Wednesday, 14 May 2014

Baneshwar Temple - A quaint temple nestled inside the forest

The Pune city has many sightseeing places in and around it. Just drive towards any highway from the city and you will find yourself among mountains and greenery. Untouched serene hamlets, small waterfalls, beautiful patches of seasonal blossoms, ancient temples, historical forts, migratory birds in waterholes, forest trails, quaint lakes - name it and you will find these wonders tucked away in some or the other corner of areas surrounding Pune.Monsoons are no doubt the best time for travel enthusiasts, but even during summers you can plan a gateway to some of these places. Khadakwasla Dam is the all time favorite spot for Puneites.All unplanned quick excursion trips end at Khadakwasla. On weekends it is thronged by families and couples alike. The allure of enjoying the piping hot vada pav's and bhajjis with your near and dear ones in front of the pretty lake is a pleasure hardly any Puneits can give up. Sinhagad is another crowd puller but the scorching summer heat can be a bit too much for a fort trek. So you can give it a miss and proceed a bit further right and reach Panshet which is another hidden paradise nestled in the thick woods.Spend a day or two boating, fishing, doing nothing and eating a lot of the yummy fishes freshly caught from Panshet Lake. You can also take off for Veer Dam to witness one of the largest Dams of Maharashtra.

This time we had a weekend at our disposal when there was no major house chore planned hence we decided to go for an early morning ride.All the above mentioned places were like - "Been there done that" for us. We were thinking of doing something new. two temples - Baneshwar and Pateshwar had been on our agenda from long back. We zeroed in on Baneshwar as A had some office work after 12 PM so we had a short window for our day excursion.
Baneshwar Temple

The summer heat is intense now-a-days. Occasional showers do bring relief at times but majority of the time you literally feel the heat when you hit the road after 10 AM and sometimes even earlier. For the very reason we planned that we will make an early start at about 6:45 - 7AM so that we can be back by 10AM before things start getting too hot. But executing the plan was another story. We were too lazy to get up early on a weekend and hence we could only start from home by 8:15 AM. We started off from Dhayari took the Sinhagad Road and took a right to merge onto NH4 from under the highway flyover.

We stopped for refueling the tank at Ambegaon somewhere. It was a nice breezy day. The sun was up but the air was still cool. The previous night it had rained which brought down the mercury considerably. We continued our journey on the NH4. Traffic was a bit sluggish at a few places on the highway but mostly we were cruising at a comfortable speed of 60KM/hr.
Flowers in the Baneshwar temple

We stopped at a roadside dhaba sort of for breakfast. It was a decently big dhaba but less crowded (dont remember the name). The are many road side restaurants and dhabas after a while, in fact you will also find a Mac D and KFC on the way. We had Idli-Vada with Sambar and chutney. Apart from the Sambar everything was edible. After this short stopover we started off again. We were not in a hurry to reach our destination hence were going at our own pace.

Soon we came across a toll naka. The bikes have a bypass road and don't need to pay toll. The highway is in a pretty good shape hence riding is really a pleasure. Almost 11KM down the road we reached a place called Nasrapur. There was a junction in the road and we had to take a right. That was a humongous task because cutting straight through the Highway with cars and trucks speeding at 90KM/hr is no child's play. We had to wait for a good 5 minutes before we got some clearing. On the other side there is a green board with distances written in hindi - Shree Baneshwar – 3 kms. We followed the thin road through the town of Nasrapur. There was signs of urbanization everywhere in the small town. We even spotted a small Coffee Bistro on way. Good business thought - it would surely cater to the picnickers coming from the town.

The traffic would surely be in a mess on this small road if too many cars or big vehicles come together but we found no such traffic at morning time. After two three minutes of drive we saw an yellow Archway on the right hand side of the road which has the name of Baneshwar embellished on its top. That road leads into the Baneshwar Temple.

