I can’t believe I’ve been here nearly six weeks. Some have said they like the garlands, so here is the complete set, 12 in total, I’m sure Bishop Alan manages that in a week visit! To prove it’s not been just clergy training, school work and visits to projects, I did take a day and a half off to visit Tirupati and it’s local Temple Tirumala, in the south of Andhra Pradesh. It is said that more pilgrims visit this temple than go to Mecca, or Rome, and they all seemed to have turned up the day I was there! It was a 6 hour drive from Nandyal, and setting off at 4 in the afternoon meant a late arrival, a meal for two at the nearest restaurant to the hotel I stayed in cost 60 Rupees (about 60p), the kitchen open to the dining area.
Up at 6 the next morning and another bargain breakfast, it took nearly an hour to travel the 20km to the top of the hill where the temple is; a combination of the queue at the toll booth and the extreme hairpin road up the hill. We eventually find the extra special, fast path, entrance, where for an extra 300 rupees you can jump the queue. It’s a wire mesh/railings covered walkway that snakes it’s way over roads, and round buildings and after an hour moves inside a building designed for queuing! It takes another 3 hours to reach the temple! Pressed into this corridor is a riot of shaved headed small boys and men, painted foreheads, colourfully dressed women of all sizes and ages, who every so often burst into song..’Govinda….Govinda…’ . I guess the 50 rupees queue must take several days? There are a number of temples within the compound, one completely covered in gold, but I have no photos; no cameras, no phones, no calculators (why no calculators?) allowed in, and from outside it is impossible to see more than the very tops of the buildings - go on the web and you can see pictures before most of the modern buildings were built!
The experience was amazing, but the half hour at a temple we just happened across by the side of the road on the way back was more magical. The man playing a Veena (a one stringed instrument) very happy to be photographed, as too others sitting around, and the carving looked special in the late afternoon light. Here I could buy a small guidebook in English, something not possible at Tirumala, where despite the vast area of stalls selling tat of all descriptions, there was not a postcard, or guidebook to be seen!
Conversation on the journey back turned to Bytipeta, the ‘slum’ I described in the previous blog. Where, despite the lovely welcome, and the colourful scene, the harsh truth is somewhat sobering; 50% of the women there are widows (alcohol and AIDS the main causes of death amongst the men), and only about half of these have any jobs, remarriage is not an option in India, and for many the primary source of income becomes prostitution. The, not quite David Wilson Homes, housing development I described also has it’s challenges. It was only looking through the photos that I realised not a single house has a toilet! I guess the mains drainage is for flood relief, certainly nothing to help the some 60% or so of Indians who don’t have a proper toilet. In the rural areas ‘using the field’ seems a plausible option, but here? And however much I see it I still can’t adjust to the fact that all Indian’s seem to throw their rubbish on the ground wherever they are. In the past when this was just a banana skin, or other waste food, the phrase ‘the whole world is my waste bin’ has some plausibility, but now the volumes of plastic discarded everywhere is almost overwhelming.
But the view out of the car window still continues to enchant; fields of banana trees, mango trees (the ground ploughed under them as I’ve seen Walnut orchards in France), papayas, as well as the usual crops, chillies drying in the road and a stall selling ‘durian’, the most amazing looking fruit; the one I bought should be ready for monday. Evidently it is very sweet and ‘smells like hell, but tastes like heaven’, I’ll let you know…..