Kruger National Park — A Rendezvous with the Wild

My post in Medium on Kruger.

Kruger Experience

 

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New Year @ Guruvayur

temple

So this time I was fortunate to be at Guruvayur , the holy abode of Lord Krishna,  to welcome the new year.  For last few years I was able to visit Guruvayur once a year but this time it was special. Stayed for 2 nights and was fortunate to see the Lord 5 times ( with different Alankars ) and also got a chance to see the Atthazha Seeveli ( the night procession of the Lord seated on elephant). Guruvayur for me has been like a second home and every year I visit I learn more about the place, its history, architecture, ceremonies and so on.

As the Sabarimala season was going on , there was huge rush for darshan. The darshan on Jan 1st 2016 took us around 6 hrs. People had come from different parts of India and I even met a couple who has flown down from Malaysia to see Guruvayurappan. There is a saying “ If with full belief you take one single step towards the Lord Guruvayurappan, Lord will take 100 steps towards you“. You will believe it once you start visiting the Lord. Devotees wearing traditional dresses , Sabarimala Ayyappa devotees chanting Ayyappa names , some others chanting Vishnu sahasranaamam , Narayaneeyam etc , non stop dances, music going on in the stage adjacent to the main entrance , marriages happening parallely in the mandapam,  colourful shops, Mural paintings, elephants,  all put together a treat to eyes and ears.

mural

The Atthazha Seevali was a fabulous view, with entire temple getting illuminated with lamps ( also known as Chuttuvilakku ) My wife also got a chance to lit the lamp during Chuttuvilakku. The Lord was seated on the elephant and accompanied by two other elephants and along with sounds of different musical instruments  encircled the chuttambalam.

 seeveli

One interesting thing I noticed this time was that devotees come and sleep near the Darshan Queue area at 9 PM in the night so that can get the early morning Darshan at 3 AM in the morning the next day. This is the first Darshan of the day and is called as ‘Nirmalya Darsanam’. This darshan will be for only few minutes and therefore only a few devetees can get this darshan. This darshan is considered very auspicious and it is believed that the Lord has the highest power in this period.  When you see these devotees sleeping on muddy area you just think that your devotion is not even a percentage of it.

 I also visited the Mamiyoor Shiva temple and Triprayar Sri Rama temple during my stay in Guruvayur.

There are lot of stories associated with the temple, its origin , its ceremonies,timings for different darshans,  devotees, elephants etc . I will post whatever I get to learn from my visit and the books that I am currently reading on. Wiki also provides a lot many information on the temple.

Wiki on Guruvayur

A Trip to Pondicherry

Was looking for a long drive and finally zeroed on Pondicherry. Below is the route details which I took suggested my colleagues and many forums.

Bangalore > Krishanagiri > Vellore > Arcot > Vandavasi > Thindivanam > Pondicherry.

The road is superb till Vellore and after that you need to take the state highways. But no worries these are decently maintained and do not have much traffic.

My wife took the role of the navigator. With the help of GPS, as you need to cross lot of bypasses, we reached Pondicherry in about 7 hrs drive for 400kms. As it was a long weekend and even though we left early morning we couldn’t beat the rush at the toll booths (40 Mins was alone spent at the Electronic toll) . We reached around 1 in the noon in the hotel.

The weather in Pondicherry was hot and for a Banglorean’s it was really hot. I had done room bookings at Ginger which had a complimentary breakfast package. The hotels was bit costly and has lost its ambience. You don’t feel the charm of staying outside. You should try to get some hotels in the beach side.

The beach is around 3 kms from Ginger. Beach is pretty decently maintained and is vehicle free zone between evening 5.30 to morning 7.30. It’s a rock beach and so you cannot get down. Its a superb place to walk along the beach  in the evening with street lights on. The French memorial and architecture makes the place even better. Parking is a problem and I wasted lot of time trying to get a parking zone. Finally parked on a free road which I think is usual in Pondicherry.

images1

The next day had an early morning running at the beach side. It was a good feeling and energizing one. In 5 mins you get fully sweaty. Then we visited Auroville which is 14 kms from Pondicherry which is a like a gated community. They do a lot of social service and has people from 35 different countries.  It’s a nice green place and there was an article in Times of India in the previous week.They show you a free video about the place. They have a huge golden globe like architecture. You need to take a pass to enter it and if you need to enter today you need take the pass the previous day. Otherwise its a 1 KM walk with a pass. The globe looks like an UFO kind of a thing.

images2

Then we visited the Vinayagar temple which lies in the heart of the city. It’s a nice a temple and a must see. The temple has a centralized AC. Again parking here is a problem. The auto fellows charge you heftily if you want to roam around in the city without your vehicle.

As it was hot we preferred to be in hotel during noon time. In the evening we went to for shopping in the market road. Again parking here is an issue. You can do some petty shopping’s here. But you will have to bear the honking of vehicles and speed drifting two wheelers.

Check for Heritage walk in INTAC on net which they do every evening. They take you by walking in to the French colony and other architectures. (Its 500 per head it seems, so we dint take it  🙂 )

Overall the beach compensates for all your long drive and the stay in Pondicherry. It’s worth a ride.

