Sunday, June 23, 2002

India Tour - Varanasi

23 June - Varanasi

Woke up to the noisy train. These ladies well…Punjabis…it was like they were at home in that train. Just screaming and yelling all the way. Mid-morning a young man came and sat on the empty berth in front of us and of course Papa started chatting. For the next 6 hours it was constant talking. Good for Papa. I cannot talk that much. The train was full to the brim. Poor TT looked so exhausted.  The young man was actually a politician. Very young, overconfident and a little gunda type. I don’t care for men like that. I was happy to get off at Mugalsari (near Varanasi).  It was already evening by now. 

Now Varanasi is Papa’s digs also – he studied in BHU for four years. So he knew which places we were going to visit. We went to Laroli first where the auto walla knew a good hotel. It was nice to be in UP. There is something else about speaking your own language and reading all signs in Hindi. We went on GT road, and crossed the bridge on Ganga. All the Ghats were visible from there. Such a lovely view. We got to the hotel “Gautam”. It was nice – had AC – was not staying anywhere else. Went out to eat dinner, but the location did not have good restaurants, so had this very home style dhaba roti and sabzi.  Very homemade, very good. 

Went back to the hotel and slept. 

24 June - Varanasi 

Morning time….looking forward to the day. Had breakfast at Jalyog – some place Papa knows. It was aloo-kachodi in dauna – yummy! Followed by rasgulla…good. Then went to Dashvamedh ghaat on Ganga. It is one of main ghaats on Ganga here. This part of Varanasi is old, so the streets to get to the ghaat were narrow and crowded. If one did not know where they were going, one could get lost. On the ghaat we took a boat ride in Ganga. Very beautiful ride, could see far inwards towards the ghaat. Ganga was quite restless, there were a lot of waves. The banks showed that Ganga could get 12 ft. higher during monsoon season. Wow! 

Then we went to Kashi Vishwanath temple near the ghaats. Again, another place we would have gotten lost if a guide had not taken us there.  It was a little scary for me. I don’t like crowds. The shops were amazing, but there was no time to stop and shop. We were on the way to the temple and the guide and Papa were so ahead of me. There was no way to stop them. Right next to the temple was a mosque and because of that there was a lot of security guards around. It was Monday and perfect day to visit Shiv temple. Nice darshan.  No rush.  (Although after a while all temples look alike). 

Went to the train station to make reservations for Dehra Dun. After that we took the bus to Sarnath. Once in Sarnath, we took a guide to see around. First we went to the Buddha Stupa – really huge pillar where one portion of Buddha’s ashes are buried. (I think there are 8 of them in India).  Walked around to a number of temples. One of them had a pipal tree, part of which was from the original tree where Buddha gave his first sermon.  A number of countries had their Buddhist temples there – Japan, Tibet etc. The guide also took me to a museum, which turned out be a sari shop – haha! Did he think I was an idiot? 

Stupa at Sarnath
Walked back to the stupa where Papa was waiting. We had great cold lassi here. It was so hot that lassi was welcomed! Went to an Archeological museum. It was very nice. Had a lot of Buddha statues and other statues of Gods. 

It was about 4 pm when we left. Ate the jaamun we bought from Gadaulia earlier that day. Most wonderful jamuns. Went to the hotel and rested till evening and then went out again at 7 pm for dinner and bazaar. Went to Natraj for dinner – not good food. We had a thaali with roti and sabzi. Mheh. Found an internet cafĂ© to check emails then came home and slept! Good but tiring day. 

25 June - Varanasi 

Decided to have breakfast near the hotel at Vasant Vihan – again puri aaloo…no chai or jalebi though L The aloo sabzi was not that great. Took a rickshaw to Gadaulia and then a tempo to BHU (a 10 min ride).  

Took another rickshaw inside the campus. The ride around the campus was lovely. It’s a beautiful campus. Took a lot of video and photos.  Rode around and saw the hostels and various departments. Finally stopped at the Geology department to see Papa’s old hangout place and meet his old friend. Waited for one hour for him to arrive and then too it was quite a weird meeting. He was like a stranger. No tea nothing was offered. 

We left after sometime. Rode around the faculty quarters and out of the campus. Just outside the campus we had great chai and samosa. (Samosa only Rs 1 each!). Came back to the hotel for a break before going in the evening the Sankat Mochan temple (Hanuman temple). Stopped on the way to get some Prasad and namkeen for later.  The temple is small but there was a sense of faith there. It was nicely crowded because it is Tuesday – Hunumanji’s day.  Crowded but not in a bad sense. People were reading Hanuman Chalisa everywhere and it as playing on the speakers as well. Very nice atmosphere to just sit in and absorb the energy. 

On the way back went to eat some tikki and chaat which was just too tasty! It started raining and by the time we were in Gadaulia it was full downpour. There was just too much water.  Finally we got to the hotel. I went upstairs while Papa made small chit chat with the hotel manager. 

Friday, June 21, 2002

India Tour - Bhubaneshwar/Puri/Konark

21 June - Bhubaneshwar 

The whole night the cabin was a waiting room. People kept coming in and going out till morning. Such a disturbance. Neither Papa nor I could sleep all night. Both of us are also getting a little sick….our throats are gone and we are coughing and sneezing.  Don’t know if all this traveling is catching up with us. The train ride to Bhubaneshwar was uneventful except for 30 mins of pretty coast line. Arrived at Bhubaneshwar at 1 pm. Got an AC retiring room. The coolie was really a nice guy for a change. He was honest and seemed hardworking.  The room was very comfortable and the AC was working! 

We got ready and went to make our reservations for Varanasi. I got some information for the Konark temple. The guide advised to go to Konark first and then to Puri. Puri is where Jagannath temple is (one of the four dhams).  And Konark is about 2 hrs. from Bhubaneshwar and closes at 5:30 pm, so we may either want to leave right now or go tomorrow. 

