8 day trip

Ahmedabad: Of step wells and swinging towers

Amrutavarshini Vav: We happened on an enthusiastic auto-driver who was so passionate about the city that he almost gave us a guided tour as we passed by various landmarks within it. We were completely charmed by his perfect hindi and casual use of words like sanstha and vibhaag that we’d last used in school. We started off hunting for the 18th century Amrutavarshini Vav in Old Ahmedabad – my motivation to see it more due to it’s pretty name than much else. It’s not popular and was quite hard to find – even the online maps don’t do a great job of pointing to it. It’s in a very easy-to-miss corner of the extremely labyrinthine streets of old Ahmedabad. Sadly it was closed but we could still have a peep at the relatively simple 3 storey step-well it through the gates. If you go looking for it- just mention that it’s near the PanchKuva Darwaza (which is one of the gates of the walled city of Old Ahmedabad).

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Adalaj Step well : a peep through the gates

Note : Do not attempt to take a car of any size into Old Ahmedabad- the streets are narrow and hard to navigate except if you’re a local.  Even locals wouldn’t bring in a car since there are several carts/cows along the way that could simply let you be stuck for a while- also annoying everyone around. Autos are your best bet.

Dada Hari ni Vav: The same auto driver took us to Dada Hari Vav which was next on our agenda. The place had absolutely no other visitors when we arrived. The step well was built by Dhai Harir, a lady who overlooked the royal harem of the King Mahmud Begda in the 15th century.

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Dada Hari ni Vav

Each level has corridors for weary travelers to rest too. The well itself was gorgeous and despite seeing 2 more just hours earlier, the feeling of seeing those stunning step-wells doesn’t get old.  While to our untrained eyes, there are similarities with Adalaj, the opening being octogonal and the well being 5 storeys deep, this well is supposed to be built in the Solanki architectural style.

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Dada Hari ni Vav: it’s easy to feel so tiny within.

There are inscriptons in both Sanskrit and Arabic script that we wished we could read to deduce a little more of the stories the place had to narrate. Just behind the step wells is the Bai Harir mosque and another structure housing a tomb of Dhai Harir – both very beautiful too.

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Bai Harir mosque

The young Imam came shuffling to us to with a lungi for Anand to cover up since he was wearing shorts. He added a friendly lament that these are the new dressing styles but visitors would be naraaz(upset) if they couldn’t visit the place solely due to their attire.

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Some help with dressing appropriately

He reminded us of the Imam in the movie “Ali’s wedding” (catch the movie if you haven’t) and he himself maintains the premises single-handedly and has done a lovely job of keeping it clean.

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The pretty pillar in the foreground of the tomb of Dhai Harir

Anand and I both agreed we liked the gentleman – so do drop in to say hello to him when you visit.

 

Our auto driver further drove us towards the Jhulta Minar but on the way we couldn’t help but notice carts of what looked like ice-cream covered with a muslin cloth – though it couldn’t be icecream or it wouldn’t survive the heat. When we enquired, he got a cart to stop and bought us a slice of it for just Rs.10.

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Yummy balli

It was a delicious sweet made of milk (which I’m not a fan of otherwise) called . It’s cooling, not overly sweet and has a texture that’s right in between jelly and custard. Do give it a try if you come across it.

Jhulta Minar : With the number of places to see in Ahmedabad, we hadn’t done enough research to predict what each looked like – so in my head this minar (pillar) would be a narrow one that for some reason swings. However the 2 pillars – that were part of a mosque were extremely large – I daresay the largest engraved pillar I can recall and the intricate work on them is quite entrancing too.

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Jhulta Minar

While entry into the tower is now prohibited- pushing a specific area within one pillar rocks the other one also slightly- thereby  lending the name to this tower. Our auto-driver also finished his prayers while we admired the mosque. We were glad to have been included in his routine- even if for an evening.

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Jhulta Minar: a closer look

 

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8 day trip

Ahmedabad : Of saints and stories

Gujarat is a state we’ve spoken of visiting on and off for quite some time now. A large part of friends in my first job being from there also had piqued my interest in deducing the mystery of the khakra, thepla, fafda and other foods that they’d rave about at every chance. All it took to finally visit was a wedding of a friend in the group. We were honored to be swept right off from the airport by the bride-to-be herself who treated us to a quick intro of the city Ahmedabad that seemed like perfection in the early morning traffic-lull. For breakfast of course we first stopped for the most traditional of the foods.

