Posts Tagged ‘travel’

Travel to places connected with Sri Ramakrishna

January 7, 2014

For a long time I wanted to go to Kolkata and visit places connected to Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa: Belur math, Kamarpukur and Jayrambati.  This became a possibility when a friend called up inviting me for his marriage in Kolkata! I booked tickets but the train was full and I was kept on waiting list (WL).  I could have tried to get the tickets through the emergency booking facility, tatkal but I thought I will leave it to destiny. I will travel only if the tickets get confirmed!  Air travel was possibility but too expensive given my current financial condition. I did not book hotel accommodation thinking that, if at all my train tickets are confirmed, I would stay at an old friend’s house.  I sent a mail to this friend informing of my visit.  This was 21 days before travel.

3 days before travel date my booking status was updated from WL to RAC.  So I could travel but I have to share the berth with another passenger!  There was no mail from my friend with whom I expected to stay in the even that my tickets get booked.  So I call him and tell him that I would be around for 4 days but mostly will be touring places connected to Sri Ramakrishna.  He thinks! and tells me in the most humble way that it will be difficult to accommodate me!   But then he also informs me that Belur math has a guest house and that I could book it.  I did not know about it. There is no information on the Belur Math page about the guest house! I search again but in vain.  He searched and found a page where one could give feedback about the Belur Math website.  In the ‘feedback’ he wrote about my need for a guest room gave my name, email address and phone number.  We decide to wait for a day before taking any other action.  A day later I get a message that my request is forwarded to the Maharaj(Swami) who takes care of matters pertaining to the guest house!  Another day later I get a message from the Maharaj asking me to give arrival and departure details in an attached form.  I am excited. I fill the form. A day left for my travel and no communication from the Maharaj. I consult my friend. We agree that absence of a confirmation mail implies that it is confirmed!  Looking back I can see how optimistically deluded we were.

Location of Belur math guest house

Location of Belur math guest house

The train reached 1 hour late. It is 6:45 in the evening but already dark.  The taxi-wallah takes me to Belur Math and asks where I wanted to be dropped. I had no idea that Belur Math would be such a huge campus.  We went inside the big arch entrance and then I got down thinking I could walk and ask for directions to the guest house.  To my good fortune I crossed a young monk who tells me that if I have not got a confirmation mail then I do not have the guest room.  In fact I am supposed to be carrying a print out of the confirmation! The guest house keeper would not accept me without a printed confirmation letter.  Besides, the procedure is to apply 2 months in advance!

However, since I am single and with only a backpack for luggage the guest house authorities may consider me on compassionate grounds!   The monk takes me to the math office for guest house accommodation.  It is closed. They close at 6:30 pm. Then he takes me to the guest house. It is a small walk outside the math compound on a lane that leads to the ferry ride to Dakshineshwar.  He leaves me at the guest house gate indicating that now it is between me and the guest house keeper.  Here is the google map showing the location of the guest house. It is useful because the guest house building does not have a name board!

As pointed out by the monk, the guest house keeper asked me for a print out of the confirmation e-mail.  I told him I had not received any.  He was visibly unhappy; I did not have a document and I was ignorant of the procedure!  He called up the Maharaj  in-charge of guest house related matters.  I told him I had come from Bangalore, had intimated the math a few days ago about my need for a room, and that I had not received any reply from the math office.  He must have got annoyed,  ‘we also have other works to do’, but quickly recovered and asked me to hand over the phone to the guest house keeper. I was allowed to stay but should vacate the following day.   A single room, probably reserved for monks, was given to me!  I was supremely grateful; I was saved from the trouble of going in search of a guest house that late after 26 hours of train travel. I would have agreed to sleep even in the courtyard!

A board inside the single room accommodation.

Instruction board inside the single room accommodation.

Breakfast at 6:30 a.m. and lunch at 11:30 a.m. are served in the guest house. In the morning I toured the Belur Math campus: temples, museum, Sw. Vivekananda’s room and the place where remains of several of the first disciples were interned.  When I was back for lunch I was told that I was to meet the Maharaj.  Though, it was closing time for the office the Maharaj agreed to meet me immediately because I had decided to pack off late afternoon.  The Maharaj took down my name, searched Microsoft Outlook and gave me the print out of my mail. Then he took asked me to accompany him to meet another monk, his superior.  I sat outside the office, when he went in and spoke to the senior monk.  The senior monk apparently dismissed it; it was not necessary for me to meet him.  There was more good news for me.  I could come back the day after the marriage and another room in some other place could be arranged for me! I was humbled at his efforts to accommodate me even after I had thrust myself on him, though out of ignorance. Truly grateful.

