Following a night in Pune, our first stop the next day was the Sri Mahaganapati Temple in Ranjangaon, the eighth temple. Like most of the temples on the Ashtavinayaka pilgrimage, the present external structure of this temple dates from the heyday of the Peshwa rulers in the late 18th century--although stone pillars of the older temple, which are visible in the compound, show that there was a place of worship here at least as early as the 9th or 10th centuries. One of the unifying--and most intriguing--characteristics of all the Ashtavinayaka temples is the fact that no one has a clue how long they've been there. The entrance to this shrine is especially large and the swayambhu murti is most attractive, although local legend maintains that the real icon, consisting of ten trunks and twenty hands, was moved to the cellar at some time in the past due to fear of Muslim invasion.

Sri Vighneshwar Temple at Ozar, the seventh, is 85 kilometers north of Pune. The present temple dates from 1785, and was renovated in 1967. The Deity has emeralds embedded in its eyes and diamonds on its forehead and navel. This is the only Ashtavinayaka temple to possess a golden dome and pinnacle. Our arrival was particularly auspicious. We entered the sanctum just as worship was in progress; tiny finch-like birds flitted in and out between the sanctum and the outer chamber where the devotees had gathered. It was utter magic and I was completely lost in the moment.

The village of Ozar, a small square just outside the entrance to the temple, was, to my mind, the finest of all the village-based Ashtavinayaka temples: a serene and welcoming place, at least when we were there.

Then came the second day's final port of call: the remarkable cave temple at Lenyadri, Sri Girijatmaj, the sixth temple. To reach this, one must climb 307 sheer steps along the cliff face to gain entrance to the temple, one of 18 formerly Buddhist caves carved deep into the high mountainside. The temple here is exceptional--one large hall carved out of stone leads directly to the sanctum. The swayambhu murti here, like at Siddhatek, is attached directly to the cave wall.

To get to the eighth Ashtavinayaka temple, Sri Varadvinayaka at Mahad, we had to cross back over the low mountain range that divides the Maharashtrian coast from the inland plain on the third and final pilgrimage day. Sri Varadvinayaka at Mahad, the fourth temple, is the most controversial of the Ashtavinayaka temples for the simple fact that, a few years ago, the trustees decided that the ancient swayambhu murti was too worn to continue using, so they consecrated a carved icon in its place. Some devotees filed a suit against the trustees and, until a court decision is reached, the original Deity sits in front of the sanctum, next to the offering box. I dutifully worshiped both Deities, circumambulated the temple and proceeded to the last of the Ashtavinayaka temples.

Sri Ballaleswar Temple at Pali, the third, is one of the most distant from Pune. It's the only one of the Ashtavinayaka Temples to be named after the devotee who discovered the swayambhu murti. Some time in antiquity a young boy ("Ballal") at this site became a devout Ganesha devotee. The swayambhu murti at Pali is one of the most characterful--long and "melting" at the shoulders, it wears a crown not unlike a cap and resides in a tall, stone hall with eight stone pillars. It is said that if you make 21 circumambulations of this temple your problems will be solved and your desires fulfilled.

As we left the site, it struck me that it was over. We had completed my dream and performed the sacred Ashtavinayaka Yatra. I was consumed with a mixture of elation and sadness and deeply overcome. I wanted to start the whole process over again, but I realized that it was the internalization of my experiences that mattered now. All blessings to Vinayaka for allowing me a safe pilgrimage--and the same to those this article might inspire to do likewise! Our Lord Ganapati as Chintamani is, indeed, the pilot of our lives.