Diving in Havelock – Andaman Holidays

3 May

April is our holiday season. Over the years we have had wonderful holidays across Bali, Krabi, Cambodia, Kashmir, Rajasthan, Uttarakhand and many more exotic locations. Each one has been memorable and we felt like staying on and on ….. However, this year was different.

Driven by my daughter’s desire to go Scuba diving we decided on the Andaman’s. Scuba Diving seems to be the latest passion of teenagers and it’s an expensive hobby – the problem is it’s difficult to find a good safe agency and a clean sea with a lot of divining spots. After weeks of searching we finally zoomed in on Barefoot Holidays and Havelock.

Why Havelock? It’s the best place for diving in India – Pristine clean waters, over 2 dozen diving spots in close proximity, a wealth of reef and oceanic life.  You can dive for almost 10 months a year though the best season is from Feb to April when sea conditions are best.  I was also driven by Modis push for nationalism and felt it best to promote the Indian economy with my tourism $$.

Why Barefoot? Of all the Scuba agencies I called in Bangalore they responded the best. I had good references on people who had used them. It’s for the Pro’s – so if you are on a discover Scuba mission you have enough options – but my daughter wanted her PADI certification so we decided to go with the best. Barefoot Scuba divers are passionate and well trained – almost all are Dive Masters with 500 – 5000 dives under their belt. Their infrastructure, safety records are the best. They have good equipment, reliable boats and the Barefoot Scuba resort is bang on beach no 3 with sea facing rooms. Yes, they are expensive – and a 4 day Open water PADI Certification course will cost you 24,000 + Stay / Food ….. (Cheaper options are Dive India & Bubbles). Add to this they also have a transit service apartment in Andaman called ” the Nest” and take care of all your travel in the Andaman’s (Pick up , Ferry etc)

So why am I not very thrilled? The Andaman’s are difficult to get to (Bangalore – Chennai – Port Blair by Flight and then a Ferry to Havelock) – there is no Wi Fi in most hotels / restaurants in Havelock and the network connection is very very poor – there is not much to see – hardly any entertainment – and its expensive – the service is functional and basic, hotels in Havelock have no TV or newspapers – natural beauty is OK nothing spectacular – Check out is at 7 AM – the hotels are decent but not WOW. Add to this the energy of the place is a bit dull and listless – there is some sadness in this place – the minute you land at the airport you can sense that something is missing and that feeling carried thru the trip.

Maybe this is because of the history. This is where the British incarcerated our political prisoners. Torture and treatment meted out to them is comparable to what the Jews suffered in the Nazi camps. Thousands were hanged. Things got worse during the brief occupancy by the Japanese during World War 2. Havelock was not inhabited till the early 50’s and the Indian Govt made this the home for shiploads of refugees from Burma and Bangladesh.

The population in Port Blair is 30% Bengalis and 30% Tamil with the rest from Andhra, Jharkand, Bihar, Panjab etc. Havelock is almost all Bengalis. The whole population in Havelock is now catering to Tourists – agriculture has come to an end and surprisingly we did not see any cows, goats, birds – just a lot of cats. I wonder what that signifies? Yogi Adityanath would have surely said – with no cows there is no positive vibration in Havelock. The Bengalis who are everywhere are good people – but they seem to be engrossed in deep sorrow. Speed, efficiency and a courteous smile is not their natural trait

Day – 1

We landed at Port Blair in the afternoon at 2. Barefoot has a service apartment with 4 rooms “The Nest” that is 5 minutes from the airport. Its decent and homely and was perfect for our transit stop.

In the evening we visited the Cellular Jail – a very well maintained piece of history where you learn that there is a lot more to India’s freedom struggle beyond Gandhi & Nehru. This is where Veer Savarkar and countless others bore the brunt of British cruelty. The light & Sound show at the Cellular jail is good – the story of the Cellular Jail is narrated by an old tree that has seen it all over the years. This is a must visit for every patriotic Indian. However, my friend recommended the Light & Sound show at Ross Island – which is a ferry ride away – that is supposedly even better.

We ended the day with a wonderful dinner at a beautiful roof top restaurant “SeaShells” with a school buddy I am meeting after 29 years. As we were discussing history and Andaman’s with the children we all agreed that the history that is represented in our school books is very different from what actually happened. Whether it is the contribution of the Cholas or the thousands of freedom fighters and their struggle in places like “ Kala Pani” – our school history does not do justice to what really happened.

Day – 2

We visit the Chatham Saw Mill and a Govt Aquarium (Budget less than 30 min for each) and were back at The Nest for lunch before departing by a private Ferry to Havelock. The private Ferry Service “Makruzz”  costs Rs 1000/- one way – while the Govt ferry is Rs 435). The ferry takes about 2 hrs – they serve snacks on board (Got to pay for it – Sandwiches / Tea / Brownies etc). The service is good.

At Havelock the Barefoot guys were there to receive us. The service from Barefoot was exceptional. It’s part of the Café Coffe Day group and Netaji the manager at Port Blair who was coordinating for us did an outstanding job.

Barefoot has two properties at Havelock – the main property called Barefoot Havelock is an Eco Retreat on the world famous Radha Nagar beach tucked inside a woody rainforest. They have 31 elegantly designed thatch huts, cottages & villas. The other property where we were headed is called Barefoot Scuba – this is the place for Scuba Diving. It’s on Village no 3 near the Jetty and the main market. A few cottages and the rest are shacks. Great food and good service. This is where the hard core divers stay for weeks and months.  The rooms are a stones throw away from the beach. This beach has azure blue water and sand as fine as powder – but the beach is narrow and not a shade to the one at Radha Nagar.

Day 3 to Day 6

My daughter was busy with her PADI certification. Day – 1 was theory and passing an exam, Day – 2 was confined water divining and Day 3 & 4 were the deep sea diving. She enjoyed it and says that the experience was unique. This was her 16th birthday gift and I am hoping she will carry memories of this all her life.

