Thursday, December 2, 2010

Sholingur

Sholingur
Another name for annual check-up (physical and spiritual) for me and my family. That’s the place we go at least once every year, to thank the Lord for what He blessed us with during the last year and to pray for what we wish to happen in the course of the coming year. A recap of this week’s trip. It also gives us a good break from routine life and an opportunity to experience the ever varying nature.

Sholingur is a small town about 100 km from Ambattur where I live, and about 120 km from Chennai, on the Tiruttani-Chittoor road route, about 25 km from Tiruttani. It is connected by rail on the Chennai-Bangalore route, but the railway station is far away. The place has developed recently with the setting up of a number of factories around. Easily accessible by bus from Tiruttani and Arakkonam.

Sholingur
Legend has it that Lord Narasimha, after killing Prahalada’s father Hiranyaksha at Ahobilam (near Cuddapah in Andhra Pradesh – another lovely place to visit), came here to cool down and sat in meditation on top of the larger hill. The smaller hill has Lord Anjaneya in a stance worshipping Lord Narasimha. Anjaneya has four hands, holding the Shank (conch) and Chakra (discus) on two hands – a unique feature that can be found only here. The place is also called Ghatikachalam (Ghatikai meaning a short duration of time - 24 minutes). There are several legends that hinge on the short duration – Sage Viswamitra performed penance just for a Ghatikai and got his powers; etc. Therefore, it is believed that if you visit this place and pray for a short time or even be here for a short time, your prayers will be answered – in a short time, of course. No wonder people throng this place. More so in the Tamil month of Karthikai, when the Lord Narasimha is believed to wake up from his meditation and the devotees get to be blessed by being ‘seen’ by the Lord.

The drive from my home takes about two-and-a-half hours. On reaching the Sholingur town from Tiruttani and after crossing the bus-stand, you need to take a left turn on the road leading to Arakkonam.  Within about half a kilometer, you can see the arch for the temple on the right side, and a well laid concrete road. This road goes right up to the foothill of both hills. The larger hill has a little over 1,300 steps and the smaller one, about 400 steps. The steps are rock-cut, but are neat, uniformly spaced and not too steep. The recent development of Sholingur as a town with industries around it has seen more funds coming in for the temples and now the entire pathway of both hills is covered with roof-sheets, thus making the climb not-too-difficult even in the heat of summer or the worst of winter.

Sholingur Sholingur

The trip this year happened in a matter of minutes. My daughter who is now married, had come home for the weekend and was about to start to work. My son was at home. My wife had plans to go out with my daughter if she was prepared to take off for the day. When I too pitched in bunking work, we decided in a flash to make it to Sholingur. Being a week day, there was no crowd at all at both the temples and we had a good and leisurely darshan.

The major change we noted this year was the absence of rogue monkeys and a perceptible decline in the monkey population. Those that were there were docile and did not bother us. In fact, they did not mind us at all even when I went near them to take photographs. I had a good amount of simian scenes to capture.

Sholingur Sholingur Sholingur

The Narasimha temple has just been renovated after a long time, and hence the statues and brass-inlaid figures were in good shape, as can be seen from the photographs. The Anjaneya temple is yet to be renovated. Work is on.

Sholingur Sholingur

We reached Sholingur around 10:30 am. Even after a leisurely climb with ample rest at both temples, we could return by 1:30 pm, right on time for lunch at the Krishna Mutt near the foot hill of the larger hill. For ensuring lunch there, you need to inform them before you start the climb.

The cool-drink shop at the foothill of the smaller hill is our favourite – we never miss the ‘masala soda’ there. Regular soda-lemon mixed with a powder of pepper and jeera (cumin seeds), it serves as a good appetiser too.

