My childhood days

I have travelled to more than 28 countries, and the place closest to my heart and soul is my hometown, Koppal.  Koppal is  located in Karnataka State, India. Even though I was not born in Koppal, this place is  significant to me. During my childhood Koppal was a small town with a population of less than 50,000 people, you could walk from one corner of the town to the other end in less than hour. There were hardly any vehicles on the streets of Koppal everyone either walked or bicycled in the town. There were horse driven carts  called Tanga in Kannada, which took people around the town. Our only mode of transport to the school was the Tanga and 10-15 students crammed in this small Tanga. The lucky ones got to sit on the edge of the Tanga and I was one of them, the last one to be picked up.

My life was very simple growing up, we didn't have television, nor any electronic gadgets. The only entertainment was playing outdoors and running around in the streets.  We didn't have a telephone at home, and only 5 houses in the whole town had their own telephone. There were no public payphones as it was unheard during those days. It was safe to play outdoors even late in the evenings as everyone knew everyone in this small town. When my parents were looking for me and my brother, they would ask people walking past the house to inform us to return home if they happened to see us somewhere on the streets. I spent most of my spare time at my grandparents house, often with my cousins. My cousins were much older than I, but I accompanied them to the markets as my grandfather wouldn't allow my female cousins to go out on their own. My eldest uncle looked after my grandparents and had a big family and they all stayed at the ancestral home. My grandfather was well-known in the community and he had a lot of visitors everyday, and no one went home without having food. My aunt always made sure to cook extra everyday as she knew that there would be many visitors dropping in unannounced.

Our ancestral home is still in Koppal and currently no one lives there.  Its not a modern abode as we the younger generations long for modern, contemporary and sophisticated houses. The ancestral house was warm, elegant, relaxed and foremost very inviting. Our ancestral home is a traditional and beautiful hand crafted home, with wooden doors and windows. There were beautiful handcrafted teak pillars inside the home, and it had a grand entrance. Unfortunately due to town planning we lost the front part of the house and we were all devastated to see it being torn down by a bulldozer. Our once a grand ancestral house is now a vacant home haunted by old memories longing to be called a home again.

 

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Our ancestral home in Koppal

My grandfather was very protective of his grandkids and I still remember one incident that my mum reminds me of again and again. I was 9 years old,  and it was school time and as usual I was  ready to be picked by the horse cart. I hadn't done my homework  for one of the subjects. My teacher was Miss Isabella, and I was sure that I would be punished. She was the strictest teacher in the school and everyone was scared of her. I was feeling anxious about going to the school that day. We had a another floor, it was rarely used since it was infested with bats. I sneaked in there and hid under a bed so that I could feel safe from Madam Isabella.  The tanga came on time as usual, and the tangawalla (carriage driver) didn't find me standing in front of the house, and without informing my mother he drove off.

My mum always came to school with my brother's and my lunch everyday. We always sat under the tree and had lunch with other friends and their mothers. When I didn't show up for lunch, my mum was worried as my brother and friends mentioned that they haven't seen me at the school on that day. She immediately contacted the school headmistress Ms. Mary Vaz  and she checked the school attendance and the register was marked absent. The school principal re-checked year 6 and both the sections and confirmed that I was not in the school. There had been an incident few months earlier,  a small boy was kidnapped and taken to another town to be sent to a big city, but luckily he escaped and was returned back to his parents. Nobody is sure if the story was true or a made up story to get away from school. My mum panicked and  didn't know what to do. She immediately returned home and informed my dad and he searched our premises. We have a huge factory and huge warehouses located next to the house, so he sent everyone working at the factory to look for me. I could hear all the conversations from the first floor but was too nervous to go down as I was afraid it was too late  and would get into trouble. My mum sent the factory mechanic to my grandparents house to see if I was there instead of going to school. My grandfather found out that I was missing, so he immediately arrived at my parents place. He saw my mum crying and immediately summoned the Commissioner of Police and the town police superintendent. They arrived as soon as they could and a search party was sent to search for me. I could hear and see from the window, many people gathering in front of the house.  After hearing the news my relatives started pouring in and also some politicians, one of whom is my uncle, a well known politician. The news spread throughout the town and since our house was located on the main street of the town I could see people standing in groups and chatting amongst themselves. I was pretty sure that I would be in trouble once they found me. There was one way I could get out of the house, but was  risky. It was the balcony outside.   I wasn't worried that someone would see me, but outside our balcony there were lot of monkeys hanging around. They lived there most of the time, and they were a nuisance to the neighbourhood as they stole fruits and vegetables from the vendors. So there was no chance I could venture out, and I was sure the monkeys wouldn't allow me to pass to get onto my neighbours roof and then use the back alleyway to go to school. I had already made up a story to tell everyone, that I was kidnapped and ran from the clutches of the kidnapper. My plans didn't work, so I had to sit under the bed and think of something else. It was mid-afternoon and more and more relatives started arriving. There must have hundreds of people outside the house and the factory was shut down as the factory workers went looking for me.