Since it was 2:30 pm I told Papa we should go tomorrow. But Papa wanted to go today. So okay…we took the bus to Neempara and from there to Konark. The bus was packed and it was really hard to get seats. I got stuck in the middle of a 3 people seat. Terrible! From Neempara there was no bus, so we had to take a jeep to Konark. I sat on the edge – scary. It was a very strange transportation, people kept getting off and on whichever way and squeezing in etc. At one point a man very confidently put his 5 or 6 year child on my lap while he got on the jeep from the other side. The child seemed to be very comfortable too with this arrangement.  Weird! 

We reached Konark at 5:30 pm. Super! I knew it. At least we caught the last bus leaving for Puri. Another awful ride. The bus was packed. Reached Puri at 7 pm, went to the temple, did darshan, had Prasad. Found a pundit who gave us a nice tour. The temple was very nice, there was a line and we did get to have nice darshan. Went to Bhubaneshwar by train, luckily an AC one. Got back to the room by 10 pm. Had a glass of milk and slept. I was exhausted after all the terrible bus rides. 

22 June- Bhubaneshwar and Konark and Puri

Not a good awakening today. The power went off at 6:30 am…no fun. I had to get up and get ready. Had breakfast, just bread and butter, at the railway canteen. We hired an auto to see the temples in Bhubaneshwar. First we passed Bindusaagar, a temple in a lake, then stopped at Lingeshwar temple. It is a huge Shiv temple. The architecture here is really different.  After being in South India and seeing all the gopurams, this was a real nice change. The temple was still big but very differently carved. It was all red and really high. 
We took some flowers and went for darshan. After that walked around the compound, took some pictures. Started taking some video but then was told by a security guard to give Rs 101 for video. What?? I kept the video away. Just money making schemes, there was nothing written outside.  After that went to Mukhteshwar temple – also similar to Lingeshwar in its architecture. We missed seeing the Rajarani temple (darn auto guy!). We got back to the station and got the auto walla to take us to Udaygiri and Khandagiri caves, which were outside the city. He took us for Rs 100 – awesome! 

25 mins later we were at the caves. The caves were really high and were far away from the road; really interesting looking. Maybe if Bhaiya was here I would have gone up immediately.  We did go up eventually. Papa stopped half way and the auto walla and I went all the way up. Most caves were locked and looked just like living quarters. There were no carvings, just simple stone caves. We passed a place that had all stones and the auto walla said, if one kept stones on certain rocks, then people’s wishes come true. Of course I would keep the stone – I am a sucker for these things. There was a Jain temple at the end, small but clean. Very nice. 

Went back to the station and checked on our reservation. Good thing we did, there was some information they needed. The poor auto walla wanted to take us to Konark, but we declined. It was too far for auto. We negotiated with a taxi driver to take us for a round trip – all for Rs 650. Good deal! On the way to Konark, the driver stopped at Pipli. There were some really good handicraft shops there.  I bought some crafts there. The next stop was Neempara where our driver got us excellent rasgulla and gulabjamun.  

Konark was smaller than I expected. The main thing in Konark is the sun temple. The road was lined with vendors. A guide attached himself to us as soon as we got there. He turned to be helpful as he helped us get our cameras inside and he was a good photographer for me!  

The entrance of the temple was two lions and it seemed they were pulling this great chariot. In the front of lion was a man who was crushed by the lions. So it turns out that it means that man is crushed by Shakti (elephant) and money (lion). 
 The entire temple itself is a chariot. It has 24 wheels which has 8 spokes indicating each pahar (one time span). In the spokes are carvings indicating what people should be doing at that time.  The pahar is further divided into minutes by divisions.  Really very accurate time division and it is the same on each wheel. All these wheels are around the temple so at any time, the sun falls on them and one can tell the time. For the night it’s a different way of looking at the wheel. Amazing science!
The temple itself is very erotic. There are many suggestive carvings on it everywhere. There were layers and layers of carving from bottom to top. The bottom lines had animals, middle layers were the erotic images and the top one was god. This was related to people’s age: the kid’s love animals, adults get into different interests and then the top, God one was for the senior citizens. Behind the Surya temple was his wife, Chaya Devi’s temple. Small – but still very nice.

Majority of the main temple had been destroyed by Portuguese when they came by sea. They thought it was a fort and bombed it. There was still a lot of stones lying around. There was some restoration work, but not enough work was being done. 

There was also the three statues of Surya: one young (morning), older (afternoon) with full chariot and full glory with his two wives; and then old Surya (evening) looking tired and old. It was really a beautiful temple. I could easily spend a whole day there. Even now I tried to walk around and see as much as possible on my own. Papa would come slower. It was a little hot, so I don’t blame him. 
We left after we had seen it all, and went to Jagannath again in Puri. Papa did not want to go in, so I just waited a while for the temple to open at 5 pm.  Again, very nice darshan. 

We had to go to the station to see if could board from Bhubaneshwar, as that his where our luggage was, instead of Puri. Those are some issues of train travel, but anyway we got on at Bhubaneshwar. Found some Punjabi women sitting in our seats. They left such a mess on our seats. After they left, we found out the whole bogie was full of them! All 780 of them! What a noisy bunch. We could not sleep.

Thursday, June 20, 2002

South India Tour - Final Thoughts

The trip was planned very well. Almost everything went without a hitch.  None of us fell sick, even though we were eating outside 3 times a day for a month.

