Thursday, October 31, 2013

A Melbourne Halloween And An Indian Diwali!

The street was lined with a row of houses – one after another. But what was the use? All the doors were closed. Giving the street a deserted look. Not a single soul in picture. I was walking but I had lost my way. I needed someone whom I could ask for directions. A few more paces and finally, there was some noise. One of the doors had just creaked open. A lady, with a basket in her hands, was at her morning job. She helped me with my way, we smiled and she went back in. Leaving the streets deserted again. But this story is not my main point today. 

What I witnessed there, thereafter, is what I have brought here today – The Halloween. In my entire Melbourne trip, this was my only introduction to Halloween and for someone whom the concept is almost alien, I was left fascinated! Absolutely!

Halloween symbols
 Peeping in: Through the gates

Halloween witch symbol in a house
The witch keeping guard?

Halloween witch at a house in Australia
She's there, everywhere!

Halloween scary symbols at the entrance of a house in Melbourne, Australia
Rightly said: Enter at your own risk!

The boundaries which divide Life from Death are at best shadowy and vague. Who shall say where the one ends, and where the other begins?
~ Edgar Allan Poe

Hello Friends!

I am back from my trip to Melbourne and despite the unusually chilly weather (and my nil layer of warm covering); the trip went well. No wonder actually. All I ever need for all things wonderful are your warm wishes and blessings and you have always been generous in giving them to me.

Melbourne Australia
Hello Melbourne!

Thank you for all your beautifully inspiring farewell comments the other day, I felt overwhelmed as I sat reading them in my hotel room in Melbourne. Each one of them. So much love, so much adoration... I knew at that very instant: Yes, this one too is going to be good too... all the way. To all of you, for all that you do, for being the pillar of my strength and for being such wonderful friends ... from the bottom of my heart; I say... a huge thank you.

Blogging break and Guest posts

As we speak of Halloween, it’s festival time in India as well! And that too, one of the most significant one from the Hindu calendar, the festival of lights, Diwali!

Happy Diwali - Earthen Diya
Happy Diwali!

Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering.
There is a crack in everything,
That's how the light gets in.
~Leonard Cohen

As I am gearing up to light up my part of the world with diyas and lamps in the upcoming days, I am also stepping into a mini blogging break for recharging my writing batteries.

In the meantime, leaving you with a few of my blogger friends whom I have always admired for their honesty and integrity and who have been very kind to accept my guest invitation to write for ‘My Yatra Diary’.

Bye for now, but I promise to be back very very soon! Take care.

Related Posts:



Saturday, October 19, 2013

My Yatra Diary... Goes Melbourne!

“The chance which seems lost may present itself at the last moment"
– Jules Verne, Around the World in Eighty Days

From where should I start this piece? It’s difficult to catch a reference point for some articles, some days. Hmm... let me try.
...

It’s been one whole entire year to get to where I am now. Since winning the coveted all expenses paid vacation trip to Melbourne hosted by IndiBlogger and Tourism Victoria on 18th October last year to actually going there on the 20th October this year, it’s been quite a journey.

Will the trip happen? Should the trip happen? Yes, No, May be?

Melbourne winner

Results declared: October 18, 2012

The road to ‘My Melbourne Dreams’ so far has been a blur... I have laughed like a little kid and I have cried like one too, I have found my mornings shattered in hopes one day and I have found them shining in the same the next day, I have blamed my misfortunes at one point of time only to count the same as good fortunes later... so many twists and turns, so many hoops and bends and they have all been there and they have all come in “My Packet to Melbourne.”

...

And, guess where all this started from?

Long before I actually won the trip, it was your wonderful comments and heartfelt wishes that made sure I already felt like one! What prize can be greater than the feeling of being loved and praised for your humble efforts by everyone? Thanks to all your gracious admiration towards my lame attempts at sketching, you made me humbly believe that I have a talent in sketching and what’s more amusing is that now I keep bragging about it to people. Even though, in reality, all I can only do is scribble and scrawl. Hah!


Humbled by your love!
Humbled by your love: Some feelings are priceless!

But such is the power of love... when showered in abundance, it makes you believe, believe in things that perhaps do not even exist and above all it makes you believe in your own self.

Thank you very much from the bottom of my heart for all the blessings that you bestow upon me. This trip is all your’s. Just like Japan. And my only wish and prayer is that I am able to do proper justice to it by bringing back the true beauty of Melbourne, something that we all will cherish and appreciate – together, long after my return.

