Weekend trip from Bangalore: Sawandurga

October 8, 2012

Sawandurga as seen from ~10 kms away.

We met after a long time accidentally at the cafeteria. Over coffee we exchanged pleasantries and soon discovered that we were free on 2nd October.  Back in the grad school days we had done a number of treks together so we decided we would relive those days by going on a one day trek. We would start early and be back by evening. There are a number of trekking places near Bangalore but we quickly narrowed down to Sawandurga. It is 60 Km from Bangalore and we had been there 10-12 years ago. I couldn’t remember the details but I discovered that he had almost a photographic memory-he remembers that 11 of us had been there and also the names!

We thought we would take the bus like we had years ago. We had taken the bus from Majestic but his memory said that it was from K.R. market.  A little Google search revealed that bus no. 241 M shuttled from K.R. Market to Sawandurga. But there was no information about the timings or frequency. So, I suggested that we drive on my motorbyke instead. He remembered the route: go to Magadi and then take the diversion to Sawandurga. He even knew how we would go to Magadi: go to Malleshwaram take the diversion at 17th Cross to Rajajinagar-West of Chord Road and the right right turn to Magadi road.  That was good enough for me, after all I knew how to go to Malleshwaram. I lived there once!

Soon after Magadi town when we got off the main road we saw this sign board. This was the first board mentioning Sawandurga.

We started at 6:45 a.m. on the Hero Honda Passion. We stopped at Adigas fast food restaurant on Magadi Road and had Breakfast (Idlis and Coffee) . On the way, soon after we put the city behind, when the road went up hill we saw a mountain in the not so distant far. Could that be Sawandurga ? We thought we will check it on the way back from mountain. This we did by driving a little and looking back to spot the mountain. We traced it for a little while but the shape of the mountain changed the farther we drove and soon we were not sure if we were looking at the same mountain. So, that remains a mystery.

After we crossed Magadi town we kept an eye for the direction board. Soon enough we came at a T junction flanked on each side by tea stalls and people.  We asked if  it was the right turn to Sawandurga. Yes it was. I noticed just then hidden behind foliage and people smoking, Sawandurga, written in Kannada, on a wall with an arrow pointing towards the road.  We took the turn and a few yards ahead we crossed the direction board that we were hoping to see. I thought it would be good to take a picture and that is the one shown here.

A few kilometers along this road and then a left turn and few more kilometers on a bad road: not tarred and full of potholes , and we

The Narasimha Temple at the base of the hill.

were in Sawandurga. They say it’s the largest monolith in Asia. It does look gigantic but largest in Asia? I doubt that. At the base there is a Narasimha temple, a couple of shops and vendors selling flowers, fruits, coconuts etc. for ritualistic worship. We did not see any bykes parked around – 9 a.m. is probably a bit early to expect bikers. With no parking place per se we asked a shopkeeper if we could keep the byke by her shop and if she could keep the helmet with her until we were back. She agreed. I bought the mango drink, Slice and we started the trek.

The fort wall seen at the top of the picture.

There is no direction indicating the way to the hill so we just went along a narrow path way that went towards the hill. A family with kids was already on the way up. Sawandurga is a durga (fort) and this is indicated by ruins of the fort wall here and there around the hill.  There is also a shelter intact on the hill. Typically, the families with  kids go up to the fort wall that can be seen on one side of the hill. There are no steps and the rock is steep and in some patches slippery because of rain water streamlets (as in the picture). If one avoids the watery parts the rock has  just right amount roughness to give a good grip for any one to walk up! Some women even walked up in daily use sandals! A sports sandal is more than enough to give a grip.

Shelter on way up the mountain.

My friend trying the steeper route

The other face of the hill is steeper, nearly 60 degrees incline, and is strictly for those who have some experience and confidence. I climbed that way ten years ago but was not sure now. I took the easier route and went up to the fort wall.  There i waited for my friend join me. He tried the steeper route for a while and then changed his mind.  After the fort wall there are arrows marked along the rock indicating the easier way up hill.  That was really helpful. At times one is tempted to go up a seemingly shorter way only to find that it ends up in a dead end. There are valleys in the rock (a U shape rock) that cannot be noticed from afar. As in life here too there are no short cuts! My suggestion, if you are a casual trekker follow the arrows. The arrows follow a relatively flat terrain and then comes the real climb. This steep enough to scare but doable. Grooves just about enough to rest a shoe are carved in to the rock towards the top end where it is steeper.  Once we reach this end its an easy walk up hill. We walked on the fort wall that was nearly flattened to the level of the rock. Soon we came across the shelter that must have been used for storage or possibly horses in the olden days.  A little further we spotted the peak of the hill marked by a whitish construction.

