Sunday, October 19, 2014

Returning Home!

On the 2nd of October, I drove to Mangalore. I was very excited about my 10 day long vacation. After crossing the busy Bangalore traffic by around 7:30 AM, I was on Bangalore-Hassan toll road. Most of this stretch is now complete and makes the journey very easy. At one of the toll booths before Channarayapatna, I was requested by a toll collector to give him a ride till Chanparaypatna. It was surprising to notice that the government buses did not stop anywhere but in main towns; so people in between always had to rely on shared autos. In Mangalore, private buses do much better job connecting even remote locations of the district. 

I stopped at Sakleshpur for some food and then continued down the shiradi ghat which is in pathetic condition again. They are planning to close it down for six more months from December onwards. I was in Surathkal by around 2:15 PM. I had food and rested. That evening, we had Durga Namaskara pooja at home. It was nice to see the pooja after a long time. 

However, I had to step out for a while to meet one of my Dad’s friend who is a surgeon. I had been planning to get rid of the cyst above my left eye for a while now. Ever since a new colleague told me how he got rid of his about 10 years ago, I have been more confident about the operation. It was meant to be about 15 minutes job and an hours rest before I could be discharged. So October 4th was decided as the big day.  I returned home, met a few relatives, got to serve dinner in traditional style to all the guests after a long time. I watched yakshagana at  Marigudi Temple for sometime. All 9 days, yakshagana is performed all night in two temples near my house. 

Next day I mostly relaxed watching some movies. On October 4th at 7:00 AM we were at the hospital in Mangalore. I had blood test done, got my X-ray taken and had the end of my eyebrow shaved. Doctor arrived at around 9:30AM. I was pretty relaxed and seemed unaffected by the happenings. My eye was closed and taped and local anaesthesia was provided around the cyst. I felt the blade cut through my skin but there was no pain, not until they tried to pull the cyst. I started feeling the pain when he pulled it. No further dosage helped reduce it. He concluded that the cyst had grown too deep into the bones and thus I had to go for General Anaesthesia. The doctor explained everything neatly to me but kept scolding the two nurses there. He complained about how the light was not good and he could not see clearly and how one of the nurse's hands were shaking and had to be dismissed. By then an anaesthetist from another hospital arrived. I don’t know where and when they injected but i slowly blacked out. I found myself flying in a space that seemed like The Grand Canyon. There were colourfully lit walls on either side and in between them I  was gliding. I recollect being happy but when I regained conscious, I had a bad headache and severe hunger. I began to smile for no reason. May be because i was happy that it was over. 

I was showed the cyst but in my half awake state I noticed just two pieces of flesh soaked in blood. I was moved to a room and had to take rest for a day. Next to the wound they had fixed a tube that sucked bad blood and other fluids out of the cavity where not so long ago the cyst sat. This was to prevent infection. The tube collected all the bad blood and carried down to a bellow like bottle that hanged around my ear.

Next day, I was discharged and I came home. For the next several days that I was there, I relaxed. We had planned to tour Kerala but the operation was severe than intended so all was dropped and I was to take rest. The view from my room was brilliant; greenery at its best. How many years had passed since I had had this quietness. It felt like I was back in the days of my youth when I would sit near the same window and look out at this greenery. 

With nothing but rest to do, I had one of the best times of my life. I watched birds that come to our house daily and tried to track their timing and favourite trees. 

Helped my mother make turmeric out of freshly unearthed roots.

Watched our small farm being de-weeded and cautioned the workers to not remove the flowering trees that I had planted.

Every evening, I would take an auto to a near by hospital and get the dressing changed and return back by bus. Slowly the swelling around my eye reduced. 

On 9th October, we went to Surathkal lighthouse with our family friend Vinoda and her dog Blacky (A Labrador). At the light house while speaking to an official, I was informed of the radars placed along the sea shore after the Kasab incident. I was glad that some security measures are being taken. He was very excited about dogs and someday after retirement wanted to have one as a pet.