My little one and me had a tough time spending our days. Other than Scuba Diving and Sea Food there is not much to do at Havelock. The Radha Nagar beach is awesome and we went there almost every day.

 

A second beach called Kala Pathar is OK. The place for touristy activity is Elephant Beach – a 30 min ferry or a 1.5 km trek. We took the Trek that was more adventurous, thru thick forests and some wading thru knee deep water (The Crocs and Anacondas were having an off day)

The ferry costs 700 Rs round trip while the Trek guide charges you Rs 400). You can do Snorkelling , Banana Boat and Sea Walking here. If you have been to S East Asia and Phi Phi island you will be disappointed – there is hardly anything to see in the waters here. Rides are expensive (Rs 500 each for a 5 min ride and the sea walk is a whopping Rs 3500 / person, It’s better to do you jet Skiing at Port Blair)

Kayaking, sailing etc seem to be options on paper but we were told that Sailing has been closed down. Clearly this is one island which has a lot of potential but the authorities don’t want it to get more commercial. The recent liquor ban and a threat to ban diving from May 1st was surprising. A Taj property is opening soon and that may drive some high end tourists.

We tried a bunch of restaurants – all of them stone’s throw from our resort. “Anju Coco” was great – awesome food and service. We wanted to visit “Something Different” – but a last minute panic of a strike in Havelock against a possible diving ban from may 1st made us prepone our return and we missed going here.

Autos & cars n Havelock and Port Blair go point to point – so a short 30 min to and fro ride from our resort to Radha Nagar Beach costs Rs 800/-. Most Tourists are couples and backpackers and they rent two wheelers for Rs 400 / day. Liquor is banned in Havelock (The main Barefoot property has a bar – but most other places the bar is closed). No entertainment in the evening – so you are very much done by 830 PM and go to sleep by 9. Carry books, board games – things to keep you occupied if you are travelling with Kids.

The sun rises early – we are on IST but almost halfway to Thailand. So by 5.30 AM it feels like 8 AM in Bangalore. It’s a cash economy – so ensure that you carry lots of cash. There are two ATM’s in Havelock near the jetty. The small Village market has all that you need including a stationery and pharma store.

After 4 days of completing her certification successfully we headed back to Port Blair. The capital is a busy town and a lots of tourists use this as their hub to visit the islands nearby. Barren islands the only active volcano of India is in the Andaman’s and can be visited on a day trip. Lots of options for diving, water sports exist in and around Andaman’s – but we did not explore.

On the way back we had 24 hrs at Port Blair – again staying at The Nest. We managed to visit the Anthropology Museum, the Science Museum, The Naval Museum and a few art stores (Lots of lovely shells to buy at affordable prices). We stopped by at the Ramakrishna Mission Ashram which is located right next to the sea.

We discovered Annapurna – Pure Veg South Indian restaurant and after 5 days gorged on Idlis, Dosas and Sambar (Sadly no curd rice was available). The ITC Fortune hotel is close by to “The Nest” and we had lunch there – nice place with an excellent sea view. Other good hotels in Port Blair are Peerless Inn & Sinclair’s.

By the time it was time to leave we had started liking the place. It’s different – don’t expect Goa here. The place has its own rhythm and it takes a few days to get acclimatised. Weather in April end was warm but manageable – best time to travel is Jan – Feb (Nov – Dec the North East Monsoon may cause disruptions)

I may not come back here again– but there are 3 Things that make it worth a visit

  • Diving in Pristine Waters
  • Cellular Jail
  • And some beautiful beaches with soft white sand and azure blue waters….

So go for it!

 

 

 

Journey of Souls – Book Review

8 Apr

Most people are scared of death – some are inquisitive of life after death. I belong to the latter group. From our childhood we have heard so much about heaven and hell – its as if there were two big mansions up there in the sky – one which was full of gardens and fairies and everlasting happiness and the other where they tortured  you and dropped you in cauldrons of boiling oil.

Spirituality, Materialism, Energy, Infinity, Supreme Power, Life , Death, Purpose …. how do you connect the dots with all these interesting but deep subjects ? Read the book “Journey of Souls” by Michael Newton.

 

This amazing book reveals the hidden mysteries of life in the spirit world after death on earth. Dr. Michael Newton, a hypnotherapist in private practice, has developed his own hypnosis technique to reach his subjects’ hidden memories.

The book is a real life log of his sessions with  twenty-nine people who were placed in a state of superconsciousness. While in deep hypnosis, these subjects movingly describe what has happened to them between their former reincarnations on earth. They reveal graphic details about how it feels to die, who meets us right after death, what the spirit world is really like, where we go and what we do as souls, and why we choose to come back in certain bodies.

 

What the book can educate you on 

  • How it feels to die
  • What you see and feel right after death
  • The truth about “spiritual guides”
  • What happens to “disturbed” souls
  • Why you are assigned to certain soul groups in the spirit world and what you do there
  • How you choose another body to return to Earth
  • The different levels of souls: beginning, intermediate, and advanced
  • When and where you first learn to recognize soulmates on Earth
  • The purpose of life

So Why read the book

It will remove the fear of death. The book explains that after Death you will go to a beautiful place where you are loved , nurtured , taken care of , healed and then you decide when and where to come back in a physical form. There is no hell , there is no boiling Cauldrons.

You will realise that the time you spend on Earth is a learning curve , you are sent here to work on your weakness and help your soul advance in its journey to immortality. A learning that there is a purpose for this life. You were born in a family and with a set of friends as per your choice to change yourself. Soulmates come at pre defined times to help you in the journey. They try to help you – but its up to you to decide whether you want to change or not. Some people adapt and change and progress – while others resist change and the journey for them is longer.

