Friday, October 29, 2010

Our Trip to Mumbai Part 3....

If there are three words in the English language that can wreak more havoc on a diet than "Complimentary Breakfast Buffet" - - I don't know what they are!!  Amy Suzanne had an 8:30 A.M. call to meet Ganesh, our driver, out in front of the hotel.  I was dying for a cup of coffee, so I went downstairs first and read the complimentary Times of India newspaper.  I took a look at the breakfast buffet...and opted for a nice, safe omelet...then I saw the other end of the line and all of the Indian specialties...paneer, roti, dal, dosa...  I may have over-loaded my plate a bit.  Amy came downstairs, studying her slide presentation (not really certain if she was going to use it or not...) and had a bit of breakfast as well.  It was really quite good...the Indian choices were outstanding and the omelet-bar ladies knew what they were doing!!

We climbed into the back of Ganesh's car and Suzanne's stop was to be first.  We told the driver to take us to "The Indian School of Business" - - which, it seems is universally known as "ISB".  Evidently this is not known in Bombay.  We told Ganesh "ISB'...and off we went.  The traffic was bad...but not deadly-bad - - we wound our way around the "residential district" where our hotel was....and - - Ganesh stops the car and says "We are here, Ma'am..."

Well...as Suzanne pointed out immediately, this was definitely NOT "the place" unless Deloitte has begun recruiting students who are very young!!!!  Walking up the steps to a place clearly signed as "ISB" - were dozens of small Indian children in school uniforms, with their huge book-bags strapped on their tiny backs (I call these "self-propelled backpacks!!") - - and each one had a badminton racket sticking out of the top pouch!!  "Ganesh, I don't think this is the right place!!" said Suzanne...with a puzzled sound to her voice...

I chimed-in:  "Yeah, Ganesh....I think this is the "Indian School of Badminton" !!"

Ganesh gets out of the car and goes and asks one of the parents (who were standing outside this "ISB"... busy getting their kids inside for class) for directions.  NOT a good feeling when your 8,500 miles from home and your DRIVER doesn't know where the hell you are!!  It must have been a common question, because another man began pointing straight and then gesturing to the right.  It seems that the proper "ISB" was very close by!  And it was.  We got Suzanne to her destination on-time....I gave her a good-luck kiss and in she went!

I told Ganesh that it was a day to do sightseeing for me...and that I first wanted to go to Elephanta Island.  He said "No problem, Sir" (the most common phrase that a driver must learn in "drivers school"!)  And, while it really wasn't a "problem", per se...I don't think that even seasoned-driver Ganesh expected that it was going to take just over two hours to get to Downtown Mumbai!!!

The stop-and- go traffic was simply some of the worst I have ever seen in my life (and I have lived in Los Angeles all of my life!!)  Almost beyond belief!!  It was far more "stop" than "go" - - we crawled along, barely ever getting the car up to 20 KPH...even on the flyovers.  There was a big backup at the Rajiv Gandhi Sea Bridge - also known as the "Bandra-Worli Sea Link" (see photo at the top of this article) - where we stopped to pay a toll.  This is a relatively new bridge which was just opened this past June.  India’s first open sea bridge, the bridge is a 5.6-km cable-held engineering marvel that was expected to cut travel time by 80 percent for this city’s harried commuters!!  If this is so....then I daresay I would have slit my wrists driving in this town pre-bridge-opening!!

We arrived at the appointed drop-off place (at a park surrounding the Gateway of India monument) - - and I told Ganesh that I would like to be back in the car and headed for the hotel before the afternoon "rush hour" (as if there is any difference!) - which I had heard begins at 5:00 P.M.  I thanked him....and was immediately descended upon by 4-5 people telling me that I should buy my ferry tickets to the Island from them!!  Being totally lost...I chose the guy who seemed to speak the best English....and followed him to a row of ticket-shacks (I'd use the term "booth" - - but - that's really not what they were.)  I paid my 200.00 rupees, which included my ferry ticket to Elephanta Island and a little photo and guide book that had a rudimentary map of the area.  That's about $4.00 total in U.S. dollars.

The nice man who walked me to get my ticket told me that I had just missed the 11:00 A.M. boat (remember....it had been a TWO HOUR PLUS trip from the time we dropped Amy off at the REAL "ISB"!!  It was now after 11:00 in the morning!) -   but not to worry....there would be another boat on the half-hour and every half-hour until 5:00 P.M.  In the meantime...he offered to "show me around"...  I knew I was going to have to tip him for this "service"  - - he was good company and knew his way around the square....but I should have known there was some sort of ulterior motive to his spending "quality time" with some American tourist like me!  It seems there always is in these tourist destinations...you just sort of need to get used to it!!  We walked around the park where the Gateway of India is - - and there were many Euro and American-looking tourists snapping pictures...and for every tourist - there were 25 Indians... all selling something - post-cards, trinkets and bangles, balloons, photo and printing services (I did this at Warangal and got some good photos from the experience....they take the pics...and sell you copies)  The very best thing about having my "guide" with me was that he kept the hawkers and beggars away from me.  Well...all but the really hard-core salesmen and women who simply did NOT know the meaning of the words "No thank you, I really don't need a 10-pack of balloons today!"

There were some beautiful old banyan trees in the park....lots of people sitting and enjoying their wonderful shade.  While it was not "summertime-hot" during our short visit to Bombay - - it was plenty warm....and waaaaay more humid than on the Deccan Plateau where Hyderabad lies.  It was pretty steamy by 11:15 A.M.

My new friend and I began to leave the perimeter of the park and headed up a small side-street.  While I felt perfectly safe (this guy was really protective of me!) - I kept an eye out for the way back to the docks where the ferry boat was due to leave from in a short fifteen minutes.  We made a left-turn and then a right turn....and - then he said the words I should have known were coming:

"Please, step into my shop!"

To be continued in the next two parts ...."Everything You Ever Wanted To Know About Kashmir Rugs (But Were Afraid To Ask!)" - and - "The Boat to Elephanta Island"

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Our Trip To Mumbai (Bombay) - Part Two

Waiting for us outside of the terminal, in a group of other taxi and other professional drivers, was our "designated driver" for the week, a wonderfully competent man by the name of "Ganesh".  I don't know what it is about us and our drivers....but - they always seem to be named after some very important gods!  "Our" Ganesh had a little bright orange plastic idol of his namesake on the dashboard of his Toyota...so - along with my constant litany of Our Fathers and Hail Marys - I figured that we were covered across the wide Indian deity spectrum.  You learn very quickly that fervent prayer while in the midst of Mumbai traffic is not a luxury, it is a necessity. 

I never thought I'd say this....but traffic at home in Hyderabad is a smooth and easy as a merry-go-round ride compared to the streets of Mumbai.  The lines painted on the street, while all-over-India are merely "suggestions" rather than actual "lane markers".  It was in Mumbai that I finally figured out why it is that there are fairly high stone-and-concrete median-walls in the middle of roads to separate traffic going in opposite directions.  If these walls were not there....whichever direction the most cars are heading in would win the battle and take over - - literally pinching everyone else off the street!!!

Our first official taste of a Bombay Traffic Jam (a good name for a rock-band, I'm thinking!) came on the way to the hotel.  The domestic airport (the smaller of the two in Mumbai - - the other being the International Airport a little further up the road) is pretty-much in the central area of this enormous city of almost 14-million people.  "Downtown" - the Old City - is to the south and on a peninsula - surrounded on three sides by water...on the east by a bay known as Thane Creek and the Arabian Ocean along the other two.  Our hotel - the Ramada Powai - up in a more residential area and with its own "convention center" - was further to the north.  Looking on a map you might think a 15-20 minute drive, tops.  You WISH!!

There was stop-and-go traffic (more "stop" than "go"!) all the way to the hotel.  Frankly speaking, the streets are simply too narrow in Bombay...but there's not a whole lot they can do about this because of the crowding...they have tried to build a few strategically-placed "flyovers" (long "bridges" of highway that run over some of the main streets and roads - Hyderabad has sucessfully done several of them ...and they seem to work...) - but even the flyovers are packed during peak traffic hours.  "They" say it's 45-minutes to the hotel from the airport.  It was 1.5 hours before we arrived.

We stayed at the Ramada Powai - - which really was a nice hotel...no complaints!!  The restaurant was nice...the bar was really nice...and the breakfast buffet was complementary - - three things to always look for in a hotel!  We called Krishna at home to makes sure that Beloved was O.K. - - and that our friend Aubrey had some by to pick up her dog, "Loki" the Yorkshire Terrier that we had been watching the week before.  Krishna gave us the "Bee is good, sir" report that I always like to hear.  And then we went to sleep.  Amy had an 8:00 A.M. pick-up time for her recruiting trip to the Indian School of Business - and I was planning my day around going to Elephanta Island to see the caves and the enormous Shiva temples carved out of natural stone on the island. 

