2 day trip

Alleppy : And the snake boat race!

Kerala is always a treat to visit- and this time we had to visit for what is probably the most popular event there – The snake boat race. We decided to take a day more and see Alleppy while we were at it.

We drove from Thrissur on the morning of the race since it was recommended to reach early. We dropped him to the boat pick up point for the race attendees and headed back to the hotel to watch the event from the comfort of our rooms on TV!

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The place is loud- the commentary like any sports event is fast paced and keeps you at the edge of your seat- if you understand the language. The best part of the event for me is actually the energetic singing in tandem with the rowing – however, that is mostly drowned out by the sounds of the crowds cheering their favourite local team and the commentary on the loudspeakers.

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IMG_1096.jpgEither way, you can’t be unmoved by the sheer strength, skill and beauty of watching a 100 men/women rowing in unison on a narrow boat across those placid waters bordered by the boisterous crowds and the waving coconut palms – both seeming to cheer their every gasp for air.

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Tips for the snake boat race attendees:

  • Carry water and food. There is none at the event.
  • Tickets vary from Rs. 200 – Rs. 3000. While the pricier tickets get you a better view point it doesn’t necessarily guarantee comfort unless you are booking a whole house boat which is a couple of thousands per person over the ticket price.
  • The higher priced ticket options will have chairs but in the excitement of the crowds, sitting is simply a suggestion and you’ll have whole crowds up on their feet almost the whole time.
  • If you think you can take the effort of standing/sitting on the ground for long, go early to the event – the finals this time started at 2:30 but Anand got there at 11 AM on the advice of the locals. There are qualifying races and those with smaller boats before the final event- those are fun to watch too and you’d be relegated to the back of the crowd if you aren’t early.
  • Take someone to speak to or take along a book to read since there is a time gap between races where you will be left doing nothing unless you’re into people watching.IMG_1204.jpg

Meanwhile, we happened to walk around the hotel area for lunch and completely by chance had a meal at what was the best restaurant in Alleppy according to many sites. A hearty meal later uncle and aunt continued to watch the race while I chose to catch up on my sleep. After that nap, we picked up Anand. Incidentally, a jewellery store had arranged for local artists to have a performance of the Chenda Melam that is quite foot tapping and maybe some nodding along if you like strong beats.

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Tip: If you want a hint of the local culture, the best time to visit Kerala is around Onam – the date of this festival varies every year since it depends on the Malayalam calendar month Chingam. It is however around Aug-Sept. Ask your local contacts for the smaller scale local boat races, the poorams (temple festivals), the puli kali (dances in tiger outfits), kottu (the traditional drum beats), Kummati Kali (dances with masks).

A couple of minutes there and we then went to the Alappuzha beach. The long flyover getting constructed right next to the beach (currently the nearest vehicle parking is just below it), seems like quite an aberration of concrete monstrosity just next to what is usually a peaceful spot for people to spend an evening. Nevertheless, there it was.

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The Alappuzha beach is crowded but it’s also a long beach so if you’re not into jumping into the water alongside the huge groups you can always walk by the water watching people and kites dotting the sky in the backdrop of the gently falling shades of the evening skies.

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Note: Food in Allapuzha was amongst the least expensive and most satisfying we’ve had in our south Indian trips. Try the local food and you will not be disappointed. You cannot go wrong with appam, puttu or idiyappam for breakfast.

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Puttu made within a coconut shell

The next morning we first dropped into a temple that we’d noticed just behind our hotel. It happened to be a several centuries old Sree Lakshmi Narasimhaswamy Temple. IMG_2040.jpgIt has quite a dramatic legend associated with it that says a devotee who was denied the temple offerings came upon sculptors who turned into the idols of Gods that were then installed in this temple.

Its walls were covered with frescoes of different deities and heavenly figures.

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The place is surrounded by structures with beautifully tiled tall roofs that make up both the temple offices and some residences.

The most unique aspect of the space I found was that this was the first time we had seen a dovecote in a Hindu temple. The only other South Indian place in recent memory that had one was the Dariya Daulat Bagh in Srirangapatna

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Note: Many temples in Kerala have a dress code. The safest thing to wear would be a sari or a long skirt for women and a mundu or similar garment for men. The next best thing would be a salwar for women and long trousers for men- still not ok in some temples. Men will sometimes be required to take off their shirts before entering the temple. This one allowed us in but not very near the deity, some will not allow entrance into the temple itself if you don’t adhere to the dress code.

Alleppey is one of those places in Kerala where taking a house boat is definitely something one could try. We, however, had to reach Thrissur by the end of the day and so instead opted for a smaller boat like the Shikara in Kashmir except on the Vembanad lake. This was the same lake where the Snake boat race was held the previous day so Anand got an opportunity to give us an idea of where different arrangements had been made. This also happens to be the longest lake in India.