 

Khaman dhokla,khandvi (insanely melt-in-your-mouth texture),patra (a roll of batter dipped leaves tempered with mustard and curry leaves), Fafda– the uniqueness is to be seen to be believed.

Once checked-in to the relatively seedy looking hotel, we bid goodbye to our friend who dropped us mid-way to the Adalaj Step wells in Gandhinagar on her way back home.

Note:Autos are super convenient in Ahmedabad- as long as you ensure they apply the meter when you get in (or you insist they do) you should be good to hire autos. On the outskirts (like towards the Adalaj step wells), autos are often shared- which is an experience in itself but they pack people to the brim, so if you’re like us, with cameras and some luggage, you may want to clarify that you don’t want to share to ensure a more comfortable ride.

 

Adalaj Step well : The main draw of Gujarat for me were the step wells and this was a stunning start.

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The dramatic entrance to the Adalaj Step well

History/story/Legend : King Mohammed Begda defeated King Rana Veersingh of the Vaghela Dynasty and proposed to marry his wife, Queen Rudabhai enamoured by her beauty. She set a condition that he complete the in-progress construction of the 5 storey sandstone vav to prove his devotion to her. The effort took several years and once done in 1555, the king proposed to her again. She however, decided to drown herself in the well to avoid the predicament. Needless to say, the construction of the domes was never completed by the King after that tragedy. The tombs around the well are said to be that of masons who were killed by the King in order to prevent them from ever building a replica of the remarkably stunning well. The story even inscribed in Pali on one of the walls of the well.

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Adalaj Step well : Levels of perfection

The temperature inside this 5 storey vav has calculated to be 6 degrees cooler than that outside- which is significant respite in the heat of Gujarat. Hence it’s easy to believe that in additional to being a social gathering point to collect water, it was also a pitstop for weary travelers traversing the semi-arid regions in the several rooms around the inside of the vav.

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Adalaj Step well : The mundane with the exquisite

The well has an octagonal opening and has 3 entrances to its first storey.

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Adalaj Step well: The well of dreams

There are delightful carvings in Islamic style, Hindu and Jain imagery all over the insides of the step well too.

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The sigh-inducing jharokas

While the functional need to have water for survival is out of the question, the stunning artistry and meticulous work that’s gone into the sculptures in the Adalaj stepwell made it clear that this was an era and a land of people who truly understood that water was worthy of worship and deserved a home worthy of royalty.

 

Akshardham : We had once reached the gates of the Golden temple in Vellore and returned since it seemed very commercial and crowded – also we’re a tad partial to the ancient over the new. It was the same sense with Akshardham – except this time we decided to go in instead. It is an undoubtedly beautiful monument – with the carved pillars, sculptures – the main building has some lovely artistry too. It is very apparent that an incredible amount of wealth and effort including volunteer work has gone into its construction and continues to go into its upkeep. It is a temple dedicated to Bhagwan Swaminarayan who founded the Swaminarayan sect of Hinduism which we’ve to admit we weren’t even aware of till we visited Gujarat. It was constructed by his successors as a tribute to him in pink sandstone – a whole 6000 tons of it. For us, post a walk around the sprawling complex it was a good pitstop to have lunch at the restaurant in-house that we started with ice-cream to beat the heat followed by some good khichdi. Photography wasnt allowed at the premises.

Note: Throughout or trip- whether it’s temples or mosques/tombs – dressing conservatively is recommended even for men. Ensure you wear longer trousers Vs shorts of any length. You may be denied entry but sometimes (in mostly Islamic spaces), you’re given a piece of fabric to cover up which may not be the most comfortable to walk in unless you’re used to it. For women carry a scarf throughout, since some spaces require covering your head before entering (for men too but less often). Even if not, your head could use some protection from the unforgiving heat of the sun.

Before we left, I asked Anand if he would visit this again and his response summarized our opinion of it “Maybe after a 1000 years it’ll finally mellow down to a version we’d appreciate.” Today, for us, it lacked soul.