Blacky had fun time at the beach. She seemed to love the water and kept leaping as the waves approached her.

Next day, we went to Pollali temple and then to Ideal cafe in Mangalore. I enjoyed a burger and the famous Ideal ice-creams; my favourite- Banana split. 

On Saturday, the 11th My parents left to Mumbai. I had my stitches removed on the same day after which we visited Vinoda’s house. Here we played with her five dogs - Buddy, Rani, Chinna and Bubbly are all german shepherds and of course our Blacky a lab.  

Preethi and I  had a great time there. After that we returned home and packed. Next morning we left home by 6:30 AM and headed back to Bangalore via Charmadi Ghat. The view and drive was excellent. We reached Bangalore by 2:00 PM. 

This is the longest I have been in my Surathkal house after having left for work in 2001. I thoroughly enjoyed my stay there. Both my parents were all day at home so it was fun to blend back into their routine life. I loved looking over the de-weeding process that as a child I always enjoyed watching as it made our little farm turn neat and tidy. I watched several birds that stop by our house daily. Amma cooked all those special Mangalore dishes that I enjoy - Onion Sasivey, Onion gojju, Pundi gatti, Sajigge-Bajil, Kottige, Menaskai, Gassi, Goli Bajje, Mangalore Buns and many more. 

It is also interesting to notice how our mind works. Until I had no thoughts of removing the cyst, it was always a part of me. I associated my headaches, lack of sleep and everything with it. The day I realised that it could be removed and had no impact on me, everything changed. My mind automatically felt a disconnect with it. And today with it gone, i feel no different. I feel happy rather that something that was not a part of me is gone. I have one less thing to worry about.

I was sad while returning but I felt that in these 10 days, I got a glimpse of what I would be doing when I retire and return back to my home.  And I remembered this quote that I had read long ago.

"A man travels the world over in search of what he needs and returns home to find it." - George A. Moore

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Shivathar Ghal & Gandhar Pale Caves

We had ample amount of time after Raigad fort. Per initial plan we were supposed to stay there for a night but instead decided to go to this another fort. We thought it was Shivthar Ghad and hence thought of it to be a fort. When we reached there at around 5:00 PM after passing through some really remote locations we realised that it was Shivathar Ghal and houses a famous Sundar math. There is nothing much here except for the math, two shops and three houses. This place is an abode of nature; completely surrounded by hills and forest. Below is the info on this place from Wiki - 

"Shivthar Ghal, also known as Sundarmath, is a cave, about 34 km from Mahad, near Barasgaon. Samarth Ramdas dictated Dasbodh to Kalyanswami. Samarth Ramdas lived here for about 22 years. It is believed that this is where the first meeting between Shivaji Maharaj and Samarth Ramdas took place. The cave was discovered by Shri Shankarrao Deo of Dhule in 1930. The cave and surrounding area was renovated after Samarth Seva Mandal was formed in 1950. The campus includes the actual cave under the waterfall, Ramdas Swami temple, dining hall and accommodation. Shivthar Ghal is located in Varandha Ghat in the Sahyadris on the Bhor-Mahad road."

On our way to the math, I saw this beautiful house and told that it would be great to live there. While enquiring at the math we learnt that they had only basic amenities and we had to carry our blankets and instead could choose to stay at the Raigad Jilla Parishad Guest house. And that happened to be the beautiful house we had passed by. That happy coincidence was more than welcoming and we immediately drove to the place. Standing alone without people attending to it, it appeared like an haunted house. The caretaker and his family live in a small outhouse behind the guest house.  

(Contact - Sharath salonke, 7507739304 )

Well, the whole bungalow was ours but we booked two rooms for Rs 500 each. Food was extra and he charged Rs80 for a meal. There is also a VIP room that is only reserved for Government officials. We settled in and then quickly got ready to go to the math for Aarathi that happens from 6:00 to 7:00 PM. Three old men and one old lady sat in the main hall singing prayers. As soon as we entered, the lady gave us books which had all the Bhajans. We sat there for about forty five minutes singing the Bhajan and Jap along with them. It was a nice experience. 