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We spent only 2 hours on our boat but one could easily spend a day revelling in the sheer luxury of doing nothing. IMG_1470The backwaters of Kerala are the perfect place to be to disconnect.The eyes easily relax on seeing the placid waters, the lovely purple flowers blooming amidst the seaweeds, the cormorants easily diving into the water to catch their fishy meals, the boats in different sizes lined along the waterside and the locals going about their day.

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Just by the backwaters are the Kuttanad rice fields you’d be able to see from your boat. It’s one of the very few places in the world where farming is carried out 4-10 ft below sea level. Our boatman informed us that the biggest expense is just pumping out water from the fields back into the backwaters. However, the land is otherwise very fertile and requires relatively lesser effort for cultivation. The farmers’ ability to undertake Biosaline farming in such situations has led to the area being declared a Globally Important Agricultural Heritage System.

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Note: Costs vary for different boat sizes, the number of passengers and durations. The only way to know for sure is to ask around. We paid Rs.1000 for 4 people for a 2-hour ride because we weren’t in the mood for bargaining and signed up the first boatman who approached us.

After our ride, we drove to our next stop –  Pathiramanal Island. Anything with “island” in its name can’t help but sound intriguing add to it a name that means “Sands of the night” and your interest is piqued for sure. Our earlier boatman, however, warned us we’d probably not enjoy it as much as foreigners do.

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The island is known for mangroves, aquatic creatures and migratory birds. The birds are expected to be seen more often during summer or they just weren’t around because of the small but noisy tourist groups that had landed on the small island. Someone with at least a cursory knowledge of plant and bird species would definitely enjoy the island. Even to the untrained eye, there are a large variety of plants not very commonly seen elsewhere.IMG_2077

To someone living in the rural areas of Kerala, we would, however, find the greenery commonplace since our backyards look somewhat similar albeit with different plants! Despite being surrounded by the cool water, it is quite sultry inside the island since the thick vegetation doesn’t let much breeze in. On the flip side, it is quite a delight to step out into the spaces at the edge of the island towards the water for a welcome gust of cool air.

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Note: One has to take a boat to the island that cost us Rs.500 (there are only a couple of boats around) though it was a short ride and there are no boards on standard rates. So one can only hope you’re being charged a fair price.The boatman, however, will let you stay on the island as long as you need to and you could call him once done to pick you back. We spend around 40 mins on the island just walking around.

We went over to the Marari beach next though it was mid-day and therefore not the best time. This is significantly less crowded than the Allapuzha beach and the more ideal of them to relax and enjoy the water. Anand spent 20 minutes trying to feed a crow off of his hands but the crow persevered in just waiting from afar and we had more of a journey ahead of us. We enjoyed the beach for a while longer and moved on.

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Our next stop was the Periyar river. Following the map dutifully we reached an absolute dead end. The river was something one would see as one passes over the numerous bridges on the route. However, we were hoping for a space to sit by the water and enjoy its beauty. All we got was a shady deserted building and walking through the shrubs around it a peep at one edge of the river. Ah well, not all adventures are meant to be. So that was that.

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2 day trip

The temple town of Thiruvannamalai

Thiruvannamalai is a temple town that we passed by before on our visit to Pondicherry. This time we re-visited it with Anand’s folks in relation to an NGO. We happened to land there on a Saturday evening during the 100th birthday celebrations of the late MGR and the whole town was lit up with extravagant lighting and decorations. This also meant that the hotels were completely booked for the crowds that had descended there for the event. We were lucky to be hosted in a couple of rooms linked to one of the NGOs in the area. And it was a blessing in disguise. We woke up to the view of the open space and the Thiruvannamalai hill early the next morning.

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It is customary for devotees to go around the hill on foot visiting each of the shrines around the Annamalai hill – Agni Lingam, Yama Lingam, Indra Lingam etc. It is a distance of about 14km and is referred to as Girivalam (circumambulation of the hill) that you’ll see on boards there. We decided to drive around it due to a paucity of time and the difficulty in walking for our co-travelers. The hill itself is imagined to be in the shape of the Shiva linga with a Nandi on one side. I just stopped at one small shrine that was seemingly abandoned and was startled by a sadhu sitting and reading silently within an enclosure. You’d find lots of them along the way sleeping right on the footpaths.

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Note: Avoid visiting the place during the Full moon day or during the Karthigai Deepam celebrations unless you’re willing to brave immense crowds. Up to 3 million people descend on the place then. To put it in perspective, the town itself has a population of 150 thousand.

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Thiruvannamalai Annamalaiyar temple- This is the most prominent landmark in the small town of Thiruvannamalai and you’d pass by it no matter what other places you had to see there.

