We leave for our pilgrimage tomorrow morning early. Thus these last three or four days have been a perfect segue to the pilgrimage.
I don't want to give a travelogue in this blog (note the rhyme), just some highlights and impressions.
We are thinking ahead to one year from now with the possibility of bringing a group here to south India, so there is a definite aspect of planning to this pilgrimage. It is not only personal.
Since my first visit to India and to south India some forty-four years ago (via overland driving from Europe), I have felt very much at home in south India. Second only to the Himalayas (which are by their nature less hospitable year-round), south India holds for me a special charm.
Even its cuisine fascinates me (no gourmand, to be sure). Dosas, idly, sambar, and so much more seem familiar and natural to me. In northern India I have to vary what I eat for a strictly Indian fare there wears on me.
So also is the apparel of the dhoti, the cotton wrap-around sarang traditionally worn by men.
In any case, neither of these brought me here. Being the guest of Murali and his family has been a delight and joy, completely natural and they have been over-the-top kind and solicitous.
One of the characteristics of the geologically ancient south is the sudden and seemingly random appearance of groups of hills. We visited the Nandi Hills, north of Bengalore. The tallest of the group is just under 5000 feet from sea level (though the plains below are already at 3000 ft.)
A giant granite rock it is, with at least two solid granite rock cave temples inhabited for centuries as places of worship. The view all 'round is spectacular, the breezes refreshing, and, on our weekday visit, the crowds insignificant. We hiked up from the parking lot where vehicles have to stop from reaching the top.
The sacredness of the cave temples are what atttracted me the most, coddled as they are by the mountain, the vast expanse of scenery, and the abundant vegetation all around.
Later that day was an adventure into Bengalore itself. While cities aren't the thrill of my life, Bengalore has that south Indian familiarity and openness that feels natural.
Here, too, amidst the modern stores, MacDonalds (well, one at least), fashion and ordinary life, are numerous temples of beauty and sacredness. My favorite was a very simple peaceful compound in the midst of the hubub of the city where a small water pond of fish and turtles is the end point of a water flow that seemingly miraculously flows through the mouth of a stone figure of Shiva's "vehicle," Nandi the bull.
The stream of water (whose source has yet to be detected) pours down upon a Shiva lingam before being directed into the fish and turtle pond below.
There are at least three shrines in the compound and people come to fill up jars of the waters which are said to be healing.
But the atmosphere is relaxing, uplifting, and carries a high vibration (or so it seemed to me).
I'm not qualified to describe whether in detail or in philosophy the steps one takes upon entering a typical Hindu temple or shrine, but they include placing a small donation onto a plate where an oil type lamp gives a flame from which one takes "the light" to himself (at the spiritual eye).
That's probably the simplest thing for me to describe. Worship can of course become very elaborate including when the priest carries the light (after offering it on the altar to the image of deity) and blesses each one at the spiritual eye.
I did several tours of the city, both environs and central area, seeing the large and beautiful government buildings, parks, and historical sights.
Another highlight was a long walk on my first day in the park setting of the Indian Institute for Sciences. In the middle of the city, the park is an oasis of peace and beauty.
Today, Sunday, January 12, Murali, his niece Padma, and I attended the Sunday "satsang" at the Ananda center across town. Meeting Nayaswamis Haridas and Roma and the members there was a treat for us. Murali and I were invited to share a bit about ourselves and our pilgrimage.
Afterwards we were served lunch. It was a wonderful and uplifting experience.
Some of the fun touristy adventures have included stopping by the side of the road to drink from a "young" coconut and eat the soft meat of the coconut after sipping the juice with a straw from the coconut; being treated to some of Bangalore's most famous "Dosa" restaurants, including one in the center of town that is standing room only; fast service; one of those low key but popular restaurants that survive and flourish for decades with nothing more to recommend than the delicious food they serve (no ambiance; quick but unnoticeable service; inexpensive; etc).
I've posted in other forms about the temple right down the street from the house here. Tuesdays and Fridays people come from all over during the morning and then later in the afternoon and early evening for worship. Preceded by drummers, a small pick up truck carries a portable statue of the deity and people come out of their homes and shops to receive a blessing (of light).
Bengalore still has many of its gigantic trees that line the boulevards and shade passers-by from the intense summer sun or the downpour of the monsoons.
In January, they claim it is winter but it is delightful weather. The sun of course can be warm but the mornings, late afternoons, and evenings are perfect.
Our pilgrimage begins tomorrow and more about that in the next posting.