A Walk of Faith

A Pilgrimage to the World’s Richest Temple

After the customary coconut breaking ritual on the first step and lighting a few incense sticks we were all set to start our journey. It was still dark at around 3.45 AM but the flight of concrete cement stairway was well lit with bright lights. The stairway was quite broad and divided into two halves by a railing that ran right across the center. On either side of the stairway were flat cement slabs that one can use for resting while making the arduous climb.

Accompanied by my cousin, I was on a pilgrimage to Lord Balaji Temple at Tirupati. Located in the South Indian state of Andhra Pradesh on Tirumala hills, Tirupati Balaji Temple is the world’s richest temple. Lord Balaji is an incarnation of Lord Vishnu and is also known as Venkateswara, Govinda, and Srinivasa. The Lord probably has a couple of other names too but I am not aware.

The temple receives enormous amount of donations from pilgrims, which is the main reason behind its being the richest. Pilgrims donate money, gold, precious gems, jewellery, and even demat share transfers and property deeds. They also donate their hair, which is sold by the temple authorities. It’s ironical that a country with a huge population living below the poverty line houses the world’s richest temple. India is a country of striking contrasts.

An interesting mythology is associated with this donation, which I have narrated at the end of this story.

Tirupati temple was the richest temple in India but Sri Padmanabhaswamy Temple has recently disclosed incredible amount of assets discovered from a hidden place in the temple, forcing Tirupati to the second position in terms of wealth.

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Pic 1: Everything golden you see here is made of pure gold.

Tirupati Temple is the most visited religious place in South India and remains extremely crowded with an average of 50,000 to 100,000 footfalls daily. The number increases by leaps and bounds during festivals and special occasions. I had first visited the temple several years back with my family when I was in college. I hated the mad rush and thought I would never go back. Subsequently some other things led me to the temple again and I had a special spiritual experience that had brought tears to my eyes. After that, I have been to this temple 5-6 times.

The temple is accessible through a properly tarred road and one can drive up as well. I have done both – walking up as well as driving up. The walkway is a separate pathway away from the tarred road and constitutes an 11 Km distance up to the temple that passes over two of the seven Tirumala hills. The walkway is covered by a roof and well equipped with food, water, toilets, and even a dispensary.

The walk starts from a place called Alipiri, where you can deposit your luggage, if any, and your shoes. It’s a temple and you climb up barefoot. Your belongings are sent up the hill and reaches even before you arrive. There is a designated place where they can be collected after you are done with your darshan.

For me the walk has more to do with my love for hiking and trekking rather than pleasing the Lord. I am certain the Lord doesn’t differentiate between his devotees whether one walks up or drives up. It’s all a matter of faith and belief. I was quite astonished to see the elderly and people carrying infants walking up the path. Some women also pause at every step, smear it with turmeric and vermillion, light a diya (oil lamp) and only then proceed to the next step. And that is no mean feat in some of the steep sections. Sometimes men and women chant the name of the Lord at intervals all through the pathway in loud rhythmic voices and most often other pilgrims join in. It’s their unwavering faith in the Lord that keeps them going.

This was the second time I was walking up and hence knew exactly what to expect. There are a total of 3550 steps through the 11 km distance. The initial flight of 1000 steps is continuous and very steep. This part is really tough and quite a test of stamina and endurance. At regular intervals the steps are marked, I think every 100th step which gives you an idea of how far you have come.

Most of the walkway is through a forested area with a variety of trees and birds. A certain stretch has a deer park too, where you can buy cucumbers and carrots to feed the deer. A stretch of forest is also marked by Red Sandalwood trees. Statues of the Lord in various incarnations are found at regular intervals along the path.

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Pic 2: The Deer park

At the 2083rd step, the Gali Gopuram is situated. Gopurams refer to temple entrance gates in South India. The Gali Gopuram is brightly illuminated with florescent lights and is visible at night from most places in Tirupati city and the nearby highways. At this place, we need to get our biometrics done and obtain the darshan tickets. It was dawn by now and we were quite hungry. Hence, we took a break and had some traditional South Indian food. There are several places to eat here, but you can expect only South Indian breakfast kind of food (idlys and dosas).

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Pic 3: The Gali Gopuram situated at the 2083rd step.

