2 day trip

Badami and Pattadakal- Of almonds and coronations

Where possible I love traveling by trains Vs buses. The option of a comfortable night’s sleep and availability of restrooms at all times, trumps buses any day. So this time, that’s how we traveled to Hubli. Early one sleepy morning we got to the Hubli railway station and in the mild drizzle managed to find an auto to our hotel. After freshening up, some rest, and picking up our hired car for the next 2 days, we were all ready to tackle what Hubli had to offer. But first -breakfast.

We made our way to the hotel Gurudatta bhavan that , as it announces on the board right at the entrance, has been around since 1958. We together polished some oggarne avalakki and khara bath-sheera. The glasses they use to serve both water and coffee are a unique shape and size- we’d recommend buying some on your trip and as a fun utilitarian souvenir.IMG_7911.jpg

Now well fueled, we started the trip with the 2.5 hr drive to Badami in Bagalkot. It’s my favorite of the places in the area including that in the much more popular Hampi.

Badami was once was the capital of the Chalukya empire which lead to its prominence.The caves are carved out off the sandstone rocks in warm red shades that give the place its name(Badami = almond-coloured). After visiting the Ajanta and Ellora caves this seems smaller relatively. However, it still has a charm and magic of its own.IMG_8767.jpg

As one ascends the 3 sets of caves at 3 different levels it gets increasingly windy. The first level from 559 CE is dedicated to Lord Shiva with large sculptures on either sides of the cave of Harihara and Ardhanareshwara on the right. The rest of the cave is also adorned with sculptures of mythical creatures like the vrishabha-kunjara(bull + elephant in one) and deities including one of Shiva and Parvati on the Nandi, Kartikeya on the Peacock and the Lord Ganesha.IMG_8786.jpg

The second cave dedicated to Lord Vishnu is from the 5th century CE includes equally interesting sculptures of deities- Brahma, Vishnu, Durga etc ; creatures like elephants, fishes, humans emerging from the mouths of aquatic creatures(Aqua-man version-1 maybe?) and imagery from stories in mythology including the samudra manthana and exploits of Lord Krishna as a child.IMG_8798.jpg

The 3rd is supposed to be the most ornate of them all from 578CE including that of the 8 armed Vishnu seated on the Shesha Naga(the celestial snake);imagery from mythology including both the Mahabharata and the Puranas; divine couples- Naga-Nagini(the snake Gods) , Shiva-Parvati, Kama-Rati(the Hindu Gods of love) and deities not limited to Indra(the King of the Gods), Kubera(the Lord of wealth) and Varuna(God of the oceans).

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The view of the surroundings area is beautiful from here.IMG_8800.jpg

The 4th cave- the smallest,  highest and therefore the windiest is relatively recent from the 7th century include the sculptures of Bahubali and several of the Thirthankaras(propagators) of Jainism including Parsvanatha. IMG20190629120752.jpgA lovely view of the lake Agastya and the Bhootanatha temple can be seen from this level of the Badami caves.IMG_8889

Note: It is extremely windy as you climb atop the steps of the caves and at any of the higher levels. Your hats may fly off too. So dress accordingly.
Also there are monkeys alert to grab food/water/anything interesting from your hands.  So try to carry things inside your bags firmly with yourselves Vs in your hands. Personally I prefer a backpack in such places.

This was the second time visiting Badami for both of us and we therefore decided to take our time and explore the small and big spots near it too. We set off on foot following the boards that directed us to the Archaeological Museum. Sadly the path through the surrounding village is quite run-down and not very clean. Seems like this part of the state could do with some attention from the authorities.IMG_8931.jpg

We walked further away to the caves that housed an inscription on one famous Kappe Arabhatta. However, in the absence of a guide and prior research we weren’t able to actually find it.

We finally made our way to the other side of the lake Agasthya to the 5th century Bhoothanatha temple.

On our way, a gentleman with heavily paan stained teeth, stopped us and offered to take our picture with our own camera. We were not entirely sure why he was asking for it but obliged.  Some struggle with the bulky camera and its controls later, he managed to click one. He also introduced himself and just mentioned he lived nearby. Our skepticism was high since we often encounter touts who try to get money off of tourists one way or another. But we were pleasantly surprised when he said we were a super jodi(couple) and he had offered just because he thought the picture of where we had been standing with the backdrop of the temple would look beautiful. It’s always lovely to have a moment to smile, with our trust a bit more regained in humanity.

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 The Bhoothanatha temple itself is quite a sanctuary of calm to just sit a while and admire the lake, the surrounding caves. Just as you make your way, there are also carvings on rocks- that while pretty, seem like just the place for the sculptors to practice their art- since the carvings are in various states of completion. The door of the sanctum sanctorum of the temple has the River Goddess Ganga on the makara(half-elephant half aquatic creature) and Yamuna on her own steed, the tortoise.IMG_7973.jpg

After a quick lunch, we headed to the 7th century Banashankari temple. Legend has it that Goddess Parvati vanquished the demon Durgamasura – the idol of the deity in the temple is a depiction of her with 8 arms seated on a lion crushing the demon with her foot. The location of the temple was what was earlier the Tilakaaranya forest which led to the name Bana-shankar-I the (forest + consort of Shiva). It is believed that the goddess was the family deity of the Badami Chalukya kings.

The main part of the temple that one cant miss is the Harischandra Thirtha, the stepped pond just outside the temple.IMG_8977.jpg

A path lined with pillars on both sides goes all round the pond. Yet another thing that’s impossible to miss are the large number of women selling, in baskets, the local meal of jowar roti, curd and typically a brinjal curry typical to the place. We had however already had our meal so gave it a miss this time. At one corner of the pond is a tall watch tower.

IMG_8987.jpg1/2 hr away is the UNESCO world heritage site-Pattadakal(Patta = meaning coronation). It’s older name was Raktapura (red-city) aptly reflecting the red-soil of the place. The region itself has shifted hands between the whos who of the South Indian history portion of our text books- the Guptas, the Chalukyas, Rashtrakutas , Vijayanagara empire, the Sultanate of Bijapur, the Mughal empire, the Maratha empire, Tipu Sultan and finally the British.IMG_8990.jpg The temples themselves also reflect several of these styles depending on the era when they were built.

  • Kadasiddeshwara temple : The main deity is Shiva with the predictable Nandi bull facing it. The steps to it are similar to the Bhootanata temple flanked by the Godesses Ganga and Yamuna.IMG_9006.jpg
  • Jambulingeshwara temple : The dancing form of Shiva -Nataraja with Parvati and Nandi again.IMG_9012.jpg
  • Galaganatha temple : We don’t have the best knowledge of architecture, but even to us laypersons we had been reminded of Pattadakal when we visited the temple in Alampur, Andhrapradesh. Apparently this is supposed to be notable for being almost an exact copy of it. The similarity is said to be because both the places 300kms away from each other were part of the Chalukya kingdom
  • Chandrashekara temple : is yet again of Shiva with Nandi , in addition there are guardians at the door of the temple.
  • Sangameshwara temple : Includes numerous forms of Shiva and Vishnu.
  • Mallikarjuna temple : This one was supposedly sponsored by a queen with an amazing name : Trailokyamahadevi. In addition to Shiva, Vishnu there are sculptures depicting stories of Krishna, scenes of different Hindu fables and everyday lives too.IMG_9024.jpg
  • Virupaksha temple : supposedly was the one the Kailash temple at Ellora was modeled after. It includes sculptures of the numerous Hindu deities and the stories from Mahabharata, Ramayana, fables from Panchatantra. This was built by the also awesomely named Queen LokaMahadevi ( queen of the world).

