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You see it on car stickers, shop windows, bus stands and wayside shrines. It registers indelibly in the subconscious mind amid the synaesthetic hysteria of images that India offers most tourists. It is the picture of a man with a white beard and penetrating glance, clad in the traditional attire of a poor fakir a ragged white robe and a kerchief around the head seated barefoot on a rock, his right ankle resting on his left knee.

There are variations on this theme, as there inevitably are when an image proliferates. At times his robes are saffron, and at other times, the picture focuses merely on his face with its deep compelling glance. But who is this man. And how did he come to acquire such a pan-Indian familiarity and generate such collective veneration.

The key to that enigma or at least a tantalising glimpse into it is to be found in a hot, dusty nondescript town in Maharashtra called Shirdi, an eight-hour bus-ride away from Mumbai.

For it is here that Sai Baba, that legendary mystic of early 20th century India, lived for most of the 80 years of his life.

There is nothing particularly attractive about Shirdi. An abundance of profoundly unaesthetic pink, white and yellow concrete has nudged out the green spaces that must have once defined the landscape. And the odour of mercantilism simply pervades the air from hotel proprietors to street vendors to the temple authorities, everyone appears to have acquired breathtaking savoir-faire in the practice of peddling the Sai Baba phenomenon.

But hang in there. Somewhere in the course of your visit, a strange peace, a certain inexplicable quietude, is likely to descend upon you. You could attribute it to the grace of the mysterious Fakir that suffuses the hallowed town. Or simply to the atmosphere surcharged with devotion that is found in so many sites of pilgrimage all over the world.

And yet, even diehard agnostics and rationalists have been known to furtively tuck little fragments of Sai Baba memorabilia into their pockets before they leave the place!

And that finally, is what the big hoo-ha over Shirdi is all about. For slowly but inevitably, the Fakir of this seemingly godforsaken place in the west-Indian wilderness gets under your skin.

Places to visit

    Masjid (Dwarkamayi)
    Samadhi mandir              
    Guru Sthan
    Lendi Garden
    Khandoba Temple
    Maruti Temple

How to Reach

By Air :-
Nearest airport is Aurangabad.

By Rail :-
Nearest railhead is Kopargaon, 15 kms. on the Manmad-Daund section of Central Railway.

By Road
Mumbai-Shirdi, 296 kms. (Mumbai-Nashik-Niphad-Yeola-Shirdi) Nashik-Shirdi 112 kms. Aurangabad-shirdi 126 kms. (Aurangabad-Vaijapur Yeola-Kopargaon-shirdi) Pune-Shirdi, 183 kms. (Pune-Kalamba-Sangmner-Talegaon-Shirdi)

 State Transport buses ply regularly from Mumbai, Nashik, Ahmednagar, Aurangabad, Pune and Kopargaon.