Archive for the ‘Personal Experiences’ Category

Trip to Thiruvannamalai!

Thank Christ for God Friday (Supposedly the original name for Good Friday!) While most of us don’t know why it is important day for Christians all over the world, people in India look forward to it for it brings in a long weekend combined with Saturday and Sunday.

So, our weekend driving destination for this long weekend was a place we visited earlier but could not stop going back again – Thiruvannamalai. Located 200kms from Bangalore, it’s a good weekend drive into spirituality and religion, if you are feeling like that. It is the place of the sacred Arunachaleswara temple – a temple where Lord Shiva is representative of the ‘Fire’ element. The place is named after the great hill – Arunachala – which is considered Lord Shiva in his physical form. And the temple of Arunachaleswara is among the best architectures that you see in the South Indian temples – probably closer on the lines of Madurai, Sri Kalahasti etc.

The temple is huge, occupies an area of about 25 acres with four large ‘Gopurams‘ on each side. The largest ‘Gopuram‘ is above the eastern entrance which is the main entrance. There are five ‘Prakaram‘ or corridors around the central structure with a high wall running on all four sides at the edge of the outer ‘Prakaram‘. There are numerous shrines for other deities in the temple complex and Goddess Parvathi has a separate shrine on the third ‘Prakaram‘. She is worshipped as ‘Unnamulai Ambal’. The view of the temple from the Arunachala hill is a must-see.

Arunachala Temple

The place was worshipped from a long time by various saints and was written about at length in the form of songs of paeans for the lord. But the place was made popular and known to the western world and so to the westernized (Confused!) Indians like us through the great Indian master Sri Ramana Maharshi. While Ramana Maharshi himself never moved out of Thiruvanmalai throughout his life, the world came searching for him in the form of Paul Brunton – the great English spiritual traveler of his times. In his book “In Search of Secret India”, Paul Brunton wrote in detail about various Yogis he met in India and described Ramana Maharshi and his path of simple self enquiry into ‘Who am I?’ in detail.

So through the lengthy route of Paul Brunton –> Ramana Maharshi –> Thiruvannamalai, we came to know of this place and by chance realized that it is a place pretty close to Bangalore. So do a whole lot of Europeans that you see around in the place. So much so that most of them live here for 6 months + even buying houses and bikes.

Our Trip and Giri Valam

Anyway, Ramana Maharshi used to say that ‘Giri Valam’ or Giri Pradakshina of Arunachala is very powerful form of meditation. To do Giri Pradakshina on a full moon day is supposed to give a whole lot of spiritual and physical benefits. Having read so much about it, to walk the 17+ kms stretch around the Arunachala hill was the objective of our trip this time. Bare-footed and willing to challenge ourselves physically, Paddu, me and Ramesh started driving to Arunachalam on the morning of Good Friday, 21st of March 2008 around 830AM. Driving towards Krishnagiri from Bangalore, we could not stop appreciating the changing face of India as shown on its new highways and the slick Petrol Stations to the side, with all facilities to allow for a great stop-over.

While it was raining in Bangalore, we were not sure what the weather would be like in Arunachalam. If it rains heavily, we cannot do Giri Pradakshina, the chief objective of the trip. By the time we were 10kms away from Arunachalam, thick clouds descended on the town as if to scare us away and it started to pour, pouring water on our hopes and the new found spiritual enthusiasm. We drove straight into Seshadri Swamigal Ashram, an Ashram accommodation right next to Sri Ramana Ashram. Finding a decent place to park our car and a nice place to get ready, we thought of changing the planned time of Giri Pradakshina. Initially we planned to do it in the evening in the full moon but sceptisim about whimsical weather made us start it by 230PM after a light lunch – Thank Paddu for the great Pulihora she packed in the morning.

