Oct 19, 2008

Back in the Running

After a bout of sickness and a  subsequent recovery due to travel (both vacation and business), I hit the treadmill this weekend with a couple of 5ks. Two days ago I did a tentative 3k to get the legs loosened up a bit.

The biggest lesson i have now learnt about running is to NOT over-stretch oneself. Last month i thought i was doing well with the simple Hal Higdon training schedule and completed four weeks of it. Well, almost. Then a  long run with the Hyderabad Runners group happened and when I was supposed to run 5 miles, i got inspired (perhaps overconfident) and ran 11.2 kms (7 miles) with a big part of it on a hard surface. This naturally weakened the body more than what was 'scheduled' and some careless eating proved to be the tipping point. Some more business travel in the following days did not actually help in the recovery. So here i am having lost two to three weeks of the schedule but perhaps a bit wiser!

Oct 10, 2008

Temples in the Godavari Districts

Temple tourism is a great way to explore India and take a peek into the cultural mystique that is diverse yet permeates all of our country. In my third and final post of my Godavari  travelogue, I will now cover a few temples we visited. 

Antarvedi is a small temple village located close to the point where Godavari 
(it's Vasishta distributary) meets the sea. The temple is dedicated to Lord Nrisimha and is more than 500 years old. We reached the place around 8 am when the once-a-day abhishekham puja happens to the nija roopa vigramaham (the stone idol without any decorations). The poojari (priest) was friendly, methodical and impressive in his conduct and handling of the pilgrims. With the temple thing done, we next drove to the beach which is a popular place for the locals. The beach was pristine and definitely on par with the beaches at Vizag or even Goa. There is also an old light house nearby; from its tower gallery one can have panoramic views of the sea and the river meeting it. I recalled my trip to the same place more than eleven years ago when I had taken a ferry ride across the river, an auto rickshaw to the village and then rented a bicycle to go up to the beach. Now it was a cab ride all the way from our resort at Dindi!

Ryali is a unique temple dedicated to Lord Vishnu's Mohini form which is feminine. The idol is very unique, made out of single soft stone and appears to be in the Hoyasala style of Karnataka (very reminiscent of the exquisite sculptures in Beluru, Halebidu and Somnathpura). The temple charged five rupees as entrance fee into the sanctum sanctorum which appeared strange initially as most temples in India necessarily have a free darshan scheme. We soon realized we got our money's worth when the priest conducted a tour of the temple sanctum sanctorum and thoroughly explained each facet of the highly detailed sculpture. 

When our cab crossed to the west of National Highway 5 to get to Ryali, I immediately noticed a stark difference in the socio-economic landscape of the area. While the area on the east appeared prosperous with good roads and some signs of  affluence around, the one on the west appeared decrepit and had pot hole riddled roads. This difference was almost like West and East Germany! What was constant throughout though were the countless hoardings proclaiming support to Chiranjeevi's newly launched Praja Rajyam Party.

Draksharamam is a famous temple on the Shiva pilgrimage circuit of Asia. We visited this as a day trip out of Kakinada a port town on the east coast of India.  This temple is also one of the five major Shiva temples located in AP. While the temple is very special and steeped in history, it was a bit of a disappointment to see the priests there abusing their position to extract money from the pilgrims

Kotipalli is a temple just ten kms away from Draksharamam and hence we extended our drive further south. The temple hardly had any visitors but the local person was keen on charging a hefty parking fees for the only vehicle that came there. The temple was nice and the unique thing about this is the Shiva's lingam being submerged in water that oozes out of the ground. This lingam is actually housed a bit away from the main sanctum sanctorum of the temple. Just outside the temple, there is a large lake with a huge Shiva statue situated in the middle. 

There are other well known temples in the Godavari districts that I did not cover in this trip, but had a chance to visit many years ago. These include Annavaram, Palakollu, Bhimeswaram and few more. More about them in a later post after I revisit them.

Oct 9, 2008

More of River Godavari - Dindi Resorts and House Boat

In continuation of my last post, I now write about the rest of my week long travels around the districts of Godavari.  We returned back to Rajamahendri after the Papi Kondalu Trip a bit tired. The next morning after a heavy breakfast at the River Bay, we took a cab to Dindi a quaint little village along a distributary of the Godavari where the AP Tourism Department has recently built a resort. En route to the resort, we stopped briefly at the Dhawaleswaram Barrage a structure built more than 100 years ago that completely transformed the economy of the Godavari area, making it the rice bowl of India! One can see many statues saluting Sir Arthur Cotton for the hugely noble feat; it is also a coincidence that Cotton was an evangelist and one can see continuing symbols of conversions in the Godavari areas. 