Beyond this point, for the next 6 Km. the path is flattened and there are no climbs. The deer park is located in this section. We spent some time feeding the deer through the fenced enclosure. After this, very soon we encountered the Hanuman temple, which is prominent with its large Hanuman statue. We lit diyas here and resumed our journey this time beside the tarred road used by people driving up. This section of about a kilometer stands out for splendid views of the lush green hills and valley.

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Pic 4: The Hanuman Temple. Pic Credit: http://www.divinebrahmanda.com

At a distance of 2.4 Km. from the hilltop temple is the final flight of 1000 stairs at Mokalimitta Gopuram. This is the steepest section, much more than the one we encountered at the beginning. We rested for a while, had a cup of coffee and then embarked upon this section. Some pilgrims were climbing this entire section on their knees. I tried but couldn’t manage even two stairs!

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Pic 5: Mokalimitta Gopuram – The steepest section just before reaching the temple.

On reaching the temple, we had to wait in queue for another 3 hours before we could get a darshan of Lord Balaji. It was a Thursday and on this day the Lord does not adorn any jewellery, something we learnt in the queue. Lord Balaji is otherwise clad with 1000kgs of Gold.

This experience of visiting the Lord has been as good as the others I had so far. My Balaji Darshan actually has a very special story attached to it and probably I will write another post on that.

A Little Bit on Tirupati’s Wealth

  • According to mythology, Lord Balaji had taken a loan from Lord Kubera (The God of Wealth) for marrying Padmavathi. He now needs to repay this loan and as long as he doesn’t, he has to remain on earth. He is asking his devotees to help him pay back the loan. It is said that whatever you give the Lord, the double of that comes back to you. I read somewhere that in a single day, the temple receives approximately Rs 22.5 million as donation. 
  • Pilgrims also tonsure their head and offer their hair to the Lord, which provides another source of income for the temple. The story goes that a shepherd hit Lord Balaji on his head and some of his hair came off leaving a portion bald. A Gandharva princess saw this and cut a portion of her hair and implanted it on the Lord’s head with her magical power. Touched by her sacrifice, the Lord promised that all his devotees would offer their hair at his abode and she would receive that hair.
  • The laddu prasadam is an interesting aspect of Tirupati Temple. The laddus are humongous, much larger than the usual ones and are made with pure ghee. A geographical indication tag attached to Tirupati Laddu entitles only the temple organisation to make or sell it. A large amount of money is generated by selling these laddus, which are in huge demand.

Refer to the following, if you want more information on Balaji Darshan:

When I said Wah Taj!

On a very special trip with my parents

The other day I came by an article that listed out quotes of famous people who have visited the Taj Mahal. Amongst the great names of Rabindranath Tagore, Lord Curzon, etc, the one that caught my attention was Bill Clinton, the former President of USA, who said:

There are two kinds of people in the world, those who have seen the Taj Mahal and love it, and those who have not seen the Taj Mahal and love it. I would like people to watch the Taj Mahal and fall in love with it.

I could instantaneously relate it to my own experience of the historical monument. Memories of my visit to the Taj Mahal came flooding by and I thought I should write about it.

And so, here it goes…

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Pic 1: A very special moment with my parents

“I’m very satisfied with your service. Thank you so much!” I heard my father say to the guide who we had hired for a tour of the Taj Mahal and who had painstakingly explained every little detail taking care to answer all the questions asked by us, especially my father.

We let the guide leave while we sat on the marble floor just outside the main dome to rest for a while. It was late morning on a sunny October day and the monument was teeming with tourists from all over the world. I sat there feeling gratified looking at my parents who seemed quite delighted with their tour of the iconic monument. This trip was for them and I couldn’t be happier.

This was my second visit to the ivory-white marble mausoleum that grandly stands on the banks of River Yamuna in the city of Agra. My first visit had been seven years back. Needless to say, I was floored when I saw this exquisite piece of marble for the first time. I was with a friend and her husband. As we entered the West Gate or Fatehpuri Darwaza and I laid my eyes on the monument for the first time, I was awestruck. Dazzling in the afternoon sun, its splendor was beyond words and somehow appeared unreal to me.

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Pic 2: Throwback to my first visit to the iconic monument 7 years back and that’s my friend

I had read and heard about its grandeur several times since childhood – from history books to Bollywood movies, from photographs and paintings to travel stories of friends and relatives, from news feeds about the effects of pollution on the white marble to the surreal experiences on a moonlight night, and so on and so forth.

