One fine Tuesday, as the clock stroke twelves and most of the world, was lost in deep slumber – My friend Manasi, a Conceptual Artist and I head off to three beautiful places near Tirupati in Andhra Pradesh. This trip by Grassroutes Journeys was our search for Art and more in a region rarely taken into consideration when people want to travel. It also is a recount of the last normal travel experience I’ve had – Pre-COVID era – when I wasn’t aware that I would live in the world I’m living in right now.
I reminisce and smile while I write this, and I hope you’d be able to enjoy the same experience soon. Till then, we dream:
Trying to keep their traditional art of woodcarving alive
Despite our initial impulse to rest our tired bodies from the long night journey, the pristine air of the countryside, practically untouched by the filthy hands of pollution, had stolen our urge to get some sleep. We sat in the courtyard, as I embraced the distant familiarity of all that surrounded me.
Lakshman’s grandfather sat in the front of the house, his attention focused on the chunk of wood in front of him. His face glistened in the morning sun, his eyes obtaining a spark that can only be seen in a true artisan’s, creating a mood. Equipped with a chisel in one of his hands and a wood piece to hammer in the other, his hands chipped away at the wood expertly, as if it was second nature.
Generations of their family and the ones around have been part of the woodcarving and idol-making business. While walking through the village nearly every family was engaged in this activity and well ahead in their preparations for the day.
“The youth have slowly been turning away from our traditional work to find jobs in the city. There’s not a lot of money you can make here”, uttered Lakshman Achari, our Host, with a sombre expression on his face. However, this community tourism initiative by Grassroutes might just encourage the new and coming generations to stay put and have new forms of income support them.
We all want kids running around in the villages, don’t we?
Also Read: Revisiting Santha – The Village Market
Gulping beautiful sunsets is a daily pleasure for them
It was almost time to call it a day, yet our eyes reflected none of the lethargy. My legs seemed to move on their own to reach an elevation – that which would act as a viewpoint. As we made it to the spot, our eyes immediately fell on what lay in front of us. A lake stretched from one end of our visual fields to another. Moreover, there in the middle of it all was the sun – crawling towards the horizon – slowly.
Sunsets are some of the most short-lived yet fascinating phenomena. Despite the abundance of them we might seem to have, it is very rare that we are aware enough to give attention to little things like this. I think this to understand and accept that I’m no exception to this fact. But, over time I have found that no one sunset is the same as the other. We stared at the charm of the sunset we had on our hands this evening. The funny thing about sunsets, when you keep looking at them they don’t seem to change at all despite it continually but one look away and you start noticing the difference.
As I made my way to sit on the ground below, a delightful aroma made its passage through my nose and filled up my senses. Lemongrass, I thought. Yet surprisingly, even after a rigorous search, none was to be found around. Sai Teja Pothineedi, our Coordinator and Community Mobiliser at Grassroutes, exclaimed that his repeated attempts to find even a trace of Lemongrass or a source of this smell were in vain. Lingering around there until the twilight hit, we decided to head back to our homestay. We jumped on the motorcycles with our hair flowing in the wind and dust and insects hitting our faces.
Enamoured by the heavens above in those nocturnal hours
For a while later in the early night, we decided to spend some time resting our backs on the terrace. The sky went on to form a dome all around us. There was a loud buzzing of the crickets originating from the moonlit farms that stretched on to our left. And we lay there, in the silence, under the starry night.
My eyes looked straight into the infinity that lay ahead. Lights surrounding us formed a soft halo touching the edges of the illusionary dome. The darkness of the sky gradually lessened from the centre to the horizon. It is quite the gnarly task to find clear star-studded night skies in the city. I was reminded of how venturing just a little beyond comfort zones is always rewarding.
Memories of a childhood gone by came flooding back to me. I remembered how my whole family would get out of the dark interiors and lie on the cots and the hammock during power cuts. And how I would ask my dad about the location of constellations I was reading about in School. It had been quite a while I got a chance to do that. Manasi and I decided to look for constellations in that delightful moment. Despite me only being able to identify only one – the Orion – the act of trying was fulfilling enough.
That quiet moment was a perfect getaway into beautiful conversations with people who lived so different from us. Talks of childhood, work and life filled the silent night. I have probably remarked it before, but these moments serve as a beautiful reminder to one of the most important things I’ve learnt while travelling. No matter how different we might be ethnically, culturally and linguistically; we all have essentially the same hopes and dreams. And it unites us all despite our differences.
