Break From the Law travel blog

It is around 6 p.m., and I am writing today's entry while sitting at one of the tables on the overland truck. We will be stopping for the evening shortly, but I want to finish today's entry while my visit to the famed Hindu temple of Shri Venkateshavara in Tirupati is still fresh on my mind, especially I have no photographs from the experience to memorialize things. Cameras are strictly forbidden there.

This morning's visit to the Shri Venkateshavara temple proved to be unlike any other visit to the Hindu temples which I have experienced in India over the last several weeks. Because of the enormous crowds that visit the temple, there is a complex cue system in place as well as steel rails and virtual cages to prevent mobs of people from crushing one another. The elaborate processes set in place, coupled with the fact that this is allegedly the world’s largest pilgrimage site, had me envision pressed masses of humanity swarming a religious monument, as I had seen in pictures of Mecca with pilgrims circling the Kaaba. Given my virtually apocalyptic visions of the experience, today’s visit proved surprisingly low key when compared to my predictions.

The only portion of the visit where it seemed extraordinarily hectic turned out to be when we stood in line to walk through the small inner temple containing a black statue of the Hindu deity Vishnu. At this stage the masses of bodies pressed together seemed to push all of us along without any motion on our own part. Inside the inner temple workers would shove the Indian visitors past the idol within seconds of their standing in front of it. However, as the guards saw that we were obviously foreign tourists, they allowed us to proceed more slowly through the viewing room for a more thorough look.

In all honesty, I can't say visiting the temple today was actually fun. Being pressed up against a few hundred Hindus all cramming for a peak at a 50 centimer high black statue of Vishnu does not fall into my category of fun. Rather, I would characterize today's visit as a positive experience. In a country as distinct as India, walking the same steps as Hindu pilgrims gives one a sense of the deep religious nature of India and its very strong Hindu roots. As such, my visit proved well worth my time.

I am writing this as we are driving toward the city of Jeypore in the neighboring Indian state of Orissa. Jeypore is in the vicinity of a number of India’s rural indigenous tribal communities, known as adivasi. Unlike certain other areas of India, where the tribal communities have largely adapted a more Indian or regional identity, some of the adivasi groups in Orissa are purported to continue to adhere to a very traditional way of life. It will be interesting to spend a few days in this rarely touristed region of southern India. It is a long haul to get there, though, as we will be in transit for most of tomorrow and the day thereafter just to get there.

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