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Posted on: Wednesday , Mar 30, 2011 At 19:16 PM

Daman


30th March, 2011

Entire Daman is glued to TV and watching the India-Pakistan match at Mohali today - crackers bursting, band playing, people drinking. In our lodge, a group has booked the centre table to be closest to the TV set. All of them are absolutely drunk. They have brought a huge quantity of crackers. "Entire Daman should hear," they told a waiter. The young boy (he appears to be not more than 10/12 years old) has stopped serving drinks to customers since then. Daman has no restrictions either on sound pollution or on children working in bars.



We visited the two beaches here and did not like them much. No waves at all. A local said the water is polluted as well because the chemical plants here release effluents into the sea. The water looks muddy. The fort is also not quite impressive but we liked the church.



Like Silvassa, Daman is a tiny sleepy town much like the towns in the West Bengal districts. They do not look like capital cities at all.



We will move to Baroda tomorrow.

The Route: Silvassa to Daman via Vilad. Distance: 25 kms


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Posted on: Wednesday , Mar 30, 2011 At 12:45 PM

Ajanta Caves, Silvasa, Nasik


29th March, 2011

Silvassa

Surat Ka Murat
Gujarat Ka Pari
Vapi Ka Noukri
Silvasa Ka Chhokri.

This gem was presented to us by Ram Sunar chaiwalla - perhaps the only chaiwalla in Silvasa. Pat particularly liked the last line and agreed with it completely.



Silvasa is locally known as Silvas. Dadra is called Dadr. We did not know that.

On a Bharat darshan trip such as ours, it is indeed difficult to locate a place unless one knows how it is called locally. We had a tough time to reach Ellora. No one knew which place we were looking for till we realized that locals call it Verul. Ajanta is Ajintha. That is close. But we had no idea that Tuticorin is Thuttukodi. Calicut is Kozikode. We knew this.  Allepy gave us some trouble. It is called Allapuza.

Pat got so confused that he tried to act smart and began pronouncing Kaprada as Kapda and Verul as Vullu. I don’t know why he suddenly started doing this. Locals look at him perplexed. He was insisting on calling Allapuza as Allappa till I yelled at him. 

Strangely, Bramhabara, Paramapadu, Mulabogol and Chudeswari temple are pronounced exactly as they are mentioned in the maps.

We reached Silvasa from Nasik in the morning after an arduous journey. Over 100 of the 143 kms we travelled, most of it in Gujarat, the road was completely broken - that too in the hills with mad U-turns. I hear Gujarat boasts of its roads. Well, our experience on our first day in the state has not been good.



There is nothing much to see in Silvasa. I came here because in school I was forced to memorize the list of Union Territories in the country. Geography was not the subject I particularly loved.

Tomorrow we will visit Daman and then move on to Surat.

By the way, after a long time, we had good food today. Gujarati food is really good. 

At Ajanta we met an amazing kid (Sorry. Gentleman). Chayan Mondol of Usthi in Diamond Harbour is doing a solo All India bicycle trip. He said he had requested his friends to join him. No one agreed. He graduated in Geography last year, began his trip in November 2010 and would require 17 months to reach home.



The Route: Nasik to Silvasa via Peit, Kaprada, Motakonda and Vapi. Total distance: 143 kms. (Top up your tank. There are no petrol pumps before Kaprada, which is about 70 kms from Nasik.)

 

28th March, 2011

Nasik

Reached Nasik from Lonar. The sun ate into us. The distance is 343 kms. But we were burnt out.

Good. Acclimatization and preparation for what is to come in Gujarat and Rajasthan, I told Pat. He was really burnt out.

A small piece of advice for my fellow travelers, if I may. Wear white and body hugging shirt- body hugging because the wind at this time of the year is always howling and may push you in front of a truck rushing downhill. Also, wear a chappal if you plan to visit Ajanta and Ellora – particularly Ajanta. You will have to remove your shoes for entering the each cave.



People looking for a great tourist spot should not visit Lonar. This is a place for those whose heart beat stops for a moment when told that the huge lake was formed by a high velocity impact of a meteor, unique of its kind in the world. I have posted on Ajanta and Ellora. I really felt sad and all of you would when you would see the paintings of Ajanta melting. Look at the photos. We will visit Silvasa tomorrow.

 
26th March, 2011

Ajanta Caves

Look at the photographs to see the present condition of the paintings at Ajanta. I was told of their present state by many of my friends. But when I actually saw them, I felt sad. These paintings can’t be restored. Those who have not been to Ajanta should start planning to come here immediately.


We started from Ellora in the morning. It did not take us long as the distance is merely 105 kms and the road signs are clear and adequate. The condition of the road is also good.



Tomorrow, we will start for Lonar.

 

 

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Posted on: Friday , Mar 25, 2011 At 22:30 PM

Hitting The Road To Ellora Caves


25 March, 2011

Molten lava once flowed here. It solidified into rocks and hills. Forests grew up. Animals roamed freely. Then came humans. They cleared the forests and turned the rocks and hills into temples, viharas and, chaityas of mind-numbing beauty.



Today I stood before them motionless in thought.


What provokes a man to imagine that it is possible to dig Sahyadri mountains from its top with only chisels and axes in such a way that a temple would emerge?

In front of me stood two innocent looking pillars holding millions of tons of rock that form a mountain overhead.

I stood alone in front of a sculpture of Buddha in meditation. It was the sculpture of a man in pure bliss. Suddenly one of his eyes trembled. Then his lips quivered. Then it broke into a smile. Was it hallucination? Was it an amazing art form?


In one of the caves, the ceiling above a meditating Buddha was designed in the form of ribs of some huge animal. I knew sound would reverberate here. I uttered Omm… It continued to reverberate for long, as I had expected. Then the sound suddenly broke into a booming laughter. Bats began to fly out of the cave. Why was I trembling with fear?

Early in the morning, standing at one corner of Cave One, I tried to visualize a lonely monk walking up the mountain, deep in thought. He looked at me suddenly. “What are you doing here, you non-believer?” he asked me in a thin voice. “This is the adobe of faith. Don’t come back again.”





In a sudden impulse I wanted to run after him. “You survive because the kings feed you out of their plunders. All your sermons and noble principles sound hollow as you too survive on fruits of pillage. You even keep your sculptures unfinished when the funding from the emperor stops,” I wanted to tell him. But by then he had vanished into the misty blue-green mountain. I wanted to crush, turn into dust, all these caves with all my might. I was shivering with rage.

Why do I always seek an answer? What is answer?



I went back to the caves at noon to seek an answer only to find thousands of people yelling in hundreds of languages, women touching the feet of Buddha, young girls looking at the breasts of Parvati, balls of Shiva’s bull and of Mahavira and giggling.

“Serves you right,” I muttered.

The huge moat, that once used to store rain water for the monks, now breeds mosquitoes. 

  

The route:

Mumbai to Thane to Sahapur to Ghoty via Kasara and Igatpuri. Turned right from Ghoty to Sinnar to Ellora via Vaijapur.

Total distance: 343 kms.

The road is bad in patches. But the view is good.

 

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Posted on: Thursday , Mar 24, 2011 At 19:35 PM

On The Road Again


Mumbai: 23 March, 2011

We reached Mumbai from Ratnagiri L..O..N..G   L..O..N..G   time ago on March 12. Took rest for all these days. We look like fat happy hens now.

We will be on the road from tomorrow – March 24.

Destination: Aurangabad. We will see Ajanta and Ellora and also the Lonar Crater. Then we will proceed towards Dadra, Nagar Haveli and Daman. (We were made to read about these places in school!)

Then we will go to Gujarat, Rajasthan and Punjab before reaching Jammu and Kashmir. We will have to cope with the rising heat in Gujarat and Rajasthan.

I salute the Bikers’ Brotherhood again. I did not know Saby, Vikram, Rohan, Abhijit, Andy or Anthony before. But they spent so much of their time to ensure that our bike was fit to run from Mumbai. Thanks bothers.

