of the night which was perched at far end of our Hotel’s lively bylane. No wonder, that night we slept like dead logs of wood.
(Thank God, that night the inexcusable snoring that wafted away from Sati’s upended nostrils (a Hogwarts Express by all means) was not loud enough to crank us out from our deep slumber!)
Shirdi is a holy place, forever brimming with visitors, tourists, pilgrims and people from different walks of life. Our budget hotel was located diagonally opposite to the main shrine in one of the well lit bylanes of the bustling market. We chose this hotel on purpose because not only the room afforded us a convenient location but also people coming and going and conducting themselves to their puja-aarti sessions in the temple courtyard would be good fun to watch. With eyes wide with wonder we calmly watched the goings on.
We lived in Shirdi (like kings! Long live the kings!!!) for two wonderful days and two tender nights and not for a moment did we feel anything uncomfortable about our stay there. Part of the reason we were unconcerned because we were too enthusiastic a bunch of wide-eyed tourists to mind unwanted stuff like jammed lock on the bathroom door, frayed mattresses, flat pillows, a surplus broom parked at the far corner of the room, or a burned plastic astray (despite being a no-smoking room!). It was a budget hotel after all so why care so much and get needlessly finicky. Besides, it was enormously fascinating to be sitting in the open balcony with a glass of scalding hot coffee in hand, sipping away slowly and watching people going about their business down just one floor below. The sights and sounds of it all were simply amazing to say the least.
The temple of Shirdi Sai Baba is characteristic of any important Hindu temple, with an assortment of long courtyards and several small shrines situated within its high-walled estate. Long queues are a given there. We stood in the queue which, I am sure, was no less than a 2-mile long one. One cannot see the famous ‘bada line’ (long queue) from outside anywhere; in fact, once you go inside the building only then will you find that there are several partitions pitched across the length and breadth of the room. I thought the waiting line of people looked like as if a big coiling serpent has been slung on the floor and is moving slowly!
Getting closer to see the life-size sculpture of Sai Baba is a tough task in itself, I mean you got to be kidding me when once you are inside you just cannot leave but have to stand in the queue (longest one I have ever seen in my life and yes Tirupati is still the ‘big brother’ of such a thing though) and walk through several well-ventilated scaffoldings and buildings specially meant for all queued-up devotees standing and waiting there. But, trust me, never mind the long queue, it will gradually become an enjoyable experience for you there, moving ever so slowly from one huge room to another in one single file, and then finally getting rewarded with the glimpse of the Holy Sai Baba; nothing matches that feeling. It feels like a hard-earned reward. For us it was all well worth it. We found kids (of all sizes) enjoying themselves in the general cacophony of people engaged in endless conversations, chatting, laughing, and smiling all around – a heartwarming scene that will meet your instant appreciation. A nonstop, but a pleasant din of commotion echoes at all times in the buildings; even the temple courtyards, passageways, just about everywhere is teeming with people and more people. Strong, Sati and Arindya loved the experience of it in Shirdi.
Leaving Shirdi and Coming Home
It was evening again in Shirdi and when all the pre-booked seats in the bus were taken, we were set to roll at 6pm. That’s one of the best things you can get from a good private tour operator – right on dot. Our bus trudged along the countryside of Shirdi and then back to the City of Pearls in a super luxury Volvo-like tourist bus.
I’ll never forget the day of our journey back home from Shirdi. It was perhaps the saddest day that one can manage to live through when one becomes conscious of the fact that life is not going to be the same again, ever again. Arindya’s was not really a justification of a simple love story. Far from it. If it were so then think about his fate of not being a part of a different world, a different history that could have been made, a different life altogether. It was, let’s say, a complex outcome of a lost opportunity.
I’ll never forget her smile. The smile that had the magical power to course through every molecule of my living being, swarming me up with its warm persuasive power of love; it tapped my soul in a way that stroked my senses into full attention and brought up an answering smile on my normally abstemious face in response to hers. No wonder my heart leapt up in sheer delight. And as we continued to secretly smile at each other and moved about in the general milieu of the devotees milling around us, we reckoned an inescapable gut feeling that Time and the physical distance will make us part now, and at long last we are going to be separated and possibly never see again.
Before long we came round the main temple, a realization came upon us that we are not strangers anymore; we sure had felt an instant – shall we say – heart-connect. We never saw each other before… , and even after all these years I still remember the extraordinary feeling of Love which was so intensely abreast in our hearts.
She also perhaps knew that there was no way we could possibly do anything about it, but in some way continue to live our lives without each other.
She is from some place I knew not where, and I from elsewhere she knew not where. What name could I give to a non-existing relationship like this? If Love is the treasure of heart then those few impeccable moments warrants some kind of longevity for Arindya’s life to sustain and hers as well. How do I explain to you that today when I think about that fateful day when our eyes locked in deep embrace… ? It often brings silent tears of longing. Only sweet little memories are all that is left there for me now. Her fair face is etched in my mind’s eye and her smile in my heart. It’s hard to believe that those younger days of great joy have all disappeared and gone. And ever since she’s become an inscrutable memory, sweetened by the passage of Time, one from the times past.
Nice Guys Finish Last
I have finally known the meaning of the small albeit now familiar word called ‘change’ that I was trying to fathom ever since it brought forth something along with it heaving within me in sheer expectation and delight. Quiet happenings that I have witnessed changed me as a person and my life forever.
Admittedly, I could not even have had the bare process of my own imagination within my head placed well. The sudden occurrences of Change and Love brought about a sweet upheaval: an intoxicating feeling of falling in love. It warmed the cockles of my heart and altering the course of my life in the bargain. Her memory has become associated with the enduring legacy of love that, I believe, we read about in the books or often times hear from near and dear.
It seems I have been given this journey only for the sake of remembering it and get nostalgic about it in the company of my friends and loved ones. To be able to think back such an incident that occurred in my earlier life is in itself a precious thing to do. Any delinquent urge to alter my destiny or fate shall straightaway make me be liable to an untold misery of consequences-deluge to deal with. I thought long and hard about it, but had to keep quiet and not make a sound. Nice guys finish last and go home empty-handed.
The heart knows its secrets, and I know I’ll never be able to erase her memory away even if it becomes in some way necessary for me to do so later on in my life. For what purpose does one live his/her life? Only to be able to go ultimately seek his/her future or whatever is in store for him/her. Take a degree, get a job, get married, and as they say: settle down is the standard mode of life. Perhaps, that is what I am possibly destined to do, never mind how heartbreakingly miserable, materialistic and selfish, it sounds. I blame it on the Gods and the jealous skies above for all the impediments I’ve faced. Trust me the world has never been a better place to live in, for me at least. Life is anyway such a freak show.
It’s like an either-or situation – either I just disregard my predicament, rebel, and go back looking for her and get to be a hero, or I forgive myself and surrender my dreams forever to the heartless anonymity of the Universe and its supposedly ‘larger scheme of things’ mystery.
And as the Sun goes down on me, I graciously raise my head to the skies and say – take me with you if you will, my lord.
End of Part 2. Concluded.
Songs – Credits & Courtesies:
1. “I swear to you… ” (a Bryan Adams song)
2. “Dil ke aasman pe gam ki ghata chayee… ” (a Hindi film song from the movie Romance)
3. “Oh figure about those younger years… ” (a Bryan Adams song)
4. “Mero peeko pawan… ” (a Hindi film song from the movie Ghulami)
5. “You’ll remember me when the west wind moves… ” (a song from the album Sting – ‘Fields of Gold’)