Archive for the ‘Travel’ Category

Desire to Flee Qatar’s Blazing Sun

Posted: August 25, 2011 in Travel

Oh, who said vacation is a luxury? After coming to Qatar I have realized that it’s not, it is a necessity! In India we used to go on vacations and it was like falling in love again and again… a love which I always anticipated with pleasure, experienced with discomfort and remembered with nostalgia. Back home, living nearly 10 years in Bangalore, if there was one season that brought both smile and frown on our face, it had to be summer. While many in Qatar dislike the sweltering summer heat, the breezy summer days in Bangalore made us beam with joy… the clear skies, the blazing sun, the gentle summer breeze and the lazy afternoons flavoured the season with passion and warm love. Suddenly, I used to remember the lines of Shakespeare: “Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day? Thou art more lovely and more temperate…” The city, which is known as ‘Air-conditioned City’ is blessed with salubrious climate throughout the year. I still remember my dad telling me that most of the homes and schools in Bangalore did not have fans till the 1990s, not because they had no money, but because there was no need for one. In summer while the rest of the country wilted in the heat, residents of Bangalore would snuggle under warm blankets while sleeping. Several gardens, parks trees along the roads add to the cool climate of the city.

After moving to Qatar, where summers are extremely hot, I miss Bangalore. As everybody knows, residents of Qatar — who are rich, thanks to the oil-driven economy — long to avoid the scorching heat of this summer by going on vacation to cooler countries. Who would love no fluctuation in weather — eternal sunshine and cloudless skies? Their desire to flee the blazing summer anywhere between 45 and 50 degree Celsius is imaginable. Even though they have their air-conditioned comfort, they want to escape from that artificial cocoon of comfort. Plus, everybody gets Eid holidays and all they want to do is escape from this heat and enjoy some good weather. And we cannot be an exception to this. When most of the Indians go home for the vacation, we had to plan something to make this summer a memorable one.

Last month, when my hubby said we will go to Meghalaya for vacation, I was like, “Oh man, this can’t be your idea. Who told you about this place to you?” Then, I had forgotten all about it and then one day appeared the culprit — Sajid a.k.a.Saji, my hubby’s friend — who had given him the idea of visiting Meghalaya. So after a few days, we decided that we – I, Vij, Saji, Umer and Shahid — would explore and do a ‘rain dance’ in Meghalaya.

Saji kept on doing online research if there’s any tension in the North-Eastern state and whenever he found something bad on Shillong Times, we used to get disappointed thinking we may not be able to visit the place. Looking for hotels, sightseeing, food, transport, purchase… what not, everything was in our talks. After planning so much and discussing things into late nights, my hubby used to disappoint me by telling that someone has been killed in Meghalaya, there’s a landslide, there’s a protest etc etc. But I was pleased to know that last week, things have sorted out, tickets are booked and we are at last packing our bags to Meghalaya. Yes, I also know that vacation is a time when we often take twice the clothes and half the money we need. Oops, no worries, my hubby will take care of it 😉 Visiting Kolkata, Guwahati, Shillong and other nearby places… a week away from newly found home (Qatar) and yet in the old home (India)… what more can I say, we’re excited! There’s lot to see, lot to enjoy. So keep waiting for more…

On Monday, we were on a shopping spree and went to General Bazaar. Taraka bought me two beautiful silver lamps as my birthday gift and I wanted to buy an idol of Ganesha with the right side trunk. We visited several shops in search of the right kind of idol, but in vain.

General Bazaar is located in secunderabad, MG road. One can avail this place for shopping to the fullest. The market over here is the best for all kinds of people and for all occasions. General Bazaar, is the second largest wholesale market after Begum Bazaar.

This road was earlier called James Street and after Indian independence, following convention, a major street in every city in India was named Mahatma Gandhi Road. There is a statue of Mahatma Gandhi on the road. The road leads to a warren of streets called Tobacco Bazaar and Pot Market.

I had never seen so many silver and gold shops in a single stretch and we found many wholesalers in this market area. Several silver shops have unmatchable varieties from one shop to the other. The fine work of their workers is so beautiful and we found lots of variety like dining sets, lamps, plates glasses, and every possible item with silver for all kinds of customers.

Sarees with zardosi work, sarees with plain self works, plain sarees, patch works, kanchi pattu sarees, venkatagiri sarees, gadwal sarees, bengali cotton sarees, graden sarees, printed cotton sarees, samudrika pattu sarees, and almost each and every variety of sarees are found in and around the bazaar.

Taraka bought me a dress material, which we found at an outlet at a very nominal price.

We saw shops selling decorative household itemsbook shops, stationary, footwear and others.

While returning home, we found several wholesale shops of utensils in steel, aluminium, copper, plastics and others. I told Taraka that I would like to visit the place again, but with my hubby dear (then I need not pay for whatever I buy ;)!

Keeping fond memories of Salar Jung Museum, we headed towards Charminar. Manouvering through the narrow road filled with autos and pedestrians. It was a bumper-to-bumper traffic and the vehicvles were moving very slowly. Pedestrains walking on roads and crossing the road was a common sight and honking horns was in vain, for they rarely bothered about vehicles passing through. As it was turning dark, we wondered if we would get any parking space. But fortunately, we found a parking lot near Charminar itself.


When we reached the place, it was 5.35 pm, five minutes late, as the closing time was 5.30 pm!

We had to console ourselves taking pictures outside the spot and envy those who were enjoying the beatuy of the city from the minar 😦

Interestingly, we found a temple dedicated to a Hindu Goddess near Charminar.

I wished that I had visited Hyderabad in my school and college days. It would have helped me immensely in my History papers.

Mohammed Quli Qutab Shah constructed Charminar in 1591 to mark the end of plague in Hyderabad.

Charminar is a massive and impressive structure with four minarets. It has four imposing arches facing four directions. A row of small vaulted niches ornament each of the four arches. Charminar is square in shape and each side measures 100 feet.

The minar is a two-storied building with the first floor being covered. The balconies on the floor provide a great view of the surrounding areas. A small mosque adorns the top floor. The mosque is situated on the western side facing Mecca. The mosque is said to be the oldest surviving mosque in Hyderabad.