The trip is the same every year, but the experience is different each time, depending on the time of your visit. I have seen the place bone-dry at one time, full of wild flowers with blooming cacti all over the terrain on another occasion, and just lush green all around because of the late rain that is still continuing to pour this year. A moderate wait of less than an hour in one year, an unforgettable wait of over three hours a year of two back, and not even a minute this year. I think this unpredictability is what makes life interesting,

The trip was fulfilling on all counts – satisfaction to the soul after a good darshan, feast to the eyes from the vastness of nature you get to see from the elevation, homely food away from home and a pleasant drive with the family in my compact Santro. Well, the Lord has blessed us well, and I hope and pray, His blessings will continue.

Sholingur

The other photos taken at Sholingur are available in my Flickr set, http://www.flickr.com/photos/raghu_ambattur/sets/72157625378238923.

Please feel free to post your comments.

Update Nov'2013: I will be failing in my duty if I do not mention the good work done by Yathugiri Ammal Trust who have provided sheet roofing for the entire stretch of stairs of both the temples.  With the work fully completed, now devotees can plan to visit any day, summer of winter, rain or shine!

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Cyclosa

find2
I admire photography as a hobby. It keeps you active, keeps your eyes and mind alert to take note of changes taking place, and gives you avenues to learn more about generally everything you get to shoot.

My eye-opener this time was the tiny Cyclosa spider. Having first caught it on the camera, I was stuck unaware of its identity to write or share anything about it. I posted its pictures on my photo forum and was instantaneously rewarded with details of the spider. My thanks to Saly in the Panasonic forum on Steve’s Digicams site for directing me to Aniruddha Dhamolikar’s blog, and to Aniruddha himself for his beautiful blog that gave me interesting info about this spider.

Coming to the subject, Cyclosa is a spider belonging to the Aranidae family and is an orb weaver. Its speciality is the way it builds its web. The web consists of a regular frame, close spiral line of web from the outward edge up to about two-thirds of the centre, a little free space and then the central home.
find1 

The central portion of the web contains a small chain of debris that includes the body parts of its prey insects, egg sacs, etc. and it builds it in such a way that the debris collection resembles itself. The spider itself is shaped with such an irregular body that when it sits at one end of the debris home, it completely gels with the debris and you cannot realise its presence.
Cyclosa spider

In addition, it spins a circular pattern of thicker yarn around its home that attracts attention and makes prey fall for it (see the second photo from top). I also read in a BBC article that Cyclosa builds its debris in a shape that is a life size replica of itself! Why it does so has quite a few answers including attracting its predators, which baffles scientists and the exact cause of such behaviour is still being researched.

It is NOT a rare spider and can easily be found in bushes and thickets all over our country, if you know just where and what to look for.

For me, it gave me quite a challenge to photograph because of its tiny size. Still, I think I have achieved a decent quality of images of itself and its web.
cyclosa spider

These and other photos that I caught of the spider can be viewed in my flicker album http://www.flickr.com/photos/raghu_ambattur/sets/72157625482099878.

If you find this post interesting, please post your comments here. I would appreciate it very much.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Yercaud Escapade

Flower18

The urge to get away at least for a day is as irresistible as an itch and you have to scratch it, the sooner the better. And if an occasion presents itself to justify it, it becomes all the more tempting to make the best out of it. Thus happened my trip to Yercaud. I had earlier booked hotel accommodation for a Saturday night, but I had compelling reasons to stay at home, so I postponed the trip by two days, which was good in a way as I learned later.

With the ever-increasing amount of information available on the internet and other sources, it becomes more and more confusing to choose the right way to go in almost anything that you want to do. Road or train? Day or night? With the family or just the two of us? We decided to play the Narasimharao game (wait and watch) and take what comes on the day of departure, and ended up in just the two of us (me and wife Vasanthi) proceeding, no night time travel, and by our car – the reason being a warning put up by a kind soul in his travelogue that day trains are crowded and people tend to sit together near their relatives irrespective of their reserved accommodation being scattered all over the coach, unmindful of cramping the other passengers rightfully present in their allotted seats.