All of these had imprinted the Taj’s form into my mind’s imagery and I thought I was going to visit just another historical monument knowing exactly what to expect. But, when I saw the real structure with my naked eyes for the first time, its sparkling magnificence was something else altogether. Its prettiness was overwhelming. I had never imagined the Taj Mahal to be this beautiful.

The experience was way different from my visit to other historical monuments. Being an ardent nature lover, architectures and museums do not enthuse me much. So, I never quite get it when people stare at an Eiffel tower with those admiration-filled eyes for hours on end. With this existing state of mind, my expectations of Taj Mahal were pretty limited. Not until I actually saw it…

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Pic 3: Just outside the West Gate

The stunningly magical Taj Mahal had left me literally speechless. It was only after I experienced the Taj in person that I truly understood the genius of its craftsmanship. And, I thought to myself — no wonder this iconic monument gets millions of visitors every year from across the globe; no wonder it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site; no wonder it is one of the Seven Wonders of the World.

The first thing that came to my mind at that moment was – I got to get my parents to see this. This is one of the seven wonders and it’s in my own country. This is an opportunity. It will be a pity if they were to miss this.  So, here I was experiencing the magic for a second time and this time with my parents.

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Pic 4: While we admired the superb craftsmanship

Built by 22,000 workers in 22 years, the Taj Mahal is famous as the ultimate symbol of love. That’s what I knew during my childhood and as I grew up. Later, I read some speculative counter arguments, which I think cannot be ignored (Read Here). Keeping that aside, it is the finest and most sophisticated model of Mughal architecture in India, which also incorporates elements of Persian, Turkish, and Hindu influences.

We walked our way around the tomb, my mother and I silently appreciating, the unique marble carvings, the incised paintings, the incredible Urdu calligraphic inscriptions, etc. and my father earnestly discussing all big and small historical detail with our guide. All along I was feeling deeply satisfied that I could have my parents experience Taj Mahal’s incredible wonder.

This was the Agra leg of our Golden Triangle trip (Delhi – Agra – Jaipur). The same evening, we visited the Agra Fort.

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Pic 5: While they share a special moment at the Agra Fort

My parents love travelling and my father has taken us on many a trip across India during our childhood despite all the limitations he had at that time. It’s my turn now to take them around and it gives me immense joy whenever I am able to take them on a trip with me. However, with old age and their current state of health, they cannot travel a lot and that’s a limitation I now have.

 

Thought Provoking Rants

The hurt isn’t going away. It’s been more than a year but it keeps coming back, often provoked by some random happening – a photograph, a memory on Facebook, some mention of them by someone, and so on. Probably we were too close, perhaps more than we should have been.

Their behavior and the choices they made hurt me so much that I wish we were never part of each other’s lives. I wish I could erase all the memories. Most importantly, I wish I could get over this feeling of hurt. And this age of social media doesn’t allow things to be forgotten.

Surely they have their reasons and one hand cannot clap so there has surely been misses at my end too. Life is short. Why does it become so difficult to let bygones be bygones and move on fresh and anew? Human relationships are complicated and as they say once there’s a scratch, it will heal but the mark will remain.

I am trying to be a more spiritually oriented person. If that’s the path I want to follow why is this getting so difficult for me? Is this my ego? I am not sure, as the pain I feel is real. It keeps coming back to me how alienated I had felt; how I was pushed to one corner when I needed them the most.

I thought we were very close friends, so much so that they were part of me….but they didn’t care….they were ruthlessly insensitive and displayed no empathy. They judged me, judged everything I said….blamed me of unnecessary whining when I shared my feelings of desolation and loneliness. They even tried to associate a negative psychological condition with my state of affairs.

I thought I was sharing my intimate feelings with my very close friends. Aren’t you supposed to share such kind of things with friends? Aren’t you supposed to support your friend even at times when they are not very likable – if at all that was the case? Perhaps being an open book is not a good idea, even if it’s with your closest friends. It just makes you vulnerable.

Why did we allow things to go disarray? When things went so wrong why did they resort to chat-messages? What stopped them from giving me call and clearing things upfront? Why did they gang up and resort to Social Media instead? We’ve had disagreements many times in the past but it was just a matter of time before things would settle down without a trace. However, this one was different.