Transport Between Cities: The Indrail pass really helped a lot, although making reservations at every railway station was a chore, but still it really made the trip a lot easier. The AC in the trains was always a welcoming relief from all the heat outside. A lot of the journeys were made at night, so it was good, we could just sleep and be at our destination in the morning.  Most times there was food available in the trains. Chai was almost always there. The only issue I have is with the Indian Railway stations not having good waiting rooms with clean wash rooms. If they had those, then traveling by trains would even be better. They should charge for the bathrooms but at least have them - and have them clean. The cloak rooms in the train stations were fantastic. We did not have to haul our luggage everywhere. Just take out a few number of clothes and leave the rest in the station. Railway stations for me are really interesting places: there are so many people coming and going that it is just fun to sit and watch. The book stalls always have a good read available. And then there is the station food - bad but good!

The bad part about train stations - no clean toilets and the awful smell everywhere because people go to the toilet everywhere. It just stinks. Most stations are not clean, even though they try, I think there are just too many people with no civic sense.

For shorter distances the bus system works really works well. The more you spent the better you get - AC vs non AC. And the best option is a taxi for the shorter distances. We had more control over time and stops, and of course AC, which in summer time is a good thing to have. By the way, bus stations are not any cleaner than railway stations, in some cases they are even dirtier.

Transport Within the City: This is also one good thing in India. There are rickshaws, three wheelers, buses and taxis easily available and usually quite affordable. There is a loss of time sometimes while waiting for the buses, and sometimes there was no other option but to take the bus.

Food: This was probably the best part of traveling in India. There were very few places where we could not find good food to eat, but otherwise food is generally good and available and highly affordable. We are vegetarians, and so are most people in India, so it was quite easy to find vegetarian food. If nothing then simple rice and daal was available. We were just careful not to eat raw vegetables/fruits until after a few weeks of acclimating the body. And water - always drink bottled water - there is no other kind.

Shopping: One lesson learned, not the hard way, but still learned: shop freely wherever I am. Don't wait to find a better deal somewhere else. Sometimes I never saw the same item anywhere else. So I just kept buying wherever I found stuff. If I found the same item elsewhere, and it was cheaper, then I just cut my loses. Bargaining is essential. But there is no quality control. It is very likely that things will last but it is also possible that it has a short life span.  The biggest problem is clothes. Those have to be bought at a good store and then there are more chances of good material. Roadside materials may not be good quality, colors may run or stitching may came undone.

Health: I will be remiss if I don't say something about having one's own first aid kit: pain pills, antibiotic ointment, band aids, stomach drugs (antacid, anti diarrhea, gas) and other pertinent drugs. And these should be carried at all times. So make one large pack and one small one to carry in purse. Its totally worth it.

Laundry: I am sure there are excellent hotels that have laundry services, but we did not stay in those kinds. Which means we were doing our own laundry. The other thing is we were so transient that it was hard for us to find such services in each city. It was just easier to wash clothes during the morning.  Depending on how one is traveling, and one's idea of cleanliness, I made sure I had enough. I cannot wear the same clothes two days in a row, so I was doing laundry a lot...but it becomes a second nature. But it also important to have all the soaps etc.

Attitude: It is a must to have a positive attitude when traveling. So many things can go wrong that are completely out of our control, so good attitude really helps. This trip was a long one - one month is long! Anything can happen, and one moment can bring one down, but if one keeps an open mind then things are a lot easier to handle.

Travel Companion: Company should be good, even family can get on your nerves, so forget about friends. Whoever your travel companion, make sure they are tolerable! One should have similar thoughts otherwise one can have major issues. I have traveled a lot with family, as we have similar travel habits, but even then I have had trouble. Again, positive attitude helps.

Documentation: For me this is an important part of travel; I like to document what I have seen, where I have been, hence these blogs, and all the pictures. I always had enough film in my camera. Every day I would take some to write my journal. When I read these later, it brings back so many memories and for me it is enjoyable.

Wednesday, June 19, 2002

South India Tour - Hyderabad

18 June - Hyderabad 

Reached Hyderabad early morning. The water in the train had finished, so went to the 1st class waiting room on the railway station to freshen up. Kedia uncle, Bhaiya’s father in law, was there when I came out. I am bracing myself for formalities. Soon after then Vikas, brother in law, came and we all went to his house. He has a nice house in a nice locality. Shweta, Vikas’s wife, is really nice person (first time meeting her). Stayed home all day but went out in the evening for a little shopping.  It’s a nice bazaar but not that great. Came home, had dinner and slept!  Not much touring today. 

19 June - Hyderabad 

Had a good breakfast and made the program to see the museum and the fort today. 

Shweta, Bhaiya and I went to the bus station and took the bus to the museum. Saw the jewel show first. The collection was of the Nizam of old times. At one time, India was the sole producer of diamonds. And that is what is on exhibit here! Amazing jewelry. Now granted a lot of it was crudely cut, not shiny like we are used to seeing now, but nevertheless beautiful – and expensive! There was all sorts of jewelry – necklaces, rings, and crowns….and on and on. We finished around 1 pm. Waited for Vikash and then went to Rajdhani. Bought some chicken work suits and then had lunch. We had good lunch …. And good company. 

Then took an auto to Golconda Fort. 30 mins later we were there. The fort was quite broken down but still majestic. It was huge and went on forever and ever. I always wonder how people live in these stone forts. How did they decorate? On what did they sleep? What did they eat? And so many other questions. We walked up to the top, lots of stairs! Then just sat there and enjoyed the view of the city and the fort. We sat around till 6:30 pm until we could get the tickets for the light show. Each time we had to through some dark tunnels, the smell was awful from all the bats living there. I really wish they could charge some more money and keep the place clean. 

The night show was quite good. Very nice lights and sounds. The story telling was great. The fort was of a Hindu king and was destroyed by Mugals.  It did get a little windy and cold outside. 