The four minarets of the Charminar dominate the landscape of the region. The minarets, their domed finials rising from their lotus-leaves cushion, rise to 180 feet from the ground. The whole structure contains various small and ornamental arches arranged in vertical and horizontal fashion. The cornice on the first floor upholds a series of six arches and capitals on each portico, rising to the double-story gallery of the minarets. The projected canopy, decorative brackets and decoration in stucco plaster add graceful elegance to Charminar. On the upper courtyard, a screen of arches topped by a row of square jalis or water screens provides a delicate charm to the look of Charminar. Inside the minarets 149 winding steps guide the visitor to the top floor, the highest point one can reach, which provides a panoramic view of the city. All the four arches have a clock each installed in 1889.

The beautiful colossus in granite, lime, mortar and, some say, pulverised marble, was the heart of the city then. Initially, the monument with its four arches was so proportionately planned that when the fort was opened one could catch a glimpse of the bustling Hyderabad city as these Charminar arches were facing the most active royal ancestral streets. There is also a legend of an underground tunnel connecting the palace at Golkonda to Charminar, possibly intended as an escape route for the Qutub Shahi rulers in case of a siege, though the exact location of the tunnel is unknown.


They say that the Charminar market had some 14,000 shops and we went to get the feel of shopping in the famous markets known as Laad Baazar and Pather Gatti. The markets are favourite of both tourists and locals for jewellery, especially known for exquisite bangles and pearls. The colourful shops sell items like glass bangles, pearls, jewellerys, traditional Muslim gear and Mughla delicacies.

The Laad Bazzar or the Bangle Street was loud and bustling. We found hundreds of pearl jewellery shops along the narrow streets, besides cloth shops, bangle sellers, food emporiums, costume makers, booksellers, artisans, and what not almost one can imagine.

We went to check out bangles at a shop and found a variety of bangles, some ranging from as less as Rs 50 and going beyond even Rs 5,000. We were astonished to see the exquisite range of lac and glass bangles in the shop.

We wanted to see pearl shops. We wanted to know the difference of genuine and fake pearls. We went to a shop looking out for a pair of ear rings and asked the shop owner about the difference between the genuine and fake pearls.

Oysters are bivalves. The shell’s valves are held together by an elastic ligament. This ligament is positioned where the valves come together, and usually keeps the valves open so that an oyster can eat.

As the oyster grows in size, its shell also grows. The mantle is an organ that produces the oyster’s shell, using minerals from the oyster’s food. The material created by the mantle is called nacre. Nacre lines the inside of the shell.

The formation of a natural pearl begins when a foreign substance slips into the oyster between the mantle and the shell, which irritates the mantle. The oyster’s natural reaction is to cover up that irritant to protect itself. The mantle covers the irritant with layers of the same nacre substance that is used to create the shell. This eventually forms a pearl.

So a pearl is a foreign substance covered with layers of nacre.

Pearls come in a variety of colorrs, including white, black, gray, red, blue and green. Most pearls can be found all over the world, but black pearls are indigenous to the South Pacific.

Cultured pearls are created by the same process as natural pearls, but are given a slight nudge by pearl harvesters. To create a cultured pearl, the harvester opens the oyster shell and cuts a small slit in the mantle tissue. Small irritants are then inserted under the mantle.

In freshwater cultured pearls, cutting the mantle is enough to induce the nacre secretion that produces a pearl — an irritant doesn’t have to be inserted.

While cultured and natural pearls are considered to be of equal quality, cultured pearls are generally less expensive because they aren’t as rare.

Most pearls are treated or enhanced in one way or another. Saltwater cultured pearls are bleached to even out body colour and non-nucleated freshwater pearls will become whiter if they are soaked in a bleach solution or heated for a period of 2-10 hours.

But how to distinusih the fake ones from the genuine ones?

Imitation pearls bear the slightest resemblance to a natural or cultured pearl. There are mainly three types of imitation pearls — mother of pearl, solid glass beads and wax-filled glass beads. To make them more realistic, they are dipped into a solution called essence d’orient.

Detecting imitation pearls is not a difficult procedure because solid glass beads are much heavier than either natural or cultured pearls, plastic beads are too light, imitation pearls are too perfectly shaped and they feel smooth when drawn against the teeth.

Six important qualities to note:
1. Luster: Look at the clarity of images that are reflected in the pearl’s surface. The closer to a mirror image you see, the better the luster. Pearls with fine luster also seem to glow warmly from within.

2. Size: The size is measured by its diameter, and ranges from 8mm to the rare 18mm. The larger the pearl, the rarer it is.

3. Shape: The rounder a pearl is, the rarer and more valuable it is.

4. Surface: The more flawless the surface of the pearl is, the higher it will be valued. However, a flawless pearl only comes about once in about every million, as pearls are the result of a natural process, and an oyster will usually leave some sort of unique mark on the finished pearl.

5. Colour: Colour has little influence on the actual value of a pearl. The rarest and most desired are the white “rose” colored pearls.

6. Weight: The weight of a pearl is not always provided. Pearls are usually measured in carats.

After getting the required knowledge we started looking out for some good pearl ear studs in shops.

Later, we went to a cloth shop to buy churidhar pieces and we were unsuccessful in bargaining. For they easily made out that we were not locals and quoted a pretty high price. We found the material not worth of the amount and left the place.

With the little gyaan we acquired on pearls, we bought two pairs of beautiful ear rings at a pearl shop.

When we reached home after a tiring day, a surprise awaited me.

Keerti, Gayatri and me

I was welcomed by the kids with a birthday cake.

Little Nidhi was eager to celebrate the occasion and it was like a small fest at home.

Nidhi

Most, surprising was the birthday greeting card with a handwritten drawing by Gayatri, Keerti and Nidhi.

Gayatri, me and Nidhi

On Sunday, Taraka took me to Salar Jung Museum, the third largest museum in the country, and a hot seat of cultural splendour containing antique pieces and artefacts from nearly all epochs of history.

The museum is considered to be the only museum that has the largest compilation of personally collected artefacts from across the world, and is situated on the southern bank of the Musi river.


As it was weekened, the place was crowded and there were several students standing patiently in a queue to enter the building.

After entering the museum, it was like a dream come true for me, for I loved to take long trips along the musty pages of history. After all, I studied History as one of my subjects in the college days 🙂

After entering the first room, Taraka and I realised that one needs to devote an entire day for touring the museum.