Here are the photo links to my Facebook Albums:

Our Trip to Bombay 2010

Our Visit From Loki the Yorkie

More to come in parts 2 and 3 - - next: "The Indian School of Badminton and Elephanta Island!"

Friday, October 22, 2010

Our Trip To Mumbai (Bombay) - Part One

In case the news has not traveled - - Amy's trip to the U.S. was more than just a little successful.  After her trip to Orlando for some training with Deloitte - - she made her way to the Capital Challenge Horse Show in Maryland.  This was an extremely important horse show for her...she was leading in the National points standings for the World Champion Hunter Rider overall title since just before we left for Hyderabad - - and her lead held-up even after four months of living in India - and not riding a decent hunter the entire time!!  The biggest problem in her mind was that she was completely out of practice.  She got to Maryland and did her best to get tuned-up in a hurry for the show.  If she was going to win this year (she was the defending champion and nobody expected her to show up all the way from Hyderabad!) it was going to take a lot of skill, a good horse to borrow, a little luck, and the stars were going to have to be aligned just right!

Well....she did it....she rode just as well as she could and kept her lead throughout the show - - and was once again the World Hunter Rider series champion!!  Here is the  link to the news... In a nutshell - here is what it says:

"Amy Brubaker, who now resides in India, returned to the Capital Challenge to collect the WCHR Adult Amateur National title."  and.... "Adult Amateur 36-50 division reserve champion in the division was El Raymond, ridden by Amy Brubaker for Jamie Donovan."

It was time to come home.  As she usually does, ASB "hit the ground running" just as soon as she returned to Hyderabad...I literally had to talk her out of going straight to the office when we picked her up at the airport at around midnight on the morning of the 12th!!  During the next week-or-so, (as the jet-lag slowly subsided) - she asked me if I wanted to go to Delhi along with her on a Deloitte recruiting trip.  While that trip fell-through - - we did schedule a three-day-two-night trip to Bombay for the same purpose.

The story of that trip follows:

We were due to fly out on Monday afternoon at around 3:00 P.M. Keeping me happy by actually arriving an hour early for the flight...Suzanne and I did some poking around the Hyderabad International Airport and the shops inside. We were flying on "JetLite" airlines - - and - as it turns out...there is only one class of seats on this type of flight: "Economy". Think "Southwest Airlines" on a 737 - - with even LESS leg-room!!!

We got on the plane...and Amy drew the short straw.  Not only tight-quarters - - but the dreaded "middle seat" was hers as well!  Before we even got started complaining about the lack of leg-room....the people in front of us crank their seats back and begin crushing our knees.  Before I could get adjusted to the pain and the cramped seating arrangement...my loving wife said, fairly loudly (she was in no mood, I can tell you!): "Would you please not put your seats back...you're smashing my husband's knees!!

Now...you don't need to have been living in India for very long to notice (and, believe me, this will come as NO surprise to my Indian readers...) that there is no concept of "personal space" in this culture.  Other corollaries to this law of the land to are to be found in Indian auto traffic ("If you hesitate, you will never move!") and...my personal favorite: the concept of "standing politely in line" is virtually unknown here ("If you don't watch your spot or hold your place with aggression - you will lose!!")

Amy was ignored just long enough for her to grab the back of the lady's seat ahead forcibly push her forward!!  I did not know that this was even possible.  The lady looked back and Amy said to her: "Your seat is not supposed to be reclined at takeoff anyway (we were taxiing toward runway along the tarmac by this time...) Hey. it's not my rule...talk to the airline!"

There was a tentative truce until we got off the ground.  The lady put her seat back again...but adjusted it forward about an inch.  Her male travelling companion turned around and asked if this was O.K. - and Amy didn't really answer him...she just glowered at him...

We had picked up a copy of The Times of India (one of the actually decent newspapers here) at the bookstore...Amy began to read it...but not without some malice aforethought.  With the lady's head tipped back toward her extended newspaper...Amy made sure that - every time she needed to fold the paper back or turn pages...she would thwack the woman on her head 3-4 times!!  It was a thing of beauty!!

The flight was without incident - except for when the flight attendants announced it was time to "return our seat backs and tray tables to their upright and locked position" once again...Suzanne gave the lady's seat back a good, solid and purposeful shove with her knees.  She folded her newspaper (with a quick thwack-thwack, just for emphasis!!) and we landed in Mumbai.

As we were leaving the plane...the Indian "no personal space allowance" became even more (violently?) evident...the man in the window seat literally began to climb over Suzanne's legs to get to the aisle where I was standing...  The plane unloads from both the front and the back...so - I announced that we'd be heading out the back-way and that I would see her on the tarmac.  It's the kind of airport without jetways...you board a bus that takes you to the terminal - - the personal space on the bus is laughable...it's indeed very "personal"...but with absolutely no "space"!!

As the people in front of me began to slowly make their way toward the door...I had to pause to let a very small girl, wrestling with her over sized backpack, get into the aisle in front of me.  All of a sudden, I get two hard shoves in the back from this squat little Indian fellow who was evidently in too big of a hurry to make his connecting-flight to offer any common human courtesy.  The little girl struggled in front of my knees, drag her backpack, and was beginning to head for the door.  And I get another hard shove in the middle of my back.

My reaction was instantaneous - and - perhaps a little bit louder than I wanted it to be.  Suzanne said she even heard me, back in our seats about ten rows up from where I was.

I turned around and bent slightly at the waist so I was eye-to-eye with the man.

"YOU'RE &%$#%$ KIDDING ME, RIGHT????"

He just looked down and mumbled, "I am sorry sir!"

Amy was still a while getting off the plane...and - by the time she got onto the tarmac, the first bus had left.  This was O.K. with us - - because the final bus was much less crowded...and the people traveling in the seats in front of us...and the sawed-off little man who was shoving me...made a mad dash to the crush of people who were sardined-onto the first bus!

Amy decided that a cappuccino would help the situation...so - we walked over to a small coffee-stand in the terminal.  There was one man in front of me in line.  As he left...another man came along my left side and began to order and pushed his money toward the coffee cashier.  I calmly (but forcefully) cut the guy off by putting my left elbow and forearm across his ribcage and gave him a bit of a hip-check.  When in India....act like an Indian, I guess!!

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Road Trip #2 - - Part Three (Inside the Temple!)

Sorry for the delay - - Amy Suzanne and I just got back from a Deloitte recruiting trip to Bombay (to be honest, the name "Mumbai" has not caught on with everybody!) - - and - we slept the night through.  It's now Thursday afternoon as I write this.  Where were we?  Oh, yes...we were in the anteroom outside of the Shiva Temple Sanctuary...waiting for the ceremony to begin!

Before the temple "band" was to begin...the doors opened to the actual Sanctuary (or, were they curtains?  I forget!)...and inside there were four red-dhoti-clad Shiva Priests.  Standing on either side of the room, they were quickly chanting a litany of sorts - - all in Sanskrit...it was probably something that they have done 1,000's of times...and it was hauntingly beautiful and strange to my Western ears all at the same time.  In just a few short moments...my ears were never to be quite the same again!!

All of a sudden (from my vantage point, it was a strain to see all the way into the inner-sanctum) - some curtains opened and two Priests come out with five-wick ghee lamps and begin the Aarti.  An older Priest (I guarantee this poor old fellow must have lost his hearing several decades back!!) began pulling on a rope...which served two functions.  It was the rope that rang a huge (LOUD!) "church bell" - - and - at the same time was connected to an old Rube Goldberg-like mechanical contraption that also operated two huge drumsticks which pounded out an irregular beat on a GIANT tom-tom drum.  The drummers from the band had removed their skins from their backpacks...and began playing along with the big-drum's back-beat.  A cacophony emanating from the two Indian "bagpipe-chanters-only-twice-the-size" (I'm sure there is a proper name for this instrument...somebody Google it and let me know!!) was at a pitch that could sterilize cats at 150-feet....combined with the bell, the multiple drums, the chanting....the smell of the burning ghee and incense....the sight of the semi-disembodied floating lamps burning before the Jyotirlingam (which, due to my angle, I still could not see...) - - all five of my earthly senses were experiencing complete overload!!  Was I being transported into the Presence of the Divine here?  Or was it all just so loud that I couldn't think??

Just as quickly as it all started...it all quickly and abruptly stopped!!  The curtain remained open...and two dhoti-clad Priests began to kneel next to the Jyotirlingam, and poured water and coconut water and clay onto it.  The ladies who had paid for the special pooja entered the sanctuary and knelt around the lingam and touched it with their hands....some pressed their foreheads to it.  They were dressed in their "Sunday-go-to-meetin'-saris" - - and they were getting wet and dirty at the worship.  Slowly...the line of men I was in crept forward.  What I saw was amazing!!

