Saturday, April 24, 2010

Puttaparthi Trip

With vacation mode around, and with lots of free time in my hand, what a wonderful way to spend time with family, particularly kids driving around. It is cheap and economical, provided you know your limits on spending on other things.

On Friday April 23rd, 2010 we decided to go out somewhere for a day trip, driving up north from Bangalore.

I was always intrigued by the famous Puttaparthi Sai Baba and the place. We thought of going there, and it fit our bill. My mother had been there recently along with the Seva Dala people for 15 days doing "Seva" taking care of the public / crowd management. Heard good things about that place and hence the interest. The darshan timings of Sai Baba are 9 - 10 AM and 5 to 6 PM. Mostly I was told the evenings are less crowded.

Roughly about 170 kms said, straight up on NH 7, entering into Andhra Pradesh after Chikka Ballapur ( SeddiHalli to be precise, with a toll of Rs 80/- for 24 hours round trip or Rs 55/- for one way. ) It is a 3.5 to 4 hours drive with stops for lunch / snacks.

We started around 11.30 AM, after all the work was done at home for the day. Anyway we planned to have lunch on the way, either in a Dhaba or any road side eatery. Kids were excited and I was worried on the weather. Rain was on the cards.

First thing, I filled up the tank in a nearby place. Heard from blogs about non availability of Petrol bunks ( gas stations ) beyond Devanahalli towards Hyderabad, at regular intervals. Since the highway has been developed around small cities, and with no new gas station allottments, you have to drive into that town to fill gas. So you better fill you car tanks, well in advance, when you see a gas station on the way.

I decided to take the outer ring road, even though it is 10 kms extra to reach Hebbal junction of NH 7 towards Hyderabad. If you drive thru BG Road and go up through Mekhri Circle and RT Nagar, you might end up taking 1.5 hours+ to reach that point and I bet that you legs will start aching by then. We did it in 1 hour 15 mins and cool breeze drive...

It was around 1 PM, when I crossed the Devanahalli BIAL Airport. Congested with left turning traffic. Lorries in the day time? Unheard off. Thats how it is here... 80 kms is the speed limit all along the way. But you can see 4 speed breakers / humps near / after BIAL area ( Turn towards right or you will end up in Doddaballapur, instead of towards Hyderabad as destination. Luckily there is a hand written board that guides you, but you might miss ). For few kilometers, there is single lane road, and mad traffic might head towards you. But stick to your lane! Keep the head lights on! I did not cross 80 Kms speed limit, and your average will stand at 50 KMPH definitely.

We crossed the Nandi Hills area ( 70 kms from Bangalore - turn right few kms after BIAL ) and clicked few pictures in the drive.

Next action point, we were hungry and it was almost 2 PM... we thought about the Ranjitha restaurant near Chikka Ballapur a friend had written about ( but it is on the right side with bar attached! ). We were in no mood for non veg., so decided to eat at Kamat ( Rest area, with BP petrol bunk - on the left ) in Saittu Thinnai ( the resting parapet of Sait ). This place is an hours drive away from BIAL. You can also find many Dhaba's and Omni van vending food stalls along with the grapes from the vineyard ( fresh? may be ) being sold on the sides of the highway NH 7 ( at obscene prices ).

We had plate meal. Rs 55/- each. Got some chilled water in the nearby shop and kids played in the merry go round and swing for sometime, before taking in some ice cream. Beat the heat.

We started off to Puttaparthi at 2.30 PM, and it was only half the way. I was planning to be there by 4.30 PM at the latest. Thanks to the free roads, and well laid roads we reached the Ashram at around 4 PM. You have to take a right turn on to Puttaparthi Main road near Kodur and travel for 31 kms, to take another right turn for 8 kms to reach Sai Prashanthi Nilayam.

Tried to pull over couple of times to call, but signals are weak, as a person had called in after a blue moon, in ages! ( whom I have never met in person being in Bangalore! ).

On the way, we saw the big Sai Baba Hospital ( in light pink colour - compared to the white colour in Whitefield ) and the Airport.

Odometer reading 179.1 kms in 4 hours approx with our scheduled lunch stop and nature call pitstops.