The semi-circular building was a magnificent architectural edifice with 38 galleries spread across two floors of an imperial building. Each gallery had its own specialty with one housing the Nizam’s personal belongings, another housing Indian artefacts. Others displayed a plethora of items ranging from paintings, musical instruments, preserved stages showcased in glass cabinets, Kashmiri furniture and handicrafts as well a multitude of other valued historical relics.

The Founder’s Gallery told the history about Salar Jung also. The existence of the museum is credited to Nawab Mir Yousuf Ali Khan or Salar Jung III as well as the Prime Minister of the seventh Nizam, whose passion lay in collecting priceless antiques. However, the collecting artefacts was started by his father Nawab Mir Laiq Ali Khan also known as Salar Jung II and his grand father Nawab Mir Turab Ali Khan known as Salar Jung I.

We also learnt that Salar Jung III spent millions of rupees over 35 years to collect artefacts. Salar Jung III was born on June 13, 1889 in an extremely wealthy family that produced five Prime Ministers. In 1912, at the age of 23 he became the Prime Minister to the Nizam, but resigned two-and-a-half-years later. Thereafter, antiques and art were the only passions in his lonely life.

Salar Jung spent half of his annual income (Rs 10 lakh) on his hobby. He collected everything, from the rarest relic to commonest bric-a-brac with the same excitement.

He died in 1949, a bachelor. He left behind 40,000 pieces scattered over 78 rooms of Dewan Devdi, his ancestral city palace, which were shifted to Afzalgunj’s Salar Jung Muesum in 1968, and was under the jurisdiction of the Governor of Andhra Pradesh, who was acting as the ex-officio chairperson under the Salar Jung Museum Act of 1961.

The portraits of the Salar Jung, the Nizams of the Hyderabad city can be found in the Founder’s Gallery.

The Indian art is exhibited in an assortment of stone sculptures, bronze images, painted textiles, wooden carvings, miniature paintings, modern art, ivory carvings, jade carvings, metal-ware, manuscripts, arms and armour and so on.

Middle Eastern Art in the collection of carpets, paper (manuscripts), glass, metal-ware, furniture, lacquer, collected from Persia, Arabia, Syria, and Egypt are also on display.

The museum also displays porcelain, bronze, enamel, lacquerware, embroidery and paintings, which have been skillfully done in China, Japan, Tibet, Nepal and Thailand.

The European chamber of artefacts in the Salar Jung Museum comprises of oil and water paintings from England, France, Italy and Germany.

I was astonished to see the beauty of the Veiled Rebecca statue carved by Italian sculptor Giovanni Maria Benzoni. It is an amazing white marble statue which is splendidly carved. In the Hebrew Bible, Rebecca is the bride of Isaac. She is covered in a transparent veil during their wedding. This sculpture represents innocence and purity, as Giovanni Benzoni skillfully creates the appearance of a transparent veil, an outstanding artistic creation. Rebecca is seen drawing her veil about her before being presented to her future husband.

It is believed that Benzioni made four copies of this statue. One is among the collection at the Salar Jung Museum, Hyderabad. There is also a copy at the High Museum of Art in Atlanta, Georgia (USA). Another one, completed in 1866, is in the Berkshire Museum in Pittsfield, Massachusetts (USA). An interesting difference between the Veiled Rebecca statue at the Salar Jung Museum and the other statues is that the statue at Salar Jung draws her veil with her right hand while the other copies do so with the left hand.

The crafted knives of Mughal Emperor Jehangir and Queen Noor Jehan were other attractions.

When we were making the rounds, we found many people sitting in a gallery looking curisously at something and when we joined them, we saw a huge clock in which a tiny soldier comes out to strike the gong. The entire process was even displayed on a LCD screen to help the visitors. The top half of the clock showed a rustic scene: a blacksmith beating the seconds on his anvil. A huge bell hung silent in the centre, but everyone’s eyes were on the left where a door remained shut. At the appointed time, the door opened and a military looking man stood on the threshold. With a few seconds to spare, he took a step forward, and with a hammer in his hand, banged out the hour on the bell and the door again was shut for another hour.

The museum will be open on all days except Fridays and public holidays between 10 am and 5 pm.


In nutshell:

Gallery 1 and 2 or the Founders gallery: Personal artefacts, mementos received and portraits of the Salar Jungs and the Nizams. Royal clothes, porcelain and silver bowls, books furniture like the ceremonial throne used by Salar Jung III.

Gallery 3 and 3A: Indian art and articles. Indian textiles; bronze images of Jain, Buddhist and Hindu deities dating back to later Pallava and Chola periods; stone sculptures including a Bharhut rail slab, standing Buddha statue, Ananthasayi Vishnu, red stone sculptures of Kushanas and so on; brass idols belonging to the period of Pallavas, Cholas and Kakatiyas dynasty and brass articles belonging to Vijayanagar dynasty; Pancha Teertha Jaina statue, statues of Somaskadha, Shiva and Nataraja in Ananda Tandava posture, Narasimha, Ganesha and so on; Kalamkari paintings on cloth with various scenes of Ramayana, ‘Parvati Kalyana’, Lord Krishna along with Gopis and so on.

Gallery 4 and 5: Minor arts of South India and wood carvings. Statue of Vishnu of 1st and 2nd centuries found in Nagarjuna hill; wooden chairs, doors, statue of gods, carved screens, chariot wheels and so on. There is also a brass carving of ‘Rama Pattabhisheka’ from Thailand.

Gallery 6: Printed and embroidered fabrics in cotton, silk and wool belonging to Indian culture. Brocades woven with silver and gold thread, silk saris of south India, Kashmiri shawls, muslin waistcloth, famous ‘phulkari’ embroidery work from Punjab, appliqué temple hangings from Rajasthan, zari coats, chicken work from Lucknow and so on.

Gallery 9,10 and 11: Children’s section. Has a collection of toys from across the world. Puppets, model trains and objects acquired by Salar Jung III during his childhood.

Gallery 12: Stags, deer and other animals in glass cabinets.

Gallery 14: Carved ivory works belonging to 18th and 19th century. Ivory chairs presented to Tipu Sultan by Louis XV of France, inlaid tables, early 20th century German circus figures, chess sets, mat with ivory thread, lantern from Mysore and so on.