The whitish construction at the top is the final destination

We had to go a climb down a little through caves formed by boulders resting head to head. Trees and shrubs grew around this area and made it a cool place. Everywhere else it was mostly rock until now. On a sunny day it would be hell to climb up Sawandurga. On a rainy day impossible.  But today we were lucky; it was an unusually forgiving weather. We took a few pictures and moved on to the peak. At the peak we found the whitish construction to be a open mini-temple for the Bull, Nandi, equipped with a temple bell. The bell had large crack in it but that had not dampened the sound. Worshiper’s had literally tried to feed the Nandi with what appeared to be mashed Banana colored by vermilion that is applied as a custom.  A village boy had followed along behind us with a box full of juice packs. Yes, the village lads are good at trekking but this kid  had come up the mountain only to sell juice! I helped myself with a couple of mango drinks and then requested him to take our picture. He obliged. We then rested lying down on the

A mini-temple for the Bull, Nandi at the peak.

rock. Before leaving i fulfilled one of my desires:  shout at the top of my voice. I shouted, screamed at the top of my voice and waited for the resound from the valley.  With each shout i shouted louder until it hurt.  I felt i could shout louder but didn’t. I had seen in one of the Hindi movies and also read somewhere that shouting at the top of one’s voice is stress relieving.  Did i feel relived? No. I was not stressed in the first place but i was glad that i did it.  A couple of groups had joined us at the top by now; one of them with Karnataka flag. And we saw more groups coming up on the way down. As we neared the base my friend failed to notice a watery patch and slipped. He fell but

A statue of Mahatma Gandhi in the temple courtyard! It was a coincidence of sorts because it was Gandhi Jayanti today.

quickly recovered his balance with only a scratch on his palm. At the base we found it was now crowded, there were lots of bikes, two buses and more vendors. We had tender coconut and started on our way back to Bangalore at 1:30 p.m. One and half hours later we were in Adiga’s restaurant having late lunch.

The Habit of Loving

October 3, 2012

I like short novels-maximum 250 pages, with a reasonable font size. Short stories are more than welcome. I often read by the bed and with short stories i can hope to finish a story before i fall asleep! It also helps when i want a break between tasks on hand.  The Habit of Loving is a collection of 17 short stories by Doris Lessing and is also the title of the first story.  The stories mostly revolve around women. The men of course are there but at the end of each story they dont leave a trace in your mind. In almost all the stories the women, no matter their role, seem to be the ones steering the story. They are never helpless as the case would have been if it were a story set in India at least until a decade or two ago or possibly even now.

Sometimes when i curioisty got the better of me i skipped reading descriptions of the surroundings/localities and went straight to where the action was. And there is a lot of such description in the stories. Though at times the author does brutally cut the story short as in Getting Off The Altitude
 And so Mrs Slatter went on living. George Andrews bought his own farm and married  and the wedding was at     the Slatters’s. Later on Emmy Pritt got sick again and had another operation and died. It was cancer. Mr  Slatter was ill for the first time in his life from grief, and Mrs Slatter took him to the sea,by     themselves, leaving the children, because they were grown-up anyway. For this was years later, and Mrs  Slatter’s hair had grown grey and she was fat and old, as i had heard her say she wanted to be.

The story Plants and Girls is unusual, bordering between intriguing and disturbing.  Its set in central Africa. A boy is more in-sync with nature than with people. He grows up to love a tree!  He would stroke the tree curiously, learning it, thinking : under this roughness and hardness moves the sap, like rivers under. He would do the same to the first girl who took to him embracing her and murmuring words of love as he would to the tree. But the girl leaves him when she realizes that he would not marry. His father dies, mom dies, the tree is cut off and the girl is married and has children. He plants a sapling.  The girl’s younger sister takes to him and he explores her beside the young plant. Only this time his fingers literally probed her body digging into her flesh to feel the bone! And then he digs his teeth into her throat. The next morning people find him lying over the blooded and soiled body of the girl murmuring your hair your leaves your branches your rivers.

It is an interesting set of stories indeed! If I had to pick one it would be The Words He Said.

About the category RKM

September 9, 2012

RKM stands for Ramakrishna Math. In the RKM discourses are held in English on Sundays. I attend the discourses whenever i am in town. The posts in this category as essentially stories/anecdotes from the discourses that were new to me. I must admit however that I don’t carry a note book to the discourse. All that i have written here is from my memory. Though i have reproduced it to my best abilities, it is possible that i may have misquoted/misrepresented the words of Swamiji.