We found it difficult to park. A good samaritan helped us ( A Nadar from Tirunelveli ) in finding a spot in the General Hospital to park among the staff. Thanks to him!

We refreshed a bit, and with security checks in place, we were ushered inside Prasanthi Nilayam by 4.30 PM. No drinking water is alllowed to carry in ( though they serve you ). Deposit all your stuff in cloak room. You have to carry a plastic hand fan, waiting for Sai Baba Darshan. You can deposit your mobile phone in a separate area, for which they give a token. Chappals are to be left near the entrance and it was funny to see some people using lock + chains to store them like the bag locks in railway compartments. It was very hot and I got hurt walking barefoot - burns? washed my legs in a loo @ East Prasanthi Hall and felt OK.

Ladies and gents are frisked separately and the seating in separate in the darshan hall.  It's a open Hall with no door, but grills and can accommodate about 10,000 people told a Sai Ram volunteer. You have to deposit your bubblegum, pens, gutka, cigarettes etc before the security check, again.

Then the wait for Sai Baba started. People were in chants.... singing the praise in many different hymns.

At around 5 PM, the Godman in Saffron robe, moved in a wheelchair by his help ( Seva Dala ) appeared. He went around the front row, accepting single roses, hand written requests etc. Few people took his arm and kissed. I could see the white and white foreigners doing the touch feet and greet duty. There was glowing radiance in Sai Baba face, he looked old compared to the young pictures - that I have seen.  When he came to the males section, he took out something from his mouth and gave it to one of the devotees. The music and singing hit a crescendo and he went inside some rooms, behind a Ganesha temple ( small puja room ). I was told he gives interviews to many people.

With the 'darshan' mission over ( I didnt stay on for the bhajans for long, and people expected him to re-appear again, for few more minutes ) and went out to get some Vibuthi ( we wanted to reciprocate ). The Radiosai shop sells items below MRP on stocking costs. No taxes! A Rs 14 bottle of Kinley water bottle is sold for Rs 9.90 for example. Also the famous low cost Bakery is a must visit. Rs 4 for popcorn, Re 1 for a masala bread slice ( filling! ), Rs 4 for a puffs / cake piece... Rs 5 for coffee or Tea... Rs 10 for Personal Pan Pizza... we got some real stomach filling stuff... which turned out to be our dinner on the way!

The place is very clean all along. Well maintained. I liked that! Lots of learning to be done, for the Municipal guys.

We hit to road again at 6 PM. Eating the snacks purchased in the Bakery, we started listening to the music and sharing our observations. You can also stay there for a nominal fee or free ( if you book well in advance ). If you are a donor giving in Lakhs, you will get an AC room and special interview with Sai Baba may be. I saw many Telugu Actors, A judge of Karnataka High Court, few AP ministers and one Tamilnadu MP and a person whom I have seen in Bangalore in a shop! All in apt devotion!

We crossed Koduru at around 6.45 PM and after Saittu Thinnai, @ 8 PM we stopped for a 10 minutes break. Had a wonderful "Red" Tea on the road side stall. Really rejuvenated. Kids woke up, who were asleep on the way!

There was high lightning all along the way, and intermittent showers. So I could not drive beyond 80 Kms speed. My wife was scared to see lorries driving with no back red lights or reflectors ( heavy and slow moving too ). Dangerous if you are not careful. The highway patrol should do something about this, if they care for their jobs. They should forcibly stick the plastic reflectors on the backs of such lorries at a cost. will someone listen?

Also near small villages, people are crossing the roads without any care. They have also put up shops, right next to the highway. Unbelievable!

We crossed BIAL at around 8.30 PM and saw many cars merging from Airport. It is a mess out there. 6 lanes would not be enough. I hope someone, one of the twittering ministers, tweets about the pathetic road management in Bangalore, to take care of it with a Joint Parliamentary Probe. Potholes in newly laid highways? You gotta come to Bangalore to see it.

I took the City route - RT Nagar, Mekhri Circle, Sankey Road, MG Road, Lavelle Road, St Marks Road, Residency Road, Brigade Road extn. and on to BG Road ( with a slight in work progress area in Adugodi ) and reached home at 9.45 PM.

Odometer reading 161.4 kms in about 3 hours 45 mins with only one stop of 10 minutes!


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