In and around my maternal ancestral village, Munganda – In pictures.

Tucked in lush green fields of Konaseema, an area in the Godavari delta of the East Godavari District in the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh is my maternal ancestral village, called Munganda (Originally, Muni-khanda, The Land of the sages). I left half of my heart there, as most of my childhood memories are associated with it. I get reminded of my Grandma’s heart-warming meals, delightful conversations with my Grandpa, those verdant farm lands, the pristine weather, beautiful breezy evenings, the scenic bank of River Godavari, the dainty local flowers, swaying coconut trees, freshly produced coconuts, pineapples, bananas, jackfruits, toddypalms, and many more.

So, let me go down my memory lane and present to you a few photographs in and around my village, that I have taken over time. This is my humble attempt to let the world know of this picturesque and peaceful small village and its surroundings. I also take the opportunity to reverence my ancestors and their legacy.

Below are photographs of the Godavari River and its bank in the nearby village of Gannavaram. There is an aqueduct over the river connecting the two villages of P.Gannavaram and Lankala Gannavaram, originally constructed by the British, and later a new one was constructed by the Indian Government due to its ageing. It is named after Smt. Dokka Seethamma, a great humanitarian. Please read more about her here.

Below you will see the vast coconut and paddy fields. It is in deed therapeutic to get lost in this peaceful arena and to breathe the fresh air. Imagine the fresh and earthy smell on rainy days…even the fields get lusher.

I will take a moment here to thank the farmers, for I am alive today only because of them. Below is a photograph of my Grandfather with his assisting farmer, who is more like a family for us.

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And below is a photograph taken at Antharvedi, a convergence point of River Godavari and The Bay of Bengal. There is a launch pad that takes you around the waters.

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Here is a photograph of my very own Grandpa, an erudite and a venerated gentleman in his village. And, that is his favourite and a very old Radio Transistor. He is not just a retired Teacher, but an outstanding and inspirational one apart from being warming and amicable.

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He has worked very hard through-out his life and career to keep up the high standards and for the betterment of his family and the village. This is a photograph of his dearest bicycle, that has kept his company through thick and thin. He traveled miles and miles on this and has a lot of memories attached with it. I couldn’t resist capturing it in my camera forever.

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I am really blessed to have him as my Grandfather, for he has really been the light of my life and has given me some of the most memorable and enjoyable childhood days. I will be disrespectful if I don’t mention about my Great Grandfather, Sri Pulya Umamahesawara Sastry garu, who was a great Vedic Scholar,  (Abhinava Pandita Raya, Vaiyyakarana Kesari – 10 titles twice Rastrapathi awardee). Here is a link to his biography, in our mother tongue Telugu.

And..finally is the photograph of my all time favorite Grandma’s Brinjal Curry (Vankaya Kharam kura in Telugu). Nothing can ever come close to tickling my taste buds as this dish, she is a master chef. It is very close to my heart, hence the photograph 🙂

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On a final note, I dedicate this blog to the village most fascinating to me and to my ancestral legacy. May the villages and the farmers in India flourish and prosper. 

You can also read about Munganda on wiki here.

 

Indian Masala Chai – Any takers?

As much as I await the monsoons in India, I also await to sip the comforting and warming ‘Masala Chai/Tea’..oh well, didn’t I say I can’t let go off my roots.

In the initial days when I was still learning to cook I never got the right consistency, taste and color of tea. My husband makes some very yummy tea and over time I learned the right way to prepare the Indian Chai. Now, here I am an expert at it, writing a blog on how to make it the perfect way.

Ingredients:

  • Some black tea, usually made out of boiling the Assamese Tea Leaves. We have a lot of brands that process and sell the leaves in India.
  • Milk (Your choice of cow’s milk, buffalo milk, full fat, fat free, skim milk, anything). I always stick to full fat buffalo milk when in India.
  • Sugar – optional.
  • Whole spices and herbs/Karha masala – hand pounded slightly to bring out the flavors.

Preparation:

  • Bring tea leaves to boil. I use one tea spoon of leaves to make a small cup for one person. If you are not sure about how much to put give it a try a couple of times to know the right measurement, as the amount can vary from brand to brand. Note, the tip for a better tasting tea is to slow boil leaves for a longer time in not too much, not too less water. This way, the black tea that gets made has a perfect consistency.

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  • Once you see black tea is ready, add the desired amount of milk. I use more milk and less water. I have seen people doing the ratio they want.
  • You should keep ready the hand-pounded spices and herbs. Usually, cardamom/elaichi, Cinnamon/Dalchini, Ginger/Adrak are used. You can very well use other spices like Black Pepper, Cloves etc. A gentle pounding will do. This spice mixture when added to the tea that’s ready for a good boil, lets the aroma, taste and the juice in it to seep into the tea.
  • You can add sugar at this point, or add it later/leave it.
  • Let the whole black tea+milk+spice mix+sugar boil on a slow flame. The more it boils, the better it tastes. Do not overdo boiling of course.
  • Turn off flame once the tea has completely boiled and come up the pot.
  • Use a tea strainer to catch the leaves, while you fill your tea cup with hot, yummy and comforting Masala Chai 🙂

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                                    Are you making yourself some tea then? 😊

Oregon – A dream destination, through my lens.