Most lingams that one sees in India's Shiva Temples are about 3-4' high...and perhaps a foot-or-so in diameter.  This one...a very, very special one, indeed...had been there and had hands upon it with untold millions of gallons of water and honey and clay from the Ganges River poured onto it...it was worn away to the point that it was perhaps 8-10" tall now...carved from black basalt - - I had to chuckle (no offense meant!) - because the Shivalingam is said to be a symbol of Lord Shiva's male power to procreate (yeah...it's a phallic symbol - - don't let any enlightened "scholars" tell you otherwise...it's a stone penis!) - - and the fact that it was worn away to a mere nub of its former glory struck me as amusing.  "Common male problem at such an advanced age - even for the great Lord Shiva!" was my sacrilegious thought!!

Before I knew it, I was being asked to step to the far side of the platform where the lingam was.  Sangamesh and Krishna, being good Hindus (and Sangamesh being a Priest of Lord Shiva himself!) were kneeling and touching the stone...while other Priests were pouring on clay and water, making sort of a thin mud like substance.  Other men were on their knees, chanting words I did not understand....(there was a constant buzz of mantras and whispered prayers!) and pressing their foreheads to the lingam!  They all motioned for me to kneel - - but - this is something I would not do.  You know me...I'm all for interfaith dialog, but I pretty much draw the line at kneeling before the Lord Destroyer's muddy phallus!  I did bend at the waist to touch it, just so I could say I did (I will probably never be back to Srisailam in this lifetime!) - and they wanted me to smear the mud on my forehead as a symbol of devotion.  Again...I motioned that I needed to pass on this one....and wiped the mud on my pants when nobody was looking.

We walked outside into the pure - but hot and muggy - air.  Krishna said to me with a wide grin that he was "very happy" - - because on three occasions he had been to the temple here...but had never gotten to touch the Jyotirlingam.  I was very happy for him!!  Both he and Sangamesh sported foreheads smeared with the mud from the darshan...while I only had the red dot of kumkum tilak placed there by some holy-man when we walked through the gates.  I thought it was sort of like getting your hand stamped at a dance club - - so - there it was - making me look again like I had taken a .38 slug to the forehead!  (See the photo at the beginning of this article...that's me on the left, in case you didn't know!) 

We walked around a little bit, and soon met up with Sangamesh's nephew, the Shiva Pujari, who then gave me permission to snap a few photos and took us all around the temple grounds.  I stopped in the courtyard to hear one of the Priests delivering a lecture (in Telugu or Hindi, I don't know which one - but - strangely enough - I was sort of able to follow it!) - on the joy of pure love and the love between Lord Krishna and his Consort, Radha-Rani.  My guess was it was directed at the girl who was to be married...it was a good time to sit and cool off...and allow my ear-drums to heal from the Aarti ceremony!!  But by now...my poor bare-feet were about to give out!!

We went to all of the temple shrines...and - once stopped to witness a very jubilant procession with the deities of Lord Shiva and Parvati on a flower-decorated cart being pulled by and equally-decked-out real-life replica on Nandi the Bull - - I tried to sneak a video of it - - but - it didn't come out because it was so dark outside.

After the procession passed, I told "the boys" that I needed to start back toward the shoe-station and begin the trek back to the hotel - - or I wasn't going to be able to make it!!  I'm sure they were disappointed and wanted to stay around the temple until "closing time" - but I was done.  We got our shoes and walked through the outer-gate and back toward our "home" for the night....all the while, listening to drumming and chanting and all of the spiritual goings-on from the temple....blaring from loudspeakers all the way back to the hotel!!

To Bee Continued....Final Episode Coming  Soon!!

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Road Trip #2 - - Part Two - Srisailam Temples

The hotel room at the "Punammi Resort" was NOT "five star"...as a matter of fact - - I don't think there is such a thing as a "half-a-star" hotel...or, if there was one - - the venerable Punammi would get a "quarter star".  The bed had no box-spring...only plywood (or was it granite???) - covered by a 3" thick piece of foam.  The bathroom had no bathtub or shower...it was my first time using the time-tested "bucket-and-pitcher" method.  The A/C worked well-enough - -but - it leaked pretty badly...you had to be careful getting out on the left-side of the bed or you could slip break your neck on the wet marble floor.  Keeping Beloved's food (and water) on the floor as usual proved to be a problem, as - the bugs found it in the middle of the night.

In other words...I was extremely glad that Amy Suzanne was not along for this road trip!!

However, after the long drive down from Hyderabad, any place to lay our heads was a good place.  Sangamesh and Krishna got the room next-door - - and - as the day went on and the tourist buses kept arriving - - I'll be darned if the Punammi Hotel didn't fill to capacity by the time I got up from my nap.

The Temple opened again at 4:30 P.M.  You could tell this was happening because the loud drum-beats and chanting (live from the inner-sanctum!) began being blasted from the loudspeakers around town...especially the one on a pole right outside the hotel.  Directly across from the hotel, an older, dreadlocked sadhu had set up a mini-shrine under a large tree - and there in the shade on the stone tree-well, he had placed a small black plastic shivalingam (I think it was purchased from one of the gift-stands outside the temple!) some old, faded-but-nicely-framed icons of Lord Shiva, a photo of Sai Baba (the bad one - with the Afro and the orange robe and dhoti!) - a few old orange flowers, assorted broken-open coconuts, banana leaves, red and saffron-colored kumkum powder...and a few sticks of pungent burning incense...

As the drumbeats from the loudspeakers began to pound even more frenetically - the three of us began to make our way, with a few-hundred other pilgrims and local devotees, up the street toward the temple gates. We walked past the many wooden stands which were selling assorted colorful pooja supplies, C.D.'s and gifts.  Outside the actual temple gates, there was the customary place to "check your shoes" (for a mere 10 rupees!) so you can enter the grounds freely discalced.  I don't think I have walked around barefooted this much since I was a beach-kid in Venice growing up!!  We passed through a rudimentary metal-detector and by some serious-looking uniformed and armed (AK-47's!) security police...and Krishna and Sangamesh asked one of them for directions.  Directions to what, I don't know - - I was completely at the mercy of my beloved caretaker and security man...which would usually be comforting - - but - as it turns out, they were both by my side the night I got my pockets picked at the Ganesha immersion (I know - - I said I wasn't going to dwell on it - but - it still stung!!) - so - I was very aware of my surroundings!!

We made our way to a "holding area" where - - this is sort of hard to describe without photos - but I'll try.  A big part of Hindu worship is the darshan.  This can be as simple as walking by and seeing the deity - - or touching it...or prostrating oneself before the idol.  To get inside of the sanctuary can sometimes take literal hours...and - this means standing in lines (or, queues, as they call them here - - just like the English)  There are iron railings (mostly under some sort of roof or cover - - here at Srisailam, it was corrugated steel) that snake around some part of the temple grounds.  Kind of like the back-and-forth lineups for rides at Disneyland - - only - - much more dingy and tightly-packed.  I'll tell you right now...that if a crush of humanity, along with people who are a part of a culture that has absolutely NO sense whatsoever of "personal space" - - inside of tight, squished quarters, in semi-darkness - - if these things are not for you --- then - do yourself a favor and stay out of Hindu temples at darshan time!!!!

The "free" line (the line to get into the sanctuary at no cost) was already beginning to form under the steel roof.  I got waves of claustrophobia just looking at the line - and there were less than fifty people in it!  We found the line for "pay tickets" for the aarti and darshan for the evening.  There were only about 0.01% of the people in the pay-line - the three of us, one single lady and a young couple.  The ticket booth opened at 5:30 - so - there was a bit of a wait.  That's one other thing about worship in Hindu temples...you have to be willing to wait around.  Krishna and I walked up to where the actual line for people who had tickets was...and - we were standing along a wall that had carvings of scenes from the Mahabarata on it that were over 1,000-years-old.  Along the chain-link fence that separated us from the "free line" and an area where you could tell was a gathering area for pilgrims when the temple gets really crowded (Krishna tells me that you can wait 4-5 hours during any festival . . and at the time of Maha Shivrati - forgetaboutit!!)

Sangamesh got our three tickets (Rs. 600.00 total - about $12.00) and joined us at the front of the line...and at about 5:45 P.M, we were allowed into a sort of "viewing area/anteroom" for the "Holy of Holies".  There were iron railings, again forming "corrals" for throngs of people...but - there were very few "paying customers" today - maybe fifty of us.  There was a group of about 25 women - - all in traditional saris - as it turns out - we were told that they had paid a special fee to be at the front for the Aarti and Darshan tonight... it seems that one of their group was having a daughter get married and it was a special occasion for them.  Unfortunately (more on this to come) - the actual inner sanctum can only hold 25 worshippers, elbow-to-elbow.  That meant all of us guys could only stand outside the door and get a narrow-angle glimpse of what would be going on inside.

