Facebook – “Like” or “Unlike”

I’ve been on Facebook for a long time now, but I still can’t decide whether I like it or not. I like that it helped me find friends with whom I had lost touch; I like that I get updates on their relationship status, mental status and their whereabouts; I like that I can participate in a virtual book-club and interact with the other book-lovers; I like that I’m a part of a community of bloggers that help one another BUILD their online presence. But there are things about Facebook I totally despise, like the amount of time that gets wasted in the course of checking my account or the bitter aftertaste that’s left in my mind after a bit of surfing through the site.

I log onto Facebook with the intention of checking my notifications and messages and responding to them. It won’t take longer than a few minutes, I reason with myself. Then something catches my eye… I’m notified that a friend has changed her profile picture. The protocol requires me to “Like” the picture or simply ignore and move on. But I don’t. I dig in to see who has commented on the picture. And yes, I read the comments too. An hour, a precious hour that could have been spent making ‘real’ connections with the people that truly matter to me, would have gone down the drain by then.

And then the “friends” themselves… Some of them really matter. I have their phone numbers too. But the rest? I don’t want to know what they are up to. I can’t understand why I’m bombarded with the updates of their “friends” too.

I’m pretty contented with what I’m blessed – I have a loving husband, adorable kids and a big, caring and crazy family; I read, write and travel all the time, the very things that I’ve always wanted to do. And I’m ever so grateful to God or the Higher Power for my blessings, but, sometimes, one glance at my News-feed is enough to send me down the rabbit-hole of insecurity. Then it feels as if my blessings are not enough, that I’m not enough.

It feels as if everyone else is happy, except me. Those “happy” faces may not be revealing what’s actually going on, but they do seem to be having the “perfect” husbands that buy expensive gifts or the “perfect” kids that stand still for a picture; They seem to be having the time of their lives, wearing designer clothes and traveling to exotic locales.

I know, most of the time, what’s shown on the outset isn’t the reality, and I must step beyond such petty insecurities. I know, I know. But sometimes it’s hard. I’m a human after all. So I avoid checking my account on a regular basis and do so only when I receive a bulk of notifications in my mail or an interesting discussion comes up in one of my groups. And I make sure I don’t hang in there for more than a few minutes or so.

Like it or not, there’s no closing my Facebook account anytime soon. By the way, I simply “like”, no LOVE the movie “The Social Network” though…

Horticulture Expo, Telangana – 2015

I love to click pictures of flowers, especially Roses, as you may have observed; I love long early morning walks that take me along a path lined with trees; I love plucking fruits and veggies off the plants and eating them right away or bringing them home to cook. I’m a Nature-lover through and through. But gardening? I have a love/hate relationship with it! It is something I wish to be able to do, but, in which I have failed so miserably, so often.

Many a times I have prepared the soil, sown the seeds, watered the seedbed for a few days and rejoiced at the sight of the saplings emerging gingerly out of the soil. But they have always shriveled and died in the end. Never have I been able to nurture them.

I have given up on the idea that I too am capable of growing a Vegetable Garden someday. It’s simply not my thing. That’s my Mother-in-law’s forte. Thanks to her passion and patience, we grow a lot of the veggies we consume.

So she and I (along with the kids) decided to visit the Horticulture Expo. on Necklace Street, by the Hussain Sagar Lake (remember the post I did yesterday, about “Eat Street“? It is close to that.) in order to buy a few flowering plants, seeds of veggies and fruits and big pots. The entry was free; we were charged only for parking our car.

The more we walked, the more there was to see. Orchids, Bonsai, Pots of every size and shape, tools required for gardening. Even Organic veggies and fruits were on display and for sale. My mother-in-law was left spell-bound; she couldn’t decide on what to buy and what to leave behind. Medha and Madhav were ecstatic to be out in the crowd and were found to be running around, checking out balloons and bubble-makers. Thank God we had taken Madhav’s stroller along, we could fit a few plants in the storage space, apart from strapping him to one place!