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It is bordered by 4 Gopurams (temple gateway towers) one in each direction. It is considered one of the 5 manifestations of Shiva as the elements- this one being fire. It is also one of the largest temples of India occupying 35 acres. It has many shrines and halls inside the complex. The 1000- pillared hall is hard to miss. And opposite it is the large temple tank. On the walls, one can note the inscriptions in old Tamil regarding various offerings made to the temple by empires that had ruled over the place at different eras.

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Note: there is an option of a “Special Darshan” costing Rs.20 per person. It is a small amount to pay to skip most of the queue. Also, early mornings are the best time to visit to avoid crowds. We were there around 7:30 AM.

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We next headed to the Thirukovalur Thrivikrama Swamy Temple. While the story of Mahabali makes up 1 of the only 2 festivals celebrated in Kerala, this was the first temple I had seen of that manifestation of Vishnu in his giant form with his leg raised up measuring the heavens and earth. The idol by itself makes this place an interesting one for a visit. The large idol is housed in the sanctum sanctorum which the priest lights up as he describes each aspect of the statue.

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This is supposedly the place where the first 3 Tamil Vaishnava saints (Alwars) wrote the first of the 4000 hymns in praise of the deity after the Perumal appearing to them on a stormy night. Its colourful pillared halls are very reminiscent of the Madurai Meenakshi temple.

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Note: the town itself supposedly has numerous other temples built during the Chola era. It may be worth your time to try exploring a few more. We had about 1/2 day excluding our drive so this was what we were able to do.

 

Our next stop was the Ramana Maharishi Ashram that we re-visited just for the benefit of Anand’s parents. It is touching to see small tombs for a crow, a deer and a cow behind the ashram- they were supposedly treated as other respected souls (aatmas) by Ramana Maharishi with dignity. Even today it is possibly the very first place I’ve seen a dog in a meditation hall that was not being shooed away. Further behind there is a path uphill a walk of about 20 minutes but we choose not to climb up due to a paucity of time.

IMG_1600.jpgIMG_1606And this time we were lucky- 3-4 peacocks put up a show for us dancing and strutting around the place.We sat a while in the meditation hall after admiring them and then headed back to Bangalore.IMG_1593

 

2 day trip

Karnataka : Shimoga and the rains

Yet another one of Anand’s secret planning trips and off we went on a traffic-ky Friday towards Chitradurga, with a dinner of corn on the cob and murderously overpriced nachos. By the time we reached our pit stop for the night at 11 pm I was ready to crash, and so I did.

The next morning we decided to read about each place we were visiting just before getting there, especially if it was a historical one. It made us realise that most of what we knew of our heritage buildings, online at least, seemed like it was researched by people outside of India. More the merrier I’d say. As we read through the descriptions, we saw that a lot of the places on this trip were of the Hoysala architecture. While I had heard of the legend that  the emblem came about when Hoy-Sala was the term used by the teacher to urge his student to attack a lion, I better liked the story that it was symbolic of the king of the Hoysala dynasty overthrowing the Cholas and that the tiger was simply an emblem of the Chola dynasty itself.

We started off dutifully at the Lakshmi Narasimha temple. As much as I dislike most crowded temples, I found it hilarious that the maps app pointed us to the mosque right behind it. It was also completely surrounded by tightly packed houses around that made it less of a break from time. Nevertheless, the Narasimha idol with the Lakshmi on the lap was something I hadn’t seen before. We quickly went in and out of the temple with plain domes (that made it seem incomplete). The best part of it for me though was simply seeing a turtle in the temple well! We decided not to linger too much in our not-too-temple-appropriate-wear(trousers and shirts!) that was already getting looks and judgment from the crowd.IMG_0625.jpg

We next went on a long ride to the Shivappa Nayaka palace and museum. On the way read an entertaining story of a gentleman (Ganesh Mallya) who was tired of the 7 taxes for entering the kingdom and so himself decided to earn a living setting up an 8th one, He then went undetected for months. It definitely gives some hope for his namesakes of the current day. Much our dismay, while the car’s AC conked off on one hand, on the other hand, the palace was closed since it was the 2nd Saturday. We picked up some peanuts to munch on and found a place to have a meal.

Before our next stop, we passed by the Tiger and Lion safari at Thyavarekoppa, and when Anand who had already been there asked if I wanted to go, I agreed. After all, who can resist the gorgeous cats? We were right in time for a bus full of people waiting for a quorum to start the safari. Off we went, a couple of the felines were out and about and the rest were content in their enclosures napping or sunbathing. IMG_0675.jpgAs all safaris, the humans though were a riot and crowded every possible view of the animals from the bus. Anand got prime treatment from the guide simply because of his SLR. I was satisfied getting an occasional peak at the animals and then chilling. After the safari, we had a pleasant walk around the zoo seeing the birds and animals. Of them, my favourite was the ever-so-dainty fox and also the realisation that emu’s had shockingly human-like beautiful eyes. We left after a stroll around the place in perfect weather.IMG_0689.jpg

The western ghats in the rains is always a stunning experience. Everything’s green and lush and alive with picture perfect views at every turn. Even stopping to refill our lungs and take in the painfully beautiful scenes makes the trip worth it.