The waiting area needs to be described...as NO PHOTOS would be allowed.  Along with the iron railings, there was a large Ganesha shrine as you entered the building.  Again...devout Hindus, no matter what "denomination" - take time to first address Lord Ganesha before any other prayers.  In the photos from the Srisailam Road Trip Facebook Album - the golden "dome" that you see from the outside is built directly over the sanctuary where the Shiva Jyotirlingam lies inside.  There was a knee-high, black basalt statue of Nandi the Sacred Bull at one end of the anteroom - - and he was surrounded by dozens of flowers on the ground (a smell you get used to!) and about 10 sticks of burning incense.  There was an old Shiva Priest in the corner, with a huge basket of cotton...and he was making wicks for ghee lamps that are used at every aarti... He had another basket filled with the completed wicks...he probably had 100+ finished by the time we got inside. 

There were several "backpacks" laying in the foyer....it would have made me nervous - but - among the open piping and duct work overhead (which were all painted black - and in the dimly-lit corridor made for a kind of spooky atmosphere)...there was an old (but functioning) "eye-in-the-sky" camera-bubble mounted to the "ceiling".  I could see the camera-lens scanning the room.  I would think that if anything was out-of-sorts, the security team would have been on it.  As it turned out -  - these backpacks held the "pipes and drums" for the "temple band" which would be beginning to play the cacophony of music for the Aarti in just a matter of moments.

The next several minutes can only be described as a sensual assault - - a virtual explosion of sights, sounds and smells...the likes of which I had never seen in my entire life!!

Sorry...I should have known I couldn't fit this Roar Trip into a two-part blog...Part Three coming tomorrow!!

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Road Trip #2 - - Part One - Srisailam

(Intended to be a TWO-PARTER...but ya never know!)  Wow.  Where do I start??  There was still another week to go before Amy gets home from her trip back to the States...so there was time for at least one more Road Trip.  This time, Caretaker Krishna picked the destination.  We would head out south of Hyderabad about 260 Km to the town of Srisailam.  He told me that it was something I just needed to see....a lovely drive (that my dear reader, is a relative term!!) up into the mountains and the forest (now that I have an idea about the difference between a "village", a "town" and a "city" - I need to figure out when a forest ceases being a "forest...and becomes a "jungle" - - it was pretty amazing (over)growth)...to see one of India's most famous dams, the Srisailam Dam on the Krishna River - and finally, at the top of the hill, the temple-town of Srisailam.

I call Srisailam a "temple-town" - because that's what it is...the temple is the center of the town...and virtually all of the businesses there have something to do with the temple or pilgrims or devotees or tourism!

A little more about this fascinating town:

Srisailam is a renowned hill town located on a majestic natural setting on the banks of the River Krishna in the state of Andhra Pradesh. Srisailam is known for many ancient temples, a wildlife sanctuary and a dam. Srisailam hills are very rich in scenic attractions, breathtaking wild life and this hill offers panoramic views of the surroundings.


Sikharam, the highest spot in the undulated hilly regions of Srisailam, is known for its majestic natural beauty, eye catching scenarios and a marvelous temple. The temple dedicated to Lord Shiva is renowned as Sikhareswara Swamy temple. The idol is believed to be the Lord of Sikharam. There is a temple dedicated to Lord Ganesha in Sikharam.

The famous Bhramaramba Mallikarjunaswamy Temple located at height of about 457 meters on the southern bank of River Krishna is a major pilgrim spot in Srisailam hill town. This temple is one of the 12 Jyotirlinga temples in the country. Srisailam is one of the most holy places of Andhra Pradesh. It enshrines one of the twelve Jyothirlingas of India, the only Jyothirlinga of Andhra Pradesh. The Jyothirlinga temple is dedicated to Lord Mallikarjuna Swamy and his consort Bhramaramba Devi.  (N.B.  Please do check out the Wiki link about the Jyothirlinga - - there will be lots of references to it later on!!)

The Nallamala forest ranges with densely wooded trees and diverse flora and fauna (i.e., monkeys as far as the eye can see!!) lies in the proximity to the Srisailam hills. These lusting green forest regions are ideal for adventurous trekking, hill climbing and forest exploration and research. Srisailam is the base camp for Nallamala explorations. It was in this Nallamala forest ranges, that the extremely popular Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh Dr. Rajasekhara Reddy was killed in a helicopter crash in September of 2009.

When we plan these trips, we generally try to leave the house at around 6:30 A.M. in order to beat the traffic...and as usual, we didn't hit the road for Road Trip #2 until around 7:00.  This time it really didn't matter, because - unlike the trip to Warangal...this route took us to the south, using the Rajiv Gandhi International Airport flyovers and NOT through the heart of rush-hour traffic.  The roads, overall, were much better going toward Srisailam...my guess is this is because the temple at Srisailam is a major pilgrim and tourist destination (judging by the number of buses along the route!!) and the roads need to be kept in fairly good condition.

The first couple of hours (it took about 5.5 hours to get to Srisailam) were pretty nondescript - -long stretches of not much to look at, punctuated by several small villages and the occasional water buffalo herd walking down the middle of the highway.  The topography began to change as we were gaining altitude...at first there were BEAUTIFUL areas of Andhra Pradesh boulders (similar, as I have said - and Deacon John Yeager had pointed out - to the area of Chatsworth, CA by Stoney Point and north of the 118 Freeway) - - then, the road turns and gains noticeable elevation gain as you enter the forest.  The National Forest is also the Rajiv Gandhi (if it seems as if a lot of stuff is named after him in India - you are right!!) Tiger Sanctuary - but we saw no tigers.  The forest is really, really thick with trees and growth and vines.  Like I said...it's more what I would call a "jungle" than a forest.  Especially when you see the number of monkeys that inhabit the place.  There are many signs posted that clearly state "Do not feed the monkeys" - - but - obviously people break this rule all of the time, because the little devils are keenly aware of automobile traffic and the goodies that get thrown out the windows of cars.  And besides, there are street-vendors along the side of the road selling little newspaper cones of "monkey food" for a couple of rupees each.

There are more buses than cars as you keep heading up the mountain-side...and more monkeys than buses.  Finally, as we reached the crest, we turned sharply to the right and began descending on a road that switchbacks down to the northern bank of the River Krishna...and the very impressive Srisailam Dam.  There are pictures of the dam on my Facebook Photo Album - along with pics of the entire trip!

As we paused at a lookout point to take a few snaps (Indiaspeak for "photographs") - we got soaked from the spray coming up from the two spillway gates along the front of the dam which were opened to release some of the incredible overflow from this years record monsoon rains.  The photos from the far (south) bank of the Krishna River are much clearer and much drier!!!

It's probably only another 7-10 Km. up some winding road to get to Srisailam.  Just outside of the city gate, there is a pilgrim's stop where the dutiful devotee can pick up flowers and bangles and colorful thread-bracelets (tied all over the temple fencing as puja offerings) and coconuts for offering to Lord Shiva.  Also, there is a small shrine/temple in honor of Lord Ganesha - - the elephant-headed god (and son of Lord Shiva and Goddess Parvati) - - where devout Hindus stop first to pray before entering.  I have learned, after a time, and I'm not exactly sure of "why" this is - that you always pray to Ganesha first...then whatever God you are going to visit.  Since Ganesha is Shiva's son...it's kind of like stopping to quickly say: "Hello, Ganesha...I'm going up to see your Dad now...please tell him I'm coming".  The same thing goes for the idols/statues of Nandi, the sacred bull - who serves as both Shiva's vehicle and the guardian of Shiva's temples and his abode in the heavenly realm.  Devotees will stop and ask permission and blessing from Nandi before proceeding into Lord Shiva's Presence.

We got inside the city and stopped to take a few more snaps.  We drove as far as the temple gates themselves (where large signs indicated that "puja vehicles only" are allowed past a certain point) - -and here we pulled over and waited for Sangamesh (our security man) to call his nephew - - who just happens to be one of the senior pujaris (Shiva Priests) at the temple.  When he showed up, it was hard not to notice that he was a very young man (barely 30, if that!) - - he had the distinguishing marks of a Shiva devotee (the three-horizontal-line clay tilaka on his forehead.  His English skills were very few...and he greets you, instead of the standard "Namaste" or "Namaskara" - - with "Om Namah Shivayah". 

