HERITAGE of South India .......... by Jayant Doshi(from 16th January to 11th February 2013)16th January :On our first day in Mumbai wedecided to do a tour of the now world famousDharavi slums. Spread over one square mile inthe heart of Mumbai and right near theinternational airport lies the largest slum areaof the world with an estimated population ofone million – not including thousands ofmigrants who come to work there and sleep inthe factories. It has estimated 10000manufacturing units manufacturing anythingand everything and has the largest and mostconcentrated recycling of every last bit of rubbish that takes place anywhere in the world. It hasquarters for Muslims, Hindus and even Gujarati populations – though all live in total harmony. Theslums have private and government schools, private and government hospitals, bakeries,supermarkets and every amenity that would be required for such a large population. Even thecommunal toilets had queues of thousands in the morning rush time. Our two hour tour was most enlightening. It was in May 2012 that Dhiru first suggested a back packing tour of either Vietnam or South India. The idea was to travel rough and on a tight budget, and as ordinary people, and experience the life and the country at first hand. When two others decided to join, it was proposed that travelling by taxi would be faster and more convenient. This would take away the charm and the challenge of back packing but would allow us to travel and see lot more of the country. We did stick to ordinary hotels to keep that part of the idea alive.17th January : While Usha and Guli went to see their relatives, I joined Dhiru in a delightful lunchwith his facebook friends. Internet generally, and facebook in particular, seem to have changed theway we communicate and build socialcontacts.18th January : Our trip started in earnesttoday when we left early at 6.00 a.m. to travelto Poona from where we were to take our taxifor our trip. In Poona we were entertainedwith breakfast and soon after we left on ourtrip. We had a guide book and a map of India,and we had decided on the starting places tovisit and our plans were to decide as wemoved along. Dhiru had marked all places ofinterest which should be visiting. We stoppedat a farm where fresh ponk was being served.
Freshly grown grain while on the stems is roasted on fire, sprinkled with spices and lemon juice and served. This is a winter speciality and is best when served fresh on the farm. It was a treat for us which we all relished. We reached Shirdi by 6.00 p.m. The whole town and its economy is based on the temple of Sai Baba where millions come to worship and the turnover must run into billions. The temple complex was huge covering a very big area. 19th January : We were fortunate to get VIP passes which meant we avoided long queues. We woke up at 3.00 in the morning to attend thearti. Once our mission to get a feel of the place which is visited by millions was completed we leftfor our next destination which was Ellora and Ajanta caves. Ellora caves were built between 5 thand 8th centuries but were hidden by forests over the period of time till discovered by anEnglishman about hundred years back. Thirty four caves dug in the mountains represent the artand rich culture of the glorious past that will be appreciated by millions. Unlike monuments whichcould decay over a period of time, these caveswould be protected from the vagaries of natureby the mountains and remind us always of theglorious past of India. Caves represent differentreligious influences over the period withearliest caves having Buddhist influencefollowed by Hindu influence and lastly a fewcaves represent Jain influence. Huge idols andstatutes were carved from top to bottom in thesolid rocks inside the caves. Intricate carvingsand designs that adorn these caves show thequality of artisans in those days. Some of thecaves are hundreds of feet deep and onemarvels how these caves were formed orcreated.We drove on to the Ajanta caves which have colourful paintings on the walls which were as highas fifty feet or more. Many of the paintings are well preserved and maintained. While some colours have started fading still the quality of paintings and intricate designs are marvellous - not forgetting that they are over 1500 years old. In one day we managed to finish three sightseeing. It involved lot of walking and a very long day for us all. Ellora and Ajanta involved climbing up steps to go into the caves, coming down and going into the next cave. It was a long day for us from 3.00 in the morning till 9.00 at night and most of that time we were on our feet and walking. We reached Aurangabad late at night.
