Kolkata Shining – Well Done Didi

15 Jan

I recollect that some years back Kolkata came to the news for all the wrong reasons – it was christened the “Dying City”. This after many many years under the administration of Jyoti Basu. From 1977 he held the CM post for 23 years without a break – a tough record to beat. But Bengal and Kolkata saw no progress.

I remember my trips to Kolkata – from the mid 70’s and till 2005 almost nothing changed. Traffic jams , pavements choked with hawkers, load shedding, appalling poverty , filth – it was a mess. Mother Teresa and Dominiqe Lapierre did not help by positioning Calcutta as a city in deep despair. I remember in a quiz competition in school we were asked to name the dirtiest city in the world and the choice was between Karachi , Dhaka and Kolkatta. Karachi narrowly beat Kolkatta to claim the distinction.

Things slowly changed and in the last 7 years Mamta Banerjee and the TMC have done a phenomenal job in transforming Kolkatta. I visited the city after many years in the last week of 2017 and was pleasantly surprised to see a city that I could barely recognise. The transformation is to a scale that you cannot comprehend. Broad Roads , cars zipping at 50 Km/hr ( restraining themselves as thats the speed limit), clean footpaths and pavements, well lit roads with plants, a maze of flyovers , clean billboards and shop fronts, efficient traffic police, the water bodies or “Pukurs” that dot the city are sparkling clean. In the 3 days I was there I did not see a single pothole or a dug up road or footpath – I could go on and on.

 

I would rate Kolkata as the Indian city with one of the best urban infrastructures in the country today comparable with Hyderabad, Ahmedabad and of course New Delhi. Coming from Bangalore ( Koramangla in specific) where traffic crawls at less than 10 km /hr and it can take you 30 min to cross the Sony Junction Kolkatta felt like a foreign city. Add to this Kolkatta has no power cuts and thanks to the mighty Ganges you will never see water tankers queuing up in front of apartment complexes.

We visited the Dhakuria lake complex – again a very well maintained park with excellent walkways spotlessly clean.

All this is indeed creditable work. Its not easy to change a dying city that has been languishing for decades. Yes good work was started by the former CM Buddhadeb Bhattacharya and if the Nano plant at Singur had happened the industrial pace at W Bengal may have matched that of Gujarat. But full credit to Mamata Di for picking up speed and achieving the impossible. Well Done Didi.

The Indian Press is miserly – all I have heard about Kolkata sitting in Bangalore is Didi’s anger against Modi and the Muslim appeasement – not a word has been reported on how a dying city has been transformed in such a short period of time. You need to give credit where it is due and this change from a. dying city to a sparkling city should have been cover page article and news.

Its not just the infrastructure but also the cleanliness. People have started taking pride in their city – the Bengalis have always been proud of their legacy and now they have earned their bragging rights. I am sure this saga of development will continue. Its a very affordable city and the cost of living would probably be less than half that of Bangalore or Mumbai. A city with history , legacy , sights – a city waiting to be marketed. With all this going for Kolkatta its a matter of time before the builders, brands , malls , companies , jobs flood into Kolkata. And all the  NRI babus who always wanted to be in Kolkata and enjoy their adda will come back. A city on an ascending curve is unstoppable and as the momentum picks up the growth will accelerate.

The trip was also special as I caught up with my college mates from REC Surat and met them after 25 years. We were knocking at 50 but as we met after so many years we felt like 18 year olds. Thanks Manik , Somen and Tutli for taking time to come over.

It was also nice to meet up the folks from ABL township – the colony where I grew up after 30 long years. the hot didis and aunties had aged gracefully. Thank you Ishani and Deepa Di for making this happen. Bengali is a very sweet language and Bengali women are amongst the prettiest you can meet but behind that pretty face and charming smile is a dominating woman – this after all is the land of Ma Durga & Kali.

A trip to Kolkata is never complete without visiting Dakshineshwar & Belur Math. We left our hotel at 5.30 AM and reached Dakhsineswhar by 6.15 AM – spotlessly clean with hardly any crowd we had a blessed Darshan of Ma Kali in all her divine glory. The Ganges was sparkling clean and majestically flowing with Belur Math on the other bank. We could feel the vibrations of the great Sage Ramkrishna in his small room at the temple complex. We didi visit Belur Math also and the Bhog we had was special, don’t miss it – piping hot Khichdi , delicious curry, and Kheer so tasty all served with so much love and affection. Whether its Golden Temple or Puri Jagannath or Dakshineswar there is something special about the Prasad they serve in these divine places.

This is also the city of food – from street food to fancy restaurants all at very affordable prices. We relished the Jhal Modi at the Maidan as we waited for a ride on the iconic tram and enjoyed sweets galore all through the trip. There is no comparison to Kolkata sweets. My fatty liver restricted me from being very adventurous but we did through justice to the amazing food of this great city. The only disappointment was our lunch at Tero Parbon at Hindustan Park where the service was disastrous.

Central Kolkata was buzzing with energy – the stretch from Victoria Memorial , Park Street , Chowringee , the National Museum – is mesmerising and brings back fond memories of childhood when we used to visit Kolkatta from Durgapur. The yellow Ambassador taxis are fast making way to the Uber’s and Ola but I pray that continue for some more time. Kolkata without the yellow taxi and its blaring horns would never be the same again.

Its a paradise for shopping – again great stuff at affordable prices. This was the time of the year when there were melas all around the city. Khadi , Handicraft and a wide variety of clothes and artwork at prices which you cannot believe. From sarees to pyjamas and kurtas, shoes, leather goods you can shop all day long in this city.

