It has been a while since we had gone on a long trip. So, when my parents visited us in Bangalore, it was ideal for us to venture out on a weekend.
Lepakshi is about 140 km and Puttaparthi is about 160km from Bangalore. We need to take NH7 from Bangalore. About 40km before we enter puttaparthi, we need to take a left turn for Lepakshi from the main road. This is just after the Karnataka-AP Check Post. Lepakshi is almost 15km inside after taking the turn.
We started from Bangalore around 8am. As we stay near the old airport, we took the outer ring road, through the KR Puram fly over until Hebbal and from there, we continued on the NH7 route. For the first time, we had a look at the international airport which has come up on the outskirts of Bangalore. The airport was exactly 45km from old airport. Whew..Thats too long for comfort !
The ride was very pleasing as was the weather. The roads were pretty decent but for a few bad patches. We reached the AP RTO CheckPost in over 2 hours. From there, we had to take a left turn to Lepakshi. This was almost a single lane road and with very steep/blind curves, we couldn’t speed up much and it took us more than half an hour to cover those 15 km. But it was really worth the effort, as we reached the first halt, where the one of the world’s largest Nandi statue was present. The Nandi was really amazing and the park around was also well maintained. We clicked as many snaps as we could at this place !
The actual Lepakshi temple is 2-3 km further inside from the Nandi statue. There is parking space for some cars just at the entrance of the temple. So, we didn’t need to walk much like other places. One good thing we did after entering the temple was to hire a guide. Otherwise, our visit would have been very boring, as there is not much to see. We started knowing about the significance and history of each part of the temple from the guide, and it was really interesting. We spent almost an hour at the temple. There is a decent park just adjacent to the temple, where we could relax for a while too. We also found some neat rest rooms at one corner of the park, which we needed badly !
From Lepakshi, we again came back to the main road, as we didn’t want to get lost inside. Probably there might be some shortcut to puttaparthi, but we didn’t explore that. Once we came back to the main road, we had to proceed for almost 40km before taking a right turn for puttaparthi. We were heading to Prashanthi Nilayam, which is the Ashram of Satya Sai Baba. Just when we entered puttaparthi, it started raining so heavily that we just couldn’t get out of the car. Rain didn’t stop for atleast half an hour and our patience ran out. So, we settled for the first Hotel we found, on the main road, which was run by the AP State Tourism Dept. It was a very nice place to stay, but it was almost 1-2 km from the Ashram. We had a quick lunch and hoped the rain will stop. But, it was pouring continuously. We still tried to go into the ashram, instead of lazing in the Hotel room.
The Ashram was like a Township with a number of residential buildings, for mainly the devotees to stay. Right in the middle was a huge darshan hall, and inside this was a Sai Baba Mandir. When we met some devotees, it was really surprising to know that they have almost made this their home. Some of them were staying here for years, some for months and very few were there for just 1-2 days like us. We couldn’t go around much in the rain, so we went back to the Hotel.
When we were inside the Ashram, we got to know some interesting things. One good thing was, there was strict prohibition on giving bribes or putting money anywhere, even inside the temple . This was a great relief from our experience in other places, where people used to ask bribe at every stage and for every small thing. Another good thing was the way things were maintained in the Ashram. Everything was very clean and there were devotees working as volunteers at every corner of the Ashram. So, there was always someone watching and maintaining discipline.
Some things were not so appealing to us and especially to my family. One of them was keeping men and women separate at all the places. Men and women devotees are supposed to be allocated different rooms. Even at every temple, there is a partition for men and women. There is a separate queue for men and women for entering the Mandir and even some of the roads inside the Ashram was strictly restricted to only women. More surprising for us to know was, there are different timings for men and women to enter the Shopping Mall. I couldn’t go inside the Shopping Mall along with my wife, as only men were allowed during that time. Now, thats very frustrating to say the least.
After getting back to the Hotel, we thought of watching the IPL semifinal, which was going on between Chennai and Punjab. But, unfortunately there was no telecast of SetMax channel in the Hotel room and we missed it. I would have enjoyed the match, as I was supporting Chennai Team 🙂
Next day morning, we woke up early and were inside the Ashram by 7 am. There was luckily no rain, so we could go around the Ashram and see all the places. We wanted to go into the Mandir, but we were told that it will be open again only at 8:30am. The Museum was also supposed to be closed for maintenance work for couple of months. So, we headed back to the Hotel for some quick breakfast and went to the Ashram at around 9:30am. When we tried to enter the darshan hall, we were stopped as the time was over and were told to come in the evening when it will be open again. This was really surprising. We thought that the Mandir and darshan hall will be open throughout the day. My dad almost pushed inside telling those volunteers that we came all the way to Bangalore and will not be there till evening. Luckily we went in, but my wife and mother were outside, as this entrance was only for men ! They searched around for a women’s entrance and finally managed to get in the Mandir. Whew..So much for entering the Mandir, when Satya Sai Baba wasn’t even there in Puttaparthi. I wonder how strict they will be, where he is there.
After visiting the Mandir, we thought of going to another Museum, which was outside the Ashram and also visiting the Indoor Sports Centre. But, to our surprise, we got to know that the Museum is open only from 10:30am to 12pm and the Sports Centre from 11:00am to 12pm. That was very weird and we didn’t understand the logic behind such timings. Anyways, we took our car and went to the Museum which was at an altitude behind the Ashram. This was the biggest mistake of the day. The road was single lane until the Museum and there was just no parking space. It seems, people come there in an auto and hence they are not bothered. I struggled to take a reverse on that single lane, with the road at more that 45 degree altitude. I could have almost fallen off the road doing this. Even while I was doing all this circus, the Museum volunteer devotees didn’t even bother to help me or open the gate so that I could turn my car. This was even after requesting them. So much for the discipline instilled in them.
Finally, I managed to turn my car and that itself took so much time that we had to rush through the Museum within 20 min and head to the Indoor Sports Stadium. Here again, they were almost closing it down and my dad had to push through with us to enter the stadium. To our great relief, there was only a single entrance for men and women here. So, we could go around the place together and get back quickly, as they were closing off all the things.
There are huge wonderful buidlings on the Ashram road like the Hostels, Schools, Music Hall, Space Centre etc. All of them were closed for visitors. Space Centre was supposedly open only on one day of the week and it was not to be the day we were there. We started clicking snaps of all these buildings and started planning our trip back.
After a quick lunch, we started back to Bangalore so that we could reach before it becomes dark. On the way, we stopped at the amazing Medical University and Hospital. We were luckily allowed inside . It was a very serene place and we really cherished this place after the hectic running around since morning.
The drive back was very fast and we reached Bangalore in two hours time. After entering Bangalore, it took us almost one more hour to reach our house due to the traffic which started piling on near Hebbal.