We started off around 7AM (we’d recommend you start earlier if feasible) and after breakfast headed straight to the Lepakshi temple in Anantpur, Andhra Pradesh. Anand and I had both been here multiple times but didn’t mind re-visiting it with the family and we did find some scenes we’d missed before. Much of this temple is cut off of a low rocky hill. Just as one enters the temple are corridors all around, presumably to let pilgrims rest. There is much to see in the temple area but the pillars are a favourite- they have large sculptures of beautiful figures on many pillars there.
When inside don’t miss looking up, for there are detailed murals of people on the ceiling – some looking like mongoloid traders and others like bedecked courtesans of the times gone by in green, red, gold and black. They are meant to be murals depicting the wedding of Shiva and Parvati.
The area ahead of the main shrine is the dance hall and has life size carvings of celestial beings, musicians, and dancers on the pillars. It was, for me, the most beautiful area of the temple.
In the main structure itself, there is one pillar that seems to be hanging without being locked on to the ground. It’s easy to miss since it is one of the simpler pillars with no specific identification. However, if you hire a guide he/she will probably take you there and slip a paper under the pillar to prove it to you.
Around the main structure in the temple are several interesting sights including small shrines. One is a huge rock with a coiled 7-hooded snake over a linga, while on the other side of the same rock is a carved out Ganapati.
The kalyana mantapa is currently simply a mass of pillars over a raised platform but could have made quite a lovely sight in its hey-day. The carvings on each pillar are supposed to represent the guests at the wedding of Shiva and Parvati.
There is a huge footprint that local legend says is of Hanuman. The area within the footprint has some perennial tiny source of water too. Beside the footprint are a few thali (plate) like imprints too, presumably to feed the big-footed folks too!
On one end of the temple is a beautiful, ancient firangi pani tree that’s simply stunning. However what one could almost miss is the tree just behind it. It has a tree with another tree starting from a higher point on its trunk.
A little distance away is India’s biggest monolithic Nandi with a calm face. Near it is a small man-made lotus pond and a park around the structure. A lot of tourist places in India have a large amount of graffiti – and here for the first time every, we saw it on —-wait for it——leaves! For some reason, folks had taken to writing love notes and random initials on the leaves of a tree beside the Nandi statue. Thoroughly intriguing on who started this trend!
At 27ft in length and 15ft in height, it is a colossal structure, reputedly one of India’s biggest monolithic Nandi.
Behind the temple is the Kalyani- it is not visible and we had to go all around the place looking for it on the map. One could actually reach the kalyani from the temple premises but the door to it stays closed.
We noticed a board saying “Jatayu Ghat” and decided to find the place that the map said was 0.8km away. Jatayu is the mythical bird that tried to stop Ravana from abducting Sita in the Ramayana. We followed the map and it points to the middle of no-where. We even considered walking but there was simply nothing visible even far ahead on the plains. As it turns out, from the kalyani, there is a freshly laid road to the place called Jatayu Ghat, however, it is an extremely small structure with just one installation. It is probably however still getting excavated so it may be worth a visit a while later.
We next headed back towards Bangalore and post lunch, visited the Bhoganandeeshwara temple there.
Note: On the straight road that leads to Nandi hills, taking a left leads you to Nandi hills and the right towards the Bhoganandeeshwara temple. Unless you’re looking for it, you may not see the board.
It is contained in a vast area. You enter into an open quadrangle with pillared avenues all around. What is impossible to miss however are the 4 gorgeous trees around the small square in the center with nagara kallu (stone images of the snake deities) and strangely a couple of small tombs. Behind the trees is a small kalyani(stepped temple pond).
At one end is a Mahanavami dibba in ruins where the king would presumably look over the celebrations during festivals.
Just ahead of the sanctum sanctorum is an idol of the king Rajendra Chola also present amidst the various other carvings.The pillars in front of the sanctum sanctorum have very intricate work on deep black stones, especially intriguing are the intricate carvings of many small birds hollowed out of the stone.
There are different areas in the temple as you wander around. The Kalyana Mantapa(to conduct weddings), the Thulabhara mantapa (where you weigh yourself against an offering which is then given as a donation to the temple), a small well, another Nagara kallu inside the temple. The Kalyana Mantapa has the most delightful carvings in the premises in rich black soapstone.
The Nagara kallu is always the same everywhere- 3 stones, all of similar sizes, one with 2 snakes entwined, one with the Snake god, and another with a single large snake. There are 3 shrines also each for the deities: Girijamba, Apita Kuchalamba, Kamateshwara. The Shiva-Parvati wedding seems to be the running theme during this trip with the carvings here too depicting them.
Tip: Carry a pair of socks when entering the temple, the ground is insanely hot during the day and you will burn your feet if not walking in the area that’s not covered by the shadow of the structure.We’d recommend you leisurely admire the details of the sculptures in all their glory to truly make the best of the experience. There are innumerable deities and details to feast your eyes on- from bedecked dancers, strong demons, Ganesha carrying Goddess Lakshmi, Shiva as the dancing Nataraja to Narasimha tearing apart Hiranyakashyap.
By far, the most popular view of this temple is that of the Shringi Thirtha which is the main kalyani inside the temple premises, and with good reason. It’s a picturesque location that’s an oasis of calm where you want to just sit by the water dipping your toes in while watching the 2 turtles and the fish in the small pond that’s supposed to flow into the South Pennar river.
Note: the doors to the Shringi Thirtha close at 5 pm even when there’s sufficient daylight and the rest of the temple is open. So get there any later and you may miss this part of the temple.
We headed from here to Nandi hills hoping to catch the sunset. However, we had picked a cloudy day. Nevertheless, it is always a lovely place to catch up with some oxygen and cooler weather amidst the generous cover of greenery and gardens. We wandered around to the viewpoints that had the crowds, feasted on ice candies and walked to the back of the Yoga Nandeeshwara temple and the view of the city from there. The Yoga Nandeeshwara temple refers to the other life stage of Shiva – the older stage of his life. It too has a small kalyani and is less detailed compared to the Bhoga Nandeeshwara temple.
We also noticed a board pointing to the point of origin of the Arkavati river and headed there. It’s significantly underwhelming with just a puddle at this point and not in the best condition either.
Nandi hills by itself has many things to see as you wander around, however, since we had reached in the evening there wasn’t enough time to really make the best of the place. However after a gratifying walk through one of the many tree-lined paths we decided to call it a day and headed back to dinner and home.
Tip: if you still have daylight you can visit the Devanahalli fort, also known as the Tipu fort. It is admittedly a small area with the fort remains that house a village. However, it is the place of the king Tipu Sultan’s birth so it has some historical value.