Kolkata has so much to offer – it was only on the last day that I came to know of a Jyotir Linga at Baidyanath Temple – a 1 hr drive from Kolkata. I missed it but will come back for sure to visit. There are 12 Jyotir Lingas in the country and most states market them very effectively. These are divine sites blessed with the energy of Lord Shiva – Kolkata needs to market itself better.

I have 3 suggestions to make to help the city sparkle more and attract investments. 

Kolkatta and Chennai produce nearly 50% of the CA’s of the country – Kolkatta with its low cost base can easily position itself as a back office finance hub for the country. The intelligence of the Bengali and the low cost of the city will make this a very compelling proposition.

A lot of day trips can be organised to market the city better. A 7.30 to 6.30 PM trip that includes breakfast and lunch – its easy to identify 10 – 15 such packages and have buses travel on a daily basis to these locations.

Launch a company that can help cities like Bangalore – specially BBMP spruce up the city. You now seem to have the expertise to provide consultancy and execute projects that can bring cities like Bangalore to shape.

And last but not the least Kolkata needs more Gym’s. Given the rich oily diet, lethargic lifestyle, late dinner habits and probably the highest % of smokers in the country   – my friends in Kolkata need to exercise vigorously. But I hardly saw any gyms.  Here is an opportunity for Mukesh Bansal to open many Gyms across Kolkata – so Mukesh please don’t open any more Cult Zones in Bangalore – head to Kolkatta. If Mamta has succeeded in a cleaner Kolkata I am sure she can make it a fitter Kolkata too.

Hospitality is in Bengali blood – my friend and his family took such good care of us we felt we were with family. Thanks Subhashish and Ruma for going out of the way to make us comfortable. I am looking forward to my next trip soon.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Sound of Silence – My 2nd Vipassana experience

14 Jan

Its 4.30 AM on a cold winter day in January and I am  sitting in a pitch dark small 10 sft cell in the confines of a beautiful Pagoda. And its pin drop silence – but wait you can hear something , after a few minutes of meditation as your mind calms down  you can actually hear the Sound of Silence. And as you try to observe this beautiful sound with equanimity you hear two more sounds – the soft sound of breath and the rumbling sound of your stomach.

I never felt hungry during my Ten Days program but the stomach grumbled everyday – well it had reason to do so. My last meal was at 11 AM the previous day and post that all I had had was a cup of lemon juice at 5 PM. Thats a gap of 19.5 hrs between two solid food meals. Thats the world of Vipassna – 10 days of Noble Silence, 10.5 hrs of meditation every day starting at 4.30, a light breakfast at 6.30 AM , healthy lunch at 11 AM and a cup of lemon juice or tea at 5 PM.

To know more about Vipassna – read my blog from last year – https://vak1969.com/2017/01/30/insights-from-my-10-day-vipassana-session-at-bangalore/.

This time I was at the Dhamma Khetta Hyderabad – a serene and beautiful Vipassana centre in the outskirts of Hyderabad , the 1st centre set up Goenkaji in 1976 a few months before Igatpuri.

The second experience was easier, a lot more easier. Most of the piled up defilements had cleared up last year and I had led a stress free relaxed life since then. The first few days I felt I was in a resort with a nice room , timely meals and total peace – all of this FREE. The weather was excellent. Everything was perfect. And barring a few storms that came up and helped clear some long pending blocks Vipassana 2 was a song compared to Vipassana 1.

It was also a little repetitive – and the instructions are so detailed that and old meditator may find it an overdose especially when its repeated in English , Hindi and Telugu. But then you have no choice as the program attracts people from all backgrounds and the instructions have to be crystal clear. It was also a little disappointing to see the over harping and sarcasm on rites and rituals that goes on and on over the ten days. But given the benefits you can ignore that. Will I go back – yes I will but maybe for the 3 day or 5 day programs in one language. I don’t think I will be able to manage the repetition of the 10 day program again.

So what makes people go again and again ? The idea is learn the technique and go deeper and deeper and clean up layer after layer of embedded defilements in the mind – not just of this birth but also of the previous births. Its a dry, arduous technique and tests your patience and tenacity. But it does help – I have observed significant changes over the years – especially in Anger management and the ability manage the ups and downs in life with equanimity. And the 10 day program acts like a great detox and helped me lose ~ 4 kgs

But I am just a beginner – a good example of how Vipassana transforms you is my good friend and his family. They are a family of Vipassana practitioners and their house has so much peace and tranquility it feels like an energised temple. This person exudes warmth, compassion and happiness. He is like a conductor of pure joy. He always has a smile and a kind word to people most of us will ignore – From the security guard  to the toll boy in a busy highway , the servers in a restaurant, he even greets and wishes the CISF guard who pats you down in the airport security. He is a conductor of Joy. He is loved by one and all. And it flows from the infinite spring of joy and peace that is deep inside him. Brimming with compassion and happiness. I have seen him face with equanimity the challenges of life. He is a role model to me and he attributes all of this to his many years of Vipassana practise.

So the question arise who should go ? I guess everybody should experience one Vipassana session and see if the technique works for them. Its logical and it works. I have also interacted with people who are at the other end of the spectrum from my friend. People who are conductors of misery. They give a tough time to the people around them. And this comes from the fact that they are full of misery inside. Throttled up tension , ego , sadness, frustration , all tangled up in a complex maze. Vipassana can help you untangle these knots.

As Goenka Ji explains in one of his Dhamma talks – the Sugarcane is full of sweetness , every fibre is saturated with sweetness so people like my friend are like a Sugarcane. And then there are others who are like a Neem tree – who are full of bitterness. Be rest assured – the teacher who was nasty in school , the dominating boss who made your life miserable, a murderer , a rapist –  are all people who are full of misery within , because what comes out is what is within.