After it was all over, went to the bus station and reached home by 9:30 pm. It was dinner and sleep after that. 

20 June - Hyderabad -> Bhubaneshwar

Got up in the morning and packed. Bhaiya was going back to USA while we were going to go on to Orissa. The entire day went at home eating and talking.  Papa and I were the first ones to leave by train (Bhaiya would be leaving next followed by aunty uncle). 

It was an overnight train to Bhubaneshwar. We were almost on the last leg of our IndRail pass. It was nice to have a few days left on it so we could get back to Dehra Dun in time.

Sunday, June 16, 2002

South India Tour - Bangalore

16 June - Bangalore 

Reached Bangalore at about 7:30 am. Walked to the hotel and took bath.  Decided to eat a mango that Papa had bought. (Bad idea!!) I felt sick a little later – nauseated…maybe the heat, the tiredness and the heat of the mango was all a bad combination. I could not have anything beyond coffee for breakfast. 

Today was touring Bangalore day. First we went to Vidhan Sabha. Huge building, really pretty red color. Across from there was the High Court and across from there was Cubbon Park. 
Vidhan Sabha
High Court
We walked through the park to get to Lal Bagh. It is a beautiful botanical garden. We went past a temple, a glass house and a dead fountain to get to the rose garden. The roses were still blooming. Beautiful. And the aroma was lovely.

Rose Garden
From there we took an auto to some big street. A huge market are, mostly high end shops. Walked up to MG Road where there was a huge Kaveri store. It was a good store, but either the things were too pricey or too big.  The sandalwood did not smell like sandalwood. We then came to Majestic Circle (Kempe Gowda Circle).  Papa wanted to show some shops but both Bhaiya and I were tired. So we came back to the lodge to rest for a while. But the lift was on its 12-1pm break, so as tired as we were, we had to climb five flight of stairs to our room.

I slept through lunch and when Papa and Bhaiya came back at 2 pm from lunch.  Then they slept and I was up! At 4 pm Papa and I went down for coffee. I wanted to eat some samosas but Papa insisted on getting vadas. Sure.  I ate it, but I should not have. I fell sick again. An hour later we took the bus to Jai Nagar. There was a place there called “Dosa Camp”. It was 6 pm and Bhaiya and I were totally not happy.  Papa did not even tell us where we were going…and then he let me eat vada just two hours before…oh Lord! Maybe he was disappointed that we did not eat, but we could not. 

Came back to the hotel and I had some Papaya – good stuff! Until now, we had not needed another room since Bhaiya and I were not really staying in Bangalore, so now we took one more room for one night. Tomorrow evening we leave for Hyderabad.

17 June - Bangalore 

Vacated one of the rooms and moved baggage into the one bed room as we have to take the evening train out of Bangalore. Went for breakfast, I was feeling a lot better today – thank god! I can eat. I had set dosas….yummy.  Also had kesri bhat – too good! Of course it had a lot of ghee.

Went to the bus station and went to IIT Bangalore campus, also called Tata Institute. It is a huge campus. I feel like getting a job here! It had a nice campus feeling.  Students were walking around, buildings were very nice – all had an academic air to it. Walked inside the chemistry department. It was small, old looking but nice. The faculty list sadly did not have a single female faculty on it.

Went to Mahabaleshwaram to UCO Bank and then walked around. Really nice locality. I can live in Bangalore. Looking at all the market, fruits and veggies – it could be a good life. Stopped for a homeopathic doctor. Bought some lychee and then bought some girly things and then took the bus back to Majestic.

Stayed in hotel for the rest of the afternoon. Went for lunch, although I threw up later. Still not all that great then! In the evening went to the train station to get the Rajdhani to Hyderabad. Had good dinner and ice cream too. Time to sleep! And sleep I did.

Saturday, June 15, 2002

South India Tour - Vijaynagar/Hampi

15 June – Hospet/Hampi/Vijaynagar

Did not sleep well on the train. Arrived Hospet around 7:30 am. Our cabin-mate advised us to take a guided tour instead of trying to do everything on our own. So we went to the tour office, 2 km straight from the train station.  We bought the tickets and went to a nearby hotel to have breakfast…good breakfast.  Bhaiya kept saying that we could have just taken a bus for Rs 7 around the city, Hampi, instead of the Rs 80 tour. And I kept saying a tour was much better than reading just the boards and not knowing where we were going in such limited time. 