 

As you evolve the colour of your soul changes. The highly advanced sages and masters who guide other souls are Blue & Purple in colour while the beginners are white. (I have heard Sri M talk about how when life ceases he can see a white wisp of smoke emerge from the body and move on) – less than 1% of souls are in the Advanced + category

You will start understanding the concept of energy and infinity and time better. A Soul can choose to be in any Planet, Galaxy or Universe, or Astral plane – there are numerous points in space where life forms or energy forms exist. Souls can recollect their previous lives thousands of years back  – the concept of earth years is just a flash of a second in this infinite universe.

After reading Journey of Souls, you will gain a better understanding of the immortality of the human soul. You will meet day-to-day challenges with a greater sense of purpose. You will begin to understand the reasons behind events in your own life.

Journey of Souls is a life-changing book. I found the initial section very interesting , it was a tad boring in the middle but the last few chapters that talk about Life Selection and Choosing a New Body is fascinating. 

 

“Baevu – The Village” Nature Retreat near Bangalore

12 Mar

A few years back I had discovered Shreyas – a lovely nature / Yoga retreat at Neelmangala and called it Bangalore’s best kept secret. This week we discovered another gem ” Baevu Village” on Kanakpura Road – 2 hrs drive from Bangalore.

“Baevu” in Kannada means Neem Tree and this 30 acre property has over 1000 Neem Trees. Its a green eco spot with over 800 Mango Trees and a wide variety of vegetables, herbs, paddy & ragi grown in an organic farm. Set in a scenic landscape surrounded by hills and forests its an oasis of greenery and tranquility.

The property recently opened and is still undergoing expansion. Currently it has 10 cottages ( 12 more are planned shortly). A Cowshed is under construction which will provide fresh milk products with the farm produce. And a Spa + Conference rooms is also in the works.

Baevu Village is in the heart of rustic Kanakpura and designed to melt in with the local ambience. The Cottages are designed with a rustic look using materials that the locals use. The Taps and buckets are brass , switches are the old black round ones, the food is an excellent fare of a wide variety of S Indian dishes, the furniture is homely and blends  in with the rustic look of the houses and the property.

The entire property is run on Solar power with 105 panels generating 30,000 KW. This is a unique property – and if you are a nature lover like me in the quest of quiet places don’t miss this one.

This property scores high on all counts and with a little bit of effort from the owners can make it to the coveted Relais & Châteaux list

  • Design / Architecture / Landscape – 10 / 10
  • Service – 10 / 10
  • Value For Money – 10 /10

Its owned by the Avani group (Shashidhar a Builder and his wife a Landscape architect) – the property has been designed in consultation with a Swiss Architect.

As you walk around the property you can stand below the Neem Tress and hear the buzzing of the bees and numerous birds chirping and singing, watch the squirrel and the chameleon darting away and admire the massive Papiya’s and the freshly grown Bhindi’s & Tomatoes. You can see natures bounty without Urea and pesticides. That is reflected in the quality of the food – which is fresh and tasty.

The property is surrounded by the Karadi Gudda & Banantamari Reserve forests and there are nice short treks ( 2 hrs ). We did a morning trek starting at 7 AM and back by 9 AM. A short ride followed by a 30 min trek to a summit for a great view – we also spotted stones that looked like Menhirs from Asterix. The summit has a small rock cut image of Narasimha and local villagers pay their respects regularly here.

You also have activity in the retreat – TT , Volley Ball , Mud Volley Ball etc. The plunge pool is beautiful and the changing rooms are clean and awesome. Its perfect for a 1 night stay.

The rates are reasonable

  • Couple Cottage – 6722
  • Family Cottage – 8000
  • Extra Adult – 2990

We stayed in a. family cottage – its very spacious and can easily accommodate a family of four.  Comes with a nice sit out and a very large bathroom. Just be careful to not bang your head as the doors are low height like in olden days

Rates are inclusive of Taxes an all 3 meals (Breakfast , Lunch , Dinner , Tea , Coffee etc). If you want to order add ons they are not expensive (Veg Pakoda 90 , Masala Omlette 60 …. ) – the menu consists of Veg & Non Veg . There is no bar but you can carry liquor for consumption in the room.

We went in mid March on a full moon night ( Surprisingly all my travels happen around full moon nights – and I never plan it that way) – days were warm but it was very cool in the evenings. We will definitely plan a trip after the rains when the greenery will be all over and the water from the hills will flow and fill up the ponds.

But do add this place to your must visit weekend getaways in Bangalore.

PS – They also have a day visit program where you can leave Bangalore early have breakfast , lunch , roam around , spend time in the pool – all of this for Rs 905/ person

Other Information

  • Contact Details – Divya Kare – + 91 94482 86415
  • Website – http://www.avanileisure.com/baevu-home.php
  • Avani group has two other properties around Bangalore – Angana a 3 acre property near the Ravishanker ashram and Panchwati a wedding destination again on Kanakpura Road.
  • Google Maps will locate the place – roads are excellent – budget 2 hrs
  • Phone connection is decent you will get Edge connection – No Wi Fi
  • No TV in the rooms , No AC

Suggestions for improvement 

  • Please provide Coffee Tea before 630 – for early risers like me waking up at 430 and waiting till 630 for a cup of coffee was a sore point (Or keep a coffee machine in the room)
  • Keep Yoga Mats in the room
  • You need to plan some more activities so that people can spend at least 2 days – else your traffic will be restricted to Bangalore locals
  • Lunch and dinner was excellent – explore augmenting your breakfast menu with some more options ( the retreat was almost empty when we stayed – 3 / 10 rooms – and that may have been the reason for limited options at breakfast)
  • Please improve your website – the current one is not doing justice to this amazing property

 

 

Chidambaram & Thiruvanamalai from Bangalore

14 Feb

I have been on the temple circuit since Dec 2016. Varanasi – Sarnath , then Kancheepuram and now in Feb 2017 a wonderful trip to Chidambaram & Thiruvanamalai.