I strongly believe that deep down everyone is a small pure innocent child – the situations in life make you full of bitterness and a conductor of misery. These people definitely need to go for a Vipassana session and clear up their defilements and bring that pure child back to life. They will find deep peace and help transform themselves as better human beings

Life is all about getting the Blessings of others, when you show compassion and help people the Blessings flow to you. On the contrary when you purposely make lives of others miserable you miss out on the good will and Blessings of people. Accumulating Blessings and Positive Karma is probably the biggest asset you can build in this life – which is nothing but one step in the multiple lives we will have to purify ourselves in the search of eternal truth.

Cell Inside the Pagoda 

 

Rooms

Kurunji Estates – Lovely Home stay in Kodaikanal

7 Dec

This blog is not just about the beautiful homestay Kurunji Estates at Kodaikanal but also the power of positive energy in a team. I am a strong believer that if your energy balance is right everything works out well – against all odds. And if your energy system is blocked – then the best of planning doesn’t help.

We had planned our 3rd annual get away at Briar Tea Estate, Meghamalai – a beautiful home stay amidst tea gardens in Theni district. A place so remote and so beautiful its been on my ” Must visit ” list for a long time. Bookings were made months in advance – but a fortnight before when I was checking for directions found that the last 40 km road was totally broken down and would take 3 – 4 hrs. We ended up cancelling this and the kind people refunded us 100% ( against their standard policy) . We then tried a remote log house called Kuteeram at Chickamagalur – but the property owner never sent us a payment link or responded to messages and calls ( I am glad this did not work out as there was a political clash in that area during our travel days) and finally by sheer coincidence we got lucky the 3rd time and booked Kurunji Home Stay at Kodaikanal thru Saffron Stays.

Saffron Stays is a portal that lists excellent Home Stays all over India – the experience of booking and follow through was excellent and very professional (https://www.saffronstays.com).

It was not just the booking – Other things went wrong too . The Sat / Sun / Mon Holiday had to be changed to Fri / Sat / Sun in the last minute , flights got delayed and even a UBER pick up from Bangalore airport was delayed by 30 min – and we finally left Bangalore at 2 PM. Add to this Cyclone Okhi was wreaking havoc on the TN / Trivandrum coast and there were heavy rains and wind lashing in the Kodai hills. It was against this backdrop that we started off for a ~ 500 km journey , driving into the hills at night with an ETA of 11 PM.

But then when you have positive energy in the team – all of these vanish. We were greeted with blue skies and sunny days and a wonderful holiday.

The roads to Kodai are excellent – and even with pouring rain we managed 80 – 90 km/h on the wet stretches and 120+ km/h on the other stretches. Two short stops at 4PM and 8 PM was all we had – but the long journey melts when you have a good vechile (Innova) and more importantly good company. This stretch across Salem – Karur doesn’t have branded eateries on the way and the quality of restrooms are disappointing.

As we drove up the hills at 9.30 PM we saw many a large oak on the ground but fortunately nothing blocked us and as we reached Kodai to pay the entry toll the electricity  came back in the town. Google maps was accurate and we walked into the warm and homely Kurinji estate at 11 PM for a wonderful and tasty meal. This home stay is a large 1930’s Thanjavur Bungalow with 8 rooms . It is maintained by Natarajan and his wife. The property is owned by Advani Orlikon and till recently was a company guest house. It has been opened to guests in 2017.

 

A 9 acre property it is rustic and peaceful. Clean , warm and homely. Hot water , heaters , neat towels , customised food as per your choice , a nice big TV , Carrom …. perfect place to come as a group or with a few families and friends. It is affordable as a double room costs Rs 5000/- + tax and the food is very reasonable.

At ~ 7000 feet Kodai is one of the highest hill stations in India. The drive from the foothills to the top is almost 75 Km and takes 90 min ( this when the roads were empty). Like most Indian Hill Stations there is nothing much to do in Kodai – barring the regular boating , horse riding and a few frequently visited spots. This was my 3rd trip to Kodai and thanks to Cyclone Okhi Kodai was empty and all to ourselves but we stayed away from the touristy spots. (All we did was a walk by the lake)

But we did visit two off beat places

The Kuzhanthai Velappar Temple (A temple of lord Muruga)  has three thousand years of history and was consecrated by his holines Bhogar. Its in a small picturesque village clued Poombarai – 20 km from Kodaikanal.

Bhoganathar or Bhogar was a highly evolved Siddhar and is considered to be the guru of Babaji. (http://palani.org/bhogar-biography.htm). Its a small but highly energised temple – no crowd.  Located in the Palani hills it is considered a sub temple of the main Palani temple. It was again a coincidence that I visited the temple on the Karthikai function

15 km from this temple is a the beautiful Mannavanur grass lands and a pristine lake – the location for many a film shoot. This place is beautiful – fresh air , almost empty and you can soak in pristine nature. The place also has a central govt sheep research centre. Lucky sheep.

Visiting these two places is a day trip – depart Kodai at 9.30 after a heavy breakfast and you are back at 3,30 for tea and snacks – we skipped lunch as the breakfast was heavy. After a tasty snack of Pakodas and Chai – which was perfect in this weather we headed out for a long walk to the Kodai lake and were back by 7 PM to enjoy the warmth of the lovely fireplace.

It was Dec and just after heavy rains – but Kodai was barely 10 Degrees. Not very cold. The effects of Global warming are evident. The same place 20 years back would have been close to Zero.

The next day we left at 10 AM making a few stops to buy some fresh carrots.

A lunch stop at Karur at Shiva Muruga and a short tea break at Adyar Anand Bhawan a few hrs before Bangalore and we were back home at 7.30 PM. A great break and thanks to the divine powers and the positive energy of the team, everything worked out perfectly.

