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.