Remembering the taste of my Granny’s hands
One of the first things my nose picked up the morning we arrived, was the smell of steaming Idlis from the kitchen. Anticipating a hearty meal, we sat cross-legged on the mat laid on the ground. Our meal waited patiently to be consumed in front of us. Yet my impatient heart couldn’t wait to put the first bite in my mouth.
Aunty (Lakshman’s Mother) hurried from the kitchen, holding a casserole carefully in her hands. She proceeded to lift the lid while my spectacles fogged from the steam that escaped from the container. As the steam cleared, we had our first look of the Idlis that were to make way into my stomach. Some hot savoury Sambar, a tangy Tomato Chutney and piping hot Bajjis served as the perfect accompanied for our meal.
Our meals spaced throughout the rest of the day didn’t fade in comparison. Our lunch, dinner and were just as succulent. They comprised of hot White Rice, Munnakayi (Drumstick) Sambar, Beans, Uragayi (Pickle), Rasam, Pappu (Dal), Puris and Curd. But no Indian meal is complete without something for your sweet-tooth. Aunty didn’t forget to add a bit of that sweet with Halwa and Payasam (Kheer) at the end of each meal.
A feast fit for a king? I would definitely say so.
Being a girl with her origins from the same region, I was instantly reminded of the taste of my grandmother’s cooking. My grandmother would make my five other cousins and I sit in a circle around her and feed us a delicious Andhra meal. Food tastes different when it’s made at home. Food tastes better when you make it from a place of love and care. We could taste the care she had taken to make the food in front of us with each bite we ate. It tasted like home.
Observing the simplicity of the village life
In a peaceful atmosphere that surrounded us, we decided to go for a post-lunch walk in the farms. The sun shone brightly in a baby blue sky with scattered clouds. Paddy fields seemed stretched for miles in all directions, glistened in its rays. Women went gossiping and washed clothes in the flowing water in the evenings. We encountered numerous irrigational canals and walked on pipes and cement sacks occasionally to not let our shoes or clothes get drenched. Despite the hot sun, we were calm and energetic.
Most beautiful and my favourite shade of green surrounded me in every direction. The smell of fresh and clean flowing water filled the air. The child in me wanted to sing and dance with its beauty. Therefore, I ran and hopped, with my hands on either side, feeling the wind as I zoomed through the narrow winding paths.
After that pleasant walk, Lakshman and Sai led both of us to a clearing with a well and trees. Sitting underneath them, Manasi and I found our much-needed refuge from the harsh tropical afternoon sun. I sat at the edge of the well, with my legs hanging, reading the book I carried with me. Quite lost in reading Manasi pointed out some fishes moving in the well’s murky water. Instantly curious, my eyes started searching for the fish as well.
A while later, we lay on our backs next to the well, facing the sky. It made for a pretty fine picnic spot. I continued reading my copy of Meditations by Marcus Aurelius and reading aloud some of the excerpts of ancient Stoic wisdom to Manasi. While she chose to listen to some music and rest. The whole moment was therapeutic. All of us lost in our own comfort as the day stretch on.
When was the last time you played Outdoors?
Right after we ended our village walk, I was inspired to try my own hand at woodcarving. Holding a chisel and a woodblock similar to the one I saw being held in the morning, I took my first strike. Harder than you thought, huh Prerana? It was a very difficult task to chip away the wood. You had to be careful to maintain the curve and hit it pretty hard. It isn’t until you try something for yourself that you begin to see how much hard work art requires. It also makes you appreciate it more.
When I heard we were going to play Volleyball just before the sunset in the evening, I tried to remember the last time I had played in a playground. I had never been good with Volleyball and decided to be a spectator to their game. Manasi seemed quite puzzled as well since she had never played the game before. All the players offered to teach the basics, split among themselves into two teams and off she was, happily playing away.
I cheered on for all the shots that went right, we laughed together at the bloopers. Once the game was done, she remarked that it’s a tough task to hit an object with your wrist. Well, sports have always been about practice. However, our gully version only brought smiles in each face that day.
Practical Information: This experience in Madhavamala is part of an Art Trip involving three villages near Tirupati by Grassroutes Journeys. Any of these villages can be visited as a day trip when you visit the Tirupati temple. Right now, this experience is on a halt to protect the villages involved during the Pandemic.
To reach Madhavamala, one can take a bus from Tirupati bus stand to Diguva Mallavaram. From Diguva Mallavaram, you’ll find shared autos to Madhavamala. This is also the most cost-effective option to reach the place.
Grassroutes Journeys is an organisation that focuses on community-based tourism across four states in India. They are on hiatus right now. But when they open, to book this trip or more and know more about them, click here.
Photographs by Manasi K J.