 

Sarkhej Roza: Hunger satiated, we made our way in the opposite direction to Sarkhej Roza. It’s a 15th century, large complex originally of 72 acres, which seemed to function in several ways in the eras gone by.

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Tomb of Sheikh Ahmed Ganj Baksh Khattu with the pavilion in front of it

It houses palaces, tombs, mosques and areas for social gathering. Of the tombs, the most prominent is that of the Sufi Saint Ahmed Ganj Baksh Khattu- who was the one who suggested to Sultan Ahmed Shah to choose the current Ahmedabad as the capital of his Kingdom on the banks of the river Sabarmati. IMG_2351.jpgAfter the tomb, the King Mohammed Begda (Remember him from Adalaj ki Vav?), dug up the Sarkhej lake of 17 acres with stone steps from it leading to the palaces.

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The queen’s palace

Today, however we saw a couple of kids riding their horses in the space and a herd of water buffaloes making good work of chomping on the greenery. The king, along with his family also have tombs in the complex just opposite to that of the Saint Ahmed Ganj Baksh.

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The king’s palace

Sadly the palace is in ruins but still has it’s charm. It includes a private mosque for the King Mohammed Megda and a secret passage out of the palace within it too! The simple mosque’s large courtyard also overlooks the lake.

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Jama Masjid

History/Legend : The saint has quite a story around his life. Known to be the child of aristocratic parents, he’s carried away in a dust storm and one way or another reaches a hermitage where he was raised. He was finally a part of the Maghribi order that was known for its “rigorous austerities and fondness for poetry and music” the latter of which  I completely understand. He also had the respect of several kings who ruled in his time. Read more here to learn of his fascinating life.

The fluidity of religious lines is heartening when you learn that during Krishna Janmashtami, devotees even perform a garba(dance) in front of his shrine. We found the local people and the staff there extremely kind at our ignorance of not knowing how to proceed within the large area and even guided us to areas we missed seeing in the premises.

Note :Women are not allowed inside some spaces that house tombs of male saints (and most tombs we happened on this trip were of male saints) . The locals/priests will let you know, alternately some places have boards indicating it. Also do be considerate and respectful of spaces of prayer. Especially, stay clear of those areas if it’s one of the 5 times of prayer and let the devotees pray undisturbed. Even otherwise, attempt to not be boisterous in such areas. When in doubt, ask a local.

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Part of the building is even today actively used as an Urdu and English library. Something of the space is extremely calming- there’s a gentleness in the silence around it even with several people around.IMG_2411.jpg It seemed to lack the ability to ever seem crowded – which of course holds great appeal for us. As it occasionally happens, we had a couple of endearing kids enamoured by Anand’s camera, asking for him to take a picture of them, to which of course we obliged much to their glee before bidding the place farewell.

1 day trip · 3 day trip

Chitradurga : Of stories of the brave and a cradle for the Gods

The Chitradurga fort is so vast and so filled with interesting information that it’s not possible to see all its quirks without a guide. However, if you miss any of them- it’s worth a second trip to wander around and find new surprises along the way.

The fort is often referred to in Kannada as “elu-suthhina kote“or the fort with 7 encircling walls. Of them only 4 are still standing but doesn’t make it any less impressive. It was designed such that each of the entrances to the circles was not aligned with the other and doors often had walls at a short distance behind it.IMG_1821 This was an effective deterrent to the common method to break open doors ie., battering with a huge log that required them to start from a distance to gain momentum. Also the spikes in the gateways prevented the use of elephants for the same. The fort walls themselves have 2 slots one below the other at frequent intervals to allow for the defending soldiers to watch the enemies and for their guns to fire at them respectively.

Under the rocks were carved out places that were meant for soldiers to stay guard or take turns resting. A noise made while seated within the slots meant for soldiers to sit , echoes and rings out loud thereby working as an early warning system for troops further along the way.

 

The rocks that make up the fort walls are in a pyramid shape and are each 5-6 feet long- that have allowed the fort to still be standing, centuries after it was built. The door hinges carved from stone to hold the wooden doors are still seen, though the wooden doors themselves didn’t make it this far ahead in time. Apparently one of them even had a bell that would ring the minute the hinges turned thereby providing warning against attack too.