The ashram is inside a cave and a beautiful but furious waterfall falls very close to the place. The sound of the waterfall was so loud that standing in front of it made me feel scared of the power it holds. The cave actually is below the waterfall and as you walk towards it you get drenched by a light shower.

We returned back to the guest house and waited for food. The math also offers food but we choose to have dinner at the guest house. After a long wait our dinner arrived at around 10 PM. Rice Bhakri, Baingan and Potato Sabji, Dhal and Green chilly Tesa with some rice. Everything tasted very delicious.

After a good nights sleep, I woke up at around 5:00 AM next morning (September 1st). Ganesh Bhai was getting ready to go for morning Aarathi. I decided to join him. We freshened up and left. The same gathering of devotees were there. We sat with them and sang bhajans and prayers. I felt very relaxed and peaceful there. The music of bhajan seemed to blend with the sound of waterfall.  We were offered some tea at the ashram.

We took a small walk up the hill  behind the muth. The path leads to a village. After climbing a few distance we decided not to continue and return as we were unsure of how far up the village was. 

At the guest house delicious Poha and tea was waiting for us. I had requested the caretaker the previous night to add some potato to the poha. His wife had added some finely chopped potato to the Kandha poha that tasted brilliant. 

We got ready and left by around 9:00 AM. On our way we stopped for a while to absorb the beauty of the place. This is one of the best places I have visited in India; very meagrely populated, an abode of greenery that radiates only positive energy. 

On our way back we stopped at Pale caves near Mahad. The design in these Buddhist caves are not very intricate but still possess a charm of the bygone days.

Again the beautiful view of Sahyadri mountains followed us where ever we went. Countless waterfalls pouring from its shoulders.

We hurried back to Panvel as I had to leave to airport by 2:00 PM. But not before stopping for a quick vada pav. How can I leave Mumbai without eating its most famous dish? Even though i ordered one, i could not resist a second one. There is something unique about the vada pav that you get in Mumbai than those that are found else where and should never be missed.

And also not before stopping to buy some vegetables from this vegetable vendor who was all decked up with a traditional attire.

We reached Panvel at around 1:45 PM. Akki had ordered Johar bhakri and some Sabji. She quickly prepared some Kichdi and we had a quick lunch. I left for airport by 2:30 PM. My flight was delayed by 45 minutes that gave me enough time there with which I did nothing. I was still in a blissful mood that the greenery of Sahyadri had filled me with. At the other end of my flight a mundane life awaited me but I wished to keep drifting like this instead. Fortunately or unfortunately all good experiences have to come to an end so that we can cherish them and value everything involved with it;  the magnificent view that you filled your eyes with, the people who accompanied you and helped you get around, The people you met on your journey and the moments shared, the food you ate and then those magical moments that make you wonder why are you there of all the places that you could have been in? 

The flight was uneventful. I tried to catch some sleep and when I woke up, the plane was close to landing. As I took a taxi back home, I realised how untouched by the festive mood this city was. In Bangalore and even Mangalore, Ganesha festival is more about cultural programs but I had returned from a place where there was only devotion where ever one saw. Importance was given to the intent and not some dance or music program by a celebrity. 

From a lively and green vacation I began to drive on the roads leading to regular life. I knew that it would take me at least more than a week to get over this Mumbai Hangover.

Raigad Fort Trek

On the Morning of Aug 31st, at around 6:30 AM we left Panvel in a Maruti Ertigo; Bawa, Akki, Deeku, Ganesh Bhai, his son Shivam, his friend Vineeth and me. It was drizzling and all through the route. We took the Mumbai-Goa route towards Raigad. On our way we stopped at a Kamat Hotel to have some tasty Misal Pav for breakfast. Sayadri mountains were at its best in this season; greenery everywhere you could see and filled with countless waterfalls. 