Then a woman came, offering to carry the plants and pots for a 100 rupees. She was with us the whole time, poor thing, carrying the stuff we bought, on her head and placing them down on the ground whenever we paused to purchase at a stall.

We bought a lot, enough to fill most of the space in our car. Mother-in-law had to be dragged out in the end as I was beginning to feel tired, managing a couple of high-energy kids. I was feeling hungry too (there wasn’t much to eat inside).

She will probably go again, but I had my fill (of myriad colors, flower arrangements and the buzz of the crowd).

A Night @ Eat Street

I love Eat Street. It has a bunch of eateries to suit every palate, from “Sultan’s Biryani and Kebabs”, that specializes in Mughlai cuisine,  to “Wok of the town” that serves Indo-Chinese food. And there is a Subway and a Pizza Hut too, which means, there’s something to eat for everyone.

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But what attracts me to this place isn’t just the food, but the whole dining experience. It is an open-air food court and a Fair, beside the Hussain Sagar Lake.

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I always enjoy relaxing there with my family, a slice of Tandoori Paneer Pizza in hand, gazing at the opposite shoreline, all lit-up and dazzling, throwing colorful reflections on the lake. The cool breeze and the excited chatter around makes one forget that we are just a hop, skip and a jump from the bustling main road.

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When we were last there, I took the opportunity of our visit to practice some Night Photography. At first I kept clicking pictures without paying much heed to the shutter speed, that is, the time it takes for the shutter to open and close to capture a picture. If it closes too fast, not enough light enters the camera, which means, pictures shot in the dark appear darker. By allowing the camera’s shutter to close slowly, more light can be allowed to enter.

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Prasad suggested I needed to allow my camera to focus before pressing down the shutter release button, so that I reduced the shutter speed.

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I tried that, and the pictures slightly improved in their quality, even though they still appeared grainy.

I dream of the day when I am taking pictures like a pro and using this post to show where I’m coming from!

P1100359I have read in photography websites and books, that a good photographer never uses the flash and makes do with whatever light is available, because using a flash adds an unnatural light to a picture. I get it, but sometimes I just don’t care about what the purists have to say! If breaking a rule means I get a good picture, then break a rule I will!

I did get some good pictures when I (Finally!) turned on the flash.

P1100376 P1100381By the way, I believe it is very VERY important to capture the everyday fleeting moments before they are lost, than to fret over the quality of the pictures or the minutiae of Photography!

Letter to Medha

This feature is inspired by Elise at eliseblaha.typepad.com. I plan to write a letter each to Medha and Madhav once every month.

Dear Medha,

You always have a bag slung across your shoulder, no matter where you go, just like I do, but I think mine is way too lighter than yours. It has to be!

As I sit here, taking an inventory of your bag, there’s not an inch of space on the couch, that isn’t covered with its contents…

While mine has –

  • Some cash
  • a Debit card
  • a Library Card
  • a couple of Business cards
  • an Extra diaper for Madhav
  • a Phone
  • my Samsung Tablet
  • an Eye-liner
  • a Lipstick
  • a comb
  • a couple of candies for Madhav and you

You have the whole world in your bag!

It contains-

  • a few keepsake 10 rupee notes we bought at Iskcon (that supposedly brings good luck!)
  • a pack of tissue paper
  • an empty box of mints
  • 2 bunches of keys
  • a lock
  • an unidentifiable object that acts as a magnet and has a pin-like protrusion that poked my palm as I examined it!
  • a water-color box
  • an empty box of chewing gums containing two empty Lip Balms
  • a spinning top
  • a box of chalks
  • a 4 GB memory card
  • USB cord
  • a whistle
  • 3 phones (Toy phones obviously.)
  • a hair clip
  • a couple of toys
  • a bubble maker
  • dozens of Business Cards
  • Receipts
  • a couple of handkerchiefs
  • a teeny tiny bottle of Pond’s cream
  • a couple of mirrors
  • pieces of wood
  • dried leaves
  • (Taking a deep breath…) a snail’s shell

Yup! You carry all that and more. Whenever we go out of station or to a place that requires us to do a lot of walking, your papa and I go through your bag (without your approval, of course. It is hard for you to let go!) to decide on what can be carried, what stays back at home and what needs to be tossed in the dustbin right away (Out you go magnet-like-thingy-that-poked-me!)