The name Chitradurga itself is derived from the idea that many of the rock structures seem to have taken on a wide variety shapes- from an elephant, frog’s face, rabbit, ship to a chameleon’s face- much left to your imagination. The current name is a simplification of chitra kallu durga– the fort that was made of stones that painted a picture.

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The precise cutting of rocks that made up the fort was possible via closely spaced holes made in the rocks with wood pieces placed within them- wearing the whole thing down with hot water and salt to finally split them neatly. All materials for the fort construction were locally sourced, even before sourcing locally was cool! It took all of 211 years to construct the fort across several kings and empires and the space is 2500 acres large with 50 watch towers (Bateri-s).

There are several points of interest within the Fort but here’ll we’ll mention a few to pique your interest :

Ekanatheshwari temple– is built in dedication to the village diety and the family goddess of the rulers. Even today, the village festival celebrates her every year with a fair and a procession where the idol from here is taken around the village. The Jhanda bateri  is where the empire’s flags were hoisted. The Uyyale Stambha is the most prominent structure when viewing the fort from atop, and is the very large cradle to seat the Godess during festivals. Just beside is the Deepa Stambha that is the tall tower where the lamps were lit up in honor of the Goddess.

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The kitchen of yore continues to be used as a canteen today that’s the only source of food for visitors in the large fort. Just in front of it is a very small pushkarni where the Goddess is said to have been immersed in turmeric, post which the denizens of the kingdom would colour each other with the turmeric water to celebrate.

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The Hidimbeshwara temple is also a pretty temple on a hillock that allows for a view of the city from atop it.

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Hidimbeshwara temple

Murugha Matha, also atop a small hillock housed the gurukul (schooling system) of the time.

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Murugha Matha

The mint that managed the currency of the day is right beside the remnants of what was Paleyagar Kacheri(the accounts section) of the time. The treasury is only visible via a small opening and is otherwise underground. The opening was covered with an idol (the Shiva linga) and outwardly seemed like a temple to avoid theft.

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Paleyagar Kacheri

The Gym is a structure that resembled a warehouse but with a small opening at a bit of a height, the guide joked, so that unfit people couldn’t enter. The granary entrance went a step further and was only accessible via a ladder and had a sentry seated beside it too.

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And that, is the Gym door- a fitness entry requirement

Akka Tangiyara Honda: consists of 2 large adjoining ponds with an ancient system that allow for water to be filtered from one of them into potable water within the other. Legend has it that the queen’s committed suicide here when the King was defeated by Hyder Ali.

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Akka Tangiyara Honda

Onake Obavva Kindi: Obavva is considered the epitome of Kannada female valour. She single handedly attempted to stop the army of Hyder Ali with a common household pestle when they managed to find a way into the fort through the secret route used by the village milk-men to get curd and milk to the inhabitants. It’s quite a story and is the most famous of the tales of the Chitradurga fort.

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Onake Obavva Kindi

One of the first things one would see in the fort are 2 rock cut pits that were used to store oil in large quantities- to support the inhabitants for several years in case of war. IMG_1808A similar rock cut structure lies on a large hillock that has no clear steps to climb up but people still clamber atop. That tank is about 30 ft deep and is called the Tuppada Kola Bateri simply because it housed weapons of all kinds covered with ghee to avoid them rusting.

Sampige Siddheshwara temple: supposedly named after the 300 yr old Sampige tree. It paints a pretty picture with trees that have taken over some of the structure entwining themselves on the outside of the temple.

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Gopalaswamy Honda : was and continues to be a perennial source of water within the fort in a naturally built gorge that collects rainwater from rivulets down the hillock. The excess water from here flows on to the Akka Thangi Honda and then onward to the Sihineer Honda.

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Gopalaswamy Honda

Gopalaswamy temple: The waterbody itself is named after the Gopalaswamy temple that overlooks the tank.

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Gopalaswamy temple

Palace Complex: Not much remains of the palace since it was built of mud and gravel. However the ruins of different rooms and areas with the walls left behind provide a hazy picture of what may have been. IMG_1958.jpgThe reason the palace complex is located at a very interior part of the fort is that the enemies would have had to pass all 7 fort walls to reach the royal family. It is additionally protected by hills on 3 sides too.

