Darkness had descended by now. We decided to take a stroll around the temple complex before beginning our hunt for a local dining experience.
The weather this far into our trip had been nothing short of perfect. Early morning rides through the crisp, fresh and dry morning chill of the plateaus had been unexceptionally pleasant. Daylight would spread around us as if the heavenly blanket was being withdrawn tantalizingly slowly to reveal the beauty sprawled underneath. Daytime temperatures were tempered by the winter axis of earth. The clear day sky spilled into nighttime, painting a twinkling ceiling and making the evening ritual of exploring the town on either side of dinner that much more special. Lack of precipitation meant that the humidity levels were comfortably low. Tonight was no different.
The Aundha Naagnath temple.
We followed the sparse crowd into the temple complex. The token presence of state security police at the gates was not as pronounced as the ones we encountered at Pandharpur two noons ago. Two police constables were sitting on an elevated platform near the gates, next to the ubiquitous walk-through frame of metal detector. The metal detectors were switched off, the constables even more so. Their monotonously dreary responsibility of safeguarding the complex and visitors without any clear intelligence directives had produced the inevitable effect. While most constables found solitary pursuits in reading news, some others found activity in helping out the temple staff in their duties. In a few cases their assistance hid ulterior motives as I was to discover later. None seemed approachable and almost all presented a courteous but curt facade. Their expressions hinted that they would welcome some human interaction but on the other hand the risk of loosing their carefully crafted pretentious respect restrained them.
How had I missed such a significant pilgrimage town on my research I wondered. I had visited Bhimashankar twice, another jyotirlinga town closer to Mumbai. Both times a hike through the day, spent the night there and returned the following day. Both times I had liked the ambince of the town and would have certainly pencilled in Aundha had I known. A stroke of providence, I contended.
As I was finishing my tea, Anoop beckoned me from the manager’s office. Beckoned by Anoop meant that the matter could not wait. Otherwise, he was the kind of chap who would walk all the way to you, explain the matter and lead you to the manager’s office.
As I walked towards the room, I gradually kept getting a better view of it’s inside. It was actually a much smaller room than it seemed from the outside. Just a desk and a man sitting behind it. An old, frail looking man with prominent upper teeth, which was made even more prominent by a gap left by a missing one. I waited outside the door, not wanting to be one spreading claustrophobia. As the man spoke I noticed he was anything but frail. His actions and speech betrayed his frail look and revealed his inner exuberance. Briefly glancing at me he proceeded to inform Anoop that the room would be no problem, Rs. 200 for the night and that we’ll just have to wait a few minutes until he settled some other business. Then, with incredible agility he got up from his seat and exited past me, clutching a red ledger book in his left hand.
The winter sun was setting sooner these days. It was barely 5pm, yet twilight was hinting it’s onset already. There was also a definite chill in the air now. I could feel it through the ventilation vents in my riding gear which I had left open for the afternoon ride. Anoop, my nephew, and I had be riding since 7am from the bordering town of Adilabad in Andhra Pradesh. He on his 100cc Hero Honda. I on my 150cc Yamaha. We had planned to reach Tadoba National Forest in the Gadchiroli district of Maharashtra the previous night but we could not cover as much ground as we had hoped. The scenic and naturally blessed regions between Nanded to Adilabad were too enchanting to blow past quickly.
Nomads in Nanded.
Frequent stops, some intended and others at the mercy of Indian Railways and their guards manning railway crossings, blocking traffic until the train chugs it’s way out of the closest station, caused some delays. Some other request for stops were bleated to us by hundreds of direction-impaired goats. Yet another stop was to photograph a caravan of nomads, with their camels and full sized cots delicately balanced atop them, despite the hump.
With Tadoba too far for yesterday evening, we decided to settle for the night in the town of Adilabad. In the throes of the Telangana agitation.
Lodging for the night was easy to find. We walked into a dharmashala and negotiated a room for Rs. 150. Just an 8×10 feet room, tiled by rough cut, unpolished slabs of granite, a solitary window, a door and a sheet of rippled asbestos for roof. The courtyard outside was spacious and formed the center of this dharmashala with connected rooms on it’s periphery.
Dharamshala in Bhimashankar
The room came with just a coir rope strung on nails across the length of a wall, probably as a clothes line – that’s how we treated it in any case. Upon inquiring we received a large sheet of polyurethane foam (typically used to wrap cooling pipes in air conditioning installations) meant to be used as a more comfortable sleeping surface and I must confess, it didn’t disappoint the purpose. The sheet of foam tempted me to lie down flat on my back gazing out-of-focus at the clear blue sky, framed by the window.