I was back early next day.  The guest house keeper who had by now become friendly gave me the key to a different single room in the same guest house.  I had no sleep the previous night-the marraige got over by 2:30 a.m.  So I slept. A lot.   The guest house keeper told me meet another Maharaj if I wanted to book the car to Kamarpukur and Jayrambati.  But before that I wanted to got Dakshineshwar.  However, by the time I came back from Dakshineshwar it was time for the prayer in main temple at Belur Math.  The office closed by the time I was out of prayer hall.   When I returned to the guest house for dinner the keeper was annoyed that I did not meet the Maharaj. How was I to go now? I pleaded. He spoke to the Maharaj and yet again he obliged,  ‘was I ok with joining 3 others in the car to Kamarpukur the next morning?’  Of course, I was. The Maharaj also suggested I stay at Kamarpukur. The accommodation in Kamarpukur could be arranged!

Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa source: www.oldindianphotos.in

Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa
source: http://www.oldindianphotos.in

The car was ready at 7:00 a.m.  The 3 others were a devotee, his mom and nephew from Andhrapradesh. The driver was good at conversation and regaled me with stories related to Sri Ramakrishna’s life.  He was driving devotees since 1974! and knew Ramakrsishna’s life story like the back of his palm.  Among other things he told me the story of Rani Rasmani, which is not in the Gospel (at least not in the English version).  We reached Kamarpukur at 11:00 a.m. after a break for tea-the best tea I had in my 5 day trip, on the way.

The Maharaj in-charge of the Kamarpukur math was happy to note that I had a research background,  ‘more students should pursue science’.  He was aware that the nation highest honour, Bharat Ratna, was conferred upon the leading scientist Prof. CNR Rao.  I informed him that it was possible now to do good research because more funds are allocate for research. ‘Yes, but it is not enough.’ I was surprised.  It is the first time I heard a non-scientist saying that more funds should be allocated for research.  Usually it is the scientists who complain of the lack of funds.  There were others waiting to meet him.  So we decided to meet again but for now I was allotted a room usually reserved for monks!  I was given a special lunch coupon with VIP written on it!  It being a weekend a large number of people would queue for lunch. With the coupon we could skip the queue. It did help me save time.  It was unbelievable. Having a degree in research can also be an advantage. Who could have thought in India!

In Kamarpukur, after seeing the Jogi Shiva temple, Haldarpukur (the pond) and the main temple, which is built in the place where Sri Ramakrishna was born, we went to Jayrambati a few kilometers away.   Holy mother was born here and spent several years after the passing away of Sri Ramakrishna.  We attended the evening prayer there and were back before dark to Kamarpukur.  I spent the evening until dinner in the prayer hall where a Maharaj was reading from the Gospel. It was in Bengali language; I tried to follow the language but soon realised that I cannot understand beyond the simple pleasantries in Bengali.

Places to see in Aantpur. Board in Aantpur math

Places to see in Aantpur. Board in Aantpur math

The next day we had breakfast and started for Aantpur as suggested by the driver. It was in Aantpur that the idea of starting the Ramakrishan math and misson occurred to Swami Vivekananda.  The Maharaj in-charge of Aantpur math offered us fruits and asked to leave only after having lunch.  We saw Swami Premananda’s house (now belonging to the math) and the dhuni (fire place) where Swami Vivekananda along with other monks decided on the idea of the math and mission.  We then went behind the house to see the pond that was used by Swami Vivekananda.  There seemed to be ponds everywhere and in fact all along from Howrah to Kamarpukur and Jayrambati.  Having spent my childhood in a relatively dry region of Maharashtra I found this much water beyond imagination.