20th January : Next day we left early to visitBibi-ka-Maqabura. In urdu Bibi refers to motherwhile Biwi means wife. In Aurangabad – the citynamed after Mogul Emperor Aurangzeb and whospent lot of time in this city. His son built Bibi-ka-Maqabura which is an exact replica of TajMahal in Agra. Unlike Taj Mahal this monumentis only partly built with marble but cost Rs668000.00 min the 17th century. Today theamount would run into billions. The gardens atthis mausoleum are exact replica of those in TajMahal. From there we drove on to Hyderabad,capital of Andhra Pradesh, where we reachedafter 9.00 p.m.- another long day. We took thewrong road which was in very poor condition and that delayed us a lot, but then we got onto verymodern and well built road that took us to Secunderabad and the twin city of Hyderabad. Both thecities are quite modern and well built. Hyderabad is the hub of IT industry in India.21st January : Hyderabad, which was ruled by Nizam, has lot of Islamic influence. The roads arewell maintained and the city seemed clean. Our first visit was to the fort of Golconda which was originally built in mud in the 12th century and rebuilt in stone in the 16th century. This is one of the most impressive forts in India. It is spread out over a 3 kilometre area. The fort used echo system to pass messages within its huge complex and we were given a demonstration of the same. The fort also had a sophisticated water system. From top of the fort, which itself is on high grounds, one gets a panaromic view of the city of Hyderabad. We visited the seven tombs of Qutb Shahi Kings and their wives built over a vast expanse of land. Charminar is similar to the Gateway of India, and overlooks the very busy oldHyderabad bazaar. From top of Charminar we could see and feel the hustle bustle of the bazaar,and high pitch noise of traffic and people.We were to visit the palace but just at that moment shutters in shops were coming down and wewere told that a local member of parliamenthad been arrested and shops were closingdown in anticipation of riots. Instead we visiteda local museum with a good collection ofhistorical artefacts. Our next stop was at anewly constructed Birla temple on top of a hill.The vast complex was built of marble, lookedexquisitely beautiful, overlooking a crowded cityof Hyderabad and impressive imposingstructure. Birlas have built such temples allover the country and one wonders if the moneycould have been put to better use. We do notseem to have any shortage of places of worshipin the country as it is.We had early dinner and
retired early after a long tiring day. 22nd January : We woke up early and had planned to leave quite early but it was 7.00 by the time we left our hotel. We had breakfast in a restaurant across the road from our hotel serving upma, dosa and idli. On the pavement a tea stall was serving Hyderabadi tea which had wonderful flavour and taste. Tea leaves were boiling in one pot on one cooker and milk was boiling in another pot. Both are mixed in a cup and then served to customers. Prices for all items were quite cheap ... total payment for breakfast and tea for five of us did not add upto one pound.We got a guide at every place of interest we visited whereby we got more information about thesite, and our sightseeing became speedier. We would buy fruits on the way which served as ourlunch at times. Grapes, bananas, guavas and tangerines were available in plenty. During our tripwe had lots of fresh cocoanuts, sugarcane juice and roasted maize. We were flexible on our mealsand mealtimes. If we had breakfast we skipped lunch and had early dinner and if we did not getbreakfast we would have early lunch and late dinner.We drove to Warangil 150 kms north ofHyderabad. Warangil had ruins of Muslimand Hindu sculptures but it was adisappointment. No guide was available andall we could find was a huge ground withwalls to protect the contents, and with hugerocks and remains of buildings put in orderlymanner. We also saw a Shiva temple with1000 pillars which was quite impressive. Thetemple was well maintained. Black stonewas used in construction and most of thecarvings were exquisite and clear cut. Wereturned to Hyderabad thinking that was theway to travel further south. The driver informed us that we could have bypassed Hyderabad.23rd January : Next morning we left at 6.00 to drive to Puttaparthy and had very nice breakfast at a roadside dhaba. On the way saw an ISKON temple made in the shape of a chariot with four huge size horses, much larger than real life, to give perfect proportion to the chariot shaped temple. We reached Puttaparthy by early evening. This used to be the abode of Satya Sai Baba (other than the one in Shirdi). They have accommodation for locals and for foreigners in a huge complex built around the temple. As I did not have my passport they would not allow us in that accommodation. We took up a place just outside the temple. We missed darshan timing but were lucky to get a nice Gujarati meal after eating south Indian