Gallery 15 and 16: Metal ware and European artefacts including the world famous statue of Veiled Rebecca, her beautiful face hazily visible through a flimsy marble veil. Another equally famous sculpture is a 19th century double-figure sycamore wood carving done by G.H. Benzoni, an Italian sculptor. The front view of the figure shows the facade of Mephistopheles and the back view of the figure showing Margaretta seen reflected in the mirror placed behind.

Gallery 16A: Guns, daggers, shields and swords, including that of Mughal emperor Aurangazeb, Tipu Sultan, Mohammad Shah and from the Qutb Shahi period with engravings of the Dasavatara and so on.

Gallery 17 and 17 A: Ornately decorated metal ware like huqqa, trays and so on; oil paintings by Ravi Verma and Abanindranath Tagore.

Gallery 18: Indian miniatures like Mughal, Rajasthani, Pahari and Deccani paintings.

Gallery 20: European paintings. The vast collection includes ‘Piazzo of San Marco’ by Antonio Canaletto (1697-1768), ‘Soap Bubbles’ by Fransesco Hayez of Italy, 19th century work, ‘Venice’ by Marc Aldine of Italy, and so on.

Gallery 21 to 23: European pottery, furniture, bronzes and glassware. Pottery items ranging from Dresden (Germany), Sevres (France), Capodimonte (Italy) to Wedgewood and English porcelain.

Gallery 24: Glass ware from England, Austria, Ireland, Venice, France, Belgium, Czechoslovakia, Turkey and so on.

Gallery 25: Stunning exhibits of jade. Jade imported from abroad were carved intricately and inlaid with stones by Indian artists. The workmanship can be seen in the dainty jade wine bowl, wine cups with leaf and flower motifs, swords, small jade platters used by the Salar Jungs and inscribed jade book stand of Altamash (1209-10 AD), hunting knife of Mughal Emperor Jehangir, fruit knife of Mughal Empress Noor Jehan (17th century), 17th century dark green jade inscribed archery ring of Mughal emperor Shah Jehanand so on.

Gallery 28: Clock room is one of the best galleries displaying over 300 clocks in various sizes ranging from Sandiers to modern day huge pieces. There are tiny pieces set in magnifying glasses to huge and stately grandfather clocks from France, England, Germany, Italy and Switzerland. An interesting exhibit here is a musical clock from Cook and Kelvy of England with a toy figure of a watchman, who pushes open the door every hour in a great hurry, to beat the melodious gong to indicate time.

Gallery 29: Ancient and rare collection of manuscripts in Arabic, Urdu and Persian languages. It includes the great Arabic Al Quran in Nashq (1288 AD) done by calligrapher Yakut-al-Must’sami bearing the autographs of Mughal emperors, Jehangir, Shahjehan and Aurangzeb; Roudat-ul-Muhabbin by Amir Hussaini Saadat (1329 A.D.); Urdu poetic composition Diwan-e-Mohamed Quli Qutub Shah (1595 A.D.) done by Quli Qutub Shah himself acquired from the Golconda Royal Library and so on.

Gallery 31 to 36: Far east and Chinese and Japanese porcelain. The display includes pieces from Sung (960-70); Yuan(1279-13650 Ming and Ching periods.

Gallery 32: Kashmiri room with arts and crafts from Kashmir.

Apart from the galleries, there is a reference Library, reading room, publication and education section, chemical conservation lab, sales counter, cafeteria and so on.

In the evening, I, Taraka and her daughter Gayatri left to see a dance programme at her sister’s daughter’s school. Though we couldn’t stay for long, we made sure that we were present for a few minutes to encourage the little kid and left for Birla Mandir.

After parking the car at a nearby place, we headed towards Birla Mandir. By this time I had come to know how chaotic the traffic in Hyderabad is. People had scant respect for the traffic rules and I was feeling like driving in some maddening crowd.

The steps leading to the temple and small shops along the steps were bustling with tourists. Shops were making brisk business and tourists were busy buying articles.

As it was weekend, the crowd was huge. We had to keep our phones and camera in the cloak room. We went to the temple and Taraka was excited to show the place where she and jeeju had solemnized their wedding 🙂

Birla Mandir on the Naubath Pahad is a magnificent Hindu temple of Lord Venkateshwara, built of 2,000 tonnes of pure Rajasthani white marble. The Birla Foundation has constructed several similar temples in India.


The Birla Mandir was built by Raja Baldev Birla. In 1938, the temple was inaugurated by Mahatma Gandhi. Everyone was not given the permission to enter the premises of temples. Gandhi placed the condition that he would inaugurate the temple only if people belonging to all strata of the society were permitted to offer their prayers in the temple.

The architecture of the temple is a blend of South Indian, Rajasthani and Utkala temple architectures.

The tower over the main shrine reaches a height of 165 ft, whereas the towers over the shrines of Venkateshwara’s consorts, Padmavati and Andal reach a height of 116 ft. The presiding deity is about 11 ft tall and a carved lotus forms the umbrella on the roof. The consorts of Lord Venkateswara, Padmavati and Andal are housed in separate shrines. There is a brass flagstaff in the temple premises which rises to a height of 42 ft.

The temple is built on a 280 feet high hillock called the Naubath Pahad in 13 acres. The construction took 10 years and was consecrated in 1976 by Swami Ranganathananda of Ramakrishna Mission. The temple does not have traditional bells, as Swamiji wished that the temple atmosphere should be conducive for meditation.

Though the chief deity is Lord Venkateshwara, the temple has pan-Hindu character with deities of Shiva, Shakti, Ganesh, Hanuman, Brahma, Saraswati, Lakshmi and Saibaba. Selected teachings of holy men and Gurbani are engraved on temple walls.

There is also a shrine dedicated to Lord Buddha. Beautiful Fresco paintings, throwing light on the life and works of Buddha, adorn the walls of this temple. At the rear end of the temple, there is an artificial landscape with mountains and waterfalls.

The intricate carvings of the temple, the ceiling and the mythological figures are standing testimony to the dexterity and sculptural excellence of the craftsmen. Beautiful scenes from the great epics of Ramayana and Mahabharata are finely sculpted in marble. A number of lofty steps lead the visitor to the sanctum sanctorum. Along the winding path are many marble statues of gods and goddesses of Hindu mythology located in the midst of gardens.