 

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The western ghats in the rains is a little piece of magic at every turn

 

We next got to Thirthahalli, found a place to rest for the night and I had a yummy sea-food meal after months.

The next morning we put on our figurative adventure hats and set off to find the highest waterfall in India, Kunchikal falls. We had scenic pit stops on the way at every turn with ponds and rivers flowing below bridges. We stopped at what seemed like one side of a dam with an inclined stone surface. I gave up after a few slippery steps on the flat part of the stone while the monkey in the family climbed up to see what was on the other side and took a picture for my reference. Just a few meters away we reached the Mani dam and saw a police guard come toward us. He told us it was a restricted area and we weren’t allowed on the dam nor were we allowed to take pictures there. IMG_0823.jpgWe took a few pics before the dam and watched the beautiful view. Seeing our woebegone faces, the 2 guards(one more inside the shelter) asked us to go ahead and take a walk on the dam but not take pictures. Even that was worth it as the water on either side was beautiful with small islands dotting the seemingly endless expanse of water. Despite missing on the actual waterfalls we both agreed it was worth the trip. We bid farewell and thanked the police folks and went off on our way.

Next stop was the poet Kuvempu’s house. I remember loving some lines from his poem in school. Unfortunately, I don’t remember the actual words in Kannada. But it went that heaven and hell were both right on this earth and nothing beyond it. A first decided to go to the samadhi. While I had low expectations, I was blown away at how lovely it was. There were roughly cut stones placed as works of art in a canopy and further ahead as pillars all over the place. They seemed to merge with the place, not taking away from its natural beauty while being located atop a hill with a pretty view. A few of his lines were engraved in stone too.

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Feels like a small piece of the world away from it all

The university was a stone throw away from the place and I could wistfully imagine me as a student loving to sit here and do some reading amidst so much peace and quiet. We left after a while as more tourists reached the place and then headed off to the poet’s home.

 

It was the perfect example of an old style house that both of us love. It had an arecanut and banana field beside it and a newly manicured garden in front. It aptly had the author’s child-like poem mane(home) inscribed on a stone at the entrance too.

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The house itself had a lovely central courtyard and old furniture that was well maintained. I was also gushing over the old-style doors, windows and pillars throughout. They had on display some utensils and other implements but the house itself was the real treat if one is into old houses. We went through a half-open door outside where there was a bathroom, also of the olden times. Not-my-thing. It was a cowshed kind of space (elbow height wall all around) with a fireplace for a huge pot of water to boil. And a pit about 1.5 ft deep for folks to sit in and take bath (clothed). We also entertained ourselves looking at some tadpoles half on their way to turning frogs, hopping all over the place. We considered buying one of the poem collections but I wanted some recommendations and wasn’t sure of what I’d read, so we walked away. We met a nice girl travelling by herself from Bangalore and

We met a nice girl travelling by herself from Bangalore and lunched with her in the teeny shop+’hotel’ just outside the house. Also, she and I noted the really clean restrooms right outside which is a welcome change while travelling. We then made a brief stop at the art gallery that was filled with mostly the poet’s son’s photography of birds and a new design wish-list addition to what my library should look like.

We next headed off to our last stop, the Amrutheshwara temple at Amruthapura. It was a long drive and the most interesting thing we read of the temple was that it had sculpted panels of Ramayana on one side(in an anti-clockwise direction) and Mahabharatha on the other. We entered the place with some other tourists/devotees too and in a short while it poured. I contently found a nook to watch the rain and the structure while Anand went shutter-happy around the place. The poojari borrowed my umbrella and went to the sub-temple to perform his pooja. After a while, seeing that the rain refused to abate, we took back our umbrella, walked in the rain around the place and entered the sub-temple. IMG_0868.jpg

The poojari caught us unawares by asking if we wanted an ‘archane’ done. We nodded our assent and he went on with the mutterings leaving us in the end with some coconut palm flowers, green bangles, a handful of kumkum and some other flowers. It was hilarious that he wasn’t completely sure of our relationship so offered an assortment of blessings we could ask of the resident devi. Education, progeny, good memory and what not. So there quite bemused, we left the place. It was one of the few temples I’d seen with a preserved outer wall which was moderately decorated and quite beautiful. The ceiling art and the demonic faces were also quite lovely works of art. Anand educated me that hook-like structures on the ceiling were for the thulabharam and were a part of most temples in the south. I’m going to keep an eye out for them now on.IMG_0879.jpg