Labor Day 2013, it was time to another vacation. This time, it was the four of us, myself, my husband and two travel enthusiast friends. The moment we all decided to go somewhere, I knew the destination was Oregon that I had been longing for. Our travel itinerary was Phoenix->Portland to and fro and each time we had one stop in Seattle.

Day 1: Crater Lake National Park, South-Central Oregon.

My jaw dropped at the view of the gorgeous deep blue Crater Lake. I am sure it has the clearest waters I have ever seen in my life. Every single gaze at its depth, color and vastness felt like I was basking in Heaven’s Love. It was over a little cold during that time, and we all wore light fall jackets. The zephyr, the calm and clear waters, the blue-est ever sight I saw was a total feast to eyes. Yet another travel destination got checked off my bucket list. Some pictures from my DSLR are here.

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Day 2: Into the wilderness of Oregon.

The next day we went on hiking some of the really verdant trails that lead to beautiful cascades and awe-inspiring scenery. It was therapeutic driving by the nature and getting lost in its unfathomable beauty. We pulled over time to time to take some pretty photographs. You can see below the beautiful Umpqua river scenery that we encountered as we drove through the Umpqua National Forest and the Rogue-Umpqua National Scenic Byway.


Below are a couple of photographs taken at the Clearwater Falls.

Photographs taken at the Watson Falls hike. It was a 270ft hike to reach the top of the cascade. Tried some long exposure shots.

 


Day 3: Along the rugged Pacific coastline, the PCH drive.

The third day, the last of our trip was completely dedicated to a drive on the PCH. The rugged coastline of Oregon, the majestic Pacific Ocean and the sights along the drive were breathtaking. We covered some of the famous locations along the coastline, relaxed in between, felt the choppy ocean waves,  gathered some travel souvenirs and made some great memories. Below are the photographs taken at The Heceta Beach Lighthouse (claimed to be the most photographed lighthouse in the USA), Thor’s Well, Sea Lion Caves and Cape Perpetua.


The Beaver State is one of my most memorable vacations. Its abundant natural beauty that is most enchanting and spiritual cast a spell on me. If I get another chance, my next time visit to Oregon will be a longer one and I would love to explore more of its beauty.

Hope you enjoyed this short write-up of our 3-day Oregon trip. See you later!

Odisha – A Three Day Tour

One of my memorable travels in India is the trip to Odisha that I took with my parents. Odisha is one of the Eastern Coastal states of India. It’s surrounded by the Bay of Bengal on the East.

Our tour was a short 3-day one in the month of October and the weather was extremely pleasant.

Our itinerary was like this.

Day 1: Chilika Lake

We took the train to Balugaon Railway Station from Visakhaptnam. It was an overnight journey. We got down early in the morning and took a taxi to the village of Satapadi. There, we checked in to a nearby OTDC Tourist Lodge by the Chilka Lake side. It was a decent lodge, not really fancy and plush but was hygienic and spacious enough to serve the purpose. We freshened up and headed out for breakfast. We did not want to waste time by going out into the city, so quickly rushed to the near-by street food vendor. I still remember the idly that was served. It was paired with some hot and delicious white vatana and potato masala curry.  After eating sumptuously, we headed to the lake.

Chilika Lake is Asia’s largest salt-water lagoon and is separated from the Bay of Bengal by a sandy ridge. It’s area is about 1,100 sq km and is a home for a wide and unique variety of flora and fauna. Read more about the lake here.

There were different boat ride packages by the Dolphin Motor Boat Association, and we took the Dolphin Sight Seeing and Nalaban Bird Sanctuary package. We saw some amazing sights on the lake; of fishermen fishing in the early morning sun and a lot of birds, possibly cranes hovering by the catamarans. The boat first took us to the Kalijai, a famous Kali Temple located on a small island on the lake. Highly revered by the local populace, the deity has been venerated in the local folklore and legends. Our next destination was the Nalaban Island within the Lake. It is a Bird Sanctuary under Wildlife (Protection) Act. We couldn’t go further into the sanctuary, as during that time there was a temporary ban to enter in order to protect the birds…also, it was just the beginning of the right season. We could climb atop the watch tower and the view from there was splendid. Later, the boat sailed for quite some time in search of the dolphins but we were not lucky enough to spot them. Next was the third and the last destination before returning to the marina, the Chourbar Shiva Temple. Tucked away in the greens on a small island by the lake, this Shiva Temple is small and very peaceful.

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Day 2: Around the city of Puri, and the world famous Jagannath Temple.

After reaching Puri from Chilika Lake by taxi and bus, we checked into a hotel nearby the Puri Jagannath Temple. In the morning we headed out to roam around the Puri city. We went to the Puri Beach and got the glimpse of a beautiful dawn on the beach. The fishermen were making their way into the sea and could get some cool photographs of them. We took camel ride on the beach and it was super fun.