food all these days. The township is developed by the followers of this sect, and they have built schools, colleges, hospitals etc in the town. We saw one institution of education and building had guitar, drums etc as part of the building architecture. All the buildings seemed well built and maintained. With millions pouring from followers all over the world I guess money would never be an issue in this place – but it was nice for once to see those donations being put to good use. 24th January : We woke up early and had an early morning walk and visited the temple. Itook photos of impressive buildings. We reached Tirupati early afternoon. Known for the richesttemple in the world it is visited by millions of visitors every day. I was told that on average day ithas 15000 visitors. Venkateshwara temple is located on Tirumala Hill just on the outskirts ofTirupati. On driving to Tirumala we saw security that could beat the best at any airport in theworld. The roads were nicely made and the whole town was oozing with prosperity. Actually thetown had grown on the economy created by the temple. Temple provides low cost accommodation to all visitors and we spent fifty rupees per person for staying in what was neat and clean accommodation with ensuite bathroom though hot water had to be brought from outside. Temple provides for expensive and cheap rooms but also covered pavilions for those who cannot afford to pay anything. The temple is surrounded by shops and stalls selling flowers, garlands, pooja requirements and all sorts of food. The temple and its surroundings were beautiful with hills and valleys and lots of greenery. The most visited pilgrimage place in the world, and amust for most Hindus, is where men and some women also, come and give their hair. Dhiru andArjun (our driver) decided to go through the ritual and had all their hair removed. From what Iunderstand that hair are recycled and put on the market, just like cocoanuts and other itemsbrought in the temple. While the place was immaculate and arrangements perfect yet there was noinformation provided to guide the visitors. We walked around the complex and saw the maintemple from a distance.25th January : Next morning we walked aroundthe temple and had breakfast. We hired a guidewho took us to some points of interest on theTirumala Hill. Dhiru and Arjun went for removingtheir hair and rest of us had a nap. When Dhiruand Arjun came we decided to go for darshanbut found that there were long queues and eventhe queue with payment was too long. It wasthen that we found out that tickets for the paidqueue had to be bought that morning. We weredisappointed that after coming all this way we
could not go into the temple. So we decided togo to Tirupati to see Govindaraja Temple.Though there were queues we still managed tosee the temple inside.I visit all these temples out of curiosity andfascination. My conviction or faith has neverbeen strong. As such not getting to get insidethe temple anywhere was never adisappointment for me. But I had read a lotabout Tirupati and |I was fascinated by allthat I had read and wanted to experience thelong queues and watch the devotion of those inthe queues. But it was not to be. However theplace fascinated me. The temple has created a full township and a full blown economy on whichthousands survive.Arjun, our driver, was a young man but very sincere and dedicated to his work. Unlike mostdrivers he never stopped for tea, or stopped to eat. He did not chew tobacco unlike most drivers. At first he was shy but once he became comfortable with us he joined us in making fun and made us laugh all the way. He used to be fascinated when we talked about Dhiru and his facebook friends. And then Dhiru introduced GPS which could show us the way and he was totally taken aback by modern technology. He called Dhiru “Changla Saheb” and whenever he needed direction he would say “Changla Saheb wake up your friend.” 26th January : We left at 7.00 next morning for Chennai. Guli wanted to spend some time with her relations and we had planned to spend aday there. But reading through the guide book we realised there was nothing in Chennai and wedecided to move on to a nearby sea side place called Mammlapuram. This seaside resort ispopular with foreigners and many could be seen hovering around the town. It was a nice littletown. We found a guide who took us around the sites in this place. We saw a mountain with lots ofcarvings done in the 6th century but found by the British in early 20th century. It is said that themountain had 5 bedrooms for five Pandavasfrom Mahabharata epic. We saw the shoretemple. There used to be seven temples on theshore but six were destroyed by tsunami adecade back leaving only one on the shores.We found out that there was dance festival andwe went to the festival. It was a bonus to beable to see the dances.27th January : Next morning we had a walk onthe beach and later we all went in the seawhere huge waves gave wonderful massage toour bodies. After getting ready we went forbreakfast and when Guli joined us weproceeded to Pondicherry. Arbindo Ashram in
Ponidchery was a place I wanted to visit andspend a few days as I had heard lot about it.But we faced only disappointment. After askingseveral people we found one of the buildingsbut we had to wait till it opened. It wasArbindo’s Samadhi and people were sitting inmeditation. There was a bookshop. But noinformation was available as to any ashram, orif we could stay and take part in any activity.Feeling frustrated we decided to leave. Aftermy return I was told that the ashram offerswonderful accommodation right on the seafront. We went to a restaurant for lunch and itwas the worst lunch and service we had encountered so far.Dhiru had bought A Rough Guide to India and that had become our almanac for deciding where wewere going and what we were seeing. When we drove out of Pondicherry we stopped at a place tobuy some fruits. After a while Dhiru suddenly started looking for this book and he could not find it. Without the book we would be lost. We stopped the car and