There are other temples nearby away from this temple complex that one could visit if you had the time too.

Tip: Monsoons are a good time to visit Badami, Aihole, Pattadakal. The rest of the year all these places are very sultry and dry. Both Pattadakal and Aihole have over 100 temples spread across large areas. Typically the main group of temple clusters are what you’d be led to on following maps. It’s your choice based on time and interest to try visiting the less popular ones too. It’ll just take more time but one can spend a weekend just in Aihole, and another in Pattadakal. There are caves, buddhists and jain temples in addition to Hindu ones, dolmens and even a fort.

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4 day trip

A Cool Kodaikanal Christmas

Early the next morning, we drove towards Kodaikanal just over the state borders. Its quite a long drive at all of 5 hours but it’s ridiculously picturesque. Set aside time to enjoy it and take enough breaks to make the best of the drive.IMG_6530.jpg

Streams gurgling over boulders sprinkled over their path, sunrise streaming through the lush greenery, there’s a postcard view at every step of the way.

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The misty roads had a wall of jagged rocks on one side and numerous pink blooms softening the view of the sheer drop on the other. Amongst the sight of the green cover, one could see the Anayirankal dam – a turquoise blob in the distance.IMG_6541.jpg

Another stop at yet another spot leads us to a view of the Thalaiyar waterfall through the greenery- though narrow, the sight of it still tears through the foggy view of the forest around.IMG_6578.jpg

Just 8km before reaching Kodaikanal- conveniently right beside the highway are the Silver Cascade Waterfalls. It holds the overflowing water from the man-made Kodaikanal lake and is a good spot to stretch your legs and even buy some of the local garlic sold in bunches! The waterfall is truly picture perfect and munching on some corn with chilly and lime while watching it, only makes it better.IMG_6592.jpg

At the end of the long drive, was our reward, Kodaikanal– The Gift of the forests. Unfortunately, the whole great country of India with all its population seemed to have had the same idea that weekend and had landed there too- so our first view of the town when escaping for a bit from the bustle of Bangalore was – hold your breath- a traffic jam!

So we decided on plan B- that was less of a plan and more of a spur-of-the-moment decision- to head to the tourist spots in descending order of popularity. And it turned out to be the best decision ever- it instantly took us away from the crowds and breathe in what’s truly gorgeous about this little plateau on the Palani hills.

Tip: Kodaikanal is insanely convenient for the average tourist. All you need to do is get to the centre of the town and there are rows of taxis and jeeps offering to cover different sets of around 10 places for a fixed amount of money. Personally, I hate bargaining, so this is fantastic if you don’t want to be bothered by the local travel.

We first decided we wanted to stretch our legs a bit and made our way to the Bryant park despite the drizzle. Sticks of airy cotton candy accompanied our meandering stroll around the park with gorgeous, misty views of the town and the Kodaikanal Lake too.IMG_6608.jpg

From here we headed to the evocatively named Fairy falls, the source of the Pambar river. After parking, we entered with some trepidation into a gate that looked like it opened up to a Govt facility but a gentleman directed us right inside to a view of the lovely Fairy falls. It’s a relatively small waterfall but it perfectly delightful. It wasn’t bad at all that we were pretty much the only visitors during our time there.IMG_6636.jpg

Peeling ourselves from there we headed to what was called the “Liril falls” on the map. We’d strongly recommend skipping it (especially during winter) since its not much more than a not-very-clean stream unless perhaps you’re visiting during the monsoons. It’s surrounded by stalls selling all kinds of spices and oils with very talented salesmen so be aware of prices outside before deciding to pick up your favourites.IMG_6680.jpg

It was getting dark early due to it being winter but we weren’t ready to end our day as yet, so we decided to just drive further away from the centre of the town without realising we were heading towards the Palani Hills Forest Conservation Area.IMG_6687.jpg

We had to stop and park just to catch our breath at the stunning beauty of the place. A Christmas evening, an endless forest of pine trees with raindrops just dripping off the tree leaves- it was simply magical. We had to just wander around with smiles pasted on our faces- picking up pine cones and feeling blissfully lost in the green wonderland.

Tip: As often as “popular tourist places” are popular for a reason it’s also worth your while to take a step away from them, and take a bit of a detour, to make memories that are so much your very own- a snapshot of time for yourself without the world trying to burst in to your moment of calm.

Later that evening, we made our way back into town for dinner and the restaurant walked into was right in the middle of the vegetable market that was wrapping up for the day. We did get our seat but unintentionally, we had dropped into a popular choice that quickly had people walking in. Some chatter with a group of girls playing Jenga in the neighbouring table and we made our way back to our stay to get to sleep reminiscing about the day that was and looking forward to the one that was to come.

The next morning, we headed away from the chilly Kodaikanal to the warm embrace of the 2500-year-old city of Madurai with a 3-hour drive. While there’s plenty to see in Madurai, on this trip we wanted to take it slow. We headed to the iconic 6th century Madurai Meenakshi temple. I’ve been there just once before and find more joy in the markets around the east side of the temple. They are still very much housed within an ancient pillared hall- the sheer variety of items found in the narrow lanes is mind-boggling. From fabrics of all kinds, iron utensils and knives to ghungroos with rows of tinkling brass bells made from scratch.IMG_6729

IMG_6737.jpgWrt the temple itself, one can easily spend hours just wandering even from outside the temple to admire its 12 pillars in all the 4 directions. The mythological significance of this temple is that it’s believed the Goddess Parvati (Meenakshi) married Lord Shiva(Sundareshwar) in the location of this temple.  You can spend a whole day and not be done strolling around the mandapas(pillared halls) and shrines. The shrines are dedicated most notably to the 2 main deities and their son, Lord Shiva.IMG_6764.jpg

Of the mandapas, there are 4

  • Ayirakal mandapam: The one with 1000 (945 precisely) pillars with detailed sculptures of mythological creatures. Large colourful blooms grace the ceiling.
  • Kilikoondu Mandapam – believed at some time to have housed parrots trained to say the word “Meenakshi”
  • Ashta Shakti Mandapam – with shrines dedicated to 8 Goddesses.
  • Nayaka Mandapam– a hall with 100 pillars and an idol of Lord Nataraja (the dancing form of Lord Shiva)

The last is a personal favourite.

If not particularly religious and eager to stand in the endless queues to see the deities in the various shrines, what we’d recommend is that once you go in buy some prasadam (we like the puliyodarai) , sit on the steps of the Potramarai Kulam(the pond with the golden lotus) and enjoy the sheer level of artistry that has gone into every inch of the mammoth temple complex.

