Wednesday, October 30, 2019

3,550 steps, 9 kilometres to Tirumala

Tirupati is a town in the south Indian state of Andhra Pradesh. Here, atop one of the seven hills is the very famous temple dedicated to Lord Sri Venkateswara, an incarnation of Lord Vishnu, one of the main deities of Hinduism.

The belief in the power of the deity is so widespread that anywhere between 50,000 to 100,000 people queue up every day -- for as many as two to four, or sometimes even five hours -- to offer their prayers, making it probably among the most-visited holy places in the world.

The picturesque town is known not just for the temple but also for the rich flora and fauna -- Sri Venkateswara National Park, spread over 353 square kilometres, housing about 1,500 plant species of 174 families; and Sri Venkateswara Zoological Park, spread over 22 square kilometres, having a wide variety of animals.

October 27

I, along with my wife and her sister's family of four, reached Tirupati in the afternoon. While my wife, her niece and I came from Bengaluru by bus, her sister, brother-in-law and nephew came from Bhopal by train.

We checked into one of the budget hotels, Shri Sai Tirumala Residency, near the Nandi Circle, which is not too far from either the bus stand or the railway station. We had lunch at the Orion Restaurant, a very nice place to dine -- a good variety of south and north Indian dishes, good ambience, and fairly priced. We had thali.

Thali means a plate, and in this context, comprising several vegetable dishes along with rice, chapatis (pancakes made of wheat) and a sweet -- considered a wholesome meal.

Kapileswara Swamy temple
In the evening, my wife, her sister and I went to Kapileswara Swamy temple, very close to the Nandi Circle. It's one of the popular temples in the town. It is also known as Kapila Theertham temple. Theertham means holy water. There is a waterfall that springs from one of the cliffs at the foot of the Tirumala Hills. The water is considered holy and people stand under the waterfall and have a shower. There is a pond as well in front of it, in which many people take a dip.

We had light dinner, a couple of chapatis and curry, at a small nearby restaurant.

October 28

800 steps done, 2,750 to go
Either one can drive along the winding road up the hills (it's about 20 km) or walk up 3,550 steps over around 9 km. My wife, niece, nephew, and I chose the latter; while my sister-in-law and her husband decided to come by road. There are frequent buses in addition to jeeps that ply up and down the hills.

This is the third time my wife and I are climbing up the hills, while it's the first time for my niece who is 23 years old and her brother who is 16 years.

950 more to go.
We started the climb at 7.35 am. The footpath is concrete paved and is covered overhead. Roughly, the initial and the final 500 steps are a bit steep. The rest are gradual. There are plenty of small eateries that serve snacks and drinks on the way. There is also a medical dispensary, where the service is free, just in case one feels too uneasy and needs medical advice.

The climb does test one's physical as well as mental endurance levels. With plenty of rest on the way, snacks and water, we covered the entire distance in five hours, reaching the Tirumala township where the temple is located around 12.30 pm.

We had lunch at the Saarangi Fine Dine Restaurant, an above-average, swanky place that serves a wide variety of vegetarian food. There is buffet as well as a la carte, we went in for the latter, as we weren't in a mood to eat too much. We just had chapatis, rice and a couple of dishes of curry.

As we nearly reached the top,
the view below was breathtaking
We had booked online the time for darshan. (Darshan is when one is at the sanctum sanctorum in front of the deity to offer the prayers). The reporting time was scheduled for 4 pm. But we ended up there at 3.30. Footwear and mobiles have to be deposited at a counter. They are securely kept in a barcoded container. The photo of the person who deposits the items is captured, which is then matched when the person goes to collect them from the counter near the temple complex exit.

At a distance, beyond the open ground is the actual temple complex.
The photo was taken while we were exiting the premises.
Before joining the long queue to the temple sanctum sanctorum, we had our credentials matched with what was entered when I booked the darshan timing online. We joined the queue around 3.45 pm. The line moved slowly. There are benches along the way for those who feel too tired to sit. We had our darshan at around 5.30 pm. The wait was not comparatively too long. One reason could be it's Diwali festival season, and many would prefer to be at home with relatives and friends.

Around 7.30 pm we were back. We came down by road. We had dinner at Orion Restaurant and hit the bed by around 10 pm after quite a tiring day.

October 29

While the three of us who came from Bhopal left by train around 9.30; we three returned to Bengaluru by bus. We were back home in the evening.

It was a good, enjoyable outing, which was a family reunion, a good trek, and spiritual getaway, all combined into one.

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

The new plastic currency

Photo credit: BBC
We all know the harmful environmental effects of plastic. For quite a few years there has been a campaign, the world over, to dissuade people from using plastic, especially those single-use ones that we use and throw.

Five Ways That Plastics Harm The Environment (And One Way They May Help) - Forbes

Recently, in India, the campaign got a fillip when Prime Minister Narendra Modi, on October 2, the 150th birth anniversary, exhorted the people to put to practice the idea of reducing the use of plastic.