I am a very social person and have a couple of other close friends. So, ideally I shouldn’t miss them but I do. I remember them often, both in good and bad times. They have left a dent in my heart, a deep one that I am unable to heal. Today they connect with me to talk, again through text messages, about mundane things, perhaps in an effort to fix things. Not sure if they realize the hurt is really deep and I am still not able to overcome it. I respond whenever they connect while consciously maintaining a distance, sometimes just answering what they ask. I cannot be myself with them ever again. I can’t share my intimate thoughts and feelings with them anymore.

At the same time, I tell myself why can’t I?  We are not here forever and friendships are precious. But again a contradictory thought strikes – perhaps it’s better to move away from people who let you down and who have no regard for your feelings, especially when they have been your close friends who you have loved so dearly.

Yet one question haunts me – Why did we let our decade-long relationship collapse?

All said, time is the biggest healer so I am hopeful!

Provoke

The Poush Sankranti I Used to Know

Cultures and traditions almost extinct…..

“It’s gotten too cold and with Sankranti this weekend, I need to get some things ready for Pithes, miss you all”, said my Mom on the phone yesterday. Oh yes, 14th of January is just round the corner. It’s time for Poush Sankranti, the Bengali version of Makar Sankranti. A major Indian harvest festival celebrated by Hindus across the country marking the first day of sun’s transit into Makara or Capricorn. Called by different names, it is celebrated in different ways in different parts of the country. Maghi in Punjab, Sankrat in Rajasthan, Pongal in Tamil Nadu, Bihu in Assam, and so on.

Poush Sankanti is named after the month, Poush, which is January in Bengali. Bengalis celebrate this festival with Pithes, or special Bengali sweetmeats made of khoya, flour, rice powder, sweetened coconut, jaggery, cardamom, etc.

The thought of Poush Sankranti suddenly brought back a flashback of childhood memories urging me to pen them down before they get washed away with the passage of time. Poush Sankranti used to be a big festival associated with elaborate celebrations and the neighbourhood homes having each other invited.

It was almost like a Pithe Festival with the entire neighbourhood merrily immersed in Pithe-making and Pithe-eating that would spread out to 3-4 days.

In our joint family, this used to be a very special time of the year. The planning would start days in advance with listing out of the kind of Pithes that would be prepared for that year. Usually 4-5 types would be finalized taking into consideration special requests from all the family members. One or two savories, Nimkis and Shingaras would also make to the list to balance out the sweet Pithes.

The entire house would then get together in a hustle and bustle of activities. Dads and Uncles would be busy making several trips to the local market to get the ingredients, especially the perfect coconuts – the ones they feel will yield substantial meat. Removing the coir and preparing the shell to make it ready for grating was their job as well.

My Grandfather’s primary job was to eagerly wait to consume the Pithes while blackmailing the rest of the family about this year being his last Sankranti and hence his Pithe wishlist better be fulfilled. As long as I remember, it was the same story every Sankranti till one fine January morning when it turned out to be real – yes he passed away on a cold January morning.

Moms and aunts would have the more demanding part of the job, grating the coconuts, preparing the khoya, making the sugar syrup, mixing the ingredients in perfect proportions, kneading the dough and shaping up the Pithes, frying them in oil on slow fire, and so on.  Back then, Khoya was also prepared at home by thickening the milk – a job primarily done by my Grandmother. I remember participating wholeheartedly and lending a hand in all the activities.

Dad’s elder sister, Boropishi lived in the same neighborhood with her family. This was a great advantage as usually her Pithes would taste different and often the types would vary giving us a wide range to satisfy our palates. The women, of my family take great pride in their Pithe making skills and that continues to this day. Not the ones of this generation though, most of us have no patience, and the few of us who have tried their hands in it are hardly any good.

Back then, the youngsters of the family, like elder siblings and younger uncles had nothing to do with the actual Pithe preparations but their interest in eating them is what motivated the elders. Besides, they had another important role. They were entrusted with the responsibility of creating the ‘mera-merir ghor’, which used to be a makeshift home made out of haystack. Mera refers to the Ram, the adult male sheep and Meri refers to the Ewe, which is the adult female sheep.

So, ‘mera-meri ghor refers to the house of a sheep couple.

This would be burnt at dawn on the day of Poush Sankranti ( Jan 14th), amidst chants of “mera-merir ghor jole re hooooi!; Mera gelo bajaro, Meri gelo koi; mera-merir ghor jole re hooooi!” (The sheep’s home is up in flames hoi hoi; the ram’s gone shopping and ewe’s missing, the sheep’s home is up in flames hoi hoi). Before setting the ‘mera-merir ghor’ on fire, everyone would take a mandatory bath and stand beside the fire with a plate of Pithes. So, have the Pithes while soaking in the warmth of the fire – what bliss on a chilly January morning! A few Pithes would sometimes be thrown onto the fire as an offering.