Swamiye Sharanam Ayyappa…

sabarimala1
By Grace of the Lord Ayyappa, we received Darshan of the Lord Ayyappa for the 3rd Consecutive year. We were fortunate to see the Neyyabhisheka Ayyappa in all the three times. It was truly a mission accomplished feeling due to the huge rush and crowd. We also visited different temple on our way to Sabarimala. Here is a brief description of the journey and some of the information that can help if you’re planning to take a trip to Kerala.

Dec 18th (Thursday) – We managed to get the Tatkal ticket on Ernakulam Super-Fast from Bangalore City to Thrissur. I boarded the train from Bangalore city and my other teammates joined from KR Puram (Jaya Krishna, Ram Sagar, Sathish Ranjan & Suresh MS). We had some good homely Chapathis & Iddlies that our family had packed for us. We dispersed quickly for getting the night’s sleep.

Dec 19th (Friday) -4.00 AM in the morning our train reached Thrissur. Sathish had already made arrangement for a taxi for our pickup, and by 4.40 we reached to our first destination Guruvayur (27 Kms from Thrissur to Guruvayur). Here onwards it was Sathish’s direction, arrangements and planning that helped us to cover most of the temple within the short time frame that we had. Sathish arrangement at Guruvayur included a room at Panchajanyam for our refreshment and an unforgettable Darshan of Lord Guruvayurappan. We could manage get a good darshan without getting into to the queues.

Guruvayoor

7.45 AM we checked out from Panchajanyam and visited Mammiyur Mahadeva temple (2kms). It is been told that to reap the full benefit of worshipping Lord Guruvayurappan, the devotee should also visit Maamiyur and worship Lord Mahadeva. The main deity is Lord Shiva and is in rowdra bhava. Later, an idol of Lord Vishnu was also installed to reduce the anger of Lord Shiva. Here, the Lord is a family man, with Goddess Parvati on his lap, and Lords Ganesha, Subrahmanya and Ayyappa beside. Nagas, Bhadrakali and Brahmarakshass are also installed in the temple.

mammiyur

8.00 AM 1Km from Mammiyur is the Punnathur Kotta Guruvayur Elephant camp. Here the timing is from 9 to 5 and as we had no time to waste we had to skip this.

punathur kota

9: 45 AM: Our next stop was at Triprayar Sri Rama Temple which is 24Kms from Guruvayur on the NH17 (via Chavakkad road). The temple is situated on the bank of river Theevra. It is been told that the idol of Lord Rama was initially worshipped by Lord Krishna at Dwaraka. After the swargarohana of Lord Krishna the idol was immnesed in the sea. Later some fisher men got the idol from the sea near Chettuva region of Kerala and the local ruler Vakkayil Kaimal constructed a temple at Triprayar and installed the idol. The image of Rama (Triprayar Thevar) resembles the Chaturbhuja Vishnu form with four arms, bearing a conch (Panchajanyam), a disc (Sudarsana), a bow (Kodanda) and a garland respectively. Another peculiar thing to be noted is that there is no separate idol for Rama’s best devotee Hanuman, it is believed that his presence is always there at the Namaskara mandapam (in front of the Sreekovil) of the temple. Devotees generally bow before the mandapa imagining the presence of Hanuman there before worshipping Sree Rama.

Another interesting offering at this temple is Meenutte (Food for Fish). By paying 10 Rs you will get a small bowl full of raw rice which can be offered to Fish in the nearby river.

tripayarmeenutte

10:30 AM: Our next destination was Kodungalur which is 26 Kms from Triprayar and is on the same NH17 road. Here the idol is of Goddess Bhagavathi famously known as Kurumba Bhagavati Temple (alternatively Kodungallur Bhagavati Temple). There are lot of stories attributed to this temple and can be found in http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kodungallur_Bhagavathy_Temple.

kodungalure devi kodungalur2

12.15 PM: We reached Chottanikkara Bhagavathy Temple which is 45 Kms from Kodungalur on the same NH17 Road. Chottanikkara Devi is worshipped at the temple, in three different forms: as Saraswati in the morning, draped in white; as Lakshmi at noon, draped in crimson; and as Durga in the evening, decked in blue. This temple too has lot of divine stories related to itself and is well captured in this link. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chottanikkara_Temple.

chottanikkara

1.20 PM : Our next destination was Vaikkom Shiva temple 22 Kms from Chottanikkara situated in the Ettumanoor – Ernakulam Road. By the time we reached the temple was closed but we managed to get the Prasadam in the form of lunch. Again the perfect timings of Sathish helped us. The Vaikom Mahadeva temple is one of the few temples which is held in reverence by both Shaivaites and the Vaishnavaites. Vaikom’s Shiva is fondly called Vaikkathappan. The Shiva Linga here is believed to be from the ‘Treta yuga’ and considered as one of the oldest temples in Kerala where pooja has not been broken since inception. The Vaikom temple, along with Ettumanoor Siva Temple, Kaduthuruthy Thaliyil Mahadeva Temple is considered a powerful trisome. The belief is that if a devotee worships at these three temples before ‘Ucha pooja’, all the wishes are fulfilled. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vaikom_Temple. We took some rest here and then left to our next destination