It was almost late afternoon. One of my cousins would smoke in secret, as he would get into trouble if my grandfather ever found out. So he decided to come upstairs to smoke, as he was climbing the stairs, he spotted me hiding under the bed. He immediately called my mum and asked her to join him on the stairs. She saw me hiding under the bed, instead of feeling happy and joyful, she was feeling very embarrassed and regretful that she forgot to check the house first. The search party was called off and then everyone went back to their daily routines. I still had to go to the school that afternoon and guess what, Ms. Isabelle's class was the last class during that day and still got punished for not doing my homework. The plans of hiding didn't work and embarrassed my parents. The one things I learnt that day was how protective my environment was and the support received from my extended family. I never attempted this again as I didn't wanted to embarrass my parents.

 

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The first floor of our house where I was hiding 

 

 

An old saying goes “ಕಾಲ ಇದ್ದರೆ ಹಂಪಿ ನೋಡ ಬೇಕು”; translated from Kannada, “If you have legs, visit Hampi” an UNESCO World Heritage site

When I first heard the phrase  “ಕಾಲ ಇದ್ದರೆ ಹಂಪಿ ನೋಡ ಬೇಕು”; translated from Kannada, “If you have legs, visit Hampi” (Author – Anonymous); I couldn’t understand what it really meant until I experienced it  myself  and found the real meaning of the phrase. An UNESCO world heritage site, Hampi is located in Karnataka State in India and 50 km from my hometown Koppal. This is one place I must have visited countless times during my childhood.  Whenever we had relatives and cousins visiting us at Koppal, the first place we would take them for a day trip was Hampi. My mum packed delicious home cooked food and we kids made sure to pack our cricket bat and ball so we could have a quick match after lunch.

The journey to Hampi took more than 2 hours by bus and we changed at Hospet as there were no direct connections from my town. My cousins, brother and I always sat at the back of the bus so we could have a bit of fun along the way so the 2 hour long trip passed quickly. We didn’t have an iPad, or personal audio system nor video games,  the one thing we did was to chat.

The Vijayanagara Kingdom was founded during the early 1330 AD and flourished for more than 300 years until it was destroyed by Deccan Sultanates. The beautiful city of Hampi which was once a rich and vibrant capital city of the Vijayanagara Kingdom was ruined by the Sultanates. They destroyed and defaced the statues and the temples and the damage to these beautiful monuments is still visible. The main bazaar or the market place in Hampi was a vibrant marketplace where one could buy precious gems and stones just like we buy vegetables today.  There was no gap between the rich and poor in this Kingdom and every citizen enjoyed the prosperity of the Kingdom.

After arriving in Hampi, the first place we always visited was Sri Virupaksha Temple, a Shiva temple situated on the banks of Tungabadra river. Once we had paid our respects at the temple and being attacked by monkeys after they stole coconuts and bananas from our basket it was time to head off to the local cafe. We had a nice sumptuous South Indian breakfast and my favourite dish was Idli Vada Sambhar and my brother’s was Puri Bhaji. It was time to start the sightseeing by foot as there were no buses or taxis that took us around the monuments. The only way we could cover all the places was by foot, so the term “If you have legs, visit Hampi” made a lot of sense. We started the long walk along the banks of Tungabhadra river through the rocky terrain as there were no proper paths. It was the only way to see the real Hampi as most of the monuments were not easily accessible by vehicle. The temperature during summer peaked around 40 degrees celsius.

