2 day trip

Mysore and BR Hills – Of culture and confluence

An easy decision when we want to get away from the city of Bangalore without much of a plan in place, is Mysore. So we drove down there one Saturday morning. Despite having been there before, we headed to the Venugopala Swamy temple in the backwaters of the KRS dam. When we were there last, it was still under construction and now it was fully operational. The original temple had to be submerged due to the construction of the KRS dam and was restored as it is today with the all the slabs from the original temple.IMG_8276.jpg

There are a few small pavilions outside and folks were lying for a bit to relax. I can definitely see why. Due to the open space around, there’s a cool breeze here at all times, which in the Indian warm weather, is brilliant at lulling you to sleep.IMG_8267

For those who are religious – do note that they explicitly insist on no offerings(fruits, flowers) to the temple, so don’t bother carrying any. I particularly loved that they had used the tulsi (holy basil) plants all around for landscaping – it made the perfect choice with its health benefits, mild fragrance, and religious use. Within the temple, the corridor has numerous deities both known and not so well known from Hindu religious references. It makes for a fun story-telling opportunity , if traveling with kids, and firstly if your familiar with their stories yourself!IMG_8264.jpg

We reached Mysore by late afternoon and decided on a place called The Old house –  admittedly because the 2 of us have an instant attraction towards heritage homes and buildings (if anyone reading wants to give one away, we’ll be happy to take it off your hands!).  A pizza later we were ready to go onwards to BR hills – this is one place possibly everyone else we know has been to, but we haven’t. We didn’t know what to expect either.

The Biligiriranga Hills or as commonly known – BR Hills is amidst what is both a wildlife sanctuary and a tiger reserve at the border common to both the Western Ghats and the Eastern ghats resulting in a unique ecosystem of its own. On our way through the miles of lush greenery, we even spotted a couple of very impressive looking gaurs(wild bison).IMG_9293.jpg

Note : In any route that passes through a wild life sanctuary, ensure you do not stop your vehicle (even to take pictures), and definitely do not feed the animals. Also they have right of way, even for the little frogs crossing the road, so keep your eyes open and alert. Ensure you are respectful and keep your distance from the animals. Also keep noise levels to a minimum and avoid honking.

We reached at 4:30PM and the original plan was to return to Mysore to stay the night, but being the monsoons, it had already gotten quite dark so we had to re-plan. There seemed to be pretty much 2 places to stay there- the govt owned Mayura hotel and one more on the same road. Both were full but the gentleman in the Mayura hotel directed us to another place to stay which while in a beautiful space, we aren’t entirely sure was legitimate so we’ll skip the recommendation. On the brighter side, he also invited us for a dance performance at 6pm that evening within the Mayura hotel premises!

Note : Book your stay in advance to BR hills. There are other places to stay but the internet connectivity was also wonky by the time we got there. Alternately, if you leave early from Bangalore and make no pitstops you could still get back to Mysore in time- so plan accordingly. If interested in rafting and trekking do a bit of research but there seem to be options for that too. The temperature is also colder than Mysore so get a sweater at the least.

We quickly found the place of stay, dropped our luggage and made our way up to the top of the hills before it turned completely dark. The top of the hill houses the temple of Lord Ranganathaswamy (Lord Vishnu) where part of the hill’s name comes from.IMG_9287.jpgThe bili(white) is said to come from either the fact that the top of the hill has a lighter colored stone surface or attributed to the mists that cover the hill. We followed online maps and reached an entrance that leads to a few steps up the hill. If traveling with people having mobility issues, there’s also a different entrance with very few steps just a little diversion ahead- so do explore.

From the temple itself, there’s a brilliant view of the sea of green only interrupted by a small hamlet of the Soliga tribes who are local to the area.IMG_9281.jpg

We made our way back just in time for the event. A group of the Soliga tribes sang and danced and we watched enthralled at the whole performance. Their voices were clear and powerful, the dance form energetic and with very unique steps compared to other dance forms we’ve seen before. Both children and adults performed and we were lucky to be witness to it all just by a stroke of luck.IMG_9300.jpg