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The remains of the granaries clustered together are much easier to recognise.

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Despite this being a large list, it’s only a part of the many towers, temples,ponds and other points of interest within the Chitradurga fort. So we’d recommend packing a lunch and sufficient water, having good walking footwear, a large hat and making a day of it when you visit.

 

After a day spent in the past, on our way onward we passed by rows of giant windmills working tirelessly to provide what we hope to have more of in the future- clean energy, that let’s us enjoy this endlessly fascinating world a little bit longer, a little bit healthier, a little bit kinder.

3 day trip

Shimoga – of temples and backwaters

Shimoga has always been close to our hearts- especially in the monsoons, and so one Friday afternoon we head off towards our rainy destination. While debating dinner plans, we instead decided to stop in at the Chaat street within the Shimoga town. Considering it’s a relatively small town with not many options for a late meal- this is a perfect option that’s open up even till 11pm.  The perfect paddus impressed us all, but interesting options were also the akki rotti and the chaats, both with an unmistakable local flavour. A bowl of fruits for dessert and we were ready to call it a night.

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Try the paddu- it may convert you even if you weren’t a fan earlier!

On our drive through the brilliant green lining the roads passing by several bridges across the gushing rivers , our first detour was on seeing a board towards the Umamaheshwara temple at Hosgunda. Renovation work has been going on a while on the temple originally built by the little known Shantara dynasty. It’s amidst 600 acres of forest and has been declared by the Govt as a “devara kadu”  or forest of the gods but is being renovated by a religious institution.

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Umamaheshwara temple

 

The pushkarni of the temple paints a pretty picture amidst the surrounding greenery in the mild drizzle that met us when we got there. While the temple itself is relatively simple, the 45 feet pillar nestled in the grass that pads your feet welcomes you right at the entrance and erotic sculptures line the outside of the temple.

 

The Rameshwara temple was our next stop at Keladi, the first capital of the Keladi Nayakas who later shifted their capital to Ikkeri, that we had visited on an earlier trip.

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Rameshwara temple

The exterior looks more like the home of a wealthy landlord from a bygone era than the stereotypical temple structure we’re used to.

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Rameshwara temple

There are 3 shrines within , one of Rameswara, Virabhadra and the Devi temple. The temple itself is quite fascinating with something interesting wherever you turn.

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Rameshwara temple

Whether it is the Krishna engraved on the Tulsi pot, the engraved ram with a namaste gesture at the entrance of the garbagriha , the meticulous engraving on the bottom of the flag post or the lovely wood work on the ceiling of one shrine and stone carvings on the others.

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Rameshwara temple

 

When one mentions Shimoga, the landmark destination to visit is Jog Falls– the most popular of the sights in the district. It’s confusingly called the 3rd and the 2nd highest plunge waterfall in India on the same Wiki page- so I guess we’ll never know now! We visited in June, but we’d recommend dropping by (no pun intended) in August. There are 2 view points to view the Jog falls and standing on one side you’d be able to see people climbing down the stairs on the other side.

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The Jog falls- a few weeks later and it was a whole lot more forceful and stunning.

It is a tricky spot to decide when to visit, since sometimes it’s so well covered with mist that you have no view of the falls at all.What we can however ensure, is that you’d love the pineapples from the vendors selling them just outside. The region grows pineapples in plenty and they’re simply delicious.

 

We had decided to visit a bunch of waterfalls including the Dabbe falls and almost got there but then were informed by a local that one required to get written permission quite a distance away before actually making a visit. We’d spent too much time already and decided to skip them instead. Do note for your trips and plan accordingly.

 

We instead opted to go to Honnemaradu(the place with golden sand). Quite a distance near Honnemaradu needs to be traversed through a narrow path way lined with trees on one side and bushes blocking your view of the water on the other.

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Honnemaradu

 

Note:the road towards the water is extremely precarious especially in the rains. There are trees frequently fallen across the road that may block your path entirely and the road is not laid out- so the muddy path makes it essential to decide with care whether your automobile can take it. Getting stuck in the mud on the narrow road would not be a fun experience.