With hands full of the offerings from the temple we didn’t know what to do with, we head off to the car a little more delayed than expected, to go on our way back home. I’d mentioned to Anand that I was always unsure of the complete picture of Mahabharatha and knew random instances of random people and mixed up the names often. That was the moment of discovery that it was a topic right up his alley. As eager as he was to tell me the whole thing, he applied a disclaimer that he was bad with names, so it only made sense for me to avoid confusing myself further initially, so I looked up a super-brief Mahabharatha story off our know-it-all, the internet. We merrily spent the next 2 hours discussing other details of the story the brief version had missed. It was surprisingly entertaining and exhausting for Anand as he was doing most of the talking. More tedious traffic, tolls later, just as I was about to crash, we got right back to our very welcoming home glad at the trip and yet happy to be back.

2 day trip

Mysore and Mandya – of purple bicycles and temple ponds

Continued from here

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The next morning we headed off to Karanji lake after checking out from the hotel. This is a place we’ve visited twice before just because it’s quite a lovely space and doesn’t take much time to stroll around either. This time, however, I was most excited about this part of our trip- cycling in the park! With me not owning a cycle as yet, we had never done something so simple, together ever before.

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Thrilled to bits with my purple cycle and his yellow one, off we went. It’s the perfect place to cycle- not too long a path to be exhausted peddling and yet much more fun than just walking around. Also the trees all the way provide ample cover to make sure you aren’t bothered by the heat either.IMG_0658.jpg

Just when we were disappointed that the lake was not full of water, we noticed the silver lining. At one point the parched earth under the lake allowed one to walk over it. There were sunflowers bordering the place and the dried up area meant that one could get a closer look at the beautiful birds that had come visiting. IMG_0852There were beautiful painted storks, egrets, ducks, eagles and other birds our limited knowledge of them prevented us from naming. Though not keen on boating with the low water levels, we sat there and had a perfectly glorious time of zoning out and watching a paddling of ducks with lustrous pearl-like feathers, fast asleep with their heads cosily tucked under their wings while still standing. (did you know that was the collective noun for ducks if they’re in water – yes, paddling!).

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A paddling of ducks fast asleep

We didn’t have too much time so we just spent an hour at Karanji lake but it was everything we wanted it to be. Making sure we visited our feathered friends at the aviary, we then left from there.

 

We had seen a board to the Regional Museum of Natural history on our way around Mysore and decided to head there next. It’s a really excellent place to have several flashbacks of your lessons from school on everything from the food chain, to the evolution of man and the formation of our planet.IMG_0858 Also fascinating to learn were sea-life at different depths in the ocean. It also has exhibits of the biological diversity in rainforests, wetlands, and mangroves. We’d highly recommend it to children and adults to re-kindle their interest in our oh-so-wonderful world.IMG_0874.jpg

In our urge for visiting places we hadn’t tried on our previous trips to Mysore, we headed next to the Melody Wax museum. Be warned it’s more an exhibition of a very large number of musical instruments than any extraordinary wax figurines. Nevertheless, it’s inside a lovely old-style house which was a bigger draw for us. In the same building is also the House of horrors equivalent. It’s mostly pitch dark and sufficiently startling. Makes for a fun outing if that’s your thing 😉

After an immensely forgettable lunch, we started towards Melkote.

 

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Just another pretty sight on the way

 

On the way, we took a diversion to Nambinarayana temple on seeing a board.pointing us towards it. It was quite an unexpectedly nice place and not even crowded considering the relative popularity of the Melkote temple.It had endless pillars at the entrance too. While being plain and austere it still had the feeling of comfort you get amidst strong structures made of stone that lasted since the 12th century!

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Just opposite the Nambinarayana temple, is a Gopala Krishna temple. The huge door to the temple was opened by an old man and the place was completely empty except for us. It was possible to go up to the terrace of the structure too.  It was picturesquely bordered on all sides by crowns of coconut palms.IMG_0928.jpg

Driving through the village we next reached Melkote. IMG_1001.jpgJust as we walked ahead a bit we were invited into a temple for prasad and realised it was a whole meal of bisibelebath and pongal. Though delicious, we were already full from our meal just an hour or 2 ago, and just about managed to finish it.

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Pillars of time

It was early evening and instead of exploring the whole place (that has lots to see) we instead chose to spend the little time we had by my favourite place of all, the huge temple pond/kalyani. IMG_0971.jpgAnd it was well worth it. Choose to come here if you’d like to end your day at a lovely spot to watch people, the priest taking notes in his little book, the water with gentle ripples and the occasional birds flitting across your view.