Actually, there was a plan to ban altogether single-use plastic, but that was altered and the government has been urging people to consciously reduce. One of the reasons being spoken of is that a total ban would be too disruptive a step for the fragile economy (Report in The Print).


Photo credit: Indian Express
Last week, the whole proposition got on to the centre stage when the Prime Minister released a video of him picking up plastic waste (BBC report) from the beach in Mamallapuram (in Tamil Nadu state in South India) on October 12. (The PM was in Mamallapuram for an informal summit with Chinese President Xi Jinping.)

It is a different matter that the video prompted the appearance of a misleading collage of photos -- which were called out by the media -- suggesting that the Prime Minister's act was a carefully stage-managed publicity stunt. (How the media busted the wrong sequence of photos)


There is no doubt that the campaign has been having quite an effect. None of the stores in my neighbourhood pack products for customers in plastic. They have a board at the entrance urging shoppers to bring their own bag.

To discourage people from throwing away plastic, recently many institutions launched various programmes, including one under which people could swap plastic material with something useful -- plastic becoming a new currency of sorts!

Here are some news items that appeared in the last few weeks:

  • Metro commuters in Noida and the general public can deposit 20 plastic bags (of size 6” x 10”) or 10 plastic bottles (of 1-litre capacity) at any designated metro stations and get one jute Bag in return. (The Quint)
  • A Garbage Cafe has come up in Chhattisgarh state which provides food in exchange for plastic waste. (DNA)
  • Railway passengers with plastic carry bags arriving at the Hubballi Railway Station were in for a surprise on Thursday as a group of women approached them and gave them cloth bags with an appeal to say no to plastic. (The Hindu)
  • Traders in Pune are providing cloth bags for free if they give 1 kg of polythene bags or plastic to a retailer for recycling. (Pune Mirror)
  • There is a Facebook page by activists in Andhra Pradesh that is pioneering efforts to collect plastic and distribute food. (Deccan Herald)

    Abroad too ...
  • Italy's capital Rome (where rubbish has become an unmanageable problem) is offering travellers a way to exchange their waste plastic bottles for tickets on its public transport system. (Euronews)
  • Bayanan village in Muntinlupa City in the Philippines launched a program in September to improve waste management by letting residents exchange their plastic trash for a kilogram (2.2 lb) of rice. (Vice)

Wednesday, October 2, 2019

Key elements of Gandhian thought

Source: Gujarat Vidyapith,
founded by Gandhi in 1920
Today is the 150th birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi, who led the independence movement in the Indian subcontinent in the 1930s and 1940s through means like non-violence and non-cooperation that were, if not unknown, definitely not popular then.

In the more than seven decades since those days, our lifestyles have dramatically changed. But the world largely has remained the same -- in the sense that there is no dearth of either the good or the bad.

There are so many kindhearted souls around doing wonderful things for the world around them. At the same time, on the other side, we still have many life-threatening health issues, conflicts and deaths.

It's pointless trying to imagine how Gandhi would have reacted to some of the present-day political, economic or social situations. Nevertheless, some of the key elements of his personal philosophy are everlasting. Some of them that come to my mind are:

1. Be truthful. What one achieves through deception and lies is temporary. This was the basis of Gandhi's agitation called 'satyagraha'.

2. The force of pacifism is enlightening but that of weapons is blinding.

3. Practise what you preach. That is the way to bring about change in society. Gandhi tried his best to follow this to a tee. It's not easy because it involves a lot of sacrifices. The extent to which Gandhi was able to achieve is simply amazing.

4. Avoid wastage. Everything has a value of its own. Make the full use of whatever we have. Don't let anything go waste. Today we are constantly exhorted to 'reduce, reuse, recycle'. But Gandhi practised it. For example, he would write (how much ever important it was) on the reverse side of envelopes.

5. Give up and gain peace. The more we amass, the more the burden. Let us be driven by our needs and not the wants. Abjure what is not necessary.

There are so many books and movies made on this great man, besides numerous articles available online. Some of my recommendations are:

1. Gandhi, the film directed by Richard Attenborough with Ben Kingsley as Gandhi. Not just that it's a very well-made movie it's so inspirational.

2. Freedom at Midnight by Larry Collins and Dominique Lapierre. The book is about the runup to the Indian independence on August 15, 1947, and has so many well-researched references to Gandhi, giving us good insights into that amazing human being.

3. Gandhi: The Years That Changed the World, 1914-1948 by Ramachandra Guha. This book explores the complexity of Gandhi's views and throws light on also how others around him viewed him.

Mahatma Gandhi with Albert Einstein
Source: Open Culture that brings together free of cost
high-quality cultural & educational media

I guess nothing best sums up in one sentence on who Gandhi was as Albert Einstein's tribute: “Generations to come will scarce believe that such a one as this ever in flesh and blood walked upon this earth."