We spent the day we arrived in the charming city of Rajahmundry just walking around and absorbing the atmosphere, then decided we wanted to get on a bus the next day to Kakinada, to see a bit of the Godavari delta region. We like to have a focus for our excursions, so we chose the ancient temple of Sri Bhavananarayana Swamy. It’s located six kilometers away from the center of Kakinade, so after getting a late breakfast of idly, sambar and chutney near the Kakinada bus station, we grabbed a rickshaw and headed to the bus station.
It turns out the temple is located in what amounts to a suburban area. You can still see how rural it once was, and there are still tilled fields, water buffalo and low-slung palm-thatched buildings. But there are also streets lined with tall houses and shops, and rickshaws, motorbikes, motor scooters and cars honk their way down the road.
The temple itself, dedicated to Vishnu, is both ancient and newly restored. You can read about the legends and history of the temple on this web page, which states that the temple is 1,500 years old. I’ve also seen assertions that it’s 500 years old, 1,100 years old, and 1,600 years old. The locals I spoke with there (including a primary school teacher working in the little school next door) all shrugged, smiled and said, “It’s old.” But you can tell from the texture of the black-red rock of its walls, and the erosion of sculptures and carved pillars facing the elements, that the temple has been standing for hundreds of years.
I mentioned the restorations earlier. On top of the original stone is finely wrought plasterwork sculpture, painted a chaste creamy white. Some of the gopurams have been gilded, and gleam in the sunlight. The cream and gold seem like they’d clash with the rough original stone walls, but it all blends together and is quite beautiful.
When we first entered the temple about 10:30 AM, there were very few visitors. We took our time, first entering the main temple and walking around the primary shrine, enjoying the quiet atmosphere, the stone carving and the unusual, colorful designs painted here and there on the floor. It was so quiet that little chipmunks chased each other across one of the stone walls, ignoring the visiting humans.
People began to arrive, and as they made their offerings, the priests chanted in several parts of the temple, bells rung, and thick clouds of incense were released into the air.
I walked around the temple grounds, still inside the walls that separate the temple compound from the surrounding village and major road just outside. Two young women coming the opposite way, accompanied by a little girl, stopped me for some conversation. This has been happening quite a bit since we came to Rajahmundry. I get the feeling that few foreigners come here, and the combination of people’s natural friendliness, and their curiosity, has led to some nice conversations.
This one was especially fun. The two young ladies asked me lots of questions about my profession, the purpose of my travel in India, was that foreign man my husband, do we have children, and so on. I returned the favor, and discovered the two girls are sisters, about 18 and 19 years old. They both study computer science, and after taking their three-year degrees, they both plan to complete graduate studies, though one of the sisters also said she really wants to be an airline attendant. The little girl with them is their niece, and in exchange for the girls teaching me how to say “How are you?” (literally, “Are you safe?”) and “I am fine” in Telegu, I taught them “niece” for “sister’s child,” and “nephew” just for good measure. Soon I was being pulled along by the hand, and introduced to two brothers, two sisters, the girls’ father and a brother-in-law.
All the family members were so warm and friendly, even with their limited or non-existent English. I am kind of bowled over by how much friendliness we meet with in this region. It’s not like Tamil people aren’t friendly; we had plenty of delightful conversations during our six weeks in Tiruvannamalai. But people there are accustomed to foreigners, and whether they’ve had good experiences with foreigners, negative experiences or both, they do have ideas and opinions about foreigners. The people we are meeting seem to have rarely, if ever, met anyone from outside this region. So we seem to elicit curiosity and friendliness, and in some cases, real excitement. I get the feeling some people we’ve met go home and say, “Today I met some people from the USA, and I talked with them!” It makes me smile.
The girls actually did me quite a nice favor, too. I knew soon I’d need to find a place to answer the body’s needs, and I hadn’t yet been able to spot anything that looked like a ladies’ toilet. The girls asked if I needed anything, and I asked if they knew where I could use what they called “the washroom.” No, they said, they didn’t know, and looked disturbed. Well, it wasn’t urgent, so I sent them on their way – it was time for them to have lunch with their family, I knew – so I went and sat with Alan, who was getting ready to settle for a nap in the shade of a small canopied plinth.
Suddenly the sisters emerged again. “Come,” they said, took me by the hand, and led me out of the temple. I realized they’d found the washroom. They led me to the gate of a school right next to the temple, and introduced me to one of the teachers. I think she was the head teacher: her English was excellent, and she was beautifully dressed in a green and gold silk sari. We had a short and interesting conversation about the temple (about how old it is, who it’s dedicated to), and the school (just 35 students, all primary age – lucky kids!), then she invited me to use the washroom.
When I came out again, the teacher asked me, as everyone does, why we are in India, and why in Kakinada. I told her we are visiting South India, and spending time particularly in temples. The teacher said something I think others feel too: “We are so proud of our India, and proud to have you visiting us.”
We left the temple after a while, and wandered across the road to the huge tank. You can’t really tell from the photo, but a main road runs between the big gopuram and the tank. Yesterday, there were a lot of black-clad devotees bathing in the tank. The black clothing, whether lungis and upper cloths or jeans and shirts, indicate that the wearer is an Ayyappa devotee fulfilling his 40-day period of fasting and abstinence before making a pilgrimage to Sabarimala in Kerala.
Speaking of abstinence, we were surprised to spot some erotic sculpture as we focused our cameras to get the details of decorations on the large gopuram.
We walked down a small lane beside the temple, and surveyed it from a short distance, enjoying the contrast between green field, dark old stone and cream and gilded gopurams. A lady standing in front of her house wandered over to talk with us. Sita didn’t have much English, and I have now about 10 words of Telegu, but she seemed to understand a bit of Tamil (or else some words are the same in Telegu and Tamil). She showed us that her house stands on quite a bit of land, and she has three water buffalos she keeps for their milk. I think she was telling us she sells their milk.
Here’s Sita’s house, with the water buffalo standing to the left, and the view of the temple she enjoys from her front door.
And just for fun, here’s the silly selfie we took together.
To get to Kakinada from Rajahmundry, we went to the APSRTC bus station. Unlike Tamil Nadu, where you often buy your ticket on the bus, here you buy the ticket from an office.
The trip to Kakinada took about 90 minutes, and we drove through some extraordinarily pretty country. We even saw a bit of the Andhra backwaters (canals used for transportation) that the state government is promoting as a tourism feature, like the Kerala backwaters. Some of these canals were full of lotuses, blooming in white, electric purpley blue (like an artichoke thistle), and here and there, deep red. The fact that there was also a fair amount of garbage in some of these canals, it seemed to give point to the symbolism of the lotus: exquisite beauty, rooted in the mud.
Once we got to Kakinada, it was easy to get a rickshaw to the temple. And just as easy to walk to the road three hours later and hire another one to take us back to the bus stand.
All in all, it made a good day trip, but left little time to do anything other than visit the temple. Next time, I’d like to stay overnight.