The view from the highest level of the temple offers the viewer a spectacular view of the Hussain Sagar Lake, Andhra Pradesh Secretariat, Assembly and Birla Planetarium, the Public Gardens and Lumbini Park.

The temple is open between 7 am and 12 noon and between 3 pm and 9 pm.

We sat for a while there and discussed several issues before we left the place. By the time we reached the house, I had gone half mad, thanks to the traffic. Driving in Bangalore is not difficult, but elsewhere it is, for we are more disciplined and follow traffic rules at any cost. But in Hyderabad, it is the vice versa. People look at us strangely if we talk about traffic rules and discipline!

It was a sudden visit, not pre-planned unlike my other trips. After Vij left, I wanted a break, a break to refresh my mind and soul. I wanted to be away from Bangalore and all familiar faces. Suddenly, Taraka’s face came in front of my eyes and I just called her to ask if I could visit her. When she confirmed that she would take leave and take me around, I just took four days leave to visit her in Hyderabad.

I was eager to meet her after so many years. Yeah, after four years. Four years ago, she had come to Bangalore and visited us.

Unfortunately, the train reached at 12 noon instead of 9.40 am on Saturday and Taraka was waiting with jeeju to receive me at Kacheguda railway station.

Oh, it was a pleasant meeting, two friends, rather I would love to call her my elder sister, after four years.

I met Taraka for the first time in 2002. She was my roommate in the PG. Old memories gushed in, and we kept on chatting about the days we spent in the PG. Our discussions ranged from family, work, politics, society, religion, agriculture, economy, what not, almost anything and everything. Though it sounds strange to note that two friends discuss such things when meeting after so many years, to be frank, that’s how our friendship started and became stronger. We used to discuss so many issues, current affairs and political issues in the PG and it continued even after she left Bangalore. The discussions were not useless and meant for time pass. They helped me to improve my GK, as I was pursuing civil services.

From being a student I have grown up to be a working woman. I admired her spirit and strength and learnt so many things during my stay with her for 8-9 months. Today, I salute her for being so strong, for supporting her family, being a successful working woman and mother of two lovely kids.

From being a student I have grown up to be a working woman. I admired her spirit and strength and learnt so many things during my stay with her for 8-9 months. Today, I salute her for being so strong, for supporting her family, being a successful working woman and mother of two lovely kids.

Our friendship has become stronger by the passing years (touchwood) and I hope it continues to be much more stronger in the coming years.

Around 35 people, including eight children and six women, drowned when a boat carrying 76 tourists sank in the catchment area of the Mullaperiyar river in Kerala around 5.15 pm on Wednesday, around 12 km away from the landing in the artificial lake near Thekkady.

The lake is known for tree stumps that dot waters, some of them submerged, making boat navigation the exclusive domain of experienced boat drivers. None of the passengers on board was known to be wearing a life jacket.

The tragedy of the boat ‘Jalakanyaka’, belonging to the Kerala Tourism Development Corporationm, once again throws light on the need of implementing safety standards for tourism services in general and for boat cruises in particular.

This is not the first time such a tragedy has occurred in Kerala. In February 2007, 15 schoolchildren and three teachers of St Antony’s Upper Primary School, Elavoor, drowned when their cruise boat capsized at the Thattekkad bird sanctuary. The accident had happened around sunset. As was the case in Thekkady, none was wearing a life jacket.

Then owner-cum-driver of the boat P.M. Raju had been awarded a sentence of five years of rigorous imprisonment and a fine of Rs 1.5 lakh for being guilty of rash navigation of vessel and culpable homicide not amounting to murder. The sentence was later suspended on an appeal.

In 2002, 29 people drowned in Kumarakom and the victims were local commuters and not tourists.

The boat might have toppled because the centre of gravity of the boat was higher. The problem could have been accentuated by the passengers moving to one side of a boat with a second deck. I wonder, why tourists were not provided with life jackets? Why were they not asked to sit instead of standing and rushing to the upper deck of the boat?

The Kerala police department has opened helpline numbers in Thiruvananthapuram, Kumali and Thekkady.
Thiruvananthapuram: 0471 2331403,  0471 2331639
Kumali: 04869 222111,  04869 222620
Thekkady: 04896 222620,   9446052361
Toll free number: 170

Getting a weekly off after a tiring and hectic work is like a bliss and catching Tess of D’Urbervilles on some Tuesday had been on my schedule for the past so many days. But this Tuesday afternoon, Rajeshattan called me to tell that Viji was feeling bored and wants to go on a drive. Though not interested, I had to agree when I came to know that it was their second wedding anniversary.

Vij and Rajeshattan had heard about a new place near Hebbal and we headed towards that. After a long, indeed a very long drive, we reached the place, only to know that it was Lumbini Gardens.

lumbiniLumbini Gardens is near Hebbal flyover, on the Nagavara Lake, reportedly developed with a grant of Rs 10 crore.
Since it was Tuesday, the place was not crowded,. The entrance fee was Rs 30. There was a special ticket costing Rs 300 which included all the rides and amusements inside the park.

wave pool

wave pool

From the parking space, I saw a huge statue of Buddha, but couldn’t go near it, as that part was not open for the public (May be due to some renovation).

Vij

Vij

The major attraction of the park is boat ride. There were motor boats apart from pedal boats for couples. Small children were having a nice time with their parents and we could see several young couples with on pedal boats.

lumbini7Though the garden is not huge, it gives people a chance to relax with family and friends over a weekend.

Vij and Rajeshattan

Vij and Rajeshattan

We saw an artificial wave pool and a children’s play area. This section is the most crowded and the most enjoyable one. The length of the pool is about 100 meters and small kids take a dip and enjoy the waves though they aren’t huge.

Rajeshattan and Viji

Rajeshattan and Viji

There were a few food stalls, including a Coffee Day outlet, and after taking a stroll, we ate a veg sandwich, enjoying a quiet time with a lake view around and a cool breeze (of course with mosquito bites!).

lumbini6After the sunset we headed back towards MG Road to catch New York.

