3-Ingredient Amrakhand| No-Cook Mango Shrikhand 

Make the best of the beautiful mangoes available this summer! Try out this super-simple no-cook recipe to make some scrumptious amrakhand, using all of three ingredients! 

Check out the recipe, just in on my photo blog! 

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Postcards From Shirdi

You know you have entered Shirdi when the word ‘Sai’ begins to appear everywhere – that is first thing that meets the eye as soon as one gets into Shirdi. Quite apt too, considering Sai Baba considered this town his abode. This little town is full of ‘Sai’, from ice cream and paan parlours to saree shops and restaurants. ‘Sai’ is there in the sarees here, too.

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The mobile ‘Sai Ice Cream Parlour’

I was amazed by the extent of facilities provided to visiting devotees at Shirdi by the Shri Shirdi Sai Baba Sansthan Trust. From subsidized accodomation to discounted and free meals, the Trust makes Sai Baba easily accessible to the common visitor. You can book your darshan at the Sai Baba temple, as well as your accommodation in Shirdi, online, well in advance before you visit the place.

We stayed at one of the Trust-organised accomodations and found it very neat and clean and well-arranged for, though basic. The accomodations are huge, modern complexes, full of bright sunlight, and not the dingy, musty places that you come to expect of dharamshalas at all. There are also Trust-organised buses and smaller vehicles to transport devotees to and from the temple to their accomodations, plying through the day and well into the night.

We had booked an online darshan as well, and needed to reach the temple about an hour prior to our appointed time. Thankfully, the temple still seems to maintain its modicum, and hasn’t entirely fallen pray to commercialization. Yes, there is a VIP darshan queue here, like in many other temples,  but there is a limited quota for the same. There are no special entrances for the VIPs, like most other temples have, and they need to go through the same proceedures for entering the temple as the other people standing in the VIP queue. I know, because we had booked a VIP darshan, and had some TV celebrities standing in queue right with us.

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One of the huge subsidized accommodations available in Shirdi for devotees

You have two options for darshan at the Sai Baba temple – the ordinary darshan or the aarti darshan. I would highly recommend the latter. The aarti darshan here is quite an uplifting, spiritual experience, one that I think every single person should experience at least once in their lifetime. The Sai Baba aarti is performed for close to an hour, in a very elaborate, old-fashioned way, and it takes you to another world altogether.

Hundreds of thousands of people from across the world visit Shirdi to offer their prayers at the altar of Sai Baba in Shirdi. Considering this, how can the town not develop enough to meet the needs of an increasing number of tourists every year? There are enough things in Shirdi to keep visiting devotees and their families engaged, as they wait for their darshan, from souvenir shops to horse carriage rides. We were surprised, initially, to see eateries ranging from Udupi to Sher-e-Punjab near the temple, but then thought – Of course!

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A plethora of multi-cuisine restaurants near the temple

If you aren’t up to visiting restaurants while you are in Shirdi, you can choose to eat at the temple’s Bhojanalaya, or at the Trust-related accommodations. The latter offers meals at subsidized rates to devotees, including fasting food on festival days.

Outside the temple and near about, we were met with a carnival-like atmosphere. People were enjoying chaat and shopping, haggling with shopkeepers, buying souvenirs and what not.

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Women selling fruits near the temple. In the background are Tempo Travellers used to transport devotees to and from the temple

I got myself a sugarcane fabric saree from Sai Manas Textiles, a souvenir from Shirdi. This is, I learnt, something indigenous to Shirdi. Near the temple, you will find a whole lot of stalls selling little souvenirs that you can easily carry back home. Take your pick!

 

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Sarees on display at Sai Manas Textiles

When you get to the temple, you will be bombarded by a host of vendors wanting to sell you this pooja ka saaman and that. Most common are guys selling beautiful bunches of roses and lilies that you can buy and lay at the feet of Sai Baba in the temple.