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Posted on: Tuesday , Mar 22, 2011 At 09:24 AM

Kanyakumari To Ratnagiri


Ratnagiri, Maharashtra

May be I am traveling too much and too fast. May be I am talking to too many people, trying to get a peep into their lives.

May be I am getting a bit tired.

This journey presents many questions but not as many answers. May be I am troubled by too many unanswered questions?

May be I am homesick.



But where is my home?

In Gokarna, a middle-aged Austrian – a huge hunk of a man – told me he was yet to understand why his wife suddenly chose to leave him after 26 years of their marriage. Love was but seeking care. That is how nature works for all living beings, he agreed with me.

A 52-year-old Belgian woman in Goa said she had always competed with men till she started practicing Tai Chi two years ago and realized that it was good to be a woman after all.

A businessman in Hyderabad explained how making money gives him pleasure but robs him of peace. “My son hates me and describes me as a paisa kamanewalla kutta,” he said.

A road side vendor near Mangalore said how grief forced him to quit his job in Mumbai after his 17-year-old daughter died.

The bone must be carved deep to make a flute sound sweet. Bones make better flutes.

Alone at Ratnadurg Fort in Ratnagiri, I could see shadows – Adil Shah boasting of his conquests; Shivaji busy in his intrigues; the soldiers thinking of their women and afraid to die.

All have gone, taking their ambitions and fears with them.

Where is home?




The Route:

Calangute to Kudal ( 110 kms) to Hathkamba (150 kms) to Ratnagiri (13 kms). Distance: 273 kms.

 

8 - 10 March, 2011

From obscure Gokarna to civilized Goa, from nature to civilization – too much civilization!

We reached Calangute on 8th evening. Thousands of people, cars, bikes, shops and sound numbed my feelings. It was unwise to travel to Goa directly from Gokarna – from peace to frolic.

We visited the beaches – Calangute, Anjuna, Baga, Vagatore,Coco… What I actually liked was Goan food and Urak at Florentine. Calangute sleeps all through the morning, wakes up in the evening and stays awake nearly the whole night. Every second shop is a wine store.  Every third shop is a restaurant. This is a town for fun. It makes one forget woes. Forgetting is no solution.



Our journey from Gokarna started on a bad note. The bike did not start. The battery had expired. How it happened is still a mystery. We had to purchase a second hand battery from a mechanic whose garage was 12 kms from Om beach where we stayed. We started at 2 pm. I had to ride fast, which I normally do not do, in order to reach Goa before sunset. 

Two days in Goa has been enough for me. We will start for Ratnagiri in Maharashtra tomorrow morning. I expect to reach Mumbai day after tomorrow.

The Route:

Om beach to Gokarna (12 kms) to Karwar ( 33 kms) to Margao (82 kms) to Panaji (65 kms) to Calangute (14 kms).

Total distance: 206 kms

 

7 March, 2011

Gokarna

I did not know cows love drinking tea! But here in Gokarna, they do. The young lady was sun bathing in the beach – in the furious heat – with a glass of tea lying next to her. The cow, a small, docile looking one, apparently tried to drink it. She removed the glass a couple of times but that did not help.

“Cow. There is a cow,” the lady on the verge of tears complained to the owner of the restaurant feebly. The man did not know where to look. It was indeed difficult to look at her directly. She did not have much clothes on her. “That is a good cow,” the man finally said. Though this could not assure the lady but she found that the animal was gone at last.





We spent two days at Om beach in Gokarna, north-west Karnataka. I wanted to stay here for a couple of days more. But Pat will surely have a stiff neck in that case. The ladies, mostly from east European countries, are scantily dressed, to put it modestly. I will have to make a move tomorrow morning.

This beach is undoubtedly one of the finest in India. We have seen many beaches during our 5500 km journey so far. Om, so named because of its shape, is by far the very best – better than Kovalam. Cuddled by hills and forests from two sides, this beach with a clear blue sea is virtually cut off from the rest of the world. No shops, no crowd, no blaring of microphones, no TV or even AC in the rooms. Namaste Café has 40 rooms. There are a few other bamboo shacks. At least 95 per cent of the tourists are from abroad. I talked to some of them, who came here directly from Goa, which is less than 200 kms away. All of them said they liked this place more.

We were relieved to leave Kerala on March 6. The narrow NH 17 widened immediately. The flow of traffic also decreased considerably. The views on both sides of the road also changed from disgusting shops to green fields and hills. We did not know backwaters existed even in Karnataka. Surely the state government should seek a few marketing tips from its neighboring Kerala.

Gokarna has four more beaches apart from the main one: Kudlee, Om, Half Moon (so called because of its shape) and Paradise. Kudlee is crowded. There is a famous Shiva temple in Gokarna and the devotees flock to the beach. The steep and narrow road crawls up through a forest for about 6 kms. Suddenly Om beach is visible from the top. Its breath taking beauty will strike you at once. The road then goes down and down and ends at the parking lot opposite Namaste Cafe from where you will have to walk to reach the beach. The shacks (Rs 150 per room per night) are about 2 kms further away and you will have to walk to get there. Food is expensive here.



Before we chose to retire for the night, we decided to visit Half Moon and Paradise. A boatman agreed to take us there though it was against law to take boats into the sea after 6 pm.

It was a valuable experience for us. Half Moon is a small, very small beach with dense forest and hills in the background. It has no connection with the rest of the world once the boat leaves after dropping off the visitor. Paradise is similar. There are no hotels in any of the beaches – only shacks. Electricity is yet to reach there. It is beyond me to describe these beaches. If I get a chance to return here, I will definitely stay at Paradise for a week.

When we returned to Om beach, it was dark. The water in the ocean was rising.


The Route:

Mangalore to Udupi (57 kms) to Kuddapura (35 kms) to Honavar (19 kms) to Kumta (45 kms) to Gokarna (39 kms).  Total: 195 kms.

 

5 March, 2011

Mangalore

Before I use the elevator next time, I will think thrice. As soon as it began to descend, the current went off and we were stuck between the second and the first floors. It was  dark. We began to hammer at the door and yell. But the generator was switched on soon and its terrific sound drowned our shouts. The lights must have come but the elevator remained dead. We pulled open the door, hoping to climb up. A solid wall blocked our way. We had checked in a lodge in Mangalore only half an hour ago.




We switched open our mobile sets and in the dim light we could see that that there was no escape route. “We are trapped,” Pat began to mumble.  I decided to employ my martial arts skills and started punching and kicking on the metal door. The sound must have been quite a bit, because in spite of the noise of the generator set, someone could hear us. We heard a voice and then many voices. “We are coming. We are coming,” they were saying. The elevator was finally pulled up manually about 10 minutes later. The heat was intense and we were sweating profusely. “The elevator does not work when the current goes off,” the bald man at the front desk informed us in a matter of fact manner. This must be a routine affair for him.



We entered Kerala from its southern-most point and came out from its northern tip. We saw its numerous coconut trees, which look like jungles from a distance. We saw its hills, backwaters and forests. Today we left Kerala behind after travelling here for the last four days. We had heard a lot about the “God’s own country” and its beautiful beaches and backwaters and greenery.  Yet, we were not quite impressed. May be it was for the awful sultry heat at this time of the year, may be for the narrow National Highway 17 with its very heavy traffic and the awful driving practices of the Keralites. But more than all these factors, the real cause, I think, was that we had seen better places before.  In West Bengal, Orissa, Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu, we had seen  breath-taking views, greenery, rugged hills, waterfalls, wild life and even waterways. No doubts Kerala is beautiful. But more than its beauty, it is the way Kerala has been sold to the outside world, that has been able to draw millions of visitors.




We started from Allepey on March 4 and stayed the night at Calicut (Kozekode – locally pronounced as Korikod). We could not see much of the old town as we did not have time and also we were exhausted after our ride on NH 17. Today we visited Kappad beach – about 20 kms from Calicut – where Vasco da Gama had landed 500 years ago. Local villagers seemed proud to be born in a historic place such as Kappad but had no clue as to the impact of Vasco’s visit to India.   