So we started from Ambattur exactly at 7:27:42, give or take a few milliseconds. Oops! One of the infectious ‘exactly at’ rants from reading too many blogs at a time to know about a place. Sorry, I will switch to my own language and flow.

I had decided to take the Vellore-Vaniambadi-Thirupathur-Uthangarai-Kuppanur route for the onward trip. The road was pretty bad before and after Thirupathur for about 15 km, but after that it was quite good and we had a very smooth, pleasant drive along a scenic route. The good roads, as our CM had mentioned some time back, leads drivers to race fast and cause accidents. It happened to me too, swerving extreme left to avoid two vehicles coming fast on a curve and my little Santro lost control and swayed a little farther away than I had intended to steer her. We hit a big boulder, bent the curve-markers and screeched to a halt. I couldn’t move the car. A few good Samaritans driving the opposite way quickly gathered and came to our rescue and found that the car had jumped over the boulder and the boulder had stuck between the front and rear wheels. Two or three of them just lifted the car on one side and cleared the boulder. Another driver took the vehicle back to the road, test-drove a short distance and certified its road-worthiness. A little dent on the bonnet and some scratches on the undercarriage was all that the Santro suffered. I was completely rattled, but quickly gained composure and confidence, consoled Vasanthi who was terrified and proceeded on our way. Naturally, we were moving at a much slower speed now. Despite that, we missed the junction at Kuppanur where we ought have taken a right turn and had gone an extra km or two before enquiring and turning back to the correct route. From that point, the road uphill was much narrow and winding like a snake. Vasanthi was jittery all the way, nudging me to honk at every bend and to reduce speed the moment I touched 25. We crawled and crawled and reached Yercaud town around 2:15 pm. As we were hungry by then, we decided to have lunch at Shevroys on the way and then proceeded to our hotel, GRT Nature Trails.

Skyroca3  Skyroca4

The hotel was fabulous. Excellent location, very comfortable, nice people and very, very quiet. Just what we wanted for a break. We took a brief rest and set out around 4 pm for a short sight-seeing around Yercaud.

My heart stopped for a while when I found my camera not functioning. It must have suffered a severe jolt when the car hit the rock. However, I tried switching it on and off a few times, and put gravity to work – extending the lens while keeping the camera face down and retracting the lens while keeping it face up. My intuition (and the camera) clicked in a short while and Vasanthi could see the first smile on my face roughly three hours after the car incident.

I had gleaned from blogs and Google maps that Yercaud is quite a small area with the lake at the centre and all tourist spots within a few km from there, so I had no difficulty going around the place. If I was ever in doubt, the local people were only too willing to guide us. Going there on a week day was also a big plus point, as I was told that the entire Salem neighborhood ascends on Yercaud (note the pun) during weekends and you would find it difficult to find parking space. So, refer to the opening paragraph, postponing the trip was indeed favorable for us and we moved around the town with much ease.

We found that Yercaud closes quite early in the evening. The tourist spots close by 5 pm and the few shops that are there, by 7 or 7.30 at the latest. Thereafter, you are stuck to your hotel. There is no visible nightlife there. Not that I am after such things as night life -- I am a home bird, early-to-bed and very-early-to-rise type; my worms are the morning mist, dew drops, morning twilight, blooming flowers and chirping birds; I savor these wherever I go -- but it was telling to see the town go to sleep at 8! I could hear a number of birds chirping and calling from nearby trees, however, not one offered itself to pose for me. Probably, after the rains, the woods were thick with foliage and they had ample cover. It was a disappointment for me not to get any bird on my camera, but the flowers more than compensated for it – I had real plenty of them for my camera to feast on.

With nothing much to do or see around, we just spent time going around the little supermarket in Shevroys, had some light food at the restaurant there and went back to our hotel for the most comfortable night stay I have ever had outside my home in several years.