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Believe me when I say that I have never seen so many temples in one single place – in the 17kms stretch there are not less than 40+ temples of various gods and goddesses and even the great Rishis – there were temples dedicated to Agasthya and Durvasa also. Apart from this, are the innumerable ‘penance centers’ or meditation places of great sadhus. The density of spiritual souls per kilometer is extremely high and impossible to miss from the awesome serenity of the place inspite of the crowd. There are no less than 40,000 people walking around the path at any point in time, based on our guesstimates. We started visiting temple after temple, walking through the stretch stopping and appreciating, overawed by the sheer number of those temples – God knows how old each one of them is.

Of course, we in India are now on our way to making everything under the sun, a great market place. So you have mobile shops selling wares like candle stands, lamp holders; foods like Soups, Sugarcane juice, Idli; religious wares like books, cassettes, CDs; and a company-owned Maruti Van selling a Zandu Balm look alike for the paining legs. Everything can be bought making it a walk for shopping than for spirituality 😉

The view of the great Arunachal hill throughout the walk is awesome. You see a mix of people doing the walk and a mix of places. Every view of the hill has given self-realization to someone or the other. Every view of the hill is supposed to be good in its own way. For an unknown reason, just looking at the hill gave me a feeling of mystery and power. The walk and the place broke the barriers of thought and belief as to who gets self-realization. What does a man who has realized the self, look like? I have seen a lot of people on the Giri Valam path, who we usually associate mostly with superstition and weird rituals, who actually sit down to meditate with a deep serene look on their face. It might not be a weird thing but for people like me blinded by stereotyping, it is a revelation. I realized how much we have urbanized the concept of meditation and who should do meditation and how messed up our basics are.

You see people walking around the hill out of belief, out of hope, out of fun, out of curiosity, out of fear and every other human emotion we experience every day. Laugh you may, when I say that the first thought which came to my mind when I saw those hordes of people is – can I make it faster to Self-Realization than most of these people? And then I laughed at my conditioning of competition. Probably spiritualism is one place where all of us can pass the test together and for a change, there are no grades. All of us as humanity should make it through; otherwise we are all equally a failure.

Anyway as one of the bloggers said, Giri Valam is a journey through life – “It houses the Sanyasa, it houses the escapist, it houses the Grihasta, it houses the dead, it houses the Siddhas, it houses the Gods, it houses the animals. A complete universe pulsating with every breath of yours as you walk down trying to cover a 14 km stretch. It’s indeed a walk through life and beyond… depending on what you want to see….”

Closing on the walk we went into the temple for darshan and came out faster than we expected – by none other than the god’s grace. As towards the end of the 17kms walk, we were dead tired – unable to walk another step and search for a place for dinner. We went into a road side shack, had idlis with sambar for dinner and one chai to push them all through – pulled ourselves to the ashram acco and crashed. But not before serving our tired feet with some hot water and liberal amount of ‘real’ Zandu balm.

Next day morning, we decided to dedicate the day to knowing more about the saints of Arunachalam. So we visited Seshadri Swamigal temple, Sri Ramana Ashram. After breakfast in yet another road side shack, with tasty pongal and awesome vada, we started our trek up the Arunachala hill – the sacred hill around which we did pradakshina the day before. Our destinations – Skandashramam and Virupaksha cave, two caves where sri Ramana maharshi spent most of his life before coming down the hill into the place, which is the ashram today. A long trek up the hill and meeting curious set of piligrims, our trek was very eventful. We saw a lot of roaming sadhus and serene swamis. One of them was kind enough to engage us in a conversation – a Tax consultant in his previous life before he left all, he gave us great information on Ramana Maharshi and how to search for realization. Unfortunately we could not talk to him for long, but it was a really pleasant meeting.

Then we walked up to the two caves, meditated for a few minutes in each of those caves and came down the hill – yearning for a next time, when we can spend more time in those caves. Before we left the place, we were checking out a few books on Ramana Maharshi in the Ashram bookstore, when I was pleasantly suprised to meet a childhood friend of mine, after a long time – Devan Rajasekhar. Ramesh and he are meeting after 10+ years even though I met him couple of times after +2. So we sat and chatted for sometime about things, old and new. After that, lunch and drive back were normal as they seem, but it was with a feeling of contentment at challenging ourselves and somehow making it. A feeling of seeing a mysterious place from up-close but still not really knowing it. An emotion of pain, joy, contentment and a quest for more – it was a weekend of mixed feeling and our paining feet vouch for it 😉

However, unlike previous long weekends on Good Friday, we did what is supposed to be done on a Good Friday – Penance. It is widely believed in the Catholic Christianity that mourning for Christ’s crucifixion and feeling his pain are two principles things to be done on this day. We never realized that we will do atleast one of them, without knowing it 😉 Mourn we probably did not, but pain we really felt 😉 Thanks to Arunachala and Christ for the opportunity.