By now we were starving and food wasn’t yet ready in the KSTDC hotel which again is the only option we found. We requested the restaurant manager for some simple curd rice since we were eager to go to bed. He seemed curt and asked us to wait. Some very spicy chilly bajjis later(they were the only items “ready”), we were craving for the curd rice even more. He finally brought out the curd rice tempered with coriander and onion, and came back in a minute asking for how we liked it. We told him it was very nice and instantly his entire face lit up. Turned out that since we were hungry, he had made it himself though he was not the cook and had tried making it for the very first time! Needless to say we were touched and it brightened up our day too 🙂

We got back to the stay and crashed for the night- waking up to a lovely view of the trees around us. A quick breakfast at a small eatery nearby and we made our way to Mysore. On the way back, we stopped on a whim at the Sri Mahalakshmi Gunja Narasimhaswami Temple  at Tirumakudalu Narasipura.IMG_9362.jpg

Legend: A washerman has a dream where Lord Narasimha appears asking him to build a temple. He is also told that below his washing stone he’ll find gold to actually use for the temple’s construction. After constructing the temple, the washer man is offered a boon where he mentions his interest to visit the holy city of Kashi. The Lord then declares that whoever visits this temple will have punya of one gunja(weight of a particular seed) more than that when visiting Kashi and declared this town Dakshina Kashi(Kashi of the south). That gives the temple its name and the idol also is seen holding a stalk of the Gunja plant.IMG_9367.jpg

The commonality between Kashi and this place doesn’t end there. While Kashi is at the confluence of the rivers -Ganga ,Yamuna, Saraswati, this temple is at the confluence of the rivers -Kaveri, Kapila and Spatika Sarovara. Not sure if allowed due to the legend or not, but people still wash clothes by the waterfront of the temple.

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A further way along and we stopped at a large banyan tree for a fun break. Kids were even able to climb into and hide within several portions of the trunk. Some of its branches were so low that they were also enjoying climbing straight up the tree from almost ground level. IMG_9378.jpgWe spent out time alternately watching them, wishing we had a better sense of balance ourselves and watching the parrots flitting into and out of the trees hollows.

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Next, as per what’s become customary for us on a visit to Mysore, we made our way to Karanji lake for a short cycle ride and seeing our feathered friends at the aviary. Unfortunately most of the birds we’d seen earlier seem to have been replaced by only peacocks now. Hopefully not to ill health or just humans’ behaviors. However since it was the monsoons, the peacocks were in the height of their impressing phase and were oh-so-often bursting into dance. The pea-hen seemed disinterested but no matter how many times we’ve watched it, we can’t help but stop and stare at the sheer beauty of the scene.IMG_9426.jpg

I have a special fascination with markets- though I genuinely am not much of a shopper. Just passing through them makes me happy- especially those with produce and flowers. So for no other reason other than to smell the fragrance of the flowers sold in heaps and to just breathe in the ambience of the ancient market ,we made a stop at the Devaraja Market. If you’re heading back to Bangalore the same day you can even use this opportunity to do your shopping for all the produce in neat heaps. The market itself has everything most Indian homes need- from fruits, vegetables, flowers to bangles, kitchen utensils in all shapes, sweets and even items used for poojas.IMG_9454.jpg

After the trip filled with colour and culture we made our way back to Bangalore already wondering where we’d go next!

 

 

 

 

 

 

2 day trip

Aihole and the waterfalls of Uttara Kannada : Sathodi and Magod

We drove on to Aihole next , about 10km from Pattadakal. It is understood that the structures of Pattadakal were born out of the experimentation in Aihole. This region too changed hands between empires from the Chalukyas-> Rashtrakutas-> Vijayanagara-> Adil Shahis of Bijapur-> Mughals-> Marathas-> Tipu Sultan and finally the British.

Durga Temple: is the one that would remain with you when you think back about Aihole. It has a very unique shape and structure said to be similar to those found in the Ajanta caves. In addition to the pantheon of Hindu Gods, it also has scenes from the epics Ramayana and Mahabharata and scenes of daily life.IMG_7995.jpg

Suryanarayana temple : Dedicated to the Sun God, the idol is seen holding a lotus in each hand and on a horse drawn chariot.

Lad Khan temple : Originally a Shiva temple, now named after an Adil Shahi commander who used it, for lack of better words, as an office to manage his military campaigns. It has 3 concentric areas – one with the sanctum sanctorum with the Shiva linga, the next one with Nandi the bull, and the last one with space for gatherings. The sculptures also are of the variety as the Durga temple.