 

Just as we got there, the rains decided it was time to pour. Our trusty ponchos covering us, we made our way. For someone who hadn’t looked up the place, or even if you did- the first view of the water is stunning. It is the backwater of the river Sharavati and the scene is something out of a dream. The still water with only the drops of rain causing a stir, the upturned coracles on the bank, a view of the tiny island near by, the bare trees long- drowned in the dam waters still upright due to sheer grit – all make up a surreal scene.

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Honnemaradu

Our pictures don’t do justice since the rain risked our devices and only a few quick ones could be shot- however, not all memories need to be stored digitally- some need to be left to your mind to store away and savour another day. The man recording our entry in the books just before we reached the place, offered us a coracle ride- and we were grateful he did. It’s hard to forget the experience of just us, the rains, and the perfect scene in the lone coracle on backwaters of the River Sharavati.

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Honnemaradu
2 day trip

Mysore – The exquisite arts of peasants and daily lives of royalty

On the way to Mysore we have often stopped at Janapada Loka for a cool green oasis on a regular drive. It being next to an eatery that serves local Karnataka fare doesn’t hurt either. We’d recommend you don’t visit in a hurry…it’s a space to wander around and stumble across something interesting and enlightening at every corner.

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We started off with the living quarters of the people of the Western ghats of Karnataka. It’s ingenious  use of local material and resources to store and treat their food , their utensils and handmade roofs are fascinating windows into their lives.

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The space is sprinkled with ancient artefacts with effortless ease. Whether it’s an intricately carved chariot or a casually placed stone carving that’s gently embraced by the vegetation around.

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Not a real person

We’d strongly recommend waiting a while outside the museums in different buildings spread over the space- someone usually hurries over and opens it up so you can walk in. While a guide gave us an overview of each exhibit, he requested us to pause for a minute while he sang for us. Taken by surprise but curious we did so- and he started….we were taken aback by how enthralling his booming voice was! He needed no mike/instruments to let his clear voice ring through the museum.Even for someone who has lived all their lives in Karnataka – the sheer number of tribes, their vivid and intricate outfits, dance forms each with their own impressive costumes, jewelry and handicrafts will leave you spell bound. We’d recommend picking up a piece of pottery from the lady who makes them on a wheel in the premises- it’s inexpensive and beautiful.

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Buy from here! They’re pretty as can be and very inexpensive

We couldn’t decide if we’d go to Somanathpura or Talakadu first but at random headed towards the latter. We almost got there and saw swarms of people on foot walking towards what seemed like a village festival. As it turned out, the road towards Talakadu was blocked to accommodate the Ugadi festival celebrations. So we had to turn back disappointed towards Somanathpura instead. We were however starving by now and there weren’t any restaurants in sight. We finally found a small yellow door by the side of the street that claimed to be a hotel . As it turned out it was a tiny place frequented by the locals that served good home cooked vegetarian meal with an extra touch of hospitality urging us to eat more. Satiated, we headed off to the 12th century Chennakesava temple at Somanathapura. Despite it being a second time for us, it was still charmed us with its intricate carvings on the temple we well remember as resting on the star shaped base.

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The outer walls have several layers each with a rough theme, the lowest with playful elephants in myriad poses, above that the camels, horses and armed riders, above that flowers , fruits and wildlife and yet above that entire stories from the Hindu epics that one can see in order on walking clockwise. A closer look and one would find several avatars of the Lord Vishnu to whom this temple is dedicated along with many other powerful Gods and Goddesses too.

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We spent a while strolling through its long corridors and admiring the large but smooth lathe turned pillars too.

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One should not miss looking up the ceiling despite the barely lit interiors cause they are a delight in themselves. On our way out we were enthused to see the numerous butterflies flitting about the well kept garden around the temple too.

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Our next stop was the Ambavilas palace, more often simply known as the Mysore palace. It is the geographical center of the city of Mysore and one simply cannot not-pass by it even on a casual trip to Mysore.