We will keep the tradition going, so 2018 is back to the Himalayas and we have been talking about this place called Narkanda in Himachal – again a beautiful homestay with cherry farms at 9500 feet. And 100 km from there is Sarahan. One of our team mates visits this place every Dec – so he knows that area like the back of his hand. Its tempting and we don’t know if we can wait till Nov 2018 !

Finally a big thanks to Natarajan and family and Saffron Stays for making this trip a successful one.

 

 

 

 

History of Guruvayur

17 Nov

This blog is based on “Chapter 5. My Darshan of Guruvayurappan” – by Sri M in his recent book The Journey Continues. All the information is directly quoted from there.

Guruvuyaur  is a small coastal town in Kerala famous for the Guruvayurappan temple where the prankish heart stealer Lord Krishna is worshipped as a boy . In terms of popularity it ranks with Tirupathi. Thousands visit the temple every day mainly from Tamil Nadu & Kerala.

Legends have it that the deity is 5000 years old – although there are no historical records. The story goes that the idol , carved out of a sacred material called Pathalanjana Sila was once worshipped by the great God Maha Vishnu and handed over to Brahma. After many generations it was worshipped by Sri Krishna’s parents Vasudeva and Devaki and later installed in Dwaraka and worshipped by Krishna himself.

Before giving up his body Krishna handed over this Idol to his foremost disciple Uddhava and instructed him to hand it over to Brihaspati, Guru of the Devas so that it may be installed in a suitable place and worshipped during Kaliyuga.

Dwarka was submerged in a deluge but Brihaspati with his prime disciple Vayu the lord of the wind managed to retrieve the idol. While looking for a suitable place to instal the idol they met Parasuram who was also searching for the idol.

Parasuram led the Guru & Vayu to a lush green spot behind a beautiful lake.The Yogi God Shiva and his consort Parvati who were spending time there in contemplation permitted Guru & Vayu to install and consecrate the idol there. From then on the place came to be known as Guruvayur. Shiva & Parvati are said to have moved to the other bank and settled down at Mammiyur. The pilgrimage to Guruvayur is to this day considered incomplete without the worship at the Shiva temple at Mammiyur.

That is as far as legends go. Historically the earliest mention of Guruvayur or rather Kuruvayur comes from a Tamil work Kokkasandesam. Kuruvai means sea in Tamil hence the name Kuruvayur. The earliest temple records date back to 17th century. The temple is mentioned in the songs of the Alwars. By the end of the 16th century Guruvayur was a popular pilgrimage centre in Kerala.

In 1760 the Dutch looted Guruvayur and raided the treasures, the gold plate that covered the flagstaff and set fire to the temple. In 1766 Hyder Ali captured Calicut and then Guruvayur. On the request of Srinivas Rao the then Governor of Malabar, Hyder Ali granted a free gift – Devadaya and handed the temple back to the Hindus.

In 1788 Tipu Sultan marched to Malabar. Fearing destruction the priests hid the deity. Tipu Sultan destroyed the smaller shrines and set fire to the temple but it was saved by a sudden and heavy downpour.

Later on people like Chempakassery Namboodiri, Deshavarma Namboodri and the Ullanad Pannikars offered everything from service to property to revive the temple. Worship at the temple started again in 1900. In 1928 the Zamorin of Calicut was reinstated as the administrator of Guruvayur. In 1970 a massive fire broke out and the public irrespective of caste , creed or religion rushed to join the fire fighting. There was massive destruction but the sanctum sanctorum was protected. The temple was renovated and once again opened for worship on April 14th, 1973.

The name of two great and saintly persons who made Guruvayur famous have to be mentioned Melapathur Narayana Bhattathiri ( 1559 – 1632) was one and Poonthanam ( 1547 – 1640) was the other.

Melapathur Narayana Bhattathiri  apart from being a scholar and mathematician was the author of Narayaneeyam.

The Narayaneeyam is a devotion Sanskrit work in the form of a poem comprising 1036 verses and gives a summary of the great Bhagvatha Purana. The story goes that his Guru Achuta Pisharodi had painful arthritis. . Unable to bear his guru’s suffering Bhattathiri by his yogic power took the disease and relieved his Guru. He soon discovered that the pain was excruciating and resolved to make a pilgrimage to Guruvayur confident that Guruvayurappan would relieve him of the disease.

While entering the temple he is said to have met Thunjat Ezhuthacchan the author of Adhyatma Ramayana.

Ezhuthacchan shocked him ( an orthodox brahmin) by saying ” Mean Thottu Kottuka” ( start with the fish). On reflection , Bhattathiri realised that Ezhuthacchan was not asking him to eat fish but to start writing the Bhagavad, beginning with the story of Maha Vishnu’s incarnation as a fish, the Matsya Avatara.

He then started composing One Dasaka ( Ten stanzas) a day sitting before Sri Guruvayurappan and in a hundred days had completed the Narayaneeyam. It is said that on the last day he was blessed with a full vision of Guruvayurappan and got cured of his painful disease. Even today Narayaneeyam which is in Sanskrit is held in great esteem in Kerala and chanted with great devotion.

Poonathanam, Melapathur’s contemporary was not a great scholar but a true devotee of Sri Guruvayurappan. He is remembered for his masterpiece Jnanappana which means ” the song of wisdom” . Poonathanam was married at the age of twenty but had no children for a long time. he is said to have prayed with tears in his eyes for a child and was finally blessed with a. son. Poonathanam called for a grand celebration where everyone he knew was invited. Unfortunately and ironically an hour before the ceremony the child died suddenly. Grief stricken Poonthanam renounced all worldliness and turned to Sri Guruvayurappan. His attitude underwent a sea change and he believed that the child god Krishna Guruvayurappan was his own child. He wrote ” whilst little Krishna is dancing in our hearts , do we need little ones of our own

The Jnanapanna begins and ends with

Krishna Krishna , Mukunda Janardhana,

Krishna Govinda , Narayana Hare, 

Achutananda Govinda Madhava 

Satchitananda Narayana Hare.