The tour started at 9:30 am. There were very few of us, one family of four and one other single guy. (Actually there had been a warning against coming to India because of some issue in Pakistan, so foreign tourism was really low). Our guide started us off at the Virpaksha temple. It was a huge Shiv-Parvati temple. Vijaynagar dates back to 1300 AD. We toured by the Hampi bazaar – but there was not much to purchase.  
Map of Hampi
Got on the tour bus. Below is the stop by stop tour: 
  1. Ganesh statue, Kadale Kalu Ganesh. It is 18 ft. high statue and there was also a smaller one which we saw from far away. The entire 18 ft. was a monolithic structure. 
  2. Krishna temple – the statue was not there. 
  3. Lakshmi-Narshimha statue. This is about 20 ft. high. The statue is half Lakshmi and half Narshimha – just beautifully carved. 
  4. Next to this was the Badari Linga – a shivling about 12 ft. high. About 3 ft. of this was immersed in water. 
  5. Shri Uddam Veerbhadraswamy temple…di darshan there and went on. 
  6. Underground temple. There was really no underground – it was just below sea level. This was a meditation spot for the visiting rishis. There were several pillars around. There used to be a statue there but it is in the museum now. 
  7. Close to this were the soldier’s quarters. Only a few walls and pillars were remaining. 
  8. Drove by the mint place, where coins used to be minted during the king’s time. It was quite a big area. 
  9. Zanana enclosure – queen’s palace. The main palace had been burned down but the lotus mahal remained because the base of this was Hindu design, arches were Muslim and it was topped off with Jain design. So multicultural and so beautiful. The ground floor had many pillars which were to provide for air conditioning. Our guide showed us how water was pumped through pipes into the pillars, circulated through all the pillars making the air cooler – an old time air conditioner. This was usually the summer palace for the queens. The palace was guarded on the four corners of the enclosure by female guards! Interesting. I can imagine how pretty it must have been in all its glory! There was a lot of greenery around. 
  10. Past the queen’s palace were the elephant stables and the mahout’s quarters. Humongous building. So symmetrical and the roofs had beautiful domes on it. A number of things had been restored, but I could still see a lot of damage. 
  11. Hazaar Ramchandra temple: this was so unique in its own way. Each wall had carved pictorials of the Ramayan. Apparently the queen would visit the temple and wanted to see 3000 Ram pictures, so she had 1000 pictures carved on the walls and then she would walk around the temple three times. Inside the dome were four large pillars around a large circular flat stone which was in front of the Ram statue (this was in the museum now). All the pillars were black in color and intricately carved. All four sides of the square pillar had different carvings. The queen used to perform dance in the temple. Outside the temple were the kitchen, rest areas for rishis and guests. It was quite a big size compound. The walls were beautifully carved.
  12. From there we walked to the King’s palace. Now it was just a 16 acres stone area. All of the palace was burned down by Muslims. The palace was made of chandan (sandalwood). Apparently it burned for 6 months! The guide was telling us about the rooms, the bedrooms, the big halls where the girls would dance. I could just imagine it all in my head! There was a secret chamber below the palace. We walked in total darkness for 2 mins and then came out to a small room of 8 x 8 ft. This is where the king had his secret meetings. Coming out of the tunnel was even harder. Past all this was a really deep tank of water; symmetrical steps led down to the water. There was a long row of pillars supporting a kind of pipe, which was used to bring water from the river. We then walked to the throne area. It was quite high and decorated with elephant, horses and dancing girls. Just then it started showering lightly! But luckily it stopped quickly. 

  13. We drove by the queens bathing chambers. Strange that it was a little far away from the palace. 
  14. Stopped at a hotel for lunch – really bad lunch and too pricey also! It’s almost 3:30 pm now. 
  15. The next and last stop was Vittal temple. This was huge! I could just feel the grandeur walking inside it. Immediately on entering the gopurum, there is a chariot drawn by elephants. It was a granite chariot. There are only three such monolithic chariots in India – one here, one was in Mamalapuram and one is in Konark (sun temple – which I will visit later!). Further inside was a large building of pillars. Each pillar had a central pillar and was surrounded by four smaller pillars.  These small pillars made music when hit at the right spot. Unbelievable! The pillars are not hollow. They are all solid, but they all make a variety of music: mradang, table, jal tarang, guitar etc. There was an old man demonstrating all this. Our guide asked us all for Rs 10 for the man – I would have given him more if the guide had not asked. Such thievery! Each pillar was also beautifully carved with animals, dance postures and from pictures religious texts. The paintings in the ceiling had all been destroyed. But we had seen some back at the Virupaksha temple. The paint used to be from fruits and vegetable and a lot of it retained even after 700 years! Amazing. On both sides of the temple were resting areas, market places and kitchen. The music pillars were played by using chandan sticks and could be heard 1 km away! From this temple we could see Kalinga, the birthplace of Hanuman.
It was a really good ending to the city of Vijaynagar. 

Tungabadra Dam

The last stop after a few kilometers was the Tungabadra Dam. This was the river that was the life of Vijaynagar Empire. We walked around the gardens. After seeing Hoover dam, all other dams are like mosquitos! The gardens were very pretty. Not all the fountains were working, but the hedges were cut and maintained beautifully.  And there were trees all around. 

We had to leave at 5:30 pm to go back to the train station. So we got dropped off at Shanbag hotel, where we had coffee and packed idlis for dinner later on. Went to the train station to take the train back to Bangalore at 8 pm. We got side berths on the train so Bhaiya got us a cabin – good going! We ate our idlis and went to sleep for the overnight journey.

Thursday, June 13, 2002

South India Tour - Mysore

13 June - Bangalore -> Mysore

Reached Bangalore on time and went straight to Ramakrishna Lodge with all our luggage. We waited for an hour before we got our room. I was a little sleep deprived and was taking short naps on the chair.  The room was comfortable.  No AC required in Bangalore! Took bath and went for breakfast. Papa suddenly has a new personality. He loves being in Bangalore and considers it his backyard. The breakfast was very good! That is one great thing about Bangalore – great food! 

Again, despite that I was carrying a bag and my foot was hurting, we walked to the railway station. Bhaiya and I left for Mysore on the Shataabdi. They gave excellent soup, curd rice, pulav and morey (mattha) – all awesome. Got into Mysore two and half hours later. There were no rooms on the railway station guest house, so we got a hotel, Sudarshan Lodge. We had some sugarcane juice and then went off to the hotel. Then it was time to get an auto to go to the palace. So we got one auto, but he was charging so much, so we wanted to get another. But, this auto guy told all the other autos to go away. What a bully! So we walked a little further ahead and got another auto for much cheaper price. 

The palace entry was minimal, Rs 15. Since they were checking in cameras and Bhaiya did not want to give his, we went in one by one to see the inside of the palace. Had to take off our shoes also. It was a beautiful palace, large pillars, all walls were painted with armies, families or religious themes. All glass windows were stained.  There were a lot of peacock designs. Just lovely. The wood doors had fine carving on them. The ceilings were all painted; the chandlers were all beautiful. The paintings on the wall were the height of the walls – 8 ft. or more. Too bad we could not take pictures. 