searched everywhere but with no luck. We thought that when we stopped to buy fruit the book must have fallen out. We asked the driver to taken us back to that spot. We had already driven over ten kms. But luckily Arjun had good memory and he took us exactly on that spot. Chances of our finding the book were negligible. Dhiru and I came out of the car and started looking along the edge of the footpath. Lo behold! Unbelieveable as it may seem, Dhiru saw a man flicking through a book in the shelter of a doorway. Dhiru walked towards that manand picked the book and said thank you and asked me to give him a good tip. We could not believeour luck. Was it as a result of meditating in Arbindo Ashram or praying at all the temples so farwhich brought this miracle? But we were all happy that we had found the book.We drove on to our next destination - Tanjavur. GPS took a long way and we reached our hotel at9.30. We had neither booked hotels in advance nor prepared any list in advance. As soon as wereached our destination we looked around,checked one or two hotels and selected one. Sofar we had paid on average Rs.300.00 perperson (less than £4.00).28th January : Tanjavur is the home ofBrihadshwara Temple built in 11th centuryduring Chola dynasty. It is built from graniteand is monolithic (made from single stone.) Thetemple has a twelve foot bull carved from arock, and the temple has some very intricatecarvings. The statutes display human emotionslike anger, pleasure, dismay etc and theseexpressions are portrayed very effectively. The
quality of these sculptures shows the standard of craftsmanship in those days – and makes onewonder what life was like in those days. It made us proud of our heritage.From Tanjavur we drove on to Madurai and realised bit too late that we had missed out on Trichy. We reached Madurai just after 1.00 and found that the temple was closed till 4.00. On the spur of the moment we decided that we might as well drive on to Kanyakumari and come to Madurai and Trichy on our way back. Kanyakumari is the southernmost tip of India where three oceans – Arabian Sea, Indian Ocean and Bay of Bengal meet. Kanyakumari is named after and associated with the virgin goddess Kanya Devi. In the month of April it is possible to see sun setting and moon rising at the same time. We reached at sunset time and drove straight to the sunset point and got lovely photos and view of the setting sun. There werethousands of people present to view this spectacle. For dinner we had Gujarati meal which wasvery satisfying after eating all the dosas, idli and upma for days.29th January : Next morning we woke early to go and watch the sun rise. We rejected an offerfrom a tower to watch sun rising and instead went near the temple where literally thousands andthousands of people had come to see the sunrise– possibly with devotion and worshipping the sunin mind. Many dipped in the ocean when the sunappeared. The skies were misty and cloudy sosunrise could not be seen till the sun rose abovethat level.Swami Vivekanand, who went to USA in the late19th century, addressed world religious congressin Chicago, and who preached the greatness ofHindu religion, had meditated on a small islandacross Kanyakumari, and a library andmeditation centre has been built in his memory onthat island. It also has life size statute of that
great man. We took a ferry to visit the island. The second island nearby was closed on the day.The island has a huge statute of the great Tamilphilosopher Thiruvalluva – built only recently. Thetemple at the tip of Kanyakumari was congestedand chaotic.On the way to Madurai I got a call from mybrother-in-law who called to find out about ourwhereabouts and progress. During the course ofhis conversation he mentioned that we must havedone Rameshwaram. In Kanyakumari I had seenthis name on signboards advertising day trips. Imentioned this to Dhiru and he looked up theguide book and told me that he could notunderstand how he missed that site. Later, whenwe were doing a tour of the temple in Madurai we met a Gujarati couple who had been to Rameshwaram and who highly recommended it. Three reminders of the place seemed too much of a coincidence. We were not bothered about the temple or the religious side of it, but we both were fascinated by the rituals that take place. We decided to do that extra journey to Rameshwaram. We were not likely to come here again, and it would always be in the mind that we missed it. It seemed providence that we got three reminders in a period of a few hours and we were fascinated by the rituals that take place there. I in particular am not that religious fanatic toworship at every temple and every religious place we visited. But why we were visiting all thesetemples and places of religion? In my case it was the fascination and curiosity of understandingand seeing thousands who follow devoutly and do their prayers and rituals with so much passionwhich always fascinated me. I feel amazed, and perhaps sad, to see millions of people spendingmillions, or billions of rupees on travelling, in rituals, in garlands and coconuts and other items forworship. It fascinates to see millions, educatedand less educated having so much faith andtrust in what they were doing. And what SouthIndia had to offer was temples with greathistory, temples with sculpture and carvingsthat make us proud of the greatness of thatpast. This drove me to visit so many temples.Not getting to get darshan in Tirupati or Maduraidid not bother me at all.We drove on to Madurai with one of the mostimpressive temples in South India. MeenaxiTemple (wife of Lord Shiva whose other name isParvati) is built over 15 acres and has 17000pillars. It was built 3000 years back during thereign of six emperors. It has monolithic pillars with thousands of statutes carved on the pillars andwalls. The temple gets at least fifteen thousand visitors even during the off peak times. The
