Puttaparthi (Anantapur): The pilgrim town of Puttaparthi which ruled the roost as an international tourist destination for more than three decades is virtually a ghost town today. The demise of Sathya Sai Baba,a renowned religious teacher on April 24, 2011 set the tone for its gradual decline.
Many devotees planned post retirement life in the spiritual town and had purchased flats. Today there are no takers for those wanting to dispose them off. With the soul of Puttaparthi no more, the sheen of the town has been lost
At least 10,000 tourists from around the country and abroad were seen on any given day. Foreign tourists had purchased flats in apartments and villas in the sprawling gated communities and used to stay for months and inland tourists for weeks. Many had planned post retirement life in the spiritual town and had purchased flats.
Today there are no takers for those wanting to dispose them off. With the soul of Puttaparthi no more, the sheen of the town has been lost and a despondency among devotees set in. A devotee cum trader Ashwin Goswami who had seen the rise and fall of the great spiritual town bemoaned that his garment business is lifeless. In the past when the Baba was alive there were hectic sales every day.
Now there is hardly any business except on selected days such as birthday anniversary and death anniversary of Baba. Life was then interesting but today every day without Baba is a question mark, he muttered.
Many foreign devotees of Baba stopped visiting the small town. Their houses were occupied by locals and real estate builders who had sold flats and villas as according to the law of the land foreigners can purchase but cannot sell.
Radha Tripathi, a lady devotee of UP who made the town her home talking to 'The Hans India' says that all her dreams crashed with the demise of Baba. We thought he would live forever but his sudden exit has disappointed his faithful and has landed us in dire straits. I am just spending days living in the past, she adds.
Many local traders cum devotees talk about the glorious days when the town was bubbling with life with Baba celebrating international festivals including Christmas, New Year, Chinese New Year, Dragon festival and other festivals and cultures of the world.
Townships of devotees established at Karmat Nagepalle, Kappalabonda, Gurajapalle, Bramhanapalle, Kamarripalle and in the central town are virtually abandoned. Tourism got a fillip as those who visited the town also went to Kadiri for the Lakshminarasimha Swamy Temple, Lepakshi and Timmamma Marrimanu.
Even NRI's from Malaysia, Indonesia, Mauritius and African countries who used to come for darshan of Baba are no longer returning. Overnight, restaurants, lodges and ayurvedic massage centers had lost their business and many have downed their shutters. Foreign currency exchange was big business then. Today there are hardly a few such counters.
Sathya Sai Airport which was teeming with visitors, foreign tourists’, businessmen and devotees has closed operations. English medium schools and NGO's thrived then with foreigners supporting them but now they remain memories of the past.
Every local resident in Puttaparthi played host to hundreds of devotees both friends and unknown when devotees visited on auspicious occasions. The demand of people to make Puttaparthi as another district by naming the same after Sai Baba is very much in vogue.
IT and Information Minister Palle Raghunath Reddy told 'The Hans India' that they had taken up the issue of developing Puttaparthi as a tourist destination with the Union Minister for Urban development M Venkaiah Naidu by adopting the same as a smart city.
Naidu responded favorably to the suggestion, he added. There is a demand for development of the town as a tourist centre on the lines of Shirdi which is still attracting devotees.
By: Ravi P Benjamin