Friday, April 24, 2015

A Song of Love: Hyderabad and The ISKCON Temple.

The other day, while assembling pictures for this article, I was rummaging through all my clicks at the ISKCON Temple in Hyderabad (one of the hotels in Hyderabad and my spiritual cum worldly retreat for the trip I undertook in August 2013), I couldn't help but chuckle. It was not about the sights mind you, which made for wonderful memories by the way - it was about the color. Yes, the color was striking.

Pink.


Sri Sri Radha Madanmohan Mandir, ISKCON Temple, Hyderabad Abids, Telangana

The color, though seemingly simple, flushed open a reverie of thoughts... magically ceasing the color pink to be a mere garb of paint instead became a metaphor that exposed a layer that was unique to this enigmatic city. A stark metaphorical facet to her outer persona that illumined the real beauty, within.

Pink. The color of love, beauty, smile and romance.


MY VISION OF HYDERABAD... BEFORE!

To understand my enchantment with the color, take with me a few steps back on the sands of time... Just before this visit (also my first!) to be precise. A time, when in all my stereotypical naivety, I was happy envisioning Hyderabad, with its iconic edifices of Charminar and Jama Masjid, in delicate hues of sepia. May be even in monochromatic hues of black and white... like dark cloudy skies. Like an old fashioned dignified vintage beauty. Of proven worth, an open heart and a radiant smile. Laid back in time, soaked in age-old traditions ... yet, adaptable to change.

This was then... Only till my heart got its hands on her enchanting story book later and took flight in its charismatic legends of yore…


Charminar, an iconic landmark of Hyderabad in monochrome


MY VISION OF HYDERABAD...TODAY.

Hyderabad... for me today, is a timeless love song.


Why song?

Because it's only a song that, to be truly appreciated, has to be felt. For most of everything else, eyes generally suffice. But, Hyderabad. Nah, she is different...

An eternal classic that was originally set in tune under the able-realm of the affable emperor poet Quli Qutub Shah. The same Emperor who apparently, was head over heals in love with His beautiful Empress Bhagmati who was a Hindu Courtesan. It was in their passionate love, that she was born. Time rolled by... kingdoms toppled, rulers changed... and with them changed stories of love affairs too. Some still loved loving, some... architecture and religion, some others loved learning and culture while there were even a few who loved hating. But, love was still the glue that kept her growing...

Love is a melody that tinkers all around in Hyderabad - not always seen - but sensed in the labrynthine corridors and colorless bystreets where she cleverly keeps it under wraps, released only languidly, for the chosen few - inquisitive and curious. It's a song that is way farther to the cliched boundaries of old and new, ancient or modern. It's a song that is eternal. A song that you have to hear till the very end. Otherwise, you stand a chance to be fooled by the scores of tragedy, disturbances, violence and all that chaotic mess strewn in between. It's in the entirety, that she reveals her charms... a charm that rises through and above everything to be where she is today...

This timeless love (I call it hyderabadi love!) that has been swirling in the environs… everywhere in this diamond city of Hyderabad, since ages and centuries ago, I instantly felt this energy at ISKCON.


WHERE DID I STAY ? MY BUDGET ACCOMODATION IN HYDERABAD:
WELCOME TO THE ISKCON TEMPLE!


A bhakta in meditation, ISKCON Temple, Hyderabad Abids, Andra Pradesh


Situated in the heart of the city at Nampally station road, Sri Sri Radha Madanmohan Mandir ISKCON Temple is sprawled in a spacious courtyard housing the temple, a guest house, the Govindas restaurant, souvenir shop and a library among others.

STAY AT THE ISKCON TEMPLE GUEST HOUSE was a delight - the rooms are clean, peaceful, comfortable and the area pretty well managed. The window view is basic though, with short and tall buildings stretching in the distance but the temple makes it up for all that there is to explore within.


ISKCON Temple Guest House, Hyderabad Abids, Andra Pradesh

ISKCON Temple Guest House Room, Hyderabad, Telangana


What I particularly love about my stay in ISKCON temples, besides the aarti of course, is the entire spiritual feel there is to the place. There is no T.V. to start with, wifi may or may not be there and the meals, called prasadams, are sattvic, pure vegetarian delicious meals prepared with a devotional intent as an offering for the God. The temple room wells up in spirituality too, no matter what time of the day where you can always take joy in the fascinating stories recited through the paintings and scenes of Lord Krishna and His pastimes from the Hindu mythology and Puranas


Lord Krishna pictures on the walls of ISKCON Temple, Hyderabad Abids, Andra Pradesh

Devouts flock from all around the town and beyond in good numbers either to sit peacefully in the temple hall and mediate or to catch the stunning glimpse of the main deities of the temple are Sri Sri Radha Madan Mohan, Sri Sri Gaura Nitai, Sri Sri Jagannatha Balabhadra Subhadra if the sanctum curtains are open.