massive gopuras of this vast complex,writhing with multicoloured mythologicalfigures and crowned by golden finials,remain the greatest man-made spectacle ofthe south. If the temple with its pillars,different temples and deities, all the intricatecarvings and statutes were to be studiedindividually than it would take more than aday to complete the visit to this vast complex.30th January : We drove on to Trichy (actualname Tiruchirapalli) and just north of thattown is the Ranganathaswamy Temple. Thetemple is so large that it practicallyencompasses the village of Srirangam within its courtyards. It is enclosed by seven rectangularwalled courtyards, and the temple is built on 60 hectares of land. It is one of those rare templesdevoted to Lord Vishnu.We proceeded to Rameshwaram – making a detour of almost 160 kilometres (extra journey of 320kilometres) to fulfil our curiosity about the most important pilgrimage site for Hindus. NormallyHindus worship either Shiva or Vishnu, but this is one temple where both deities are brought together. The legend goes that Rama (of Ramayana) after rescuing Sita and killing Ravana landed in Rameshwaram which is just 20 km from Sri Lanka, and was advised to atone for killing a Brahmin (Ravana) by doing pooja of Shiva. Ram is another incarnation of Vishnu and as such it was Vishnu doing pooja of Shiva. Ramalingeshwara Temple is right on the sea shore. The temple was built in the 12th century during Chola dynasty and is famous for its pillared walkways and the huge complex. The temple is almost as huge as Madurai temple but not as impressive in its sculptures oroutlook.The temple has 22 fresh water wells which is a phenomenon since water is normally salty whenthe land is near the sea. These wells are very near the ocean – literally a few feet. Dhiru and Iwere fascinated by the ritual being carried out there. When we reached the temple we wereapproached by some brokers or guides whosuggested they can arrange the ritual for us. Wechanged into swimming trunks and went into thesea for a dip. We followed the guide who handedus over to the priest who was to perform therituals. He asked for Rs135.00 per person and Ihanded him Rs.300/- and when I asked forchange he laughed it away. No receipt was issuedso the money must be going into his pocket. Otherswere either in full attire but were still getting wet,or some just had their hands or feet washed. Oneby one, we were taken to each of the 22 wellswhere the priest took a small bucket, pulled water
from the well and poured over us. The wells were spread all over the huge temple complex we also got a chance to see the whole complex. We both completed the ritual. Water was surprisingly luke warm. At the end we were informed that all our sins had been washed away and we can now proceed into the temple to finish our worship. While the ritual was interesting and funny in some ways, and perhaps this was one of our last stops at a temple or place of religion, there was disdain at the practice of religion in India. In short, religion in India had been made into abig industry. The faith and hope with which millions came to these temples was countered by thetrickery and conning of those masses. Priests made their living by promoting more and more ritualsand taking advantage of illiterate and common people. Some of the temples we had visited, likeTirupati and Madurai, had incomes that would be more than the budgets of cities like Mumbai oreven budget of small states. Amount of moneyspent on garlands, flowers, mink, prasad,cocoanuts, powders and other items used inthese rituals must be phenomenal. Brahminshave made a profession out of religion andtemples have become like big corporations. Theinnocent, naive, unsuspecting common manpays for it all – at the cost of depriving his ownfamily from bare essentials. After completingthis ritual we returned to Madurai same dayreaching our hotel around 10.30 at night.What was planned as back-packing holidayturned out to be back-breaking trip. Backpacking would have been slow travelling by busand train, meet the local people and get a feel of the local life. What we were doing was whirlwindtour of south India, visiting its glorious temples and palaces, its glorious past preserved in the caves, and its natural beauty – and when doing this your curiosity does not stop and you do not wish to miss anything of interest. Our guide book was our almanac which showed and told us what was there not to miss. Our days were long – on the average from 16 to 18 hours – and out of that about 6 to 8 hours went for sightseeing and 8 to 10 hours in travelling. We took guide at every sight whereby gaining more in-depth knowledge of the places we were visiting, and also saving lot of time in finding places. Long hours in the taxi were spent in different ways. We had lots of discussion of all sorts of subjects, and in between we ate fruit and nuts. Each one had a nap as and when their eyes could not cope with it. Dhiru spent lot of time on his iPad and iPhone, and chatting with his facebook friends. I read a novel on kindle while Usha and Gulti did reading on religion. Usha and Guli used the back seats to have nice sleep lot of the time.
