Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Chandragiri Palace, Tirupati

Imagine the supermoon rising on the frontiers of Chandragiri fortress besides the queens chambers and Kings Palace well lit. We were privileged to witness the sound and light show anchored by the Big B in the chandragiri fort premises at 8 pm on the 21st March 2011. The show unfolded the history in cinematic fashion.

Who built this historic edifice is matter of intense speculation ? The ASI records point to the Fort built around 1000 AD with its moat and bastion extending into the hills. This place is supposed to under the rule of Yadavarayas, who were obviously feudatories to the Chalukyas and Hoysala Emperors.

My premise is that Singhana II ( 1200 – 1247 ) who was the greatest of Yadava rulers must have laid a firm foundation for the Raja Mahal. He founded the town Singnapur, built the Devgiri Fort through his henchmen, established college of Astronomy and patronized Changadeva.

Chandragiri palace is dedicated to the moon god. All Yadavs followed this tradition which had 46 generations. Chandragiri has been passed on from one dynasty to another in quick succession. The Vijaynagar Emperors flaunted all their wealth to beautify this edifice befitting Royalty. Krishnadevaraya on his coronation committed funds to this palace and the tirumala temple tower.

The ASI records state the following facts :

Chandragiri came into the control of Vijayanagara rulers in 1367. It rose into prominence in 1568 AD and remained as seat of power for the later Vijayanagara kings under whose reign the fortified area was further extended and some of the magnificent buildings and temples were constructed. Some of the important kavyas of Vijayanagara period are said to be composed here. In 1646 the fort was annexed into the Golkonda territory, subsequently came under Mysore rule till 1792 and went into oblivion. Inside the fortification are seen eight ruined temples of saivite and vaishnavite pantheons, Raja mahal, Rani mahal and other ruined structures.

King's Palace: One of the finest examples of Indo-Saracenic architecture of Vijayanagara period, this imposing three storeyed palace adorned by the crowning towers representing certain Hindu architectural elements, was constructed with stone, brick, lime mortar and is devoid of timber. The central tower that covers durbar hall rises through two storeys. It is said to be the same venue where Sri Rangaraya granted the site of Fort St. George to the British in 1640. The floors are supported by massive pillars while the walls bear fine plaster and stucco decorations.

Queen's Palace: Similar to the Kings palace in style and method of execution, this edifice with ground floor looking like a stable and first floor containing quarters adorned with ornamental sikhara has a flat roof. Contrary to the popular belief that this place was meant for the queen or harem, the epigraphical record available from the basement speaks this building being a commander’s quarters.

The piligrims who flock Balaji Temple invariably miss out Chandragiri fort and place either for paucity of time or lack of proper transporation facility to Chandragiri fort. It is km away from the main town, which is well connected to Tirupati, and falls just besides the Bangalore Byepass road leading to Chittoor from Tirupati. One needs to catch an auto from Chandragiri bus stop or walk it up from the highway. It is just 1 km from the bye pass.

Sound and Light Show :
 The sound and light show gives one a complete idea of the history of the fort, in tandem with the religious perspective of the Balaji temple. Eloquent usage of bhajans and kirtans along with sound effects with surreal circumstances are re-created. The landscape during the day time looks slightly unimpressive since the main palace is converted into a museum, but at night it transforms into an elegant edifice, with appropriate lighting effects. Do not miss Chandragiri fortress during day and night, it is worth its effort.

Location : One can just drive down or enroute to Tirupati from Bangalore, visit Chandragiri Palace. It is located on the bye pass route to Tirupati from Chandragiri junction. Approximate distance is 14 Kms from Railway station. There is a railway station too at Chandragiri. One can board a bus going to chandragiri town, and use auto to reach Chandragiri fort. Otherwise one has to board a bus going towards Chittoor and get down at the fort junction and walk it up to the fort. This is faster mode of transport. The sound and light show timings currently are 7 pm Telegu and 8 pm English. The ticket for adults is Rs 35 and children Rs 25 per head. Normally the show lasts for 45 minutes duration.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Tirumala Trek

By instinct we decided to trek up the Tirumala hill from Alipiri on the 28th instant, which was Vaikunta Ekadasi. We prepared mentally and physically at 40 + we knew we will be pushing our system to the limits. The total distance to the sanctum sanitarium is around 9.5 Kms. We have had earlier attempted to climb 2000 steps in Melkalu tirupati which was exhausting. But now the bar was raised to 5400 steps in all.We started our trekk at 6.30 am loaded with Tropicana 100 % apple juice, banana and two litre bisleri with some salt and Halls. We boarded the bus to the starting point which is Alipiri, where the trekk to tirumala begins.

The initial climb of 2640 steps was quite steep and we managed to ascend with frequent breaks of every 100 steps initially and later 50 steps. It took us nearly an hour and half to reach the 2 km check point. Many devotees undertook the climb with various rituals, such as applying kum kum, turmeric and some were even lighting camphor on the steps as they were climbing. Obviously they must have taken a oath of sorts to get some wish fulfilled in the bargain. A silent prayer was uttered by some devotees, and some were chanting Govinda, Govida........all the way invoking the blessings of the Lord of Seven hills.Enroute one can find washrooms and drinking water, and for those who would like to undertake the trek to tirumala in the night, it is well lit with street lights all the way to the peak. On special occasions we find devotees distributing various eatables such as tamarind rice, sweet pongal, fruit salad, water, butter milk, kheer etc. So the entire trek would seem like a grand picnic.