But a fresh pile of knickknacks adds on, by the time we reach home. Cleaning that bag of yours is a futile exercise, but watching you carry it around everywhere you go, asking me to keep it safe when you need to play, pulling out a little something for Madhav to cheer him up when he’s crying, brings a big smile on my face!

By the way, I must thank you for a jolly time I had going through the contents of your bag and thinking of the joy this simple act of collecting and protecting such tiny (and weird) “treasures” as the shell of a snail brings to you…. Thank you!

Love,

Mama.

 

Farmhouse- This week.

An assortment of Roses are in full bloom in our garden. They have been keeping me and my camera terribly busy.

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P1100264The winds are making it hard for me to keep my camera steady and click good pictures. If getting a good enough picture of a Rose swaying to the tune of a heavy wind is hard, then photographing kids, always on the move, is harder.

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P1100282Good photography demands a lot of time, patience, a playful spirit and a willingness to experiment and learn from mistakes. I don’t have all of those in abundance yet, which shows in the kind of pictures I take. But I do have the perfect location in the form of our farmhouse and the perfect Models in the flowers and my kids! So I make complete use of every visit to the farmhouse to hone my photography skills.

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P1100293Ripe, red Tomatoes with waxy skin (naturally, and not because of a coating of oil wax!) that tasted delicious; Bitter gourd, Brinjal, Drumstick, Spinach that looked way WAY better than the limp leaves that are found at the Super Market, were only a part of the bounty we plucked from our garden this week.

 

 

 

Spice Garden

 

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We had thoroughly enjoyed the food and the ambience at the Spice Garden Restaurant on our  first visit and were going back for more.

Back in the US,  especially in Tucson, where we lived, there were pretty good Indian restaurants,  but they weren’t strictly vegetarian. That meant the restaurants paid more attention to the dishes containing meat, or so we used to feel. It always felt like we didn’t have enough variety and that when we paid for a buffet, we were covering the expenses for preparing non vegetarian food, which we didn’t even touch. In India it is so different. We have so many purely vegetarian restaurants to choose from, that serve banquets fit for a King, that we are spoilt for choice here!

Being a foodie family, that’s what we are found to be doing most weekends, trying new restaurants.

As I was saying, we went back to the Spice Garden once again, ’cause we LOVED it the first time around. This time too we weren’t disappointed.

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We were served a welcome drink called Spice Green, which was, like the name suggests, Spicy and Green. We adults loved it but not the kids. When I asked the waiter what went into its making, he said something along the lines of “Sprite and Cough syrup”!

“I’m sorry, Cough syrup?”, I asked.

Again, he repeated something, very fast, that sounded like “Cough Syrup”. I don’t think it was Cough syrup, why would anyone put Cough syrup in a juice? At a fancy restaurant? Maybe I should have asked someone else for clarification. That didn’t occur to me then!

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The soup was served. I chose Sweet Corn over Tomato soup. There were a good number of Salads to try.

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The starters were the real stars of the “show”! They were served at the table itself, hot and crispy. There were Cheese Balls, which surprisingly the kids didn’t like, but we did. And Paneer Tikka and Aloo 65, each appetizer tastier than the other.

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I was busy trying to figure out the best way to capture their beauty with my camera, than focusing on finishing my plate, that I was soon served an ultimatum by my husband – Eat first or be abandoned!

Even though the mouth-watering starters filled up most of the space in my tummy, I decided to give the main course a try, as everyone else was raving about the dishes.

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The Kids loved the Pasta and Coriander Noodles. I loved the buttery Paneer Masala with Roti; Vegetable Do Pyaza was a pleasant surprise, since it didn’t look appealing, but tasted nice.

Even if I feel full, I can’t resist digging into a dessert. Kova Puri looked and tasted delicious, while Heera Jamun looked so cute like tiny marbles that I had to pop a couple into my mouth, even as my tummy began protesting because it couldn’t be stuffed anymore!

