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Tuesday, 19 February 2013 14:51

India From the Sacred to the Sublime

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From the trend-seeking tourist to the sophisticated traveler, Maharashtra, India’s third largest state, has an array of unforgettable tourism offerings and attractions that include ancient and historic sites of tremendous religious importance, well known in India, but still relatively unknown abroad.
Maharashtra is located in the southwestern region of the country. The state boasts breathtaking landscapes of tropical forests, tiger reserves, impressive mountain ranges, relaxing beaches on the Arabian Sea and the cosmopolitan capital of Mumbai (Bombay). Home to hundreds of archaeological sites of significant historical importance and four UNESCO World Heritage Sites — the mystical Ajanta and Ellora Caves, the Elephanta caves, and the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus in Mumbai (Bombay) — Maharashtra boasts of tourism offerings found nowhere else in India.

Shirdi
The sacred town of Shirdi, located approximately 140 miles northeast of Mumbai (Bombay, Maharashtra’s capital) is best known for being the home of the 19th Century Hindu saint and spiritual pioneer, Shri Sai Baba. Although there are no accounts of his birth or early years, Sai Baba lived in Shirdi, where he preached and acted on his ideas of love, peace, religious tolerance and forgiveness. Sai Baba grew to be one of the most popular spiritual figures of his time, and was, and is still known and revered throughout India for his powers to treat ailments.
Visitors to Shirdi can explore Sai Baba’s life first-hand by visiting the places he frequented including Dwarkamai, a holy mosque where he resided, and Lendi Baug, a flower garden planted and maintained by the guru. Nonetheless, the most popular site in the city is the Shirdi Sai Baba Temple, the resting place of the saint which is now a pilgrimage spot, attracting millions of devotees of all religions, castes and creeds from around India. The temple is a beautiful stone shrine that was built in 1919 over the tomb of Sai Baba and is set among beautifully cultivated grounds, surrounded by serene ponds and fountains. Visitors are encouraged to visit the site, particularly on Thursdays (the day Sai Baba is revered) when thousands of people come to Shirdi to pay homage to him. The Shirdi Sai Baba Temple is opened daily from 5:15 a.m. to 10 p.m.www.shirdisaitemple.com.
Nashik
The "Wine Capital of India," Nashik, is also known as the “Holy City” due to the numerous temples and religious sites that exist there. Located about 100 miles northeast of Mumbai, Nashik is a striking and colorful city, particularly in the northern section along the banks of the Godavari River.
The banks of the Godavari River, known as Panchavati, are surrounded by dozens of temples and holy sites and are a great place to shop for religious artifacts and other colorful souvenirs. Millions of pilgrims descend upon Panchavati, where the Hindu deities Lord Ram, Sita and Laxman supposedly resided for some time. This area holds tremendous religious significance and mystery, accented with strong scents of incense and magical views of pilgrims bathing along the banks of the holy river.
Nearby, another incredible and mystical experience can be had by visiting the Sita Gumpha, a holy cave next to one of the city’s five famous banyan trees in Panchavati. Here, the Hindu deities Lord Ram his wife Sita, and Lakshman are said to have prayed to Lord Shiva. To enter this small, two-room holy site, pilgrims have to crawl through a very narrow staircase that descends into the cool and magical cave. The first room holds a gilded, silver idol of Lord Ram, Laxman and Sita, and the other contains a small, ancient Shiva Linga. It is in this second room where Sita is said to have meditated for many years.
This popular temple is only one of 12 Jyotirlinga, or shrines, where the Hindu Goddess Shiva is worshipped. Trimbakeshwar is well-known for its charming architecture, elaborate sculptures and for being a sacred bathing place for pilgrims from all over the world.
Finally, Nashik is also renowned for what is said to be the most spectacular religious show on Earth, the Maha Kumbh Mela. Kumbh Mela is a sacred Hindu pilgrimage and bathing festival that occurs every 12 years in four locations in India. Attended by millions of devotees from around the world, this celebration is truly a sight to behold. The festival commemorates the redemptive story of a holy nation in pursuit of victory from the evil Danavas (demons) which plagued the city with a curse. Today, this legendary tale is reenacted by pilgrims taking ritual baths at the banks of rivers, and by partaking in singing holy chants, prayer sessions, religious discussions, and assemblies. This incredibly visual and spiritually fulfilling festival is accented by the magical colors of Nashik, along with devotees adorned with colorful powders. The next Maha Kumbh Mela festival will be held In March/April 2013. Visit www.kumbhmela.org
Why Visit India in Summer 
Rajeev Kohli, director of marketing for India-based Creative Travel India says, “There is a lot of misconception out there why India cannot be visited in summer. Not all true. There is a lot one can do in summer and the best part is that we can leverage our volumes from the season into some great deals into the off-season.” 
Some of the reasons include: The best value possible - you get to stay in some of the finest hotels in the world at prices that you would pay for a four-star hotel in the winter. For wildlife lovers, late April and May are the best times of year to see the famous Indian tiger. Clients can enjoy the monuments without the crowds and their hotel with lower summer occupancies
Visit www.travel2india.com
Getting There
The nearest airport is Aurangabad, and the nearest railroad is Kopargaon. The Maharashtra Tourism Development Corporation runs bi-weekly roundtrip bus service to Shirdi from Mumbai while Shirdi can also be reached by bus, private coach or taxi from any of the major cities in the region. Nashik is linked by rail to all of the major cities in the State of Maharashtra and is also connected by major roads and highways to the rest of the country.
Call India Tourism at 800-953-9399; 212-586-4901; West Coast: 213-380-8855;www.incredibleindia.org or visit the Maharashtra Tourism Development Corporation site:www.maharashtratourism.gov.in

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