It all started with a visit of Nisha and her husband to my 28th floor room at the Palladium Hotel, Mumbai. We were there to attend 2015 Discover Thainess event. I had a room with the view. Over tea, they pointed out that the structure in the water was the famous Haji Ali Dargah. Now that got my attention for sure. I got an opportunity to visit the dargah the next morning.
Now that I could see the shrine from my room (this is through a zoom at 300mm) I had to go there. I was staying in Lower Parel and I decided to hail a taxi right outside the hotel. Now I was in for a pleasant surprise here. The taxi went by meter, the bill came to 46 rupees and the driver gave back the exact change! People who live in Delhi/NCR would sure understand why I am surprised. That was a good start to the trip.
The weather in Mumbai was surely warmer than Delhi but it was still quite mild. As a rule I like to walk but I am not so sure about the paths full of hawkers and destitutes. However, once again, people did try to sell things or ask for alms but no one was pushy even when it was obvious that we were tourists.
At the beginning of the path, there is a concentration of shops selling flowers, chadar and other such things. People invariably asked if I would like to buy something, but I didn’t. They were quite alright when I stopped to click a picture even without buying anything. I was either ignored or the shop owners commented on their excellent display which compelled me to stop and click pictures!
All my recent trips to Mumbai have been for events and one night affairs! This one was no different. And yet, I am getting more attracted to it with each trip. I do find it claustrophobic with all its high rises standing next to slums. The traffic makes me feel nervous but there is something about the city which surely attracts me. What it is I know not yet, but the attraction is there, it is unmistakable.
The dargah is said to be built in 1431 AD in the memory of Peer Haji Ali. It is about 500 meters inside the sea and I am told at high tide the path becomes inaccessible. So, at high tide there are chances of getting stuck within the dargah as well. It didn’t happen to me though.
There is a separate enclosure for women at the dargah. It looks like women can’t visit the main shrine but then even this vantage point gives a good view of the main shrine. Like many religious places in India, it is required that you take off your shoes to enter the main complex. You are also required to cover your head. The shrine welcomes people from all religions.
People tie a thread to the outer walls if they wish to make a wish to the saint. If your wish is granted you are supposed to come back and remove the thread.
I am told that photography at the main shrine is not allowed. However from the women’s side no one said anything when I photographed the shrine.
Even though I had very little time, the shops were so colorful that I would stop to click a few pictures even on my way back.
One of the last pictures I clicked was of this bright orange sweet dish. After looking at this mouth watering picture I realized that I should have actually tried the stuff as well. I will surely do it next time. one of the pictures I didn’t dare to click was of a person sitting by the road, he was wearing a green kurta and his white beard had orange tinch of henna. I am still so timid when it comes to clicking people.
My visit to Haji Ali Dargah was truly memorable. So long Mumbai, till we meet next.
At the outset let me say that cameras are not allowed inside the Dargah, Ajmer. Cell phones are allowed though. I now have a good camera in my phone, the Lumia 1020 so I was excited. I really don’t feel very enthusiastic while visiting places that do not allow photography. This was my third visit to Dargah Sharif but on the last two occasions I was not too thrilled to shoot with my cell phone.
The Narrow Lanes
There are actually two ways to go to the dargah. The auto and other vehicles are not allowed on the main road leading to the shrine. Our auto driver took us through the narrow lanes and dropped us near this house. The shrine is just round the corner from this spot.
This is the walking road that leads to the shrine. Every time I went there, it was always like this. Be it winter or summer there are always the same number of people around the dargah area.
The road leading to the dargah is lined with flower shops. The custom is to offer a chadar and/or flowers. I simply went in and offered my prayers and thanks.
There are chadar and flower shops within the dargah complex as well. I clicked this picture within the shrine when there was a momentary lull. After a while I had to remind myself not to click anymore flowers as in the end I can use only one or two on my blog!
This is the main entry point to the shrine. From my first visit I do remember there is a side entrance. You cannot carry even a handbag inside the premises. I was not aware of this on my first visit and I went in looking for a locker. That is when I discovered the side entrance.
One has to enter the shrine barefoot, there are many places where you can leave your shoes. In May some parts of the floor were really hot, they almost burned my feet. But there were carpets all around, so in the end the feet burning sensation was not too much.
Inside the Shrine
Nobody really objects if you use your cell phone camera at the peripheries. I decided to click the water tank. We are supposed to wash our hands before entering the shrine.
On the walls of the main shrine people tie a thread when they make a wish (mannat). I think you are supposed to come back and untie it when your wish comes true. For the believers if you ask for a vajib mannat at dargah sharif they say it will come true. By vajib it is meant that you could not ask for divine assistance for getting someone killed or things like that. I guess your imagination is as good as mine when it comes to making invalid wishes, the ones that baba will not grant.
We went in with Syed Mohammed Fakhre Alam Fakhri, he is third from left. From the picture you can make out that we need to cover our head while visiting the dargah. You can easily go into the shrine on your own. But if you wish to go with a contact I found Alam Bhai quite helpful. He can be reached at 9829187976. I feel quite blessed that I have been called back to the dargah so many times!
The auto driver left me in a narrow street in Ajmer and said I could walk straight to the Ajmer Sharif shrine ahead. When I looked at the crowd my resolve wavered but I somehow proceeded to the entrance.