More pictures at http://picasaweb.google.com/phanimitra/Arunachala2

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Take me home, Country Roads….

There are multiple ways to commute from one place to another – by air being the easiest but the most boring of the lot. We in India have an extra option of going in a train other than taking the road route. Travelling on roads in India was/is considered a night mare and so a lot of enthusiastic travelers like me used to envy the buggers living in the US and Europe for their great roads and the ease with which they take those road trips driving down across states. Not anymore folks, India is almost there 😉 Well, it is still ALMOST.. 😉

 

Anyway the lengthy beginning is for a lengthy road trip we took in the Sankranthi vacation. 2 years after I bought my car, did the poor thing have the fortune of travelling cross-country! Now, Karnataka is inarguably the trekker’s and wild-life enthusiasts paradise and we set out to discover it on our own. Starting on an early Saturday morning from Bangalore, we started driving towards our final destination of Udupi in western Karnataka, a beach and temple town on the beaches of Arabian Sea. With the new-found tourism itch of India and states like Karnataka, we saw more boards to Belur and Haleibidu than to more bigger towns like Chikmagalur or even Hassan. Taking our first break near Hassan, we stopped by a highway-side Dosa Camp – serving awesome “Thin Idli” (Some new innovation apparently!) and some tasty and hot Dosas all served in a wide open parking lot – an Indian version of a drive-in 😉 But travelling with a 20 month old spoilt brat can be quite challenging than the drive itself. We stopped for more time than we drove but managed to reach Hassan -> Belur and then to Chikmagalur. For people unfamiliar with Karnataka, CHKMGLR is like a base camp for most of the adventures treks/trips into the Western Ghats.

 

Lunch @ Plantain Café – a decent restaurant in CHKMGLR on the way to Aldur (our next town in the Ghats). As we left CHKMGLR the nature started welcoming us with open arms. Driving through the Somaishwar national forest and Muthodi Wildlife sanctuary we reached Aldur and after a lot more spiraling roads and a few breaks we reached our first destination for the day – Sringeri (one of the four Sakthi Peethas established in India by Adi Shankaracharya of Advaitha fame!) . Ramesh and Vasisht had some good time talking to each other and Ramesh spending the time recuperating from the adverse effects the ghat roads had on him before the temple opened 😉 One of the best temples of Mookambika I have seen, Sringeri is undoubtedly a paradise for spiritually inclined.

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Still to cover close to 90 Kms and time almost being close to sunset, we hurried out of the temple and reached another small town called Agumbe – famously called Agumbe Ghat. We had a feeling of serendipity when we had a chance encounter with the sun, leaving work to his home! And what a place to watch the sunset – sun moving slowly down in to the horizon with nothing to obstruct the view for miles around. Certainly the highest point of our day – literally and figuratively 😉

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Reaching Udupi at 8.30 PM, all drained out – we dined and crashed in a hotel room. Woke up in the morning to visit the Krishna temple in Udupi. One of the most powerful temples I have seen of late, with the whole atmosphere inside the temple reverberating with Hare Krishna chantings, Krishna bhajans sweetly sung by groups of carnatic singers all together – totally wiping out any thoughts from the minds except of the Lord in his full magnificence. Words cannot and should not describe the feeling of peace and spirituality that touched me inside that temple. Out of the temple, we ventured to find out the next best thing Udupi is known for – yes the Dosa. Udupi is the vegetarian food capital as everyone knows and it was proven over and over, with the Dosas we ordered one after another and the Upma, that Ramesh savored 😉 After some temple shopping for idols, photographs and accessories by Paddu, we moved to the beach in Udupi, called Malpe beach. We had some 3 hours of great fun, good lunch and we could not stop ourselves to reach our next destination beach in Murudeswar.