Arjun kept making jokes about Dhiru’sfacebook friends, and the GPS guide on thephone. But no one complained about cramps ortiredness due to sitting in the car for those longhours. Usha had diahorea for couple of days,Dhiru and I were troubled with coughing formany days and I vomited once – that was thesum total of our troubles in 22 days of gruellingtravelling. Our visits to the impressive templesand palaces and castles of south India wasalmost coming to an end. We were running outof time as three of us were booked to fly on 11 thFebruary and we had to be in Mumbai a day ortwo earlier. We decided to bypass Kerala onthis trip.31st January : We drove on to Kodaikanal, a hill station and the highest point in South India. Wereached by mid-day and found a nice cottage style accommodation. We all washed and dried ourclothes. We went out and did some walking and boating in the lake. This was the first time that we took it easy and relaxed for the day .After dinner we all went to sleep by 9.00 as it was pretty cold in this place. 1st February : Next morning we found a guide and went for sightseeing. Because of low clouds we could not see much natural beauty. We visited a 150 year old church. On the way we saw a small Jain temple where 3 sadhvis were residing. It was no fun staying any longer in this bitter cold so we decided to move on to Ooty. The actual name of Ooty is long and difficult to pronounce. Ooty is another hill station created by the British who would escape to these and many other hill stationsthey developed to escape the heat in summer. We reached at 10.30p.m. in Ooty. We saw fewhotels and selected the worst possible hotel so far – and also the most expensive.2nd February : We got a guide and did some sightseeing in the morning. We saw a temple which isclaimed to be at the highest point in South India. We saw botanical gardens which were veryimpressive with well laid out lawns and plants. We saw a tea making factory and went throughthe process of how tea is made. But mostinteresting was a Thread Museum whereflowers with stalks and leaves were exhibited.These looked like real ones but all of thesewere made from thread. It took12 years tomake all the exhibits, and they used 68 croremeters of thread. All the flowers in real coloursand looking like real flowers (and there weremany varieties of flowers). Flowers, leaves,stems were all made with thread. We passedMulumali Tiger Reserve but could not do theelephant ride as elephants were sick.
The quality of hotel had upset us all, and aswe were running out of time, we moved on toMysore. Dhiru had a friend in Mysore whoadvised us to go straight away to see thelights of Brindavan. These famous gardenswere lit with thousands of lights and therewas a laser light show also. The gardenshave thousands of fountains and the layoutof the gardens is exquisite. We saw the lightsand the laser show but could not see much ofthe garden at night. We proceeded for dinnerwith Dhiru’s friend. It was late. Arjun verywillingly agreed to sit in the car and wait forus. We had wonderful dinner.3rd. February : In Mysore our first visit wasto Chamundeshwari Temple on top of Chamundi Hills which could be accessed by either drivingdirect or walking up over 1000 steps. We opted for walking up those steps. We were at the top inless than 15 minutes. The long queues to enter the temple deterred us and we decided to turn back. We had seen picture of a huge statute on the hill but surprisingly we did not see any such statue. We then visited a modern European style cathedral made in 1913 but still in immaculate condition. Our next stop at Maharajah Palace was impressive. Palace built on 35 acres of land, and the actual buildings covering 27 acres, is massive by any standards. While very impressive one wonders at what cost these were built and what it could have done for the masses. The palace had lovely huge chandeliers and exhibits of gifts received by the Maharajah. The guide had the key to the private storage where differentswords and animals hunted by the Maharajah were stuffed and exhibited there. The palace hadtiles from England, stained glass from Scotland and cast iron pillars from England. There were lotsof silver and gold items on exhibition.After a lovely lunch we had afternoon rest for the first time on the trip. We again went to the palacein the evening when the whole palace complex is lighted by 100,000 bulbs and the lights switchedon for one hour. The palace looked spectacular in all those lights. We invited Dhiru’s friend and hiswife for dinner.4th February : Next morning we left forSrirangpatnam where we visited the summerpalace of Tipu Sultan who bravely foughtagainst the British. The palace is built of timber,and as the structure is unsafe they had closedupstairs. The palace had some exhibits andpaintings. This was followed by a visit to theSamadhi of Tipu Sultan. We visited TriveniSangam where Tipu’s body was found after hewas killed. We also saw the dungeon where