Thank You, IndiBlogger!

Talking about this journey wouldn’t be complete without thanking IndiBlogger, an Indian blogger family headed by a bunch of cheerful, quick witted and good-hearted folks who have added all sorts of colors in My Melbourne Memories... in Monochrome and have made all the difference.


Proud to be an IndiBlogger!
Proud to be an IndiBlogger!

They have been through my thick and thin, my tantrums and wisdom, my sanity and vanity. They have stood up and fought for me when I was all set to quit and say goodbye, they have always been available to answer my calls or go through my lengthy (maybe, even pointless!) e-mails. They are the ones who have taught me lessons, knowingly or unknowingly, and inspired me to be what I am; I owe a lot of myself, as a blogger and also as a person, to them.

I feel very blessed to have them in my life, and whether I say it or not, IndiBlogger – I like you, I love you and I am so proud to exist within you. Thank you.

Today:

I am wobbling in a mixed pool of feelings... that of a childlike delight, a wonder that is laced with an incredible curiosity of a new world, new people, new food, new sights, new sounds – an unknown anxiety, of a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, of a dream coming true – all stirring up a whirlwind of emotions... all at once - making ME.

Today: My VISA is approved, ticket issued, a tight budget set, a rough itinerary prepared and bags almost packed.

And, Now: In a couple of hours, with high soaring dreams in its wings and a spring in its steps – My Yatra Diary... is all set to fly off to Melbourne!

A girl dreaming of Melbourne
Hey. That's ME!

This is only her second international trip after Japan (till a couple of years back, even a first seemed impossible!) and she can’t be more grateful for all her blessings, for all the grace that has been.

Please do wish her luck along with your goodbye, she is incredibly nervous right now, and she really needs them. Tell you something -- Your wishes are magic. She has lived them once already, so she knows.

Any suggestions for Melbourne?

And finally, if you have any suggestions or tips on how to go about sightseeing in Melbourne or what colorful memories you expect me to bring back from Melbourne for all of us to cherish, please do let me know in the comments section.

...

Guess, that much for today... will be back very very soon,

Until next time then,

Goodbye and Keep Smiling. :-)


Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Tirupati Balaji Temple - Where Wishes Come True AND The Cry Of Govinda!

It’s a sun dappled afternoon, 1 pm on the clock, and with our darshan slated for 2 hrs. from now, that is, for 3 pm, we are well on time. The Tirupati Tirumala Devasthanam (TTD) trust (responsible for administering the place and they do it efficiently!) managed state bus starts with a sudden jerk and a chorused cry of ‘Govinda Govinda’ erupts out of the window.

Bus ride to Tirupati Balaji Temple, Andhra Pradesh
From the bus: On the way up to Tirumala from Tirupati

Slowly, the undulating curves open up as the hot winds begin to caress my face and the holy hills roll out against the vast backdrop of the clear blue horizons. The divine ascend over Tirumala to meet the Lord has begun. Which for the believers, also doubles up as the huge coiled serpent of the Master, Lord Vishnu better known as Lord Venkateshwara or Lord Balaji in this temple town of Tirumala-Tirupati.

Bus ride to VenkateshwaraTirupati Balaji Temple, Andhra Pradesh
Tirumala Hill views

Around 45 Minutes, a feast on the gorgeous views and a few power naps later, I find myself walking in the temple town of Tirumala, a typical religious site dotted with a row of shops selling all kinds of local knickknacks, touristy trinkets and other religious paraphernalia.


Shops in the way leading to Tirupati Balaji Temple, Andhra Pradesh
Trinkets sold at Tirupati Balaji Temple, Andhra Pradesh
A peep inside a shop at Tirupati Balaji Temple, Andhra Pradesh
Religious paraphernalia sold in shops
outside the Venkateswara temple, Tirumala

Accompanying me in my walk are other devouts; all coming down from diverse regions and different cultures yet unified in their thoughts and feelings and purpose. An envelope exists here; and it packs in all. Somehow you know, that now, you are in the wrapping of something mysteriously divine, something that has been defined for centuries... Such that you feel a connect, and you feel happy to be a part of something beautiful.

Devotees at Tirupati Balaji Temple, Andhra Pradesh
Walking towards the Balaji temple

I stand in the sprawling complex of the Tirupati Balaji temple and pause. Far in the distance, sun kissed by the dazzling afternoon and canopied by the clear blue skies, stands the temple: The earthly abode of Lord Vishnu, His celestial home, "The Vaikunth".