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Drive from Udupi to Murudeswar is one of the most beautiful drives of my life, with a wonderful looking sea with its waves crashing close to the road on one side and coconut groves by the backwaters on the other side of the road. Crossing multiple rivers like Sharavati (The River that causes Jog Falls, the highest waterfall in India), Sauparnika and Aghanashini on the way – and a beautiful beach of Maravanthe and a couple of movie star like snaps of Mr.Ramesh on the beach-side roads, we finally reached Murudeswar.

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Murudeswar is an important location in the story of Bhookailas (old telugu movie!!) – Ravana bringing shiva’s atmalinga wanting someone to hold it while he does his evening prayers and hands it over to Ganesha in disguise as a cowherd boy, who calls for Ravana three times before he places it on the ground unable to bear the weight. It gets stuck in the ground then, as forewarned, and that place is Gokarna. Furstrated Ravana throws the holy cloth in which it was being carried all the while and it fell in Murudeswar – that is the legend! Though the age-old temple is disgustingly concretized (sic, modernized), it has conveniently screwed up the legacy by placing ceramic tiles on the stone built temple structure by a local real-estate contractor Mr. RN Shetty, trying to put Murudeswar on the map. So you see more hotels and accommodation around the great hill than the temple itself – so much so that a couple of my friends actually were surprised to know that there was one, when I told them that we visited the temple on that hill…! That apart, Vasisht had a great time at the beach and ofcourse we too. Sunset on the second day, after the Agumbe Ghat view, was at the sea shores of murudeswar – a brilliant sight of two minutes watch sun disappear in to those roaring waters.

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Day 3, is Gokarna. “I am a Herbivore. What else will you call me – I thrive on ‘Grass’?” That is the thought for a T-shirt that crossed my mind as I looked at the hordes of ‘firangs’ in Gokarna (We call the whites that around here, for all you Americanized folks and Grass for Desi junta around is a street name for marijuana!!). It is a confusing, little town of extreme spirituality and hordes of foreign tourists pouring in searching for instant nirvana – either given by Lord Shiva himself or the street-side vagabond! But Gokarna remains a center for vedic studies and is certainly held in high esteem on spiritual grounds from eons of time. We managed to offer our prayers at the Mahabaleshwar temple in Gokarna and it’s a different feeling shouting ‘Om Namah Shivaya’ for eleven times over powering the crowds of devotees trampling around you, while performing that abhishekam. We saw around the place – Ganesh Temple, Parvati Temple and a few temple-side puja accessory shops etc.

Then the afternoon was spent at the famous (notorious?) Om Beach – a place with more firangs than Indians, relaxing by the sea side in huts built beautifully on the shores. (See the picture below!) And Om Beach is so called apparently because the beach looks like an inverted Om!??! (See the picture below for yourself)

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We took a trip on a boat to the other beaches around – Paradise beach, Half-moon beach etc. Played in the waters for a while and waited for the sunset. This time, to view it from a hill top, courtesy Ramesh who trekked up around the hills to find the best view point! We waited for our dear sun to go down for yet another tremendous view with some great time pass with Lemonades and Frito Lays.

Starting back on the next day early morning around 6 AM, the drive through Shimoga and Sagar and touching Jog Falls on the way, it was an awesome drive at an average speeds of 90-100 KMPH (quite a feat contrary to the expectation of Indian roads!) and reached home (sweet home!) by 4PM! Dinner and crashed with a aching legs, after that long drive and with an aching heart – for I am not sure when I can take such a trip again.

That was a trip of mesmerizing natural beauty, enthralling views, thrilling speeds, broadened perspectives and a definition of a real holiday!

Just a bunch of ads!

