The next two days I planned to see Kolhapur, try some food and spend some time at the shops in Chappal Line. I took a Kolhapur Municipal Transport bus from Rukdi and reached Kolhapur in around 30 minutes. Having no clue where to go first, I decided to go to Chappal Line thinking I will ask the shopkeepers if I can assist them. After getting a ‘no’ from the first one, [for which I was mentally prepared] I went to the second. And this one turned out to be heavenly!
The person who owns the shop gave a warm welcome. He asked me basic questions like who I am, why I am here and am I alone [the most asked question]. Then he introduced himself, “My name is Mohan but people call me Pyare. It is my 4rth generation in this business. I will share with you all the knowledge I have about Kolhapur and its Chappal. Before that why don’t you have a look at the album which has photographs of old Kolhapur, all collected by me over years?” “That would be really great!” I said.
The patience with which he explained me the story behind every single photograph made me more interested for the coming ones. Getting to know the history of this place sitting on a road side amidst vehicles crossing was one of a kind experience. Also next day he invited to a Kolhapuri wedding and said he will arrange a factory visit for me where I will get to know the entire process of Chappal making from raw material to finished product. Next, he dropped me on his vehicle [saying it is too hot to walk for me], to the famous Misal Paav shop there. Misal Paav is one of the famous cuisines of Kolhapur and a must try, I must say
Time was to see few places. Started with Mahalaxmi Temple- a must place to visit suggested by everyone. Having spent around 2 hours mostly engaging in conversations with shopkeepers and people over there came to know interesting things about temple. I think one of the best ways to know about a place is to talk to people there including shopkeepers, sweepers, security guards and whoever one finds. They give a different and interesting perspective of the place. Happened to sit at 2 lottery shops, first one run by a lady who is a housewife and comes on shift basis to the shop and second one run by a student who just finished his masters in History and planning to do Phd. Learned basics of how lottery system works in Maharashtra. When asked “why do people buy lottery tickets?” He said “Har insaan ko paisa mehnat se jada kamana acha lagta hai” (Every person loves to earn money more than his hard work). I smiled and bid goodbye.
Made further visits to Bhavani Mandap, Rankala and New Palace. Mentioning about New Palace, I found it as a must place to go as it speaks about all the work done by Shahu Maharaj. When it comes to Kolhapur, his contribution is tremendous. He is worshipped in Kolhapur till date for its development and many other things. New Palace is a palace turned museum where Shahu Maharaj used to stay. There are no guides available there but a talk with security guard can give you information. Also at places like these one pick and choose any of the tourist group who seem to have knowledge about that place and go with them. The thing which was quite disturbing for me in the museum was a picture hung on the wall which showed an elephant surrounded by 4-5 men with sticks in their hand and a well like shape few meters away. When asked more about it, I was told that this is a form of entertainment called ‘Sathmari’ in which men used to annoy the elephant using sticks and go and hide in the spaces in that well. When elephant would come searching for them, they would annoy him again. And the cycle would repeat. it was a source of entertainment for the people at that time. I found it inhuman though. Period.
The last day was spent on wedding, factory and at the shop of Pyare uncle. All employees had become good friends by then. After thanking them for their wonderful hospitality, it was time to leave with a promise to visit him again whenever I come to Kolhapur next time. Along with an invitation to come to my home.
It was a pure coincidence that I found Pyare uncle. He was extremely kind. People like him reinstill your faith in humanity.