After breakfast, we set out again to cover the remaining areas. We had some fun watching a film-shoot presumably for a television serial. We had seen the same group at another location the previous evening, and they had not changed clothes, probably keeping continuity in mind. We visited the popular Bhavani Singh perfumery. Vasanthi was buying a bottle of oil or perfume for every flower that I clicked there, until I had just enough money left in my purse for lunch.

 Flower05  Flower51 
Flower27 

We checked out a little after 2 pm and took the 20-hair-pin-bends route to Salem on our way to Namakkal. In Tamilnadu, most temples usually close by 12 noon and open by 4 pm, so I had estimated we would reach the Anjaneyar temple by about 4.15. My sense of timing was perfect, but only on reaching the temple did we learn that the opening time at the temple is 4.30 pm, and the priest usually comes a little after that, keeping Indian punctuality alive. Unwilling to wait there, we ambled to the Narasimhar temple nearby, and learned from the information posted on a board there that the right procedure to worship is to visit Namagiri Thayaar (goddess) first, Narasimhar next, Anjaneyar after that and finally Lord Ranganathar on the opposite site of the hillock. The Narasimhar and Ranganathar figures are carved on the hillock rock itself, so you cannot circumambulate them as is the practice in Hindu temples.

Namakkal2  Namakkal3  Namakkal4

It took up to 6 pm for us to leave Namakkal. On the return trip, I stuck to the four-lane highway to Chennai via Dharmapuri and Krishnagiri. Nearing Salem from Namakkal, I was confused by the sign-board at the fly-over pointing to Chennai and went the wrong way on the Uthangarai road for up to 2-3 km, but realized the mistake and joined back the highway, wasting about 20-30 minutes in the process. A small remark showing that this route to Chennai is via Uthangarai and Thirupathur would be very helpful to tourists. But for this minor mess, the return trip was fast and smooth and we reached home safely shortly after midnight on day 2.

Places we visited, and recommend you to visit, in Yercaud:

Pagoda point: A view point about 4 km from the lake. Clear directions marked all the way, you would not go astray. Three piles of stones arranged by local tribes in the past to remotely resemble a pagoda, and hence the name. Going by the bold and blatant mistake in spelling on the sign-boards, don’t think the snack ‘pakoda’ would be available there. A viewing tower is also built there. You get a good view of the valley and dwellings down below, added to splendid sunsets if you are lucky.

Pagoda3  Pagoda4

Seats – Ladies’, Gents’ and Children’s: View points, again, what else do you find in elevated places? (I wouldn’t call Yercaud a hill station – even in end-October, there is no semblance here of the chillness associated with hill stations). As the night falls, you can see the twinkle of Salem lights getting brighter and brighter, which is quite nice to watch.

Scenery13  Scenery06

Rose garden: A sprawling area of plant cultivation, mostly roses as the name suggests, but includes a few other flowers also. We bumped on a budding photo-seller, who, using his Nikon D3000 and an Epson portable color printer, gives instant (under 40 seconds guaranteed) photo taken and neatly inserted into a ready-made frame, for Rs.70/- (or just the photo for Rs.30). Quite interesting how people find ways to earn a living the honest way.

Vasanthi06  Photographer 
Flower44
Additional information here is that it is enough if you get the ticket – both entry and parking - at one place for all the four places – the seats and the rose garden.

Servarayan temple: The local legend holds Servarayan (Perumal or Vishnu) as the protector of the place, and they say the goddess brought water from Talacauvery and hence named Kaveri Amman, though I see no connection between Perumal and Kaveri. The idols are kept at the beginning of a cave-like formation, and people believe the cave extends all the way up to Talacauvery, which is near Coorg (now Madikeri) in Karnataka! Whether you believe these or not, this place, again, is an elevated one and you get good views of the folding mountains around.

Scenery11  Servarayan  Scenery10

Rajarajeswari temple and the newly constructed Mahameru Yantram, both on the road to Servarayan temple, are two attractions for those interested in visiting temples.  Incidentally, I saw one of the biggest spiders and widest webs in my life at the Mahameru temple. The spider measured at least 10 inches from toe to toe and the web was easily six to seven feet across, firmly tied to two trees that much (seven feet) across, at about 12-15 feet above the ground.