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P1100245I didn’t TOUCH the Saffron Phirni, no, really, although it looked tempting and came in a clay bowl. I just thought it looked cute paired with a scoop of Butterscotch Ice cream.

I fed them to my dear husband! 🙂 (Psst…. The family dustbin!)

Price for the buffet – Rs. 299 (plus taxes)

 

Petrified Forest National Park

This is an essay I wrote as an assignment for an Environmental Studies course I took at a Community College in Tucson, USA. I’ve altered it and added pictures from the trip to make it read less like a Scientific paper and more as a travelogue.

As I read through the essay, I realized I had forgotten most of the things we saw and experienced at the Petrified Forest National Park. I’m so glad I recorded the events, even if it was just for an assignment. I’m also glad that I continue to record our BIG and small moments as blog posts ’cause my memory is never to be relied upon! 

October  2009,  my husband and I visited the  Petrified  Forest  National  Park  which  is  a 6  hours  drive  from  Tucson.

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At  first  glance,  the  park  appears  to  be  strewn with huge  boulders.  But a  closer  inspection  reveals  that  they  are logs  that  have  turned  into  stones, as  if  the Gods had cursed them! They were trees once and turned into fossils over time. The park has over  200  million  year  old  fossils  and  hence  the  name  “Petrified”(changed into a stony substance). Petrified  Forest  was  set aside  as  a   national  monument  in   1906 to  preserve  and  protect  the  petrified  wood  for  its  scientific  and  aesthetic  value.

That they were trees once upon a time cannot be denied at close proximity. The “boulders” have an outer layer that looks like the bark of a tree. They have tree-rings  too.  But when  you  touch  them,  it feels like Granite.

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It  is  hard  to  believe  that  about  225  million  years  ago,  during  the  Triassic  period,  even before the Dinosaurs began arriving, a  floodplain  existed  here  littered  with   fallen  trees.  Periodic  flooding  buried  these  logs  under  layers  and  layers  of  silt.  Over  time,  silica-laden  waters  filtered  through  these  deposits  and  petrified  the  wood  by  encasing  the  trees’  organic  material  with  minerals.  Iron  oxides  give  the  petrified  wood  its  distinctive  red,  yellow  and  orange  hues;  manganese  oxides  produce  blues,  purples  and  deep  blacks,  while  the  original  carbon  produces  shades  of  gray.

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It  is  believed  that  Geologic  forces  similar  to  those  of  the  Triassic  period  still  shape  the  earth’s  surface,  and  may  create  the  preliminary  conditions  for  future  petrification.

Before   being  set  aside  as  a  national  treasure,  the  forest  was  plundered  in  the  19th  and  20th  centuries  by  commercial  collectors  seeking  petrified  wood  to  sell  as  souvenirs.  Completion  of  nearby  railway  line  provided  early  travelers  and  relic  hunters  easy  access  to  the  forest.  Vandalism  exists  even  to  this  day  but  measures  are  put  in  place  to  curb  them.

We  explored  many  sites  on  foot.  One  of  those hikes  took us  to  the  Blue  Mesa. It is  the  best  place  in  the  park  to  explore  Badlands.  Badlands are  found  around  the  world, usually  in  arid  regions  where  poorly  consolidated  rock  undergoes  infrequent  but  torrential  rains.  Bentonite  clay  within  these  formations  can  swell  up  with  moisture,  shrinking  and  cracking  as  it  dries,  creating  an  “elephant-skin”  surface.

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Remnants  of  a  village  and  rocks  with  petroglyphs  on  them  are proof that people once homed in this arid, mostly barren area.

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The sparse vegetation here  does not  have  the  luxury  of  shelter,  running  water  and  climate  control.  But ,  by  using  a  variety  of  specialized  growth  forms,  plants  have  adapted  to  these  challenging  environmental  conditions.  While  hiking  along  the  rim  it  was  exciting  to  observe  the  tactics  each  plant  had  adopted  to  survive.  We  learnt  that  the  prickly  pear  has  shallow  wide-spreading  root  system  to  gather  surface  moisture  from  brief  showers;  the  salt  bush  has  fine  hair  covering  light-colored  leaves  which  give  protection  from  intense  sunlight;  Mormon  tea  has  scale-like  leaves  and  waxy  skin  which  help  in  retaining  moisture;  the  yucca’s  leaves  are  arranged  to  channel  moisture  to  the  plant’s center  and  so  on.

