Day 161| 21 June 2015 | Dahiwad to Gondavale | The Walk of Hope 2015-16

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Leaving Shikar Shingapur after breakfast, the yatris walked at a fast pace.They arrived to a welcome ceremony at Dahiwad Town Square in the presence of around 150 people.They stopped for a tea break at a farmhouse where excited children gathered around the padayatris, asking many questions. The break lasted almost half an hour before they could set out again, requiring the walkers to pick up their pace to make up for lost time. The children joined them for a while before leaving reluctantly; it was time to go to school.

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Walk of Hope covered a distance of 7 kilometers from Dahiwad to the small village of Gondavale. Welcomed by about 70 people, the yatris were led to the Gondavale Sansthan to visit the Samadhi of Shri Brahmachaitanya Gondavalekar Maharaj, a saint who lived here and showed his thousands of devotees the path of devotion to Rama. He spent his life time teaching people the importance of peace with oneself compared the pursuit of material comforts alone—advocating the continued remembrance of God as a means of happiness and contentment. He said family life was completely compatible with the attainment of ultimate peace - the key was how one led one's life with no expectation of anything in return. He went into Samadhi in 1913. A pilgrimage center attracting thousands of devotees on major festivals such as Shri Ram Navami, Guru Poornima and Das Navami, the Samadhi of Shri Brahmachaitanya Gondavalekar Maharaji is within the precincts of the temple. The Gondavale Sansthan that oversees the running of both, provides free accommodation and food to hundreds of people every day. All activities of the small town of Gondavale cater to the pilgrim’s needs of food and shelter. The padayatris stayed for two days and were assigned quarters at the ashram, 8 to 12 of them, in each clean and spacious room. The accommodation, located on the third floor, would have made lugging the heavy bags a chore. Luckily, the small group of young men who ‘download’ the luggage from the van, ensuring that the padayatris find their belongings with ease, volunteered to carry the bags to the rooms. Lunch was at the ashram dining room, a huge cavernous structure with a capacity of seating a thousand people at one go. What is particularly remarkable about this ashram is that it provides free food to hundreds of people every day - pilgrim or wayfarer, everyone is fed.There are 8 long queues snaking to the center of the hall, where 8 platforms house vats of enormous proportions containing food - rice, curries, yoghurt and rotis. A huge trolley with even larger containers makes the rounds, replenishing the vats as they are emptied. A small army of volunteers serve the hungry people with machine precision -one person hands out a large metallic plate with two bowls, the next one scoops a ladle of curry onto the plate, then a scoop of rice, the next fills a bowl with yoghurt. Thus moves the queue, day after day, year after year. With no Satsang in the evening, everyone retired for the day after lunch. With the memory of walking in the hot sun still on their minds, the yatris find the weather very much to their liking. Dark rain clouds gathered as early as 9.00 am, drizzling on and off the whole day, with chilly nights requiring them to pull out their blankets and shawls!

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