Young boys and girls, the courageous ones who dared to brave the cold, would also spend the night merrymaking in the ‘mera-meri ghor’. Often times there wouldn’t be enough hay, so pine needles, bamboos, cardboard boxes and anything that will aid in making the fire burn strongly would be used to supplement.

I have only very early childhood memories of ‘mera-meri ghor’, a few years later as I stepped into adolescence it had disappeared altogether from the celebrations in our home. I believe ‘mera-meri ghor’ was part of Poush Sankranti celebrations only for Bengalis of North East India. I am not sure about Bengalis in other parts of India.

The Assamese people had a similar celebration and they called it ‘Meji’, experienced from the few Poush Sankranti that I spent at my maternal Grandparent’s home in Assam. Their amazing boga-pithas are still my favourite. I am not sure how much of the celebrations still exist in the same way. As for Shillong, I know there are hardly any. Probably, it is still celebrated in pockets of North East India but by and large it is disappearing. Another sacrifice at the altar of urbanization!

It’s sad that our children have no idea of the distinctive flavours of such celebrations. Today’s children celebrate a Haloween with a lot of fun and fervour but probably have no idea about a Poush Sankranti. Who else but us to be blamed!

The tradition of Pithe making at Poush Sankranti continues to this day at my home in Shillong. Though there is no mera-meri ghor and over the years it has reduced to being ritualistic with may be just one type of Pithe. However we do have our impromptu ‘Pithe celebrations’ that make up for Poush Sankranti and which happen at other special times, such as, when our parents visits us or we visit them.

Reminiscing 2017

Cherishing moments of the year that was…….

It’s the day after Christmas, the fag end of December, another year has gone by. I’m in my hometown this Christmas. Christmas celebrations in this pretty little hill station, known for its tall Pines, colorful orchids, rock music and football among many others, is one of the best in India. I will write more about that later.

Sitting in the balcony and soaking in the warm winter sun is a pleasure that I haven’t had in a very long time. The warm winter sun brings in cherishing childhood memories making it all the more comforting. I’ve come a long way since then and all those memories seem from a past life. As my mind travels back to the present, fleeting moments of the year 2017 passes by, many of which I will cherish for the rest of my life. It’s indeed been a very happening year and I am filled with gratitude.

Here’s a quick flashback of the top 10 highlights:

  1. Started my own blog and quite impulsively so, never thought I would enjoy writing so much. I was helping a friend create a blog but landed up creating my own. Started mid-year and this is my 19th post. I was writing for myself, didn’t expect others to read them but was humbled to see people reading my posts. Besides, there are 5 people, who eagerly wait to read my posts and they sure do motivate me.
  2. Experienced life in three remote Himalayan villages that has impacted me in ways more than one.
  3. Traveled to China for the first time as I experienced life in Shanghai for a day.
  4. Trekked to Kudremukha hill and experienced the lush green Western Ghats, where I also encountered leeches for the first time.
  5. Experienced being hospitalized for the first time when I almost lost my life to Anaphylactic Shock.
  6. Reconnected with several of my old friends with whom I had lost touch for the past few years and it was like as though there was no gap at all. At the same time, moved away from few others whom I thought to be life-time friends.
  7. Stayed in a haunted hotel and had a brush with the paranormal.
  8. Spent my birthday in the Himalayas once again.
  9. Experienced the vast expanse of desert Himalayas as I traveled to the enchanting Spiti Valley.
  10. A very important life event, which I do not wish to disclose now and will fill in later.

Cherish

My Brush with the Paranormal

When I stayed at a haunted hotel

A stifling sense of uneasiness crept in the moment I stepped into my room. I felt claustrophobic and was finding it difficult to breathe. Was it because the room was small? I don’t think so as I have stayed in smaller rooms before. Shouldn’t I be feeling really good to be in a room with a comfortable bed after having traveled for 24 hours through three flight between Bangalore and San Diego? Perhaps my mind was playing tricks on me. Maybe a shower is what I need. I had an hour’s time before I met my colleagues at the hotel lobby as we had planned to go out for dinner.

