Anonymous Devotee from India says: I am trying to provide best of my knowledge to devotees who wish to visit Shibpur, where no doubt one can feel Baba’s wonderful vibrations and can seek His grace. I shall write about the wonderful people of Shibpur, the pious temple management members in whom I saw Shama, Hemadpant, Mahalsapati and all other blessed ones, who served Baba in His Masjid. I am narrating plain facts, what I saw instead of interpreting anything without any intention to de-glorify anything or anybody. Still I seek forgiveness of esteemed readers with folding hands for any errors. Om Sai Ram.
When Sai Baba summoned me to Shibpur, my joy knew no bounds. I was ecstatic. I immediately decided to do Saptah Sai Satcharitra Parayan and also flashed a message through various channels to contact all Sai Devotees for taking their prayer requests to Baba. I had just 6 days time to make my own preparations and compiling prayer requests etc. Messages started pouring in and they gave me new realization that so much pain is there in this world. I was not the only one. And mine was nothing, when compared to those. They humbled my pride and ego. Why do I find faults always? Why do I blame Baba all the time? Did I ever count my blessings? Am I negative thinker? I decided to do Saptah Parayan for those devotees, who were sending prayer requests instead of my own wishes. This resolution gave me peace. I started reading Sai Satcharitra on Thursday and my visit to Shibpur was scheduled on Wednesday, the seventh day, when the Parayan was supposed to conclude. Baba planned it that way. Next day, it was Thursday and date was 9th February, another number close to our Sai. I was thrilled.
Meanwhile, I got confirmation of seats in Kalka express upto Kolkata with great difficulty. The clerk at the counter told me, “So here you get the last two seats, which were available”. As if they were reserved by Baba for me and my friend, who was supposed to accompany me.
Blind journey to Shibpur seeking Sai
I dug out information from internet about the shortest route to Shibpur and available mode of transport. Information was there, but nothing concrete was found. So we set out on our blind journey to Shibpur without any knowledge. We planned to go to Kolkata and find out the route further from Amit Biswas Ji.
Here I would like to mention that before setting out on our journey, I called up my counterpart in the local district administration, who did not speak very well about Amit Biswas, the chairman of the temple society. I also mailed to tourism department of West Bengal for guidance and it found place in the trash. Amit Ji told us to come to Krishnanagar. I requested him if he could arrange a taxi to and fro from Kolkata to Shibpur, because we were from Himachal Pradesh and had no clue about West Bengal. He gladly agreed and quoted a hefty price of 5000 rupees. I felt that was too much for covering about 150 kms. Distance between Kolkata and Shibpur is approximately this much. We also enquired about lodging facilities from Amit Ji. He informed that there was a small lodge near Krishnanagar and nothing else was available in that area.
However Baba came to our rescue. I got a phone call from my brother a day before I was supposed to leave for Kolkata. He was concerned for me because the Krishnanagar area was a politically sensitive, disturbed area with unstable law and order conditions. This is a remote and backward area almost bordering Bangladesh. Brother informed me that he had a friend in Kolkata and he could make transport arrangements for us to reach Krishnanagar. I was not very keen to travel in public transport so brother’s friend arranged a taxi for 2 days that too at a reasonable amount of 3500 rupees. It was almost half the amount quoted by Amit Biswas Ji. We heaved a sigh of relief.
Our ordeal begins
We reached Howrah station at 10.30 AM and our journey to Shibpur commenced. We asked Amit Ji on telephone about lodging arrangement and the location of the temple again and again. His consistent advice throughout was to reach Krishnanagar and contact him. The stretch between Krishnanagar and Kolkata was less developed, but certainly it was not backward. It was the highway that leads to Darjeeling and Siliguri. We were told by the driver. However the highway lacked good restaurants and other facilities. Small Bengali Dhabas were available though. Condition of roads was also not too good.
We reached Krishnanagar around 1.30 PM only to realize that lodge was available at Bethuadhari, which was 30 kms away from Krishnanagar. It was simply tiresome to travel 30 kms more after 2 days train journey and 3 hours tedious car journey to Krishnanagar. We were very tired and asked Amit Ji if any other hotel was available in the vicinity of Krishnanagar, where we could take some rest. But there was none available, according to him. We reached Bethuadhari, a small town with unhygienic conditions. A lodge named Utsav was recommended by Amit Ji, so we checked into it. Another lodge named Puja was also there, but we ignored it and followed the advice of Amit Ji. We reached our room at 2.45 PM and relaxed for a while. We were anxious to reach Temple, have Darshan and come back before late evening as advised by locals. It was unsafe to roam around at night. They warned. Moreover we were outsiders, so it was more unsafe. Communal clashes, scuffles between ruling and opposition party workers were frequent, we were told. Loot and plunder incidents were also common, they informed us.
We set out for Shibpur around 4.30 PM. It was 15 km away from Bethuadhari. We enquired many people about the way. It was confusing again. There were two places by same name. They asked which Shibpur? We said Sai temple. Locals feigned ignorance. We are not aware of any such temple. I was shattered how come local Villagers don’t know. I was almost in tears. We moved ahead. An old man wearing white clothes and white beard was standing in front of a shop. For a moment, I identified him with my Sai. And I requested driver to enquire from him. Another major problem was people of that area are uneducated and poor. They speak only Bengali. Thanks to Sai, our driver spoke Bengali fluently. He spoke to that old man and he guided us correctly. Go straight 12 kms and avoid talking to locals (an inner warning). Then you will reach Shibpur. We asked him about temple. He said I am living here since many years, but never heard of any such temple.