Note:

  • Photography is not permitted inside the temple. You are also not allowed to take in phones – so stick to your group once inside the temple or it’s easy to get lost in its vast interiors. However, they have a cloakroom kind of area at all gates where you can leave your belongings just outside the temple. Ensure you remember which gate you parked kept your things at.
  • Food (including offerings to the deity, like oil for the lamps) is not allowed inside the temple.
  •  Parking is not easy once you come very near to the temple. However, you can search for parking spots on google maps and it shows up some paid parking options a short walk away from the temple.

While my personal favourite is the panneer soda when in Tamil Nadu- you may want to try some of the numerous sodas sold in the stalls around the temple, to cool yourselves too.IMG_6753.jpg

We realised that the next place we wanted to visit-  the Thirumala Nayakar Mahal was just a short walk away from our car parking spot. So we decided to take to the streets on foot even passing a couple of men who were painstakingly dying thread by hand to be used in sarees.

The palace itself is relatively recent ie., from the 17th century and its pillars are definitely the memorable part of the structure. It consists of the Swarga Vilasam- that enclosed space that housed the throne and perhaps even court meetings and the Ranga Vilasam – the large open hall with high pillars that was built for performances.IMG_6801.jpg

After the hills and the plains, for some reason, we had an urgent wish to see the beach! And so a short detour later, we landed in the city of Chennai. We polished off our lunch at a charming Sri Lankan restaurant – that I promised myself I’d visit again just for their yummy seeni sambol.

Even though the sun was at its peak by now, we couldn’t resist walking up to the Besant Nagar beach and just taking a minute to mentally capture the scene of the endless waves, so we could revisit it when back in good old Bangalore. Topping off the day with some fun ice cream flavours from a place by the beach we decided it was just the right end to another lovely little journey.

5 day trip

A winter trip : meeting Munnar

During a winter weekend we decided to search for the cooler parts of the tropical south India- while my colleagues at Canada will pooh-pooh the temperature in winter here, we’ll still consider it cold enough!

We started off in search of the hills in Munnar through winding roads and waterfalls ever so often making an appearance it almost feels like you’re taking a peek into an unspoilt wonderland. For those feeling like they just need the water to shower on them, there are plenty more just by the side of the road too.

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The drive takes us through the Annamalai tiger reserve with the Amaravathi river, the longest tributary of the Kaveri river, providing an occasional view through the foliage. Our first waterfall of the trip was a distant view of the Thoovanam waterfall,  which even in the winter, was quite impressive through the lush green cover of the Chinnar wildlife sanctuary.

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Thoovanam waterfall

 

While we had stopped there mostly to have a bit of tea from the stall right at the entrance, the next waterfall, was much more accessible Karimutty falls which as we learnt later, supposedly passes over medicinal herbs and is believed to cure ailments.  The location of the waterfall is also amidst what’s known to be Kerala’s only natural sandalwood forest so we have plenty of stores selling sandalwood products ahead.

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Karimutty falls

 

Our next unplanned stop at Marayur was towards a board that called out the “Rajiv Gandhi Nature park” which is a relatively small park but under the canopy of a single large banyan tree with monkeys to keep us entertained with their antics. While smaller than a the big banyan tree in Bangalore, it’s still a pleasant pitstop to stretch your legs and take a break during the drive.

 

We had actually reached Marayur,  searching for the dolmens( table shaped stone structures which functioned as tombs) with rock paintings dating back to the Iron age but weren’t able to get directions from the locals while the ticket seller at the park simply said it wasn’t accessible (it was unclear whether that day or no longer accessible to the public). Maybe one of you will have better luck and let us know.

 

A little ahead and the ubiquitous tea gardens of Munnar began to make an appearance with tender shoots of green covering the hillsides with more views of waterfalls flowing into the Pambar river.IMG_5854.jpg

 

We actually got to the Lakkam falls just a few minutes before the staff’s  time of closing (5pm) , still being graciously allowed in as long as we came back in 10 minutes! Wading into the clear water and with the pebbles and rocks polished smooth by the stream over it made for quite a lovely spot to let the water droplets occasionally shower over us.

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We hope to return someday to the guided trekking they arrange by the side of the Eravikulam stream by the waterfall.IMG_5874.jpg

 

While it was getting darker now, we followed maps and wandered into a tea garden on Gundumalai road (where thankfully some workers were kind enough to stop us and inform us we were lost since it only got to a dead-end through the tea gardens). A few more gaffes due to the not-so-uncommon name of our Airbnb and some atrocious roads and we finally got there grateful for a warm bed and a whimsical space with antique cars and scooters displayed at the entrance! Mercifully a local hotel delivered food as long as we paid the autorickshaw fare – we gobbled it all and fell into a relieved sleep after some talk with the chatty care taker.IMG_5957.jpg

Early next morning, we were gently lulled out of our sleep by the chirping of birds and realised our stay was also amidst a tea garden. Our morning stroll around the neighbourhood let us see that the atrocious roads from the previous night, were now just meandering paths perfect for a walk on foot! We had our dose of interaction with the locals too – with a tiny grocery stall owner insisting we get a pic of me in front of his stall covered with brilliant orange creeper vines and Anand’s camera as always garnering the interest for the local kids.IMG_5939.jpg

 

A view of the Attukad waterfall in the distance and we drove to “The blossom international park ” for a healthy dose of Flowers. IMG_5965.jpgWhile manicured and curated, the place is admittedly beautiful with blooms in a riot of shapes and colors. After a stroll there we picked up some seeds for the green thumbs in the family and made our way to the Mattupetty dam.

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Despite the volume of tourists, Mattupetty dam makes for a lovely view of the calm water while munching on some fresh pineapples with salt and chilly powder. A short walk away to the Echo point, and one can get to another view of the lake.IMG_6037

A little away is the Kundala lake that shows up in an opening right through the grove of eucalyptus trees with their fragrance wafting through the air.IMG_6057.jpg

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On our way back through the tea gardens we stopped for a minute at the Honey Bee Tree– popular being the lone tree housing numerous bee hives in beautiful shades of brown , though there are none on any other trees nearby. It is easy to miss this one unless you’re looking for it so you’ll only have the odd informed tourist stopping for a bit to stop and stare.IMG_6068.jpg

More than 10 years ago, we had visited Munnar as part of a college trip and Anand could actually recognize the place we had stayed at. We remembered vaguely there was a hill in front of it , where our gang of friends had taken a walk and even visited a church atop it. There was also a waterbody by its side, with a ridiculously perfect reflection of the gorgeous trees around it. The hotel itself had developed to become a fancy restaurant  but unfortunately the beautiful hills in front of it had been razed to make way for more shops and hotels. I’ve always been conflicted about the prettiness of the tea gardens since they’ve only been possible with significant amounts of deforestation. We were getting late for our next stop but we had to take a moment to have some refreshments at the hotel just for nostalgia’s sake.

We rushed quickly to just get in time for the much awaited highlight of the day – a performance of Kathakali and demonstration of Kalaripayattu.