“Here !  Krishna Guruvayurappan, has come to take me to Vaikuntam, sing his Parises.” said Poonthanam pointing upwards and letting go of his last breath and passed away to be forever with his beloved Krishna.

 

A year after retirement at 48 – Changes & Learnings

16 Nov

Nov 7th, 2017 –  I completed a year after I left the corporate world.

A year back I had written this blog https://vak1969.com/2016/11/12/is-48-the-new-58-the-growing-trend-of-early-retirement/ – and a lot of people came back asking how the last one year has been.

How do you spend your time ? Did you have second thoughts after a few months ? Are you feeling restless ? Are you bugging your wife staying at home all the time ? Etc Etc …. So I felt its time to share how the last 12 months have been  on what have I gained and lost.

In Summary : Its been a breeze – I have had no second thoughts and have been recommending to one and all to pull the plug. Now lets look at some of the key Learnings & Changes

TIME no longer manages me – I am the BOSS 

TIME – Most challenges in life come because TIME dictates us. All our stress, tension , spoilt relationships is because TIME is in total control of us . The day has 24 hrs and you need to do a lot – so you start the day getting irritated in chaotic traffic and all thru the day you fight with TIME and its a losing battle. TIME is your ultimate boss and trying to constantly catch up with TIME wrecks your life.

I am now in control of TIME – I am the boss. The world looks very different when you don’t have multiple deadlines and time pressure. There is no stress – you look around when you drive , you stop by small stores in the neighbourhood , you talk to people in the stores, you admire the flowers in the garden , you observe the birds in the morning walk , you see things you never saw before  – that is a Big Big WIN .

 

You have very few TRUE Friends 

You may have over 500 FB contacts and over 1000 Linked in connects – but if you have a few genuine friends consider yourself lucky. When you are in a position to help people a lot of people keep in touch . For Employee discounts on Apple products , jobs and internships , special deals , references – that translates into 100’s of Diwali , New Year & Birthday greetings. All that vanished- and a few good people kept in touch , to be specific 3, and I am thankful to those 3 people (they know who they are).  So your phone bill comes down – I downgraded from a 1599 Airtel plan to a 799 plan and I am good. I get worried when the phone rings and keep it in DND most of the time as the only people calling me are those wanting to sell insurance products or credit cards or Orphanages wanting charity

A Rupee saved is a Rupee earned 

I was a flamboyant spender – never counted the pennies. But suddenly even if you have enough and more you become very cautious when the monthly pay check stops. It all started one day at the grocery store when I was buying butter and realised that Nadini , Amul and Britannia were priced Rs 40 , Rs 42 & Rs 44 – thats a 10% difference – all 3 brands work fine. The same veggies in two shops 100 m away could be priced differently by as much as 25%. I always had a cup of filter coffee at Adyar Anand Bhawan during my visits to Axis bank – now I drink the same coffee at Udupi Vihar next door – Adayar Anand Bhawan Coffe was Rs 15/- while the one at Udupi Vihar was Rs 10/-.   Same goes with eating out – earlier a family Dinner was in the 4 – 5 K /meal range , we have now discovered lovely places with great food and ambience where it costs us 1000 – 1250 / meal. I never flinched while working paying 30 K / night for a hotel room – we now discover lovely hotels for 5 K / night.

Hotel Rooms , travel , dress , food – you name it – if you have the time to check out a few places there are amazing savings around the corner and without too much of an effort we were able to bring our annual expenses down by 25%.

Do it Yourself. 

Indians are bad at DIY. Our parents were great – as kids we banged nails in the walls , took an entire cycle apart (and fixed it successfully), changed the scooters punctured tyres , and most households managed with 1 maid.

This week I saw in our building Whats App group a lady complaining that the electrician needs to be changed – she has not been able to change her fused tube light for 3 weeks since he did not come. Another  complained that the laundry guy doesn’t come and pick up clothes for ironing. A very good friend calls up HDFC bank to deliver cash at home – we have lost it. And I had lost it too. But now I am starting the DIY journey – and its linked to both TIME and MONEY.

When the laundry guy increased his rate from Rs 5 – Rs 6 ( a whopping 20% increase) my monthly bill went up from 1250 to 1500. I started ironing clothes – 10 a day , most of them are easy to iron – in 20 minutes I can iron 10 clothes – and I am sure I will get better with time. Now you are no longer dependent on anyone and you have saved Rs 1500/- Same with the driver – he hardly had work for 3 hrs a day – his cost to me was Rs 18,000 / month – I let him go with a months notice. We now manage with UBER / OLA and we call in a driver for Rs 350 for 3.5 hrs twice a week – all of this put together costs us less than Rs 6000 /- month – a saving of Rs 12,000.One way of looking at it is I saved 1.44 Lacs – the other way is I just paid for 3 holidays in a year.

We live in comfort – but having a driver who is utilised for 3 hrs a day is unnecessary luxury. My next step is working on reducing our maids from three to two – lets hope that happens soon. For a start we are already washing over 100 utensils a day.

It takes time to change HABITS – but I guess my habits are changing , from becoming extravagant I am now thinking twice before spending money.

And now to answer the main question everyone had for me – How do you spend the day ? Its easy the day flies by – I have watched 3 movies and almost no TV this year. The day can be split into 3 clear sections

On an ideal day I wake up at 4 AM , meditate for an hr , Chant the Gayatri Mantra 108 times and do Yoga/ Walk  for an hr. That between 4AM – 8.30 AM.

