Lammasingi, Andhra’s Kashmir

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Lammasingi (लम्मसिंगी) or Lambasingi (लम्बसिंगी) as the tribals call it, is a tiny hamlet nestling on a ridge at an altitude of 2600 above sea level in the Eastern Ghats, a little over a 100 kilometres to the west of Vizag. It was an unknown, remote tribal settlement till a discovery was made which stripped the place of its anonymity and earned it the sobriquet of “Andhra Kashmir”. A few years ago, weathermen found that it was the coldest place in Andhra, with night temperatures occasionally dipping to sub-zero levels. This news was broadcast by TV channels and overnight, it became a popular tourist.

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Sankaram and Kotturu

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Andhra was a bastion of Buddhism for at least a thousand years. It was a centre of learning and Buddhism spread out to Sri Lanka and South East Asia through its ports. The stupas and monasteries provided the architectural models for the more famous Buddhist shrines in the rest of the world like the famous Borobodur in Indonesia. The Buddhist phase lasted for nearly a thousand years till the rise of Shaivism in the 7th century CE obliterated Buddhism from this region. It is sad that while these places attract visitors from all over the Buddhist world, Indians are not aware of the existence of these places.In this series, I am retracing the footsteps of those distant ancestors of mine.

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Hilltop monasteries on the seaside

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What Jawaharlal Nehru had said about India is equally applicable to my hometown, Visakhapatnam, better known as Vizag. It is a young city with a history that goes back to the prehistoric period. In this series, I shall revisit the footprints left on the sands of time in and around Vizag by the early Buddhists.

I shall start at Thotlakonda, a 130 metre high hillock overlooking the famed beaches of Vizag. The Buddhist settlement was accidentally discovered in 1988 by Naval personnel were carrying out an aerial survey for setting up some facility.

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A Tale of Two Temples

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The Bala Balaji temple is a standing testimony to the devotion and perseverance of a humble coconut vendor called Ramaswami. Every year, he used to visit Tirupati and place a share of his annual income at the feet of Lord Venkateswara as his offering. In 1966, the priests there refused to place the offerings at the feet of the idol and understandably, Ramaswamy was upset thinking that the rejection was by the Lord himself.

That night, Lord Balaji appeared in Ramaswamy’s dream and told him to build a shrine in his hometown itself. Ramaswamy installed framed photographs of Lord Venkateswara and his consort Padmavati in his shop. He would feed the people who visited his shrine without charging any money. In course of time, the temple attracted hundreds of devotees and Ramaswamy had sufficient funds to build a temple. The construction was completed in 1991 and the idols were installed an consecrated by Chinna Jeeyar Swamiji, a famous Vaishnavite saint.

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Coconuts, Cotton and Crabs

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As one drives along the narrow but smooth roads with lush green fields bordered by tall coconut palm trees and water canals, one could be forgiven for thinking that they are in Kerala. Welcome to Konaseema, the Kerala of Andhra Pradesh. It is the triangular patch of land where the river Godavari, the second holiest river in India, breaks up into many distributaries and merges itself in the Bay of Bengal.

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A weekend pilgrimage to Rayagada

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While transiting through southern Odisha on our way to Chhattisgarh last year, my wife expressed a desire to visit the famous Maa Majhighariani Mandir in Rayagada. I told her that it meant a detour of over 200 kms over bad roads and promised to take her there some other time. She wasn’t happy but had no choice in the matter. A few days later, there was a minor collision with a truck which my wife viewed as a divine warning. Recently, I changed my car and my wife was insistent that we go and seek the forgiveness and blessings of the Goddess.

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The Shaikh Zayed Grand Mosque

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While driving along the airport highway, a massive, magnificent, multi-domed edifice springs up, seemingly out of nowhere from the stark desert environs . We are on the outskirts of Abu Dhabi, the capital of the United Arab Emirates and gazing in wondrous disbelief at what is arguably the most beautiful building this side of the Arabian Sea, the Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahayyan Grand Mosque. It is purportedly the third largest mosque in the world, after the great mosques at Makkah and Madina.

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Ghumakkar Insights – Maya, Chitrachor, and Plagiarism

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Permit me to narrate an anecdote about a fictitious schoolgirl called Maya. Her class is given an assignment to write an essay titled “My most memorable trip”. She had just returned from a visit to the famous Vaishno Devi shrine and decided to write about it. However, when she started writing, she did not know what to write about other than it was an enjoyable visit and the atmosphere in the temple was very spiritual. Maya decided to use the internet to get more facts about the place. She used bits and pieces from everywhere, stitches together an essay and proudly submits her essay to her teacher.

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Araku valley

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Araku is a picturesque tribal settlement in the Eastern Ghats, about 120 km to the north of the port city of Visakhapatnam a.k.a. Vizag, which also happens to be my hometown. For me, the drive is an end in itself, a mind-blowing experience as one navigates through umpteen hair-pin bends on a steep mountain road which snakes its way up the Eastern Ghats to an altitude of some 1200 metres above sea level. This is one of those road trips on which one does not feel like driving fast but prefer to gently cruise along the serpentine path, inhaling the pristine air and feasting on the visual candy being proffered so generously by Mother Nature.

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An Egyptian Diary: Post script

An Egyptian Diary: Post script

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India and Egypt shave a lot in common. Both are ancient civilisations and have emerged from centuries of foreign rule. Though the population is only 80 million, there is a lot of ethnic diversity with some who can pass off for Europeans, some who look like Africans and the rest of them look North African or Arab. Not surprising, if one takes into account its history and its geographic location, which is at the intersection of Asia, Africa and Europe…

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Alexandria, the pearl of the Mediterranean

Alexandria, the pearl of the Mediterranean

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Alexandria was home to Egypt’s second wonder of the Ancient World: the famous Lighthouse built by the Ptolemies in the 3rd Century AD. Soaring to a height of 140 metres, its beacon was visible to seamen over 50 km away. It was one of the tallest man-made structures in the world for centuries till a powerful earthquake destroyed it in the 14th century.

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