My dad is a deeply religious person. So invariably every summer vacation we would travel to a place with religion at its core. Thus, my tryst with travel began with religion.
Religious places in India are colourful, bustling with activities, and full of eccentricities. Travelling to such a place helps you understand, see, experience life and that sometimes leads to a paradigm perspective shift.
Don’t worry, will not bore you with philosophy! Let me stick to pet puja primarily and philosophy later.
These are the top 5 places where travel, religion and food come together to create a memorable experience
My dad’s hometown and city of the holy River Ganga, Allahabad was always a fun place for me. Along with my cousins, I would hop from one temple to the other, spend the day praying and giggling, and most importantly checking out guys.
A tip here: You can see the best lot at Hanuman temples on Tuesday.
How to get the best of Allahabad?
Get up early in the morning and go to Sangam, a place where the 3 rivers – Ganga, Yamuna and Saraswati meet. You can hire a boat and a pandit, who is also your guide, to take you to the exact mythological place of Saraswati River’s origin. Dip in the holy water and wash of your sins, pray to Sun God and experience a calmer you. Sky has an orangish hue and you are right in the middle of the river, isn’t it just perfect?
Once you are back from your peaceful sojourn, the food stalls at the river bank are waiting to welcome you with a hearty breakfast of hot jalebi, khasta and chai.
Next time you think of a weekend break, book a flight and enjoy your morning tea besides Ganga River in Allahabad.
Puri, Jaganath Temple
A beautifully carved, huge temple on the banks of Puri beach, Jaganath Temple, famous for the Rath Yatra is fascinating. According to a folklore when a bad flood came and the Puri city was drowning, people ran towards Jagnath temple for help. Owing to the Lord Jaganath’s blessing the water stopped at the steps of the temple and the complete population of Puri squeezed inside the temple and was saved. Well, more such stories you have to go and explore yourself!
Lord Jaganath, is known to be very fond of sweets. In his honour, every day 56 types of sweets (Chappan bhog) are prepared by Brahmins in the temple kitchen. This Kitchen, the Rosaghar is believed to be world’s largest kitchen. The guide gave us a sneak peek into the kitchen from the holes in the wall, for a commoner is not allowed inside. Brahmins just wear loincloth while preparing Mahaprasadam. Thereafter food is carried in baskets on their heads and served to Lord Jaganath.
However, for me the real fun has been the small market just behind the temple, Anand Baazar where they sell Mahaprasadam (Well, God can’t eat all by himself) after 2pm at a very nominal price. Every preparation is unique and tasty, as they say amongst Hindus, having Bhagwan ka Prasad is a fulfilling experience .
Forgive me for talking about non-satvik food right in between a religious article (Hope some right-wing activist is not reading this) but for God sake, you are on a beach. Yes, how can you come to Puri and not savour sea food.
Right on the beach there are sea food carts that showcase raw prawns, crabs and lobsters. Just choose what you want to eat and the vendor will dip them in red coloured spicy batter and fry them crisp. Hot and fresh! Enjoy your seafood on the beach amidst rhythmic waves, the sea breeze and rising moon.
A Tip: While I was planning my trip to Puri, I wasted a lot of time researching how to reach the place. So to make it easy for you, book a flight ticket to Bhubaneswar, hire a taxi and drive 60kms to reach Puri.
My personal favourite! Haridwar ‘s har ki podi is the place to be in, if you wish to experience India’s eccentricities. You will find people bathing, praying and chanting all around.
There are 2 food highlights in Haridwar:
Just around the corner in Har ki podi, there are 3-4 pakoda stalls. They have every variety of pakoda – potato, paneer, cauliflower, green chilli, etc. These are already half cooked. When you ask them for pakoda, it is not given as per piece or plate but is measured in Kilograms….wow….dream come true for pakoda lovers.
Take your pakoda packet, grab a cup of hot tea and sit on the stairs of the river to enjoy spectacular Ganga aarti.
Masi-pishi, dada–boudi….bengali food joints
These are two small food joints, each across the street, behind Har ki podi that serve authentic Bengali food. The waiters will come one by one to serve rice, moong dal, aloo bhaja, potol jhol or the seasonal veggie. But the highlight is, serving of ghee by clanking the spoon to the vessel, raising the hand high up and then dropping ghee down to your plate at a jet speed…..ah some serious circus juggling here!
Food is what we say in Bengali, phata phati (out of the world)
Om Sai Ram
At Shirdi it is about faith. People from all over India and abroad come here seeking hope and faith.
It is a ritual for every Sai Bhakt to eat at the Prasadalaya run by the theSai Baba Sansthan. It is a huge hall where more than 1000 people sit together and eat. Prasadalaya is open 24 X 7 X 365 days. It is a sumptuous meal of rice, dal, 2 kinds of veggies, papad. Food is cooked using solar power and ultra-modern machines. Impressive, isn’t it?
For me the intriguing part was the complete system – How do they manage it? Seamlessly, effortlessly and run by volunteers. Surely, it is practicing faith and benevolence as Sai Baba preached.
You must have Sai Baba Prasad at least once in your lifetime. And, please no excuses, online ticket booking has made travelling quick and easy. Plan now and get your share of blessings.
The best way to see all the temples on the bank of River Ganga in Varanasi is to take a boat. Get down at each bank, visit the temple, and listen to these amazing stories. For instance, at Manikarnika ghat pyres burn 24 X 7 throughout the year, unbelievable but true.
This boat ride covers approximately 80 ghat and takes around 4-5 hours.
Dasaswamedh ghat is the most popular of all. Though quite dirty but I have a way to make it look tempting, and you guessed it right – food.
At Dasaswamedh ghat, visit the famous Vishwanath temple, and once you have completed your morning prayers, it is food time. On the main road just behind the Dasaswamedh ghat, there is one lane full of food shops that churn out hot Kachori and serve it with veggies, pickle, sweets and hot tea. As a kid, I would wake up real early in the morning and show my eagerness to visit the temple, for I knew post that lip-smacking breakfast is waiting.
However, now demands have increased and shopping of Banarasi saree is added to the travel plans.
Hope you enjoyed this tale of food and religion.