Who said business trips cannot be fun? Well if someone ever say that in front of you, please do pass my best regards, either by foot or with your fist. All you need to do is Google & consider some time for yourself while booking the tickets.
For me, the fun element in my recent trip to Vizag a.k.a Visakhapatnam happened accidently. Since the time i missed my Chennai to Mumbai flight, few months back, i have been extra cautious in planning my travel. So i booked the early morning flight to Vizag from Hyderabad and landed in this beautiful coastal town by 8:30 A.M.
The airport was smaller than my office building, but the view outside was stunning than the so called ultra modern designer buildings in Gurgaon. There were hills in front of me, and hills all around me. There was not a single building, more than two stories, in the vicinity.
I didn’t expect this from one of the most potential tier-2 town in India, so i asked my driver (& my guide) Ramana, “Where is the city?”. To my relief, he said its some 20 odd kilometers away. I felt like a kid who won a bet, but again i was wrong, the city was smaller and less messier than what i had anticipated!
pic (below): The view as you come out of airport with Ramana, my driver in the left corner
However, as we neared the city, i realised that the city is yet to wake up and so would the retailer, whom i was supposed to meet. So i googled for a religious destination nearby, as i guessed it would be the only place that would be open at this hour. To my luck, Simhachalam was the first option. And i asked Ramana to turn around to Simhachalam, some 19 odd kilometers from where we were.
Simhachala Temple is one of the very few temples worshipping Narasimha (one of the 10 incarnations of Lord Vishnu). I am still confused as to why they call the deity Varaha Narasimha (both Varaha & Narasimha are two different incarnations of Lord Vishnu as per my limited knowledge). Maybe one of you can help me on this.
I am fond of south Indian temples because of their spacious construction & the sacred chants which is more like music for my ears. The idea of visiting a 11th century temple and that too, one which is dedicated to one of my favourite mythological characters excited me. The drive uphill to the temple was scenic and smooth. We were quite early to avoid the pilgrim traffic.
You can read more about Simhachalam here:
Two interesting facts about Simhachalam: the deity is always covered by sandalwood paste and would only be visible to public for 12 hours in a year. Also, this temple is probably the second most richest temple in India.
pic (above); the large tree in the parking lot of the temple, which i guess would be some hundred odd years old ,surrounded by a small market
Uphill (after paying a toll tax of Rs.30), we reached a bus stand in front of the temple, from where, regular bus service happens to Vizag. Temple authority also run a bus for devotees from the Simhachalam town (downhill) to the temple, for a nominal cost (source: Ramana). There was a huge parking lot with some shops & a huge tree (pic above). The tree alone made me happy, something i miss in the temples up north.
It was time for breakfast and i had this (pic below) along with the devotees from a fast food joint & it was yummy.
Pic (above): the fast food joint were i had a yummy breakfast & coffee for some 20 bucks
(below): the market next to the bus stand
The temple was some 100 odd steps uphill from the bus stand and there was construction happening all around, with adequate parking space and decently maintained toilets. I removed my shoes and left all my valuables, except for some money and mobile phone, in my car. You have facilities to leave your shoes near the temple if your travel by bus. Temple authorities were constantly warning the devotees against pickpockets & thieves.
As i walked uphill, i saw a group of people performing a religious ritual (pic below). They lit a torch and shouted their prayers, people around them paid respect by bowing to the fire. My mind slowly woke up and i sense of holiness in the air.
Uphill, there was a huge mandap (pic below) which looked like a new addition. There was a huge rath (pic below) next to the mandap which i am sure would be used in procession of some other deity during festival season, as the Narasimha idol is supposedly fixed onto the ground with its foot beneath the ground.
Pic (below): the mandap
pic(below): The gate to the interior of the temple, now used as the exit gate
pic (below): you can donate a cow if you wish to
After roaming around the temple, i decided to go in. There are two entry gates, one for Rs. 20/- and another for Rs.100/-, latter is obviously a VIP entrance. I chose the VIP pass to save time.
Inside the temple, photography is not allowed, but i managed to take the picture of the exterior of this century old temple.
pic: (above) at the entrance where you offer coconut for the deity (below) the century old mandap which is cordoned from any visitors
Inside the temple, you have to pay an additional Rs.100/- to go near the sandalwood covered idol of Lord Narasimha to offer your prayers, which i was not very interested in. Still, i stood there for few seconds, amidst the chaos and prayers of the followers of Lord Narasimha, marvelled by the 11th century architecture in black stone. It looked more gothic and reminded me of a temple i have visited in Pondicherry (now Puducherry).
pic (below): the back side of the 11th Century temple
Inside the temple i received a small banana as prasadam and outside the temple, we were offered the blessings of the ‘Lord with Lion’s head’, in the form of lemon rice (below).
pic (below): prasadam – consumable blessings of the Lord
pic: (above) the exit which should have been the entrance; (below) a signboard on the exit which says “Offering or sharing of food is the best donation (and surest way for moksha)
pic (below): A view of Simhachalam town from the top
I am not a Hindu nor am I a believer of Lord Narasimha, yet, as I walked out of the temple, i had a certain sense of inner peace. I believe it is the people around me, with their honest, selfless beliefs that vibrates a positive energy inside the temple. Or is it the 100 year old architecture, which stood witness to many wars & prosperous moments? I wouldn’t know for I am just a common man, a wanderer.
Epilogue: I was happy that i visited Simhachalam for the century old temple talks history in every stone. But without any proper signage, explaining the history of various structures inside the temple, i was more lost than thrilled. This place is clearly prepared for religious travellers and not for tourists. If you ever travel to Simhachala temple (which i recommend you should), prepare yourself with whatever you can find in internet. Bon Voyage!