Notes and Anecdotes from some discourses

September 9, 2012

It is mentioned in Gospel (english translation of Kathamrit) that Sri Ramakrishna (SRK) used to weigh the hand of a person to know their nature. Swamiji is of the opinion that SRK must be feeling the vibrations rather than the weight of hand to know the extent of the Vairagya in the person. He added that NIMHANS actually has a machine that can film the vibrations in the body.

Once when SRK was traveling in a palanquin when a few robbers attacked it. The palanquin bearers ran to save their lives. SRK came out and and shouted so terribly loud that one robber died on the spot! and the others ran away.

Swamiji narrated the peacock and opium episode. Once SRK with a bunch of kids laughed as soon as M entered. SRK explained the cause of the laughter. A man fed a peacock with opium in the afternoon. The next day at exactly the same time the peacock came back. It had felt the intoxication and returned to have another dose. M too was like that peacock who got intoxicated by SRK and would keep coming to Dakshineshwar.

In 1978 The Hindu carried a news article about a Sadhu from Punjab who lived in a cave. One day he called all his disciples and with them surrounding him sat in meditation. Soon a blue flame, yogagni, arose from within him and consumed his body.  Such a form of giving up one’s body also finds mentions in the purana, where Parvati, unable to bear the insult of Shiva by her father, gives up her body in yogani.

Talking of places being holy Swamiji mentioned the incident about the Ramakrishna Ashrama at Ooty. Swami Shivanada (direct disciple of SRK) went walking around Ooty and at one place he stopped and asked that the ashrama be built there. Apparently, long ago Rishis did tapas there.

Nagarjuna hill

August 29, 2012

A friend from the US was visiting Hyderabad. He had a day free and was open to spending it any which way. I had recently read the travelogue on the Chinese Buddhist monk Huen Tsang’s visit to India and was still in awe of his 19000 mile journey in search of Buddhist manuscripts and places all through from China to India. HuenTsang had visited Amaravati in Andhrapradesh. It is ~270 kms from Hyderabad but we would need more than a day to visit that place. A closer place, ~170 kms from Hyderabad would be NagarjunaKonda (Nagarajuna Hill). I knew that Nagarjuna was a great Buddist monk and teacher and that the Nagarjunasagar Dam, where the NagarjunaKonda is located, was named after him. We decided that we would start early to NagarjunaKonda and come back before it was late- i hate to drive at night because the hi-beam light used by almost every vehicle is blinding making it difficult to spot the road ahead.

Our meeting point was Kachiguda railway station.  I was there by 5:45 a.m.  His father dropped him  at around 6.00 a.m. We started right away and after a few minutes of driving i found that i had already lost the direction. Both of us were new to the city roads. We asked for direction a  couple of times and were soon on the Sagar road. This road lead to Nagarjunasagar dam hence the name Sagar road..  We halted on the way for  a cup of tea and then for breakfast. Three and a half hours later we were at the Nagarjunasagar dam. It has a large reservoir with plenty of water but not enough for the gates to release it. We wanted to drive over the dam but a policeman (or was he a soldier?) stopped us. It was restricted area.  Just then we saw two motorbikes coming out of the dam-driveway! We complained. Apparently, they were irrigation staff! Really?!

The signpost at the dam showed directions to Ethipothala and Anupu. No sign for Nagarjunakonda! Ethipothala has a waterfall and Anupu an Archaelogical museum.  We decided to go to Ethipothala that was 8 kms away. After a while we had to get off the main road into a narrow road to Ethipothala where we paid for the vehicle fee/tax. At Ethipothala there is a government park that encloses the view point for the waterfall. We bought tickets to the park and walked by the fencing along the edge of a hillock that gives a complete view of the water fall.  It is a cascade waterfall.  It was a magnificent view, though water was flowing only at one end of the width of the Chandravanka river. In its full glory it would be a sight to behold. The Chandravanka river is a tributary to the Krishna (on which the dam is built) but it is wider than one would imagine a tributary to be.  It is no wonder that the reservoir of the dam can hold an island of the size of Nagarjunakonda. While at the view point, we asked the park cleaner if there was a way we could actually go over the waterfall or some place near where we could wet or feet. Apparently there was none and he also warned us of the danger of Crocodiles.  We tried spotting the crocodiles for a while but in vain.