They say that to come here, in Tirupati Balaji's abode, you need His call...

The Tirupati Balaji Temple complex, Andhra Pradesh

Since how many years have I been waiting for this call? Since when?

For someone who has loved numbers all her life, surprisingly for her, this time, the numbers fail. But does she even care? What matters is the present. Now. She knows she is blessed, now that she stands here.

Shree VenkateshwaraTirupati Balaji Temple, Andhra Pradesh
Tirupati Balaji Temple or TTD complex at Andhra Pradesh
Shree Venkateswara Balaji Temple complex from a distance

In front of me and overlooking the temple, are 3 men, bald headed, sitting down with their backs against me, eyes closed and hands folded.

Pilgrim crowds at Tirupati Balaji Temple, Andhra Pradesh

And then, there are so many more... Men, women and children – all ages, sizes and personalities – sitting, moving, standing, resting, coming, going.


A small pilgrim of Tirupati Balaji Temple, Andhra Pradesh
Pilgrim rush at Tirupati Balaji Temple, Andhra Pradesh
Pilgrim crowd at Tirupati Balaji Temple, Andhra Pradesh
A little kid at Tirupati Balaji Temple, Andhra Pradesh
In the main temple complex: A kaleidoscope of devotees

Now drenched in a sensory overload of fusing devotion and a celebratory focused joy that perhaps I have never seen or experienced before, I walk further. With the darshan ticket in my hand and cutting through the milling pilgrim crowds, I look out for my darshan queue –  that of ‘Rs. 50’.

Darshan queues at Tirupati Balaji Temple, Andhra Pradesh
The Rs. 50 darshan queue: My way to His House

Here come the warnings:  First from the temple authorities: Electronic items and leather bags are not allowed inside the temple. Second from the local interaction: The queues are huge, and it might take anywhere around 5 hours to reach the sanctum.

A poster at Tirupati Balaji Temple, Andhra Pradesh
No electronic items allowed inside

First warning checked, the second warning does raise some concerns, only to be soon washed off by a voice inside me.

A tired devotee at Tirupati Balaji Temple, Andhra Pradesh

It’s a meeting with the Lord and whoever expected it to be easy?

I tuck in.

Around 4 hrs and room after room after room later... Finally... Suddenly, a fresh gust of air sweeps through. Breathing in the open air of the main temple compound, the anxiety increases and so does my anticipation of my meeting with the Lord. The Lord is just a few minutes away.

And then, in the midst of all the pushes, I arrive. We all do. Here, emotions reel, ever ready to erupt. In a giddy frenzy to see the Lord, physical boundaries disappear. There are no lines of control. Lakhs of people move in a procession like a single body as they prepare themselves for ‘that’ moment. This is the moment they had been waiting for so long and now that it was here, they want to give all, take all.

Shree VenkateshwaraTirupati Balaji Temple - Andhra Pradesh

The temple may have been established in the seventh century AD according to the stone inscriptions on the temple walls.

He, the self manifest Venkateshwara, glitters in a calm friendly demeanor, black in color, in the dimly lamp-lit sanctum: lifelike, real, ready to speak any moment. I have seen Him in guidebooks, in posters, pictures, on the TV but nothing prepared me for the real Him. Is He smiling? Perhaps. But, I cannot really ascertain as I have so many other things to do and so less time.

The deity of Shree Venkateswara Tirupati Balaji in Tirumala

The lord of Seven Hills, Tirupati Balaji or Lord Shree Venkateswara:
Adorned with precious jewels and other rich embellishments

Immediately after my split glance, I close my eyes and bow my head; I want to seek His affection, ask for his wishes, offer my prayers... I want to seize every bit of this moment. After all, according to the Puranas (sacred Hindu texts), This is the God Himself who can make everything possible to attain for His devotees. But it is only a few seconds that I get and before I can gather, I am directed towards the door. Fair enough too. There are lakhs of others who are behind me wishing to do the same. So, my time is up.

The Tirupati Balaji Temple from outside, Andhra Pradesh

A masterpiece of Dravidian architecture, the Tirumala shrine houses the deity of Shree Venkateswara which, according to history,
was discovered by a local Chieftain called Tondaman
in a huge anthill who later built a temple around it.

But, till the time I am there, there is no one to come between me and my maker. No, not even the impatient crowds. They all fade quietly in that moment. It’s a concert of faith and one that rates high in intensity; here, Lord Venkateshwara, Lord Balaji is the hero, we his fans. Everyone is in awe, everyone wants to get closer to Him. The air is charged and the atmosphere is ethereal. With each step taken, the ground beneath is lost and it gets difficult to breathe.