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This guy was so happy to have his photograph clicked!
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Shops selling pooja paraphernalia outside the temple

Enthusiastic processions of people carrying idols of Sai Baba and flower palanquins for Him are quite a common sight in Shirdi. We witnessed one such procession and were amazed by the fervour of the people!

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A procession on its way to the temple

We had a late-night time for darshan at the temple, and the Bhojanalayas had shut down by the time we finished our prayers and got out. We were wondering if we would have to go to bed hungry when we found a whole lot of restaurants open and doing super-brisk business – this was at 12 in the night! People were going about ordering paav bhaji and masala dosa and fried rice and what not, something I haven’t seen after I left Ahmedabad.

Just before we left Shirdi, we breakfasted in a restaurant near the temple, whose name I forget now. The fare was good, I must say. The husband decided to order Sheerai Upma, something listed on the menu but which we had no clue about, just because it sounded very interesting. What arrived on our table was a plate with half a dollop of sheera, topped with half a dollop of rava upma. Ha! Sheerai Upma, indeed! 🙂

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The Sheerai Upma the OH had for breakfast

Well, I hope you enjoyed this virtual tour of Shirdi!

Have you visited Shirdi? How was your experience there?

 

Of Sugarcane And Sai Sarees In Shirdi

If you think Shirdi is all about the Sai Baba temple, you are mistaken. I mean, the Sai Baba temple is indeed a huge part of Shirdi, THE draw which pulls thousands of devotees from all over the world. That said, there are little bits and pieces of the town that Shirdi is, that still remain unexplored by the average tourist.

Also, considering so many tourists visit Shirdi throughout the year, a number of tourist-centric businesses have come up in the town. From ice cream parlours and saree centres to restaurants serving multi-cultural specialties and horse carriages offering rides to tourists, Shirdi is very much a bustling activity centre. There is plenty to do here to pass the time while you are waiting for your turn for the Sai Baba darshan.

We didn’t do much exploring in Shirdi, since we were super-duper tired, and didn’t want to get more thoroughly exhausted before we went in for the darshan. However, we didn’t want to miss out on visiting this little shop called Sai Manas Textiles, in Shirdi, to hunt for some souvenirs. I am glad we went, for the visit offered us a peek into Shirdi beyond the Sai Baba temple, the stuff of alternate travellers.

The shop sells a lot of beautiful, beautiful things, including Gujarati embroidered ghagra-cholis, Rajasthani bandhnis and embroidered jootis, and Poona cotton sarees. It was here that we came across sarees made out of sugarcane fibre, mixed with silk or cotton. The crushed sugarcane left over after the juice has been extracted, in Shani Shinganapur,  travels to Shirdi and surrounding villages, where fibre is removed from the same, and put to good use to make beautiful sarees with some seriously gorgeous patterns. This is something indigenous to Shirdi, a souvenir which will allow you to take a piece of the town home with you.

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Sugarcane and silk fabric sarees being displayed at Sai Manas Textiles

I picked up one of these sugarcane-silk sarees for myself, as a souvenir.

Another interesting type of saree that we saw in the shop was a Sai Baba saree – a saree depicting a procession of Sai Baba in its border and pallu. Apparently, there are a lot of sarees made all over India which have spiritual processions depicted on them, but a God or Goddess is not very prominently displayed on them. In case of these sarees, however, an idol of Sai Baba could very clearly be seen carried by His devotees, in a palanquin. Again, this is something one will find mostly in Shirdi, we were told.

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A Sai Baba procession saree at the shop

Interesting stuff, right?

Bullock-Pressed Sugarcane Juice At Shani Shingnapur

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.

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A bull extracting sugarcane juice at a stall in Shani Shingnapur

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.

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A sugarcane juice stall in Shani Shingnapur

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.

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Sugarcane juice being filtered at one of the stalls

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.

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A heavenly glass of sugarcane juice!

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!

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A makeshift swing at one of the stalls

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?