The Thillai Nataraja temple at Chidambaram has been on my bucket list for long. Its an ancient temple – with many mystical stories around its history & architecture. This is the only temple that depicts Lord Shiva in the Nataraja pose performing the Ananda Tandava (“Dance of Delight”) as the supreme being who performs all cosmic activities.

nellaippar-temple-thirunelvelli

Chidambaram is one of the five Pancha Bootha Sthalams, the holiest Shiva temples each representing one of the five classical elements; Chidambaram represents akasha (aether) –  I have been to 3 others – Kalahasti – Air, Thiruvanamalai – Fire, Kancheepuram – Earth, which leaves the 5th one representing water – the Jambukeshwar temple which is in Tiruvanaika near Tiruchi. The Shiva Linga here signifies the element water.

For more details on the Chidambaram Temple read this link http://www.chidambaramnataraja.org/about_temple.html

Getting to Chidambaram  

We left Bangalore at 6 AM and reached our hotel in time for lunch at 1.45. (375 Kms) Two stops – one at 8 AM for breakfast and gas just before the NH  bifurcates to Chennai & Salem and the second stop at around 11 AM about 80 kms after Salem. The road is good and barring two small stretches where we were struck for 20 min we were zipping all along. My friends Mahindra XUV is an excellent road warrior – stable and safe and it was even better than my Innova.

We stayed at the Lakshmi Vilas Heritage – a beautiful property with 16 rooms in a village about 15 Kms south of Chidambaram. A large property with lots of greenery, a nice pond and a 150 year old temple in its compound – and very affordable too (4 K / Night for double occupancy inclusive of Breakfast and Wi Fi). Food is good – simple and homely and they serve both Indian and a few continental dishes. Its managed by a few good people – so don’t expect 5 Star finesse. Rooms are nice – more than basic with AC , TV , Nice big Bathroom , Hot Water 24 by 7.  You don’t need anything more. The good thing is – the hotel is away from the crowded streets of Chidambaram and is located only 45 Kms from Kumbakonam. So its easy to cover the temples to the South of Chidambaram from here.

img_3102

The Main Nataraja Temple at Chidamabaram 

A large temple it was built by king Paranthaka Chola in 5th century BC and constantly renovated by future Chola and Pallava kings. It is said that to worship Nataraja in this temple Adishesha took rebirth as Patanjali. In addition to the main Nataraja statue the temple also has a Shiva linga in Crystal stone and one in Ruby. The Sanctum Sanctorum has a golden roof with 21600 leaves that denotes the no of breaths we take every day. The 72,000 golden nails stand for the “Nadis’ or nerve junction points in our body,

Unique aspect of this temple is that it is managed by 300 Priests and their families. There is no Trust / No Govt Interference / No Mutt – over thousands of years the ancestors of the Priests and their families have been managing the temple. These priests are dedicated wholly for the temple and do not perform any other activities. The temple is  neat, well organised , there are no VIP Q and special tickets like Tirupathi. But if you want a good Dharshan close to the Sanctum Sanctorum it helps to know one of the 300 Priest Families.

We were lucky to be introduced to Natarjamani Deekshitar by a friend – and that really helped us to get an excellent Darshan – once in the evening at 4 PM  and later at 6 AM in the morning when the temple opens. You can also reach out to them if you need help ( Phone – 04144 – 2276544, Mobile – 9487313933 , Their house is located right next to the temple at 107/A East Car street, Near Rich Rich Shop behind Sowju Textiles)  The priests do not demand any fees – but they manage their families with the donations we make.

We were extremely happy with both our visits and had an excellent Darshan and temple tour. the morning visit at 6 AM when they open the temple is highly recommended. The ringing of bells , Dumroos, the procession , all of this with the opening of the Sanctum Sanctorum is a high energy event.

The temple is large but you can complete the darshan and the tour in 1 hr easily ( We were lucky to be there on a week day when the crowd was very light) – don’t miss the Prasadam – its extremely tasty and available for a very reasonable price. There are no dress codes – so you can be comfortable in Pant / Shirt or Dhoti Kurta. While entering the Sanctum Sanctorum you need to remove your shirt. Recommended that you stick to Indian Wear.

img_3110

 

img_3116

We finished our Darshan and temple tour by 6.30 PM and walked around the temple before we landed up at Sri Krishna Vilas for Dinner. the food is outstanding and the rates are very very reasonable. We kept coming for most of our meals during our stay here. This is also on East Car street right next to the Priests house

img_3133

We finished day – 1 by 830 PM and headed back to the hotel. day – 2 was to be a busy day.

Day – 2 we started early. We left our hotel by 6.30 AM. Our first stop was the Gangai Konda Cholapuram temple. A Grand temple built by Rajendra Chola I, the son and successor of Rajaraja Chola, the great Chola who conquered a large area in South India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Sumatra, Kadaram (Kedah in Malaysia), Cambodia and others at the beginning of the 11th century A.D. It occupies an important place in the history of India. As the capital of the Cholas from about 1025 A.D. for about 250 years, the city controlled the affairs of entire southern India, from the Tungabhadra in the north to Ceylon in the south and other south east Asian countries. The architecture of this temple is comparable to that of the Brihadeswara Temple in Tanjore.

Located South of Chidambaram about 20 km from our Hotel on the way to Kumbakonam – budget 45 min at this beautiful and grand temple. More famous for its architecture than its divinity.

img_3124

Our next stop was a jewel in the crown. A small temple tucked in the middle of a village. It took us 45 minutes to reach here thru narrow by lanes of villages.  Melakadambur is a village located 31 kilometres (19 mi) from Chidambaram.  The Arulmigu Amirthakateshwarar Thirukkoil was constructed by Kulothunga Chola and is more than 1000 years old. This Sivalinga is Self-manifested or Swayambhu Linga. The temple is small , was totally empty and is buzzing with energy. We loved it. Don’t miss this temple if you go to Chidambaram.

img_3129

 

img_3132

It took us about 40 minutes to get back to Chidambaram for Breakfast and by 9.45 AM we were heading towards Sirkazhi to visit the Brahma Parameshwar temple. The town also has a famous Perumal temple but we skipped that and headed to the Vaitheeswaran temple close by. The temple is open till 1.30 and we made it there by 12.30. A big crowded temple – you can feel the energy of the temple if you sit in a corner quietly for some time.  This temple is famous for curing ailments and outside it you will find many ” Nadi Astrologers” who will predict your past very accurately – we stayed away from them , as it sounded a tad bogus.