We reached Raigad at around 10 AM. I had carried my Poncho and that came really handy. We rented some extra Umbrellas for Rs50. A cable car ticket price is Rs180 per person. While the rest took both way ticket I insisted on trekking back alone. So I took a one way ticket. The ropeway ride was interesting. However the mist prevented a good view of the surroundings. It was like taking a 5 minute climb into the clouds. 

At the summit, we hired a Guide. We also ordered some Bhakri for lunch from a lady who told she would keep the food ready and meet us at the temple. Our guide impressed us a lot with his manner of narrating the story of Shivaji and his eight wives. Like a thriller, he disclosed the reason behind only six queen rooms in the palace. One wife stayed with Shivaji’s mother and the other had some health issue due to which she stayed downhill. Of course the palace of Shivaji is all in ruins as the British bombarded the fortess in 1818 using cannons. 

We visited the main durbar where the coronation of Shivaji happened. A replica of the throne sits there today. Our guide gave a good loud announcement praising the Maratha King Shivaji and we all followed him with a Jai at the end. We walked past the main doors and the market places that in this cloudy weather looked magical and appeared as if we were taking a tour to the mystical world of the Maratha empire. 

Before leaving us, the guide gave a live performance from one of the plays. He enacted the dialogue of Arungazeb where in he praises his own enemy Shivaji. Our talented guide had amazing voice and he just impressed us all with his dramatic end to the tour. 

We took a walk to the Jagdishwar temple. Next to which is the tomb of King Shivaji. A small sculptor of his dog Wagya who is believed to have jumped into the fire is also placed in front of his tomb. But certain controversy surrounds this as whether this is actually based on a recorded event or was installed as an insult to the king. 

At the temple, we met the lady who had promised us food. She lived in a house behind the temple. We followed her through narrow streets to a small hut where her family has been living since more than 60 years. The archeology department has denied electricity here hence they live there with minimal privileges. But for we hungry people, she was a saviour by preparing for us some delicious rice bhakri, junka and spicy tesa. I just loved the food. This was an experience I shall never forget. I thanked her for the delicious food.

While the others took ropeway back, I took the steps down all alone. On my way I passed by several waterfalls. Occasionally the sky cleared and displayed some fantastic view of the area. I met a group of Engineering students who requested me to click their pictures and email it to them.

I stopped at a small tea stall where an old lady made some fresh tea for me on Chulha. The view from the tea stall was amazing. The trekking trail was also very impressive. Thankfully there are no leeches here like in the western ghats. 

I reached the base in around one and half hours. My poncho came of great help because the rain did not stop at all. This trek though short was very exciting because at times I found myself alone in the forest. There was nothing but the sound of rainfall as it hit the green leaves and that of the waterfall at a distance. It was simply magical.  

At the base, I met with others and we left to Shivathar ghal.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Ganesha Festival In Mumbai

As I have already claimed before that only other city of India that I would like to live in apart from Bangalore, would be Mumbai. I just love the city and every time that I visit my sister, I make sure to live the city rather than just visiting as a tourist. Over the years, this liking has made me travel every 6 months. This time I picked August for two important reasons - The Monsoon and Ganesha Festival. I had originally intended to go during the visarjan to capture the crowd and the immersion of Lord Ganesha. But for several reasons that seemed less possible. So I decided to go during the festival.

I had only 3 days of rest before I packed my bags again. On the day of Ganesh Chaturthi (29th Aug), at around 4:45 AM, I left to the airport. I had expected a long wait at the counter but everything happened fast and I was at the gate within half an hour. Almost immediately, I was to board the aeroplane. The flight was uneventful and as soon as I grabbed my bags from the baggage claim, I headed to the prepaid taxi counter and booked one to Panvel. It was around 8:45 AM by the time I started my drive towards Navi Mumbai (New Mumbai). As soon as I drove out of the airport, a stench filled the air. During my previous visits, I had always enjoyed the drive from airport to New Mumbai but this time it looked very unclean. Even though it isn’t as clean as Bangalore, I had never felt this way before. I thought it was because of the Monsoon. The new bypass road does not take you inside the city anymore, so perhaps thus, i got to see more of suburbs that are not very clean. The sides of the roads were filled with old buildings, houses and lots of garbage mainly consisting of plastic. I think it is hard to maintain such a population in a city and expect 100% cleanliness when people from across the country of different class, creed and culture are all staying in the same place. Recently my notice towards our civic sense has increased. May it be in some streets of Bangalore or in the villages of North Karnataka or now in Mumbai, the case was more or less similar. More the population more the issue.