Flowers in the Temple compound

Once we entered that road we knew we were in for a treat. Even in this summer it had a lot of greenery all around. As we drove deeper the woods also became dense. At one point the road forks - the one going down indicates Baneshwar Botanical garden or something like that and another road goes into the village probably. We took the wrong road first then I somehow saw a board with the Baneshwar temple indication on the below road. So we had to take a U-turn and go back to the road entering the Bio-diversity park. The thickets were so dense that barely any sunlight was filtering through. We could hear a lot of birds and insect calls as we drove through. We were liking everything we saw.
Pathways inside the Botanical Park of the Temple

If you are looking up for directions to Baneshwar on Google Maps be sure to check the one it points to is of Nasrapur (that's your key) because it will mostly show you some other Baneshwar temple. Refer to the pictures below for a rough idea on the road we took to Baneshwar.
Terrain View of Google Maps(arrow indicates Waterfall)  & The path we took from Dhayari

Soon we reached the Temple Complex. In marathi, Ban means "forest" and "Ishwar" means God.Thus Baneshwar is God of the Forest and rightly so. What can be more beautiful and rejuvenating than a temple in the middle of a forest? This place is mainly known for three things - Lord Shiva temple, the beautiful botanical garden & Baneshwar water fall. Last one is only available during the monsoon season.
Informational boards about animals are placed all around the Botanical Garden
Now for some facts and figures: The temple was constructed in 1749 by Peshwa Nanasaheb, son of Peshwa Bajirao I.The total cost of construction was 11,46 Rupee, 8 Aane, 6 Paise.The temple and the surrounding jungle is managed by the Baneshwar Temple Trust.The temple hosts an important bell which was captured by Chimaji Appa after defeating the Portuguese in the battle of Bassien in 1739. The bell has the year 1683 and a cross on it, which depicts that the bell belonged to a church and was transported as a token of victory.

We parked our vehicle in the huge parking area in front of the temple. Many people were there in picnic mood and had brought volleyballs and basketballs. Kids were playing around. Point to note: No parking or entry fee which was quite surprising since its a well maintained area. The stunning yellow-gold painted temple was quite a contrast to the dark green surrounding it.

Numerous pathways

I was too eager to see the fabled waterfall (though I had very little hope of finding water in the mid of the summer month) hence we decided to stroll in the Botanical garden before going inside the temple. The beautiful garden around the Temple premises is the main attraction for people rather than the temple itself. Numerous pathways have been created which keeps on forking in all directions giving the adventurous soul quite an adrenalin rush. There were so many pathways that soon we lost track of which we visited and which is pending.

Bamboo Groove

Medicinal Plants
We crossed this beautiful bamboo groove and further up a nursery for medicinal plants. We kept on going in search of the waterfall. It is said that during the monsoon you can hear the waterfall from the entry point of the temple itself. Unfortunately we didn't hear anything like that. My hopes of finding a gushing waterfall was fast dwindling. But anyhow we kept on going. There were sufficient resting points on the way. However the weather was so pleasant we didn't mind walking.
Look at how the bark of one tree is intertwined with another tree
Old Well
On way we came across a couple of old wells which was not in use anymore. The entire garden is h-u-g-e. It takes much time if you want to walk around every nook and corner at a generous pace. Almost a kilometer from the temple we reached a rocky patch which in all probability seemed like the river bed which was all dried up. The dried riverbed was also very pretty which eased the disappointment of not being able to see the waterfall. There was a unmanned watchtower there. We saw a couple going down the riverbed. After some considerations we decided that this part of the river bed was not easy for a walk and decided to track back. We had seen a different trail by the side of the riverbed while coming, so we decided to explore that.

Sections of the riverbed

Even in the midst of the jungle an old villager came up to us and asked for alms. We gave him Rs. 10 and continued our exploration. The other trail was going all along the river bed. We passed bamboo groves and other trees in search of an entry point to the river bed - but there was none, the boundary was having a wire mesh. Finally we found out a broken area in the wire mesh and very precariously made our way through it ensuring not hurting ourselves or the camera. We were wondering how we would come up through that mesh since it was a uphill area.
The Riverbed
A bottle half submerged in the stagnant waters

The dried up river bed was also looking stunning...white rocks, green forest fringe and blue sky - a perfect combination. We saw water clogging in some parts of the river bed. The stagnant water had become dirty though and was a breeding area for mosquitoes. We were wondering how all the travelers would come to this place if they had to pass a broken wire mesh. Surely there was another way inside. We took snaps and kept walking down the dried riverbed. After some distance we saw village women washing clothes in some water holes. We roamed around for some more time and finally saw a gate that opened up to this riverbed. It was such a relief that we had found out the actual entry point. But this tiny adventure was quite enjoyable.