After a long morning we headed back to our hotel and reached by 1.30 in time for a sumptuous meal. All that you see in the photo comes for Rs 200/- .

img_3100

After a few hours of rest we headed out at 4 PM to another spectacular temple the Sri Mushnam temple which is dedicated to Lord Vishnu in his Avatar as a Boar. A Massive temple – no crowds – and we were able to complete our darshan in less than 20 minutes.

img_3137

From here we headed to another ancient temple – the Perumal temple at Kattu Mannar. A 30 min drive from the Boar temple. Again an ancient temple with a lot of mythology associated with it – but the temple has seen better days. Our hotel was 8 Kms from here and we reached by 7.45 PM. It was a long day and we had covered a lot of ground – 6 temples and over 200 kms of driving. A simple dinner of Phulka Rotis , Dal , Sabji , Curd , Rice – and we sat outside in the Charpoy admiring the full moon before heading to bed by 9.30 PM.

img_3144

Day – 3 we start early and reach the Priests house by 5.45 AM for the morning Puja at the Thillai Nataraja Temple. This is a must visit. The Sanctum Sanctorum opens by 6.30 AM for public viewing and a grand ceremony is held every morning. The Puja gets over by 6.45 AM.

img_3146

Our next stop was the Thillai Kali temple – the Consort of Thillai Nataraja , located just 850 M from the Main Nataraja Temple . A small temple it houses Kali as Amman and Rudra Kali in her angry form. The temple was decked with lemons and I asked the Priest the significance of lemons and Devi temples – he had no answer – so thats some homework for me to research.

img_3150

After breakfast we headed towards Kumbakonam. From Chidambaram the Darasuram Temple – a UNESCO world Heritage site was about 60 Km ( from our hotel 45 Km) – and it took us 90 minutes to get there. Lovely architecture and exquisite sculpture is the hallmark of this massive Shiva temple.

img_3155

Kumbakonam is full of temples and I have covered most of them in my visit a few years back. But to give my friend a flavour of the city we drove around the town to the Uppaliappan temple – a large Vishnu Temple in the outskirts of the city. After a darshan here we reached Swamimalai for lunch at the beautiful Indecco hotel – another Heritage property. We had stayed here when we had travelled to Kumbakonam some years back – if you are travelling to Kumbakonam do stay here. (https://vak1969.com/2012/02/17/kumbakonam-tanjore-3-day-trip/)

It was tempting to travel another 45 Km South to the Brihadeswara temple at Tanjore but we decided to keep that for a future visit with Tiruchi and headed back to our hotel to reach by 3.30 in time for a nice cup of tea. A few hrs of rest and then we walked around the property visiting the 150 year old temple in its premises and strolled by the village market. Dinner by 8 PM and we were off to sleep by 9 PM – the next day we were heading to Thiruvanamalai and needed an early start.

Day – 4 We head to Thiruvanamalai 

We left at 6.15 AM and reached Thiruvanamalai at 9 AM – the 120 KM distance has good roads ( single lane) and being a Sunday morning the roads were empty. There are many eating joints opposite the Ramana Ashram and after a quick breakfast we reached the Ashram. Its a beautiful place – full of soothing energy. A Temple dedicated to Arunachala, Ramana Maharishi’s Samadhi , a Meditation Hall and a lovely Library form the main complex. They also have a room where he breathed his last and a nice cowshed. The Ashram has many peacocks and birds and was buzzing with people – mostly foreigners. This is a place of self discovery – so there is no routine / workshop / sessions that are held to engage the visitors or those staying here. They have rooms to stay – but getting a room is difficult especially between Nov & Feb. We knew one of the Trustees at the temple and he promised to help us get a room at the Ashram during our next visit. Mani uncle walked us thru the campus and took us to the point from where we started a 40 minute trek to the Skanda Ashram & Virupaksha Cave. Its a easy trek – rocky and takes you to two caves where Ramana Maharishi meditated for almost 20 years. The caves are beautiful and full of energy. In 5 Minutes I could sense the the energy equivalent of what I had after 6 days or 60 hrs of my Vipassna meditation – thats the power of these caves.

img_3162

You can come back to the Ashram or walk along and reach the Arunachala Temple. This is the Shiva Temple dedicated to Fire. Its massive and very well maintained. Being. Sunday it was very crowded so we decided to come back in the evening – temple is open from 5 AM to 9.30 PM.

We stayed at the Sparsa hotel – a beautiful property full of greenery and with excellent rooms. If you don’t get a room in the Ashram stay here – its as peaceful and serene as the Ashram. Rates are very reasonable (Rs 5500 / night for double occupancy inclusive of breakfast) – after lunch and a few hrs of rest we headed back to the Ashram at 4 PM. A Drive around the Hills                “Girivaram” – normally people walk these 18 Kms – considered very auspicious.

img_3171

Between 4.30 and 6.30 PM  we stayed at the Ashram – there were talks and Vedic Chantings going on and after a hr of meditation we headed to the Temple reaching there by 7.30 PM. Everything is close Sparsa to Ashram is a 5 min drive and Ashram to Temple is another 5 min drive. Mornings and late evenings are the best time to go to a temple – its cool and relatively empty. By 7.30 the temple crowd had reduced and we got excellent Dharshan in less than 20 minutes. They have a normal Q and a 20 Rs Q.