Anyways, thanks to the google maps, this time I did not have to call my sister to ask for directions. I always get lost when I enter new panvel. I reached the apartment in an hour thanks to a holiday no traffic expressway. At home Akki, Bawa and Deeku were busy preparing for the Pooja. Akki cooked the Mangalore Ganesha Favourites - Mudey (A type of Idly but batter poured in cups made of Jackfruit leaves), Sweet Appam, Sweet Modaka and Spicy Modaka, Chakuli, Laddu and many more. After the pooja at home, we were invited by her neighbours for Aarathi at their place where they keep Ganesha idol. I met Ganesh Bhai and Shivam there. Everyone close to this family had gathered and it was a collaborative effort from all to celebrate this festival. Ganesh Bhai had last night spent considerable amount of time to come up with this magnificent decoration for the pendal. Every year he finds a new design as back ground. They shared with me the pictures of previous years. Aarathi here is much different from what we see in Mangalore. Songs are sung and everyone gets to perform aarathi to lord Ganesha. I got my chance too. My bad headache from waking up at 3:00 AM made me a little dull this day. I enjoyed capturing the Mumabikar spirit of celebrating the festival. 

We also went downstairs where another Ganesha idol was placed as a common one for the entire apartment.

We headed back home where Ganesh Bhai and his son Shivam joined us for brunch. After which we made plans for our late night visit to all the important pendals of Mumbai. One of my friend Anupam and I had initially planned to photograph visarjan. Coincidently, he messaged me asking when was I coming to Mumbai and as he learnt that i was visiting the pendals that night he wished to join us as well. I thought of catching some sleep that afternoon but I was unable to do that as I had to finish the novel "Avarana." What an incredible book. I shall save details on this book for a separate post on a later date.

For dinner Akki’s friend had packed some Rajasthani Daal-Bhaati. I went for aarathi and then headed back home for a quick nap. I had much needed two hours of sleep before I could take off on a all night Mumbai excursion. 

We left home at around 10:30 PM. Picked Anupam on the way at Vashi. Reached the main city by midnight. Directly went to Lalbagh cha Raja, the most popular Ganesha idol in Mumbai. Even past midnight there was maddening crowd here to view their beloved Ganesha. 

We walked several distance to find this contact that Ganesh Bhai had. He would lead us directly to Darshan by skipping the long queue. After a lot of searching we finally met him. He took us through narrow back streets that looked like the ones in gangster movies where the goon is chased by the hero as he escapes through narrow streets full of old houses on one side that has extended their livelihood on to the street. Thats when it began getting exciting for me. I was loving this experience. Soon we got close to the idol. But we still had a huge hurdle to cross. A set of volunteers were struggling to push away others like us from entering. After a struggle of about 30 minutes we finally got in. 

The crowd was crazy. Hats off to the volunteers for handling such a crowd. We got into the queue very close to the idol. While waiting for our turn to reach lord Ganesha, Anupam and I got to click few moments. 

After a few minutes of wait, we got to reach the idol and sought blessings from Lord Ganesha by touching the feet. While returning, we saw the tired faces of those who where waiting for Manat (That is to reach the feet of Lord Ganesha and sought blessings). They had been waiting since morning. I felt extremely guilty for having gate crashed. For someone without contacts at the place it would take 24 hours for what took an hour for us. But what was good is that free food and water is offered by the volunteers to the devotees. 