 

vaikom

2.45 PM: Kadathuruty is situated on the same Ettumanoor Ernakulam road and is 13 kms from Vaikom. The temple was closed and was to open at 5 in the evening for Darshan. There was a pond nearby where we all took bath and prayed in the temple. . It is believed that the consecration at Vaikom was done at the same time and there is also a replica of the Ettumanoor Shiva Idol in the temple. According to legend, the shivling (symbolic representation of the deity) was installed here by a demon named ‘Khara’. Kharasura on receiving the Shaiva Vidya Upadesh from Malyavan went to Chidambaram, and did severe penance and Tapasya for the attainment of Moksha. Pleased with his penance Lord Siva granted all the boons he asked, and presented him with three great Siva Lingas drawn out of Him. Assuring that He will ever be present in them, Lord Siva disappeared, asking Khara to worship the Lingas to attain Moksha. When Khara was returning south from Himalayas with the three Lingas, one in his right hand, one in left hand and other by the neck, he felt tired and rested awhile. After rest when he tried to pick up the lingas, they wouldn’t budge. Belief is that the Siva Linga placed by Khara Asura by his right hand is being worshipped at Vaikom, the one in left hand at Ettumanoor and the one by neck at Kaduthuruthy even to this day.

 

kadathuruthy

4.30 PM: We reached Ettumanoor Shiva temple (17 Kms from Kadathuruty) and here waited for the temple to open and have Darshan. Myths have it that the Pandavas and the sage Vyasa had worshipped at this temple. We had some snacks outside the temple premises and then we left for Kottayam Thirunakkara Temple where we always have our Kettunira Done..

ettumannor

6.00 PM: We reached Thirunakkara Shiva Temple at Kottayam. Here we bid farewell to our taxi.

thirunakkara

The total distance covered was 205 Kms and the the taxi fare (Mahindra Verito) for this trip was around 4350. The route is given below.

route

 

 

 

A Trip to Thirupathi

Lord Venkateshwara , Thirupathi Finally I got the opportunity to visit Tirupathi to get the darshan of Lord Venkateshwara. I am writing this blog so that it could help those guys who are visiting Tirupathi for the first time. I booked my ticked through SGL tours which has tie up with APTDC. The ticket cost around 1500/- per head and the whole trip is meticulously organized by them. The ticket is transferable. I had booked the ticket earlier and I couldn’t go because of some urgent works and so the ticket was transferred to my Cousin. I visited Tirupathi along with my family and was good experience.

The bus starts at 7.30 from Bangalore. The bus is APSTRC Volvo bus which is quite good. It takes the Old madras – KR Puram road to get into the highway. It stops for dinner at around 9.30 at road side hotel. As there lot of buses stopping at the same place there is huge rush in the hotel. Make sure that the you have noted bus number properly as this will be taken as reference every where .In the hotel try to sit wherever you get a place to seat as getting the family together at one table is difficult. They give you half an hour time and also order of something which is readily available. The bus reaches at Tirupathi at around 1.30 AM. One guide will be there who will give you the hotel room key. I think the hotel is maintained by Tirupathi Devasthanam only. 2 persons get one room and this is given as per the ticket. You will get 45 minutes to freshen yourself. Geaser is available in the bathroom if you need hot water for bathing. After you allotted time you need to assemble again downstairs and a local bus (Sapthagiri Express) will take you to Thirumala (3.00 AM). You can leave your bags in the bus (Volvo Bus) itself and can keep valuable electronic items with you. There is huge queue for the bus itself near the entrance to the hill where in police will do there checking. It will take another 45 minutes to reach the top(4.00 AM) You will get a good view of the city as you reach the top. Take a nap if you feel sleepy.

Once you reach the Thirumala the guide will take you to a shop where you can deposit your valuable (mobile, electronic items) and your chapels. They will give you receipt and each item cost 10/- each. Then you need walk for another 10 mins towards the temple to reach the Sheegra Darshan entrance. As we were little late we had to run. From there it will take an Hour or so to reach the near the shrine depending upon on the rush. You will literally have a fight and gush as you reach near the main shrine. But whatever it may be once you see the Lord it will surely bring a smile on your face. 3 or 5 Seconds is what you get but that much time itself is great. After the Darshan you come out of the main shrine and you can see the other deities near to the main shrine. Your nose will be filled with fragrance smell of pure ghee and Laddu. In the next turn of the main shrine you will get the Kuberan’s Hundi where you can deposit all Kanikas (money). You will get prasadam when you come out of the outgoing Queue. You will be coming down and having breakfast at same room lodge and then visit to Padmavathi temple. You will reach back to Bangalore by 5 with a stoppage at 1.00 PM for lunch

It has been a good experience. Only issue with this trip is that you cannot go through entire Thirumalai or Tirupathi. But for first time visitors this is certainly a good package