 

 

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The moon on the way back wasn’t half-bad either

 

Up next : China : Beijing – Of forbidden cities and welcoming people

2 day trip

Mysore and Mandya – Unexpected dancing and feathered friends

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We started off on a Saturday morning and first stopped at the restaurant next to Janapada Loka for breakfast. To our delight, we had unexpectedly reached there during the folk festival. We were lucky to witness the dance forms Thaarle Baarle suggikunitha, Ayravara kunitha, Burrakatha, Gee gee pada. They were all energetic, dramatic with pulsating music and had all artists casually performing bare feet in the heat.

The first seemed like a dance for the deity with drummers accompanying it and some rituals too. The prominent colours were red and yellow.IMG_0025.jpg

The next one had a gentleman performing dancing energetically while balancing the idol on his head while the whole thing itself was balancing on a brass kettle. There too were a different set of drummers holding their own while keeping up with his energy. It was quite a thrill to even watch the performance.IMG_0027

This was followed by were a bunch of dancers of a wide range of ages with poles decked with colourful tassels rhythmically dancing away to the beat of music.

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Then was the group dressed in faux tiger skin playing drums and dancing. It was hard to not tap your feet to their energy and pulsating music.

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Up next was a bull dressed in finery and anklets while artists played the naadaswaram. A small bit also involved the bull running with the gentleman and a couple displaying feats of strength and controlIMG_0208

And next was a team, of which 2 folks were dressed remarkably well with stunning waves of white hair, swords and rich gold coloured ornaments.IMG_0271

With the rhythm still playing at the back of our minds, we headed from there to Kokkare Bellur, the popular sites to see the cranes that came very year. It was quite the treat to see the huge birds casually propped up on thin branches of the trees there, mostly tamarind trees. IMG_0368With their dramatic wing-spans, hints of pink in their plumage, stick thin legs and long beaks, it is quite pleasant to spend time watching them go about their day. The little ones kicked up a racket while the mothers got them food, It’s quite surprising how the trees’ thin branches manage to hold their large bodies. The red tiled roofs around make an unassuming backdrop for these birds.IMG_0428

On our way further to Mysore, we saw a board to Aartipura, and headed there. It was a site still being excavated and analysed for remains of an ancient Jain temple. Unfortunately, no photos were allowed but it’s quite a lovely pit stop with a small water catchment at the top of the hill and very calm looking idol of Mahavira with the sky providing the perfect backdrop.

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We’ve been to Mysore a couple of times before and everytime try to see something new. So we next headed to the Railway Museum in Mysore.  The rail museum though small is a dream-come-true for anyone who wanted to check out the rail driver’s seat in a train. There were vintage coaches from various times open for exploring, letting you sit inside a while and conjure up images of an (unrealistically) romantic past. IMG_0579.jpgIt was fun to examine all kinds of seats- from long school bench like ones that looked like the inside of a tempo traveller of today’s times. There was even one where you could see the coal-hauling section of the train. Quite charmingly, there was also a 1925 Austin re-made to have rail-wheels in place of the tyres thereby allowing it to be used as a rail-car! IMG_0571Despite it being a small track, we both had our share of fun taking the toy-train ride because why not!

There was also a special display of the Mysore maharani’s saloon/coach- oh to have a full-size wooden bed inside the train!IMG_0611

Up next: Purple bicycles and temple ponds

2 day trip · 4 day trip

Bidar : Of lightning strikes and scenic rewards

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We headed back to the hotel for lunch and some respite from the sun. We then went towards the Gurudwara: Guru Nanak Jhira, unexpectedly since someone sent us towards that when we asked for the route to the Baridi Tombs. Neither of us particularly wanted to spend time there with the shorter evenings in winter and so lesser time to see other things we’d planned, and so went in and headed back out quickly. It’s quite a huge space and they are adding more rooms to it. It is believed that GuruNanak found a source of water/a spring here in the otherwise arid town and therefore the term “Jhira” or stream. It’s quite a culture shock to all of a sudden see a huge number of Sikhs in Bidar solely here! We saw 0 anywhere else we had wandered in Bidar. IMG_5719.jpg

We did notice however that there were 3 small tombs near the Gurdwara too. The gates were closed (since it was a Friday ?) and so we had to move on after a refreshing drink of lime juice from a cheerful vendor there.

 

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We next went looking for the Baridi Tombs and the map simply wouldn’t point us to it. We asked people and realised that the place was referred to as the “Bareed Shahi Park” (note the spelling of Bareed). img_5726While the Bahamani tombs did have people picnicking, having an actual park with kids playground and fake deer felt a little close to the morbid view of things- like a playground in a cemetery…or maybe that’s just me.