Orchidarium: On the way to Servarayan temple is the National Orchidarium maintained by the Botanical Research Institute. The best time to visit this place is end March to May, when orchids are in bloom. Otherwise, there are a few varieties of flowers and many varieties of plants that will be of interest to botany students.

The places we did not/could not visit, but recommend you to visit, are:

The Montfort School: The popular spot here, known for its vast complex and architecture. Permission is granted to visit only on holidays. As we visited Yercaud on a weekday, we could not get to see the place.

The Grange and the Bear Cave: A very old building and a natural cave, I heard, are worth visiting. Due to our short stay, we did not have the time to cover these.

The places we visited, but do not recommend you to visit, are:

Kiliyur falls: My remark on this is conditional, depending on the season, and your inclination for adventure. After the designated car park, a private road leads about half a km down to a place from where only a rough foot-path exists to get to see the falls, when water flows. So, if you love waterfalls, and if you like a little trekking (which they say takes about half an hour down and about two hours up), you will certainly like this place. If you are not inclined, better skip this place, as there is nothing else to see even en route.

The lake: My remark on this too is conditional. If you have seen the lakes at Ooty, Kodaikanal and other places, you may not like this. The scenery you get from the middle of the lake on a boat is available aplenty at other places in Yercaud. However, if you have never seen a lake or if you particularly like to be on a boat wherever it is, you may like this place. What I mean is, the Yercaud lake is just a small lake adding beauty to the town but not a place of visit in itself.

Lake1

The gardens around the lake: I found the rose garden near Children’s seat much better and bigger than the gardens here. However, if you are pressed for time, nothing wrong in going around these parks. I do not know why they charge a fee for these parks.

These and other photos of my Yercaud trip are available at http://www.flickr.com/photos/raghu_ambattur/sets/72157625205359978/.

The occasion that presented itself, if you remember the opening paragraph, was our wedding anniversary, and a silver one at that.

Flower07

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Pune and around

Warning: This is only a travelogue, more to jot down and record for posterity my experience of the recent trip to Pune.

Day 0. My wife and I went on a one-week holiday to Pune, to visit my sister-in-law who lives there and spend some time with her family. Though very hot for two hours on either side of noon, I found Pune pleasant and bearable at other times and actually very comfortable in the open in the mornings and evenings – unlike Chennai, where the humidity makes you sweat even if the temperature drops to 28 degrees and below.

We had gone there with no specific plans and had left it to our hosts to decide what was best and possible for us at this time of the year. My co-brother works for a nationalized bank at a senior level and could not afford to take time off from his busy work commitments. The only time he could join us, besides receiving us and dropping us back at the airport, was for the trip to the Raja Dinkar Kelkar museum on a Sunday afternoon and to take us for lunch the next Sunday afternoon.

Day 1. The museum is very impressive. They have a good collection of exhibits that tell you about the history and culture of Maharashtra. All the exhibits are well catalogued and very well maintained and unlike other museums, most of the exhibits are in good, undamaged and functional condition. I was feeling bad that we were a little late and had only two hours before they closed, but an extra outing on another day gave me enough time to visit the place again and view and photograph all the exhibits to my heart’s content. I have created a separate album for this museum in my flickr site.  Just a sample to begin with, and auspicious too:
Ganesha01



We visited the Parvathi temple situated on a small hillock from where you could literally get a bird’s eye view of Pune city. It is a small, picturesque temple. The temple compound also houses a small museum, but it is not as meticulously maintained as the Kelkar museum.  A photo of the temple:
parvati6