We took the pathway from the gate and reached the temple in a couple of minutes only - the river was that near. We were feeling a bit tired after trekking through the uneven terrain.
The Riverbed
Temple Entrance & The Big Trishul(Trident)

I purchased some flowers for puja from outside the temple. We kept our shoes in a rack outside and proceeded inside. There is a big trishul at the entrance. From the look of it we understood that the temple was recently painted in these bright colors. Though photography is prohibited inside the temple I dared to take some (bad me!). The main temple is made from black stone and has nagara styled shikhara  painted in pretty colors and adorned with god/goddesses idols.The main temple is divided into a ardhamandapa , a sabhamandapa and a garbhagriha. The sabhamandapa floor  has a brass tortoise image , which is a part of the iconography of Shiva temples. he gabhara or sanctum sanctorum houses a beautiful Shiva Linga. The puja was already in progress when we went into the temple. When I handed over the flower plate to the purohit inside he asked me to put the garland around the Shiva Linga by myself and take blessings. This was a new thing for me because in India I think this is the first temple where I was able to offer the garland to the idol by myself. Usually its the purohit who does it on our behalf and we are not allowed to touch the deity.It really felt nice. I prayed and then the Purohit handed me back some of the flowers.

The Temple

We came out of the main temple after offering our prayers. Just opposite to the main temple is a Nandi mandapa which house a fairly large idol of Nandi Maharaj.  We sat on the steps of the Temple for sometime, resting from the strong sun. Around the main temple are several minor temples belonging to various other deities like Lord Ganesha, Lord Hanumana etc,

The Aquatic Life in the two tanks of the temple

The temple has a couple of water tanks which are home to quite a few aquatic animals like fishes and tortoises. One of these water tanks has a Gomukhi spout which pours in water. In the first tank we saw many fishes. Some of the catfishes were humongous. Many of the small fishes came out of the tank dungeons and were resting on the steps of the tank which had a thin layer of water. The devotees who frequent this temple offer food to the aquatic animals. In the other tank there was a combination of different species of tortoise and fishes. There also we saw a huge tortoise but it quickly went inside the deep waters. Baby tortoises were swimming with their mothers. One was trying to swim vertically and not horizontally, maybe it had a problem with its flippers. It is quite enjoyable to watch these cuties swim in the water. Beside the tortoise tank there is a small opening in the ground which has a submerged Shivlinga. People throw coins into it. It's the common belief that  if the coin lands on the Shivlinga it means good luck.

There is a small souvenir shop inside the premises which sells all sort of small shivlingas, holy threads, pictures of God and Goddesses, tortoise shaped rings and many such things. Among everything the cute tortoise shaped rings really appealed to me and I purchased one at Rs. 30.

Outside the temple premise, the lady from whom I had purchased the puja flowers packed it in a plastic bag and gave it to me. It was very convenient as I had not brought anything to carry the puja offerings back.


From Swargate : From Swargate junction take a left and continue straight towards Katraj. Go past the Katraj Snake park and once you have crossed the ghats you will merge with the NH4 coming from Mumbai. Carry on the highway. After sometime you will reach a Toll Naka. From this Toll Naka, cross the Shinde-wadi, Khed- Shivapur and till Nasrapur it is roughly around 11 KMs. Once you reach the Nasrapur Junction take a right into the Nasrapur town. Keep straight until you see a Arched gate on the right side of the road. Take right and continue along the road going down. Drive around 2-3 KMs from Nasrapur junction to reach the Baneshwar Temple.

From Dhayari : From Dhayari Phata take a right and continue on the Sinhagad road till you reach the Flyover highway. Take a Left from there and go straight. Merge into the NH4 and continue straight along the highway. After sometime you will reach a Toll Naka. From this Toll Naka, Nasrapur is roughly around 11 KMs. Once you reach the Nasrapur Junction take a right into the Nasrapur town. Keep straight until you see a Arched gate on the right side of the road. Take right and continue along the road going down.

While going we took nearly an hour an a half with all the traffic, stopping for breakfast, asking for directions etc. When we came back it took us sharp 40 minutes cruising at 90-100KM/hr constantly to reach home. We were back by 11.30 AM.

This place would surely be a heaven during and after the monsoons. We left the place with a promise to return back during the rainy season.

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