Andhra Pradesh


Known as Dakshin Kashi (The Southern Varanasi, as it were), the Shiva temple of Sri Kalahasthi (100kms from Chennai, off Tada on NH 5) has two dominant legends associated with it.

The first one goes like this. A spider, a snake and an elephant worshipped Lord Shiva. Each had a different way of paying respect, unaware of each other’s styles. The spider wove silk webs, the elephant washed and garlanded the idol with flowers daily and the serpent decked the Lord with jewels. Once the elephant in his cleaning, discarded the jewels offered by the snake and adorned Shiva with flowers. The snake was offended, a skirmish followed and the spider got caught in the fight and all three died. The Lord was pleased with each one’s manner of paying obeisance and granted them mukthi (salvation). What followed was his taking on their names in this incarnation- Sri( spider) Kala(snake) hasthi( tusker elephant) or Sri Kalahatheeswarar.

Another one associated with this temple, is the legend of Kannappan. Kannappan, a hunter is said to have stopped the discharge from Shiva’s ailing left eye by offering his own eye. When the other eye of Shiva also started bleeding, he placed his big toe on it for easy access (since he would be rendered blind post removing his second eye) . Shiva was pleased with him and stopped him from self-inflicted blindness. An exemplary ( if extreme) devotee.

The temple is HUGE (the tower – gopuram is over 100 feet high) and houses a multitude of Gods including a Spatika Lingam. Part of the five lingams representing the five elements, the one at Sri Kalahasthi is the Vayu (air) Lingam The premises are air conditioned and well maintained given the crowd. The procession idols are beautifully embellished. The ceilings have lovely paintings now in a state of disrepair. The walls are full of ancient Tamil inscriptions- this part of Andhra Pradesh (Chittor) must have been a part of the Madras state of yesteryear. The shrine is frequented by most Tirupathi visitors as it is just a few kilometers away.

For the religious minded it is a place where you can make peace with Rahu- Ketu by offering special prayers (puja). The pujas come in 3 denominations ( Rs 250-Rs 1000). The comfort definitely varies in terms of waiting time and air con. I wonder if the “palan” ( the fruit of the prayer) also does.

The puja is done by the devotees in an assembly hall. They are seated on the floor on palahais (low stools) in about eight rows ( South Indian Marriage hall style). There is a priest who is comfortable in Tamil, English and Telugu. He walks around and instructs on a mike, in all the three languages. You can follow him or your neighbour ( in case you suffer from attention deficiency) All this lasts about half an hour.

You are left with the smell of flowers, kumkum( vermillion) and turmeric and a feeling of calm likely to be broken by a jarring request for tips from the “devoted” austere priests! The coconuts are segregated and possibly recycled/ sold. There is no wastage. One fellow traveller hazarded a guess that the small silver shiva replicas are also recycled since there is a separate hundi (drop box) for them.

This gorgeous 16th century Shaivite temple, on the banks of an almost dry Swarnamukki river, is today, in my opinion, also an interesting case study in process management .

When deciding on where to go, its always such a temptation for a culture-vulture to land up at places with much to see – temples, forts, ruins, palaces, all of which India has so much of. To top that, if you live in a state like Karnataka, which really has more than its fair share of history – Hampi, Badami, Aihole, Pattadakkal, Mangalore, Udupi, Dharmasthala, Moodbidri, Mysore, Belur, Halebid, Shravanabelagola, Bidri, Somnath – well, its sometimes difficult to just say no to pottering around, and instead choose a completely chilled out holiday that involves nothing more than lazing around, reading a book and maybe on occasional walk to digest all the food eaten.

After some trips had gone by in a haze of walking, seeing and absorbing much history, we finally decided that we needed one weekend where we traveled to do nothing. Ofcourse, we could have done this at home, but if you can do nothing in so much more peaceful and green surroundings, which one would you choose? Call it coincidence, but a friend mentioned this place called Horsley Hills, close to her native place, Madanapally. Now all us snooty city-dwellers had made much fun of Madanapally as a one-lane sort of town, but it has two distinctions – it boasts an old sanatorium from British times, and it is the birthplace of philosopher Jiddu Krishnamurthi.

Horsley Hills is about a 45 minutes drive from Madanapally, the nearest town, and about 3-4 hours away from Bangalore, although the drive on terrible pot-holed roads makes it seem longer. It’s interesting to note, that the stretch of road in Karnataka is terrible, while it improves immediately on reaching the Andhra Pradesh border, where Madanapally is located. Doesn’t say much for the Karnataka government, does it!

The road from Madanapally to Horsley Hills can loosely be called a hilly stretch, though in no way does it approach the steep hair pin bends of Tirupati for example. We reached there by afternoon, and settled in at the government owned cottages, which are pretty much the only accommodation you will find here. The cottages look picturesque from the outside, with their sloping red roofs, though the inside can only be described as adequate. For our purposes though (doing nothing, remember), they were good enough. If you need more luxury, the old governer’s bungalow has been converted into traveller’s accomodation, and for around Rs 1500-2000 a day, this is much more swanky, with refurbished tiles and decorated as well as larger rooms.

The property is situated on a gentle slope, with much greenery around, and the high altitude gives provides it with lovely cool weather. It is impossible to resist pulling the chairs outside, and settling down to a game of cards, and some food accompanying. Coming to food, the resort has an attached restaurent where fairly decent food is available, with the breakfast being particularly good. We however arranged for one of the shacks on the perimeter of the resort to cook and send in food, since the non-vegetarians in the group were not too keen on the restaurant’s food. Everything in Horsley Hills ofcourse moves slowly, including the arrival of your food. Calm is the dominant theme, for humans and animals alike!

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Good walking routes are available, around the property – this is not however a trekker’s paradise. The entire place is so small that it can be covered in a ten minutes walk, so gentle ambling around and enjoying the cool mountain air, is about the most strenuous exercise possible. We discovered some beautiful nooks though, overlooking the valley, and these are cosy places for enjoying a peaceful moment. Early morning in Horsley Hills is a beautiful time in particular.

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For those inclined to do something more, the resort does offer a swimming pool. Large spaces have also been left unbuilt, and these offer enough space to set up a game of cricket, football or just play frisbee. While Horsley hills is a sort of idyllic meadow in the daytime, night offers a totally different face. With very little artificial lighting around, in the glow of a few halogen lamps, the place looks like a recreation of the Blair Witch Project. Add to this rumours of a tiger from the surrounding forests on the prowl, and we were understandably a little nervous.

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Nothing much happened ofcourse, and after two days of pleasant indulgence, we drove back to Bangalore intact. On the way back is a small village Angallu, which specializes in pottery, with pieces sold on the roadside at extremely reasonable prices.

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Faint twinges of guilt nudged us, at the thought of the calories that had been piled on during the weekend of nothing. We assured ourselves that it was a well deserved reward for weeks of over work, and groaned at the thought of getting back into yet another work-week !