Day 2. As my sister-in-law had a child and aged parents to take care at home, we were left to ourselves to visit nearby places. We visited Shridi Sai Baba shrine on a Monday. Leaving Pune around 8 am, it took about 4 hours for us to reach Shirdi, and another 3 hours to come out after darshan. Being vacation time, there was crowd, but my co-brother’s colleague helped us to join the queue nearer the sanctum, cutting the waiting time to just about 15 minutes against the 2 hours that was estimated at that time. We had lunch in between, at the Woodlands restaurant opposite to the shrine. Though a little pricey for a remote location as Shirdi, the food was good but a too high on quantity that we had to waste almost a third of the portion served. From there we went further north to a place called Sani Shingnapur, where Lord Sanishwar is believed to reside in the form of a rock that is worshipped with flowers and oil anointment performed only by males. Ladies are not allowed on the platform, but are allowed to watch and worship from a distance. We left this place around 5 pm and made an attempt to visit another popular Shiva temple en route at Bimashankar, but could not do so because of the traffic. Had simple and very good food at Jeevan restaurant in Narayangaon and reached Pune at 11.30 pm.

On the way from Shirdi to Sani Shingnapur, we saw something interesting. Row after row of bullocks were on the roadside, tied to the wooden oilseed crushing equipment we call “chekku” in Tamil, and we were curious to know why there were so much of them. Only when we went near did we find out that there were being used for crushing cane and getting cane juice out, with the equipment slightly modified for this purpose. See the photo. Cane juice, any time, is refreshing. 
canecrush1

Day 4. After a total rest for a full day, we again left for Kolhapur by cab on Wednesday. About two hours on, at Satara, we visited a beautiful “Nataraja” temple built on the same style as the Chidambaram temple. We understood that Sri Chandrasekarendra Swami (aka “Maha Periava”), the senior Sankaracharya who is no more, had stayed here for more than a year to see to it that the temple was constructed strictly according to Vedic prescriptions. After a refreshing stay of about 15 minutes in this temple, we left for Kolhapur. 
satara1


The ride was very pleasant, with good roads and very good scenery all the way. We were warned of very heavy crowd and huge waiting time at the Lakshmi temple, but to our surprise, we were able to have darshan and come out in just about 15 minutes! After some shopping, we had a second darshan and left the place, after having light tiffin at the Sathkaar restaurant. Something that caught my attention here was the fig fruit that is sold in the market – the fruits are fresh, large and just rightly ripe that they so tender and delicious, and cheap too.
 Kolhapur8

The road to Pandharpur was not that good and so, did not have a single toll booth either! It took us quite long to reach Pandharpur. Being ‘adhika mas’ or the extra-month that gets included in the lunar calendar every two or three years, we were warned of huge crowd at this temple too. For those who cannot afford to wait, there is a quick darshan available from a distance. We were able to have this within about 20 minutes and we joined the main queue at around 7.15 pm, little realizing that it would take another four hours for us to come out! We had to move inch by inch over five floors of the winding waiting hall. The people that throng this temple are mostly poor locals from nearly places, but with staunch religious beliefs and strong commitment and resolve to wait out and worship Lord Vittal whatever time it took for them to stand in the queue. They dare to join the tightly packed jostling queue even with their infants and aged parents and go through the horrible wait, because they firmly believe that a mere glimpse of His darshan is worth much more than all this earthly difficulties.

Day 5. Pandharpur is not a good place to stay, as the hotels looked very dirty and unkempt in line with the general appearance of the locals here. So we decided to move on to Solapur for the night’s stay. We had been recommended the Shiv Parvathi hotel and checked in there. All air-conditioned rooms had already been booked and we were able to get only a normal room. Though initially hot, the temperature became bearable within 15 minutes of switching on the fan and opening the window and we had good night’s sleep.

This essay would not be complete without the mention of Santosh, our young driver, who was a skilled driver but unfortunately for us, did not know much of the places and therefore took us round and round the same place asking for directions. It was particularly frustrating when we were searching for a hotel to stay in Solapur at an hour past midnight. The only consolation was there was absolutely no traffic at that time, so the goings-around were fast and quick.