At midpoint one has to undergo tagging inorder to have a dharshan at the temple vide VQC queue, which takes a maximum of 2 hours. This is faster than paid dharshan. We just got ourselves enrolled and proceeded on winding through the hillocks. The greenary and the scenary is quite pleasing to the eyelids. After 3 kms one enters into the roadway which leads down, in case one decides to abort the walk, one can take a bus back to Alipiri and board the bus uphill from Alipiri. We were surprised to find an ambulance stop enroute for helping patients in case of emergency.It was a pleasant surprise, to find a deer sanctuary almost at 6th km uphill. We spent time taking picture and video by feeding the deer. There is a view point too of the valley and a huge banian tree enroute. One can come across a huge Hanuman statue and a temple wherein the piligrims can take a break.From here on the trek becomes much more easier on the knee and one is confident to cover the balance distance with ease. We reached the top and heaved a sense of relief. Our dress was drenched with sweat, but surprisingly we did not feel the tiredness at all. Maybe it was due to the blessing of the Lord Balaji.

We quickly went to Kotiteerta and had a refreshing bath. Here one is not allowed to use soap and surprisingly the water is crystal clear and well protected in terms of barrier. The water is well clorinated and purified by constant circulation.Overall the trekk to tirumala is a different experience, and don t undertake the short cut method of descending on the steps instead of climbing. Descent can be more painful and strenous on the knees and calf muscle, which i had undertaken almost two decades ago and regretted for a week trying to re-coup. All the best for those who would venture to trekk upto to the abode of Lord Balaji. I hope you will enjoy the journey through my video.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Belum Caves

Belum cave is located in the dry and arid zone of Ananthpur district, lot of cuddapah stones are mined in the nearby area, with a huge cement plant too located in the vicinity.

These caves were inhabited in the ancient times by Buddhists and Jain monks, many of the relics discovered during the restoration process is housed in the museum located at Ananthpur town. It may have been dwelling of cavemen dating back to 4500 B.C., the potteries and beads discovered by ASI points to this fact.

Logistics : The Belum cave is approximately 272 kms from Blore via NH 7 with a deviation from Ananthpur town via Tadpatri town. There is no proper accommodation in Belum cave except for dormitory facility. The ideal place to book one’s accommodation is either at Ananthpur town or at Tadipatri town. The next alternative if one is traveling from Hyderabad 320 is take up accommodation at Kurnool or alternatively at Yaganti.

Belum cave is considered to be longest caves on the plains with 3229 meters and 120 feet depth, and second longest cave in India. Some of the longest caves are located in Meghalaya, Mizoram and Manipur belt. Majority of them are still raw and unexplored to a large extent due to thick forest cover.

Discovery & Mapping of Belum caves was officially undertaken by Robert Bruce Foote in 1884 AD. It remained under total neglect with the mining lobby dumping ground for all the waste in and around the area. A German team headed by Herbert Daniel Gabauer in 1982 and 1983 conducted a detailed mapping of the cave along with local reddies Chalpatti, Ramswami, Padmanabiah and Chinnaih.

APTDC : The Andhra govt. finally decided to step in and develop Belum caves as a tourist destinations in 1999. With a massive budget of 7.5 crores work began in the right earnest to ensure cleaning, lighting, ventilating, blowers, railings etc were installed at all strategic points. Belum caves were thrown open to public in 2003. There is a canteen for tourist, bathroom facility near the entry point. The guides who are available with torch to guide the tourist into the caves. We were lucky to get a free guide deployed, one of course has to tip them for their efficiency in guiding quickly and ensure that we emerge out of the cave safely. There are helmets available which is generally not used by the tourists.

A huge Buddha statue has been installed close to the hillock near the enterance to signify the original inhabitants of the Belum caves. On the hillock BELUM is engraved like Hollywood insignia.

Sections of Belum Cave :

Dhyan Mandir or Meditation centre : It is located near the enterance. A huge hall almost looks like a bedroom with a pillow on the horizon. Most of the Buddhist monks and sages resided in this portion and meditated. All the artifacts found in this portion have been relocated to the museum.

1000 Hoods : The stalactite formation on the wall looks like a cobra hoods, just imagine number of cobras opening their hood to strike, a scary scenario, but it is just a figment of imagination of the locals to describe the scenario being displayed.

Banyan Tree Hall : This section resembles a huge banyan tree spreading its roots and branches all over.

Mandapam :
This huge stalactite hall looks like a marriage hall. Who knows marriages may take place in future……….for a movie Lol.

Musical chamber :
The stalactite pillar formation give out musical notes when stuck with a wooden cane or once knuckles.

Patalganga : A perennial stream of water flows into the Belum village located 2 km away from this spot.

Overall a visit to Belum cave can be quite a thrilling experience, it is generally opened between 9 am to 5 pm. One has to be prepared for visiting the cave with plenty of water, and take due care while passing through some narrow passage. In certain areas one is bound to feel clausterphobic, but not very scary since the lighting is quite sufficient. There are ventilators and blowers at strategic points, it is better to take a breather under them and proceed further. Since the best of the caves are located in the explored spots, Belum cave is the best experience one can have underground. The sheer adventure and aura to experience an underground exploration is fulfilled at Belum.