I have started noticing how completely we miss out on the importance of background music as it blends and loses itself in the visuals. Ads sometimes make us focus only creative visuals with music just setting the platform. But there are a few ads where music takes over and it is completely awesome. One of the ads I found was the ad for JC Penny on my trip to US. Awesome, I thought and I thought of it to realize the best part was the music. Did a quick search and found out that its Regina Spektor’s Music Box. A different setting of notes and a catchy voice, lend a distinct beauty to this song. Watch it here!

And another Ad that I loved was the ad for Cadillac CTS. You can choose to view it here.

Its interesting how a lot of songs by Shakira, Fergie and Beyonce are making waves across ad scenes in the US. However, ads in India still rely a lot more on visual imagery and star cast for appeal and quick recall. Interesting topic to observe further!!

The other side of Hosur Road!

Sign board on Hosur Road near Electronic City reads: “Bangalore – 12kms” But the Electronic city campus is miles away from the rest of Bangalore. It is a place that shows What India Can Be. Acres of sprawling campuses where Multinationals and MNC Wannabes jostle for space and attention. This is where people work on the ‘cutting edge’ of technology. Most of the jobs that are ‘Bangalored’ end up in this place. Life is lovely with young people in their late twenty’s earning salaries their dad’s didn’t manage to earn by their retirement and carrying latest mobile phones and gadgets that can give their ‘developed’ counter parts a jitter.

Hosur road carries them all from Bangalore to this ‘Tomorrow’s Bangalore’. Destination is not so important as is the journey. And the journey to this tech capital can teach you a lot about India. Driving twenty kilometers one way to my office here, I go through an experience every day that makes me think. Be it the narrow roads, traffic jams or the upcoming elevated highway and US freeway style roads that are coming up all around. It is a sign of India Changing. I am not yet ready to say India Shining.

Take a right from Hosur Road into Kudlu and the scene is very different. Kudlu village as not many know is the hub of Garment exports. There are garment factories here that export to the GAP, Tommy Hilfiger and many more global brands. Here thousands of workers make their daily living earning 150 Rs per day walking upto 10 kms from home in the ‘hidden’ corners of Bangalore. Hidden from the delegates zipping to electronic city. Hidden from coming into contact with the techie crowd.

My search for faster shortcuts to office takes me into the hearts of their homes. Shabby, rain-infested houses, crowded with people reminding you of the ‘real’ India. The roads with streams of water and sewage running through, all trying to jump and peep through my sunfilmed windows and the stench trying to desperately slip into my comfortable Air Conditioned car. As I maneuver through these roads, trying to avoid a pothole here, an artificial drainage in the middle of the road there, kids running across trying to get into their falling government school building, I go deaf to the rock music on my FM Radio Indigo. My heart rocks and rants as does my car underneath.

With an unknown guilt chasing me, I want to run away! I want to drive faster and get out. I really need to breath normally again. I want to ignore that another India exists. I want to out-honk those noises of garment workers pleading to get in at 9.05 AM after the gate closed at 9 – not lose one hour pay of 20/- .

Just like the other 70,000 people taking Hosur Road like me every day, I want to blissfully believe that Hosur Road leads ONLY to Electronic city.

Video from my camera phone of Garment workers walking home at Kuldu:

“Scary” Water Problems in our cities!

Water Tanker on Bangalore Roads

That water tanker was just trying to give us the ‘Real’ picture!

Getting lost is always an enriching experience!

Life has a wierd way to throw surprises at you. Sometimes you stand and wonder if there is a grand plan according to which every event in our life happens. I created a blog page on MSN spaces on the 18th of August. I was thinking of a nice line to sum up what would be in this blog and what is my outlook towards life. Thought about it and came up with this one – yes, the title of this blog- Anywhere, Getting lost is a highly enriching experience!.And lo, on 20th August I am lost. In the most silliest of places, easiest of journeys – Bangalore to Chennai. All I had to do was just get on to shatabdi at 6AM, reach Chennai at 11AM. Reach, I did, but at 4PM 🙂 The day started with a wierd sense of irrationality – I went to a station where Shatabdi does not stop; After trying vehemently to get on to a running train and being almost thrashed for that attempt, I was advised by an wise, old man that I can always take the next train. Yet another philosophical revelation – ‘Koi baat nahin, next train le lena’. That one statement sums up the entire Indian attitude to life – ‘Nothing is more important in life than being happy’. Anyway, concepts apart, I had to run out of the railway station to get an open ticket to chennai. Yet another wise man asked me to hurry up lest I should miss the next train too. So hurry up, I did – and probably a little too much than what is required.

