Next Day. Sunday.
We kept this day to go the one of most attractive place at Nairobi – the Nairobi National Park (http://www.kws.org/parks/parks_reserves/NANP.html) . But the morning didn’t greet us very promisingly. It was raining furiously. We had our driver arrived and ready to move sharp at 9 as promised. But we were initially jittery looking at the climate.
But our driver Nickson kept on assuring us that the rains here in Nairobi are not very long lasting – it starts all of a sudden, and it ends all of sudden as well; and within a couple of kilometers the weather differs a lot. We started off in full rain trusting his aplomb.
The driver, Nickson, soon became a friend of us. He was the same person who took us from the airport. He was from a village almost 200 kms from Nairobi, and after listening to my interests, he quickly agreed to take us to his native village for a day or two. Unfortunately I couldn’t manage to go there this time.
There is a brief formality you have to follow while entering the national park – you need to purchase the Safari card from the main office. Foreign nationals need to carry their passports, nothing for locals though. The entry fee is 50USD per head for foreign nationals. For local people it is 500 shillings. If you want to take our car inside the park then it is another 300 shillings.
But of course you will have to take your vehicle inside. Because the place is huge and as you can very well imagine cycling or biking inside is not possible. The lions might get some easy breakfast if you do so. And, again, do negotiate about the taxi fare for this trip. You would need a full day if you want to cover the entire park, and you will always be in your car and moving. You don’t need an advanced 4X4 drive for this park (contrary to Masai mara, where you must have a 4X4); but a SUV is probably advisable than a sedan. Ours was not an SUV, thus faced some difficulties in certain areas.
It was still raining when we reached there, but thankfully, by the time the formalities are over the weather God smiled at us. The park is not a place of very dense jungle. Long vast of open grass fields with infrequent clusters of bushes encapsulate the whole vicinity. It was around 11AM we entered the place.
Welcome to the Park
Next morning we left the Sai Ashram and reached the bus stand to board Shingnapur bound bus for our next leg of journey. Besides the buses, shared taxis (Tata Sumo, Tata Ace…etc) are also available from Shirdi for Shani Shingnapur at regular intervals. It is convenient if you are in a group, in that case you can book the complete vehicle. Generally, vehicles do not move until all the seats are full. Shani Shingnapur is about 75 km from Shirdi and it takes close to two hours to reach Shani Shingnapur from Shirdi.
We left the Shirdi at around 10 AM. Till then traffic had increased on the road. Early morning is the best time to start for Shani Shingnapur from Shirdi. There won’t be much traffic and you can reach Shani Shingnapur comfortably. The temple at Shani Shingnapur gets crowded later in the day. Many people returns to Shirdi after darshan at Shani Shingnapur. It needs at least 5-6 hours to complete the darshan and return to Shirdi. The road connecting Shirdi and Shani Shingnapur was in good condition and it passes through many villages. As we were approaching Shani Shingnapur, we saw many people selling fresh sugar cane juice. They were using oxen to extract cane juice. These were not few but in dozens. It is worth stopping by and one can have a glass of fresh cane juice. We desire to stop there but as we were in a bus so no break was possible.
Shani Shila – darshan from different angles
The Akbar’s Fort and the Government Museum was situated in the heart of Ajmer city. It is said that Emperor Akbar’s rule started in 1556 AD after he defeated Hemu in the second battle of Panipat. At that time, Akbar was only 13 years old. With the help of Bairam Khan, in next two years, his forces captured a lot of territories in North India. Thus, Ajmer came under Mughal sultanate in 1558 AD and a fort was built there in 1570 AD. It was really a wonderful feeling to see that structure standing for so many years keeping in its folds the memories of many events that took place in past four centuries. Unlike other forts, the Akbar’s fort in Ajmer was not situated on any hill. It was right in the city and could be thought more as a residential building than a military fort.
The first thing that caught my attention was a red-coloured window situated above the front gate of the fort. The moment I saw this window, a historic event of 1615 AD came to my mind. I was trying to visualize the scene when Mr. Thomas Roe, the ambassador of East India Company, was standing on the very place on the ground where I was standing. Mughal sultanate was at the peak of their rule and the East India Company had sent their emissary to seek permission to do business in the Mughal territory in the then princely India. The difference in their status was so huge that the emperor Jahangir gave Mr. Roe an audience from that window above and read out the firman which permitted the East India Company to do business in India. Ironically, in next 230 years, the same company went on to dislodge the Mughals and to establish the British Raj in India. That thought made me cold. I just stood there thinking about the present day permissions being granted to foreign based establishments to do business in our country. I shuddered to think about the possibilities of another foreign domination, if Indian democracy disintegrates in future.
The historical window of the Akbar’s fort
Kargil on the bank of Suru River
Perhaps no one better than the people of Kargil had experienced and witnessed the thin line that divides war and peace. Kargil came into prominence during May 1999 also among the non travellers because the former Pakistani President General Mussharraf had adventured this place with his men and machine. Life in this small town during the war was a deadly affair due to shelling on it from the nearest mountain ranges belonging to Pakistan, courtesy the wild desire of General Mussharraf.
There were two ways to reach the Taragarh fort. Since we did not know the route through the city, we had no option but to follow the GPS, which guided us to the Taragarh Fort through National Highway 08, which was a longer and tedious route. After crossing two railway gates and through a patchy road, we reached to a crossing, where a signboard indicated the route towards the fort. A 6 kilometers long stretch of lonely road took us to the base of the small Aravalli hill from where, its ramparts became visible.
At the base of the hill, a memorial dedicated to Prithvi Raj Smarak was situated. But the gates were locked at that time. Therefore, we could only see the sword-wielding statue of Prithvi Raj Chauhan From outside and continued our journey ahead.
Soon we started to climb up the Taragarh Hill. I had no earlier experience of driving on sharp curves on the steep climbs. On one occasion, we had a scary moment when I lost the gear and the car started to slide downwards. It took me three attempts to put the gear and the car moved ahead. That incident, however, made me realize my fault of not applying higher gears at the most appropriate time while climbing up on curves. From then onwards, I corrected that mistake and climbed up without any further difficulties.
Steep climb at Taragarh Hill