There was a central courtyard; one could come down by a beautiful spiral staircase or by regular stairs banked by two black huge panthers snarling at each other. I did not see the entire palace as the bedrooms were closed off; only a few rooms were open. After I came out, Bhaiya went in. and then it started raining. After he came out we went to the Kaveri shop and bought a lot of woodwork items. After the rain stopped we went around the palace. It is a huge building, really elegant. There is a great symmetry to it. 

After the palace, we planned to visit the Vrindaban gardens. One bus was leaving as we got to the bus station. We decided to take the next one otherwise we would have to go standing all the way. Big mistake! We had to wait another hour for the next one. There was so much push and shove, but Bhaiya got in quick and got us seats. But then he gave his seat up to a lady with a child. So he still had to go standing. He is nice that way. It took us more than an hour to get there. It was dark by then. So disappointing. The parking lot was full of tour buses. It was a long walk before we got to the tickets place. 

We entered over the dam on Kaveri River. It was a nice walk over it. I was exhausted. My feet were tired from all the walking and standing around for the bus, on top of the cut I already had on my foot. There were no restrooms on site. Oh my lovely India. After getting a drink we walked further inside the gardens. It would have looked a lot prettier in the day. The saddest part was that the fountains were not on. And the lighting in the gardens was not good. We walked up to the river and then it was time to go back. Both of us were tired. 

Vrindavan Gardens
After seeing the fountains of Kansas City, these little itty bitty fountains that they had on were nothing.  The walk back seemed really long. Luckily we got a private bus back to Mysore (Rs 57). It drove fast and dropped us near the palace. Took an auto back to the hotel. First things first – restroom! Then went nearby to a restaurant to eat. Weather was really good in Mysore, so did not need AC. Good day, except some parts of Vrindavan gardens.  

14 June - Mysore -> Bangalore 

The hotel guy woke us up at 6 am telling us that hot water was on! Great. Half an hour later another knock on the door, it was the chai wala! Good service, but not really if I wanted to sleep in. Got ready by 7:45 am, had breakfast and walked to the bus station to leave for Chamundi Hills. Reached there by 9:20 am. Not too bad. There is a big temple there – Chamundeshwari Devi. Lovely temple. Did darshan and then walked around. The hills were about 2000 ft. above sea level. It gave a lovely view of the city. The weather was cooler and windy. 

The only thing bad there was the open toilets…ugh! It was just yucky and smelly everywhere.  

We walked through the shops and bought some little things – really nice stuff. Took the bus back to Mysore, had lunch and took the 2:20 pm train back to Bangalore. Mysore is really pretty town. Very clean and not crowded. I would come back and see more. 

We got some good snacks again on Shataabdi –really love these trains! Took the auto to the lodge and met up with Papa. At 6 pm, went out to the market. Oh and what a market it was! There was so much stuff! Darn it that I don’t need anything. Prices were reasonable. I could have bought more things if I had needed anything. We had dinner at Krishna Bhavan. Awesome dosas! Except they were covered in ghee. Went back to the hotel. So many movie halls on the way, and so many banks on this road – Camp Gowda road.  And the crowd – unbelievable. There was hardly any place to walk! We were just squeezing through everywhere. 

Went back to the hotel and then back to the train station to catch the 10 pm train to Hampi. It is an overnight train.

Tuesday, June 11, 2002

South India Tour - Kanchipuram/Chennai

11 June - Chennai -> Kanchipuram - > Chennai

Got up and got ready to leave for Chennai at 10 am.  We had a little trouble with checking in the handbags because there were no locks on the luggage. My bags did not have locks. Both Papa and Bhaiya kept discussing it instead of getting locks. I went downstairs and bought the locks. Of course Papa had to ask, “How much they were.” And when I told him, he said, “I should have gone with you. You paid too much! Go back down and tell the shopkeeper that the locks don’t fit.” Oh my Lord!! Of course I wasn’t going to do that! What the…!! 

The train again was not AC.  We were supposed to get off at Arakkonam and take the bus to Kanchipuram, but then Papa got cold feet and we did not get off. So then we went on to Chennai….had some peanuts on the way. Reached Chennai around 2 pm and got our luggage from the cloak room. Took the bus to Perry’s corner and from there to Kanchipuram. It took about 2 hrs. to get there. I was stuck in the middle seat and could not see a thing outside! 

It was drizzling in Kanchipuram. We went to the Shiv temple there.  It was a beautiful old temple. We got a guide, even though we did not want one. Anyhow, he was good. Showed us around well. The temple resembled the Rameshwaram temple in its architecture. It is the 2nd key temple after Rameshwaram. We did puja in two places before we went to the main temple. It was nice to go up to the front and stay for a few minutes rather than get rushed away. Also saw the very old mango tree, the guide said it is 3500 yrs. old. I am not too sure about that! 

After another 10 mins of walking around and taking pictures, we took the bus back to Chennai. Took our luggage and checked into Tourist Home in an AC room. And of course, as usual of Indian hotels, the AC was not working yet….later. Did laundry and finally AC was working, but then as India would have it, the power went off. And the AC went off. Back to hot night with mosquitos. Terrible! What a night!! 

12 June - Chennai

Today is just a Chennai day.  The power is back but still no AC.  What a joke.  Had breakfast and went to Egmore station to make reservations, but then we had to go to Central to make the reservations we needed…my great country India. My foot is really hurting from the cut from Tirupati. 

From Central we needed to go to T-Nagar (Ranganthan St) for shopping. Had to go to Perry’s corner to get the bus. But did not get the bus. After Bhaiya and I had a cool glass of sugar cane juice, we got the auto to go to T-Nagar. It would have been better if Papa had decided on that earlier…but no problem. We also stopped in the middle to have some great Papaya. And then finally to Sarnavasan – the shoppers paradise! 