Gaudargudi: one dedicated to Gauri (Goddess Parvati). Its known to be one of the earliest temples that included the circumambulatory path around it.IMG_8057.jpg

The complex also includes a stepwell.IMG_8049.jpg

As the sun set on us, we made the 3 hr drive back to Hubli ,now ravenous for something we’d been looking forward to enjoy- the meals at a Khanavali. We headed to Basaveshwara Khanavali in the center of town and plonked ourselves there. While they got out our plates we even ordered some shenga holige (a sweet crepe in this case made of peanuts). In addition to the jolada rotti and spicy curries and side dishes we found the salad made of both radish and radish greens particularly unique. And so we came to an end of another fun day looking forward to waterfalls in the next one!IMG_8075.jpg

The next morning we were excited for our first waterfalls this monsoon. But before that breakfast at another popular restaurant in Hubli- Karnataka Bhavan where we munched on hot pooris and soft Mangalore buns.IMG_8081.jpg

After a long drive, we got to Sathodi falls happy to stretch our feet for the short walk from the entrance to the waterfalls. But by now the breakfast was long digested and we were ravenous. Luckily on the path to the falls there is a board next to the only house there, urging us to order a meal before heading down so we can have it when getting back. A few steps later, we gleefully heard the roaring of the waterfalls through the greenery. IMG_9109.jpgThrough the gorgeous mist there was the muddy waterfalls powerfully gushing down 15meters into the dam backwaters and ultimately into the Kali river. There was something so perfectly raw about it that was riveting- so much that we didn’t even mind either the mild drizzle and the other visitors around. Comfortable in our poncho raincoats we were happy to find a boulder to sit on for a while, feeling lucky to be able to witness it in all its glory.IMG_9143.jpg

Hunger finally led us back and we were thrilled to bits at the warm meal awaiting us. An older couple ran the eatery out of their home and the food was flawless with plenty of dishes- I especially relished the tambuli. They are utterly charming and hospitable. A request to any of you visiting would be to carry along the days newspaper with you for the uncle there. Apparently getting newspapers with almost no neighboring homes around is very hard and so they rarely get one. We always carry one (see our road trip guide) but unfortunately ours was several weeks old.

Note: the road to Sathodi is terrible. There were young boys driving Activa scooters there, but we were mighty glad to have taken a sturdy car with great suspension on hire for this ride. We’d recommend you do the same if you have more of a “city” car. The route is very bumpy and the monsoons only make it worse. The distance from Hubli is less than 100kms but will take you 3 hours at the very least to reach there. Fallen trees if any may delay/block your path in the monsoons too. We chose to stay at Hubli,Yellapur is the options but accomodation options there are limited to home stays. Plan accordingly.IMG_8095.jpg

From Sathodi it’s a 1.5 hour drive to Magod. Just a few steps down and there is a viewpoint to enjoy the falls from. There are further view points below but it was already misty in the early evening and we decided to enjoy this while we could. Through the green cover, the waterfalls from the river Bedti cascade down levels and then seem to endlessly explode into thin air making for a hypnotizing sight.IMG_9237.jpg

A quick stop at the view point at Jenukallu Gudda and dusk had soon settled. This forced us back on our way and after a hot meal, memories of the gushing waterfalls gently lulled us to sleep.IMG_9255.jpg

2 day trip

Badami and Pattadakal- Of almonds and coronations

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Up next : Aihole and the waterfalls of Uttara Kannada : Sathodi and Magod

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.

 

2 day trip

Buffalo races and picturesque places : All in the Tulu land

A topic of recent controversy has been the event of Jallikattu in Tamil nadu with arguments over whether it was a culturally relevant way to practice bull taming, while others insisting it was inherently cruel- or just maybe a bit of both. On the other side of the south of India is the event Kambala- which is a annual race of buffaloes held in the coastal areas of Karnataka.