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After walking over 10 km we took a break at Purandaradasa Mantapa which is situated near the banks of the river. It is huge open temple with no walls but beautiful carved pillars built from local stone.  While my mum and aunties were busy arranging lunch, we kids took the opportunity to swim and play in the river. After a heavy lunch it was time for a quick 2-3 overs cricket match while my mum and aunties took some rest before we started the next leg of the journey.  The cricket match always ended in a draw as somehow there was often  a complaint that one of us was cheating, or the umpire wasn’t fair etc., None of us would talk to each other and we maintained a distance between us when we walked. It only lasted for an hour, then we were back to being friends and forgot why we had the arguments in the first place.

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We covered most of the monuments during the day and also learnt about the historical significance of Hampi. I always carried a small book to note down the places we visited  so I could write to my pen friend Mikhael in Sweden about my visit to Hampi.

After a long and tiring day we stopped at a small town near Hampi, Kamlapur where we had tea and snacks at a roadside tea stall. We all sat on the bench outside the stall and watched the world go by. It was the last stop for the majority of the tourists and also the transport hub to nearby towns.  The bus trip back to Koppal felt long and exhausting but the memories of the day lasted a lifetime.

If you like to see more of Hampi photos, please click on the following link https://goo.gl/photos/61uy6JofsY4FsaGZ8 

This article was inspired by my fellow writer and childhood friend Ms. Geeta Canpadee in her article titled ” Hampi, Rome of the East”.

How travelling pushed me out of my comfort zone

Today we take most things for granted in life and along with that is the technology. The internet era has  helped us immensely with information and facts. Most of us plan and book tickets, hotels, tourist attractions, insurance etc on the internet and confirmations are instant. If we get lost in a new city, some of us turn to our smartphones  so we can access the location where we are and where we want to go rather looking at a map or asking a local for directions. In this age of globalisation, we visit the fast food chains in a foreign country such as Mc Donalds, international cafe such as Starbucks as we don’t want to take risks dining in a local restaurant or cafe or support the locals.  Today travelling has become easier and comfortable compared to the first time I travelled solo.

I have been lucky to witness both the eras before and after globalisation, internet, smartphones and the jet age. Planning was especially important before the era of internet as there were limited modes of transport especially in India. The air network in India was still in its infancy and there were only dozen domestic airports and four international airports. The rail network was well established and expanding as it was one of the cheapest modes of transport in India especially for inter-state travel.

I was 21 years old, a recent commerce graduate and running a successful cement franchise in my hometown Koppal and some hefty savings up my sleeve and started planning a solo trip. There was no access to travel books nor information was readily available. I spent few months enquiring with few family friends who had travelled to north India and getting their advice and the places I should be visiting. I meticulously  noted down all the details in my new little note pad and started planning my first solo trip. It was time to book my railway tickets and so travelled to a nearest city Hubli which was 120 km from Koppal even though there was a railway network in my town but there was no facility to book and reserve long distance trains. The computerised reservation system was still a decade away so the reservation system was manual and each station had a limited seats available. I anxiously waited in the queue for almost 5 hours and when my turn came and to my surprise the seats were all booked for the next 3 months. The only option was travelling to Madras, now Chennai, which is located south of Koppal around 600 km which took more than 2 days to travel by bus and then I started my journey by train to Delhi located in the north of India which took more than 3 days from Chennai in peak summer and with no air-conditioning. Yes, it was a long detour.

I was excited but at the same time nervous to go solo on this big adventure. I wasn’t sure if I had made the right decision to travel solo but the first step was taken and there was no looking back. The journey had started and slowly the contentment overtook anxiety and satisfaction overtook my nerves. The first step was hardest but as soon I started taking more steps I felt comfortable and slowly started winning the battles to overcome shyness, anxiety and the fear of travelling alone.

After my first solo trip the exhilaration to travel kicked in and I took the opportunity to travel to other parts of India and covered most of the northern, southern and western part of India. I overcame my anxiety to travel solo and never looked back. I conquered my fear of travelling solo by taking the plunge to travel in my early 20s.

When was the last time you travelled solo or how did you conquer your fear to do anything?

