I was on election duty to Mahabubnagar quite a while back, and still carry the taste of its tangy cuisine on my tongue! Memories of another day…..
The second-largest district of erstwhile, undivided Andhra Pradesh–after Ananthapur–Mahabubnagar was formerly known as “Rukmammapeta” and “Palamooru”. The name was changed to Mahabubnagar on 4th December,1890, in honour of Mir Mahbub Ali Khan Asaf Jah VI, the Nizam of Hyderabad [1869-1911 A. D.]. The name is apt. It is easy to fall in love with Mahabubnagar’s laid-back lifestyle, its rugged terrain and its serene ambience, which seems untouched by the march of centuries. It comes as something of a surprise, therefore, to learn that the area had acquired notoriety for being a hot-bed of extremist activities. In subdued tones, people recall how the then Superintendent of Police, Mr. Pardeshi Naidu, was killed in a land-mine attack in 1993. Policemen prefer to move around in “mufti”[plainclothes] and try to be as inconspicuous as possible. Violence lingers under the deceptively calm surface. Luckily, during my visit, the district shows us its happy and carefree face. Hakuna Matata!
Mahabubnagar yields its charms reluctantly. “But there is nothing to see here”, is the general, almost plaintive, refrain. Perhaps familiarity has bred contempt. For a mere three kilometres from the town centre lies the sylvan retreat of Pilalla Marri. Pillala, the locals inform us, stands both for branches and children, while Marri means banyan.
At this scenic locale sprawls a seven-hundred -year old majestic banyan tree, which has spread with joyous abandon. How many lovers’ trysts it must have witnessed! How much it must have enjoyed the chatter of naughty children! History’s companion now stands silent. Sombre and brooding, it guards its secrets well. The silence is punctuated by birdsong; the green, in a myriad shades, soothes the eye; and the dappled sunlight and pure air rest and refresh the senses.
It is time to venture further afield. Sixty kilometres, to be precise. Here the Jurala dam strives to contain the swiftly -flowing and turbulent waters of the river Krishna. With some trepidation, we board a coracle, having heard of four schoolchildren who were swept to their deaths when their fragile and rickety craft overturned. This basket-shaped boat, constructed of leather and bamboo, proves to be sturdier than it looks and no mishap occurs. A-sailing do we go!
We next turn our attention to that most alluring and frustrating of sports: fishing. The scene is idyllic but there is one major snag: the fish are in no mood to bite! In desperation, we ask the local fishermen to pull in their nets and loan us their catch– that we may strike fake poses for the camera!
Our angling expedition having ended on a decidedly fishy note, we put that disappointment behind us and head for the hills.
The road unwinds straight as a ribbon through fields of gently-swaying cotton before it reaches the quaintly-named town of Achampet. Scarcely ten kilometers later, it veers sharply to the right and climbs steeply to a wooden retreat which houses the temple of Uma-Maheshwara. The “aarti,” or prayer service, amidst the peal of temple bells, offers moments of peace, serenity and reflection.
We move outside, where a group of excited, chattering monkeys compete for the gram which we offer them. They keep a wary eye on the two Alsatians, belonging to the tea-stall owner, whose sudden, sharp attacks on the fleet-footed apes has all the makings of an enjoyable comic opera.
By now my hosts, who had begun with a ‘nothing to see here’ sentiment, had also warmed up to the idea of showcasing their region. They enthusiastically whisked me off to Gadwal, about 15 kilometres from the Jurala Dam project site. Little could I have imagined the treasures this dusty town held. It is home to the weavers of the Gadwal saree. I am awestruck by the beauty of their craft. I learn that the speciality of a traditional Gadwal saree is that the body is woven in cotton threads, while the border and ‘pallu’ are in vibrant contrasting coloured silk with ‘zari’ designs, woven separately and then attached to the saree using the traditional ‘Kuttu’ technique. Unable to stop myself, I indulge my shopaholic instincts and buy a gift for my wife–a beautiful, rust-coloured cotton saree with a purple silk border glittering with its intricate “zari’ pattern. Significantly lighter in the pocket but happy and satisfied, I decide to head home. The smile on my wife’s face on receiving the gift– priceless!
A week has flown by. All too soon, it is time to leave. But something in my heart whispers, not “goodbye”, but “au revoir”. Till we meet again!