Deciding to shower later before hitting the bed, I thought I would freshen up instead. I went to the bathroom and splashed my face with cold water, and thoroughly cleaned it using a lavish amount of facewash. I applied my face cream and changed into a set of fresh clothes. I thought I felt better. I still had time so I decided to unpack some of the things, at least the clothes I would wear for the night once am back from dinner. I bent over to my suitcase, which was lying on the floor and cast a sideward glance onto the bed.

The discomfort was back and this time I had this uncanny feeling of someone staring at me from the bed.

I gave up the idea of unpacking. Instead sat down on a chair and started fiddling with my phone. Opening the Whatsapp app, I sent a message to my sister informing her that I had reached. I also jokingly wrote to her, “I think this room is haunted. You know I feel someone’s lying on the bed staring at me. I am feeling eerie in here.” My sister responded with a laughter and asked me to change the room.

I was at San Diego for work along with a couple of colleagues. We were staying at the iconic US Grant Hotel, located in downtown San Diego, California. The 11-storied hotel was grand and spectacular with 270 guest rooms.

It is a historic hotel, even listed in the National Register of Historic Places.

The hotel was opened in 1910 and belonged to Ulysses S. Grant Jr., the son of President Ulysses S. Grant, who dedicated the hotel to his father. At that time, it was a 437 roomed luxury palace with private baths, swimming pools, sprawling dining halls, and lavish ballrooms. Actually the hotel dates back to 1870 when it was known as Horton House and was the only major hotel in San Diego. It was purchased by Fanny Chaffee Grant, the wife of Ulysses S. Grant Jr. The hotel boasts of hosting people like John F. Kennedy, Stephen Spielberg, and even Albert Einstein.

I wasn’t aware of any of the historic detail until then. It was only later after I was back that I read up to learn more about it.

When I met my colleagues in the lobby, I casually mentioned that the grand hotel is not so grand afterall and the rooms seem suffocating. They didn’t seem to agree. So I visited their rooms, which were better and lacked the eeriness of my room. I requested the reception if my room could be changed. They readily agreed and after dinner I was transported to another room. The new room felt so much better though a slight discomfort remained but that was negligible as compared to the previous room. I chose to ignore that and went to bed and slept peacefully.

I have traveled multiple times to several cities in the world, lived in hotels and guest houses all by myself. I have never felt this way in any other place.

It was only two days later when I was at a dinner table with my American colleagues that someone started talking about this hotel being haunted and others chimed in with all kinds of stories. I was flabbergasted and jumped in to narrate my own experience. I don’t know if ghosts exist as I haven’t seen one, neither do I wish to, but I thanked my instincts that led me to change the room the day I arrived.

That night I couldn’t sleep even though I was in this new room. When I told all of this to my Bangalore colleagues the next day, nobody was surprised. Apparently, they had read this in the Internet and knew about it. How are they so cool about it, I wondered! I usually never read up to know about the hotels when it’s arranged by office as they are mostly 5-star hotels, so why bother. I thanked myself once again. This time for not reading anything beforehand. Then, I would have come in with preconceived ideas and whatever I felt in that room I would have attributed to that.

The story goes that the hotel was Fanny Grant’s pet project and she had put in a lot of effort and personal time in designing the hotel to make it one of the best. Within a year of opening of the hotel, she passed away. Her husband, Grant, Jr. remarried and moved into the hotel along with his new wife. Since then Fannie’s apparition, clad in an old-fashioned white dress, has been seen walking through the hallways. Other strange phenomena such as flickering lights and things being moved and misplaced within the blink of an eye keep happening.

The Internet is abound with these and several other stories associated with the hotel. Apparently, it’s the 5th floor that is haunted. All of which I thankfully discovered only after getting back to Bangalore.

I have never experienced anything paranormal and even this was just a brush. Surely doesn’t qualify as a paranormal experience. However, I cannot say for sure that such things don’t exist. There are tonnes of strange things that are beyond any explanations. And I do not hesitate to say that I am afraid of the unknown. I do believe in the existence of souls and in the concept of rebirth. And, I definitely believe that all souls are not associated with negative energy.

But afraid I am! Especially when I am alone…

Stifle

When my Immune System Overreacted

An Unexpected Turn of Events from a Simple Allergic Reaction!

“She’s had an Anaphylactic Shock, we recommend moving her to the ICU immediately” says the doctor. That’s what my sister came and told me while I lay in the Emergency ward of the hospital.

Anaphylactic Shock – what on earth is that, I wondered as I looked up at my sister while she was already googling the term in her phone. 

