Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Amaravati and Nagarjunakonda, Andra Pradesh.

Hello all! As you might have noticed, it's starting to become a little difficult to keep up with the blog regularly. It has to do with internet access, as well as with a subtle change in my way of thinking about the trip... we have now been traveling for more than two months, and the initial excitement over every thing new is transforming into something a little more subdued. There's still a lot of wonder, but it's quieter, and more complex, as David and I see things within a deeper and deeper context. It has become harder for me to synthesize places/people/experiences in just a few thoughts, and therefore harder to write on the blog.

In any case, the following two blogs are a bit of a catch up to where David and I are right now (which, by the way, is back to Chennai.) I have divided them in order to make them less daunting to read.

David and I reached Chennai (also known as Madras) on the morning of March 3rd, which also happened to be my birthday (26th). As a treat for the celebrations, we checked in to the Taj Coremandel, a beatiful hotel in the heart of Chennai. I had a really really great time on my birthday. After all our traveling, a night in such a lovely hotel was INCREDIBLE! David and I appreciated every detail: from the comfortable and super-accessorized bedroom, to the politeness of everyone we spoke with, the lack of bargaining, and, most wonderful of surprises, the Hotel's ITALIAN restaurant (Prego), run by a Chef from Milano (Giovanna). We had dinner there, complete with birthday cake, red Italian wine (Mark, for your interest: Rosso di Montalcino) and Polaroid snapshot. It was awesome.

Spending a night as the Cormandel was incredible...and also kind of a mistake, lulling us into a false sense of calmness and cleanliness. We had to snap out of it pretty quickly, as we spent the rest of week traveling all around Andra Pradesh (the state immediately north of Tamil Nadu and Chennai.) On March 4th we took an autorickshaw...

to Chennai's central train station...

...and after a 7 hour train ride, reached Vijayawada, a city on the mouth of the River Krishna (considered something of an equivalent to the Gange in the North. In this bustling town, we spent a nite in the dreary Santi Hotel, made all the more unattractive by our memories of Chennai...

(Super Luxurious Birthday Room.)

(Siva Hotel made to look good by our bed spreads.)

(This photo is the highlight of our stay in Vijayawada. Good colors.)
Luckly we were in Vijayawada only for one night: we used the city as a departure point to visit the aaancient Buddhist sites of Amaravati and Nagarjunakonda in Andra Pradesh. Both these sites are really important to the development of Buddhism in India, dating back to the 1st-2nd centuries. In 2006, H. H. Dalai Lama gave a Kalachakra (special initiation) in Amaravati, and now they are building a giant Buddha there. It was cool to see a contemporary monument to the Buddha being made, and it made it feel like Buddhism still has a strong presence in India. (It's interesting to think that now, with all the Tibetan refugees here, Tibetan Buddhism is indeed very alive in India. The religion is also being shaped by it's new geographical surroundings: for instance, now vegetarianism is an option for monks, who could not do without meat in the Hymalayas and the Tibetan Plateau.)

(Giant Buddha in Amaravati.)

(The holes in the feet and the belly are as big as regular doors. The scaffholding is all made of bamboo. We were told that the painting is being postponed because we are in election time...)

The main attraction of Amaravati are the ruins of a stupa dating back to the 2nd century BCE. The stupa is a beautiful site, and the museum right next to it has a lovely reconstruction, as well as some great pieces of art that used to decorate the stupa.

(This is one of the earliest stupas in India, built during a time when Buddhism was flourishing. It is also a very large stupa.)

(Reconstruction of the stupa. All of the surface area was decorated with bass-relief.)

(The Amaravati Museum was delightful: spacious, well organized and lit, and pleasant to walk through. Some of my favorite art dated to the 2nd Century ACE. Unfortunately we weren't allowed to take pics, but here's a sample from the internet. It's all limestone carving. We hear that some of the best pieces from this site are at the British Museum in London.)

Amaravati was very pleasant. We got to Nagarjunakonda on the same day, to discover a pretty rough "resort" (which made Santi look clean and comfortable.) This was the first time since we've been here that I could smell our mattresses: it wasn't pleasant.

The second not-so-great surprise was that the museum we had come to visit (which is situated on an island in the middle of a large lake created by a damn- Nagarjuna Sagar) was closed on Friday. Things didn't look great, but David and I decided to take a boat over to the island anyway, in order to look at the sites around the museum (a standing sculpture of a Buddha, the reconstructed remains of a temple, the ruins of a couple of stupas...) At the "boat launch" we discovered, after an hour of waiting in vain, that boats only run with a minimum of 50 passangers. As the museum was closed for the day, David and I were about to pack our things and leave Nagarjunakonda behind when... the classroom miracle happened!! A group of more than 50 children and their teachers were there for a school trip and we were able to make the trip to the island thanks to their school trip!

(Making our way to the island.)

(Succesful viewing of the standing Buddha.)

(Reconstructed temple at Nagarjunakonda.)

(A special flower on the island.)

(Bodhi tree planted by H. H. Dalai Lama in 2006. The sign has something very humorous about it...)

(Looking through the windows of the closed museum. We actually sighted quite a few objects that will make a future trip all the more exciting...)

Having made it to the island, and desperate to leave our "resort" behind, David and I left on March 6th and made our way to Hyderbad, the capital of Andra Pradesh. I have run out of time for now, but there will soon be another entry on our doings in the capital and our return to Chennai. (David and I are on our way to celebrate Holi with a new acquaintance and her friends. It's so exciting: we bought white clothes for the purpose, which we will definitely have to through out after the celebrations :-)


  1. wonderful blog.......I have never been to Amaravati but know the material so very well and like you Bici it is amongst my most favorite both for the style and the wonderful narratives.
    smelling mattressed sounds gross but you are seasoned travel wallas at this stuff now so i imagine you handled it with humor and I hope some wine!
    it was lovely to talk to you both at the bus station in Hydrabad , though we did have a little trepidation about you getting on a bus at night but clearly not warrented.
    your birthday Bici sounded dreamily wonderful and romantic and how lovely to be clean...
    another big hug for your birthday I am so glad we spoke that day.
    love you both, Margot


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