in xanadu did kubla khan etc. etc. etc.

on the way to srikalahasti, we came across this building, the mandapam of the oneness movement. it is the largest pillarless hall in india (the movement claims), able to seat 8,000 people. the oneness devotees are followers of sri amma and sri bhagwan, a holy couple that preach … actually, i have no idea what they preach. love, compassion, a higher power … ma nishtana, one might say.  oneness’ adherents say it is “a world changing phenomenon that is helping people of all faiths and paths move into higher states of consciousness,” and the temple is supposed to be “endowed with spiritual powers of ancient rishis who had meditated in the region. On entering the temple, the [movement’s] pamphlet declared that ‘the cowardly become courageous, the unwise become intelligent, barren hearts start flowering in love, and everyone will experience divinity'” (according to a journalist who investigated the place). of course, when we tried to go in, it was closed for renovations. we didn’t get any farther than the parking lot. (shades of walley world.)

across the way was this (for me) mesmerising tree plantation, one of a few that we saw as we drove through the south of the state. clearly, the a.p. forestry department is doing its work. in fact, we then drove into a national park and set out for the waterfalls, until we realized that it would be a 3 km hike in each direction; at mid-day, and without water or food, it wouldn’t be a good idea. still, it was nice to get a brief look at a decidedly not chennai-like vista – truly idyllic until the holiday-makers showed up.


as we drove through andhra pradesh, we saw granite rock formations that looked as though they had been built by hand. quoting from one website:

andhra pradesh is endowed with spectacular rocky formations, which at many places, are simply awe-inspiring. they are indeed a natural wonder of stony ridges and hillocks shaped into picturesque balancing forms through millions of years of weathering and wearing. the deccan plateau, that is the vast expanse of peninsular india, south of the vindhyas and composed mostly of grey granite, is among the oldest and hardest rock formations in the world. geologists date these rocks to a period 2,500 million years ago. that is the time when the earth’s crust solidified. molten magma then pushed upwards from the interior and hardened under the crust into domes and sheets of granite. then horizontal and vertical cracks developed and slowly the top layers of the crust eroded and these very hard granites were exposed. they weathered over millions of years into their present forms – resulting in the bizarre, awe-inspiring, wonder-striking and almost man-made-kind-of formations.

there is a society to save rocks that is dedicated to preserving these formations.

(in response to a comment i received, i should note that this is actually a necessary type of organization. there are stonecutting companies that will level entire hills of this size for the raw building materials, if they get the chance. a fellow photographer showed me a field where a hill on which gandhi had spoken had been cut away; nearby was a hill with a huge slice cut out, like a birthday cake.)

150,000 bricks

my comrade-in-cameras james and i took another roadtrip, this time into andhra pradesh. on our way to the temple town of srikalahasti, we stopped at a brick kiln, one of many along the road.

the bricks are stacked up and the fire is built underneath. they are not as sturdy as bricks made in the u.s.; if one has a crack in it, you can break it with your hands and it will crumble into pieces.
there were two or three families living in thatch-roofed huts (with brick walls, of course) on the site. i didn’t ask the head of the operation how old the boys had to be before they started working; i didn’t see the girls handling the bricks, but i assume they have enough other chores to do.


my photos of albania got picked up by the photo editor at the indian edition of the sunday guardian, and after some back and forth, she offered to include my abandoned factory photos in the paper’s picture essay section here:

in addition, the blogger service that i’d used for all of my albania blogging has said that i have to join the google accounts or something, or they’d block access to the blog. i may have inadvertently done what they wanted me to do anyway, but i have had to load all of those posts to this blog as well until i find them a new home. they will all need to be reformatted. ugh.

arubathimoovar festival day 2

we went back the next day for the main procession, of lord shiva and the 63 saints. the streets were not as crazily packed as they were the day before, but the area in front of the temple, which had been enclosed for the occasion, was fully jammed with worshippers. oddly, the event wasn’t as grand as the celebration of the day before, but i think it had more religious significance.

i saw a group of kids in the chariot from yesterday, so of course i had to climb up as well and take a look. i don’t know if there is a three-story shed somewhere or if they dismantle the chariot after the festival. right: two priests handing out ashes for marking the foreheads with the sign of shiva.
a temple band (horns and drum) play and the sun shines appropriately through the roof as the chariot with the statue of lord shiva wheels into place. (i’m sorry for having used such a shallow depth of field in the first photo.) right: devotees carry the first palanquin of saints’ statues out to the street. how often do you see the word “palanquin” these days?
you can see that the saints are riding backward in their palanquins, so they can gaze on lord shiva who comes afterward. right: the procession went out onto the street, where i again found the rolling beggar from the day before.

arubathimoovar festival

today, my friend and fellow tirupati traveler james and i went to kapaleeswarar temple to see the arubathimoovar festival. arubathimoovar celebrates 63 saints who were canonized for their devotion to lord shiva, and the highlight of the festival is the parade of temple chariots, each of which carries a statue of a saint through the streets.

one of the first things we encountered was a group of beggars who roll themselves through the streets, chanting, blocking traffic, and begging for alms. as the middle shot shows (and i’m only including it as evidence, not because it’s a particularly good shot), they aren’t in such bad shape for rolling themselves four or five blocks in the procession with the chariots; i have to believe this isn’t their first rodeo, so to speak. the chariots themselves are pulled along by devotees while priests distribute holy ashes and other blessings …

… that is, until the chariot carrying shiva pulls into view. this was a much more serious affair, about two stories tall, with more than a hundred guys pushing and pulling it and thousands thronged around it.

the ropes used to pull the chariot, and the crowds pushing, pulling, or following it, were massive.