Launch to NagarjunaKonda

We drove back towards the dam and asked a passer-by for directions to Nagarjunakonda.  A few more kilometers on a winding road down hill and then up hill and we were at the place where we could buy tickets for a boat ride (referred to as launch) to Nagarjunakonda. Along the way different people gave us different timings for the launch. Some said the last launch was at 2 p.m. However, on reaching we found that there are no launch timings per se.  The launch will run as long as there are enough tourists to fill up the seats. NagarjunaKonda is 14 kms from the launch site and it takes 45 minutes to reach.  The ticket for the launch is Rs. 90 and for the museum on NagarjunaKonda is Rs. 20. NagarjunaKonda is well maintained-it looks clean with lawns everywhere and a proper road map. However, as is typical of the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) they put up boards claiming that the property (monument) belonged to them but no board giving details of the history of the monument. So, without a guide this place serves just as a place to walk around and imagine what the monuments were or what their purpose/role in the society of those days or as most tourists used it : just a playground for kids.

The catchment area of the Nagarjunasagar Dam consisted of several archaeological sites including the ancient city/town Vijaypuri. The town has been in existence  since at least the 2-3rd Century A.D.   Before the dam water submerged the place the ASI carried out excavations and collected sculptures, structures and stored them in museums at Nagarjuna Konda and Anupu. Some of the structures were rebuilt on NagarjunaKonda. NagarjunaKonda was a hill as the name Konda indicates. However, after the dam was built the river water submerged nearly half the hill and now it stands as an island.

The museum atop the hill is full off sculptures predominantly in limestone depicting events in the Buddha’s life and more.  If only there was a guide who could take us on a tour of the museum explaining things. I did find to my great satisfaction a book by the ASI on NagarjunaKonda available for sale at Rs. 20. The book is not voluminous and satisfies the curiosity of a casual reader as well as someone who wants dates and details.

Front cover of the book on NagarjunaKonda. The Buddha in the picture can be see in Nagarjunakonda along with several other sculptures.

I found it shockingly interesting that the archaeologists did not find any literature or artefact to explain the association of Nagarjuna with the hill/valley. So why did any one bother to name the hill after him. No one knows who did name the hill. It is an open question!  We also get to know from the book that both Buddhist and Brahmanical traditions co-existed in the hill/valley. Interestingly, many of the Kings professed Brahmanical tradition while the Queens were either Buddhists or were inclined to Buddhism. I would recommend this book to anyone who wants to carry some meaning into his tour of NagarjunaKonda. Without a tour guide its practically not possible to appreciate the importance of NagarjunaKonda.

We spent about 2 hours on NagarjunaKonda and were exhausted mostly because of the blazing sun. Fortunately, there is a canteen on NagarjunaKonda just behind the museum that offers tiffins and cold drinks. Vegetable pulav made from the Priya- ‘ready to cook’ packets was also available.  The launch was ready by the time we reached the river. It took about half an hour to fill up all the seats and we were in my Car in about an hour. On the way back we stopped, not far from the dam, at the Hotel Siddharth and good NorthIndian food. We just had one more stop for tea at Ibrahim Patnam before reaching Hyderabad. I had started the trip early with the thought that I would avoid driving at night but i ended up driving among hi-beam lights of cars, buses and trucks on a divider-less road! I reached home at 10 p.m. My friend took an autorikshaw back home.

R.D. Burman and Aung San Suu Kyi

August 25, 2012

The talent show Indian Idol in a recent episode had the top 10 (or was it top 7) candidates sing the songs composed by the great music director R.D. Burman. It was a treat. But my mind distracted to wonder which part of India did the Burman’s come from. I had the impression that he was a Bengali but then i had also heard that his father S.D. Burman, another great music director, was from Manipur. I didn’t bother to give that more thought and left it at that like we normally do for the millions of thoughts that cross our minds.

Incidentally, I picked up the book ‘Dancing in Cambodia, At Large in Burma‘ by Amitav Ghosh from the Eloor library.  It is a very interesting anthology which has a combination of history, travel and journalism. In the piece, ‘At Large in Burma’ i got to know that Burma (now known as Myanmar) consists of many ethnic groups: Burmese, Karen, Rakine, Shan, Mon, and many smaller groups. The Burmese i.e. the Burmans  are the largest of them. General Aung San, a Burman, played a major role in securing independence from the Japanese and the allied forces  and was head of the Anti-Fascist People’s Freedom League that emerged victorious in the elections held in 1947. He was widely believed to take over Burma’s leadership from the British in 1948. However, this did not happen because of his assassination.  The well known pro-democracy leader and Nobel Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi is his daughter. She was 2 when he was assassinated.

So it is likely that R.D. Burman’s forefathers might have come from Burma.  After all Burma shares a border with India and as the author mentions elsewhere Calcutta is closer to cities in Burma: Rangoon or Mandalay, than to Delhi.