Not many temples remain without being commercialised. When we decided to visit Kukke Subramanya, we never expected that it would turn out to another commercial temple. Not merely, commercial, even caste system still rules the temple. The priests treat people other than brahmins like fools, rather say like mere objects to serve their lust for money.

I and my brother were born and brought up in such a manner that my parents never insisted us that we should go to temples or pray to any gods. It was purely our choice and they left it to us. My dad and mom see Siddharoodha in every temple and every god. For them, it is his other forms. They trust him and believe him. They worship him at home with other gods but never insist that we should pray or visit temples. Visiting temples has been rather a trip for us than a religious visit. Our concept of god and devotion has been beyond the understanding limits of my hubby and his family members. We see god in our own hearts and we believe in the devotion of soul unlike their devotion by visiting every temples and performing all pujas and buying photographs of different gods whenever they visit temples. Though we have had arguments about the topic, neither I was successful in making my hubby, leave alone my in-laws, about my thinking, nor I was able to adjust to his way of thinking!

So, there was a reason this time for visiting Kukke Subramanya. Someone had told my mother that if we do a Naga puja, it is very good for us. She had succumbed to the words of a person, which was evident when she insisted that we visit the place and perform Naga puja. Though my dad was reluctant, he obliged, as travelling to different places is his passion. We were told to perform Sarpa Samskara to get rid of the sarpa dosha. According to belief, a person either in this birth or any of his previous births can be afflicted by the sarpa (serpent) dosha (curse) either knowingly or un-knowingly through many ways.

We four — I, dad, my brother and hubby — started at 7.45 am on Saturday. We had to cover 260 km to reach the place. We went to Melkote first met Koulagis, family friends of my dad, and headed towards our destination.

We got a glimpse of Lord Gomateshwara on the way, as our vehicle passed next to the hill.

We stopped at Sakaleshpur to have lunch at 12 noon. The hotel looked great from outside, but it was not too late to realise that looks can be deceptive, as the food was not good. We ordered for south Indian meals. And flies started hovering over the plates and in fact, a few started sitting on the food. I was indeed shocked to see a small white worm floating on curd! It was a bad lunch and it is 68 km to Subramanya from Sakaleshpur.

Ghat was not scarry and curves were not deep, no hairpin curves and driving was not tiring. Lapped in the luxurious abundance of the beauty of the nature the village of Subramanya lies in Sullia taluk in Dakshina Kannada district. Nature reveals herself in all her unhidden beauty in the rivers, forests and mountains which the temple is surrounded by.

Shiradi Ghat

Shiradi Ghat

Subramanya used to be called as Kukke Pattana. ‘Shankara Vijaya’ mentions that Sri Shankaracharya camped here for a few days during his religious expedition (Digvijaya).

Long way

Long way

The village is situated on the banks of the river Dhara which originates in the Kumara mountain and proceeds to the western sea.

Entrance of Kukke SUbramanya

Entrance of Kukke SUbramanya

According to mythology, consequence to the boon conferred upon Demon Tarakasura by gods, in return for the penance he did, he was not destined to die from anybody, either men or gods aged above seven days and therefore being confident that there was no death for him, he began to tease the whole world, and the story goes on to say that he fought single handed and conquered all the three worlds. The Rishis also found it difficult to go on with their penance and hence they went to Lord Shiva and requested him to redress their grievances. Luckily enough, it was the seventh day, his son Kumar was born and through this child ‘Kumar’ aged seven days, the demon Tarakasura Shoorapadmasura and others in a war and came to this place and washed his Shakti Ayudha (a battle-axe) in the river. From this onwards the river is famous as Kumaradhara. After his battle with the demons Lord Kumaraswamy came to the top of Kumara Parvatha along with his brothers Lord Ganesha, Veerabahu and other aides. He was received by Lord Indra along with other gods. Pleased by the success of the war, Indra prayed the Lord to be kind enough to marry his daughter Devasena.  This was agreed upon courteously and the marriage took place on the banks of Kumaradhara. Lord Kumaraswamy also gave darshan to Vasuki, the head of nagas, who was making a penance there. Vasuki prayed to the Lord to stay along with him permanently at the place.

In the woods...

In the woods...

We reached Kukke Subramanya at 2 pm. Temperature was very high and we were sweating like anything. We went in search of Ashlesha Lodge, where we had booked a room. When we enquired in the reception, the guy told my dad to sit and he would call at 4 pm. We all sat and waited. The guy sitting at the reception asked a few guys to stand in the queue to collect the room keys. People who came just a few minutes back got the rooms earlier than us. When asked about it, he was very callous and arrogant in his behaviour: “You should have stood in the queue, why did you go and sit there?” he asked my dad. An old woman also joined to support my dad, as she was waiting in the reception since 1 pm. But the guy didn’t heed. When our turn came, he purposefully gave a room on the fourth floor, which didn’t have a balcony. Moreover, the soaring mercury levels made it very difficult for us to stay there. Though there were many vacant rooms on the ground and other floors, he purposefully refused to give, which we came to know on Sunday morning.

Sunday morning I asked another guy sitting in the reception if there were any vacant rooms in other floors so that we could shift there. He said that there were many vacant rooms and asked me to collect the key in the reception at 4 pm. We were happy that we would get a room on some other floor, and we will escape the terrace heat. But unfortunately, when we went to enquire in the reception, the arrogant guy was sitting and he said that there were no vacant rooms…

What really hurt us was when we came to know from others that he turned down to give a room for a poor old woman who had come all the way from Kasargod. An old lady had come with two daughters. She was requesting something with the arrogant guy in Konkani. Though we did not understand the language we thought she was also requesting for a room. But we mistook that she was asking for a room on the ground. After a few minutes, she just went and sat on the ground telling something to her daughters. In the meanwhile, my dad started an argument with that guy and our attention was towards that. When the argument ended, people sitting next to those girls started talking about them. They pitied for them and when we enquired, we came to learn from them that she was very poor labourer working in paddy fields at a village in Kasargod. She had come to perform a Naga puja for her daughters. She had saved some money and had paid Rs 1,600 for the puja and was left with only Rs 400 for the room rent, as someone had informed her earlier that the room would cost Rs 150 per day. She had no extra money other than the bus charge to go back to her village. She pleaded the guy to give her the room and he didn’t budge, as it was Rs 500 for two days. He was supposed to return Rs 200 when they vacate the room. People around said that visiting such holy places is no more a religious visit and it is not a place for poor people. We all felt very bad for the woman, but by the time she had left the place.

