We made a pit stop at the village of Shani Shingnapur en route to Shirdi, on our recent trip. The village is known for housing a temple of Shani Maharaj, as well as for its many sugarcane fields. In fact, sugarcane fields are all you will see as you drive down to or from the village.
Of course, Shani Shingnapur has a number of stalls selling freshly pressed juice from sugarcane hot off the nearby fields. These stalls are a huge tourist attraction here, drawing tourists by the hordes, especially in the summer months. The unique thing about these stalls, though, is that they use the old technique of stone pressing to extract juice from the sugarcane, with the help of bulls – something I have never, ever seen before.
Stalks of sugarcane are placed in between two ancient stones that act as a grinder. The stones are attached to a yoke, which is placed on the shoulders of a bull. The bull is then made to rotate the yoke, thereby rotating the stones, and fresh sugarcane juice pours out.
The juice is then filtered and served to waiting customers, either in glass tumblers or in disposable ones, as per their preference. One can opt for lemon and/or salt and pepper being mixed in their juice – those are the only flavours you get here. Not that the juice really needs any kind of seasoning – this straight-from-the-farm sugarcane juice tastes simply awesome just plain. The process of extracting the juice is as vintage as it gets, and the main ingredient – the sugarcane – is farm-fresh, and these two factors show in the beautiful taste of the juice.
I know, because we stopped at a couple of these stalls to grab some glasses of sugarcane juice. The juice here is one of the best I have ever had – super duper fresh, village life filtered into a glass, priced at Rs. 20 a piece.
Like I said before, these sugarcane juice stalls are a big tourist draw at Shani Shinganur, apart from the Shani Maharaj temple here. In a bid to attract more tourists, many of these stalls are beautifully decked up with bunches of colourful balloons. Some have charpoys laid out, where one can lie down as one sips on the sugarcane juice. Some stalls have swings made from a wooden plank and old bicycle tyres, which children and adults alike can have some fun time swinging on, as they wait for their juice to get prepared. Most of the stalls allow the petting of the bullocks and posing for pictures alongside them. Slice of rural tourism, all right!
We had our fair share of sugarcane juice-drinking, swinging, bullock-petting, and photo-ops.
I must confess I had an avalanche of thoughts even as we stopped by at the stalls to fill up on juice. Was I being a responsible tourist in promoting an activity that involves an animal doing work that must surely be strenuous? But then, what would these people do if not for the tourists? Would I be taking the villagers away from the idyllic village life if I refused to drink the juice? I am a tourist, so shouldn’t I be indulging in the local experiences? If I don’t contribute to the rural economy in my own little way, wouldn’t I be driving the villagers away from their old-fashioned life and pushing them towards modernisation and mechanisation that I am not very fond of, anyways? Honestly, I didn’t find any answers. For now, I let the questions be – I’ll find the answers when they are meant to come to me.
Your thoughts, please?