After breakfast, we made a quick trip to the Bavani temple in Tulajapur. This goddess is the one Chatrapati Shivaji worshipped. Though a little crowded, we were able to have darshan and come out in about an hour and a half. We got excellent, tender cucumber for Rs.5 a kilo here. We proceeded back to Solapur, to fulfill a major agenda in my wife’s itinerary – that of shopping for bed spreads and bed sheets that Solapur is so well known for. The reception manager at the hotel we stayed recommended Chilka Textiles and a close relative recommended Pulgam Textiles, so my wife shopped in both showrooms to 75% of her heart’s and 100% of my purse’s content.

While waiting outside as my wife was shopping, I noticed beautiful typical South Indian style temples in that area, of Lords Rama, Muruga and Venkateshwara and even came across people speaking Tamil and Telugu. Looks like people migrated from Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh to settle here and engage in textile business, and by virtue of their toil, flourished well.  A close up of the Rama temple tower:
Solapur2

A quick lunch at Kamat (Rs.40 – choice of Chapati/poori along with regular rice and other items – what was surprising was they give 3 big chapaties or 8 medium poories – which alone will fill your stomach!) and back on road with brief stops for tea and photography of setting sun saw us reaching Pune in the middle of the night. Exhausted, we just dropped on the bed and sank deep into sleep.

Day 6. The next day, after the two of us travelling alone, we got an opportunity to travel together with the family. My co-brother was still unable to make it, but all others including the child and my aged parents-in-law clubbed together to visit the Balaji Mandir at Uttarakshetram done in typical Tirupati style, following similar rituals too. The place and the route were both scenic, with abundace of trees, flowers and birds. From there, we went to a Dattatreya temple nearby. Here again I saw excellent figs being sold at an unbelievable price. As I am the only person who likes the fruit, I only bought half a kilo, for just Rs.15! The vendor woman was a typical illiterate village person. I took permission to shoot a photo of her, to which she initially refused but later agreed with a blush. On seeing the photograph on the lcd screen, she blushed more! It was a good moment of fun for all of us.
Figvendor

The next stop was the Khandoba temple atop a hillock in Jejuri. It is a place my in-laws had long been wanting to go. There is a pathway with about 200 steps, but it was too much for the aged couple. On enquiry, we found that the vehicle could go up a little further, from where there are only about 50 steps to climb. I was able to cajole them to give up trepidation and encourage them to slowly climb the steps. The temple was totally different from the other temples we were visiting all these days. We took quite a number of photographs to store for the future and left the place before the dark fell. On the way back, as the situation necessitated food for in-laws, we halted at a good way-side restaurant (Shivanand). The food was really good for a remote place like this. We returned home around 10:30.

Day 7. However much exhausted by travel and drained by the heat, just one magic word is enough for ladies to recoup all their energy – shopping. That word ensured that my wife and sister-in-law were back in Pune city centre the next afternoon. I saw an opportunity to get some free time and hitched a ride with them to get dropped at the museum to patiently complete the remaining part of my tour of the museum that I missed during the previous visit. 
K58box

Day 8. No outing today. We had lunch at the famous Shreyas restaurant with typical Marathi thali. The restaurant boasts a waiting time of about 1 hour during peak time, and after lunch we had just enough time to reach home, pack and leave. The Kingfisher flight was comfortable, arrived much earlier than scheduled and we reached home comfortably.

Friday, March 5, 2010

The Village




Mahatma Gandhi said “India lives in its villages”. I have never really spent much time in a village. I want to do that some time in my life – spend a few days in a remote, unknown village, preferably away from even small towns and observe the lifestyle of people there. I don’t know whether my wife would join me – she likes crowded places with scope for shopping, but then she also likes to travel and see people of different traditions and cultures, so it is 50-50. Anyway, I think I will cross the (remote village) bridge when I actually get to it.