Tipu Sultan would imprison British prisoners. Each prisoner would be chained to the walls. Sravan Belgoda is north of Mysore. It has the 18 metre (58 feet) high monolithic statute of Gomateshwara, also known as Bahubali. Built in 10th century it is largest free standing sculpture in India and an important place of pilgrimage. We had to walk up over 900 steps to reach the top of the hill where the statute can be seen surrounded by a temple and walls. It is surrounded by black stone idols of Tirthankars. The statute is over 1000 years old though rest of the temple is about 400years old. We walked up the steps which were mostly carved out of rocks. Our visits to templeswere getting saturated and we decided to skip two more places with such temples which werecoming on the way. We drove on and reached Shivamoga and found a very good lodge.5th February : Next morning we drove on to Jog Falls around 11.00 a.m. We had been warned thatdue to lack of rain and a dam there would not be much water in Jog Falls which is the biggest fallsin India. Situated amidst thick forests in theWestern Ghats, the highest falls of India havelost their charm since the dam was built up river.But still the gorge and falls give a spectacularview. Steps have been built to walk down to thevalley. We walked down these 1400 steps ormore. We removed our shoes and walked inwater and over rocks to try to reach the littlepond formed by the water falls. Some peoplewere bathing in the pond. We walked over thetricky patches, climbing over rocks, jumping oversmall rocks, or walking through patches of waterwe almost reached near the pool but the finalpatch was tricky and we did not have theclothes for dipping in the water. But it turned out to be a pleasant adventurous day.We did not have drinking water with us. Walking up those steps got bit difficult as we weredehydrated and the valley blocked the winds and the heat was getting to us. We were sweatingprofusely. We had some soft drinks on the way where some enterprising people had put up stallson the steps to serve visitors like us. We made to the top in a tired state. In three days we hadwalked 3600 steps climbing and 3600 steps coming down – which in other terms would work out as walking up 200 floors of a building and walking down the same. It was a great achievement at our age. We spent the night at Karvar. 6th February : Early in the morning we walked to the beach and swam in the sea. It was low tide and there were no waves. We came out after a while as it was not enjoyable without the waves beating against our bodies. We drove on. We passed Goa and had a Gujarati thali in Panjim. We drove on to Ratnagir, the home of famous alphonso mangoes and also
home of Arjun. We found a good hotel but could not sleep well that night. 7th February : We walked along the beach in the morning. There was chill in the air but there were strong waves in the sea which made swimming very enjoyable. When we finished swimming Arjun gave us surprise that we all welcomed. His sister had invited us all for breakfast. She lived in a slum area in a little shack measuring not more than 8 feet by 6 feet and the couple and three children lived in that small space. Other residents in the surrounding shacks were pleasantly surprised and curiousto see us coming. The shack was very neat and clean and had a television also. That small spacehad a tiny cooking area and a small area for washing and bathing. She gave us a lovely simplebreakfast and nice tea. This was the best part of our trip. This was India we wanted to see andexperience and we were so thankful to Arjun and his sister for giving us this wonderfulopportunity.Being Arjun’s home town where he spent hischildhood he was excited to show us thedifferent sites and talk about his adventurousyouth stories. We visited a fort with a temple.Being on top of a hill it had stunning views ofsurrounding scenery. We also visited anaquarium and a museum of ancient art. Wevisited Shivaji museum with life size statutesof soldiers and horses who served Shivaji dobattles with the Moguls and the British.Last few days of the journey were messed upby poor thinking or planning but we were notsure of the distances left and we did not want to be late reaching Mumbai. On the very last day weoriginally planned to stay in Alibaug, an upcoming coming modern resort town but when it wasevening and had still long way to drive inland away from the route to Mumbai, on the spur of themoment we decided to cancel Alibaug. Instead we stayed in Pane which was on the road toMumbai. What looked like a nice modern hotel from outside turned out to be the worst hotel wehad during our whole trip. It was not possible to put our foot in the bathroom and we skipped taking bath in the morning. Guli entertained us to dinner to celebrate her birthday. 8th February : We left Pane at 7.00 in the morning and had our breakfast on the way. We reached Mumbai before 11.00 a.m. We came almost to the end of an amazing journey – something we had not planned or expected to be like it turned out to be. The statistics are astounding. We did 6400 kilometers or 4000 miles in 22 days - almost travelling 200 miles per day. Against that long travelling we did lot of sightseeing also. Expense per head for 22 days plus 2 days sightseeing in