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We strolled around amidst school kids and harassed teachers trying their best to rein them in and maintain a semblance of order. It’s a small place with small tombs especially in comparison with the ones at Ashtur. Still pleasant enough for a 1/2 hr of relaxing.img_5733

Madrasa of Khoaja Mahmud Gawan

This was one place that seemed all kinds of interesting to me and I’d made up my mind to visit. Firstly it was a residential university of the time, it seemed to have beautiful tile work on its façade and legend says that it was struck by lightning. [The Archaeological Society of India says it was a gunpowder explosion that crashed into it, but I like the lightning theory better so I’m sticking to that story.] And so going through a lot of red soil in the air and on the roads we got there.

Only traces of the blue, green, white glazed tiles and delicate calligraphic text remains but it’s enough to make you sigh wistfully at how wondrous it may have looked in its time.

img_5836It then provided free accommodation for 1000 students while teaching them mathematics, theology, astronomy and other subjects and had 3000 books in its library too. The portion of the structure ahead is now a functional mosque where people had come to pray at the time we got there. A portion of the collapsed structure is supported by a pillar to hold it in place now.img_5785 The caretaker opens up each area and shows you around briefly as the study halls, the professor’s chambers, and student’s living quarters. Oh, what we would give to have a quick peek into the past to see it with amidst the bustle of academics and wisdom.

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Deva Deva Vana :

We decided to spend the evening at a place that’s a little less dusty than the city and headed to Deva Deva Vana that we had spotted on our way to Bidar. A stroll around the eco-tourism park helped us rewind from the interesting past 2 days. The plants around had boards with names to familiarise us with the diversity of the vegetation there but otherwise no information available. It wasn’t at its greenest in winter when we got there, nevertheless made a pleasant place for a relaxed walk as the evening got cooler and ended in yet another lovely sunset.

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As we drove back towards Bangalore the next day, we stopped this time at a mosque we had seen on our way in. It is supposedly referred to as Bidar’s Taj Mahal and rightly so. A structure in pure white marble – Astana Chishtiya Hazrat Multani Baba, Gangwar Shareef. It too functions as a mosque as we had seen quite a few people coming back from their prayers on our way to Bidar.

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A little ahead we decided to make yet another pitstop at an unnamed lake (even on online maps) by the road. We were amply rewarded with the perfect end to the trip -pretty scenes of birds completely oblivious to our presence going about their day with casual and enchanting grace.

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Up next : China – EmeiShan – Of mountains and miracles

2 day trip · 4 day trip

Bidar- Tombs, forts and people

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While the world readied themselves to party the new year in, we decided to visit dusty tombs of dead kings, cobweb ridden forts and a university struck by lightning – so well, Bidar it was.

As we left on a Thursday afternoon, we were lucky to see a winter sunset that was needlessly dramatic – the orb of a gorgeous shade of gold with a sharply defined outline and the bluish-pink sky, on the other hand vying for your attention. Further on ahead, a cop at a highway checkpoint asked for a lift and we obliged. We were well rewarded with recommendations of tourist places nearby. We also got a peek into his life with 18-hour shifts, 24*7 availability, being witness to the aftermath of avoidable traffic accidents every day and the crimes he gets to clean up after every day. We soon felt guilty of how less we appreciate their work every day to keep our cities and villages safe even when often it’s just one of them on a long, lonely and dark highway.

Tip: You could also stop at Lepakshi on the way from Bangalore to Bidar which is a lovely old temple.

On the brighter (sparklier) side, with it getting darker earlier due to the winter, we were taken by surprise at the perfectly clear view of endless stars that lit up the night sky and left us smiling for a long time. After checking in to the hotel and dinner we crashed and woke up to the image of a pretty pond and guava trees outside our balcony.

But we had more road to cover- through tractors full of sugarcane and fields of cotton that looked like they were specific areas blessed with a snowy Christmas. The roads are great except for a small stretch before reaching Bidar since the roads there are being laid afresh. When there, expect your vehicle to be covered liberally with deep red soil on every bit of its exposed surface.

After checking in and a relaxed lunch, we headed off to our first stop.

Chaukhandi of Hazrat Khalil Ullah

Our first stop was Chaukhandi. This is a strikingly designed octagonal tomb of Hazrat Khalil Ullah who was the king’s spiritual advisor. Its distinct shape makes it easily visible from afar too.

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It has a reverent air around it as devotees continue to visit it as a dargah. There is lovely Quranic calligraphy work around its façade. The smaller building beside the more prominent one, was where musicians used to play trumpets and drums as appropriate to the shrine.

