A beautiful memory called Nanakramguda

I do not normally lament about changing times and unrecognizable landscapes in the city. I take things in my stride, and hate it when others constantly point out and cry over how beautiful things used to be and how they had changed for the worse. As they say, change is the only constant in life. So why crib when there's nothing we can do about things?

But I write this post despite this attitude. I write this mainly to capture the memory of a pristine, beautiful place that I always loved, before the clear picture I have in my mind fades.

Trip 1: August 1987

I first heard of Nanakramguda temple when I was working in ICRISAT during mid eighties. Those were days when people packed food and went on picnics to quiet places with no facilities, and our department chose this temple for a picnic one time. I missed this outing, but subsequently went with Vijay on a bike after we decided to get married. He was to leave for Paris on a 2-year study leave the next day, we had just got engaged, and we needed some quiet time to comprehend what we had just done! The drive on the Old Bombay Road was filled with greenery, rocks and an occasional building or two. It was always nice to see the Gir family's old classic houses and much further, the huge compound wall with orange striations and huge doors. On the right we would see, high above, with gardens at many levels, a bungalow in which one of the ICRISAT scientists lived, and we used to hear of how he tried to hang-glide from his terrace and landed in some bushes! Our bus sometimes used to take us on this route, and we loved it for its scenic views and for the fact that we reached earlier than usual because there was so little traffic on this road!

We knew that we had to turn left at the place where we saw a spectacular row of rain trees standing in front of majestic rock formations. When we took this left turn, the road was kaccha, with rocks on the right and a water body on the left. The entire road was filled with grass, wild plants, some fields and rocks, and was dotted with palm trees - a sight both of us loved. We drove on and on, and soon, came to the Nanakramguda village - a quiet village with a small row of shops, a couple of small temples, hens and goats walking around aimlessly. Here we stopped, to ask for directions, and were told that we should drive on straight, and that the road would end in the temple.

More fields, palm trees and rocks later, we were at the Nankramguda temple. It had large old trees in its compound - tamarind, silk cotton, neem, peepal, temple trees. The temple itself was simple, the vigraham of Ranganathaswamy beautiful, the chariot unassuming but artistic. More than anything else, it was peaceful and there was not a sound apart from chirping birds. There was no one there except a purohit. As we sat below the tree outside, the purohit came and gave us a roasted sitaphal to eat. We never knew that sitaphal was roasted...it was delicious! We later came across some boys roasting sitaphals crouching around a fire they had made. We also found some broken beer bottles. 

Beyond the temple wall on the left, we could see lots of trees, fields and more rock formations. Except for a cowherd and his cattle, there was no one there. We climbed up the rocks and sat there for a while, at peace and happy, as we looked at the rocks and the clouds - and a common future together.

On our way back, to the right of the temple, crossing the uneven path filled with grass, wild flowers and bushes, we went to see the old baobab tree with the massive trunk. It stood all alone, companion-less, and its gnarled bare branches seemed to be speaking to the sky. It was my first sighting of this great creation of god. I remember telling others about it later, "The trunk is so massive that it will take thirty people to stand holding hands to encircle it!"

Beyond the baobab were acacias growing wild, I think, and a bund that we rode up and drove on for a while. It seemed to be a poop spot, and  seemed to go nowhere, so we turned back and made our way back to the city.

Trip 2: July1988: 

Vijay came back for a 3-month break, and we were to get married on the 27th of August that year. The wedding preparations were on, and the one thing both of us wanted was a simple wedding with just the immediate family - at Nanakramguda temple. It was struck down by the powers that be - our respective parents! We went to the temple and told the purohit this :)

Anyway, nothing had changed in that one year.

Trips during subsequent years till 2009: 

The shaadi and daawat done, we began real lives, juggling home and work schedules. Nanakramguda remained a favourite place that we visited on and off, sometimes by ourselves, sometimes with friends and relatives who wanted to come with us. The children came along and we took them too. And we always carried a food basket and picnicked there, followed by a visit to the baobab. It was a  simple outing and we always came back refreshed and happy.

As the years went past, there were slow changes - one time, the water body at the turning had been replaced by a dhabha - Picnic dhabha, I think, it was called. Then we noticed a stone crushing unit come up to the right of the turning, where the rocks had been. Another time we noticed Delhi Public school along the way, and Ramanaidu Studios had come up close to the temple. Then we saw some kind of a club to the right of the temple, across from the baobab tree. We shook our heads at this, but thought that at least the club had open space and greenery. And then we noted with dismay that the entire cluster of rocks to the left of the temple had disappeared!