This particular voyage (Vasco arrived here in May 1498) had opened for the first time an opportunity for Europe to grab the wealth of India and had paved the way for subsequent explorations and plunder.



According to historians, during his second visit to Calicut, Vasco had burnt alive a ship full of 400 Muslim men, women and children, who had been on a pilgrimage to Mecca. (The Hindu king had refused to accept Vasco’s request that all Muslims be expelled from Calicut.) Gama had also severed the lips and ears of the priest, who had arranged his first meeting with the king and had stitched dog’s ears on the poor man’s head before sending him away.

We are spending the night at Mangalore. (I remember my grandfather scolding me when he came to know that I thought Bangalore and Mangalore were two names of the same city.)

Tomorrow we plan to visit Gokarna before moving further north to Goa.

The Route:

Calicut to Vadakara (50 kms) to Kannur (44 kms) to Kassargad (73kms) to Mangalore (84 kms). 

 
Alappuza (Alleppey)

Almost a month after we left our state and immediately after entering Kerala yesterday, we began to have a feeling that we were back in West Bengal. This state has been painted red. Election was declared day before yesterday by the Election Commission and in less than 24 hours the CPI(M) rolled on its campaign in full swing. Red flags fly all along the road. Huge cut outs of Pinarayi Vijayan – the state secretary – V.S. Achhuthanandan – the chief minister and local leaders have been put up. Congress and other parties seem to be in slumber still.

In two places we saw CPI(M) cadres holding meetings by blocking main roads. The main road leading to the Kovalam beach was blocked and we saw confused cars carrying tourists from abroad desperately looking for alternate routes. I have a feeling that CPI(M)’s efforts are unlikely to yield positive results. The common people do not seem appear to be particularly happy with the party.

The CPI(M) is likely to lose in both Kerala and West Bengal this time. If that happens, real bad times are ahead for them. There may also be splits in the party. Prakash Karat’s leadership will be challenged. There are no leaders in the party at present who have command over the entire organization and are capable of guiding it successfully out of the troubled times ahead. In such a situation, what we know as the “main stream” Left in the country will be doomed for a long time to come. If that happens, the political space of the Left will be up for grabs. Who will fill in the vacuum is anybody’s guess.   

We travelled along the NH 47 yesterday. All the plots of land along the road have been sold away to shops of various kinds. Some sell tires, some fruits, some stationary and others hardware. I have never seen such a situation anywhere. Roadside shops appear inside the towns and immediately after the town ends one can see green fields reappearing on the sides of highways. It is different here. It reminded me of James Long Sarani in Behala. Even 10 years ago, the road was empty and farmers could be seen cultivating their plots of land all along it. But things changed rapidly and now businessmen using their proximity to this party or that captured all the land. It was disgusting to ride on NH 47.

 My respect for West Bengal is growing as I continue to travel. It is a pity that common people construct their opinion largely on the basis of media reports. As journalists, we have rightly criticized the political managers of our state. But similar criticism is lacking sadly lacking in other states. As a result, they appear better in better light. Many in West Bengal firmly believe that Hyderabad is a far better and rapidly improving city compared to West Bengal; Bangalore is a haven; roads are managed than West Bengal. Our first hand impression did not always match with such reports.

I have no hesitation to say that Kovalam is a model of marketing success story. The beach is good, genuinely good. But we could have marketed Mandarmoni as well (Yes. I know what I am talking about). People, who flock to Aarku Valley in Andhra Pradesh, should visit the Himalayan foot hills in North Bengal to attempt a comparison. Thousands of foreign tourists who come to Aleppey every month for boat rides in the back waters are not informed that there is a place called the Sunderbans! The officers and ministers in West Bengal are either ignorant or are criminally irresponsible.



We are having oysters tonight. I purchased them from the local market. Rs 60 a kg. We are also having a variety of fish, which I don’t want to mention publicly. Sharks are openly sold here though it is illegal. Our caretaker Ajay is a fantastic cook indeed.

Tomorrow we will start for Calicut where Vasco da Gama once landed.

The Route: 

Kanyakumari to Nagercoil 19 to Kovalam beach (24 kms) to Tivananthapuram (68kms) to Kollam (72kms) to Alappuza ( 84 kms).


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Posted on: Wednesday , Mar 16, 2011 At 11:30 AM

Rameswaram, Kanyakumari


Sri Lanka is 50 kms behind meRemains of Dhanushkudi townThe brave crow in front of Indian OceanKrushnaa Patil (left), Bhagwati Ojha (middle) Yours truly (right) Tamil restaurant offering Bengali food!Sun set at Kanyakumari1.3.2011

Kanyakumari

We reached Kanyakumari from Tutikorin yesterday. I read the board: Kanyakumari 25 kms. My fever was gone immediately.

Kanyakumari is a small sleepy town stretched along the beach. People are laid back, helpful. They are never in a hurry, always talking and always smiling. You can see men and women from all over the world here though February-March is not the tourist season.

We visited Vivekananda rock yesterday. Vivekananda had swum from the shore to this rock to meditate. It takes courage to swim in this sea even though the distance is only about 150 meters. The ocean is choppy.

I have seen sadhus venturing out into places normal people will never dare to. No one in his/her proper senses will ever think of climbing a dense jungle-clad hill like Tirumalla to build a temple.  Will anyone plan to stay forever at Tapovan above Gomukh? Well, three sadhus including one Bengali woman are staying there in such harsh climate for years. These people are either too disturbed in their minds or are too happy for whatever reasons.

Standing at the very edge of the country, which is so vast, starts from the Himalayas far away from here and melts into the unending sea at Kanyakumari, gives me a queer feeling. Human existence ends at this point. From here the sea stretches to the South Pole. On our way we have seen dots of human habitation. Yes. After travelling this distance, these habitations seem like mere dots on the map. Some are big dots and some are small. Lives, passions and pains begin and end in these dots. Dreams and aspirations rise and fall. Immense human endeavor has no meaning after this point. Even history ends here.

We had contacted a fisherman, who had agreed to take us inside the sea today to some place from where the shore would not be visible. He could not do it. The sea is very rough today. Huge waves are splashing against the black boulders, sprinkling white foam far above the head. The sea is always angry against obstacles. It lashes at the shore. But when allowed to flow freely, the waves rise and fall smoothly. No noise, no conflict. Isn’t this true in our lives as well? (I learnt this first when I started practicing Kung Fu. Always flow with the force of nature and never go against it. In Kung Fu, unlike in Japanese Karate, there are no blocks).

On our way to Kanyakumari we saw a group of 15 amazing women yesterday. They came from all over the country, met in Kolkata and started for Kanyakumari on January 26 on cycles. They reached here on February 28. They belong to the Women Adventure Network of India (WANI). Ms Bagwati Ojha is 76 yrs old. Twenty one year old Krushnaa Patil  climbed Everest last year. Kavita Burathoki and Aswini Pawar of the 16-member group  also reached Everest summit. Krushna has climbed six highest peaks in six continents and is the first Indian woman to have climbed the highest peaks in Antartica and in Europe! The little girl said she wanted to do an all India motor cycle trip like us. I was flattered.

We also met a Sardarji – his beard has turned completely white but he is as agile as a sportsman. He came all the way and alone from Ludhiana on his Bollero. “I am a little crazy, you know,” he told me. Can't we create a small of nation of only such crazy people? It will be a much better place to live in, I wanted to tell him.

After taking photographs of the sun set, we returned to our bike and found it encircled by four middle-aged men. They came from Barasat, West Bengal, packing their two bikes on train and using them when they travelled on road. Not a bad idea! One of them said he had gone to Leh six times on his bike. He showed us some amazing photographs.

We are staying in a lodge here. Rs 300 per day. The two managers – they call themselves managers – double up as gate keepers and sit in front of the gate the entire day. They often doze off. What a job! We are the only ones staying in this lodge at present.  