Shivering as I was even under three blankets, I prodded a little nervously, “What does it mean?” My BP was down to 60/40 but I was fully aware about everything happening to me with not an ounce of disorientation hitting me. Anaphylactic Shock sounded something terribly dangerous though I was more intrigued than afraid. Before my sister could respond, a medical orderly promptly arrived and changed my clothes into the hospital uniform for patients, which was not only drab but highly oversized – guess they have just one size, which is the biggest possible on earth!

Within a short while I was whisked away to the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) and before I realized I had all kinds of wires and attachments all over my body with several complicated machines beeping all around me. I was more curious than concerned. My roving eyes did a quick survey of everything around me, including the other patients making a mental note of the level of seriousness of each patient based on my level of understanding of how they appeared, and how many instruments were attached to them. I didn’t stop at that, the next day I enquired about every patient from my attending nurse.

Needless to say this was my first experience of being hospitalized.

Earlier that evening, I was back from a trek – my first trek in the Western Ghats. It was a Sunday, the 4th of June, 2017. Accompanied by a friend, I had gone for a weekend trek to Kudremukha National Park. We were dropped off at Majestic Bus Station, the main bus station at Bangalore. Mesmerized by the gorgeous Kudremukha hill, I did not have the slightest idea that in the next 10 minutes I would be getting into a life threatening situation. We had been travelling since morning with a lot of ‘Antakshari’, Dumb Charades, and other games all the way. As we bid goodbye to our fellow trekkers with promises of meeting again, we realized just how hungry we were.

It was already 8.00 PM and so we decided to have dinner before heading home. While crossing the road as we headed towards a ‘Biryani’ restaurant located across the street, we encountered the road divider. It was an enclosed area with trees and shrubs cordoned off by iron grills that stretched for quite a long distance. Our stomach was growling as we walked besides the divider towards its end to be able to cross over to the other side. In one place, we found the grill broken and people were passing through it jumping onto the other side of the road. With impatience getting the better of us, we decided to do the same even though it wasn’t the right thing to do. Unfortunately an inebriated man followed us. There was a tall tree beside us with shrubs and bushes around it. In my attempt to avoid the man, I stepped into the bushes. Immediately a swarm of insects attacked my bare feet through the open sandals I was wearing. I had mistakenly stepped into their habitat unable to see well through the dimly lit street lights.

I felt a thousand needles pricks accompanied by a burning sensation on my feet. Within seconds my body was covered with rashes.

Hurriedly, we walked towards the restaurant.

It was nothing but grace that we had a first aid kit with us that had antihistamine tablets (Avil). I popped a pill and cleaned my feet with Dettol. In the incidents that followed, I lost consciousness, puked the Avil, my feet became black and swelled beyond recognition, rashes of all dimensions covered my entire body including my face. My friend managed to get me to a hospital and also informed my sisters even though he had freaked out completely.

Back in the ICU, I felt dazed even as my alert mind continued scanning the space around me. I thought to myself and sent out a quick prayer that I never ever should need to get back here again.

Before being transferred to the ICU, while in the Emergency ward, I was treated with Adrenalin administered intravenously. It was in a diluted form but my body violently reacted almost causing a heart attack and threatening to blow my head apart. Adrenalin is the only treatment and my body was rejecting it.

In the ICU, however I was treated all night long with the concentrated form of Adrenalin administered intramuscularly. By morning my BP was doing much better. With the care and attention provided by the nurses and doctors my recovery was quick and I was shifted to a common ward and finally released from the hospital.

It was not until I came home that I got to know my condition could have been fatal, had it not been for the prompt medical attention I received.

I was lucky that I was getting back from a trek and so had a medical kit with me. Though it was surprising that nothing happened while I was in the jungle but in the city I had a fatalistic insect bite. Life is full of ironies!

An Anaphylactic Attack or Anaphylaxis is caused by an overreaction of the immune system to an allergen, something that the body is allergic to. It is an extremely serious and life threatening condition.

It’s by Almighty’s grace that I am here today narrating  what happened to me. The point of this write up is to spread awareness about allergic reactions. More than often, we do not pay heed to allergies but be on your guard, it could be the onset of an Anaphylactic Attack.

Read up and educate yourself about the risk factors of this potentially life-threatening allergic reaction called Anaphylaxis.

KNOW ABOUT ANAPHYLACTIC SHOCK

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