It is hard to get an exact translation of Om Namah Shivaya(m)  Thanks to Volume One of The Ancient Power of Sanskrit Mantra and Ceremony for this semi-helpful description:

"This mantra has no approximate translation. The sounds related directly to the principles which govern each of the first six chakras on the spine...Earth, water, fire, air, ether. Notice that this does not refer to the chakras themselves which have a different set of seed sounds, but rather the principles which govern those chakras in their place. A very rough, non-literal translation could be something like, 'Om and salutations to that which I am capable of becoming.' This mantra will start one out on the path of subtle development of spiritual attainments. It is the beginning on the path of Siddha Yoga, or the Yoga of Perfection of the Divine Vehicle."

The sounds of the chanted "Om Namah Shivaya" mantra (and many others) can be heard coming out of loudspeakers all over the city, and non-stop throughout the day, as long as the temple is open.  That means from 4:30 A.M. until 3:30 P.M. - - when it closes for an hour...and then opens once again for evening pooja and darshan at 4:30 P.M. and closes again at around 10:30 P.M. (with much drumming and fanfare!!)

For a taste of something very much like what we heard virtually everywhere we went that first day...check out this very cool YouTube video.

Since it was now approaching the closing hour...it was time to find a place to lay our heads (many of the "hotels" in Srisailam are government-run) for the night...and catch a quick nap before going into the temple for for "Shiva Vespers" (I just made that up....)

To Bee Continued.... "Part Two - The Temples of Srisailam"

Sunday, October 10, 2010

First India Road Trip Part 5 (Final Chapter) Ramappa Temple

After about an hour's drive home (most of the goats were off the roads when the sun went all the way down!)...we got back to the hotel at around 10:00 P.M. - making for a very, very long day!!  It was far too late to go out to eat, so - The Bee and I just crashed....  We woke up pretty early and went out for a walk around the hotel neighborhood...  There was a petrol station right next-door to the hotel, and a dirt lot behind it...so - that was the first place we headed for her morning trip to the "ladies room".  There was a school and a small park...and the city was just beginning to awaken.  It's amazing how much excitement a little black Lhasa Apso can cause!!  Everybody stops to stare at us...and to point at Beloved and smile.  There are innumerable street dogs in India...but the sight of a little black fur-ball on a flexi-leash is just too comical for most people!

At around 10:00 A.M., Bhaskar (see photo of me and Bhaskar - with Nandi, the Bull, above) and Prabhakar rang my hotel room doorbell and we made our way downstairs with Krishna and the bags...I was ready to go, because breakfast came with the room - - but all I had was three cups of strong/sweet coffee!  I already knew better than to ask Bhaskar how :far" it was to Ramappa Temple - so I asked him "how long was it going to take?" He told me it was going to be a two-hour drive...and - that's exactly how long it took. 

Ramappa Temple, constructed in the typical architectural style of South India during the Kaktiya rule in the 12th century, is truly a grand old temple dedicated to Lord Shiva in a town called Palampet not far way from Mulugu, which is outside of Warangal. This temple is revered very much by the Hindu community and is assumed to be the great contribution of the Kakatiya Kings.


Ramappa Temple, placed in a star shaped platform 6 feet high, has a Shivalingam in the inner-sanctum with a sikhara at the mount. A mandapam with a Nandi Idol that stands about nine-foot high, in ruins now, placed at the entrance and many small shrines are placed around the main temple. The temple walls are decorated with impressive carvings, which display epic stories of Ramayana and Mahabharata. The major festival celebrated here is Shivarathri and which day devotees still throng to this temple. It may be in ruins - but it is very much a working, active temple.

Generally, temples are named after the person who built them or the deity in that temple, but Ramappa temple was named after the sculptor Ramappa. Inside the temple, (which is under a bit of renovation and has much wood scaffolding on the outside, so you have to enter the temple crossing the west side wall)... there are signboards installed by Archaeological Survey of India to describe the temple's importance. After spending some time absorbing the signs, we walked to our left ...and there was was the Ranga Mantapam (also called the Natya Mantapam). In the place between Inner temple and Ranga Mantapam, there is a small room which gives space for about ten people. After paying 200 rupees for the three of us (that's about four-dollars...and, yeah...Krishna stayed and watched Beloved!) - it was at this place where a Shiva pujari did for us a special ceremony known as Rudreswara's (Siva Lingam) Darshanam. I think the priest was there every day and did this for tourists and pilgrims...but - on this day - we were the ONLY people there...the beauty of being able to travel mid-week!!  Similar to the pooja the prior evening (only without the drums!!) - it was a very nice ceremony.  This room space where we were standing is called the Antharalam. There was blackstone wall dividing Antharali and Natya Mantapam. To the left of Antharalam, there is a screen on which carvings are made which are 1,000-years-old and still quite stunning!

Walking outside was the biggest thrill of the day for me....all along the eaves of the temple, climbing all along the scaffolding and the exterior walls....was a virtual highway for the Ramappa Temple monkeys !!!  Literally hundreds of monkeys....  and they are pretty big ones, too!!  They have red butts like baboons (sorry - I know...TMI - but - they do!!) - they are cute...but I kept my distance because several of the mama monkeys had babies with them and - these monkeys have some serious-looking teeth!!  There are photos of some of the monkeys and the Ramappa Temple on my Facebook Photo Album page.

We spent a good long time at the temple....it was really humid...and - as much as I'd like to say that I am totally used to the Indian climate...I was soaked with sweat by the time we headed for the car.  I jokingly told Krishna when we got back to the car that I spend good money to use the steam-room at Latitudes Pro Gym...and here in Ramappa, I get to sweat more....for free!!

It was time to head home...so - - we stopped for a nice lunch at one of the Warangal hotels (great chicken curry and vegetable curry with rice and hot butter-naan!) - - we dropped off our new friends (I think they expected that we'd see more temples...but - we really did need to go so we didn't hit terrible traffic in Secunderabad...we DID hit the traffic...but I was so ready to go home...and so was The Bee!!

We made a leisurely drive home...stopping a few times to look at small temples on the way...and we got home around 8:00 P.M.  Overall - - for a first try...our Warangal Road Trip was incredibly worthwhile and a real treat!!  Thanks to Vivek and Bhaskar Prabhakar for all the wonderful advice and sightseeing help! 

Next Blog Coming Soon - - Road Trip Number Two: "Srisailam"!!

Saturday, October 9, 2010

First India Road Trip Part 4 - "Shiva Temple(s) and a wedding!"

I hope I have made it clear that I always intended to make this blog into an "unvarnished and truthful" look at our time living in India.  I have certainly tried to do that.  While the overwhelming number of experiences have been out-of-this-world POSITIVE - there have been a few that were... well, "not so much".  One was my getting my pockets picked at the Ganesha Immersion near the Hussain Sagar Lake last month (no special blog on that coming - I'd really rather not dwell on it - suffice to say "lesson learned" and I'm down one Blackberry and one digital camera!)

Other things that have happened are not so much "negative" - rather - they are simply a part of a learning-curve for an American guy getting used to the Indian way of doing things.  There are two of these little quirks that I need to remember every day:

1) Indian people simply do not like to tell you "no!"  As a matter of fact, I think it may be an impossibility for them to even say the word!!  This can be a little maddening for somebody who tries to live by the Biblical admonition to "Let your "yes" be "yes", and your "no" be "no"!"  Being so "positive" sounds like a good thing, but - even if a person here means: "No, no, no!  Absolutely NOT!" - it comes out as: "I will try!"  If they meant "I will try!" - that would be one thing.  But, often it really means: "No...not a chance in the world!"

And....

2) India is a BIG country.  The roads (especially this year in Andhra Pradesh, after this heavier-than-normal monsoon season) are often not-so-good.  But in asking my Indian friend Bhaskar, "Is it very far?" - the answer to any such inquiry is the same: "No, sir...not far!!"

When we got situated in the car after the Kush Mahal - - There was another three-way exchange in Telugu.  Then Krishna asked me if I wanted to see "just one more temple, Sir?"  Well - if the truth were told, I was tired and I really didn't want to see another temple!  But I could hear from the buzz in the car that it was something that everyone felt I really should do - - so - I agreed and asked (for the first time) "Is it very far?"

"No, sir...not far!!" was all that Bhaskar said!

The next hour-and-a-half was spent driving along the WORST road we had seen so far...mostly it was a "dirt road" - but even worse than that is - the local goat-herders were busy getting their flocks home for the night...and we had to stop and pass literally dozens of herds of goats - with some flocks numbering in the hundreds!!  I was getting so frustrated, I told Krishna: "No more extra trips!!"

All of a sudden - and for no reason that I could see, we pulled over in the dark of night (I had already asked Bhaskar if the temple we were going to see "had lights on it" !) - and we pick up another passenger!!!  It turns out that it was yet another friend who not only had connections at the Shiva Temple we were headed to, but - he had made special arrangements for a private pooja to be made in my honor!!