We will take the West coast from tomorrow. Our next stop is at Allepey. We will start for Allepey tomorrow. We have travelled 4160 kms so far.

The Route:

Tuticorin (Thootukuti) to Palayamkottai 47kms to KanyaKumari ( 87 kms).

 

 

Thootukodi

27.2.2011

“Streta, streta. No lefta,” Nimbu Bharat was yelling. But by then the damage was done. I had become unmindful for a second and my bike landed in blackish sandy smelly soil.

The front wheel was already half submerged in the mud and it was going down fast. Full throttle and the situation only worsened. When Nimbu jumped from the bike and how he managed to pull the front wheel out of the mud and back on track, I don’t remember. My left leg was knee deep in water already and the weight of the machine was too much for me. My first thought was that it was quicksand of sorts and my Bullet would be gone soon. But it was not gone. The wheel was already on dry sand and a push from behind and a full throttle later it was under control again.       

It took me an hour to cover a distance of 7 kms to reach Dhanushkudi - the tip of Rameswaram. This is the end of the Indian land mass. On my left, the Bay of Bengal lay calm. It looked like an endless pond. There was hardly any wave. On my right was the Indian Ocean in its full fury. Where the two oceans meets is a pathway, distinctly visible from about 3kms from the shore. It is the famous Adam’s bridge – popularly known as the Ram Setu, which Lord Rama is said to have built to invade Sri Lanka and rescue his wife Sita from Ravana. Sri Lanka is only 50 kms from the shore of Rameswaram.

I stood there, wondering. Whether some character called Rama actually lived once can never be proved. Whether he indeed built a bridge over the ocean to reach Sri Lanka is also uncertain. But it is clear that in these shallow, very shallow waters of the Bay of Bengal, a pathway of rocks and boulders can be constructed. Anyone who visits this place will be convinced that it is possible. The water is so shallow here that it is difficult to conceive of this as an ocean!  

Dhanushkuti (Rama is said to have buried his dhanush-bow- after his victory over Ravana) was a flourishing town and even had a railway station till a massive cyclone destroyed it completely in 1964. India’s former president  APJ Abdul Kalam is from Dhanushkuti. The remains of the town are still visible. Only a few fishermen live there now. It is very difficult to reach the spot from Rameswaram. The beach is always slushy and only expert drivers of four-wheel-drive vehicles can take one there.

“Don’t come here on a motor cycle again,” Nimbu warned me. He is a local lad and knows everybody in Dhanushkuti personally. “The Bay of Bengal is a female ocean and the Indian Ocean is a male. See, how one is calm and the other is aggressive,” he explained.  Even the colours of the two oceans are different. Bay of Bengal is muddy and Indian Ocean is blue.

The Ramanatha temple in Rameswaram is a brilliant piece of architecture. The police did not let me take photographs. But the constant playing of devotional songs over loudspeakers from morning to midnight was irritating. Aren’t religious places meant to be silent and calm?  Also, the display of devotion by the bare-bodied pot-bellied hairy devotees was ugly.

Pat did not see any of these. He was too tired and chose not to wake up at five in the morning to see the confluence of two oceans. He slept. When I returned from Dhanushkuti, I was completely exhausted. I still thought that I would be able to reach Knyakumari by evening. I couldn’t. If I had to save ourselves from any nasty accident, I had to take rest. I have a little fever as well. We decided to stay back at Thootukodi (Tuticorin), about 140 kms from Kanyakumari.

The route:

Rameswaram to Ramanathapuram (58 kms) to Thootukodi (126 kms). The road is excellent. But is difficult to  find any restaurant on this route.

 

 

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Posted on: Friday , Mar 11, 2011 At 18:05 PM

Tirupati, Bangalore, Kanchipuram, Pondichery


25.2.2011


I had Pongol for the first time. It is a gravy of rice and pulses with large amount of whole black pepper. It tasted good.


This is a place, less than two kilometers from the beach, which tourists in Pondichery normally do not visit. This is a wholesale market area. Streets are clogged by trucks full of sacks. “Three and four-wheelers not allowed,” reads  a notice board. Aren’t these trucks four-wheelers?  No. I found out that all of them are at least six wheelers. Some had 16 wheels.


It is almost dark at six in the morning. Stench of decaying vegetables fills the nostrils. People are busy, working furiously. Crushed carrots are being separated from the good ones and kept in huge bowls. There must be people who look for damaged carrots. The huge edible oil store is empty- the owner sits at his desk with a bored face.


The bar is already open. It is actually a bar cum liquor shop– as is the system everywhere in south India. People down their two pegs standing in front of a table and leave within minutes. They do not drink much at one go and they are always in a hurry. But they start drinking pretty early it seems – well, even before sunrise!  I bought a bottle of Old Monk. (The bottle actually looks like a fat old Chinese monk. (Since when did Mohon Mekin start making these bottles?  It is a pity that I will not be able to carry it back to Kolkata. In a bike you can’t carry much luggage.)


The boy in his school uniform is serving us food. His classes start at eight. Before school, he helps his young mother. What is the father doing, I wondered.  


We had started early from Kanchipuram yesterday. The first stop was Mahabalipuram. The Bay of Bengal is different here. It is not like Mandarmoni or Shankarpur or even Digha. It is not even like Puri. The Bengali timidity is gone. This ocean is angry and restless. The Tsunami had nearly submerged the shore temple and had crumbled the shops around it.


Auroville is puzzling. It claims to be the city of humans not shackled by the narrowness of nationhood and freed by divine awareness or awareness of the divine. Its citizens enjoy the freedom from private possessions – so claims the charters. But it runs on private donations. How is wealth, money created? Doesn’t the privately accumulated and donated money soil the great principle of freedom from private property at Auroville? It obviously requires a huge lot of money to create and run what Auroville is now. I must read Life Divine if I go back to Kolkata. My father had a copy. But its sheer size and the language had scared me. I was 18 then. (I have a similar feeling with Being and Nothingness even now.)


Pondichery is hot and humid at this time of the year and empty of tourists. March-April is the season time, informed the “Lodge”- owner. We are staying in a lodge and not in a hotel. This building was built by a French man. The room is huge. It costs us Rs 300. No AC. We are staying back here for the second day. We are too tired and our butts, particularly, need some rest.



Bangalore to Kanchipuram: 281 kms


23.2.2011


Our plan today was to start early from Bangalore and reach Mahabalipuram. But we are staying at Kanchipuram. It has been raining here since yesterday morning and we could not proceed further. All our clothes are wet. The boots are in an awful state. 


Our original plan, however, was to go straight to Pondichery. But we were told that the road was bad. So we decided to reach Mahabalipuram (locals call the place Mamallapuram) first and proceed to Pondichery from there via the newly built East Coast Road.


It is still raining here. I hope it stops tomorrow.


When I see the temples and monuments, I invariably brush my hands over their walls. I feel like I am touching the men who built these structures long, long time ago. The Pallava king Narasimhan I built the temples at Mahabalipuram. He is long gone. No one even remembers the sculptors who created these marvelous pieces of art. Humans die.  Only the rocks remain. How long will even the rocks remain - surely not for eternity?  Even the earth will cease to exist one day.


May be I will live for another 20 years, which means I have another 7300 days (20 x 365) to survive. My mother died at 78. She lived for 28,470 days.


We -a specific composition of dust - will disintegrate into dust. We are falling in love with dust, getting angry with dust, rubbing dust with dust to create dust. We are dust.


It is difficult for us to accept it. We have been taught to think differently. We, the English-educated, have Greek philosophy at the core of our knowledge. There is a fundamental fallacy in Greek logic – it willy-nilly places self at the centre of creation. For the Greek, nature is there to be conquered. For them, human "civilization" is the result of victory over nature. But then every war leaves behind its casualties. The war against nature is no different. And we are in the habit of remembering only the heroes of war and not the victims.


The idea that we are falling in love with dust, making love to dust and creating dust is disturbing. So let’s forget what disturbs.