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The Ambavilas palace with the backdrop of the monsoon clouds

The insides of the palace are luxurious and opulent- no two ways about it. The colorful, gleaming tiles, polished and gilded pillars, elaborate chandeliers, the mindfully painted ceilings with each mural competing with the other on elegance and its sheer scale leaves you fascinated.

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Stunning symmetry

One can only walk by and marvel at the life and times of royalty holding court and just going about their day in its premises. One can also drop into the smaller palace beside the Ambavilas palace to see displayed toys and memorabilia from the royal families daily living.

 

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The palace complex itself has 12 major temples dedicated to Godesses Bhuvaneshwari, Gayatri and different avatars of Lord Shiva and Vishnu each with its own allure.

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If lucky one might see the royal elephants shuffling about the place too. The Palace is illuminated in the evenings all sundays, public holidays and during the festival of Dasara.

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After dinner, we drove up to the Chamundi hills for a view of Mysore while spotting the lit up landmarks awarding points to ourselves for the right ones. [Do note : earlier vehicles used to stop at several points along the way up the Chamundi hills. Now there are designated spots patrolled by staff in plain clothes so do ensure you find one and stop accordingly to stay safe.]

 

The next morning we headed off to what’s become a staple of our visits to Mysore– a cycle ride around the Karanji lake checking in on our feathered friends at the aviary too. We’d highly recommend this even if you’re on a short trip to mysore- it’s an oasis of calm and green that lets you forget the world for a bit.

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Looks like it takes a lot of preening to look as good as they do

A peek at the local market later, we headed off to Melkote- we’d been there once before but it had been a hurried pit stop.

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We first encountered the Akka-Thangi Kola (sisters’ pond) which are the adjoining ponds one slightly larger than the other with potable and brackish water in the Thagi Kola and the Akka Kola respectively.

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Further on, one can walk to the Rayagopura which is what would have been the entrance to the town- but was however unfinished.

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Climbing atop it provides a view of the surrounding villages.

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While the Yoganarasimha swamy temple is atop the hill, we instead dropped in to the Cheluvanarayanaswamy temple which is right at the center of Melkote town. It is believed to have been worshipped by both Lord Rama and those of the dynasty of Lord Krishna and is therefore accorded a special place in religious lore. While the temple itself is simple for the most part, it is worth a visit just for its pillars- ornately carved with hollowed out areas lets us truly appreciate the artistry, skill and attention to detail from the eras gone by.

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We ended the trip the same way we had, one to Melkote several months earlier, at the main temple pond- Kalyani/Pushkarni.

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This one is truly an amalgamation of the town that is Melkote- a group of priests performing prayers, shepherds with their frolicking goats, children playing around the ancient pillared corridors, families resting after their pilgrimage to the temple, and some locals diving into the familiar waters of the pond.

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While we rested at the octagonal shaped Bhuvaneshwari mantapa recapping the past couple of days and enjoying the view- the spot itself was a reminder on what was perhaps the kindest way to let history survive- by letting it be an active part of the present.

2 day trip

Vellore : Of captive royalty and Gods appearing in dreams

With just half a day left before attending a friend’s wedding we decided to explore what we could of the town of Vellore. We don’t seem to be able to write about Tamil Nadu without evoking legends at every turn. The city Vellore itself is named after “vel” which is the spear of Lord Murugan who is said to have appeared here.

The Jalakandeswarar temple is an exceptional sample of Vijayanagara architecture. The very first thing one would notice is the 100ft gopuram of this 12th century temple.

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Jalakandeswarar temple Gopuram

Intricate sculptures, beautifully carved stone pillars with dragons, horses and yalis (lion like beings) jumping up.

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Jalakandeswarar temple

We’d strongly recommend taking your time to admire them in all their finery. The kalayana mantapam on one side of the temple also has these pillars with artistic details and a variety of deities.

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Kalyana Mandapam at Jalakandeswarar temple

Legend : A Shiva linga was placed at some point of time in a stagnant patch of rainwater. The Vijayanagara chieftain- Chinna Bommi Nayaka had a dream that the Lord Shiva asked him to build a temple in that place. Since the Shiva linga was surrounded by water , the diety was referred to as Jalakandeswarar (the Lord Shiva residing in water).