We have an early lunch Ashram style piping hot freshly cooked at 9.30 AM. Then from 10 AM – 2.30 PM I have free time to check out mails , make some money on the stock market , read , go shopping , visit Chai point for a cup of tea, go to the bank etc etc

Before the kids come we make some snacks and then its pick up and drop to Tuiton classes , Music Classes , art classes etc – most days that keeps me busy till 5.30 PM. Then I run for 5 Kms (40 minutes) on the treadmill, come home , Chant the Mrityunjay Mantra 108 times , have dinner by 7 PM , spend time with kids and off to bed by 9 PM.

I travel every month to some place – this year has been great and have covered Binsar, Dunagiri , Andamans , Goa , Bandipur , Tiruchi , Chidambaram, Kanchipuram  – and I have Kodaikanal planned in early Dec and Cal / Bhubaneswar / Konark in end Dec. I completed a 10 day Vipassna program and went to Valley of Flowers for an amazing trek. Not just that we discovered 14 new places in and around Bangalore in our Fusion day trips. There is no dearth of things to see and do in India. I learnt swimming ( but got to practise more – Bangalore cold weather not helping) , tried my hand at learning Kannada and failed miserable. Spent a lot of time in doing the interiors for my Villa. Improved my cooking skills , perfected my vegetable chopping skills and with my dish washing ability I am now a great backup if the maid takes leave.

So its been a wonderful busy productive year – not a day have I sat back thinking ” so what do I do today ? ” And I am sure that the next year will be equally busy and productive.

I gained a lot – and I lost a lot – I have lost my anger ( most of the time) , lost my restlessness and have worked on the two most difficult things in life – reducing EGO and minimising DESIRES. I am healthy and fit , 6 kgs lighter and my Fatty Liver which used to erupt every month has troubled me only once this whole year. ( this will go down in history as the most expensive cure for fatty Liver and GERD)

My family sees me at home a lot – and I guess they are happy because they grumble when I say I am taking a few days off. My wife gets to travel more as now there is someone at home to look after the kids.

The essence of my new life is based on 3 fundamentals

  1. Nothing is permanent – everything will pass
  2. You are responsible for everything no one else
  3. My belief in destiny has got stronger – do good and good will happen to you

I am happy that I took the tough call to leave a high paying job at Apple at 48 – No Regrets at all. Its helping me inch forward in my quest for Truth.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Antarganga : Day Trips in Bangalore 7.30AM – 3.30PM (Trip 13)

9 Nov

This blog documents the 7.30 AM to 3.30 PM  day trips by a group of enthusiastic Bangalore explorers from Mantri Classic Koramangla.  We leave after the school bus departs and are back home when the kids return. Thats what we have been doing for the last 1 year – discovering amazing places in and around Bangalore. Energised ancient temples, architectural marvels , 1000’s of years old, lovely ashrams, treks, nature resorts all packed with simple and tasty food makes for a great day trip. Its a Fusion trip and thats the name of the group we gave to this team. The trips are very cost effective and average Rs 500 – 1000 / head inclusive of breakfast, lunch and travel. We travel on a Wednesday most of the time – mid week when the places are empty , and because we lave by 7.30 /7.45 and are back by 3.30 we beat the crazy Bangalore traffic.

We started this about a year back – its been fun , in the last 12 trips we have discovered amazing places. This blog shares the itinerary of trip 13 to Antarganga, a nice trek near Kolar.   

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Trip – 13 : Antarganga  

Antargange Hill is  located in Kolar, at just 4 kms from Kolar town. ( 65 Km from Bangalore) Antar-Gange literally means Ganga from Within/Ganga of the deep in Kannada.

It is a huge field of boulders and rocks. Located at an altitude of 1712 m above the sea level, the boulders are amassed one on top of the other to appear like a cave. This network of cave formations makes this place famous for cave exploration and easy trekking.

This is a nice trek up a rocky hill till you reach a set of caves which you can explore on all fours. Its challenging but its fun – and when you are told that in the recent past this trek was done at night , then the day trip seemed like a cakewalk.

On a bright pleasant Wednesday in November we set out at 7.30 AM , traffic on Old Madras road was bad and we reached our Breakfast point Nandi Grand at 9 AM. This is almost 55 km from Koramangla , we covered the 1st 12 kms in 1 hr and the last 43 kms in 30 minutes. Nandi Grand is a convenient breakfast joint – fast and efficient with decent restrooms.

We left at 9.20 AM and the distance from here to Antarganga is about 10 Kms , but the last stretch of 5 Km is thru village roads. Google Maps gets you there – but do not enter Antarganga Trek Point – that takes you to a different place.

Antargange has a long staircase that chaperones to a temple. This temple is dedicated to Lord Kashi Vishweshwara. Dedicated to Lord Shiva, this temple is often called Kashi of South or Dakshin Kashi. The bull, which is considered the vehicle of Lord Shiva has water flowing out of its mouth. Many people have tried to draw out the source of the water, but have failed. The source of the water still remains untraced. This is how Antargange attained its name.

 

The trek can be split into 3 parts

A 20 minute trek thru well laid steps to the Shiva Temple (Called Dakshin Kashi) supposedly very ancient – This temple is dedicated to Lord Kashi Vishweshwara. Dedicated to Lord Shiva, this temple is often called Kashi of South or Dakshin Kashi. The bull, which is considered the vehicle of Lord Shiva has water flowing out of its mouth. Many people have tried to draw out the source of the water, but have failed. The source of the water still remains untraced. This is how Antargange attained its name.

 

From here it takes another 25 – 30 min to get the hill top – some parts are tricky but if you have decent shoes and are careful its not a challenge.