The Route:

Bangalore to Hosur (NH 4) 40 kms to Krishnagiri (NH 4) 48 kms to Vellore (NH 46) 117 kms to Kanchipuram (NH 46) 76 kms.


21.2.2011

Nothing to report today. Just one clarification. We actually heard the roar of a tiger from the Tirumala hills yesterday. But it was not a wild beast. There is a zoo at the foot of the hill just outside Tirupati town. It is amazing that the people could not tell us this simple fact. Or, may be, there was the same language problem.

Once again getting media coverage in Bangalore.


20.2.2011

Tirupati/Tirumala

They pray to Lord Venkateswara and drink the whole night in ecstasy. Jeans clad yuppies wearing Michael Jacson T-shirts tonsure their heads and rush to the hotel to spend quality time with girl friends. All restaurants are full of bald people – men, women and children. Welcome to Tirupati.


I never like religious places. As a rule the hotelwallas, shopkeepers and auto drivers will try to cheat. It is apparent that the displayed devotion is clearly not towards the gods but towards self. People pray for material benefits for themselves by bribing the gods.


The temple at Tirumala on top of the hills 24 kms from Tirupati is a model of religious business. It reportedly earns $ 6 million a year by exporting human hair. The total earning of the temple trust is over Rs 10,000 crore, I am told. Students of business schools should stop inviting Laloo Prasad Yadav types and should rather spend some time here. This is the richest temple on earth. This is the most visited religious place on earth (the daily average turn out is between 50,000 and 1,00,000 devotees). Bundles of notes and mounds of gold are acquired daily. It is perfectly managed. In spite of the presence of so many people at a time I did not find the place stuffy. It is spotlessly clean – no chewing of paan and no spitting. Anybody would respect the way this place is managed daily.


But as a tourist destination, Tirumala is one of the best places I have ever seen. The seven massive peaks with their reddish rock faces make one feel so insignificant. The forest is dense and huge. It is difficult to describe its beauty. I suddenly felt relaxed and peaceful. (I had a similar feeling in Goecha La when I had seen the Kanchenjungha from close distance for the first time).


It was 11.30 am. We were taking photographs of the forest below. Suddenly we could hear the roar of a tiger. It was difficult to believe that there was a wild tiger roaming down there though the forest was dense. We could see tall fences below (see photographs) and there must be a zoo or something. But as usual, the locals could shed no light.


We did not enter the main temple complex. I would have loved to go inside and I am sure I missed a lot. But a six-hour wait in the queue for a darshan was too much for us. If we had money, we would have been allowed an immediate entry. One must have a very deep pocket to seek an immediate appointment with god here. I was overwhelmed by the crass display of greed by the people who visit these religious places. They want to please the gods and seek some benefits for themselves.


We silently entered the complex where men’s heads were being shaved. When I was taking photographs, officials rushed towards me. They definitely did not want a journalist here. After all, this fetches them dollars! We simply fled.


The Route: 24 kms from Tirupati town lies the Venkateswara temple at Tirumala. The road is perfect. There are different roads for ascending and descending!


For the records:


Tirumala Venkateswara Temple  of Lord Vishnu in the form of Lord Venkateswara is located in the hill town Tirumala. The temple is situated on Venkatadri, one of the seven hills of Tirumala, and hence is also known as the Temple of Seven Hills (Saptagiri). The presiding deity,  is also known by other names - Balaji, Vishnu, Govinda and Srinivasa.


The temple is reportedly the richest and the most visited place of worship in the world. It is visited by about 50,000 to 100,000 pilgrims daily (3 to 4 crore people annually on an average), while on special occasions and festivals, the number of pilgrims shoots up to 500,000, making it the most visited holy place in the world. 


Thondaiman, ruler of the Thondaimandalam (present day Kanchipuram) is believed to have first built the temple after visualizing Lord Vishnu in a dream. "Tiru" or "Thiru" in Tamil language means "Shree" or Shri".The original name of Tirupati was "Thiruvengadam" in Tamil language . The inscriptions mentioned in the stones of the temple are of Tamil letters.


Discovery of the deity is described as an act of divine providence: There was a huge anthill at Tirupati and one day a local farmer heard a voice from the heavens asking him to feed the ants. By chance the local king heard the voice and began supplying milk for the ants himself. His compassion resulted in the liquid uncovering the magnificent idol of Venkateswara hidden within the anthill.


Thondaiman  is believed to have first built the temple. Later, the Chola dynasty improved the temple and gave rich endowments.    


It was under the regime of the Vijayanagara emperors that the temple attained the majority of its current wealth  and size. The coronation ceremonies of the emperors were also held at Tirupati. The Maratha general Raghoji Bhonsle  visited the temple and set up a permanent administration for the conduct of worship in the temple. Among the later rulers who endowed large benefactions were the rulers of Mysore and Gadwal.


In 1843 with the coming of the East India Company, the administration of the Sri Venkateswara Temple and a number of shrines was entrusted to Seva Dossji of the Hathiramji Mutt at  for nearly a century until 1932 when Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanams  (TTD) was established as a result of the TTD Act, 1932.


TTD is now operated by a Board of Trustees and has increased in size through adoption of various Acts from five (1951) to fifteen (1987). The daily operation and management of TTD is the responsibility of an Executive Officer (EO) who is appointed by the government of Andhra Pradesh.


The Tirumala Hill is 3,200 feet (980 m) above sea level, and is about 10.33 square miles (27 km2) in area. It comprises seven peaks, representing the seven hoods of Adisesha, thus earning the name, Seshachalam. The seven peaks are called Seshadri, Neeladri, Garudadri, Anjanadri, Vrushabadri, Narayanadri and Venkatadri. The sacred temple of Sri Venkateswara [11] is located on the seventh peak, Venkatadri (Venkata Hill), and lies on the southern banks of Sri Swami Pushkarini. The temple complex comprises a smaller traditional temple building along with a number of modern queue and pilgrim lodging sites.  


The roof with shining golden exterior of the inner temple that houses the presiding deity is named "Vimanam" in a Hindu temple. In the Tirumala temple, it holds a very special place as the Ananda Nilayam (meaning Abode of Happiness or Bliss literally) with its imposing view, magnificence, and readily recognizable identity to any devotee familiar with the temple and its fame.



Laddu is the world famous prasadam given at Tirumala Temple.  Recently the Trust has taken copy right of Laddu prasaddam, hence, no one can prepare the same Laddu. Many other delicious prasadams are also available including daddojanam (curd rice), pulihora(tamarind rice), vada and chakkera-pongali (sweet pongal). Free meals are given daily to the pilgrims, and on Thursdays, the Tirupavadai seva occurs, where food items are kept for naivedyam to Lord Srinivasa.


Tirupati Laddu Prasadam and GI controversy


The grant of Geographical Indication tag to Tirupati laddu by Indian Patent Office  in 2009 raised many eye brows, as it paves the way for enhanced commercialization of faith. The patent grant became a controversy soon.A scientist and IPR expert from Kerala filed a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) in the Supreme Court seeking cancellation of GI tag to Tirupati laddu, but withdrew the same as a similar public interest petition was filed before the Madras High Court  by another person.  Later, Madras High Court dismissed the petition  on the ground that there already existed an alternate and efficacious remedy, in the form of rectification plea before the Registrar of GIs or the Intellectual Property Appellate Board (IPAB). The scientist, who had earlier filed the PIL in Supreme Court, then petitioned IPAB requesting it to initiate an action on its own will (suo motu) for the cancellation of GI status to the Tiruppathi laddu. But IPAB wrote back to him stating that it had no such power to act on its own volition. The Scientist was not in a mood to give it up. Of late, he has registered an application with the GI Registry seeking removal of the entry pertaining to ‘Tirupati Laddu' from the GI Register.



Many devotees also have their head tonsured as an offer. The daily amount of hair collected is over a ton. The hair thus gathered is sold few times a year by public auction to international buyers.  bringing over $6 million to the temple's treasury. As per puranas hair given by devotees is to cover up the lost hair of lord venkateshwara swamy.


