Saturday, September 20, 2008

RWNV 3: Roaming Rameshwaram

Rover, Wanderer, Nomad, Vagabond Part 3: Roaming Rameshwaram
(This article runs into 3 parts. Links to PART 1, PART 2)

Rameshwaram: Ramarnatham is a holy place for Hindus. It is one of the four tirth, mythology says visiting all the four reserves a seat in Hindu heaven. (I have already visited two, yay!)

Rameshwaram is a lovely coastal place. It is a normal tier III Indian city, with people having only two sources of income fish and tourism – and this fact was repeatedly injected in my mind by our driver. When we were there, there was no rush we got nice economic hotel room, reserved a car for city site seeing at reasonable rate, toured around half of the day and came back to hotel.

The Ramarnatham temple is big and spacious. Being off season and weekday, there was no people overload – in fact, it was mostly empty. You need to take bath 27 times (I am not sure whether it is 27, but it is close) at 27 different wells which are assigned names of holy rivers or Gods. The idea is to be super clean by taking bath from all the holy waters in India before doing the holy work.

Then there was small queue to see god. See God, pray for your earthly needs, and walk in famous 3rd corridor. Take pictures.

I liked this. I liked this thousand times more than Balaji. It was open and accepting, unlike Balaji which is closed for normal people, wrapped in illusion of security and ego and denial as the first response. Or perhaps, I was fortunate in Rameshwaram.


RWNV 2: Thirupathi Thrills

Rover, Wanderer, Nomad, Vagabond Part 2: Thirupathi Thrills
(This article runs into 3 parts. Links to PART 1, PART 3)

Thirupathi Balaji: A god for fat rich people. Don’t get me wrong, it is one of the wealthiest (yeah, in terms of revenue) temple loaded with behemoth overhead of security and people management (damagement, I would say). The process to get a look of the god is so inefficient that you may not get a chance to see god, even if you have 8 hour time window.

Last time, me and my cousin, S , reached there at morning 10. And – no surprise, there was no information center (or our heuristic search didn’t get one) and officials and dudes do not believe in possibility of a non-Telugu language. We assumed our methodology was wrong and we should have learnt Telugu.

This time, with non-coherent knowledge from different sources that includes experienced guys, internet searched and travel agencies, I was clear about one thing that I was not going Balaji the next time (even before journey starts). No, yeah, I agree they have tried to facilitate people but it fails miserably. So, there are number of tickets issued by the temple authorities that are mysteriously available in some unknown temple in T. Nagar, Chennai. All the persons, who are going to Balaji, have to be there at ticket booking center to get a bar-coded tag with visitor’s finger print stamp [1]. I never get one, they are volatile, supposedly.

Since, this is a high-tech (?!) temple they have on-line ticket that ranges next 90 days for booking. I had enough time to plan (around 40 days). It was weird to find out that ticket has been already booked for all the future 90 days. Out of curiosity, the next day morning (9 o’clock) I checked availability of ticket on 91st day, no surprise, no room. I started checking this site frequently; it was always full – less mysterious, more doubtful.

Finalized, I booked a bus ticket from a travel agent that ensured a Darshanam (glimpse) of the God. We started six in morning from Chennai and were there in an infinitely long queue for Daarshanam. We were happy that even if the queue was actually 4 KM long, if we kept moving and 5 hrs (at the worst) in the queue and we would get a glimpse of the God.

Running over and below people’s feet, we reached to a monkey cage. Where they made us (500 people) stay and get bored for six long hours, the only thought I had was to escape from there even if it means no Darshanam (I wasn’t eager from start, either) [2]. And the truth was – no matter what God feared people say – everyone was getting more and more frustrated, restless and anxious. The effect of this pressure building resulted in a stampede as soon as the cage opened. People hit iron bars, got squeezed, rubbed and gone under other physically painful sufferings. People started shouting, cursing, pushing, slanging and doing all kind of panic activities.

The result of this rat race was a coupon for sweet that you are ‘eligible’ ONLY IF you have done Darshanam and you are back in another cage. Now, in this cage, people had become verbal. They started calling (requesting) officials to open the door or asking when the cage is scheduled to open etc. – all unanswered. Rumor starters had fun there, if there was a rumor that gate 3would open, people run from gate 1 to gate 3 (earlier rumor was for gate 1); four more hours for monkey descendents in the cage, and then opening of the gate at 10 o’clock at night.