I was back in Belur by early evening.  There was time enough to visit the Kali temple at Dakshineshwar once more.  But before that I met the Maharaj, who had arranged the car, and paid the car charges.  My stay and food in the guest house at Belur Math and Kamarpukur and food at Aantpur was free!  I donated modest amounts for my own satisfaction in all these places.

  • I have not included descriptions of the places here.  Please read here and here for exhaustive and minimal information, respectively of both the places.
  • There is a private lodge in Kamarpukur.  It looks good though I haven’t checked the rooms. Here are the details: Relax Lodge, Ph. no. 03211 244699
  • On a walk around the Belur Math compound I came across a good lodge near the main gate. The rooms are good. They even have AC. It is called ‘Om Plaza’ , Ph. no.  26540378
  • If you want accommodation in the math guest house please contact the math office 2 months in advance.  The guest house is available for devotees. It helps if you come with a recommendation from a monk. For instance, if you are from Chennai you should have met or known the Maharaj in the Ramakrishna Math in Chennai.

Water Divination

November 23, 2013

I joined a cousin in inspecting a land to be purchased. Well…not inspection but just to see that the land is physically present and not just on paper. A friend’s acquaintance owned the land. He knew the place and was taking us there in his jeep. We crossed the city limits and were on the highway for nearly 2 hrs when we took a diversion. The road was bumpy and so time slowed.  After an hour or so we were on a narrow road that went between fields and land that was not cultivated.  Our friend spotted a stone and a barren tract along side the road and identified that as the beginning of the land under consideration!

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One view of the tract of land we visited. The branch rotated near the trees seen in the far end of this photograph.

We got down and walked along. In the distance and much nearer on our left were hillocks. Some trees and wild grass interspersed the land. The land was arable but the soil had little pieces of rock mixed in it.  Suddenly, our friend pulled out a branch from a nearby tree. The branch was Y-shaped. He held one arm of the branch in his left hand and the other in his right.  He now walked back a little distance, turned, and started walking towards us with the branch loosely held in his hands and the tip pointing outward. As he walked the branch started rotating in his hand! I couldn’t believe my eyes. If one were to rotate it manually/physically one would have to twist the wrists. It would be a tedious task if at all it was possible! I tried it. As a matter of fact he had not even gripped the arms of the branch. Each arm was light held in the circle/tubular cavity formed by the curving of the fingers in the palm; like when you hold a bicycle arm.  My cousin thought he would give try. He took the same branch and walked the same path.  The branch did not rotate but he felt it trying to wriggle in his palm as if to rotate. He was holding a bit too tight. The friend showed it again. I was skeptical. I took another Y-shaped branch from the tree and walked the same path. Nothing. No rotation. No feeling at all from the branch!  Apparently, it happens only with certain people. I don’t have it in me.

The incident stayed in mind until one day when I chanced upon theDSC_0088 book ‘Brihat Samhita’ by Varahamihira in the Ramakrishna Math library. Brihat Samhita is an ancient(~500 AD) encyclopaedic work in Sanskrit which covers various topics of human interest including architecture, medicine, physiology, zoology and other subjects.  The 54th chapter is entitled Dakargalam which means ‘the exploration of water springs’ or ‘water divination’.  There are about 125 Slokas (verses) describing the signs on land of water being present under ground. The depth to which one has to dig for water is also mentioned.  For instance, Sloka 8 says: in a waterless tract if there is a Jambu tree then water will be obtained at a depth of 10 cubits at a distance of 3 cubits to its north. It further describes what one is to expect on digging up to 5 cubits.

Several types of trees, rocks, presence of ant-hills and other such data have been connected to the depths at which water can be found even in desert regions. Simply incredible!  But, there was no mention of a Y-shaped branch, when held in a particular manner, rotating if there was water underground.  I had seen with my own eyes that the branch rotated in our friend’s hands at a moderate speed if not rapidly. And that too only in a particular patch of land. I wish I had taken a video. I looked up YouTube for videos on water divination. there are several where a person with a coconut placed on his palm walked on a tract of land. The coconut stood up where-ever there is water underground. But no video showing what I had seen. The YouTube links are:

The videos show that the coconut stood up on its own, but it is not clear if they dug  there and found water. Did you come across water divination using a branch of a tree? Let me know if you did.

For those interested in Brihat Samhita, the book is available online here.

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.

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.


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