There  were  boards explaining  what  medicinal  properties some  of  these  plants  had  and  what  other  uses  were  they  of  to  the  inhabitants.  These  plants  must  have  made  their  lives bearable and livable.

To top off an enlightening experience, we  were  bid  adieu with a spectacular sunset,  which  left us planning another visit to the park.

 

Sources :-

The notes I took at the Park and the website www.nps.gov).

Tirupathi – other attractions nearby

We had booked a couple of days at Tirumala, thinking we might be able to “see” the Lord Venkateshwara the next day, if we were turned away on the first, due to the presence of a large number of devotees. Fortunately, we had the Darshan right away, which opened up a lot of time for us to spend in and around Tirupathi.

We visited the Sri Vari Museum, which is at a walking distance from Sri Venkateshwara temple. I’ve visited Tirumala many times, but had never set foot in this museum or even heard of it before. We just happened to notice it as we walked out of the temple, and decided to take a look. There was no entrance fee. We walked through rooms lined with sculptures of Gods made centuries ago.I got an idea of how the art of sculpting has evolved over the ages from idols that look a bit knobbly to the latest, more shapelier ones.

There were paintings and pictures of temples hung on walls along with the other artifacts. Even though it was free, not many seemed to be visiting it, which, thankfully meant, we could walk around and gaze at the life-like idols for however long we wished to, and in peace.

We booked a cab for the next day, to cover as many places worth visiting as we could, before we had to board our train at night.

We went to see one of the very few Natural Arches in Asia, whose picture we had seen at the museum and decided we HAD to pay a visit. This Natural Arch (also called Silathoranam), caused by erosion, isn’t as awe-inspiring as the ones we saw at the Arches National Park, Utah, but it is beautiful in its own right, especially because it is said to have been a doorway through which the Lord himself entered, to take his residence at the temple.

20150112_094818There was a mini zoo within the premises, which the kids enjoyed.

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A small hike led us through a waterfall and a tiny temple.

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We went down to Tirupathi to visit the beautiful Iskcon temple. The realistic idols clad in rich, colorful clothes inspired me. But the downer was the way in which the people who worked there were trying to get us to make donations or buy a product, like salesmen. That felt jarring within a temple.

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Our next stop was Kapilatheertham, a temple dedicated to Lord Shiva, at the foothills of Tirumala. Right beside the temple is a waterfall that supposedly swells during the rainy season, but when we were there, it was nothing more than a trickle or two. We sprinkled a few droplets on our heads as it is said to wash away all our sins.

20150112_121637The temple looked very old and left me humbled to be walking on the very stones where the Kings and Queens once graced their feet upon.

Sadly, it didn’t look well-maintained.

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20150112_121327Our last stop was the SriKalahasthi temple, located in Chittoor district of Andhra Pradesh, which is a 40 min drive from Tirupathi. From the outside, the temple looked pretty small, and dirty too; The river, Swarna Mukhi, looked like she had been transformed into a sewer; The surrounding area was crowded with shops, speeding vehicles and people, making it hard to reach the entrance of the temple; A snake charmer scared the little ones with his poor snake, which itself looked really scared. It felt like a Circus and not a place of immense religious and historical value.

Sadly, I couldn’t capture the grandeur I saw and experienced, once I set foot inside the temple premises. We had to leave our cameras/ cellphones behind in the car, as they were not allowed inside.

Built centuries ago, in an architectural style that kind of shows Man his place in the grand scheme of things, it truly made me feel small and of no consequence, whatsoever. The ceiling was high, the pillars supporting it, tall and imposing, the chambers dark and a bit claustrophobic. It stirred both, an eerie feeling and reverence, at the same time in me. The whole experience was other-worldly. And our walk within the temple felt never-ending, so huge is the temple.