Sri Jagannatha Baladeva Subhadra, ISKCON Temple, Hyderabad Abids, Andra Pradesh
Hare Rama Hare Krishna ISKCON Temple, Hyderabad Abids, Andra Pradesh


The temple especially comes alive during the morning and evening aarti time which is an exquisite affair. Pivoted around the priest waving the huge divine lamp, bhaktas singing glories to the Lord Krishna and everyone trance-dancing in the holy nectar of devotion and rose petals being offered in the holy feet of the Lord, the aarti soon becomes a language of love...


A song, a frequency that is ungraspable in words and yet graspable by the heart…

ISKCON Temple Aarti, Hyderabad Abids, Andra Pradesh

... Very much like Hyderabad,
Very much like the color - Pink.

Such is Hyderabad. A world, present in the world yet aeons away of the world. Suspended somewhere in between and beyond. In its own sphere of endurance and timelessness. Where, as an art historian put it very beautifully, ages ago...


"Hyderabadi gentlemen still wore the fez,
dreamt about the rose and the nightingale,
and mourned the loss of Grenada."


A devotee shows his love for Lord Krishna, ISKCON Temple, Hyderabad Abids, Andra Pradesh

Also, brushed and broomed the floors.

What else but love... that makes all this possible?


Tips for travelers:

- Both AC and Non AC double/triple bedrooms are available. Book your rooms at least a month in advance via e-mail or phone to avoid hassles and remember to ask for hot water facility.

- Life Members of ISKCON Temple may be required to pay a small amount as donation. Non members may be required to pay more.

- Check out time is 8 AM.

Address and Contact Numbers:

ISKCON Hyderabad.
Sri Sri Radha Madanmohan Mandir,
Hare Krishna Land,
Nampally Station Road,
Abids, Hyderabad
Andhra Pradesh.

Contact: +91 81061-30279 / +91 (40) 66668333 / 24607089 (Extn: 27)
Email: iskcon.hyderabad@pamho.net / guesthouse.iskconhyd@pamho.net

OTHER GOOD HOTELS IN HYDERABAD:

The city offers a comprehensive choice for visitors when it comes to good hotels in Hyderabad. So, you will get everything from budget hotels in Hyderabad to hotels catering to corporates, from hotels near Hyderabad railway station to hotels most suited for families. Browse through all the available options and filter from among them based on your service requirements and travel budget. Once the options narrow down, try reading traveler reviews and blogs on the internet so that zeroing down on the best -fit-of-your-choice accommodation becomes easier.

Have you been to Hyderabad?
What were your impressions of the city?
Where did you stay? Any recommendations?


Friday, April 17, 2015

River Ganga, Feminity and P.U.R.I.T.Y

THEY say, SHE is 'Dirty'.
SHE is infected. Contaminated. Poisonous.

A piece of my heart chips.
How can it be? I cry.
SHE is my Mother! The Divine Feminine Energy.

Haven't you heard... She roars down from the matted locks of The Shiva? The Supreme?!

Pure flowing River Ganga

Haven't you seen Her... Oh, how joyfully she prances!

Dancing gracefully.
From some point beyond.
Unabashed. Unobstructed. Unhindered.

Haven't you felt Her?
Her motherly love... It's striking!
Pure and feminine. Compassionate, Giving and Kind.

Of course, they snap back.
But, the statistics are the proof.

Shocking facts ring a numbing alarm...
Sad but indeed, I have to admit.


BUT, WAIT! I affirm.

How people dirty River Ganga

Haven't you seen THEM too?
Bathing. Washing Clothes. Dumping Sewage.
Haven't you known THEM too?
Fake Pundits. Hypocrite Pilgrims. Shrouded devouts.

And so, I ask:

Who is DIRTY, really?

Mother Ganga - The Divine Feminine Energy


SHE or THEY?



Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Idiyappam, Pongal and Coffee: An Authentic Breakfast at Hotel Sarvanna Bhavan in Chennai.

Transit stop-overs or layovers afford a few moments of pause in the continuously playing reel of the journey gone by and the journey up ahead. Stop-overs also afford choices – How about some snooze time or time to wander around, may be? For most of the times, I say – Oh well, I want to EAT! Food is one thing I look out for in transit stopovers in the case of long journeys. Why, it’s a great time to fill my stomach tank so that I can enjoy the rest of my journey.