Tirumala possibly has the most elaborate arrangement in India to sequence and guide the visiting devotees through the holy shrine. Because of the ever increasing daily rush of devotees, the temple authorities have set up a virtual queue system, where the devotees are given a specific time, only after which they will be allowed into the queue complex. This has resulted in a steep drop (by a factor of five) in the time that devotees need to spend within the Queue Complex leading to the main temple.


There are two major kinds of darshan (meaning "a glimpse of the Lord") at the temple. The first one being Dharma Darshanam - free darshan, which on average takes about 10 hours from the time you enter the Queue Complex. It is worth noting that during a high season (festivals, holidays, weekends and special occasions) Dharma darshanam can take as long as a whole day, while sometimes during low seasons it might take only an hour and can be quicker than any paid darshan. The second major type Sheegra darshan - costs Rs 300 and takes only 0.45 - 1.5 hrs for darshan. There are also special queues for senior citizens (above 75 years old), Non-Resident Indians, and for parents with children (below 1 years). One other person is usually allowed to accompany the senior or the child to assist them in the darshan line. Devotees who fall in this category should be sure to inquire with temple officials about the special queue, as it can significantly reduce the time and effort needed for darshan.
(Source: wikipedia)

 

 

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Posted on: Thursday , Mar 10, 2011 At 16:56 PM

Vijayawada - Hyderabad - Tirupati


Elluru to Vijayawada: 56 kms.

Humans behave strangely and it is fun to watch them.

Our tour plan got somewhat haywire today. We had decided to start from Elluru early in the morning and reach Hyderabad. But we were made to wait till noon by the officials at Elluru. We got good media coverage and the newspaper clippings were to be sent to us in the morning. That didn’t happen and we finally received them (clippings of 15 Telugu newspapers) at 11.30. We decided to stop at Vijayawada and see the city.

Immediately after reaching Vijayawada, I rushed to the Sub-Collector’s office. (We always try to get accommodation in a government guest house, which is cheapest. Funds are getting exhausted fast.) The Sub-Collector (SDO) was not there. The administrative officer – a lady in her mid-50s - had no time for me. She did not even offer me a chair. For over half an hour she continued to talk on her two cell phones and the land phone. Then she spent some time with a young lad who offered her a cake. It was his birthday. Then she got busy with a lady employee.

“Nothing can be done because the SDO is not here. He is in Machhlipatnam,” she informed me finally. I talked to the Collector’s PA. “Collector is in Machhlipatnam. Talk to the municipal commissioner,” he told me. “Do you have an appointment? Sir doesn’t meet anyone without prior appointment,” informed the commissioner’s gate keeper – a lad in his early 20s. His body language showed he enjoyed some power. “I am coming from Kolkata. How could I have fixed an appointment,” I tried to argue. “That is your problem,” the lad told me bluntly.

Desperate as I was, I went to the deputy transport commissioner’s office. He was not there. I went to the RTO’s room. “Sir has gone out for lunch,” I was told. There was a deputy RTO. He, too, was out for “bhojan.” “When will he return?” “Cant say.”

We have been skipping lunch for the last four days. We could not sleep for three nights because of mosquitoes. Feeling weak though, I was fuming, I barged into the first room I noticed an officer sitting inside. Mr. K was furiously signing away files and talking to 15 men with 15 different problems at the same time. He heard me out and asked me to wait outside. Within two minutes he called me in.

“If we try for a government accommodation it will take hours. I am a member of a club and I have arranged for a room there. You will get an AC room. The market rate for such rooms here will be at least Rs 2000. But since I am a member of the club, I can get it for Rs 300. I will pay for it. You go there,” he said. I was dumbfounded. “But how can I accept your money?” I muttered. “You are on a noble mission and this will be my small contribution,” Mr K said, producing three 100 rupee notes. I politely refused and told him that we would be able to pay Rs 300.

We will start for Hyderabad early tomorrow morning.

(A request for those who are taking the trouble of reading these posts: I need your comments. Please post comments. So many things may slip my notice otherwise.)



Route: Elluru to Vijayawada: 56 kms via NH 5.



Vijayawada to Hyderabad


Days: 9 & 10 (Vijayawada to Hyderabad: 267 kms)

 17.2.2011

Imagine a 3 km-long road. It can be any road in Hyderabad city. There will be at least 30 “Tiffin, Meal and Coffee shops” on both sides of the road. Strangely, all sell the same items: Idly, upma, dosa, vada. I have never seen such lack of imagination in culinary practices anywhere in the country or in the world. This is not to say that I don’t like dosa or idly. I love upma and particularly sambhar. But we are kind of tired, looking at the same menu again and again.


So, today we decided to go to Secundrabad to taste authentic (?) Hyderabadi biriyani. Chiken Dum biriyani at Paradise is pure bliss. The chutney is emerald green (how do they prepare it?). Kalmi kebab was good. We tasted Kubeni ka Meetha for the first time and liked it. (It contains apricot and tastes like Bengali chutney).


The Bengali waiter Swapan Biswas was delighted to serve us. He doesn’t always get an opportunity to speak in Bengali. He is from Digha and obviously misses his newly-wed wife who stays in his “desh.”


We wasted almost a full day in Hyderabad. The photographer of a national daily was to visit us at 9.30 am to take our picture. He finally arrived at noon. Then we had to go to the Royal Enfield service centre to service our bike. The break shoe is already gone. Amazing! We have covered only 2000 kms so far, which is less than 10 per cent of the trip. Our plan was to visit Salar Jung museum, Charminar and Golkonda Fort. We had time to see only Charminar. (That was the first brand of cigarette I smoked. I was in Class IX then). I got tired riding to Charminar. The road is narrow and made even narrower by innumerable shops and auto stands. The entire area is choked and dirty. People from all over the world come to see this place. It shouldn’t have taken much effort for the government to keep the place clean.


More than 90 per cent of the women wore burkhas – black robes covering them from head to toe in intense Andhra heat. Some even wore black gloves. Only their eyes were visible. But many rode two-wheelers. On the roads they were in large numbers buying imitation jewelry. We saw one lady purchasing eye shadow. I felt sad. I am sure I will see similar dark madness when I visit Tirupati.


We started from Vijayawada on 15.2.2011. It took us full 8 hours to cover a distance of mere 267 kms. The road (NH 9) is narrow and broken all over. There is heavy traffic mostly of trucks.


After two days of riding in Hyderabad city, the autowallahs of Kolkata will surely seem like angels. Hyderabad has an automobile driving culture, which is uncivilized to say it politely. A man or a woman without a vehicle has no value here. In any other city, either a traffic signal or a policeman will stop vehicles and ensure that a person can safely cross the road. In Hyderabad, it is different. We have seen old men and women desperately waving their hands at rushing cars urging them to stop or at least to slow down so that they can cross the road. The city administration is criminally insensitive.


Hyderabad to Nandyal: 264 kms

Everybody wants to travel. But those who do not travel by road probably do not understand what they miss. I have realized this again during this trip. We can stop at whatever place that catches our eyes. We can talk to people. Also, villagers open up easily with two-wheeler riders. Language is definitely a problem in south India. But amazingly in the end it does not remain a problem when people want to understand each other.


I have never liked to travel in cars. On a two-wheeler you directly face nature unhindered with all its fury and beauty. From inside cars the nature looks framed and unnatural.  Pleasure survives only in dreams of the past. Nature is pain. It is also natural to look away from truth.


From Hyderabad we reached a place called Nandiyal. We never heard of this place before. It is in the Kurnool district of Andhra Pradesh. On our way to Tirupati, we had to stop somewhere for the night and we blindly chose this place, which is nearly half way to Tirupati from Hyderabad.


It is rugged, hot, wind-swept and beautiful. It will never be a popular tourist destination. It is only for those who want to be alone with rough nature. There are hills all around – jagged rocks jutting out in queer shapes. There are patches of green and dazzling yellow. Sunflower cultivation is popular here. Hot wind howls at all times. Fields fade into the sky or the hazy hills far away. They simmer in intense heat.