The Kathakali performance was a humorous depiction of a demoness attempting to woo a king. The spot-on expressions, colorful costumes, accompanying vocals and instruments were all a complete joy to experience as we laughed along and marveled at the energy and work that went into it.IMG_6110IMG_6124

The Kalaripayattu demonstration was a riveting performance of a martial art that’s rooted in tradition and still manages to stay relevant and have us at the edge of our seats. IMG_6192From the prayers before starting to the displays of strength and expertise to the jumping through hoops of fire every moment had us cheering on the hard work that had gone into it all.IMG_6352

An exciting finish to a calm day we could not wait to see what the next day would bring- this time in the town of Kodaikanal.

3 day trip

Belgaum : Sada and Godachinmalki waterfalls

We went through mingling areas of wild shrubbery and small areas functioning as fields for the residents of the village. With him hacking at undergrowth on the way we made our way on the hot afternoon in search of the promising waters. On the way we even had a view of Anjunem dam in turquoise green glistening in the distance.IMG_6312.jpg We first heard the gush and then saw the Sada waterfall– it was quite an oasis of glee in the unforgiving afternoon heat. The waterfall wasn’t grand, but being right under it, it felt like ephemeral mist that just merged into the air before it reached the earth. We relaxed on rocks near the waterfall allowing the shower of droplets to skim us, dipped our feet into the gurgling stream and munched on emergency chocolates that we shared with the guide.IMG_4490.jpg

 

After a while we had to peel ourselves from there to make our way back. Just before we reached the village, the guide took a minute to check in with his cattle grazing in the field and came back with 2 hands full of lemons for us insisting we take them! He asked if we were interested in a fort and took us to one that was beautiful -in how wild it was in all its ruined form- moss all over, greenery bursting through every nook and cranny. It was the first fort where we were asked to take off our footwear despite there being no real path through the area other than walking through the earth and greens. Apparently locals consider the place sacred and have festivals there annually too.IMG_4494.jpg

 

A little ahead and he recommended one last thing- the village well. Here too he requested us to take off our foot wear to enter the deep step well since it was still used as potable water. The mossy covered walls made for yet another pretty and unexpected scene in the little hamlet.IMG_4505.jpg

 

By this time my hunger had disappeared but we stopped at a small makeshift restaurant(Note :there aren’t any once you deviate from the Chorla Ghat road.) and had some pav bhaji as lunch.

 

Driving back we made our way a second time to St.Mary’s church and strangely it was still closed. IMG_4518.jpgAnyone who’s aware, do let us know if they have specific timings. With our love for water spots, we then made our way to Fort lake for a leisurely stroll lit by the setting sun.IMG_4527.jpg Once it got dark, we decided to make our way back to the hotel which incidentally was in Khade Bazaar and we stopped and parked by the side of a street hearing the sounds of drumming! We joined the crowd, I found a place on a raised platform to see what was going on. It was this brilliant display of strength, joy, beauty, and camaraderie with a group of young girls beating drums to celebrate the Ganesha Chaturthi festival. The whole performance was rhythmically mesmerising.IMG_4558.jpg Despite being out all day and quite tired ourselves, they had our rapt attention- we managed to join the crowd and cheer them on as the music thundered through the narrow by-lanes of the market. After that eventful,unpredictable day, we crashed to sleep with dreams of what adventures the next day would hold!

 

The next day we had decided to make our way to the Gokak waterfalls on the Ghataprabha river. Prepared with water and scarves to tackle the sun we reached in 1.5 hrs following maps- only to land up on the opposite side of the waterfalls ie., the non touristy side beside a small village temple (which as we later learnt was the 12th century- Madhavananda Prabhu temple).

IMG_4579 A couple of gentlemen working on its renovation and a few kids running around the area playing. We decided it was the perfect spot both to take a break and enjoy a different view of the water while we munched on our snacks.

 

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View from the “other” side of the falls

 

We then rode to the “right” side of the falls making our way into the town which almost looked like it was from another era. A single cloth mill seemed to be the main business around and a charming but defunct stone walled electricity generation station from the 19th century still stood proud in the distance.

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The temple on the way to the waterfalls’ view point: Shri Mahalingeshwar temple

The gorge overlooking the waterfalls is impressive in its warm shade of reddish brown looking both jagged and protective at the same time. Despite visiting after the rains, the water strength was not as its best- however that gave us a chance to go closer for a look since most of the surface was dry in the season. Its hard to explain why we love the sight of waterfalls- the drama, the roar, the majesty or the concept of crashing down with grace only to surge ahead. Munching on pineapple slices with a sprinkling of salt and chilly powder while enjoying the sight sure does call for some philosophy.IMG_6423.jpg

On a whim , we stopped again at a neighboring park and a homeless man playing with some puppies , gestured to us to walk ahead- he had led us to yet another view of the waterfalls! Looks like we were destined to see it from every angle that day.

 

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We thanked him with the rest of our snacks and made our way to the Godachinmalki waterfalls on the Markandeya river. We sure hadn’t had enough of our quota of falls for the trip.IMG_6452.jpg

With expectations low, we got there, but what a fun spot it was. With water gushing down multiple levels it’s just the right level of playful and impressive, it was a great spot to rest a while, munch on some corn and watch the water droplets sparkling in the sunlight as they scatter everywhere.

All seen and done, we finally had to make our way back to Belgaum and then Bangalore for the end of a wondrous trip with just the right mix of joy, cheer, and serenity.

3 day trip

Bijapur – Of whispering echoes and carved calligraphy

We first headed to Upli Burj which perhaps wasn’t the best idea just after a heavy lunch. It’s a cylindrical watch tower built by Hyder Ali, with a winding staircase to reach atop its 80ft height. While there rests a canon atop it, the main attraction of the watch tower is the expansive view of the city and making a game out of identifying all its landmarks.

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The cannon at Upli Burj

Ibrahim roza was next on our list and we were welcomed by the sight of the lady at the shoe stand preparing to feed some break and milk to a kindle of kittens as they mewed impatiently. IMG_4175.jpgIt houses 2 structures one a mosque and another that houses the tombs including that of Ibrahim Adil Shah II and his wife Taj Sultana. Designed by the Persian architect Malik Sandal, the 2 structures are separated by a pond and fountain between them. It is believed that this structure was the inspiration for the design of Taj Mahal.IMG_4161.jpg

A favourite of mine were the Arabic writings from the Quran engraved in delicate filigree work atop the doors with remarkable skill allowing light to stream through. IMG_4240.jpgThe artistry on the teak wood doors and the exterior and interior walls are quite the treat to admire and enjoy this 17th century structure. The geometric patterns on the interior of the mosque’s ceilings and arches made for calming symmetry too.

While I marvelled at the stunning architecture, Anand was immediately surrounded by a group of children with demands to take their pictures in every possible location within the structure- both one at a time and as a group.

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Note: You can only enter barefoot to Ibrahim Roza and the floor can be quite hot in the afternoons, We’d recommend carrying an extra pair of socks to save your feet.