Once we got onto the National highway connecting Madras to Kolkata, we also saw hundreds of plant nurseries that export decorative plants of all kinds lined up along the road. After stopping at one of them and checking it out, we reached the resort at Dindi. Being a government managed resort there were issues like the restaurant menu being very restrictive and the lawns not shaped up well etc (worst part was the dirty bath area adjoining the swimming pool). But on the positive side, the rooms were spacious and provided basic service. Our intent was to stay the night there and board the house boat the next morning.  

We found the house boat somewhat dilapidated from the outside and the maintenance was poor. The rooms inside were well maintained though and the deck upstairs was also just about okay. The railings along the boat were not in the best of condition and god forbid an accident waiting to happen. Our cruise along the river did make up for these shortcomings. We first went on a pre-lunch ride from Dindi all the way to Narsapur which is the last major town before the river's confluence with the sea. The ride was slow, idyllic and all we saw was water and millions of coconut trees. After returning to the resort, and finishing lunch we then proceeded on another cruise in the opposite direction to an island named Sivakodi Lanka

The sun was setting - a pretty sight in itself, and the breeze cool and gentle making this ride even more memorable. We alighted at the island and saw ruined structures that were used for tourists as overnight lodges. For whatever reason, they are no longer in use. The island had lots of tall green grass and several milkmen were cutting it away, packing it into bales and ferrying them across the river to their cow yards. We finally turned back to the resort and actually had a target to reach there by six pm. There is a government regulation about not having vessels ply after six in the evening as fishermen take over the river then. We spent the night in the houseboat and except for the occasional swaying of the bedroom it was pretty good. 

Oct 7, 2008

Trip to Papi Kondalu along River Godavari

My long awaited vacation finally started with a cruise along the river Godavari to the scenic Papi Kondalu hills in Andhra Pradesh. The previous day we checked into the excellent River Bay Hotel in Rajamahendri (Rajahmundry as the Britishers renamed it).

We took an early morning bus to Pattiseema where the cruise started from. The upstream journey was wonderful with the river gracefully snaking its way up the plains into the thickly forested hills. The climax was the stretch where we entered the famous Papi Hills where the hill ranges are so closely spaced that it actually looks like the river is removing curtain after curtain in its relentless journey. The river here gets to just 150-200 metres wide, a fraction of its girth at Rajamahendri where the rail cum road bridge itself is 5 kms wide.

We took the 200 air conditioned seater from Andhra Pradesh Tourism Development Corporation (APTDC) manned by a dutiful and polite crew. Unfortunately the whole booking and boarding was messed up by the management and we heard that the cruise day before had to be cancelled after starting off as they realised the boat was over-crowded. Though the journey was beautiful, the boarding and ticketing process was mis-managed. APTDC still follows a manual booking process that complicates booking and cancelation big time! The boat was also slow (one felt someone jogging along the bank would have moved faster) and the journey was about 10 hours long! For someone wishing to cover this, I would recommend a trip to Kunavaram from Bhadrachalam, a famous temple town in Khammam district; from Kunavaram one can hire a boat and complete a round trip to the Papi Hills in about 4-5 hours.

Eleven years ago, I had an opportunity to do this journey but from the other way. I took a bus from Bangalore to Hyderabad and from there a connection to Bhadrachalam. After a day or two there covering places like Parnasala and Kinnerasani Wild Life Sanctuary, I moved to Kunavaram and stayed overnight paying a princely sum of eight rupees for renting a cot! The next morning I took the daily passenger motor launch to Rajamahendri that costed rupees thirty inclusive of lunch. That journy was special - I ended up spending more time on the roof of the boat and we touched almost every village on either side of the river. Looking back it almost has a 'Swades' movie like touch to it. I recall seeing so many kids splashing about in the water and this time could not spot a single soul frolicing in the water! I am told that the demography along the river has somewhat changed and people have moved on to the cities where more opportunities beckon in the risng economy of India. In a few years the ambitious Polvaram project will dam the river a few kms north of Rajamahendri transforming the economy of the whole state and also displacing several thousand villagers. That will change the demography more abruptly and take away the beauty of Papi Kondalu for ever.