An overnight bus from Bangalore will take you to Mangalore. After freshening up and a bit of rest a hired bike to cross 65km and you’d arrive at the event location, Venoor. The entry is free and you’d do well to not expect seating. Mangalore and the coastal areas are warm to say the least, even in winter. Tracks are ploughed into a muddy paddy field that is made slushy with water.IMG_2421.jpgThe event itself runs for 24-36 hours continually with this location having 4 racing formats. However the one we saw was that of a single pair of buffaloes driven by their owner and timing is compared later to see the fastest of the lot.IMG_2427

Note : It may be better to visit in the early evening since this one type went on for a whole 3 hours we were there so there wasn’t much variety in the experience.

The buffaloes were given a bath before and after the race in a nearby stream. Each group seemed to have their own cheering squad too- with an assortment of instruments in tow.IMG_2503

Other than Kambala itself, the town of Venoor by the Phalguni river  was once the seat of Jainism and has several Jain temples sprinkled around to prove it.

Kallu Basadi was the first visited since it was made of rock cut stones. The presence of a large courtyard caused it to be called Dodda Basadi.IMG_2603

Note : Most of the temples visited had their inner sanctuaries closed. It’s possible they are only open in the early mornings for prayers since they are not major tourist destinations. Here we only covered a bunch of places since we didn’t aim to cover them all but there are more Basadis that may be interesting to explore.IMG_2634

Gomateshwara statue : This was built  by Thimmanna Ajila, the direct descendant of Chamundaraya, who build the Gomateshwara statue at Shravanabelagola. It is 38 ft in height and on the banks of the Phalguni river.IMG_2666.jpg

 

Chowta palace/aramane : This was something that’s easy to miss, and we did miss it, since you see 2 cars at the entrance and get confused. Apparently it is still occupied by the descendants of the Chowta Jain dynasty.

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This was the actual entrance to the palace.. but is now just a ruin

The Chowta queen is sometimes recognised as the first woman freedom fighter of India having fought the Portuguese army during 1530-99 and earned the title Abhaya Rani.IMG_2685

 

Savira Kambada Basadi (1000 pillar temple) in Moodbidri : is, as its name suggests, a temple with 1000 pillars that honors the thirthankara Chandraprabha. IMG_2708It has a 60 ft tall monolith pillar in the courtyard of the temple.IMG_2713

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The monolith pillar in front of the temple
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The presiding deity

Day 2 of the trip took us to a few more spots of interest in Karkala which too was 60 km away from Mangalore.

Note : One could choose to stay in Moodbidri which is the point of deviation from Mangalore to both Karkala and Venoor. However we chose to return to Mangalore since it was only 60km away.

Chaturmukha Basadi : so called because it has 4 symmetrical faces, that are like 4 independent temples just fitted together like pieces of a puzzle.IMG_2774 It has a picturesque location atop a small hill surrounded by dense coconut palms on all sides. From here one can see the Gomateshwara in the Karkala basadi which was the next stop.IMG_2742

Gomateshwara, Karkala basadi : The statue of Gomateshwara is 41.5 ft tall built on a platform atop a rocky hill, itself called the Gommata Betta. IMG_2825It’s the second largest in Karnataka. IMG_2806Conversely one can see the Chaturmukha Basadi nestled amidst the coconut palms from the temple that houses the Gomateshwara.IMG_2783IMG_2797

Kere Basadi – The Anekere pond in Karkala was once constructed to provide water for irrigation to the township. And was the place for the king’s elephants to bathe. IMG_2901Until recently, the basadi was only be accessible via a wooden boat where the temple priest doubled up as the boatman. Today however there is a small road that leads directly to it. IMG_2895The pond is a idyllic spot with waterlilies, ducks and reflections of the surrounding coconut palms in the still water. Note: the inner sanctuary is only open for 2 hours a day from 8-9 am and 6:30-7:30 pm.IMG_2865

Koti Chennaya theme park :Koti and Chennaya were legendary twin brothers who fought against oppression by wealthy landlords and are today elevated to the level of divine entities to the extent that this park is primarily to describe their weapons and their stories. IMG_2950It also has utensils, idols,murals and oil paintings describing the life and times of the Tulu people from an older era.IMG_2927IMG_2933IMG_2934

A quick stop on the Pavanje bridge over the Nandini river gives you a beautiful view of the mangroves in all their lush finery were a fitting end to what was a trip that provided a glimpse into the culture and history of the Tulu people.IMG_2969

 

 

 

 

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