I was disillusioned, prayed. Oh Sai, what kind of test is this? People in your area don’t know You, whereas I came from so far to see You. Are You there or I was fooled by some enthusiastic devotees on internet. Was that just a hype created through internet or anything existed at Shibpur. I traveled for three days to see You. Was my effort just a waste? My heart cried and mind wandered.
Finally we reached Shibpur and a signboard – Sai Temple welcomed us. We felt relieved. Temple was just few meters ahead. All my doubts vanished the moment, I set my foot inside the temple. Sai gave me wonderful experiences. I shall write about those blissful moments in my next post because here I am just talking about Shibpur temple and how to reach here.
Objective of writing this post
I faced an ordeal reaching this place due to lack of appropriate information. Therefore I did a lot of research to guide all the devotees, who wish to visit Shibpur in future. People of this place lack education and exposure. Therefore they could not upload anything on internet. Lack of exposure and vision on the part of Amit Biswas Ji also added to our woes as neither he could guide us properly nor he could promote the place by seeking cooperation with West Bengal government or even local administration. He even failed to get some signboards erected by requesting the local administration, which was not a big deal. After all a place drawing Devotees from nation and abroad and attracting donations worth lakhs of rupees deserves such little cooperative gestures from the district administration. Lack of initiative on the part of Amit Ji was apparent. When we suggested him this, he arrogantly replied that I don’t invite any devotee here. They come on their own. Arrogance was oozing out in his behavior and demeanor. I would also suggest devotees not to believe anything blindly as I observed a lot and certain things didn’t fail our eyes. I am a class 1 gazetted officer in the government with lot of exposure. My friend is a senior journalist in popular English daily. I don’t want to write about that right here. We love our Sai and donate blindly to him, who fills our coffers at our beck and call. But those, who donate, have every right to question how the money was being utilized.
My heart bled to see
One more thing hurt me deeply. I took cash offerings worth 3000 rupees or more in an envelope besides 130 prayer requests and two coconuts with wishes from Devotees. Temple priest asked me to put them at Sai’s feet before Aarti. I did. I know Sai knows all our feelings and pain and He accepted them there itself. But I noticed that they were left unattended in sealed covers during the Aarti. Obviously, it appeared that members of the temple management had standing orders not to touch cash etc till “Bade Saab” counted himself. We remained there till Aarti concluded. Next morning, when we again visited the temple, I enquired Amit Ji about those prayer requests. He replied casually. Haan haan sab ho gaya (“Yes, Everything is done”). How? I failed to understand. Nobody touched them during Aarti. Amit Ji knows neither Hindi nor English. And the temple priest appeared to be an illiterate. We went inside the temple and one more shock awaited me. The sealed covers containing cash were obviously taken care of as they vanished from the sight, but the coconuts with wishes of poor devotees lay there unattended. My heart cried. Of course, Baba knows our wishes and shall take care of everything. But an inner voice cried.
How to reach Shibpur
Now let me discuss about the easiest route to reach Shibpur and lodging facilities for those, who wish to come to this place for visiting Sai and getting some peace.
Devotees can catch a flight upto Kolkata or even by train. For those who can spend money, they can take a taxi upto Shibpur, which can’t be more than 3000 rupees in any case. I hired it at 3500 rupees for two days. There is no lodging arrangement upto Bethuadhari, which is a very dirty place. Journey between Kolkata to Shibpur takes approx 5 hours, but there are heavy traffic jams during early morning hours and night, which can extend this to 7-8 hours. So do not plan to go back to Kolkata on same day.
Next day, after lot of research, we found out that there is a beautiful and famous Krishna temple (Navdeep Temple) of ISCON at Mayapur, which is just 10 km from Krishnanagar. It is a divine place with amazing vibrations. The campus has good accommodation facilities. Even if you don’t want to stay in the campus, there are lot of lodges and hotels outside the campus. The area is clean, beautiful and peaceful and it is worth visiting. There is good luxury bus service to this place from Kolkata. People, who can’t afford a taxi, can conveniently catch a bus from Kolkata to Mayapur. One can stay here and can hire a local conveyance or even taxi which won’t be too costly to reach Shibpur. I kept wondering why Amit Ji misguided us about lodging facilities and that nothing was available upto Bethuadhari, which was 30 km whereas Mayapur was only 10 kms away from Krishnanagar. Though it is on a different route, but it is much convenient and approachable for those having a conveyance.
In internet, there is information that you can reach Bethuadhari through local train and local autos ply upto Shibpur. I suggest don’t even think of this. The local auto is a very strange conveyance. A big wooden plank fitted on a rickshaw manned or automated on which you can sit in a Padmasan in the middle or sit on the corner with your legs down. However, for those devotees, who can’t spend much, local bus service is available from Kolkata upto Krishnanagar and from there they have to reach Bethuadhari. After that, there is this strange so-called auto service, which can be seen just here and nowhere else on this planet.