I pounced on the opportunity to get on to the train as soon as it entered the platform. Commendable performance needs to be rewarded. And so I treated myself to a plate of hot idli-vada with Tam sambar poured all over it. I am on the right train to the heart of tam land and so I started to nap peacefully. Ticket collectors in our trains have the most impeccable timing – they wake you up to check your ticket just when you think you are going to sleep well, atleast in this journey on train. I somehow think this breed, with a black jacket white shirt and red tie, is here on earth on a mission – to wake up sleeping souls to the rude realities of life. It was true to a T. He woke up and he did wake me up to a rude reality that my ‘achievement’ was at best, midgety. Coz, I got into the train and found a seat, but on a WRONG Train. I was smiling when he told me that. Today is going to be great.

Courtesy, all the movies I watched in general and tamil movies in particular, I made up a really surprised, ‘Oh Shit, What Do I do now’ expression and asked him in my broken Tamil, ‘Where the hell do I get down?’ Like Mahatma Gandhi got chucked out of a running train, the messenger from God, almost threw me out rightaway. However, his kindness or my Tamil, something made him let me sit there till the next station. Time has this wonderful characteristic of moving on and mind a greater virtue to not see it. For me, time stopped and but the train didn’t. Amidst all this helpful co-passengers started giving me sympathetic looks and unsolicited advice on how I can reach chennai from here. Space constraints stop me from listing them but the classic one was – ‘Tiripi Bangalore Ponga Saar, Anginda Volvo editeringa. Supraa oru anja, aaru ganta le Chennai povum nee’..!! For me, it seemed like forever before the elusive ‘next station’ came. DHARMAPURI.

I decided not to trust the collective intelligence of my co-passengers and stuck to asking the simple question ‘Chennai ponnum enaku, Train enge catch pannanum’. Broken tamil, but it got the point across to the STD Booth owner in the Dharampuri station. ‘Saar you go to bus stand from here. Ange Aruvoor povu bus la, Morappore ani kelinga. Anga erangilunamina Rly Tation opposittaa irrukum’ – I understood as much as you did – only that I had problem remembering the strange sounding names. It was test of my management skills and my ability to smile. Smile I did, Management skills require no comment. Got onto a bus and a 30minutes journey on an illusory road for a driver who doesnt need one to drive his bus on led me to village after village. Which one is Morappore? I have never thought so deeply even about my existence on earth as much as I did about this one! WHERE IS MORAPPORE?

Finally, tamil and smile helped me get down infront of a single chai-cum-pan shop? But where is the station, I wondered! Carefully worded enquiries got fingers pointed towards a bunch of tamarind bushes? You must be kidding – there can be no railway station in there? Even if there is, no train can stop there! Walking through the bushes, reminded me of my old +2 days at JC. Couple of steps in one direction and three people stood up out of nowhere. I dodged and walked the other way – another two stood up! Welcome to the real India – I told myself. Finally, I managed to get out of the bushes and into the open where I saw a building, on the verge of collapse. Man, I missed my camera. Folks back home will not believe that I am doing this 🙂 But if heavens ever have doors, they must not look better than these. This is my ‘stairway to heaven’ and there will I get my ‘Ticket to the moon’ (Earth, actually!)

My two hours before the train that takes me into civilization again are worth a different blog at a later point. So it finally did arrive, like an angel. Trains never looked so beautiful. Yesterday, that train was the most beautiful thing I have ever seen. Checking with four more people, that it is my angel, I got into her arms and fell asleep. Black and White messenger of God- the TC- this time didnt interrupt my dreams, for a change. And the last thing I remember was telling myself – ‘Whatever they do, geniuses do things with some inimitable alacrity’.