View of the temple from the trek to the Virupaksha Cave – admire its size and symmetry.

img_3160

Happy and satisfied we headed back to the hotel and reached by 9 PM after a simple dinner.

Day – 5 We head back to Bangalore. We left at 5.15 AM and reached E City at 8.30 AM. Be careful of the road you take – the shorter route as shown by Google Maps is a bad road full of potholes. After you reach Singarpet take a right and come via the Tirupattaur outer to Bardur and Krishnagiri where you  meet the Chennai Bangalore 6 lane expressway. We reached the Expressway at 7 AM and were at E City by 8.30. Thats good timing given that this is a 180 Km distance.

 Thu to Monday we had travelled 1200 Kms – a low cost trip the per person expense was less than Rs 15,000/-  thats 3K / day. (All my previous holidays were almost 20 K / day). Everything worked like clockwork – Roads were Good , Google Maps was perfect, food was good, the Rooms were nice , there was hardly any crowd wherever we went , the weather was excellent, the people we met were nice and friendly from the waiter at Lakshmi Niwas to the French Sita at the Q in Thiruvanamalai – and by divine grace we got the contacts to the Priests at the Chidambaram temple as we were driving, we had made no attempts to get the details. Mani Mama at Ramana Ashram helped us with the right directions to Bangalore else we would have been stuck in a pothole road taking a few extra hrs to reach Bangalore.

Many of the temples we visited had just completed their Kumbhabhishekam – and its very auspicious to visit a temple within 40 days of the Kumbhabhishekam. All in all a very satisfying trip. I had wonderful company and that made the trip even more delightful – with two people sharing the driving load and the costs it becomes so much more easier to do these trips in a. cost efficient manner.

Kumbhabhishekham is a  temple ritual that is believed to homogenize, synergize and unite the mystic powers of the deity. Kumbha means the Head and denotes the Shikhara or Crown of the Temple (usually in the Gopuram) and Abhisekham is ritual bathing. On the appointed day and at an auspicious time, the Kumbha is bathed with the charged and sanctified holy waters in the sacrificial pot and, by a mystic process, these pranic powers trickle down a silver wire and enter the deity installed inside the sanctum sanctorum of the temple. The deity, which was until then only a granite sculptured stone image, is believed to transform into a vibrant and vivid living representation of the deva with innate beatitude, grace and grandeur, conferring divine blessings on all devotees.

Few Tips

  • Travel during the weekdays – its a lot easier – lesser crowds , easier to get rooms.
  • Nov – Feb is the best time to travel – Summer can be extremely hot 45 Degrees +
  • Visit Temples early Morning or Late Evening.
  • And lastly if your room mate snores like crazy carry ear plugs or some cotton – it works and helps you have a peaceful sleep

 

 

 

 

Insights from my 10 day Vipassana Session at Bangalore

30 Jan

It was an intense and powerful program and by the 10th day I could clearly see the benefits. And this they say is just the beginning. A program conducted with deep commitment and compassion that touches you. A program conducted purely by volunteers for which there is no charge. A unique program that all should explore.

Vipassana is a powerful technique of Strengthening & Purifying the mind. Its the original pure technique that Gautama Buddha shared with his followers after his enlightenment. The intent of this Blog is to help first timers attending a Vipassana session to get a fair understanding of how the jigsaw puzzle falls into place over the ten days. My first Vipassna session at Bodh Gaya was about 3 years back and I left on the 5th day. Now after having completed the course I realise that I made a mistake and was looking at it piecemeal day by day. I hope first timers after reading this blog will not make the mistake of leaving in the middle.

Disclaimer – There is no substitute to attending this program – the learnings , benefits , awareness that one will get from attending the program cannot be documented in a blog.

vipassana-buddha

What most people say when you tell them ” I am attending a Vipassana session” 

When I told friends that I was attending a Vipassana Course the initial reaction was – “Its very Tough , you hardly get to eat anything , you have to wake up at 4 and meditate for 10 hrs every day , you can’t talk for ten 10 days… ” – all of this is true. But this was easy for me . I am used to waking up at 4 , and with no physical activity and talk the healthy vegetarian food they provide was enough – never felt hungry. Staying quiet for ten days was a pleasure – away from noise and pollution in a serene and peaceful ambience.

So what makes it Challenging 

Its a mind game. A wild elephant does not want to get tamed. Similarly the mind does not want to be controlled. This is the battle across the ten days. Your mind feels like a paper boat on a stormy ocean being tossed up and down. The mind is so strong and free willed – its been roaming freely for so many years – suddenly trying to control it is a challenge.

Lets step back and define the problem – Why Vipassana , what is the problem that we are trying to solve. 

2500 years back Buddha saw Misery not just in his life but across all his previous births. That stands true today – rich or poor , old or young there is a lot of misery in the Human Mind.

The root cause for Misery is Craving and Aversion. Every seer and enlightened person has said this but nobody has been able to give a solution. Vipassana is a simple, proven technique that when practised regular help us solve for this problem .

 

So whats the solution 

Two skills you need to develop – 1. Be Aware 2. Be Equanimous. These are like the two wings of a bird that helps you soar and overcome the challenges of misery.

Every time there is a Craving or an Aversion you sow a seed in your mind which grows and multiples. By being equanimous you do not sow the seed and over a period the old seeds die.

Vipassana helps you to purify the mind of the old seeds that have been sowed and stop new seeds being planted. So over time you mind becomes pure.

Sounds easy but whats the methodology  

You follow a 3 step process

You need to take a vow and follow the foundation of the practice sīla — moral conduct. Sīla provides a basis for the development of samādhi — concentration of mind, which is the second step, and purification of the mind is achieved through paññā — the wisdom of insight to observe things as it is. This is the third step.

  1. The key percepts of sīla are – Maintain Noble Silence (Silence of body , speech & mind – even eye contact is not allowed). Other rules – No Stealing, No Lies , No Killing ( Not even a mosquito) , No sexual misconduct , No Liquor /Intoxicants and total segregation of male and female meditators.