In the meantime, I got a preview opportunity last week. My daughter’s father-in-law (what is the English word for ‘Sammandhi’?), who was all along working in convenient city branches of his bank, was shunted out to a remote village as part of a cranky policy that banks have for employees who have served a certain number of years. He landed up at a place called Thirumalpur, some 15 km away from Kanchipuram which is well known for its temples and silk sarees. The commute takes precious 6 hours of his time every day. Fortunately, there is a railway station for the place, up to which he can comfortably travel, and from there he goes a further 5 km by a moped on mud and sandy path. Poor man, he has to catch train at 7 in the morning and is back home around 9 in the evening. The only comfort is he can go 10-15 minutes late to work and likewise, leave 10-15 early, in order not to miss the bus – er, train and customers don’t mind that.


At first, he was cursing himself for his fate. As days went by, he says he started to see the beauty, the quietness, the pure air and the open and friendly people of the village. As days went by, he has now begun to like the place and it is on his invitation and insistence that I got this opportunity to see a village.

I took my car and we went right up to the railway station, some 75 km from my place. I parked my car in the open outside his two-wheeler parking shed and from there we took off on his moped.

The first thing that strikes you is the cool, pure breeze. After you cross the track and go half a kilometer down on the mud path, the next thing that strikes you is the silence of the place. Absolutely quiet. So quiet that you can hear the wind, the buzz of bees and insects and the occasional chirp of small birds and the flutter of the wings large birds.



We stopped many times on the way, to catch eyeful of greenery – paddy fields with different shades of green according to the growth stage of the crop; beautiful, lush trees with canopy arching like a big green umbrella, clear streams of irrigation water running across on the side, children making use of the water to take a fresh bath – everything was so heartening and nostalgic too, bringing back memories of my childhood days when we used to go on bullock carts along such scenic routes.



Birds are another thing that attracts you in the village. There are so many small, cute, colourful birds that you think will fill your camera, but they are shy and always hide among bushes when they know you are watching them. See the kingfisher for example.


Or entirely invisible. You think you are watching a beautiful bed of green paddy. As you step in close to check the grain, a few birds emerge from the middle of the thick crop and fly away. You never realize they were there all along!  Some birds, however, dare you and go on with their business, like this one:


The centre of the village, consisting of one main road stretch and a few lanes branching on both sides, is active. You can hear the mechanical, repetitive sound of the silk looms in activity all through the village. We halted at a small medical shop. Who I thought was a chemist, I realized soon, was the village doctor, consulting and dispensing medicine right from the shop desk. For the occasional patient who needs personal investigation, there is a small room inside.

We went to a temple nearby, a temple lost in history. They say this is more than 1,500 years old. The main deity, Lord Shiva, is in the form Lingam shaped out of sand by none other than His wife Parvati. As the Lingam is made of sand, no abishekam (anointment) is directly performed on that here. Instead, the Lingam is covered with a larger silver shell, on which all poojas are performed. The legend goes that Parvati made a Lingam of sand and went to bathe in the river. A sudden flood arose and in order to protect the Lingam, she embraced it thereby diverting the water and her bead-necklace crowned the Lingam. Hence the name Manikandeshwar. (Mani in Tamil means beads.) The goddess is Anjanaakshi. Anjanam means eyes, and so the name means one with beautiful eyes. May be because the village is remote and not popular, there is no appreciable income for this temple and the lack of funds reflects in the poor maintenance of the temple and its surroundings. The pillars both inside and outside the temple carry excellent carvings, which I was able to capture with their permission. A few are given here.





We visited the house of his colleague, a part-time woman employee at his bank. Her husband is a weaver, making beautiful silk sarees at home. I learnt it takes anything from 7 to 10 days to make a silk saree! And that all patterns and designs are controlled by computer printed, Braille-like cards, though the loom is very much mechanical.














As it started getting real hot after noon, we had to wind up and return, but not before catching lungful of pure and fragrant air off the paddy fields and banyan trees again.