Malik-e maidan(king of the plans) also called Burj-e-Sherz(tower of lion) was our next stop. This spot has a canon today that has a lion with open jaws crushing an elephant at the mouth of it and which is considered the largest to have been used in the medieval times at 4.45mt. It is believed that it took several elephants, 100s of oxen and people to get this cannon to the top of the tower. It is said that it required 10 gunners to set it off and who immediately jumped into a tank of water to avoid the deafening noise it generated. However it’s an interesting throwback to the Battle of Talikota fought by the Deccan Sultanates against the Vijayanagara empire. It was said to be won by 2 generals of the Vijayanagara empire switching loyalties during the battle leading to their loss. This tower was built to commemorate this victory. This was unfortunately followed by the pillaging and wide spread destruction of the then prosperous, culturally rich city of Hampi.img_4266img_4265

From the 17th century, we next headed to a place created in the 21st, recommended by our auto driver, called Shivgiri – it is a park of sorts that includes some greenery and even some amusement park rides. However, the key reason to visit is the 85ft statue of Lord Shiva which is said to be the 2nd largest of Lord Shiva in India and the 4th largest in the world. The towering statue has a good level of detail especially in the rudraksha necklace and scales on the snake draped on the neck of the Lord Shiva. Unless you’re looking to kill some time and entertain children, the rest of the park would not be worth too much time though.IMG_4279.jpg

As much as we wanted to visit Gol Gumbaz and tried to cool down with some ice candy in brilliant orange, the Bijapur heat had gotten to us. Our auto driver convinced us that Gol Gumbaz would be open early in the morning – as early as 6am, still leaving us time to catch our bus at 10. After a quick nap we decided in favor of street food in Bijapur for dinner. We head out to a noisy rowdy group of revelers celebrating Ganesha Chaturthi while being pretty inebriated in a procession of sorts. Passing quickly by them, we walked to the street behind Gagan mahal, and helped ourselves to some chaat -masala puri(sweeter than we were used to), but the flavored soda and falooda, were, like the young folk say, on point.

We were up and packed early next morning to head off to Gol Gumbaz on foot since our hotel was just a 10 min walk away. We were still quite uncertain if it’d be open but much to our delight it was! The only other people were those on their regular morning walks in the sprawling 70 acre green space around the Gol Gumbaz.IMG_4286.jpg This 17th century mausoleum of Mohammed Adil Shah who had the same architect Ibrahim Sandal design his own tomb to be grander than that of his father-Ibrahim Adil Shah II. Buried along with him are his mistress, 2 wives, daughter and grandson. At a diameter of 44 mt, it is one of the largest domes in the world not supported by columns. IMG_4303.jpgWhile the light streaming in through the windows with the sunrise are quite the sight, the truly wondrous part of the structure is the whispering gallery in the interior of the dome overlooking the tombs. Listening to each other whispering from opposite sides of the dome is a truly different experience when there’s no one else but us- and well, the guide. We’d strongly recommend you visit early in the morning, it’s absolutely magical and the silence let’s you appreciate every bit of its brilliance.IMG_4306.jpg

 

3 day trip

Belgaum: Chorla Ghat and its surprises

After Gol Gumbaz and catching a quick breakfast, we headed to the bus station to make our way to Belgaum. We had booked in advance which turned out to be unnecessary with the sheer number of buses that ply between the 2 districts. In fact, it seemed like online bookings for those buses were so uncommon that most staff at the bus station were confused why we’d book it online+ weren’t sure which bus our ticket referred to.After some back and forth, they came to an agreement on the bus we should board.

 

It was supposed to be a short journey and we settled in to our seats- however not all things go as planned and so the bus had trouble mid-way and had to stop. The bus conductor and driver stopped buses passing by, to request them to accommodate the stranded passengers. Also the heat was at its peak since it was now around 11:30am, and the roadside didn’t have much cover. Since there were families with babies and older people, we let them go ahead and boarded the last bus that accommodated us. Luckily other than being ravenous and covered with a layer of dust by the time we reached Belgaum, there wasn’t much damage due to the delay.

 

After a heart lunch at a restaurant very close from the bus stand, we decided to walk to our hotel which was 15 mins away.Incidentally our hotel was in the possibly busiest areas of Belgaum which is the market. This also gave us a chance to get snapshots of what Belgaum was about in all its bustle by the time we got to the hotel. A quick shower and nap later we were refreshed enough to head-out to pick up our rental bike. It’s not often that we recommend services on our site, but we’ll have to with this one. It’s run by a young, earnest gentleman who’s passionate about bikes and has the most adorable German shepherd who loves to play. The bike was also well maintained since they don’t just rent bikes but also function as a bike service centre.

 

With not much time with daylight left, we decided to head inside the Belgaum fort. The significant area inside the fort now houses military training and housing sections and at built into the narrow entrance of the fort is the Military Durga Devi Mandir – it is tradition for the military staff to keep the lamps burning in the temple. Driving by, in just a couple of minutes we got to the Kamal Basadi. A 13th century structure in black stone with flawlessly smooth pillars built by a minister in the Ralta Dynasty. The temple’s name is derived from its design that is supposed to be shaped like 72 lotus petals.IMG_4353.jpg

Just beside it is the Chikki basadi– which also has its own charm with dancing figures and animal motifs on the outside too.IMG_4360.jpg

We spent some time in the calm green space watching contrails of jets criss crossing the blue sky. With my love for large stained glass windows, we moved on to the St.Mary’s church built in a very impressive Gothic style but found it closed.IMG_4518.jpg

As daylight faded we made our way back to the hotel passing by Ganesha pandals on every street elegantly designed playing devotional songs mildly vs the garish decorations and loud “music” some other parts of the state have taken a preference for. We spent the evening walking the streets stopping by for some delicious and interesting soda flavors even including one of chilly!IMG_6219.jpg After picking up a must-have- an Ilkal saree for myself, and  a quick dinner, we decided to catch up on our rest for the next day’s ride to Chorla Ghat.

Chorla Ghat is a section of the Western ghats that is at the intersection of the 3 states- Goa, Maharashtra and Karnataka. This time we were heading towards it from Karnataka. In search of more waterfalls and greenery we passed by lush trees on either side of a beautiful road. While the road through it is itself quite lovely one has to take a not-so-clear deviation off-roading in order to visit the waterfalls sprinkled about the region.IMG_4385

Many folks reach these waterfalls via a trek/hike up the route we took, but we’d recommend a really sturdy bike if you’re not walking. The route while being perfectly stunning is also quite backbreaking. We were served one delightful scene after another with the fields in perfect shades of green and the sky competing with its fluffy white clouds against just the right blue. IMG_4381.jpgWhole stretches were covered with blooms in pink and yellow, and we rode through streams along the way. We were sorry to disturb a lovely sunbathing snake that slithered away into the bushes. After quite a drive we decided to stop at this serene meadow of a spot overlooking endless layers of hills changing color with the clouds that floated above them.IMG_4391 It was decidedly one of the best spots we’ve ever come across on our travels with just the two of us at the edge of what looked like an utopian new world. IMG_6264.jpgWe wandered around the place and realized we had in fact reached the Chikhale falls. It was not at its best since the monsoons weren’t at their peak but it was still our favorite surprise of the day.IMG_6289.jpg

Note :Maps do not help out here! We found them quite incorrect and we’d strongly recommend asking the very few locals you may meet on your way instead.