2. samādhi is about taming the mind and using it in an incisive manner to purify the mind.

3. And finally paññā is about observing things as is – observing the Truth within you with equanimity – neither like or dislike.

A fundamental principle behind Vipassana is that everything is constantly changing – nothing is permanent. The minutest cell in the human body  the smallest subatomic particles that are in constant transition – generating and regenerating itself almost a trillion times every second. In effect the body is nothing but wavelets.

So whats the Viapssana Technique that you practise for ten Days 

There are two Techniques that you Practise.

Anapana Sati – a simple technique to control your mind by observing your breath and then observing the sensations in your body. A sensation is nothing but a Electrochemical reaction and the body is full of sensations – our gross mind is unable to observe them. But when you sit in meditation for ten hours a day concentrating on a specific part of the body you are able to observe the sensations on the 2nd or 3rd day. Anapana Sati is a technique to sharpen the mind.

On the 4th Day evening you are initiated to Vipassana. You now move the mind from the head to Toe and Toe to head observig the sensations all across the body. Sensations may be gross or subtle , some you may like , some you may have an aversion to. The training is to observe the sensations with equanimity and move on. You will also see that every sensation dies after certain time following the rule of impermanence.

As you continue this process observing pain, itching , heat , perspiration , tingling, and many more sensations Gross & Subtle …. in an equanimous manner you are purifying the mind of impurities and they emerge as old hidden thought , as tears , some get gassy , multiple things happen and each experience is unique to an individual. You can sense changes happening within and thats what causes the upheaval of the mind. Thoughts flow in abundance – I remembered my class 8 Newtons Laws and all the Trigonometry formulas from Class 11 / 12. Minute details from 30 – 40 years suddenly come in front of you. Sweet memories make you smile and the bad ones bring tears. Fantasies and dreams float by. And you observe and observe quietly.

How intense can the sensations be

They can be very intense – in one of the Dhamma Talks Goenka Ji talks about a Scientist from US who came to his teachers meditation centre in Burma and his body was literally jumping up and down while in meditation. His sensations were intense – this was not a flying Sadhu who was experiencing weightlessness but a person full of impurities that would require a lot of cleansing.

Sounds simple – so can we cleanse ourselves in ten days by doing this 

This is just the beginning. You will definitely feel a lot better after ten days as you would have started cleaning the store impurities of so many years – but you need to continue this for a long time. The recommendation is to practise for at least 2 hrs a day after the ten Day program and also to attend a Ten Day session once every year.

And its not just the practise you follow the principles of Sīla or morality in your day to day life. Experienced Vipassana practitioners then move on to 15 , 20 , 30 and even 45 day programs.

Which are the most Challenging Days 

Day 2 and day 6 are the most challenging days after learning the Technique and practising them for a day the mind gets boiling and frenetic. There are terabytes of thought that flood your mind, you go up and down. Old memories from childhood, from work , from old friends , acquaintances , good memories , bad memories, they all come gushing out. You are quiet – there is no other outlet to distract you , so you have no option but to reflect.

I had attended an earlier program at Bodh Gaya and exited on day 5 – so I was aware of the 1st 4 days and actually enjoyed it. The routine was quiet , the peace and quiet and serenity was enjoyable. I have been doing Aana Pana for the last 3 years so the technique was not new to me. On Day 3 I went into deep meditation and did not hear the 11 AM Gong for lunch and the friendly attendant had to shake me awake. Maybe If he had not I would stayed in deep meditation for days and got enlighted !

But Day 6 was very challenging. At 5 PM after tea as I was sitting quietly by a corner under a tree reflecting on the burst dam of thoughts a mosquito comes and sits on my nose. I instinctively try to clap and crush it – but remember that I can’t kill it. He is a smart mosquito – he comes back after 6 PM inside the meditation hall during the “Addithanaa” session – this is a 1 hr session where you try to develop strong determination by not changing position , moving legs or opening your eyes. I can sense him sitting on my face. I twitch my face but he hangs on. I can feel the piercing of my skin as he draws blood and I remember the instruction – ” feel the sensation – this will also pass” – and it does pass. The guy sensed easy blood and came back the next day – but this time I was prepared with a. liberal dose of Odomos and had the last laugh.

On different days aI saw different symbols that expressed the state of my mind. On day 3 there was a eagle soaring in the sky – gliding up , coming down sharply and then being static mid air. On Day 6 there were multiple monkeys in a Tree in the campus. Jumping up and down – and thats exactly how the mind was. And on day 9 the same tree was full of parrots chirping happily.

Things start getting better by day 7, and 8. You also tell yourself that 70% done , 80 Done and the end is near – that helps.

By day 9 & 10 the mind is so focused and strong that you feel its like a beam of lazor. On day 9 I tried focusing my mind at the eyebrow centre – and boom there was a flash of light and I could immediately sense a strong pulsating sensation at the Pineal gland in the back of the head. Normally this takes 5 – 15 minutes of focused attention during my Yoga sessions and even then I feel a warm sensation and not throbbing. I then tried focusing my attention in all the energy Centres and there was instantaneous reactions there also. ( The practise does not encourage focusing on any specific spots and concepts like Chakras are not talked about in Vipassana – this was my own experimentation)

So what is unique about this Program 

Its an experiential program. There is nothing theoretical about it. Your experience is basis how you implement the teachings. Goenkaji explains this very well with an example. When you visit a Restaurant you see the menu and feel hungry , you then see the person next table relishing the food , that makes you more hungry – but finally you taste the food and relish it. Attending lectures and hearing about the experiences of others is good – but there is no substitute to experiencing the eternal trust as is by yourself.

Its different from other meditation where you chant a mantra or “Om” or Focus on a god or goddess. That helps to calm the mind at the surface level – but does not get deep to cleanse the mind. Been mantras like Om create a high level of Vibration – but these are externally created vibrations – In Vipassana nothing is created from outside , all you do is observe whats happening inside.