Temple

Temple

We just took rest and went to the temple in the evening.

Way to the temple

Way to the temple

After the darshan, we stood in a long queue to have prasadam (dinner) in the temple. We entered the courtyard from behind and walk around to go before the idol. The sanctum sanctorum of Lord Subrahmanya lies opposite to the main entrance. There is Garuda pillar covered with silver between the sanctum sanctorum and the portico entrance. It is believed that the pillar was charmed and planted there to shield devotees from the poison flames streaming from the breath of Vasuki who resides inside. Devotees circle the pillar. Beyond the pillar is the outer hall and then the inner hall and after that the sanctum sanctorum of Lord Subrahmanya. In the centre of the sanctum sanctorum is a pedestal. On the upper dais stands the idol of Lord Subrahmanya and then the idol of Vasuki and somewhat lower, the idol of Shesha.

To the north of the sanctum sanctorum, we saw a cluster of lingas known as ‘Kukkelingas’. Some believe that the lingas got that name simply because people used to worship them together kept in a basket. Now they have been installed at the back portion of the sanctuary and are worshipped.

Some say that the place owes its name ‘Kukke Pattana’ to the Kukke linga and they proceed a step further and say that the epithet ‘Kukke’ in ‘Kukke Subrahmanya Devaru’ owes its origin to the curious custom of worshipping images kept in the basket. Some even tell that Kukke must be the Halegannada form of the Sanskrit word ‘Kukshi’ meaning ‘cave’. As the image was installed by Vasuki in the cave, it came to be called as Kukkelinga.

According to the legends, Lord Shanmukha installed Shiva lingas at three places in order to get rid of the sin resulting from killing Tharakasura. Later, other gods and sages installed many more lingas and images. In course of time when the place was subjected to the vicissitudes of the ebb and flow of its forutne, people collected these images and lingas and placed them in the temple.

To the south of the sanctum sanctorum is the shrine of Lord Bhairava. According to the legend, it is Kapaleshwara installed by Lord Shanmukha.

Images of Umamaheshwara can be found in the north-eastern sanctum sanctorum on the innere side of the temple wall. Besides these the images of Surya, Ambika, Vishnu and Ganapati are also found here. Among them the images of the Sunand Ambika date back of very ancient days. According to the legends, these were installed here by Narada rishi.

We saw Vedavyasa Samputa Narasimha to the south-eastern sanctum sanctorum. It is said that the Vedavyasa Samputa and the image of Lakshmi Narasimha were handed over to Sri Madhvacharya by Sri Vedavyasa.

A Subrahmanya mutt belonging to Dwaita tradition of Madhwa sect is situated to the south-east of the temple. It is said Sri Madhwacharya made his brother Vishnu Thirthacharya his disciple and gave this mutt to him and sometimes called as Vishnuthirthacharya’s Samshtana.

Near the main temple, there is the temple of Adi Subramanya. There is a great Valmiki (ant-hill) there.

Adi Subramanya

Adi Subramanya

Kashikatte is at about three furlong from the temple on the main entrance to the temple. Anjaneya and Vigneshwara idols are found here.

There is Biladwara, a cave, at about four furlong from the temple by the side of the main road. According to mythology, Vasuki, the serpent God, had taken shelter and protection from Garuda at this cave. The cave is about 10 meters in length with an entrance and exit.

A view from the room

A view from the room

On Sunday, we were supposed to go for the puja at 8 am. We got up at 6 am and got ready. Climate was so hot that even at 6 am, we took bath in cold water! After having darshan of Lord Subramanya, we went to the place where they perform Naga puja, i.e., Sarpa Samskara and Ashlesha Bali.

Peepal tree at ADi Subramanya

Peepal tree at ADi Subramanya

We had to wait for our turn and we learnt that every day 102 people come to perform Naga puja. Four people can attend the puja in one ticket (Rs 1,600 which includes Sarpa Samskara, Ashlesha Bali and Naga Pratishta).
They let us inside a big hall at 9 am and the numbers were written on the floor. A Brahmin pujari was designated to perform the puja for every ticket purchased by non-brahmins. They know the caste by seeing the sacred thread worn by men here, as men are not allowed to enter the temple with their shirts on.

An old brahmin came in search of our number and said that he would be performing the puja for us. He said in brief what he is going to do and what we were supposed to do! He said that the puja will be performed for two days. Head priest would come and ask for the names of our family members and the purpose of doing the puja. We were supposed to take the ‘Sankalpa’ for what we were performing. He said nearly four to five times that we should keep ‘Dakshina’ (Not Rs 10 or 20, but a whopping Rs 500!) in the betel leaves and offer it to the head priest.

By the time the head priest came to us, it was past 10 am, almost one hour. Our priest offered the head priest a 25 paise coin. We wondered that still 25 coin is in circulation there. Moreover, when it comes to us, the amount will be above Rs 100 and when it comes to those priests, it will be less than a rupee, that too only 25 paise! The head priest came, took the dakshina and asked the purpose of doing the puja and left the spot.

Then, the head priest offered a piece of white cloth to all the priests performing the puja. Our priest gave the cloth to us and asked us to keep money and give offer it to him as a ‘Daan’.

Our priest kept on explaining  how to perform the puja for a brahmin person sitting next to us. The guy from that family was working abroad and had lost his job, thanks to the global meltdown. A person working abroad, his family performing puja, maintaining the old caste system, all were strange combinations!

The family head of the brahmin family literally didn’t know how to perform the puja. It was only his sacred thread (Janivara) which had promoted him to sit next to the priest to perform the puja. Neither did he know how to hold the sacred grass nor did he know how to offer flowers and holy water to the idol of snake.

The head priest chanted the shloka for 2 minutes and all the priests offered fruit, flowers, milk and water to the snakes and took the snake kept to the left and folded in  a piece of white cloth before putting it to the fire pit.

They said that they cremated the snake ritually and took another snake and three balls (eggs) to put it in an anthill, praying that the lineage of snakes be protected. Let the number and family of snakes grow, we prayed with others. We went to the river flowing behind the puja hall and washed our legs and hands.