About fifteen minutes further up the road, we pulled into the temple grounds.  By most standards, it's a smaller temple that most...the lights are on - - inside - but overall the surroundings are dark enough to make you think that the place was closed!  We walk up to the temple doors....and - - there are a few smiling men outside the door...and they stepped back to let us through.  Four of us (poor Krishna had Bee-Duty again...we were going to definitely need to figure out a way to deal with Bee on the next road-trip!)

As we entered the sanctuary, the wonderful smell of incense and left-over prasadam filled the air.  Evidently, there had been another pooja a little earlier, but - as it turned out - - the men milling around the door were the "temple band" (for lack of a better term! - - it was 3-4 drummers and a fellow that played something like and Indian version of a large bagpipe chanter - - think the kind of pipe that you might see used by a guy picked by central-casting to play a snake-charmer in the movies!)  We walked right up the the door of the "holy-of-holies" where the Deity resides (in this case it was a small, golden Shivalingam - in front of an idol I frankly did not recognize... with some icons and small statues of both Shiva and Parvati and lots and lots of yellow and orange flowers!)...a red-dhoti clad pujari (priest of Lord Shiva - - you can tell by the tell-tale three white horizontal lines of the Shiva tilaka - correctly called tripundra - on his forehead...) came out and began chanting a prayer service...

All the while, I am just overwhelmed with the sounds (the chanting along with loud drumming and piping!) - the smells (flowers and incense and a rice-lentil prasadam dish!) and sights (this naked from the waist-up priest casting special rice-grains and water and milk and coconut water and red kumkum powder towards the statue...)  The Priest asked for my name and my wife's name (evidently for a blessing) and my son's name.  He looked shocked and saddened that I had no son.  He put back the nine-grain offering (I forget what it's called) reserved for "my son"...and then did the entire thing over again for Bhaskar and the two other fellows.  Out of the fours of us, only Bhaskar and I were Christians...but he was most familiar with what was going on and kept explaining things to me the entire time....

An older priest came around the corner and presented me with a nice, full-color booklet about the temple and its history (unfortunately, all in Telugu - - which is why I can't tell you the name of the place!!) and placed a red kumkum tilak on my forehead and a green and gold scarf around my neck...  I was whispered-to by Bhaskar to put some money on the plate...I still don't think I put enough, but - it was all I had in my pockets!

I thanked everybody for the wonderful ceremony...and we began to walk around the temple grounds...

On the far side...there is a very, very old Shiva Temple...mostly just the remaining pillars and a raised sanctuary...it was roofless so there was nothing but the expanse of stars above.  "Inside" the temple....there was a full-scale Hindu wedding going on!!  My three Indian friends had no problem walking right up the stairs and into the midst of the wedding guests...who, of course, all stopped and stared at the American Guy!!

My lads did everything they could to push me toward the wedding ceremony, but - being a good Anglican - I gravitated toward the back of the hall!  The mother of the bride came up to me and put another tilak on my forehead (this one was orange, made from saffron)  - and beckoned me to sit in the circle with her and the family and the bride and groom!  I told you that the Indians are hospitable...but this was one-step-beyond!!  I begged-off sitting down (probably a great offense to the family...but I was really nervous and self-conscious...as I think anybody from the West might be!!)...

We sort of sneaked-out the back...and toward the car....got in...and headed back toward Warangal and our hotel.

Heck...I can't get the next-days activities at the Ramappa Temple in this blog...I've rambled-on far too long as it is....  I'll have to make this a FIVE PARTER!!

To "Bee" Continued in the fifth  (and final) episode....

Friday, October 8, 2010

First India Road Trip Part 3 - "Warangal Fort and the Shiva Temple"

Sorry!  I almost forgot!!  (Just one more reason to write in my blog within 1-2 days of a trip...at my advanced age, let's face it...you forget stuff!!)  Before we went back to the hotel, and before we saw the "1,000 Pillar Temple"...Krishna and I drove out to the local Maa Kali Temple, right on the waterfront of a huge (it turns out that it's man-made, but still very beautiful!) lake right inside Warangal.  More properly, the temple is called The Bhadrakali Temple at Hanamkonda.  The Bhadrakali Temple is an eight-century-old temple, built by the Kakatiya dynasty, and it is perfectly placed on a holy mount nearby Warangal city. The temple enshrines the Goddess Kali, (see photo, above-right) the mother Goddess in Hindu mythology, adorned with weapons in all the eight arms and the statue of the Goddess is in the sitting posture with a crown in her head. The structure of the temple is in the amazing architectural style of Chalukya’s.  This was an amazing temple...they were setting-up inside for evening pooja (prayer) and darshan.

Darshan, or, sometimes spelled Darśana (Sanskrit: दर्शन) is from a Sanskrit term meaning "sight" (in the sense of an instance of seeing or beholding; from a root Sanskrit word meaning "to see" - a vision, an apparition, or simply a glimpse. It is most commonly used for "visions of the divine," e.g., of a god or a very holy person or artifact. One could "receive darshana" of the deity in the temple, or from a great saintly person, such as a great guru.


I have come to understand that darshan is hugely popular and a major part of Hindu worship.  In the sense "to see with reverence and devotion," the term translates to hierophany, and could refer either to a vision of the divine or to being in the presence of a highly revered person. In this sense it may assume a meaning closer to audience. "By doing darshan properly a devotee develops affection for God, and God develops affection for that devotee."

Darshan - like pooja - means to pray to God also.  This Kali temple was stunning and beautiful on the outside...but - as it is with many of the temples I was to visit on our next trip to Srisailam...it was kind of a mess inside...and I mean this with NO disrespect!  It's a mess...because...well, to be honest, Hindu worship, for the most part, is much more "messy" than, let's say: "Solemn High Mass at 10:00 A.M. at St. Mary of the Angels, Hollywood.  If you Catholics can imagine...picture Solemn Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament (certainly a type of darshan!)...and all of the sudden the Priest comes out and begins to pour honey and coconut-water and holy water and cow's milk and red kum-kum powder all over the altar and the monstrance!!  That's what it seemed like to my untrained eye!!  More pics on the Facebook page (link below!)

Now...back to our regularly-scheduled travelogue:

Vivek's friend Bhaskar - and Bhaskar's friend, Prabhakar, got into the car with us....but they were a wee-bit apprehensive about sitting in the back seat with Beloved.  As you can see from the photos on my Facebook Page Photo Album - by the time of our departure from Warangal on Wednesday afternoon, the three of them were fast friends...Prabhakar even requested that I take a photo of him and The Bee (see the last few pictures!)  It was pretty sweet - - but for the rest of our First Day - - I held The Bee on my lap in the front passenger seat, which can be a bit of a pain in the you-know-what - she's a little wiggle-worm ESPECIALLY when she sees animals out the window.  And on this leg of the journey we saw them all!! Water buffalo, cows, about 10,000-odd goats - - and our first monkeys!!

I couldn't understand any of the Telugu that my three friends were speaking...but I THOUGHT we were heading to the Warangal Fort - - another local touristy-place (a place that Vivek had warned me "wasn't really all that much to look at...").  However, with the lads in the back-seat calling out directions in what I have come to call "Teluenglish" - - we ended up parked in front of this farmhouse in town.

As it turns out, this was Vivek's boyhood home and the home of his father and brother.  For some unknown reason, Bhaskar thought it was important that I see where Vivek grew up.  I was to find out later that Vivek had asked Bhaskar to "please NOT bore (me) with a trip to the farmhouse..."  But here we were anyway.

Now - - I have learned much about Indian hospitality...it is legendary.  There is no pulling up, seeing the house and saying, "Oh, that's nice...now let's go...!"  There was to to be the taking off of shoes, the sitting inside in the living-room, some idle chit-chat (kinda tough when there is only one of us that speaks any real, understandable English!) seeing pictures of the family, a tour of the house, sweet coffee, (tea for Krishna)...the highlight was having Bhaskar hold up a photo of an approximately seven-year-old Vivek, along with his older sister and brother...the "photo of the photo" that I took is also in the Facebook Album.  Vivek was mortified...but I think he was a cute kid!!

After we were done and I thanked the housekeeper for the great coffee...we were out on the road again.

As it turned out, the fort really WAS worth seeing.  The Warangal Fort is situated 12 kilometers from Hanamkonda in Warangal city in Andhra Pradesh. It was constructed in the 13th century by the Kakatiya dynasty.

The City of Warangal is to the northeast of Hyderabad, almost exactly 150 kilometers from it. The two cities are linked by road and rail.  The train might be fun sometime...because, due to this year's heavier than usual monsoons...the roads are hammered!!  Warangal Fort is in southern Warangal - and a bit of a drive from Vivek's farmhouse.