Who is the Teacher and how is the course conducted

The principal Teacher is Sri S.N.Goenka ( Late). All the sessions are his Audio / Video recordings. Goenkaji or Guruji was a successful businessman in Rangoon and learnt this technique in 1955 from his teacher U Ba Khin. He worked with him for 14 years and came to India in 1969. The technique that is taught is the pure and pristine form of Vipassana that Gautama Buddha had shared 2500 years back. It had got lost in India and Goenka Ji brought this back to the country. He is a great orator full of compassion and logic. There is no mumbo jumbo of this program – it will appeal to the analytical mind. There was a prophecy that 2500 after Buddhas death the knowledge of his teachings would come back to India and then spread across the world. 1969 was the 2500th year – that was the year Goenka Ji came to India – so maybe the prophecy is coming true.

At the session there are Assistant teachers who facilitate the program and can help you with any questions you may have on the technique.

life-of-s-n-goenka-2

So is this Buddhism

Goenka Ji emphasises again and again that this is universal and people from all religion attend the Vipassana program. It is a program that help in conversion from Misery to happiness. There are no mantras, Talismans , Images, etc referenced anywhere in the program. these are the original pristine teachings of Buddha on how to develop on the path to enlightenment.

However during the program you are told not to practise any other rites or rituals.

Where are the centres located and how do I enrol

There are multiple centres in the Country. You can register online at https://www.dhamma.org/en/about/vipassana. I attended the session at the Bangalore centre in Tumkur. Most sessions get completely enrolled 2 – 3 months in advance. The HQ are at Igatpuri – Nasik and the centre there looks like heaven.

img_2993

Will I get to stay in a single room – How is the food – Whats the schedule …. 

Depends on the centre. The Bangalore Centre has 40 Single rooms and also Dormitories. Old Meditators are given preference for single rooms and then its allotted on first come basis. Rooms are simple but clean and functional with hot water, fan , western toilets etc.

img_2964

The schedule is taxing you start at 4 and and at 9 PM. Food is simple and nutritious. A good sumptuous lunch , and a decent breakfast are the primary meals. Tea and a very light snack are served at 5 PM.

img_2979

Food is simple veg – we had Upma , Poha, Pongal , Idli for breakfast  on different days and Rice , Roti , Vegetables , Sambar , Rasam, Raita , Salad, Buter Milk for lunch. Its self service and you clean your own plates after use. You can help yourself to additional servings if you are hungry.

img_2988

Whats the Charge , who are the attendees 

There is no charge – everything is provided free of cost. On the last day you are free to donate whatever you feel like.  Anybody is welcome to attend- there is no class or sect bar.

img_2971

Any other benefits ? 

Yes its a great detox program – the soulitude , simple food, No talk calms your mind and also helps you to lose weight. I lost 4 kgs of body weight – but I can’t measure the head weight I have lost.

img_2968

 

Thank You – India Railways and Mysore Police

18 Jan

I have heard great things about the Indian Railways and its improved efficiency ever since Suresh Prabhu has taken over. The trains are cleaner, the platforms and the bathrooms are sparkling clean (At least in South India), Trains are punctual.

A few days back I had a great experience – in the Chennai Mysore Shatabadi. On Sun 15th Jan we boarded the Chennai – Mysore Shatabdi at 6 AM headed to Bangalore. We were a group of 6 with 5 suitcases and many small bags and accessories.

hqdefault

After a very comfortable journey in a very neat coach we got off at Bangalore Majestic. I always take count of the suitcases before we leave – but this day there was some miscommunication , and I was not as alert as usual. We came back home and realised that we had left a suitcase in the Train. It was my dad’s suitcase and had his medicines and a few other important items.

I had no clue what to do and there was a sense of panic at home. Searched the web for the station numbers at Majestic and Mysore – but the numbers that popped up were obsolete and not out of service. I then tried contacting some business associates at Mysore who could send someone to the station and pick up the Suitcase from Coach C5. But being a Sunday at 12 Noon – nobody was reachable.

At my wits end I called my friend seeking advice. He asked me to call 139 Railway Enquiry. After a few options I finally reached a friendly call centre advocate who politely told me that she could not help and I would need to contact the Railway Police Mysore for Lost & Found – she was not able to help with the number.

After multiple Google attempts I finally reached this site http://202.138.101.165/railwaypolice/Railway%20Police%20Contact.html. 

Fortunately it had a Mobile Number listed for Mysore (9480802122) – which I immediately dialled. And thats when the efficient miracle started.

The phone was picked up on the second ring and a confident no nonsense efficient voice answered me. I explained the situation – he responded by saying that Shatabadi was just entering the platform and he would send one of his team to C5 to locate the suitcase and call me back.

I waited patiently invoking the universal energy – my mother was very confident that we would get the suitcase back. Expecting a call back from a Govt official was rare. But this man was different – within 10 minutes I got a call back saying he had traced the Suitcase and he would be sending it back with Pappu Khan the pantry boy in C5 Coach and I could pick it up at 420 PM when the train reached Bangalore Majestic.  He gave me Pappu Khan’s number – I called him and established contact.

img_2949

We were there at the station at 4 PM and promptly at 4.20 the train chugged in Platform no 7. As we waited anxiously Pappu Khan was at the gate with our suitcase. We thanked him profusely.

For me a miracle had happened – I had never expected a lost suitcase in the train would be got back so easily. And it all happened because of  Mr S Krishnamoorthy – Sup Inspector Police at Mysore Railway Station.  Thanks a lot Mr Krishnamoorthy – people like you instil confidence that in todays world there are still good people. It was your attitude and efficient approach that made things happen. You are a role model. Thank You Sir – May God Bless you and your Family. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

http://202.138.101.165/railwaypolice/Railway%20Police%20Contact.html