There were many stores there. Papa went to only one on first floor, the one for utensils. Bhaiya and I bought a great deal of utensils and then went on the clothes part, where also we bought some nice pieces for myself, my cousins and friends. After more shopping we went to hunt for food, but no good luck. Then we found the local train station, Mamallapuram, to go to Egmore. Took only 10 mins vs the 30 mins it had taken the auto. 

Came back to our room, still no AC! Damn hotel. And the porters who kept our luggage wanted money right away – they were supposed to be working for the hotel! They should wait until we give them the money! 

Reshuffled everything, and now we have one more suitcase! Went off to the train station after packing. Went to pick up the luggage from the cloak room. I had to go with Bhaiya despite my hurting foot, Papa’s need to send me with Bhaiya. As we got there, there was a long line. Then a man came and stood in front of Bhaiya, so Bhaiya moved, and then there were two lines. And then there was chaos. And there was only one guy there, so we had to go inside to get our own luggage. Great service! 

Then Bhaiya insisted we go on the 2 tier from the 3 tier, excellent! Then it was just sleeping all the way to Bangalore. Shopping was awesome today, I wish I needed more stuff. 

Monday, June 10, 2002

South India Tour - Tirupati

10 June - Tirupati 

Had to get up early so we could get ready to go for darshan. As I was washing my clothes the water stopped! Strange things happen. It came after 20 mins.  I decided not to have breakfast until after darshan. We arrived at Tirumala by 9 am and tried to figure out where to stand in line. It was not super organized but at least there were some areas that were saved for people who had the vouchers.  There was just too much crowd; everywhere there was pushing and shoving. There was just too much garbage around, the ground was wet and top of that I cut my foot! Ugh! Tied my hanky around my foot. I was just too worried about infection. We got our vouchers de-scanned and then got our ticket for laddoo. Sat in one big hall for a while then got shifted to another big hall – and even during this transfer there was a lot of rush. There was TV to watch and vendors selling coffee and snacks – that is how long the wait was going to be. 

Then the gates opened and then it was just horrible until after the darshan. People just push too much. I will not be coming back here again. The people are just terrible – jungle. Every turn, every step was a challenge. I wonder if Balaji imagined it would be like this. It was terrible feeling and very overwhelming. And after all this darshan was for less than 0.5 sec and we were pushed ahead and out. 0.5 sec darshan after 4 hrs. of waiting. Never again. 

Came out and took prasaad, chakra pongal, real good! Went and got our laddoo – also one of the best in the whole world. Went to find and found the place for free lunch.  Had to get ticket for it, and after 30 mins, we got our seating. Again lot of pushing. Don’t know why people do that kind of stuff – it’s not like they are going to get there any earlier. Oh and we are still walking barefoot.  The dining room was all wet and my foot was still cut. 

Meal was served by servers, each one brought different things at a time.  The meal was very tasty. And then they shut the doors so we could not exit. Soon they did open and everyone again rushed out! Ugh the pushing is getting to me. 

One other thing I noticed is that people are definitely not hygienic. Especially in case of bathroom hygiene. They sit the kids anywhere, even though this is a temple area, they don’t care. They were sitting them out of the dining area also! Just disgusting.  And of course then in such a pious place all I could smell was urine! 

We got our shoes – the guy seemed to be asking for money. Really bad because this is one of the richest temples of the world and they can’t pay their people. We walked around and did a little shopping. We had some coffee and then went to the bus stop. It started to rain.

There were some other people in the bus who were there for darshan but got vouchers for after their train reservation was to go back home. And there is the problem – one comes with so much bhakti and then this happens. 

We decided to take the free shuttle around the temple, but the driver asked us to get off the bus at the 2nd stop rather than taking us back to the bus stop. Again a whole lot of argument from the driver and rudeness from the conductor. What is wrong with these people? There is no dignity of labor, no pride in their work and they are just plain rude. So we got off and took the next bus that came and went back to the bus stop. 

It was time to go back down to Tirupati.  We all got wet because the windows would not close and we did not want to also – it would get too stuffy inside.  The great government buses.  Even the poor driver’s windshield wipers were not working. But amazing driver – he brought us down in the night, in the rain all safe and sound. 

Got back to the hotel, only to find one of the beds all wet because we left the window open and the rain got in. It really does not get easy anywhere. It took 40 mins for the hotel staff to get dry covers and pillows. And then they wanted to take the TV away from our room. What kind of a hotel is this? 

I will be happy to leave Tirupati – this has been the worst experience of the whole trip by far. I am sure it cannot get worse than this.

Saturday, June 8, 2002

South India Tour - Mahabalipuram/Kalahasti

8 June - Chennai -> Mahabalipuram -> Tirupati

Train arrived promptly at 5 am at the Egmore station. I had taken a bath at the Egmore station but Papa and Bhaiya could not as the men’s room was closed. So we went to the central station where we had to keep the luggage also. But again disappointment for them in the men’s room. I tell you, these railway stations need to up there hygiene conditions.  We went to Perry’s – the bus station. Had good breakfast of idli and took the bus to Mahabalipuram. We had plenty of time as the bus was to leave at 8 am. Bought some cheeku and anaar for the road. Cheeku was really good.

8 June - Mahabalipuram
But left promptly at 8 am. The bus went through the city, so we saw a lot of Chennai as well.  We crossed the suburbs, the IIT campus. Reached Mahabalipuram at 10 am. After a drink we hired an auto to take us around all the monoliths (Rs 100 for a 2 km radius) we started with one of the huge monolith rath – amazing! But not much explanation was given. There were tickets to enter the big area. It was about Rs 100. 