Warangal Fort, although now in ruins, was once an impregnable fort in the state. Close to the Ekashila hill rock, there are different layers spreading out. The building of Warangal Fort began in 1199 AD at the instructions of the Kakatiyan king Ganapati Deva and his daughter, Rani Rudrama Devi supervised the process till its completion in 1261 AD. The remnants of the fort that are present in the city provide some useful insights of the past civilization that used to occupy these lands.

Warangal Fort is reputed for its architectural magnificence besides its history. The remnants of the fort comprise imposing gateways and tall, elegant towers, each almost 50 feet tall. The special feature distinguishing the four enormous pillars of the gateway is that they have been cut from a single rock. Three protective layers ensure the protection of what was once the inner precincts and center of power.

Part of the ruins consist of delicate sculpture and stone work, motifs and designs delineating animals like lions and swans. Inside the fort area are the residues of temples razed to the ground by the early Qutub Shahi kings. The place is full of riches and resources from the past.

In hindsight...I think that Warangal Fort is one of the most impressive historical landmarks in all of the Hyderabad/Warangal area!  My photos of the fort begin with the 40th photo in the Facebook Album...What an amazing place....all of the carvings were hand-done in three various kinds/colors of granite...the photos really don't do the place justice.  We were there until the sun was well on the way down...

Although I wanted to "call it a day" (NO CHANCE WITH THERE TWO GUYS AS THE TOUR GUIDES...WE WERE JUST GETTING WARMED-UP!!!) - they made Krishna stop the car so that I could go into to the "Kush Mahal" - a beautiful structure with Muslim overtones...but was actually built in 1504 A.D. by a man named Shitab Khan - - who - believe it or not, with that name, is attributed with Hindu origins.  After a killer-climb up some steep stone stairs, I could see why the boys insisted that we stop.  The view from the top of the Kush Mahal was tremendous....you could wee the whole area from up there!!

That's it, right??  We're done!!  The sun is almost down...we've been on the road since 7:00 this morning....let's go back to the hotel!!  No way, Jose!!  This night was FAR from over!!!!

(To "Bee" Continued in the 4th and Final installment!

Thursday, October 7, 2010

First India Road Trip Part 2 - "The 1,000 Pillar Temple"

After we left the Jain Temple (and waited for what seemed like and eternity at a railroad crossing!!) - we headed back on the road up to Warangal.  We saw several other sites along the way...most noteably, two Catholic churches named after the Blessed Virgin Mary:  "The Church of Our Lady of Lourdes" and - in Warangal itself, the Diocesan Cathedral, "Our Lady of Fatima".  This is the very same Church that my friend, Vivek, went to as a kid...and his High School, "St. Gabriel's" is still in operation and seems to have a huge number of students!

We had made our reservations for the hotel, the Suprabha Hotel right in the center of town...and not too very far from our next destination...the famous "1,000 Pillar Temple" (see photo, above).  We got checked into the hotel just fine...much different from home...no credit card needed, no money up-front - - you pay when you leave.  There was no problem bringing in Beloved, but - you never know...so - we put her inside her "Bee Bag" and I toted her upstairs to my room.  I got Krishna a room down the hall from me.  I found it a little disconcerting that the desk-clerk wanted to know if I wanted to "get a room for my driver across the street in the dormitory?"  I said "No, thank you...a room in the hotel close to me would be just fine!"

Bee and I got unpacked and settled (water and kibble put out for her... and the T.V. turned on for me.)  There is really not much T.V. in English to watch without our super-duper TataSky package at home...NEO Cricket is one channel - - but - we opted for watching a Mister Magoo cartoon in Hindi...which was actually pretty funny!  I had told Krishna that we would head out to the 1,000 Pillar Temple at around 3:00 P.M. - which gave us a couple of hours to nap and freshen-up a bit after the long drive up (it took us almost five hours, but - we had made several stops!)

I called Vivek's friend, Bhaskar, and let him know we were in town...he seemed anxious to come right over to the hotel.  Through his wife, I got the message through (finally!!) that we were going to rest a bit and call him when we wanted to get together for dinner.  Then it was nap-time!!

We drove over to the area where the "1,000 Pillar Temple" is supposed to be.  We got a little lost, but I will say one thing about Krishna...he's not ashamed to pull over and ask local folks for directions...even if they're talking on the cell-phone when we do it!!  For such a huge tourist attraction in the town of Warangal, you would think that there would be a lot more signage for the temple...but, as it turned out, the tiny little side-street where we turned could easily be missed.

The "famous" Thousand Pillar Temple (I had never heard of it before coming to India!), was built in 1163 AD, by King Rudra Deva, and is an important historical monument situated near the Hanamkonda-Warangal highway. One thousand richly carved pillars and a magnificent black basalt Nandi bull are unique to this temple.  There are also some pretty cool ruins, an archeoligical site, and some nice carved elephants....because it's a temple, you have to take off your shoes to enter...which is pretty tough on tender soles when the last time you ran around barefoot was in Junior High School!!

The black basalt statue of Sri Nandi (Lord Shiva's mount, or "vehicle" as they say), is a monolith (carved from one rock!), actually has a lovely polished finish. There are many small lingam shrines surrounding the gardens. The temple is famous for its richly carved pillars, screens and detailed sculpture.  The temple, (so they say, it's hard to see from ground-level) is built in the shape of a star. The temple constitutes of three shrines, where the presiding deities are Lord Shiva, Lord Vishnu and Lord Surya.

Overall, I was not impressed.  Of all of the temples we were to visit, this was the only one that was not a "working temple" - - it was just a ruin and - really not much to see.  There are only five pics of the temple and surroundings (as I said - there really wasn't that much too it!) in my Facebook Photo Album entitled:  First India Road Trip - September, 2010

Directly after I got back to the car (I felt bad for Krishna....there was really no safe place to leave Beloved in the car and it was awfully HOT!! - so he watched her while I went sightseeing...) - - Bhaskar called and he was at the hotel looking for us.  I guess that my message about "meeting for dinner" didn't "get through" as I had thought....

We drove back and picked him and his friend Prabhakar up in front of the hotel.  They got in...and - then the adventure really began!!  These fellows really know the town of Warangal...have a lot of contacts...and were just chomping at the bit to show me everything they could in a short amount of time!!  Now it was off to the Warangal Fort and the Kush Mahal (both just outside of town) - - but - first - an unexpected side-trip!

To "Bee" Continued....

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Quick Sunday Update....

It's Sunday early-afternoon in Hyderabad.  Amy is still in Maryland.  Krishna and I just returned home from Mass.  I must say that I was pleasantly surprised after I sat in our pew and said my prayers.  A girl from the choir walked up to me as we were sitting before Mass and handed me a "people's missal" (for lack of a better term!)  Out of nowhere, I was asked to read the First Lesson at St. Mary's (RC) Church in Secunderabad this morning!! Habakkuk 1:2-3; 2:2-4.  It felt pretty good to be in the Lord's Sanctuary once again! Alleluia!

I think I will stay close to home this afternoon...I may head over to Latitudes Gym and maybe go upstairs to the Tangerine Spa...but I sort of want to see the rest of the Ryder Cup.  I think the U.S. Team may just be in the middle of the biggest choke-job in the history of team/match-play golf!  It was so painful to watch last night...I was almost glad that all of the rain came late yesterday and the rest of the matches were put on hold on account of darkness...it was really getting ugly and out-of-hand!!

Krishna and Sangamesh and I are planning this week's Road Trip Number Two, which is planned for Tuesday and Wednesday...  We plan to go to the big Shiva Temple there...one of the twelve so-called Jyotirlinga Temples

I had never heard of it before, but, according to Krishna and Sangamesh (who is a "Pujari", or Priest, of Lord Shiva, so he oughta know!) the Srisailam Mallikarjuna Bramaramba Temple is a famous Jyotirling in Andhra Pradesh.  Here is a brief history of the temple site

(Thank you, Shaivam.org !!)

"When Kumar Kartikeya returned to Kailash after completing his trip around the earth, he heard about Ganesha’s marriage from Narada. This angered him. In spite of being restrained by his parents, he touched their feet in obeisance and left for Krounch Mountain. Parvati was very distraught at having to be away from her son, implored Lord Shiva to look for their son. Together, they went to Kumara. But, Kumara went away a further three Yojanas, after learning about his parents coming after him to Krouncha Mountain. Before embarking on a further search for their son on each mountain, they decided to leave a light on every mountain they visited. From that day, that place came to be known as JyotirLinga Mallikarjuna. It is believed that Shiva and Parvati visit this place on Amavasya (No moon day) and (full Moon day) Pournami, respectively. Visiting this JyotirLinga not only blesses one with innumerable wealth, but also name and fame and fulfils all the desires.