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There are 3 graves inside the tomb and are a few smaller ones around it, some with adornments on their outer structure too. There is a small step pond beside the main structure.img_5200

Tip: Make sure you are well covered, including for gentlemen- wear trousers in lieu of shorts. To this place the only pointer, if you don’t have a map, is to look for road signs to “Ashtur”

Bahamani tombs:

This is just a little away from the Chaukhandi and really takes your breath away. It is made of 8 main tombs and several smaller ones. The tall and graceful arches along with remnants of the richly coloured designs made for a sight for sore eyes.The one dome that has crashed in opening up to the sky, lends it a special touch of intrigue and mystery.

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It’s interesting to note how young some of the designated rulers at the time were, some just 8- 12 years old. One wonders what lives those children led. The queens were called “Mallika-i-Jahan” (Queen of the world) very dramatically and were often the regent queens till the children grew up.

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The people there seem to have the opposite energy levels those in the Chaukhandi. Children frolicking around, families playing a joyful game of kabaddi with some of its best participants in a hijab and, a group of young men learning to ride a bike inside the premises and taking ubiquitous selfies of course. It’s the perfect place to spend a beautiful winter evening.

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As we climbed atop one of the structures a young girl of about 9 yrs old approached me asking why we were taking videos(she assumed due to the huge DSLR) and what we’d do with them. I explained as best as I could and then we exchanged names.

“Are you a Hindu?” she then asks.

“Well… I guess…but what difference does it make?” [there wasn’t enough time to express my opinions about religion]

She giggles in agreement.

She continues, “You are very nice…..but………..you have short hair.” More giggling! 😐

She then proceeds to call her sisters too and each one requests a separate picture with me. Revelling in the glory of fleeting celebrity-hood I agree with a grin.

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The setting sun lends marvellous shades of gold to the tombs and their facades adding to their charm. Reflecting on the place we decided that while all of us die, some of our tombs are possibly grander but considering we aren’t around to enjoy them, we might as well enjoy our evening for now.

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Bidar fort:

The next day was the main focus of our whole trip, the Bidar fort. It is considered one of the most formidable forts in the country. However, a few steps from the entrance and you’re instantly transported to another time half expecting sentries to bring down the draw bridge for you at the doors. The 3 moats around it are clearly visible just a short climb up its ramparts. It lends itself to a day of joyous exploration with something new at every turn. Despite it being a sunny day, areas of the fort are deliciously cool with their design optimising for air flow. The inside of the fort starts off with the Rangeen Mahal and the Prince’s Mahal on the left with the Fort’s museum on the right. The Tarkash Mahal and the Solah Khamba Mosque are soon after. Further inside one would reach the Diwan-i-Aam, the Takht Mahal and several other structures.

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Diwan-i-Aam

The hall for an audience with the public – was contrary to its name, well, closed to the public, since it was undergoing renovations. A peek from the gates, however, led us to view a large area for the people to meet their king and walls with tall arches all around.

Tarkash Mahal

Is a corruption of “Turkish” which is what the queen was, and this was made for her. This too was unfortunately closed and seemed to have multiple steps and sections, much left to our imagination.

 

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Tarkash Mahal straight ahead and the Solah Khamb mosque on the right

 

Solah Khamba Masjid

This is still used as a mosque. It has 16 pillars in the front but a total of 96 smooth, round, huge, white pillars beautifully aligned to make up the structure

Rangeen Mahal

This was one structure I was yearning to see and it did not disappoint. Marble tiles in stunning shades of blue, green and white make you long to see how it may have been when it was all in place.

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The courtyard of the Rangeen Mahal
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The splendid ceiling 

 

Prince’s mahal

Just beside the Rangeen Mahal was the Mahal of the prince.  All that was left were strong pillars, sectioned off rooms and wide spaces.

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Takht Mahal

This was a favourite of mine. Easy to get lost amidst its huge sections separating the rooms with beautiful archways and huge windows to look benevolently(I hope) at the peasants in the plains below. img_5551

Renovations are ongoing to put back together the waterbodies in each courtyard attempting fervently to re-create the glory days.

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The Persian influence in architecture is noted in the tiger with a starburst seen right at the entrance of the building.Just behind it are secret passageways and tunnels to escape into the earth in case the enemy attacks.

 

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As we moved towards the exit, we also stopped at some old granaries still in pretty good shape. There are huge canons around the fort area too.

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It’s a delightfully enchanting space to spend a relaxed day stumbling into its various nooks and spaces, discovering a cannon at one spot and a vibrant blue mosaic at another, feeling like an intruder in space you yearn to really see in it’s prime.

 

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We wished we could, if only for an instance, breathe life into those spaces to get a peek into the lives and times of the people of the era, their every days and their celebrations, their joys and their heartbreaks. For now, we’ll never know what secrets the place may be holding close to its heart and what tales the palaces would be yearning to share.

Up next : Bidar : Of Lightning strikes and scenic rewards