 

 

 

My home-town stands still for this once a year event

As kids sleep with one eye open on Christmas Eve in the West to make sure that Santa has visited their house and brought their  presents, we kids at Koppal start getting excited in the month of January as the preparations for the once a year fair are underway. There is huge excitement in the school as we tee up with friends and plan a day so we could visit the fair. We made sure that we had enough money to go on the rides, buy snacks and toys. I remember receiving around a $1 from my parents which at the time was generous amount of money.  My grand parents also gave us money to spend at the fair, it was around $2 but the accountant in me which I must have embedded from my family genes made sure that $2 went straight into my savings bank which was a secret place under a stack of my clothes, no one ever discovered my hiding place and even I used to forget that I hid the money there.

We used to have a great fun at the fair and went there many times during the 15 day event. We went with friends one night, with our parents another night to buy us the toys we wanted and then another trip was organised by my grand parents along with cousins, aunts and uncles.

Once the school holidays were over I was very excited to be back at the school so I could tell my friends about the toys I bought from the fair and for the next few days all we talked was about the fair and the fun and excitement we all had.

This was one of the simple pleasures I still remember and how simple our lives were as kids. We didn’t have many expectations and the only thing we thought of was fun with friends and family.

The Koppal Chariot festival popularly known as Koppal Jatra or Koppal fair is one of the biggest annual events that happens in my hometown Koppal located in South west part of India. Approximately 500,000 people attend this annual event and celebrate over a period of 12-15 days. Various religious activities take place before the start of the fair.  In the modern millennium of new technology one can witness a true devotion among the devotees towards Lord Sri Gavisiddeshwar.

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The Chariot beautifully decorated for its annual Rath Yatra
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Lord Sri Gavisiddeshwar Temple

 

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The crowd waiting in anticipation for the arrival of the Chariot or Rath Yatra

The citizens of Koppal and the surrounding  villages come together to contribute towards the fair and the Sri Gavisiddeshwar Math (temple), the donations take many forms; such as money, vegetables, pure Ghee, groceries and volunteering their time. Many devotees contribute their time, working voluntarily during the 15 day fair, approximately 5,000 people contribute their time during the fair.  Many volunteers work around the clock with the intention of serving the devotees with devotion and service with a smile. An orderly chaos exists but everything gets done with few interruptions and no complaints.

The fair starts with the Chariot or Rath being drawn onto the grounds of the temple. It takes place on the evening of the third day after the full moon in the month of January. The devotees start to gather so that prime spots can be secured to witness the blessing of the Chariot or Rath Yatra  five to six hours before the Chariot or Rath is drawn.  An estimated 500,000 people assembled in January 2017 and I was fortunate to be one of them, witnessing this crowd in a photo or a video doesn’t bring justice to this event as one has to be present to see the immense wave of people gathered on the grounds of the temple. When the Chariot or Rath is drawn by a group of volunteers on the grounds of the temple, the devotees throw dried dates and tiny bananas towards the Chariot or Rath, which is a tradition dating back thousands of years. It’s been said that if the dates or the bananas reach the inside of the Chariot or Rath, your wishes will come true. So the devotees try to make sure that their offerings reach the inside of the Chariot or Rath.  If you happen to catch either the dates or bananas it’s considered as a blessing by the Lord himself.  The whole event lasts for around 30-45 minutes. After the event Prasad (food) is served to all the devotees. An estimated 200,000-300,000 people are served Prasad on the first day of the Fair. The food service on the first few days of the festival lasts until the next morning.  The volunteers make sure that everyone is served and no one goes home without taking the Prasad. The chefs in the kitchen work round the clock and women from various villages travel all the way to Koppal to help clean and chop the vegetables.

Four of my childhood friends who live in Koppal play a major role in organising this big event. They divide the responsibilities between them so that the tasks are shared. Their selfless sacrifice and commitment before and after the fair is extraordinary. I was fortunate to be at 2017 fair and lent my hand for the first few days of the event as unfortunately I had to be back in the Perth before the fair ended.

The next fair will be on January 3rd 2018 and you are welcome to join us to witness this once a year event firsthand and behind the scenes tours can be organised. You can take part in this great event by becoming a vounteer and return home with a guaranteed satisfaction as a parting gift and stories to tell.