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More riding across pretty scenes and muddy roads we reached a junction with directions to the Sural waterfalls. Where one gets to is more of a view point to see the waterfall in brilliant white piercing through the deep green pristine surroundings.IMG_4452.jpg

A ride further ahead, and we saw the route shown by maps lead to a dead end with a path under construction and heavily dug up. However there was a kind gentleman and his wife who insisted we’d get lost and let us follow them all the way to the nearest village to Sada waterfalls. They further introduced us to a gentleman who came with us the rest of the way till we reached what was less a village and more a group of houses and parked there. The “guide” let us leave our helmets, and park our bikes and after checking we had water took us along our way to the Sada waterfalls.

 

 

1 day trip · 4 day trip

Bijapur- Of origami mosques and kite flying

After an overnight bus from Bangalore dropped us in Bijapur one fine morning, and a quick round of freshening up, we hired an auto rickshaw for the day to take us around the historical city of Bijapur.

Jamia Masjid/Jama Masjid/Jami Masjid (all names used in various articles of literature) is said to be the largest mosque in the Deccan plateau during the medieval times. It is a white , large and calm spot within the city. The first aspect of the building one notices on entering it are the arches in clean lines when looking up inside the mosque- for some reason it reminds me of origami folds.IMG_4050.jpg

The tiles in the prayer hall were interestingly made to look like prayer rugs and the most special/ornate part of the mosque is the mehrab with Persian inscriptions inscribed in black and gold. The kind caretaker even translated a line for us on our request. It is said that the mosque was originally built by Ali Adil Shah who was from the Shi’ite sect of Islam- hence the simple structure of the mosque- but the inscriptions were added on later by the Sunni king Muhammed Adil Shah. The money for building this structure is said to have come from the battle of TaliKota were the kings defeated Rama Raja in the 1500s. Aurangazeb contributed to the structure by adding a gate to it in his time. The large square courtyard also has a tank for ablutions before prayer. It is believed that there is sufficient place for 20,000 people to pray in the premises within the gate simultaneously.IMG_6191.jpg

Just a few meters away, the driver then took us to see the facade of Mahtar Mahal Masjid. The pretty jharokas(windows) instantly transport you to Gujarat/Rajasthan despite being on one side of a narrow busy lane. It is said that this 17th century structure was built when the king Adil Shah donated a large sum of money to a sweeper since a soothsayer advised him to do so to cure his leprosy- whether it helped or not is not entirely clear :). So well that gave the structure it’s name that translates to “Sweeper’s Palace”. However there are a bunch more legends around it so we personally cannot be certain of its origin.IMG_4066.jpg

Our next stop was my favourite of the day – Asar Mahal. Asar Mahal said to house two strands of hair from the Prophet’s beard (second strangest thing I’ve heard since the wars over Budhha’s tooth in Srilanka). It functions as a mosque now and therefore women are prohibited from entering it. Didn’t dampen my time there, since I found the reservoir next to it much more interesting – there were kids in all sizes having a great time- some being instructed by a teacher under a tree, some flying a kite, some more playing gilli-danda – all quite interested in us and in being photographed with their younger siblings. It made me wish I too had carried a kite along! The reservoir was built to commemorate Taj Sultana, King Ibrahim II’s 1st wife.IMG_4086.jpg

Gagan mahal– All that’s left of this 16th century palace are the still-standing-wall and the majestic arches aptly aiming to reach the sky. The space in front of it is a well maintained park used by locals to take a break from their day or kids to frolic around. The structure was meant to be the royal residence and the royal court by the Sultan Ali Adil Shah.IMG_4099.jpg

Barah Kaman: is a 17th century unfinished mausoleum of Ali Adil Shah II, his wife, daughters and his mistresses. Earlier called Ali Roza to indicate the king’s name it was changed to Barah Kaman since it was the 12th monument to be built during the reign of Shah Nawaz Khan. It’s quite a dramatic structure that leads one to wonder how it would look complete. Succeeding to the throne at the young age of 18, Ali Adil Shah II struggled with battling the Marathas and the Mughal invasionsIMG_4142.jpg

Jod gumbaz – from outside it’s an almost non-descript old building but was one of the only spaces here that seemed to have a huge section of spiritual followers, even waiting in line to offer their prayers. We were charmed by a lady with stunning tribal jewellery and attire also in the queue. However it isn’t as well maintained as some of the other structures in Bijapur. Jod(pair) refers to 2 mausoleums that house tombs of Khan Muhammad and Abdul Razzaq Qadiri – the general and spiritual advisor of the young Adil Shahi Ruler Sikander who helped Aurangazeb defeat their king.IMG_4151.jpg

We next made our way to Taj bawdi, a pond built by Ibrahim Adil Shah in memory of his wife, Taj Sultana. To avoid the place being dirtied, it can only be viewed from outside today but is still an impressive pond with flights of stairs leading to the water and a few rest houses meant for travelers also seen on the other side. However just outside it we met a huge group that were celebrating their village festival and had taken a break right there to have lunch they’d carried along.IMG_4159.jpg

By this time we were starving and yearning for some kadak roti with ennegayi but unfortunately the restaurant we found had only north Indian food. Only half day in and we gobbled our food to continue on our way.

9 day trip

Champaner : of cliff-hanging palaces and muddy paths to wonder

Next day morning, after breakfast we drove up the Pavagadh hill, we got to Saat Kaman located on the edge of the cliff on the south and built with the local yellow sandstone. It was meant to be the end of a gate but now stands by itself looking intriguing.IMG_3835.jpg

A short distance ahead, we happened on the fort we walked into, upto a path that diverged. IMG_3853.jpgA walk ahead through one of the paths and we landed at the Khuneshwar Waterfalls. We were the only people at this very scenic and dreamy spot. A tiny temple balancing on the rocks, the colour green taking over every spot and the eager gush of water made it the perfect place to take a break and just sit and stare.IMG_3880.jpg

Finally pulling ourselves away, we backtracked and this time took the route to Saat Manzil: a seven storey palace built into the hillside right from the 15th century. While I was hesitant to climb the stairs down after straining my legs a bit on the boulders at the Khuniya Mahadev Waterfalls, a security guard urged me to go on insisting I should.  A view of waterfalls in the distance amidst the misty expanse of green made it well worth it. It feels like quite the spot for the palace – what a joy it must have been to wake up to the amazing views every morning.

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We also stopped at the Mint which while simple from the outside had enclosures in the floor presumably to store all the mysterious royal riches.IMG_3911.jpg

The Mahakali temple atop the Pavgadh hill is accessible via a ropeway and is considered the oldest temple in Gujarat being from the 10th-11th century. However on driving to it the crowds led us to change our mind and we instead made our way back down the Pavgadh hill.