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Jalakandeswarar temple

Vellore fort : The fort though built by the same gentleman who build the temple, changed hands with the empires that ruled the area- everyone from the Vijayanagar kings, to the Adil Shahi Sultan of Bijapur, to the Marathas and finally as an English garrison.

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Vellore fort moat

The fort was also witness to the Vellore mutiny against the British that was triggered by the British ordering the soldiers to remove traces of religious symbols in their attire and including cowhide in their hats, both of which offended their sensibilities. The fort is surrounded by a large, deep moat that is said to have had 1000s of crocodiles guarding it. It is also infamous for housing the family of King Tipu Sultan and the last King of Srilanka Sri Vikrama Rajasinha in captivity by the British. A few of their graves are therefore in and around the fort.

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Vellore fort – imagine 1000s of crocs here!

The building that held them captive is closed to tourists today.The fort itself now houses the Jalakandeswarar temple, a mosque, St. John Church, a school , several quarters for the army personnel , a museum, and some government offices.

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A view of the Jalakandeswarar temple from Vellore fort.

Vellore museum: has sculptures from times as far back as the 11th century and one can relax to stroll across its corridors reading of their origins and eras.

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Vellore museum
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Vellore museum

Note : One could visit the Golden temple complex inside Sripuram that has been gilded with 1500 kgs of gold in 2007 and built by a “charitable institution” when one visits Vellore. However at the entrance we were a bit turned off by the number of stalls selling tickets to various poojas and queues that we mutually decided to give it a miss.

 

5 day trip

Tamil Nadu: Of stops at palatial towns and sunlit courtyards

We reached Karaikudi from Rameshwaram after a 3 hour drive and decided to stay the night there. Well-rested, we were checking out when we noticed a huge framed photograph of what seemed like a very ornate structure. On asking the disinterested receptionist, he said it was a palace at Athankudi. Our interest piqued, we decided to check it out. The last time I had visited Karaikudi was for a friend’s wedding 10 years ago. I had been charmed by the peacocks walking around, the humongous but elegant mansions with even up to 64 rooms in a house and the ornate exteriors of the homes. This visit didn’t disappoint- it was just as I recalled it.

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The town of Karaikudi

The Chettiar community was one of sea-faring traders who dealt in salt and rice and  were extremely prosperous during the time of the Cholas. However after a tsunami that destroyed their sea-side town, they moved further inland and settled in the present day region of Chettinadu.

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Athankudi palace

We managed to find the palace after asking around since the board over it was in Tamil and the surrounding homes were almost comparably impressive from the outside. The keepers seemed quite surprised to have visitors. We were instantly besotted with the place

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Athankudi palace

. It had what we loved in older, grander south Indian homes- 2 quadrangles with streaming sunlight surrounded by rooms, pillared corridors all around them. The courtyards for us made it classic Chettinad Architecture.

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Athankudi palace

Additionally it had the most delightful use of tiles of different patterns and colors that were seemingly put together with a lot of thought to design. The top of each door in the palace had depictions of a story I wish I was familiar with. The ceilings closely competed with the artistry and brilliance of colors in the rest of the space.

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Athankudi palace

Yet another area had light streaming in from windows with stained glass in varied colors. With 0 other tourists stopping by, it was the perfect wonderland for us to pretend to live in while walking by its corridors and admiring all its hues.

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Athankudi palace

Note : One could visit the Athankudi tile making factories around for a view into how the beautiful tiles are handmade one at a time with patterned moulds placed over glass. Also there are other mansions that offer a guided tours and homestays within these gorgeous spaces that we’d recommend you opt for if you have both the time and the money to spend. Also more information here on other places to visit and an overview of Karaikudi.

Just behind this is the temple dedicated to Lord Sunderesawarar (Shiva) and his consort Meenakshi (Parvati). The temple celilings have images of the 64 exploits or stories of Shiva in relation to his devotees or other miracles.

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Lord Sunderesawarar temple

Just outside the temple is a small temple tank too.

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Lord Sunderesawarar temple tank

We had to finally make our way back to lovely Bangalore, now rich with memories of the colours of Athankudi, the magnificence of the Tanjavur temple and the stories of Gangaikondacholapuram, and the desolate beauty of Dhanushkodi.

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