But one thing I will always remember about this temple is our descent, 20 feet below, to see the Pathala Ganapathi. The entrance was small and we had to crawl through it to reach a narrow staircase, which plunged down into a dark chamber. There lay the Pathala Ganapathi, who seemed mysterious, due to the inconvenience he imposed on the devotees who longed to pay him a visit.

Descending seemed easier compared to climbing 20 huge steps up a staircase with no wiggle-room. It truly was an adventure, especially with a couple of kids. But the kids themselves seemed to be thrilled about the “adventure”.

There’s so much to see and do in India, I never thought visiting some of our historical and religious places could come so close to the adventure we experienced hiking through the National Parks in the US.

Tirupathi – Tirumala Venkateshwara temple.

Yesterday, I published a post on my first time climbing the Tirumala hills.

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I felt jubilant at the end of the climb. And the kids were elated to receive us, like we had been apart for long. (We were out climbing only for a couple of hours before we joined them!)

We didn’t pay a visit to the Lord Tirumala Venkateshwara at the end of the climb. Instead, we first checked into a suite at Lailavathi Nilayam, a guest house at the hilltop of Tirumala. On our previous visits, we had stayed at Fortune Kences Hotel, which is situated close to the railway station, at Tirupathi or the Udupi Mutt which is located at Tirumala. But I highly recommend staying at one of the guest houses up the hill, close to the temple. A stay at Tirumala is much more convenient than staying at a hotel in Tirupathi; It takes longer to get to the temple. Plus, a stay at Tirumala, which is well-maintained and scenic, is so rejuvenating than staying at a pricey hotel in Tirupathi, amidst the cacophony of a big city.

Our room was clean, spacious and cozy. But the best part was the views our balcony offered.

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Refreshed after a shower and lunch at Sarangi, we headed to the temple for our appointment with the Lord at 3pm. This temple is pretty much crowded all through the year; In order to avoid the rush, we had purchased “Special Darshan” tickets for 300 rupees a person in advance. Actually, we bought tickets for both the days that we were staying there with the idea that, if it got too crowded and we were sent back the first day, we still had the chance to visit the temple the next day!

After winding through an enclosure for a long time, we were stopped at a counter to have our tickets examined. We were told that we had to submit a photocopy of our ticket, but we didn’t have one. We asked them to keep the original, but they refused and ordered one of us to go and get the copy from the Xerox machine, located at the start of the queue. Poor Prasad! He raced to the store to return before the number of devotees swelled.

Even with tickets booked in advance for Special Darshan, we walked at snail’s pace within the enclosures, with no breathable space between 2 people. Now that we had entered, there was no way out, except after visiting the Sanctum Sanctorum. After depleting their snacks, the kids began feeling bored and fussy and in the case of Medha, scared that she was going to be squashed by the adults around her. I carried Madhav, while Prasad carried Medha now and then. She is almost 5 and difficult to be carried for a longer time. So I tried to keep them entertained by singing rhymes along with them or by diverting their attention to happier thoughts, like talking to them about the windmills we could spot through a tiny window.

As it neared the end, just before the darshan, the crowd could not be restrained. There was a mad rush to “see” the Lord. The chanting of “Yedu Kondala vada Venkataramana Govinda Govinda” (“The Lord Venteshwara, who resides atop the 7 hills!” got louder and louder. People were ecstatic, as if they were about to see the God for real. I couldn’t help feeling the same… Something about that place has always had an intoxicating effect on me.

There was a place to offer money, in which I just emptied my purse. I couldn’t help it! Even though I’m not a very religious person, the Tirumala Venkateshwara temple has that kind of effect on me!

 

 

Tirupathi – the journey

“Slow and Steady!“, I kept telling myself, as I climbed the steps to reach Tirumala, the abode of Lord Venkateshwara. It was my first time; I had always driven with my family by car or bus and had never taken the pedestrian path up the hills. I tried not to think of the 3550 steps before me but chose to focus on the one step in front. One step at a time! Slow and Steady! One step at a time!…

 That’s what kept ringing in my ears as it got steep and difficult to climb.