From there we went to the Krishn mandap and Arjuna’s penance. The next few monuments were: Ganesh Rath, Trimurthi Cave, butterball (a huge boulder balancing on the edge); Varha cave, Rayer Gupuram. All monuments were spread out. The most interesting part of the monuments is that they are all monoliths. Very good and descriptive carving and stories on the caves. Luckily everything was well preserved considering that they were 2000 years old.

Krishna Mandap

Arjuna's Penance
Butterball - behind me :-)

Mahabalipuram is definitely worth visiting but there are a few issues: 1) there was no proper information or guideline on the monuments; 2) there were no professional guides anywhere; 3) there was a lot of litter around; 4) vendors were harassing too much; and the worst thing 5) a number of places smelled like public toilet! Again India and her hygiene issues. 

The last stop was the Shore Temple – one of the seven found under the sea. The rest of the six are yet to be discovered under the sea. It was very well preserved – very beautiful and lovely carving on the temple. There was a shivling and a lying down Vishnu in the two rooms. The outside wall had a lot of nandis on it. And of course it was by the ocean – so really lovely. 
Shore Temple
There was a lot of stone workers around the area, so we went by and bought some stone work statues. After that we took the bus back to the city and to the railway station. It was only about 2 pm so we tried to look for a place to eat, but could not find a decent place! We had really terrible food at one of the dhabas.  

Chennai -> Tirupati

Came back to the station, got our luggage out and took the 3:15 pm train to Tirupati. (Yeah! We had it all planned out. There was no rest for the tourist!).  The train sadly was not AC…it was hot! Our co-passengers were Marwari so were speaking in Hindi with them. As usual Papa talked all the way to Tirupati.  We reached Tirupati at 9 pm – the train was delayed during the engine change process. The station was so bloody crowded! Papa followed the marwaris so much that Bhaiya got left behind. I had to go back and find him – which I did. And then we took the one hour bus ride up to Tirumalai, where the temple is located. Even Tirumalai was crowded! There was just no space anywhere. There were more vendors than I have ever seen before.  It all seemed more commercial than spiritual. 

We did not find a place to stay and did not get tickets for darshan for the next also.  The first available tickets were for a day after.  So then decided to come down to Tirupati to sleep. The bus driver had such loud music that it gave me a headache! Ugh! It was hard to find a hotel there also, so we stayed in the worst place ever! We had to stay separately in three different rooms. Dinner was the worst! Really bad experience.  My room was on the main road, so whatever sleep I got was because of I was exhausted.  

9 June: Tirupati/Kaalaahasti 

Woke up at 6 am to blaring horns and noisy street. I think I may just get sick looking at the room we stayed in! So yucky! Checked on Bhaiya and Papa (they did not check on me) and they both were awake in their rooms. Left the hotel at 8:30 am to have breakfast – idli....again – no problem! I love it. Bhaiya’s tummy is not doing so well today. 

Caught the bus to Kalahasti and reached there after an hour. There was a beautiful Shiv temple – one of 12 linga’s. the temple was in a typical south India architecture. First we went to the Ganesh temple, which was underground, and then bought tokens to see the Mahakaleshwar ling. It was the longest line! Took us about 30 mins to get inside but once inside I barely had any time to do darshan, before I was pulled away by the security guard. They don’t even allow proper darshan – what’s the point of visiting these temples?  We all came out a little empty.  Bad experience.

We got the bus and went back to Tirupati. Rested in the yucky hotel for a few more hours and then checked out and found another hotel. A little better than this and at least one with three beds! Ate some mangoes (not that great) and went to sleep. Not much of a day today.

Friday, June 7, 2002

South India Tour - Tiruchirapalli (Trichy) and Thanjavur

7 June - Trichy and Tanjavur

Got up early again! (All these trains are too early in the morning).  Took the 5:45 am Shataabdi to Trichy. Sat next to a nice couple with a daughter – chatted there for a while. Went to my seat when the TT came and tried to sleep a bit. Kept the luggage in the cloak room once there at 9:30 am. Went to the Rock Fort temple (Ganesh temple).  This temple is made on a huge boulder.  Papa did not go all the way up, so it was just Bhaiya and I. the entrance was pretty and then we started going up…and up … and up. It was a long climb up the mountain! In the middle was a Shiva temple. After darshan, we went even more up. There came an open space and then there were more stairs on the rock. Simple – no… the steps were hot and we had no slippers! By the time we reached the temple, my feet were burning. 

It was a small temple and not many people were there – very peaceful. Started our descent after a while. Total number of steps (minus the last hot ones) were about 235. Very pretty temple and it was a nice visit. 

Had lunch and then went to the bus station to catch the 2:55 pm train to Thanjavur. It’s about 1 hr. from Trichy. It was very hot!!


I felt I was stepping back in time when I got off the train. It was all so simple living. We took the auto to Suchinandram temple (also called Raja Raja temple). The first sight is just striking. What an amazing building. We had seen a documentary on this temple and its construction and knew that the gopurum was one of kind in the world. There were three gopurum to enter the temple. In front of the Shiva temple was a huge Nandi statue. The temple was closed until later so we walked around the compound.

The entire compound has galleries in it. The walls had paintings in color, most were fading, but I could see they must have been beautiful one day. All galleries had shivlings in them in a line. The dedication of the king to Shiva is evident in this temple. There were a total of 108 shivlings in the entire compound. The temple walls were covered with writing – it is not Tamil or Telgu or Sanskrit – it is some other script. Very intricate and a lot of writing. 


Went back to Trichy – luckily we got AC train bogey this time! Took a little nap. Got on the train to go Chennai. It was 9 pm and promptly went to sleep!