Then in subsequent years, a humongous bang called Hitech City and Gachibowli happened, and our quaint Old Bombay Road was no longer a pleasure to drive on. I do not know when it was, in the busy-ness of our lives, that we stopped going to Nanakramguda temple. I do remember going to Oakridge school that had set up shop very close to the temple, in 2009, to check it out for Ragini's 11th and 12th. At that time, there was a mild surprise/shock at how the entire stretch of road was 'developing'.

Sunday 1 July 2018: We had never realised that we didn't venture out to Nanakramguda in almost 9-10 years! We set out on a Sunday earlier this month...took the usual route on Old Bombay Road, and after going a certain distance, since the row of rain trees and rocks could no longer be the landmark, we used the GPS to figure out where we should turn. The entire stretch of road had been built up, but we could still see an odd palm tree here and there. We saw DPS, and much later, we came to Nanakramguda village, which had become a town! Lots of buildings, shops and people everywhere. The earlier visual was still fresh in the mind. Then we drove on and on, and the height of the buildings only increased, there were IT companies and residential complexes, we passed by more schools, our eyes frantically searching for signs of the temple. In one place was a pond with beautiful landscaping all around it, and someone was rowing a small boat in it. And then we went down another road and were surrounded by a completely new world that we had never seen, for we never needed to go to that part of the city. "This looks like New York city!" exclaimed Malini. I felt my heart sink...was it gone, the temple? Where was it? Why weren't we finding it? Why was the GPS pointing to an office building and telling us we had reached our destination?

We decided to ignore the GPS and ask for directions the old fashioned way. We stopped and asked a watchman standing there. He said he did not know of any temple in that area. My heart sank further, if that is possible. Then we decided to retrace our route...maybe we had taken a wrong turn somewhere? We had indeed taken a wrong turn. We now saw a narrow almost kuccha road in front of us. We took this road and soon...we came to the temple gate. We entered, we parked, and we walked into the compound...in disbelief! The temple and everything else stood exactly as we had seen them 10 years back, 20 years back, 30 years back. The walls looked the same, the trees were the same - silk cotton, temple trees, tamarind, neem - they were all there, like old friends! The mud path was still a mud path - no cementing had been done. The well outside was just the same, as also the ruins of the older temple in the premises. We walked in and the temple too was the same, no change whatsoever, as also some quarters to the side.

A pradakshinam and a small puja later, as we sat on the steps to soak in the fact that our favourite place was still standing intact, as I felt the comfort of the sameness envelope me, and as the sheer relief hit me, came my tears! I sat there, I - who am usually very private about my crying - I sat there on those steps and cried...I cried my heart out, even as Malini and Vijay sat next to me and seemed to understand my breakdown. I was surprised at myself - was I crying because the landscape outside the temple had completely changed? No, even though that change had shocked me, I was crying because this place had not changed. Somehow it gave me a sense of security, and a sense of gladness and gratitude. It was like suddenly seeing your parents young again, or looking at an old photo album, or like meeting a close friend after years and finding that nothing had changed.

We went out and explored further - the tree with the platform around it, the old well, the compound with the ruins, the wild plants, the room with the old chariot. They were all there. They were all the same. As was tradition, we had carried a small picnic basket and so, as we had done several times, we sat under the tree and had the snacks and cake I had carried. All seemed well at that moment, even though we saw multi-storey complexes towering all around, and even though the quiet was interrupted by sounds of construction next door. The Nanakramguda temple was literally an oasis in a desert.

Then we set out to look for the baobab tree. We had to drive out to the main road, following the directions given by the purohit. The baobab was now inside the compound of some massive construction. I walked in, camera in hand, like I owned the place :). After all, I was going to meet another old friend! When I saw the tree, I gasped in surprise and happiness - the old baobab was in fantastic shape, better than I had ever seen it earlier! It had leaves, flowers and fruit, and it looked happy and was doing very well, despite the construction. That's the baobab for you - a tough tree that lasts centuries. It didn't seem to have any danger from the construction also, because it was along the compound wall. I fervently pray to the god at Nanakramguda temple that this tree is allowed to live there in all its grandeur.

I feel very grateful to the Pittie family who are the trustees of the Nanakramguda temple, which was purchased by their ancestor Seth Shivlal Pittie in 1861. It is indeed noble of them to have kept the temple and its premises untouched by the modern world when the entire area around had become a futuristic city. I thank them from the bottom of my heart. May they always be happy.



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