We took the alley again to reach the main road. Our next stop was « Mumbai cha Raja ». Here instead of taking a Rs10 ticket we made a mistake of going for free darshan thinking it would not be as crowded as the previous one. As this place is very close to Lalbagh cha Raja people visiting there would also come here. The free Darshan line did not move at all and it took us almost more than an hour to reach the idol. I felt happy about this wait because in someway it made up for my guilt of gate crashing at the previous place. During our wait, Ganesh Bhai told me that earlier Mumbai cha Raja was the most famous Ganesha Pendal in Mumbai. But over time due to media publicity Lalbagh cha Raja has gained prominence. There is also some kind of rivalry between the two groups who do not encourage people to wear topi’s (Caps) that board the names of other. This pendal had a speciality. They had recreated a temple called Jejuri with its main diety Malari Marthand.  

The volunteers at this place were college kids who did not even bother to get the free darshan line moving. Ganesh Bhai had to scold them in Marathi to wake them up from their relaxed position and have the line moving. At the end of the queue another beautiful Ganesh idol was awaiting us.

Next stop - GSB ganesha pendal. This is considered the most expensive one because of the amount of jewellery on it. The idol itself is insured for a huge amount. This group is led by the Mangalore Konkani community. At 2:45 AM the pendal was deserted hence the darshan was quick. However, only in this pendal, photography is prohibited. 

After this, we drove to Chembur and visited the one that is said to be maintained by underworld Don Chota Rajan. This was set in the theme of Sayadris. Interiors though had the feel of ghats at Banaras. The Ganesha idol in a sitting position was lavishly decorated and looked stunning.

We then drove to Subashnagar where Ganesh Bhai had grown up. Here it was only us. The back stage and interiors of this was done by Ganesh Bhai’s friend Prashanth whom we had met last time at the film studio where he is an art director.

Everyone was hungry so we went stopped at this street food place at around 5:00 AM. Poha, idly and vada with some tea made some good early breakfast. It was interesting to see that this place was very crowded. 

Our last stop for the day was at RK studios. 

And also another one just next to it maintained by some Bank.

It was an exhilarating experience. It never felt like night actually. We returned home by 6:00 AM.

Next day, I slept till 10:30 AM. Had some bread toast for a late breakfast and freshened up. Early lunch was ready by 12:30 AM. Baingan ki sabji and Rice Bhakri. Some rice and sambhar as well. After lunch I caught some more sleep until my cousin Anupama and her family came home. It was great talking to her after a long time.

Normally Ganesha idols are immersed on the second, fifth and eleventh day. At Akki’s neighbours house it is done on the second day. So we got ready for the procession. It was interesting to see several Ganesha idols being taken for immersion. It was raining continuously and that did not seem to bother the devotees from dancing and enjoying their festive mood. 

Well there are all kinds of people in India. If on one side there were all these families religiously following the ritual on the other side there were bunch of men who took this opportunity to drink alcohol as they danced. This seemed a little out of place from the tradition that most of the other families where practising. 

The lake was all fenced and volunteers arranged by the local MLA were immersing the idol for the devotees. I watched all the devotees carefully carrying their Ganesha to the benches placed and doing one last arathi before handing him over to the volunteers. With emotion and devotion they watched their beloved lord slowly immerse in water taking away all the evil and bad omens.

I have always been attracted to lord Ganesha. I am not sure what is it about this lord that makes me love him more than any other God. Perhaps its the proper blend of man and animal. Not just any animal. For instance, I am not similarly driven towards Narasimha, who again is a blend of man and animal. You feel a personal bonding with Ganesha for some reason that does not come with any other God. With others its mostly devotion but with Ganesha its more of friendship or a kind of feeling when you see a cute baby. You want to cuddle the baby and hold it close to you. And what other place than Mumbai could I have been in to watch this devotion, this love and this friendship between God and man. This would remain as one of my best Ganesh Chaturthis ever.