I had joined Prasad on this difficult journey on a whim. He had long planned to do the hike all by himself as he felt I wasn’t physically fit to climb. Prasad plays Tennis, does weight training and elliptical and even walks with me every morning, while I only do the morning walk. It had been long since I’d climbed or hiked last. But how could I let a personal challenge like that pass me by? Or let go of a chance to spend some quiet time with Prasad?

Our train had left Secunderabad around 6 in the evening and we reached Tirupathi early in the morning next day. The kids enjoyed walking the length and breadth of our compartment. Madhav was too excited to eat his dinner. So he felt hungry and fussy in the middle of the night. That, and the tiny berth we were cramped together in made it impossible to catch a wink of sleep. Medha- her sleep situation had scared us. She is someone who rolls all over the bed, so we worried she might fall from her berth. We asked if she would sleep with one of us. She wasn’t ready to. We tied a bed-sheet around the middle berth, placed thick blankets as logs beside her, and hoped for the best. She slept through the night without a mishap.

As soon as we got down, we went to a hotel right in front of the Railway Station to eat some breakfast. The food was hard to swallow, but swallow we did, a couple of idlis each, to stock up energy  for the climb.

We told Medha we’d be visiting a temple and if she wanted to, she could join us, but her ajja-dodda (Grandparents), who had accompanied us on the trip, would be going to the hotel to freshen up. She never passes up a chance to explore a hotel room, so she gladly went along with them. We had to sneak out of the cab at Alipiri, when Madhav wasn’t watching.

My legs protested just as I began climbing the first 1000 steps. My muscles cramped and I had difficulty breathing. I asked Prasad not to talk to me as that used up all the energy I had and kept me panting. Every 50 steps or so, I stopped to drink water and to catch a couple of deep breaths. Whenever I did that, I could feel a new wave of energy surging in, making the next few steps climbable. I never let myself sit and relax. I thought that would put my body under inertia and make it impossible to continue the journey afterwards. We kept on moving.

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Prasad mumbled a Mantra, while I mutely watched the people around me, as they undertook this journey, and also wondered what effort and time must have gone into building the steps, in the beginning. The first pilgrims must have had it so hard. We now had a protective ceiling, railings to hold onto, comfortable seats, toilets, shops selling everything from water to Bhel Puri! I only had to look at the little kids or frail old folks making the climb just like me, to pull me out of exhaustion and self-pity

We were admonished by many for wearing chappals. We didn’t know it was a rule not to. Maybe we shouldn’t have, because many hadn’t. Many considered the steps sacred and lit camphor or smeared vermilion upon each step. Imagine having to bend down every few seconds! I pitied their poor backs! I also spotted a few devotees crawling up the steps. The things we do to appease god!

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That’s OK,  but if we could use some of that will power to do something productive, this world would become a much better place…

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About 2000 steps later, the climb leveled out and it was just a long stretch to walk on, through an arid jungle. At one point, we had to walk on the road, sharing it with oncoming vehicles. But the views of the mountains were stunning, for me to sulk about the inconvenience to the pedestrians. We spotted windmills, that instantly flooded us with memories of San Diego, our favorite holiday spot in the US. I kept expecting to see a Gopuram or a gigantic statue of the Lord to mark the end of our journey, but I found none, except, maybe, the gorgeous gigantic statue of Hanuman, along the way.

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The last few steps were steep, but I was brimming with excitement with every step climbed – I had done it; I had FINISHed something hard that I set out to do; I had challenged myself and had emerged victorious. I was also brimming with gratitude towards the Lord Venkateshwara himself; Had he not blessed me with the energy, determination and the companionship of Prasad, it would’ve been impossible for me to accomplish my goal.

It didn’t matter that I was totally exhausted and sore by the end of the journey. And for the next couple of days too…

PS- The band on Prasad’s wrist recorded

9 kms walked

3550 steps climbed

1582 Calories burnt

in 2 and a half hours

at the end.