It was very long, empty and silent corridor. And suddenly, there was an eruption. Everyone was happy; I am more than sure it was happiness of freedom. It was less a willingness to get Darshanam and more an urge to return home which was driving people to run and run-over.

The main temple had a tiny entrance, one person at a time. When the entrance pushed by the mad mob, I felt my ribs were going to collapse. People were shouting, using all the dirty slangs on fellow visitors and pushing each other, while entering. The passage way was narrow, many people with accessories like earrings, handkerchief in their hand and similar, had lost them because the pressure was peeling skin off. A lot of people got hurt. I have got a powerful push which made my heel bone to hit a corner stone leading a deep cut that bared the bone. I was already less faithful, I became even lesser.

It was quarter a second glance before security person pulls people by their arm and throws out of the area where the God is visible from. I couldn’t see anything; neither did I have any wish. I completed my Darshanam even before a quarter of a second, in fact, I ran the zone of the queue where people wait and see for 250 milliseconds before getting forcefully thrown.

We came out bought some stuffs for memories, I already had got something permanent on my body for memory – a solid wound which would leave a mark forever.

We ran back to bus, reached home at 4 AM.

[1] There is a hack for this system if the persons visiting Balaji are not around. The trick here is your security/non-transferable band has gender and fingerprint only, the barcode is just a cross-check to validate that it was issued from appropriate authority.

Now, if there are x men and y women are planning to visit Balaji and for some reason (small time window of visit, busy schedule etc.) they cannot go to ticket counter in Chennai. So, to hack this system, you just collect x men and y women of any age, get tickets issued. It is less likely that fingerprint is ever going to be verified at the temple.

There is no or very superficial checking on Balaji – unless you are damn unlucky you will not be caught.

[2] Yeah, they provide some free food, free water and toilet facility; which is a good idea. The problem is every time they bring food people rush to choke the food center and since they take more than what they can consume, there was big wastage of food and a lot of people never get food. The other good thing is cleanliness; hourly cleaning people come and clean the place.


RWNV 1: Kabala of Kabini

Rover, Wanderer, Nomad, Vagabond Part 1: Kabala of Kabini

(This article runs into 3 parts. Links to PART 2, PART 3)

Travelling is not my hobby. I have high inertia – even the thought of travel makes me feel bad in my stomach. But to maintain sane image, I rarely deny a proposal of an adventurous trip offered – no matter how bitterly I loathe the idea of carrying my dead body up to the hill. So last six weeks I was either busy in planning and organizing tour or touring.

Life was calm and crappy as usual in 7 bar 1* – the only round the clock shit-smelling paying guest house of ours, until I had got an enthusiastic call on June 17, 2008 from home that they were planning to visit me in Chennai. I was missing my mom too, but the amount of work involved in making their comfortable stay in Chennai was daunting, especially when you are a bachelor and your options are constraint by limitation on expense. I made few shameful excuses, few facts about availability of a proper staying place – It came out that they were ready to manage by their own. I realized that I shouldn’t let them down. And I started searching a rental place to accommodate my family. It turned out a costly deal to me, but I was happy that, at least, pre-requisites were done.

(* ‘7 bar 1’ was the place where I used to live earlier to July 1, 2008. ‘7 bar 1’ is nothing but the address of the place which is 7/1 Annanagar)

On July 1st, I with Syed and Kannan had shifted to the new place, this shifting period of next 10 days were hectic. And, in the mean time, family visit plan kept on canceling and rebuilding. And finally, when they made a concrete plan to visit on 16th July, 2008 – I realized that we have an official tour plan from 17 – 25th of July. Family visit had been shifted to start from 27th of July.

I am going to comment on places that I have visited. You should just ignore the stuffs that you do not like about the place because I don’t like travelling, anyway.

Kabini (Mysore): Kabini is a place close to Mysore - rich with natural diversities. 

We stayed in Kabini River Lodge – a government owned 24 hour stay picnic-cum-safari arrangement - quite good for people with fat wallet. It is like any other green jungle nearby a water pocket modified to get post-civilization humans a feel of jungle without losing civil-values (like, they exist!).