Mumbai came to just £500.00 per person. Outof that almost £290.00 went for the taxi andexpenses connected with the taxi. So for thehotels, meals, fruit, expense of guides came toless than £9.00 per day. The cheapest hotel wepaid Rs 50.00 per person and the mostexpensive was Rs 450.00 – but average wasmore like Rs300.00. In this context we kept toour motto of travelling rough and tough. And allthis amazing when it is realised that the agerange of our group was between 65 and 74 –age at which most people put their feet up andtake it easy in life. Our travelling was gruelling– but we visited lots and lots of interestingsites. We all knew that we would not be coming again so we had to make the best of our trip. Somemay think it stupidity to do such a trip at our age – but to us it was most fulfilling trip. There wereno mishaps or incidents that would have made interesting stories. Car kept intact on this long tripon the roads of India, we all four had no health problems and we were lucky to have a driver likeArjun. Our trip to South India had finished. It had been a hectic trip – but if we were to see as much as possible then this was the way we had to do it. But seeing all those historical temples, forts and palaces gave us a feeling that India was an old civilization and that it was prosperous and full of art and education and religion and yoga and philosophy and lot more. It made us realise that our culture and our heritage had much deeper roots, and our religious heritage was built on solidfoundations over centuries and spread out over the length and breadth of the country. But it wassad to see that the Brahmins had hijacked the religion and converted it into a business and madea living out of it. Every temple we visited had become the hub of the local community, and provideda living to thousands – but at what cost? The way the priests and others entrap the poor andextract money from the poor devout people is disturbing. The great teachings and philosophy, asgiven by Swami Vivekanand, got lost in the maze of blind faith, myths, and stories produced bythese people to entice and entrap the illiterate masses. The greatness of the religion has beenentombed in the rites and rituals created to earna living.We reached Mumbai. Guli packed up and Arjuntook her to her destination. Arjun had become afriend for us and we enjoyed his company andwe appreciated the way he took care of us. Weall said good bye to Arjun and promised that wewill keep in contact.9th February : Next day we three went to seethe famous Mumbai dhobi ghat where washingclothes is a big occupation, where clothes madeby factories come for washing and ironing - anda site which attracts thousands of visitors. Later
we visited the famous Mahalaxmi temple wherethousands and thousands of devotees come topray every day. We saw the Jama Masjid in theocean with a path leading to the main land.Later we went for lunch. It was after 49 years Iwas going for thali lunch to this very simplerestaurant but was amazed to see thestandards still as high as before though theprice had gone up from four rupees to twohundred and seventy rupees. Later we went tosee the Kala Ghoda Festival which hadhundreds of youngsters with exhibits andperformances to keep everyone engrossed.10th February : Dhiru and I met some friends for lunch while Usha went to see her relatives. Inthe afternoon we all saw a pleasant Gujarati play and in the evening Dhiru and I went to see hisfacebook friends in a noisy Bandra Gymkhana. Our trip had come to a happy ending. A trip we started with hardly any fixed plans or advance bookings, turned out to be more successful and satisfying than we had imagined in our wildest dreams. While others were excited by the success of this trip and had started talking about other such trip, I for one kept out of that discussion. I cannot afford to do any more such advance planning at my age. It has been a long report but if I was to do justice than it could not be any shorter. Your comments on email@example.com will be welcome. All my travel and trekking reports are on my website which is www.jayantdoshi.yolasite.comFor photos click on or cut and pastehttp://sdrv.ms/13vRgoR