Sensitive teeth, pain after hot or cold drinks

August 23, 2012

My tooth used to ache whenever I had hot tea or warm water and also when I had cold drinks.  I saw this commercial for toothpaste that promises relief from exactly the same problem. Though I am quite cynical of the promise that advertisements offer I went ahead and bought the toothpaste.  I did not sense any change after the first use (contrary to what they show in the advtst.), however on the second or third day I found that I could take cold and hot drinks without pain! I stopped using it and changed to the regular mint flavoured toothpaste after a week and it’s been  more than a couple of months now. I am perfectly alright having cold and hot drinks. It’s amazing. Using it for just 3 days cured me permanently.  If only all other advertisements lived to their promise. However, since the effect has been almost magical I wonder if there is any permanent damage done to the teeth. I mean it’s unbelievable that it actually works. Huh. …Cynical me.

Hsuen Tsang’s route to India

August 6, 2012

Most of us are taught in school about the seventh century Chinese Buddhist monk who came to India. Many of us even recollect the name but i wonder if we ever gave thought to the route he took to India. Until i read this fascinating travelogue i always assumed that he would have come across the Himalaya. After all didn’t the Dalai lama cross the Himalaya to come to India?! Well, it turns out that Hsuen Tsang took the much longer route:

China (from Xian)-Kyrgyzstan-Uzbekistan-Tajikistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India.

In India he went up to Kanchipuram in the south and Assam in the north east! On his way back he went from Afghanistan directly to China skirting Tajikistan and skipping Kyrgystan and Uzbekistan. The map below clearly shows the short cut he took on his way back.

I initially thought i would look up the places that Hsuen Tsang visited and make a route map in google however i found that it has been already done in great detail and is available here.

As i went through the book i found that even the author wondered why Hsuen Tsang took this rather long route.  We get to know the possible reason from the author’s companion in Uzbekistan, a Ukrainian Archaeologist Leonid Sverchov.  Famous translators of Buddhist texts were from  Samarkand (Uzbekistan) and so Hsuen Tsang must have thought the region to be rich in Buddhism. He came to look at Buddhism in all these regions in Central Asia.

Gym Ball

August 6, 2012

I first bought the gym ball to use it as a replacement for my chair at the desk! The gym ball was from ‘GAIAM’ and it came with a cd – full of exercise videos that i could use to shape up. I did try some of them for a couple of weeks but then discipline is not my forte and i was happy using it as a chair. But soon i missed reclining back and got back to the chair chair.  The gym ball i would use for occasionally sitting on it and bouncing. Some of my visitor friends too found it entertaining to sit and bounce till the door resonated with it. Meanwhile i had to leave back to India. I posted the gym ball along with several books that i had collected in 3 years. Back home i received the cargo but most of the boxes were torn up-that’s what happens when the customs guys search through your goods, and unfortunately the gym ball was punctured.

I bought my second gym ball from PRO-FORM. This ball was unique in that it would not roll away. This ball came with a one year warranty and was anti-burst! However, in exactly 1 year and 3 months it punctured. It did not burst but slowly gave away!  Bought my 3rd gym ball recently from I.CARE. This is the cheapest of the three. The pump to fill air that came with the ball broke before the ball could take the spherical shape. So i used the PRO-FORM pump and blew the ball to shape. This one does roll away but i am okay with it.

By the way, i like to use the gym ball as a support for inverted back exercise (kind off urdhva dhanurasana). This asana gives my back and lower back especially a great and instant relief. In fact right now it is about the only use i do of the gym ball.  I do it only when i feel some discomfort in the back.  I am not an expert in asana so i would not recommend it to anyone.

Cunningham Road

August 3, 2012

I came across the name Alexander Cunnigham in the travelogue ‘Chasing the Monk’s Shadow’ by Mishi Saran. In this book the author, Mishi Saran writes about her travels to the places visited by the famous 7th century Chinese Buddhist monk Hsuan Tsang on his journey to India.  Mishi Saran referred to Cunningham’s report ‘ The Ancient Geography of India. Volume 1, Buddhist Period’ to know about the exact locations of Buddhist sites in India.

The name Cunningham raised my curiosity. There is a ‘Cunningham Road’ in Bangalore that i normally take to go towards Shivajinagar. Could he be the person after whom the road has been named? and why? So i google’d and came across fascinating information from Wikipedia. Alexander Cunningham is known as the father of  Archaelogical Survey of India! Francis Cunnigham, his brother, was a deputy to Sir Mark Cubbon who was the then chief commissioner at Bangalore. Apparently, Francis Cunningham lobbyed on behalf of the deposed Maharaja of Mysore arguing that he should be allowed to adopt and the kingdom be restored to him. It is possibly due to these efforts of his that the Cunningham road is named after him.


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