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High on devotion

india Updated: May 19, 2010 01:30 IST
Sonia Nazareth

Once upon a time, Nashik thrived as an encyclopedia of the exotic and the religious. Travellers thronged this holy city, on the banks of the river Godavari, for a holy dip, and wherever you walked, you encountered either intricate temples or colourful bathing ghats. You bumped into white travellers who murmured, “Finally, true India” in rapture at the temples soaked in incense, the flower-laden land and the colourful fruit market just beyond the ghat.

Finding faith
At first glance, Ramkund, the bathing tank where pilgrims gathered for a holy dip or an evening arati, appears to be a place for a series of rituals on the path to liberation. But the closer you look, the more you admire the sheer faith that brings an assortment of pilgrims here.

Shankar, a tourist I meet, tells me he visits the Kala Ram Temple, east of Ramkund, every year not just because it contains unusual black stone representations of Rama and Sita, but because he believes that his troubles will be allayed at the town’s holiest shrine.

Next up are the rock carved, two-thousand-year-old Pandav Leni caves dating to 1st Century BC. Critics frequently write home about Cave 19 and 23, and it’s these caves that make the 20-minute hike up the mountain worthwhile.

Tours of the vineyard
The fertile soil, cool climate and longstanding abundance of grapes make it a natural candidate for the wine country it’s become. You’ll find the devout sipping a glass of wine or tasting it in a stylish wine bar. You’ll find droves of young people motoring to Nashik to experience the vineyards and following it up with a visit to the Trimbakeshwar temple.

Yet another pilgrimage
Meanwhile, at the bathing ghat, Shankar is wondering weather he should return to Nashik for the Kumbh Mela — the largest religious gathering on earth. Should he go tomorrow to Shirdi, the birthplace of Sai Baba, or instead visit the Gumpha Panchavati where Sita supposedly hid from Ravana?

Debates about which activity to pursue — whether sacred or profane or both — have for long been raging on the same side of the bathing ghat. Some come to Nashik to allay your troubles in wine, or to allay the troubles in prayer as you light diyas and send them floating down the waters of the sacred river. But both these groups appear to leave singing a happy song.

Nashik is 150 km northeast of Mumbai, and a five-hour drive away. Take a car or hop on to one of the frequent buses that ply there from
the terminus outside Dadar station.

Staying there
If you want to be closer to the ancient Pandav Leni caves, away from the heart of town, you can stay at the Taj Residency. But if you’d prefer to live in a vineyard in a three-bedroom bungalow that can accommodate up to nine people and comes staffed with an in-house cook who prepares three meals a day, stay at Beyond. For more information, email beyond@sulawines.com .

Sula organises winery tours between 11.30 am and 5.30 pm.