Once you reach the top there is a lot to see – you can spend the full day exploring many caves here and even trekking to a small village. We had to be back in our cars by 12.15 – so we were able to explore only one of the cave complexes.

Getting into the caves is tricky – the gaps are very narrow and you have to stretch and pivot yourself with limited foothold across smooth rocky surfaces . Its dark in many places – but its safe. A well frequented place there are no snakes or animals.

Carry a torch as some parts are pitch dark and you are guiding yourself thru some very narrow crevices , sometimes almost lying flat and sliding past.

In one of my earlier trips I had visited a second cave complex that is the source of the Water Body – that cave is pitch dark and its a struggle to even sit , but you can reach the water body and taste the cool sweet water.

We did have our Panick moments – but the team was Brave , Adventurous and Fit – and when you are a group everyone helps each other out.

The views from the top are great and we had the perfect day to ourselves. We left the hilltop at 11.30 and were down in the car by 12.10.

These treks are impossible with a guide – you cannot venture into the caves on your own. Guides are normally available in plenty during the weekends – when the place can get busy. But we had requested our guide from our earlier trip a week back to be around.  Our guide was a nimble and efficient nine year old Bhupathi. A local kid born and brought up in the hills.

The return journey was quick – we left at 12.10 and reached Indranagar for lunch at 1.30 – ahead of schedule. And were back home by 2.30.

Between Breakfast and Lunch there are no restrooms available during the trek. Do carry some snacks / water. Earlier there were many monkeys on this route but now there are only a few near the temple.

Avoid summers as this place can get very very hot – best time is Nov – Feb.

 

 

Tiruchi Temples in 3 Days

3 Nov

S Indian and specifically Tamil Nadu is a treasure house of Temples. Having covered Chennai, Kanchipuram , Mahabalipuram, Chidambaram, Kumbakonam and Tanjore – Tiruchi and Rameshwaram were the two prominent ancient cities in our pending list. And we finally covered Tiruchi extensively in 3 days.

A few things that made this trip very satisfying 

  • Amazing ancient temples thousands of years old – architectural & spiritual masterpieces – very well maintained
  • Good Hotel centrally Located – and great food
  • Excellent people all thru – from the drivers , porters , staff at restaurants , people at the Temple, companions in the Train – we met good human being all through our trip
  • Excellent weather ( It was pouring in Chennai as the NE Monsoon had just started – but Tiruchi 330 Km was pleasant and cloudy)
  • But the biggest WOW moment to me was discovering the Samadhi of the great Saint Patanjali who wrote the Yoga Sutras – Nobody knows about this – in an ancient temple in a small village in the suburbs of Tiruchi – more of that later.

So if you plan a trip to Tiruchi this Blog will be useful 

How to reach – where to stay

16232 Mayiladuthurai Express is the only Train from Bangalore to Tiruchi. It covers the ~ 350 KM distance in over 8 hrs reaching Tiruchi Junction at 4 AM. (return timing is more convenient – Dep Tiruchi at 8.30 PM and reaches Bangalore Cant at 5.06 AM) – It has one 2nd AC coach so book in advance.  Tiruchi has 3 Stations – Tiruchi Fort, Tiruchi Junction ( TPJ) and Srirangam – this train stops at the first two stations. We got off at TPJ and reached our hotel KVM Hotels ( WWW.kvmhotels.com) by 5 AM – a 20 min drive. Its a new hotel with good rooms , excellent food and centrally located at Amma Mandapam, Srirangam. A well maintained double occupancy room is Rs 2300/-  inclusive of a sumptuous breakfast. It has 24 hrs check in – check out.  Its a pure veg hotel.

Plan for Day – 1 

After a tasty breakfast we started our day at 9 AM and headed to the Branhmapureeswarar Temple at Tirupattur a 20 min drive. This is an ancient temple ( please note all temples here are 100o years or older) dedicated to Lord Shiva – its unique as it has a sanctum of Lord Brahma in a meditative pose – people come here to change their fate for the good. This is also the temple where you will find the Samadhi of the great Sage Patanjali.

 

If you sit quietly for a few minutes next to this Samadhi you can sense the energy of the place. I am glad that this Samadhi continues to be a secret – that protects the sanctity and energy in this zone. But it is indeed a shame that in todays era of communication – hardly anyone knows of the Samadhi of Patanjali in India.

But there was more to come in this remote corner – a km from this temple is another ancient temple The Kashi Vishwanathan temple – This temple houses the Jivasamadhi of Sri.Vyagrapada,the saint with feet of a tiger. The priest informed me that the idols here are as old as 3500 years and praying here is the equivalent of going to Kashi. (This blog gives more details on this energised temple – http://drlsravi.blogspot.in/2012/05/sri-kasi-viswanatha-temple-at.html)

On the way back we stopped at the Samayapuram Mariamma temple – By now it was 12 noon and we headed back to Tiruchi City to visit my mothers school ( she passed out in 1955 and was visiting Tiruchi after more than 60 years – This is the same school from where defence Minister Niramala Sitaraman passed out many years later) followed by lunch at Sangeeta’s and then we headed back for an afternoon nap.

We set out at 4 PM after tea and headed to another iconic temple – the Jambukesawarar and Akhilandeswari temple at Thiruvanaikaval – a short 1 km from our hotel.

This temple is significant – Its an ancient Shiva temple dedicated to the Water Element. I had Visited Kala Hasti in 1996 (Air) and over the last 20 years had visited Chidambaram (Space) , Thiruvanamalai (Fire) and Kancheepuram ( Earth) – and I was excited to complete the Pancha Bhoota circuit.

The temple is massive and the Shiva Linga has water oozing out from below. The Sanctum Sanctorum is small – do take the Rs 10 ticket that allows you enter the final enclosure. The temple architecture has evolved over 1000’s of year and it is a majestic temple.

