Once i decided to plan a trip to Ujjain one of the key challenge which came up was lack of information. Although the website https://shrimahakaleshwar.com/ provides the option for booking various types of aarti but except the most popular one, “Bhasm aarti” there is not much information available around how things work especially regarding “Jalabhishek”. My mother was keen on “Jalabhishek” but govt. website states nothing about it. I will cover all areas around the trip in this blog.
Reaching Ujjain: I evaluated multiple options like reaching by train, by air and by air is the best option is the most preferred option. Indore is just 1 hour away from Ujjain and has good connectivity with various cities in India. Once you reach Indore airport, there is a cab vendor just before exit. You can take cab either directly to Ujjain or stay in Indore for a day. If your plan is to stay in Indore then you will need a cab for to-and-fro journey from Ujjain (if you want cheaper option then you can go for train as well). I found Hotel rates for cabs quite exorbitant, better option is to negotiate with cab driver who drives you from airport (they will generally start conversation themselves asking your about plans and then offer Rates). We took a combined deal for Omkareshwar + drop to Ujjain from Indore (Driver offered around 4K while hotel offered 6k or 7k, not sure of exact rate), later we extended this to include drop from Ujjain back to Indore (Driver offered 2K while Ujjain Hotel around 3K). Overall hotels were offering much higher rate.
Trip to Omkareshwar Temple: One of best advice for this trip is start early especially if you have elderly people accompanying you. This tip was given to us by our driver and it helped us a lot. We started at 6am and it took around 2 hours but it can vary depending on traffic (highway is under construction as on May 2023) also the highway stretch on mountains can often face traffic jams with trucks/buses breaking down. Reaching early means less rush and it is very very helpful. If you are late or you are expecting rush then it will be challenging. Temple is quite a distance away from parking, I will suggest to take a boat rather than walking, taking a boat will reduce distance. Once you are in queue for temple, priests will approach offering a package for “Jalabhishek” and Pooja, i think he offered around 1100 for everything but there is a catch. So priest will help you to offer Jal on Shivling while others will be pushed out and then he will take you for offering pooja and that’s where he will put sudden question around how much money you want to offer as part of prayer (not for priest but for Lord Shiva !!) which will take you by surprise and tendency is put more money, that’s what happened with us. After offering prayers you can also go for a boat trip which cover 4 view points, not at all worth it. I would sugget to just take boat to cross the river.
Bhasm Aarti at Mahakaleshwar Temple: People visit Mahakaleshwar temple especially for Bhasm aarti. Bhasm aarti ticket needs to be booked in advance online however there is surely a backdoor entry via pujaris or travel agents. I booked tickets online. Online booking is opened only for one month and booking starts at 8am and within few minutes all tickets are grabbed, so be ready with photo and id proof before booking window opens. On the day of aarti, we reached Gate No#1 at around 1am and guess what people had already started queuing up. Just to highlight Shringar begins at 4am and overall ceremony lasts around 2 hours including Aarti which is towards the end !! Mobile phones are not allowed inside and will be kept in a locker before entering so better not take them along. Once you reach inside after security check and keeping mobile phones in locker, you will now wait in a long queue (similar to what happens in Tirupati temple). Despite reaching at 1am we had around 300-400 people ahead of us. At around 4am the crowd was allowed to move to another chamber i.e. after almost 2 hour waiting and this was the last point where there was some sanity. After this point people started running like crazy as it was quite open, and for those with elderly and those who cannot walk fast nothing could be done and you are on your own. Although guards let elderly cross through shorter paths but still it is no match for running of other people. Reason people run is because is to get closest view of Bhasm aarti. There are chambers to sit watch Bhasm aarti. Aarti happen in “Garbh Grah” which is quite small and you get only some glimpse. So it goes like this, if you stand early in queue say by 12am and can run then you get a seat in ground floor chamber, once that chamber is filled it goes to first floor chamber where some can get some glimpse of actual aarti. Mainly ground floor and people in middle of chamber on first floor can get good view of Bhasm aarti. However there are TV screens everywhere which give best view which you can view even from outside temple. Bhasm aarti is good, having attended it makes me feel good but i don’t think one should put so much effort in waiting for so long and then rushing to get best seat, I feel its too much ask for especially elderly. Make effort to be part of it and watch on screen if you don’t get seat of choice. I really hope government improves situation but for now this is how it is. Being part of Bhasm aarti will not let you enter the actual sanctum where shivling is kept. Bhasm aarti ticket is only for watching aarti and to enter sanctum where Shivling is kept you need separate ticket for “Garbh Grah” darshan and this was the best part of my trip, read on the next section.
Garbh Grah Darshan: This is the ticket which allows you actually enter the sanctum where shivling is kept and actually perform “Jalabhishek”. These tickets are opened on a daily basis and this is the closest you get to the shivling and this what i was looking for as my mother wanted to perform “Jalabhishek” and i am sure many other pilgrims want. Nobody even told me about this despite asking lots of people and there is a reason for it. Other than online booking there is another concept of Pujari darshan where some Pujaris are allowed to bring in people with themselves, basically its a source of income of Pujaris and is also a big source of chaos as Pujaris will break queues and will allow people with them to come in front, flouting all rules and I had an argument on this with security. My mother could stand in queues, and people with pujari cannot? So effectively the point is that even if you don’t get online ticket its not all over, pujaris can help at a charge many time more !! When you buy an online ticket, it also allocate a time slot to you but there is some flexibility around it if you request the entry guards. Once you enter the sanctum, you will be provided water and a pot to offer it on shivling, pujaris also may give you Bhasm and flower petals. Workers in the sanctum are very efficient and empathetic, they allowed my mother to stay much longer, gave her Bhasm from aarti and also flower petals, and after coming out she said it was best darshan of her life. Really thankful to all workers who made it a memorable and successful trip. I would highly recommend Garbh Grah darshan.
After your pilgrimage or before , do take a walk across the corridor either in morning or evening as it gets very hot when sun is out and check out sculptors placed there, its beautiful !! Also there is a small park in front Bharat Mata Mandir, its very peaceful to sit there, you can even listen to aarti from there if its going on. At 6pm i believe, Vande Matram is played at Bharat Mata Mandir and everybody is asked to stand up (please do stand up when guard requests).
If you are coming from Delhi then if you want to experience “Vande Bharat” travel then you can reach Bhopal by Vande Bharat and then to Ujjain which is approximately 2 hours from there but you will loose a lot of time travelling.
My suggested itinerary will be fly to Indore and stay there over night. I loved “Chappan Dukan” in Dukan, it has great atmosphere. Rajwada was boring for me atleast nothing much there. Indore is a very clean city, i took long walks and no garbage dumps anywhere and I was very happy to see that. After Indore, next day plan and early departure to Omkareshwar temple and then try to reach Ujjain by late afternoon. In the evening, take a walk across corridor and book Garbh Grah darshan ticket if not already booked. If Bhasm aarti ticket is booked then leave back for your room a little early and take a nap, then try to reach queue by 12:30am or before if you want to be closest. Anything later than 2am, it will same as 3am or later as chances of getting a view of aarti other screen will be very less. Despite all this do take part in Bhasm Aarti, atmosphere is great and you will forget all tiredness. After Ujjain, head back to Indore for your flight. Try to book an afternoon flight, so that your cab can directly drop you at airport. My flight was late in evening and Ujjain hotel refused to provide late checkout, so I had to book an accommodation in Indore for half day which can be avoided with better planning.