During an interaction with pilgrims, IGP Nangre-Patil stopped to play fugdi

Pune: Pilgrims headed for Vitthal Mandir in Pandharpur this month had a rare darshan: an inspector general of police (IGP) playing fugdi with a devotee. IGP (Kolhapur) and 26/11 gallantry award winner, Vishwas Nangre-Patil won new admirers during this year's Pandharpur pilgrimage when he got onto a bicycle and set out to ensure that the pilgrims' journey was smooth and safe.

Close to 5 lakh devotees set off on a 22-day annual palki procession of Sant Dnyaneshwar and Sant Tukaram at Alandi in Pune all the way to Pandharpur through an uncertain 230-km-long terrain. This year, the pilgrimage, covered on foot, began on June 16.

Since police jeeps cannot traverse the narrow route, Nangre-Patil decided to take a small team of police personnel along on bicycles to keep a tab on the pilgrimage. He set off on June 16, covering a distance of close to 55 km in two-and-a-half hours every day. En route, he stopped over to talk to pilgrims and address their grievances.

The 44-year-old IGP's gesture won hearts — many local NCC students and admirers joined him on bicycles. His team of police personnel, though, struggled to keep pace with his endurance levels. Many abandoned their bicycles midway and flagged down trucks to get to the next pit stop.

Nangre-Patil's confidence stemmed from his familiarity with the terrain. "In 2007, I served as the Pune superintendent of police and therefore, know the route. I figured reaching out to people during the pilgrimage was the best way to understand their problems," he said, at the end of his journey yesterday.

IGP Kolhapur Vishwas Nangre-Patil en route the pilgrimage
IGP Kolhapur Vishwas Nangre-Patil en route the pilgrimage

He said he travelled a day ahead of the pilgrims to ensure their safety and comfort. "A few areas saw problems of erratic power supply, absence of streetlights, and the presence of notorious goons and pickpockets. By travelling ahead, we could rectify glitches. We were also able to plan better crowd management."

He said the 6-km stretch in the Dive Ghat section tested his stamina the most. "I put on my headphones and chanted Lord Vitthal's name to keep up my strength."

Although he started his day at 5 am after a breakfast of cornflakes and milk, and snacked on an apple, lemon juice and a protein shake en route, his meals included the simple dishes pilgrims ate.