We are not discussing Kolkata anymore. In fact we are talking less. Both of us are living in our own thoughts. I still don’t know why I am making this trip.

The Route: From Hyderabad we took NH 7. Umdanagar ( 19 kms), Farooqnagar (32 kms), Jadchheria (73 kms), Pebbair (58 kms), Kurnool (10 kms). From here we took NH 18. Nandyal (72 kms).


Nandyal to Tirupati :309 kms

We made our first mistake as soon as we started from Nandyal in the morning. What a lovely mistake it was! We were to take NH 18. Instead we turned left and took State Highway 53.


We soon found ourselves in the midst of a dense forest. I was sure that we had lost our way. But Pat was confident that this was NH 18. We rode for half an hour till we found a man who told us (and finally convinced Pat) that we had taken a wrong turn from Nandyal.


Soon a forest department board told us to be cautious of the leopards in the jungle. We saw no leopards. Rather it appeared that we had entered the kingdom of monkeys. Thousands of them were around us. They were everywhere. Pat had purchased bananas from Nandyal. He tried to have them. About seven monkeys appeared from nowhere. Pat offered them one, shoved the rest in the packet and we sped off immediately. This bunch of monkeys did not look timid at all!


The jungle was vast indeed. There were hills all around us. Not a soul was to be seen anywhere. Obviously there were not many villages inside the forest. We found a huge lake at the end of the forest. A villager told us that the place was called Lakshmipalam. The lake will not be less than 8/9 kms long. The forest and the lake can become one of the most attractive tourist destinations in the country.


On our way we found a 300-year-old fort at Siddavattam about 50 kms from Bakrapeta. No one could tell us the history of the fort – not even the local post master.


Later I found this in wikimapia:


“Sidaavatam or sidhout is a small village in Kadapa district of Andhra Pradesh.Here is a Fort built by MATTLI RAJULU who were Nayakars under Vijayanagara Empire. There is a rock edict at the entrance of the Fort. According to this the edict (the fort was built) at the time of AAraveeti Venkatapathi Rayalu II of 1605. The edict mentioned about Yellama Raju and his son Anantha Raju. As they were the winners of the OOTUKURU war, Siddavatam was given to them by Vijayanagara Emperors. Anantha Raju built the present Fort. The entrance of the Fort lead in to a place where it is surrounded by varandahs having huge walls.This place is opens to a big Mantapam having beautiful sculpture on its walls and pillars.The Fort was captured by MIRJUMLA in 17th century and kept the Fort under the control of Mayana Nawabs of Kadapa.The last Nawab of this dynasty Alam Khan built a Darga and a Masjid in the Fort near Penna river.Even though Mayans are Muslims they kept the Mantapams and the sculpture intact. HYDER ALI of Mysore attacked the Fort and destroyed it as AlamKhan refused to surrender during 1779-80. In 1792 the Fort came in to the hands of Nizams from Tipu Sultan. In 1800 the British East India Co took over this from the Nizam. The BRITISH administered the Kadapa district from this fort from 1808-1812.Later district administration shifted to the present town KADAPA. The fort was built on the beautiful left bank of river Penna at the foot of LANKAMALA HILLS. (sic).


The fort is in ruins and it doesn’t appear that the government is looking after it.


Reached Tirupati in the evening. We will go to see the temple tomorrow morning.


The Route:  Nandyal to Gidgloaur (SH 53) to Porumamilla to Badvel to Bakrapeta NH 205) to Rajampeta to Renigunta to Tirupati.

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Posted on: Thursday , Mar 10, 2011 At 11:47 AM

Kolkata To Elluru


Inside Dhabaleswar temple, OrissaSunrise at Gopalpur on Sea27.1.2011 night. Kolkata:

I still do not know what is driving me towards this. Do I want to travel, see and feel India – this vast country? Do I want to meet people? Do I want to “learn?”  Do I want to escape from this confusing clutter enveloping me to a defined-chosen path of nothingness? When will I return? Will I return? If something happens during this long journey? Kolkata-Kanyakumari-Mumbai-Kashmir – zig sagging all the way through.    Can Pat (my co-traveler) make it, given his present state of health –physical as well as mental? Can I make it? Do I want to make it? What do I want really? Why is this trip so important? Nothing is clear. Everything is blurred. Shadowy images dancing in my head. Why do I return to my childhood memories so frequently now a days?

7.2.2011. Night. Bhadrak (Orissa):

The journey has begun. Finally. Today. Many ifs and buts. But I decided to ignore them. I had no choice. The trip was conceived, discussed, clinched. It had to begin and proceed. Where and how it will end – I have no idea.
Woke up at 5 am. Pat was fast asleep. (He was not drinking yesterday). He finally managed to stagger out of bed at 6.
Crisis. No water. Can’t wash. Can’t shit. Finally managed to locate the switch of the pump. Relief!!
Crisis no 2. The petrol pump at Patuli was still close. It is 7 am already! Filled the tank from a pump on Anwar Shah Road connector. It is 7.30.

“Mumbai: 1951 kms:” the board at Kona Expressway read. “Not so easy boy,” I told Pat. Nothing in our lives has come easy. Bombay from Kolkata via Kanyakumari  will  not be less than 4000 kms. That will be our route. We will cover (cover? Oh! What a word!) Orissa, Andhra, Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Karnataka, Goa, Daman and Diu before we will reach Maharashtra.
Had a nice breakfast at Kolaghat. Lakshminarayan hotel. This is where I and Bhaduri always had breakfast on our way to Nandigram. The owner will make you feel important. Always Sir and never dada.  “Sir, will you need anything else,” he asked us thrice. Was it a signal, I was wandering. After all, it was a dhaba beside a National Highway!

NH 6- the Mumbai Road was heavenly. The lesser known NH 60 was more so. My Royal Enfield was refusing to obey the speed limit set by us: 70 kmph. NH 60, a concrete road stretched straight to the sky. No construction, not even trees, no pot holes, no traffic. Only cows. It was their territory. I had to be careful.

Irritation began to creep in from Baleswar (Orissa). The road was broken all along. Numerous diversions. Even two years ago, I had seen similar diversions here. Roads are always being “maintained” in this state. And the driving habits! Trucks, cars bikes and even cycles always take the wrong lane and travel at top speed. They take the shortest route even if that means flouting of rules.

Reached Bhadrak at 2.30. Met the DM Mr D.C. Patra. He was happy to see a middle-aged lunatic, I suppose. Extended all possible and impossible help. Spending the night at the Circuit House like a pucca sahib. It is spring time in Bhadrak. I can smell it.

It took us nearly two hours to locate the Circuit House. “What kit?” “Circuit what?” “Where are you coming from? Where will you go?” And plain and simple “Jani na,” in Bengali even before I could complete my question to a local lad in jeans.
Had rice, dal and fish at Pachi hotel at 5 in the evening. Feeling sleepy now. Can’t write a word more. See you at Gopalpur on Sea tomorrow.

The Route:

Kolkata to Bhadrak: 328 kms
Taken Kona Expressway (NH 2) to Kolaghat. Proceeded towards Kharagpur via NH2. About 5 kms from Kharagpur town We took NH 60. There is a bifurcation – one road swerving to the left as a fly over and the other going straight under the fly over. We must take the road which goes under the fly over. This is NH 60 (See photo.) We went straight via NH 60, crossed the Bengal border at Solpatta check point and reached Jaleswar in Orissa. Proceeded to Baleswar where we reached NH 5. Proceeded straight to Bhadrak.

Day two: 2 8.2.2011
“Ille ille ille le, ayo ayo ille le.” Pat was singing. This is the only line of the song he knows and is sufficient to express his current mood. Do we really need so many words? Pat went on and on and on. I did not stop him.
Between Bhadrak and Cuttak, NH 5 lay calm. It allowed us to relax, suck in the fresh air. We could see the hills in the distance. The bike was throbbing at 100 kmph.