Tirupati Balaji Temple in the evening, Andhra Pradesh

Yet, those in the queues with their hands folded and His name on their lips and all the chaos around them, pray, for they come with a sincere belief in their hearts. A belief that He will take away all their hurdles. A belief that He will fulfill all their wishes. A belief that He will guide them and keep them in His folds. It is a belief that is deep-rooted, definite, unshakable and unfathomable. It is a belief that has caused this place to cease as a temple, instead has made it so much more.

It is a belief that helps them, and me, to eventually meet our ‘Govinda’...

Govinda, Govinda!

-------- * -------- * -------- * -------- * --------

Travel Tips, Darshan queues, timings and fast facts:

1. The shrine is visited by over 70,000 pilgrims every day. So, you can well imagine the crowds and the time it might take you to reach the Lord. Might be an overwhelming sight at first but there is no need to panic. Trust me, in the end, it is well worth so much more!

2. You can travel from Tirupati to Tirumala by road or alternatively cover the same distance on foot;
The God can be viewed throughout the day except for a few hours in the night. Daily hundreds of people walk up the pristine hills of Tirumala, climbing over 3500 steps to the top covering a distance of about 9 kms. If, however, like me, you are travelling by road, nothing beats the state run buses. They ply with an amazing frequency (from 3 am to 11 pm at an interval of about 10/30 minutes) and charge very nominal rates.

Helpful link: http://www.tirumala.org/travel_tptm_main.htm

3. There are different darshan queues in the complex, the most popular choice being the 'Rs. 50' one which is our choice as well but the one queue that really caught my eye this time was this special queue for the infants, aged 1 years and below; it was nice to see God making it a bit easy for the infants and their parents! And there is more. There exists similar such queues for senior citizens as well.

4. For my accomodation recommendation: you may check this post - ISKCON temple in Tirupati

Other Temples to visit:

Tirupati-Tirumala is a temple town, with a variety of temples and shrines spread all around having some kind of importance attached to them. A few notable among them being the Govindarajaswamy Temple, Kodanda Ramaswamy Temple, Tiruchanur (Goddess Padmavathy), Kapila Theertham (Lord Shiva), Shri Padmavathi Amma Vari Temple, Shri Kalahasti Temple, etc. Since this trip of ours was short on time, unfortunately, we couldn't cover any of the above. Next time...and, hopefully soon.


Monday, October 7, 2013

Where to stay in Tirupati: ISKCON Temple in Tirupati, Andhra Pradesh

Tired from the overnight train journey from Kannur to Tirupati via Chennai, it came as a huge relief when we finally cooled our heels and unpacked our luggage in the room of ISKCON Temple, Tirupati.

Entrance to  ISKCON Tirupati Temple, Andhra Pradesh
Entrance to ISKCON Temple in Tirupati

What added to our joy were the sights and the ambiance of the location that we were greeted to: Spacious complex alive and buzzing with the continuous chitter chatter of the devotees, vibrant with a constant hum of Hare Rama Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna Hare Hare and a kaleidoscope of bhaktas mingling all around: this was my second visit to the place and it was a delight to find everything just like I might have visited it only yesterday!

ISKCON Tirupati Temple overview, Andhra Pradesh
ISKCON Tirupati Temple carving, Andhra Pradesh
ISKCON Tirupati Temple architecture, Andhra Pradesh
ISKCON Tirupati Temple deity, Andhra Pradesh
Top view and Architecture of the temple

Spread in a sprawling complex, the temple is huge in size, ornate, magnificently carved and attracts a large number of devotees and pilgrims from far and wide. Within the complex is the ISKCON guest house which is clean and well looked after with spacious and comfortable rooms.

My room in ISKCON Tirupati Guest House, Andhra Pradesh
ISKCON Guest house room

ISKCON Tirupati Guest House view from window, Andhra Pradesh
View from the room

One of the salient features about this guest house which also distinguishes it from the many other ISKCON temples that I have been fortunate to visit so far is that it comes with a "special entry way" to the main temple. One can cross over from the guest house building directly into the temple through a small bridge on the first floor connecting the two, thus saving a lot of efforts as well as time.