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Our next destination was the Govardhana Matha. It is one of the four cardinal mathas founded by Adi Shankara in the 8th century CE. After spending some time in the Matha, we headed to have lunch and take some much needed rest. Later in the evening, we made our way to the Puri Jagannath Temple, one of the Char Dham pilgrimages and is very famous for its Ratha Yatra. The Gods Jagannath, Balabhadra and the Goddess Subhadra constitute the main trinity of deities worshiped at the temple. I was particularly surprised by the temple’s unique ‘Bhog/Prashad’ (food offered to God) tradition. In this temple, we could buy our own choice of Prashads which is called as Bhog, take it on our own and give it to the temple priest for offering to the God. The various foods that go into the Bhog Thali are made in the temple premises, and one can just walk by and buy them. We saw a lot of monkeys lingering and playing in the temple area, they were harmless and friendly. Overall, the tradition and culture in the Jagannath temple is very distinct and interesting from the other Temples I visited. We also got to taste the famous Odisha cheese dessert Chhena poda that was sold on the streets near the temple.

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Day3: Bhubaneswar

On the third day we headed to Bhubaneswar, the capital city of Odisha. We first went to theLingaraja Temple, an outstanding specimen of the Odisha style of building the temple. Then, we visited the Odisha State Museum which had a good collection of antiques and specimens. It was our last stop before heading to the Bhubaneswar Railway Station for our return journey.

Overall, it was a very good and pleasant experience visiting Odisha. Though it was a short trip, we could get a mix of both spiritual and entertainment experiences as well as getting to taste the amazing cuisine of Odisha.

Beyond this world, he belongs to the promised land..and he hypnotized me!

This post is a re-plug of what I wrote a few years back in my previous blog. It is very close to my heart, and so is the venerated gentleman in the post. Hence, I have chosen this to be my first post on this blog.

I remember it was the August of 2008. I had been to Vizag, my home town for a weekend. My dad asked me if I would like to go with him to meet an elderly gentleman aged 72 years who had been suffering from the dreadful Parkinson’s disease since two years.
I vaguely remember seeing him when I was around 8 years old in a social gathering, and since then I never got the chance meet to him again except for hearing about his where-abouts. In fact, I even forgot how he looked like. Now, when I had learned that he is in a very poor health, I readily agreed to accompany my dad to his home. But, I was a tad nervous and worried about seeing him nearing the end of his lifetime, and so the jittery butterflies fluttered in my stomach and the umpteen questions rose in my head.

The time had arrived and we were at his house’s door step. An elderly lady of age 67, opened the door. Upon introduction, I came to know she was his better half. I also learnt that they were childless and the fact that she and her mother who was nearing 97 by then had been serving him since the time he was complete bed-ridden took me by surprise and gave me the chills of inspiration.
I could sense an awesome flavor of spiritualism, repose and unflappability as soon as I entered their home.
This venerable couple were retired illustrious professors in a renowned University (he was a Telugu professor while she had been a Physics professor).
She helped us to get into the room where he was resting on his bed. Contradicting the thoughts and imaginations I had about this gentleman’s condition, I was pleasantly surprised to see his welcoming and smiling face as soon as we entered the room. The actualization moved me. For some time I completely forgot that I had come to meet a patient who would leave this world forever very soon.
This gentleman who was supposed to be a very tall and handsome personality in the past, had been reduced to mere bones. Bed sores got his back and he could hardly move. It was extremely awe-inspiring to find him smiling and unperturbed, even in such a bad condition with a body that is totally paralyzed.
To add to the stunning state of my mind, he recognized me and he also managed to utter my name with his extremely feeble and meek voice.
He also told my father that I sing well which I still wonder as to when he actually had heard me sing at my age of 9 and how he could remember that at this stage of his.
His mind as steady as before, his persona very young, lively and active as ever, his thoughts and wits still very wise.
That wonderful moment is the most inspiring and cherishing moment of my life. He also asked me to sing for him and I started off with an Annammaya Krithi without any mere hesitation, fully gingered up. He was very satisfied, relieved and happy to listen to my song and complimented me saying it took him into a divine world.
His attitude changed my mindset completely…in fact I realized that I was the real patient, who was very hesitant, scared, depressed and was in heights of my emotions to meet him. His encouragement had given me the courage and boost to sustain for a lifetime.
When my parents visited him after a few months, he took my name again and remembered my singing.

Ohh what a blessing I have had in my life, meeting him. Yes, it is in deed true that “Life is not measured by the number of breaths we take, but by the moments that take our breath away.”

And now, this day I am writing this blog as a tribute to this great person who had passed away recently.
Having attended his memorial service, I feel blessed to have listened to those awesome experiences that many people had in his company.
The happenings in his life and the good things about him that his friends/students/colleagues/relatives have shared were really enlivening. He is a great personality and is an inspirational icon to each and every person that had a chance to meet him.

I end this with my hearty and deep condolences to his family. I end this with a heavy heart. I thank you Sir for all those inspirational moments, I would carry that wonderful experience and inspiration throughout my journey.
I feel blessed to have met a great personality like you, and I pray God for your soul to Rest in Peace!
You truly belong to the Promised Land Sir, Subrahmanya Sastry Garu! Take a bow!