River behind the Yajna Shala at Adi Subramanya

River behind the Yajna Shala at Adi Subramanya

Then came our priest’s demands. He asked for Rs 500 to buy flowers and a plastic box. He said that he would also get coins so that it will help us to give dakshina. We wondered if flowers would cost that much. When we said that we would buy flowers for him, he said we need five types of flowers of at least one metre each. Then, again he came down and asked that at least we should give him Rs 100 and further came down to Rs 50. It looked like a professional bargain. We gave him Rs 50 and went for lunch in a big queue. The menu had rice, rasam (literally like water), sambar, payasam and watery buttermilk (in the same order). Here they throw the food and we feel like beggars begging for their food.

Then came the harrowing experience of walking barefoot in the scorching sunlight. Our legs got small bubbles by the time we reached our room.

We had been instructed to take bath, wash our clothes and go for a nap, before going for luncheon at 6 pm. We were also told not to eat any rice food and could eat any fruits or vegetables. Well in advance, we had purchased four cucumbers (Rs 5 each) and five bananas (Elakki, Rs 2.50 each).

After reaching the lodge, I and Vij saw a different guy sitting in the reception and we enquired if there were any vacant rooms so that we could shift from the top floor, as the heat was too much there. He assured us to give a room as there were many vacant rooms on the first and second floor. We went to the room with a hope that we would get a room. In the evening, unfortunately, we saw the same arrogant guy, yet took a chance and asked him about the room. He said that there were no rooms and all the rooms were occupied!

A view of tiled roofs

A view of tiled roofs

We left the room around 5 pm and went for shopping. We had been told not to buy anything related to god, like photos or idols, as we had performed death ceremony (Sarpa Samskara) that day. We just enquired in a few shops and stood in the queue for the luncheon.

As expected, it was upma and little flaked rice with buttermilk. We thought that rice could not be consumed directly, but could be had in different indirect methods. They had used rice rava to prepare upma and paddy is used to prepare flaked rice!

Later, we sat under a big pupil tree in front of the lodge till 8 pm and then went to the room. We had to get up early on Monday, as we were supposed to attend the puja at 6 am. In the meanwhile I and Vij went in search of the Ganpati Temple and couldn’t find it. As it was getting late, we returned. We thought of going to the temple the next day and visit Kumaradhara river also.

Though the alarm rang at 4.30 am, we were so tired that we woke up only at 5 pm. We rushed to the Ganapati Temple and reached the puja hall at 6 am.

Ganapati temple

Ganapati temple

This time, they had drawn a snake picture in colourful rangoli. Our priest had brought five different types of flowers (none were even a foot long!). They had kept flowers, a banana piece, betel leaf and nut, two holy grasses, and eight small balls symbolising pinda to snakes. They performed the puja and offered flowers and fruit to the eight pindas, before disposing them off in the river.

Our priest told us to give dakshina to the head priest and take flowers from him. Keeping Rs 50 enraged him and he demanded that we keep Rs 500.

By this time, we had understood the commercialistaion of the puja and we had lost faith and divinity in the puja. It was like give money and please the god, else no blessing. My father refused to give any extra money.

Info board at the entrance of the temple

Info board at the entrance of the temple

We came outside the puja hall and our priest started demanding dakshina from us, even before the completion of the whole puja. Still Go (cow) and Vatu (brahmin bachelor) puja were left.

The ticket clearly mentions that Rs 1,600 includes the cost of everything, including the dakshina of priests and we were not supposed to pay any money. They also mentioned that devotees could complain at the temple office if any priest demands money. When we asked about the rule mentioned in the ticket, our priest said that he in turn would go to the office and complain against us that we were not paying him the dakshina!

Ridiculous but true, another family joined us and told its woes. Their priest also demanded Rs 500 from them and they gave him Rs 300 after a long argument. The priest disappeared from the scene telling other priests that we were not paying him his dakshina!

We went for the Go puja and the person holding the cow demanded Rs 50 from us to touch and take the blessings from the cow!

Later, it was the turn of Vatu puja. It was not one or two brahmin boys sitting, but a whole bunch of 10 boys in different age group. Again, giving dakshina to 10 boys! It’s not defenitely Rs 10 or Rs 20! Young boys earning not less than Rs 1,000 every day!

After that, we went to the temple at 9.30 am for the Naga Pratishta. The whole process of the puja would have ended in 30 minutes, but the commercial minded priests have split it into two days. For them, inconvenience of devotees is next only to the dakshina they get.

My dad went to the temple office to complain about the incident and the office-bearers told him that they were helpless to take any action against those reckless priests and priests. They want someone to give a written complaint against the incident and priests so that action could be taken. Another shocking revelation came from them that the head priest earns a whopping Rs 50,000 every day in the form of dakshina! It is a lucrative business and no software engineer earns that much. Temples and priest are out of the income tax purview and indeed, the priests amass wealth like anything.

There were 102 people with their families standing in a long queue for Naga Pratishte. When enquired, they said that the puja will happen at 1 pm and we went and sat in front of the temple. We almost had two hours. We went to the room, had bath and came back to the temple at 12.30 noon only to learn that they had performed the puja at 12 noon itself. A priest gave us the prasadam after a long discussion and we left the place at 1.30 pm.

We didn’t dare stand in the long queue again to have lunch and had lunch on the way in a hotel. Our car had some problem when Sakleshpur was merely 4 km away. No one stopped their vehicles when asked for lift, and luckily a guy in an Omni stopped and called his friend working at a garage. We went to Sakleshpur and got our car repaired, (battery was weak). It is always better to check the vehicle before going on ghat sections, as people will rarely come for help. And thank god, it was not night!

Men in action

Men in action

We visited one of our friends in Hassan and reached home at 10.30 pm.

Learnt one thing from the visit that visits to temples are no more divine. They are meant to lose money to the demanding priests, who treat us like fools. They consider themselves to be very intelligent and smart, as they act as mediators between us and gods! Wondered how they might have conned and oppressed common and poor people from ages in the name of caste and creed. After the harrowing experience, we felt really proud of Adichunchanagiri Balagangadharanatha Swamiji for starting a vedic school, where students from all communities are allowed to learn Sanskrit and study Vedic literature, which was hitherto a priced possession of only brahmins.