Once, a princess named Chandravati decided to go to the Jungles to do penance and meditation. She chose Kadali Vana for this purpose. One day, she witnessed a miracle. A Kapila cow was standing under a Bilwa tree and milk was flowing from all of its four udders, sinking into the ground. The cow kept doing this as a routine chore everyday. Chandravati dug up that area and was dumb founded at what she saw. There was a self-raising Swyambhu SivaLinga. It was bright and shining like the sun rays, and looked like it was burning, throwing flames in all directions. Chandravati prayed to Shiva in this JyotirLinga. She built a huge Shiva Temple there. Lord Shankara was very pleased with her. Chandravati went to Kailash wind borne. She received salvation and Mukti. On one of the stone-inscriptions of the temple, Chandravati’s story can be seen carved out."

Needless to say, I am really looking forward to this road trip!!

Saturday, October 2, 2010

First India Road Trip Part 1 - "The Jain Temple"

With Amy Suzanne out of town for almost three-weeks (she returned to the States on the night of the Ganesha Immersion - - first to Orlando, Florida for some Deloitte training - - then up to Maryland for this year's Capitol Challenge Horse Show - that's where she is right now!) - our driver, Krishna, Beloved the Lhasa Apso and I - decided to "head out on the highway" for a little Road Trip.  My friend Vivek, the owner of Beyond Coffee, had informed me that he had grown up in the town/city of Warangal, about 160 kilometers north of Hyderabad...and that it might just be a great place to see some Hindu temples and some nice churches.  Vivek was right!  It was a wonderful place and I thoroughly enjoyed it!

We look off from home last Tuesday morning...we had planned to leave at around 6:30 A.M. - - but that time became 7:00 A.M. because....well - - that's just the way things go in India!  The initials are "I.S.T." - which officially stand for "India Standard Time" - - but, as one learns here pretty quickly, it really stands for "Indian Stretchable Time"!!

We tried to beat the traffic through Secunderabad...but - no such luck.  Once we got to the highway it was not much faster because there are buses and trucks and auto-rickshaws out there as well...and much of the drive was to be on two-lane-two-way roads....and - let's just say that the rules for safe passing here are not quite what they are at home in the U.S. (Hoooo boy, is that ever an understatement!!)  With The Bee in tow, one must be keenly aware of her need to use the "Ladies Room" - - she's really pretty good about letting you know her desires.

We stopped the first time on a side-road that lead to an engineering college, sort of out in the middle of nowhere.  There were a couple of pretty rocky hills that looked like they could have been in California or Arizona...palm trees growing nearby, with reddish sandstone outcroppings.  Krisha walked Bee a bit while I took a couple of snapshots.

Our first real stop was at a Jain Temple (see my photo above) in a town called "Aler" (I'm still not sure exactly what makes a "village" big enough to be called a "town" - - but whatever.  This temple was literally on the other-side-of-the (train) tracks.  By the way...safety barriers for roads crossing railroad tracks in India...come down a full five-minutes before the train actually arrives...people on foot just walk around...bicyclists and motorcycle riders drag their vehicles under the arm!!

I must admit to knowing very little about the workings of the religion of Jainism.  What I do know is at-best an Internet-assembled working knowledge of what they are all about and basically what it is that they believe...I had no idea whatsoever what this looked like "up close and personal!!  The opening chapter of William Dalrymple's "Nine Lives" follows a Jain Nun (a very strange tale...if you have not read the book, you must get it immediately!)  I must also say that my visit inside the temple was one of the strangest experiences of my life...and - as you know - - I'm a fairly religious fellow, not given to speak poorly about another man's religious practices....but this was just plain strange!!. 

Andhra Pradesh is not really known for having been a stronghold of the Jain religion. Hence it comes as a total surprise to learn that one of the oldest spots upon which a Jain temple has been present for over two thousand years is this temple known as Kolanupaka, which is near this town of Aler, which is about half-way on the way to Warrangal city. This is about 100 kms from the capital city of Hyderabad and is only now emerging from obscurity. Generous contributions to rebuild the temple as well as a steady stream of pilgrims from other parts of the country no doubt aid the process. Heck, even I had heard of it!  Nevertheless it remains a strange, incongruous place, a Jain temple in the middle of a predominantly Vaishnava (Hindu people who predominately worship Lord Vishnu in his various forms) countryside.

The Jains, because of their belief that all life is sacred, wear these little mouth-and-nose covering "masks" while they do their worship.  This is so they don't accidentally inhale a small bug while they are praying.  Or, is it even prayer??  Do your own research on the Jains and you will see what I mean.  Much like in Buddhism, there is no God.  There are certain Jains (the monks and nuns) who take their vow of renunciation so seriously that they wear nothing at all.  There were none of these Jain "religious" in the temple that day, or it would have definitely ranked as the strangest experience of my life, not just in the "top ten".

Jainism traces its roots to a succession of 24 Jinas ("those who overcome", or conqueror) in ancient East India. The first Jina is traditionally believed to have been a giant who lived 8.4 million years ago. The most recent and last Jina was Vardhamana (a.k.a. Mahavira, "The Great Hero") He was born circa 550 BC) and was the founder of the Jain community. He attained enlightenment after 13 years of deprivation. In 467 BC, he committed the act of salekhana which is fasting to death. Each Jina has "conquered love and hate, pleasure and pain, attachment and aversion, and has thereby freed `his' soul from the karmas obscuring knowledge, perception, truth, and ability..."


In this temple, there are these little alcoves, each one containing an idol of one of the Jinas, or Tirthankaras, as they are sometimes called.  I must tell you that, in contrast to Hindu worship, where there is a distinct difference between the depictions of the deity being worhipped (whether it be Krishna or Durga or Shiva or Ganesha)...no matter if the depiction be in icon-form or statue - you learn quickly to tell the difference.  In the case of these twenty-four Jinas, they looked identical to each other...I could see no discernable difference at all between them.  The Jain worshippers walked around and around the outside "aisle" of the temple, stopping for at least ten minutes at each idol...and placing little dots of sandalwood paste (?) or something on about 15 different spots on the idol's head and torso.  I watched this for quite some time, not meaning to stare...but heck...Amy and I get stared-at here in India all of the time...so "turnabout's fair play"!
 
Now here is where I get confused.  This scene (and the preparation of prasadam and the bhajan singing that was going on in the center of the temple "sanctuary") was certainly reminiscent of Hindu worship...but as I said...there is no "God" in Jainism!!  The people inside certainly looked as if they were worshipping the Jinas... It was a very strange scene indeed!!  The Jain understanding of an uncreated and eternal universe leaves little room for an Almighty Creator God. Jains do, however, believe in a "perfect universal presence," as well as multiple deities who dwell in the heavens.  In the Jain cosmology (from what I can understand) the realm of the gods consists of higher and lower gods. The lower act very human, and often rule as despots. Humans may call on these deities for assistance. One of the most important deities is Ambika, the Mother Goddess of Jainism. She is the patron deity of material prosperity, childbirth and protection of women.


The practicing Jain believes that, being eternal themselves, humans can also attain "perfect beingness," or divinity. The most notable feature of Jain ethics is its insistence on noninjury to all forms of life. Jain philosophy finds that every kind of thing has a soul; therefore strict observance of this precept of nonviolence (ahimsa) requires extreme caution in all activity. As I mentioned above, Jain monks frequently wear cloths over their mouths to avoid unwittingly killing anything by breathing it in, and Jain floors are kept meticulously clean to avert the danger of stepping on a living being. The inside of the temple was pretty clean by Hindu standards (more on this when I write about the Kali Temple in Warangal in an upcoming blog!!)Jains regard the intentional taking of life, or even violent thoughts, however, as much more serious. Jain philosophy posits a gradation of beings, from those with five senses down to those with only one sense.


Ordinary "householders" (folks like you and me) cannot help harming some created beings (how many mosquitoes have I smashed into goo since I've been in India??) - although Jain philosophy states that they should strive to limit themselves in this regard by refraining from eating meat, certain fruits, or honey or from drinking wine. In addition Jain householders are expected to practice other virtues, similar to those in Hinduism. The vows taken by the Jain monks are more severe. They eventually involve elements of Asceticism: fasting, peripatetic begging, learning to endure bodily discomfort, and various internal austerities constituting a Jain variety of Yoga. As I read about (in some amazement) in Dalrymple's Nine Lives book, Jainism is unique in allowing the very spiritually advanced practicioners to hasten their own death by certain practices (principally fasting) and under specified circumstances!!

I took only a few photos inside the temple grounds (including the one at the beginning of this article), which turned-out to be a greater offense than trying to wear cargo-shorts inside!!  I thought this one young security guard was going to take my camera away, but I slipped it into my pocket and said I wouldn't take any more!

Obviously, I told him a fib.  Here is a public link to my Facebook page Photo Album.  It includes all of the photos from the entire trip, so - there will be more discussion of the latter snapshots to come in the next three blog entries...

First India Road Trip - September, 2010