A 10 min walk from the Shiva Shrine is the Devi Shrine of Akhilandeshwari – a very powerful goddess . This shrine closes at 5 PM and reopens at 6 PM – and we reached at 5.05 PM – so we had an hr to sit in the quiet space there and meditate ( fortunately the temple was empty with just a few people). After a very satisfying day we headed back to the hotel for dinner and rest.

Plan for Day – 2 

The morning of day 2 was reserved for the grand and impressive Ranganathaswami temple at Srirangam. A masterpiece. It is the largest functioning temple in the world with a perimeter of 4 kms, occupying an area of 156 acres. Its a temple town and there are many Agraharas ( houses and communities) within the temple town.

 

Its spotlessly clean – thanks to the late CM Jayalalitha ( who was the MLA from Srirangam) and the Chairman of TVS Venu Srinivasan who have painstakingly restored and cleaned this temple – some say they cleared 65,000 tonnes of sand , debris etc from inside the temple over a few years. Recently UNESCO awarded the temple for its restoration work.

There are over 70 shrines inside – and it can get as busy as Tirupathi on some days but were were lucky to have it almost empty. The Rs 250 special ticket took us to the main Sanctum devoid of lines and we had an excellent Darshan. There was no pushing and haggling for money , the priest asked us to stay calmly for a great darshan.

I was fortunate – this was the 3rd viewing in 1 month  of  Lord Vishnu Vishnu resting on Shesha in the sleeping position – other recent ones were at Madhya Ranga in Shivanasamudra and at the famous Padmanabhaswami temple in Trivandrum.

Nobody knows how ancient this idol is – some say even Lord Rama came and prayed here – but the temple complex was developed by multiple kingdoms starting with Cholas. A lot of restoration has happened in the last 10 years making it a sight worth visiting.

A ten minute walk leads you to the Devi Shrine – and most people will head back after this. But do make a point to visit the Ramanujar Sannidhi . You will have to ask for this. Its a shrine dedicated to sage Ramanujar and his body is mummified with saffron and Camphor in a meditative pose. A very impressive Sage – he is big and saintly.

On an empty day it took us about 2 hrs to have a nice relaxed visit of this temple post which we headed to the Samadhi of Sadhguru Sri Brahma. Sadhguru of Isha fame talks about his life as Sri Brahma in his previous life. This is a small samadhi next to the highway and you would come here only if you are an Isha Follower.

A 15  minute stop here and we headed to the city to visit a few more locations my parents had frequented 60 years back and then for lunch at Ajanta’s. ( the lunch at Sangeeta was far better)

Driving the bylaws of this ancient city we reached our next stop – the Rockfort Temple , the most iconic temple at Tiruchi. Its a 20 min climb – and fortunately the weather was pleasant at 2 in the afternoon to walk barefoot up this rocky outcrop. Enroute there are a few more temples – but they were closed in the afternoon.

 

This completed our morning circuit and we were back in the room by 2.15 PM.

At 4 PM we headed to an ancient Murugan temple at Vayalur located in a scenic village and were back by 6 PM at our hotel.

Plan for Day – 3

We headed out at 8.30 AM to the Malai Koil or Erumbeeshwarar Temple – again an ancient Shiva temple on a small hillock  with a lot of mythological significance. The Shiva Linga here is made of mud and hence not washed with milk and water.

On the way we stopped back at the Jambukesawarar and Akhilandeswari temple at Thiruvanaikaval where the 12 Noon Puja is famous.  Lunch was at an Iyengar mess run by a Brahmin family – a simple homely affair.

We had the evening free to ourselves – but the other famous sites to visit were far away ( if you have an extra day try and visit these places )

  • Viralimalai – 40 Km , famous for a Murugan temple and a Peacock sanctuary
  • Sri Kokarneshwar temple
  • Sittanavasal

Sittanavasal is a rock-cut  monastery or temple. Created by Jains,  it is called the Arivar Koil, and is a rock cut cave temple of the Arihants . It contains remnants of notable frescoes from the 7th century. The murals have been painted with vegetable and mineral dyes in black, green, yellow, orange, blue, and white. Paintings have been created by applying colours over a thin wet surface of lime plaster. Many evolved saints are said to have meditated here. Sounds beautiful – but its a full day trip. 

I went back to the Samadhi of Patanjali and Vyaghrapadar and was back by 6PM – well in time to pack up , settle our bills have an early dinner ( Note in temple towns Dinner is Tiffin) and head to the Station for our 8.30 PM Train. As we headed back it started drizzling – but the rain gods had been merciful to us.

We had an excellent driver – so reach out to him if you are travelling to Tiruchi , Ramesh – 98434 35991. It make s a lot of difference to have a local with you to navigate the town.

A big thanks to all the people who helped us plan the trip – we would have missed. a lot of things if not for their valuable inputs. We left on Mon night and were back home on Fri morning – 4 nights , 2 in the train and 3 days at Tiruchi – the total trip cost was Rs 25,000 for 3 people inclusive of 2nd AC , 2 Rooms , Car , Food  etc – that is very reasonable considering that in the recent past we spent 30K a night at the Taj Coorg.

Small towns are nice , people are simple , down to earth and trustworthy. Its just the weather – Tiruchi boils in the summer , Nov to Feb is the only time you can expect pleasant weather. the Cauvery that has flown for millions of years is on the verge of drying – the impact of the last 50 years has been severe my mother was able to see the change in her lifetime. Lets just hope that the rivers revive and Sadhguru’s Rally for Rivers is a grand success.

So that completes Tiruchi – we enjoyed it thoroughly, which gets me planning for my next trip to the historical town of Rameswaram.