ISKCON Tirupati Guest House way to temple, Andhra Pradesh
Special entry bridge: Connecting the guest house directly to the temple room

It is something that I have come to call the VIP entry over my stays there. It is something that I have appreciated right from the day I have known of it. Such proximity to the temple hall ensures soul soothing chants of the bhaktas at a close distance with the subtle vibrations of arti and prayers reaching you inside your guest room even at those times when you might be unable to reach them.

Peeping from a window - ISKCON Tirupati Temple, Andhra Pradesh
A glimpse of the temple deities from a distance

Besides the guest house, the temple complex houses a Gaushala (cow-shed) responsible for nurturing and looking after a large number of cows and oxens, animals that were very dear to Lord Krishna.

ISKCON Tirupati Temple Gaushala, Andhra Pradesh
ISKCON gaushala (cowshed)

A little away from the gaushala is an enclosure with a multitude of Tulsi pots called 'Tulsivanam' and the prasadam (food) hall serving divine food to the devotees.

ISKCON Tirupati Temple Tulsi Baug, Andhra Pradesh
The forest of Tulsi plants

Address:

Sri Sri Radha Govinda Mandir 
Hare Krishna Land, Hare Krishna Road 
Vinayaka Nagar, Tirupati - 517507
Andhra Pradesh. 

Contact Numbers: 0877-2230114, 2230009, 2231760 

Guest House Booking E-mail: guesthouse.tirupati@pamho.net / iskcon.tirupati@earthlink.net

Other Hotels in Tirupati:

For every traveler on the move, Tirupati offers a range of hotels that you can choose from depending on your budget and expenses. Search the internet to get the contact numbers (most of them even have their own websites) of these hotels.

It’s highly advisable to book your place of stay beforehand to avoid any inconveniences on reaching there. One of the most preferred place of stay is the TTD guest houses which are not only run by the Tirupati temple trust but also available over a wide range of prices which can easily be pre-booked online (here -> http://www.ttdsevaonline.com) or offline as well.


Tuesday, October 1, 2013

The Voice of the Mahatma: A Tribute to Bapu

We all know this man. Bespectacled, short and lanky, clothed in a loin cloth, donning a white hat and walking with a stick; he was dedicated to the service of his nation. He loved fighting for the right but his means and ways were different. His armor consisted of weapons like non violence, truth and swadesi in the battlefield of freedom. Preaching was never his cup of tea; instead, he believed in the practice of practicing. We all know that. Just like we all know him. And that's exactly where the essential magic of Bapu, of Mahatma Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi lay.

In his life.

2nd October, 2013, Gandhi Jayanti, Mahatma Gandhi's Birthday (2 October 1869 – 30 January 1948):

A tribute -- a little piece in the remembrance of the "Father of the Nation", so that the true significance of a date is never lost in the fog of time:

The life and its myriad philosophies,
through the voice of the Mahatma,
"Mahatma Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi"

Mahatma Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, Sabarmati ashram, Ahmedabad - Gujarat

"He who always treads on the path of truth, never stumbles."

Salt Satyagraha or Dandi march in Sabarmati ashram, Ahmedabad - Gujarat

"To give pleasure to a single heart by a single act
is better than a thousand heads bowing in prayer."

A nostalgic picture of Bapu and Jawaharlal Nehru, Sabarmati ashram, Ahmedabad - Gujarat

"It was only in South Africa that I got over this shyness,
though I never completely overcame it.
It was impossible for me to speak impromptu.
I hesitated whenever I had to face strange audiences
and avoided making a speech whenever I could.
Even today I do not think I could or would even be inclined
to keep a meeting of friends engaged in idle talk."

A picture of Gandhiji in jail, Sabarmati ashram, Ahmedabad - Gujarat

"What barrier is there that love cannot break?"

Gandhiji spinning wheel, Sabarmati ashram, Ahmedabad - Gujarat

"When every hope is gone, 'when helpers fail and comforts flee,'
I find that help arrives somehow, from I know not where.
Supplication, worship, prayer are no superstition;
they are acts more real than the acts of eating, drinking, sitting or walking.
It is no exaggeration to say that they alone are real, all else is unreal."

Mahatma Gandhi, Sabarmati ashram, Ahmedabad - Gujarat

"The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others."

Gandhiji's memorial with words - Hey Ram

"My imperfections and failures are as much a blessing from God as my successes and my talents and I lay them both at his feet."
 
|| Jai Hind ||

Note: All images are captured in Sabarmati Ashram, Ahmedabad (also known as Gandhi Ashram - It was from here that Gandhiji led the Dandi march or the Salt Satyagraha in 1930), and all quotes are sayings by Mahatma Gandhi himself.

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