Sunset as viewed from Chennai Central Railway Station, Tamil Nadu

This was exactly the case when I last went to Tirupati. I had my flights booked from Mumbai to Chennai and from thereon, a connecting train for Tirupati, giving me a transit stop-over at the Chennai Railway station. My early morning flight meant I was at the Chennai Railway station during the peak hours of breakfast time. Needless to say, I was hungry and craved to seek some breakfast chaat in Chennai. Guess what? My answer was right there! Hotel Sarvanna Bhavan located at Chennai Central Station came to my rescue.

Hotel Sarvanna Bhavan or HSB in its abbreviated form is a very crowded, really popular chain of vegetarian restaurant that serves quality food not only across India but across the globe. In Chennai, HSB stands in one corner opposite of platform number 9 and 10 at Chennai Central Railway station. 

Hotel Sarvanna Bhavan, Chennai Central Railway Station, Tamil Nadu

It has a standing area downstairs where you can help yourself or you could climb all your way up to the service hall on the first floor if you wish to sit down, get served and eat. However, extra service charges apply upstairs which is not much and well worth it if you are tired and wish for some peace and space.

Personally, I would suggest the service seating area upstairs as it is less crowded and gives you some breathing space. I took a corner seat on the first floor near the glass paneled windows where the sight of the rushing commuters and the chaotic scene downstairs while sipping my coffee made a sight to cherish.

Since I was here during breakfast time, I asked the waiter recommendations for signature South Indian breakfast dishes and what he suggested is just what I ordered:

1. IDIYAPPAM:

Also known as string-hoppers or Noolputtu, Idiyappam are delicate string noodles made of roasted rice flour.

The rice flour is kneaded into soft dough using boiled water and oil. This dough is then filled into a tool called the Idiyappam presser/mould and pressed into thin delicate noodles ready to be steamed. Once the noodles finish steaming, they are removed from the steamer and served on a platter along with a spicy vegetable curry and coconut chutney – both of which taste incredibly delicious.

A delectable platter of Idiyappam at Hotel Sarvanna Bhavan, Chennai Central Railway Station, Tamil Nadu

On its own accord, the Idiyappam is rather bland but when eaten along with the vegetable curry and the coconut chutney, the taste shoots into something that is truly unique and flavorful.

Idiyappam is a popular breakfast dish in Tamil Nadu and Kerala, a signature dish of the South Indian cuisine. It’s really light on the stomach and easy to prepare, hence makes for a great meal to kickstart the day.

2. PONGAL:

Pongal is a simple but very appetizing rice and lentil melt-in-your-mouth pudding with a rich seasoning of ghee. What makes this dish really interesting is its association with a very popular harvest festival from Southern India by the same name, Pongal. Pongal in Tamil simply means to overflow or run in excess, a celebration of bounty and affluence. On the same lines, when the dish is prepared in the traditional manner, especially in the rural parts of India, a clay pot containing a concoction of rice, lentils and milk is left open on the wooden fire to spill over. This spilling over is considered a beautiful expression of gratitude to the Sun God for a bountiful harvest and a prayer to bestow similar goodness in the coming years.

A mouth watering plate of Pongal in Hotel Sarvanna Bhavan, Chennai Central Railway Station, Tamil Nadu

The cooked pudding is then tempered with a host of Indian spices that includes hing, whole black pepper, cumin seeds, cashew nuts and curry leaves along with a ladle full of pure ghee and eaten along with spicy vegetable sambhar and coconut chutney - flavors of which blend together lending the dish of Pongal a taste that it not only highly scrumptious but also healthy and easy to digest.

Note: There are two versions of Pongal. The one with the milk has jaggery as well in it and is the 'Sweet Pongal' that is, as I said above, boiled over in the Harvest Festival - Pongal. What you normally get in HSB or elsewhere in TN as the daily breakfast dish is the 'Ven Pongal' - the hot and spicy version. (Input by Suresh Chandrasekaran)

3. SOUTH INDIAN COFFEE:

I washed everything down with a glass of hot, milky and frothy South Indian filter coffee (or is it Kaapi?!) – Too good for any words here - a perfect refreshment for the journey ahead!


Traditional South Indian Filter Coffee, Hotel Sarvanna Bhavan, Chennai Central Railway Station, Tamil Nadu

There are other things that the chain serves as well like the traditional Dosa, Idli, Wada, etc. which I couldn't have... well, there's always a next time!

Traveler Information:

Meal Timings: 10.30 AM - 4 PM.
Business Hours: 5 AM - 11 PM
Address: Opposite platforms 9 & 10,
Central Railway Station,
Chennai - 600 006.
Phone number : 044-25356677, 25352733


This was my experience of having an authentic South Indian breakfast in Chennai?
Do you have any recommendations for best snacks or chaat in Chennai?


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