Kamani Masjid: is a mosque so named due to the arches that make up most of it. The ceiling long gone, it also has a broken minaret upfront. Overall it’s hard to deduce whether it was left incomplete or destroyed/fell into ruin later.IMG_3936.jpg

We next tried to find Lila Gumbaz ki Masjid, but the negative of visiting during the monsoons was the amount of slush in some of the narrower paths we would take from this point on. That mixed with generous amounts of cow dung from the cattle in plenty led us to give up and return to try another spot.

We moved on in the direction of the Kevda Masjid and yet again a good distance was to be covered on foot only. After a while we came up to an area entirely covered with water where we had to pretty much roll up our trousers and walk through ankle deep water. Just behind us were 3 tiny school kids who with their backpacks were going on their regular day. One of them decided he really didn’t want to step in the slush and Anand gave him a helping hand.IMG20180818121107.jpg We finally reached the lovely Kevda Masjid. While following the rough pattern of the other mosques, it still retains its own charm. The arched entrance with intricate designs is flanked by 2 minars(towers) on either sides.IMG_3961.jpg

Not knowing how far the walk was we had left our umbrellas and ponchos behind. Poor Anand went right back to pick them up while I sat guard over the camera and luggage.

Once done with walked it, now on to Nagina Masjid. The path had no one but us and we had to stop and convince ourselves we werent entirely lost! But finally getting a look at the Nagina Masjid through the mild drizzle was worth the distance. It was my favorite of the smaller structures. The delicate and complex patterns carved out in to the pillars is something one can admire for hours. One can see the 2 storeys and balconies inside the mosque.img_4018img_4012

Passing by the peacocks in the fields on out way back we finally got back to the car and made our way back by the Narmada canal to Ahmedabad.IMG_4031.jpg

Note: We missed out on 2 places – the Lakulish temple and the Navlakha Kothar within the Archaeological park. They seem interesting too, we’d recommend giving them a shot when you visit, especially during the monsoons.IMG_6041.jpg

IMG_6052.jpgWe had our flight the next morning and we wanted to make the best of our evening there, so headed off to Rani no Hajiro to pick up some beautiful bandhini sarees in every possible color for the family.img_6052 By the time we were finished, Manek Chowk was all setup for the evening food extravaganza and we decided to dig into an overly indulgent pineapple ice-cream sandwich. While I called out to the distracted Anand, the sandwich storekeepers also pitched in together calling him “Anand bhaiii” (brother). This was not a bad end to the trip at all- with a feeling of being honorary Gujaratis once you’ve been called Ben and Bhai atleast along the way! 🙂img_6102img_6070

 

9 day trip

Champaner- An unexpected waterfall and a town-namesake pitstop

The next morning after a dry spell through our trip, we woke up to the sound of rushing rain. Thankfully our hired car was being dropped at the hotel but we were in for a surprise. We dragged our luggage getting drenched despite being under the cover of the hotel porch due to the sheer force of the wind on the rain. We drove out only to realise the roads were flooded beyond expectations – all after a few hours of rain. It was a nerve-racking experience being in a hired car driving through unfamiliar roads with the tyres completely under water for really long stretches. Mercifully we got out of Ahmedabad and headed towards our next destination Champaner.

However on seeing the map, we noticed a detour we could simply not avoid- one to the town Anand.

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Just in case I had second thoughts…

It’s not very many people who can boast of sharing a name with a town and so we had to drop in even if only for him to enjoy a fruit based lassi that he deemed was perfection. For those not in the know, the place Anand is the milk capital of India where the Operation Floor launched in 1970 transformed India to the worlds largest milk producer.

Driving on to Champaner, the historical city established in the 8th century and named after the General Champa who was also a friend of the then King Vanraj Chavda.

Note: the area called the Champaner-Pavgadh Archaeological site is huge- ie., 3280 acres so we wouldn’t recommend exploring it all on foot. There are numerous rickety cars available for hire so there shouldn’t be too much trouble exploring even if you get there via public transport.

Our first view of the place was that of hills topped with mist and a glistening Patal lake providing a backdrop to the simple but beautifully symmetric Sakar Khan’s Tomb from the 15th century.

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Patal lake

We noticed several vehicles parked at the spot and people going beside the tomb on foot. Curious, we enquired and found that the path led to a waterfall.

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Sakar Khan’s Tomb

We walked past bright green foilage, ruins of the fort, purple flowers reminiscent to us of the Valley of Flowers, gurgling streams and fellow explorers. Unprepared for a trek, I quickly used Marathi/Tamil mami dressing hack to covert my flowing skirt to a pair of trousers to navigate the large and slippery boulders that is the only way to reach the Khuniya Mahadev Waterfalls.

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The green path to the Khuniya Mahadev Waterfalls

Considering the waterfalls were not part of our plan it was such a delight – the waterfall itself was translucent and the breeze made it all the more ephemeral. We spend a good amount of time just watching the water flow into the crevices and nooks of the rocks below splitting into umpteen tiny waterfalls.

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Khuniya Mahadev Waterfalls

Once back we picked up a steaming cob of corn each to munch on and then headed to the nearest point to us- the 15th century helical step well with the staircase along the wall of the well shaft vs the other step wells we’d seen on our trip.

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Helical step well

We next headed to our favorite of the places that day – the Jami Masjid. A few steps in and one would be at the section with an open roof and lovely stone-screen work.

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Jami Masjid, Champaner

The mosque itself is accessible through porches from the north, south and the east. It is easy to believe the structure with almost 200 pillars took 25 years to build under the king Mohammed Begda.

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Jami Masjid, Champaner

Like in many mosques we’d seen in Gujarat- the patterns reflected more the culture of the craftsmen from Hindu, Muslim and Jain backgrounds rather than strictly what is seen traditionally in Islam.

Incidentally there were several artists painting within the mosque that day. Some of their interpretations that we enjoyed almost as lovely as the mosque itself.

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Jami Masjid, Champaner

There is a lovely octogonal pond for ablutions on one side of the mosque too.

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Jami Masjid, Champaner

A little ahead is the Kabutarkhana Pavilion next to the Vadatalav Lake. It’s a simple structure with upper walls intentionally riddled with pigeon holes to allow the pigeons a place to stay thereby yielding the place its name.

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Kabutarkhana Pavilion next to the Vadatalav Lake

Just opposite is the Khajuri Mosque that raised on a slightly higher level , looks like it was left incomplete.

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Khajuri Mosque

The Saher-ki Masjid is another mosque just a little away which is a far simpler version of the Jami Masjid. The mosque was meant for the Royal families and the nobles that therefore it’s size wasn’t as much of a concern as that of the Jami Masjid meant for the public.

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Saher-ki Masjid

Citadel of Muhamed Begda is just something we passed by which mainly encompasses the gates and bastions with rooms for the watchkeepers.

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Citadel of Muhamed Begda

One area called 3 cells is exactly as promised- 3 cells surrounded by greenery and more ruins.

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3-cells

Bawaman Mosque: is a simpler mosque that also seems to have been damaged quite a bit with time.

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Bawaman Mosque

With it getting dark, we had to call it a day and went over to the hotel we had booked. It was clearly one of the strangest we had experienced since it was in the same floor as a movie theatre. Unfortunately we were too exhausted to stay up for the show later in the night and had just missed the evening one, but nevertheless it was definitely a stay to remember.