We crossd Panikoli, 69 kms from Bhadrak. Then the city-madness took over. Traffic became heavier. We were approaching Cuttak. The drivers began their usual erratic behavior, trying to overtake each other, swerving left and right with no apologies, glaring at competitors, often cursing, speeding suddenly to go ahead of others. Everybody wanted to reach there first. Reach where?  At what cost? Strangely, when away from the cities, these same drivers behave differently. They do not honk. They smile and even wave at you. Pat stopped singing. He was urging me to speed ahead like others.
Cuttak. Thirtynine kms from Panikoli, 103 kms from Bhadrak where we stayed the night before. We were hungry. Who knew roadside dhabas here do not open before 2 pm? “Kuchh nehi milega. Come after 2.” We were in no mood to enter the city and find a restaurant.

Jagannath Behura saved us. His dahi vada did not contain dahi. And Idli was without sambar. He mixed both with ghugni, alur dam, onion and green chillies. Oh what a taste! We loved it. Five idlis for Rs 10 at his road side make shift shop.
Left Bhubaneswar far behind. We were approaching Khurda. Green all around. Undulating hills melting into the mist in the horizon. Mesmerizing. We stopped in the middle of the jungle twice to take pictures. Forest, rivers, hills. Green fading into blue of the clear sky. We need to freeze our good times. Memories fade. Photos remain. We don’t live in good times. We need framed memories to survive.

Everything changed abruptly. From Khurda for about 10 kms on both sides of the road, nature is being torn apart. Numerous stone crushing factories are turning the hills into rocks and dust. Forests are mowed down systematically. Growth. Prosperity. Whose prosperity? We saw fat men in Scorpios and Bolleros amidst columns of trucks carrying stones. Yet Khurda is one of the most backward regions in the country. So is Ganjam. Gopalpur on Sea, where we are to stay the night, is in Ganjam.

We stopped at Chhatrapur, the district headquarter, to meet the District Collector. “Sir, is in Delhi,” said an employee in the Bangalow. Four men were playing cards in the office. They did not have much time for us. Can we meet the ADM then? “He will not meet you,” came the curt reply. We managed to cajole out the ADMs’ phone number. He, a doctorate we were told,  (Dr. Something) did not take the call. We called the SDO Berhampore five times on his mobile. We were entertained by a popular Hindi film, which was his caller tune. But he did not pick up the phone. It was Saraswati Puja and so a government holiday. Ganjam is a Maoist stronghold.

We entered Hotel Sea Breeze at Gopalpur. “Did you have lunch at Jyoti restaurant?” a middle-aged man asked us at the reception. How did he know? “Remember, I told you the direction at the petrol pump?” he said. The man had read the sticker on our bike and was surprised to know that we were travelling the entire country on a motorcycle. “I am the owner of this hotel,” he said. He offered us a room for a price so low that we could not believe our ears. “After all you are travelling on a bike around the country,” he said with a smile. We got the best room facing the sea.
At the dead of the night, I noticed five boys running on the beach. They were catching crabs. They had just finished serving food at a marriage party. Now they will cook their own food. “Shadi-me tumko khana nehi mila kya?” I asked Sonu. He was from Agra, he said and was staying with his uncle in Bhubaneswar. They will get food. But strictly vegetarian, Sonu said.

The Route:
Bhadrak to Gopalpur on Sea: 325 kms

We started from Bhadrak at 8 am and took the NH5. Panikoli is 64 kms. The road is perfect. Cuttak is another 39 kms and Bhubaneswar is 25 kms from Cuttak. The road up to Bhusandapur via Khorda (91 kms) is a dream. Then the pot holes and diversions begin. Don’t’ miss Chilika lake, which is less than half a kilometer from Balugaon (22 kms from Bhusandapur). Chatrapur is another 58 kms and Gopalpur is 16kms from Chatrapur.

Nothing much to report today. An uneventful day. Except that we are suddenly feeling young. Also we can now identify possibly every Andhra village we passed by smell. Some smell like shampoo, some like cow dung and others like hair oil. The beach side in Vizag, where we are spending the night, smells like dried fish.

We had a tough time to find a room. Every government guest house is booked. The chief minister is arriving to attend a marriage ceremony. His officers and security personnel are accompanying him. All district officials are busy to arrange for the CM’s comfort and safety. Private hotels are too expensive for us.

“How old are you?” a young lady asked us as we stopped for tea at Haripuram-our first halt after crossing the Andhra Pradesh-Orissa border. “We are quite old actually,” I muttered, somewhat taken aback. Women normally don’t ask your age, unless they know you. “But your spirit is like a 20-year-old,” she said. Her husband quickly interrupted. “I used to go on trekking. Have you gone to Pindari? Go. Go. Nice place,” he said. I saw Pat blushing. He must have seen me blushing too.
The roads in Orissa are bad. Those in Andhra have so far been spotless. We almost flew in to Vizag. We were impressed by the undulating hills that cuddle the city. But we have already seen better beaches. Let’s see what is awaiting us at Aaraku tomorrow.

 The Route:
Gopalpur to Vishakhapatnam: 281 kms
Gopal to Ichhapuram (50kms) to Sonpeta (19kms) to Narasannapeta (88 kms) to Srikakulam (21kms) to Bhimunipatnam (76kms) to Vizaz (27kms).
 
We are in perfect shape and still vertical. We did not get any network in Arku, where we stayed on Feb 11. As a tourist destination, Arku is average at the most. People who have been to the Himalayas must have seen better places. Also, we did not like the attitude of the people there. They always made us feel cheated.

We returned to Vizag on Feb 13. The spring of the kick paddle of our Royal Enfield needed to be replaced and we had to travel 114 kms only for this.

But it was a boon in disguise. We stayed at Mr Sabbir Ekhlas’ home. If we say he was a perfect host, it would be an understatement. He even took care to wash our clothes! Mrs. Ekhlas packed our lunch for the next day and we had a great breakfast after a long time. We spent the evening at Mr. Pradeep Mukherjee’s house. (As true Bengalis, we discussed politics and the future of Bengal under Mamata Banerjee).
We started from Vizag on 13th morning and reached Elluru – headquarter of the West Godavari district – in the evening. Riding in Andhra is really becoming a nightmare. We have already escaped accidents twice. Both could have been bad. Once a car suddenly stopped in front of us and then sped away. We were at 90-95 kmph. Then a truck came at us at high speed. It was driving on the wrong lane. So what? Everybody does that here! I managed to move away  when it was barely 50 meters away. No wonder Andhra has one of the worst road accident records in the country. (In India 14 people die in road accidents every hour and 53 get injured. This is the highest in the world. Remember that these are just the official figures and many incidents go unreported).

In Andhra, people drive in the wrong lane to save fuel. Heavy and slow moving vehicles (with AP number plates) always keep to the right forcing other cars to overtake from the left. We have actually seen bikers looking backward and talking to the pillion riders while riding at high speed. The concept of wearing helmets, which is mandatory according to law,  does not exist here. Five people on a small 100 cc bike is a common sight. (How do they do it without damaging their organs?)
We held a press conference today (Feb 14). It was organized by the Elluru district administration. The photographers made us ride nearly half an hour in intense heat to take the right shot. It is always difficult to satisfy press photographers. Officials told me later that the press meet was a “great success.”

We are yet to decide where we should go now – Hyderabad or Chennai. But we are staying back at Elluru tonight to collect the newspaper clippings. We are already on TV here.
The Route: Vizag to Elluru  (335kms). We did not leave NH5.

 

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Posted on: Thursday , Mar 10, 2011 At 10:56 AM

Travel Diaries


I am currently doing a trip around India on my Royal Enfield bike. I, along with my friend Pat, started from Kolkata on February 7, 2011. We reached Kanyakumari on February 28. We expect to reach Srinagar some time in April. We are at present in Goa.

I will start posting my travel diary.

Keep reading.

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