I came to the dargah from the Ajmer Railway Station. The auto driver at the station wanted 200 rupees for a round trip but I was not convinced. I hailed an auto going down the road and he asked for 60 rupees to which I agreed. While walking back from Ajmer Sharif, I went to a sweet shop, bought some sweets and asked the owner where could I hail an auto from for the Ajmer station? He told me it was 10 minute walking distance and the auto driver will take a circular route to make it look longer. I decided to test his theory. The railway station is indeed at a walking distance from Ajmer Sharif. Just ask for the way and you would get there!
Getting Inside Ajmer Sharif: I was carrying my small backpack which had my camera, a few lens and all my valuables. A back pack or any other luggage is not allowed. The lady police at the entrance of the Nizam Gate was very polite and friendly. She told me that if I would walk 10 steps there is a government locker where I could keep my valuables. I could take my handbag in. My handbag had all the cards and money but I was not sure I wanted to leave my camera behind. After all, as far as material goods go my camera and my lenses are my most cherished possessions.
Not knowing that I could not carry my small back pack I had already deposited my shoes at Nizam Gate lockers (there are many), so I was moving about bare foot now! I entered the gate which leads to the locker only to be told by a security guard that the locker was closed, there was construction going on. This gate leads to a few banks, a railway reservation center and the locker. I disregarded him completely. And lo and behold the locker was open, I had to cross a small construction site that was all. While walking back I gave that guard a piece of my mind for trying to mislead me and walked away.
I had sneaked in my camera in my hand bag but I could not lie to the police lady at Gate 2 when she asked me if I had a camera in my bag? She advised me to leave it at the same government locker but I was extremely reluctant. She told me people do it routinely. At this point I was simply willing to give up. I decided to go back and take my stuff and walk away.
But when I reached the locker again I asked the young lad (must have been half my age, very baby faced and innocent looking chap!) if I could leave my camera behind. He of course remembered me. I don’t think he gets too many solo Indian women travelers. He picked up and showed me a few cameras already in his possession! That gave me some confidence and I gave him my camera for safekeeping too. He readily modified my receipt of left luggage and charged me 20 rupees (10 for the bag with lenses and 10 for the camera) for both.
I walked back to the Nizam Gate and entered the dargah this time without any trouble with my hand bag. They allow you to take your cell phone inside.
Inside Ajmer Sharif: As I was walking barefoot my feet were a mess. But there is a water tank inside where you can clean your feet before entering the main shrine and I happily cupped water in my hands and washed my feet. As I started walking inside a young official asked to cover my head! I know of many religious places where this is required but somehow I had nothing with me here. I told him I had nothing to cover my head with! He waved me off.
However I had no wish to offend anyone and I noticed shops inside the dargah too. I purchased a white handkerchief and covered my head. It cost me rupees 20. There were a lot of women on one side just outside the main entrance to the dargah offering prayers. I could see a lot of threads tied to the jali. You come back and untie them if your wish comes true. I asked a lady if women were permitted inside the actual shrine (at that point the queue outside was all male which made me hesitate) and she said yes I could go. The picture below is after you walk inside the gate but not of the main shrine.
Inside the Main Shrine: It is really crowded where the actual shrine is, the claustrophobic, shoulder to shoulder without any breathing space kind of crowded. I don’t know how I ended near the officials who bless you. One of them invited me inside the chadder and blessed me. It would have been a beautiful feeling but for the money exchanged involved and demanded. I was still fine but when two other officials insisted on giving their blessings, I was a bit dazed because it involved money every time! I wish I had my wits around. Usually I am quite vehement in a Hindu temple but being in a dargah I was just not sure what was the correct behavior.
At one point the handkerchief that I was using to cover my head dropped and a guy caught it before it could fall to the ground and gave it back to me. In that crowd I don’t know why this was a very intense experience. I tried to wade through the crowd and exit from the next gate but I panicked mid way and got out the same way I came in, the wrong way. I am sure the Gods will forgive me for it. I could just not take the throng of humanity anymore.
It was only after the visit I realized that the shrine of Hazrat Mu’inuddin Chishti is known for making a wish. They say if you make a wish here it is granted! I went simply to visit, I did not wish for anything. These days I have anyway left it to the Gods to decide what they want to grant me, after all I cannot better their decisions? It is also less complicated that way. But now that I know better maybe I will make a wish if I end up there another time!
Getting out was relatively straightforward! I got my shoes within no time and put them on while standing and doing some acrobatics because of the crowd. I headed back to the locker and got my camera and the bag without any trouble with everything intact.
As I said before that while walking out I bought some sweets and got to know that the Ajmer Railway Station was at a walking distance. From another shop I bought Rajasthani dresses (lehenga) for my niece and my daughter!
When I was talking to my sister immediately after the visit (while waiting for my train at Ajmer station) I told her never again as I don’t like getting stuck in crowded places. But now that a few days have gone by, I think I can do it again knowing what it is going to be like. If I go again I would make sure that I only have my handbag and my cell phone and no other bag. I may not enter the main shrine again or who knows I may go knowing what is there in store and actually make a wish!
My father had been at the shrine in 1968 and when we compared notes he said it was not crowded then and there was no demand for money in those days!
PS. Only while searching on the net I discovered that Ajmer Sharif is so popular that Bollywood stars regularly visit it to make a wish!