9 day trip

Patan : Of exquisite weaves and tales in stone

Continued from here

As we passed by the Doshiwada ni Pol we stopped at Astapadji Derasar built in the 1800s. It played to my weakness for the lovely jharokas(windows) that only the Gujaratis and Rajasthanis seem to have gotten right. Other than more than 100 pillars, it has very attractive carvings of human figures dancing, those playing instruments, and several motifs of flowers, animals and those related to Hindu-Jain styles of architecture. The name comes from the shape of what is believed to be the footprints of Lord Adishwar under a tree. An interesting quirk of the temple is that one isn’t allowed to take water inside since water from outside the temple is considered impure. Water for the temple’s use is secured by rain-water harvesting.

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Astapadji Derasar 

We only saw the Harkunvar Sethani ni Haveli from the outside with the exquisite carvings in the oriental style on its long brackets. It is named after the 3rd wife of the prosperous trader Seth Hutheesingh.From the outside It is hard to imagine something from so narrow a street leading to a residence with 60 rooms.

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Harkunvar Sethani ni Haveli

If one has the time and money one can also choose to stay in the Dodhia Haveli that is a heritage home available to book rooms within.

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Dodhia Haveli

Passing by kids playing gully cricket We revisited Badshah no Hajiro– the tomb of Ahmed Shah.

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Badshah no Hajiro

Even today, everyday at a sunset, the 9th generation of musicians play the shehnai and nagara instruments at the tomb. In the earlier days, this was taken as an indication for all the pols to close their gates for the night.

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Badshah no Hajiro

Also passed again , Rani no Hajiro that was busy with the morning shopping options. It’s shocking to see the outside of the heritage building used to dry laundry amidst the shopping area. However a peep inside leads us to a view of the tombs in a wide courtyard. Apparently the queen had wished to be laid under the open sky after her passing and she got her wish.

A drop to the lovely Jama Masjid again helped us appreciate further its beauty in daylight.

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Jama Masjid
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Jama Masjid

Alternately Manek Chowk presented an almost unrecognizable day time version of the place with 3000 jewelry stores that doubles up as a food street at night. Our guide dropped us off at the last stop for a very hearty Gujarati breakfast in the oldest restaurant in the area – Chandravilas.

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Chandravilas

Apparently this place was visited frequently by Gandhiji himself and Sardar Vallabhai Patel, Raj Kapoor, Amitabh Bacchan among others.

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A hearty breakfast at Chandravilas

Picking up our hired car we headed to the Sun temple of Modhera.The first thing one would notice on entry in addition to the temple itself is the dramatically dreamy Surya kund(the stepped pond) right in front of it.

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Sun temple of Modhera

Even between the steps it houses 108 shrines dedicated to various gods and demi-gods , the main ones to Nataraja, Vishnu, Ganesha and Sita. The steps are designed as a mirror image of the shikhar (top half) of the Sun temple thereby lending meaning to it reflecting a link between fire(sun) and water(the pond).

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Sun temple of Modhera

The Sun temple itself was built by the Solankis in the 11th century who were considered descendants of the Sun God.

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Sun temple of Modhera

The beauty of the complex prior to the destruction by Allauddin Khilji is hard to imagine considering the grandeur of the temple that still remains.

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Sun temple of Modhera

 

Rani ki Vav: This well with 7 stepped terraces is said to have been built by the widowed queen Udayamati in memory of her husband Bhima I in the 11th century. IMG_3609.jpgIt is made all the more intriguing since it was flooded by the River Saraswati and under it all , it was protected in pristine condition when it was de-silted in the 1980s.IMG_3604.jpg Due to geo-tectonic changes that impacted the flow of the river, it no longer functions as a source of water.The sculptures are exquisite, just a few of which are the 10 avatars of Lord Vishnu and the 16 styles of makeup depicted on beauteous ladies. IMG_3616.jpgSome patterns on the wall also reflect in the stunning artistry of the Patan Patola sarees.IMG_3628.jpg

At water-level is the figure of Lord Vishnu resting on his 1000 hooded serpent.IMG_3614.jpg While it’s hard to pick a favorite amongst the stepped wells we were visiting, Rani ki Vav is aptly known is the queen of step-wells in India with its mesmerizing beauty. The heat in the region is quite unforgiving and the Vav itself is located extremely near to the Tropic of Cancer. The temperature is said to be 10 degrees cooler in the Vav which is very easy to imagine a huge relief to locals and travellers both then and today.

We learnt from the guide that there were roughly 4 styles of vavs

  1. Nanda – the simplest with one flight of steps leading to the shaft.[Dada Harir Vav]
  2. Bhadra – two flights of steps aligned in line with the shaft in the middle.
  3. Jaya – three flights of steps perpendicular to the adjacent ones and arranged in three directions around the central shaft.
  4. Vijaya – similar to Jaya but in four directions.

There are part of the structure getting chipped away due to recent earthquakes. Hopefully the work of the Archaeological Survey of India bears fruit and the structure continues to survive for people to enjoy and learn from in centuries to come. Meanwhile the guide had some sad tales to share about the lack of water in the region forcing entire families to be uprooted and move out from their homes and children from their schools in search of water. The quality of water and the dry air also impacts the health of the locals quite a bit. Interestingly, there are villages in the border of Patan that overlap with Pakistan where the farmers are allowed to work on their lands crossing the border every day.

We moved on to the Sahasralina Talav which functioned as the canal/water management system channeling the Saraswati river that then flowed through the area. It too was built in the 11th century by a Siddhraj Jaysinh.IMG_3633.jpg

Legend: It is said that he desired a wife of a tank digger who in turn cursed him then killed herself. The curse was said to have left the tank empty and it took the sacrifice of 2 gentlemen from a “lower” caste to repeal the curse. Their sacrifice also led Siddharaj, out of gratitude, to allow people of the “lower” caste to live in the same part of town as those of the so-called higher castes.

The name of the tank stems from the numerous lingas that were placed on the sides of the reservoir. However one can only see ruins of the Shiva temple with some pillars still left standing. We were thoroughly entertained by the huge number of monkeys and parrots in the premises going about their merry day.IMG_3643.jpg

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Though we were running a bit late, we could not convince ourselves to leave without visiting the Patan Patola Heritage museum. It’s an unbelievably meticulous and painstaking process of tying innumerable threads to tiny areas of the each strand of threads to prevent them from picking up the color from the dye, then removing all those threads by hand, retying them in different areas to accommodate a different part of the design, dying the threads again and repeating this process numerous times till the very complex and stunning designs take shape on the fabric. It’s hardly surprising that this entire process done by hand takes 5-6 months. We’d rate the museum as a must-visit just to have a glimpse of the artistry and skill that is hard to even imagine. While it’s a dear wish of mine to pick sarees from our travels, this once’s a tad above our budget starting at Rs.1,00,000.  The craftsmanship to get this done though does not even allow us with any conscience to dispute the price.

We made our way back to Ahmedabad after a day filled with marvel- marvel of beauty, craftsmanship and stories.