3 day trip

Belgaum : Sada and Godachinmalki waterfalls

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

IMG_4566
View from the “other” side of the falls

 

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

IMG_4580.jpg
The temple on the way to the waterfalls’ view point: Shri Mahalingeshwar temple

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

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

 

IMG_6405.jpg

 

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

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

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

3 day trip

Bijapur – Of whispering echoes and carved calligraphy

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

IMG_4270.jpg
The cannon at Upli Burj

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

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

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

IMG_4228.jpg

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

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

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

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

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

 

3 day trip

Belgaum: Chorla Ghat and its surprises

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

IMG_4430.jpg

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

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

 

 

1 day trip · 3 day trip

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

IMG_0777.jpg

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

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

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

IMG_1845

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

IMG_1847.jpg

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

IMG_2039.jpg
Hidimbeshwara temple

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

IMG_9997
Murugha Matha

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

IMG_0793.jpg
Paleyagar Kacheri

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

IMG_1838.jpg
And that, is the Gym door- a fitness entry requirement

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

IMG_1873.jpg
Akka Tangiyara Honda

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

IMG_0803.jpg
Onake Obavva Kindi

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

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

IMG_2005.jpg

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

IMG_1895.jpg
Gopalaswamy Honda

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

IMG_1904
Gopalaswamy temple

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

IMG_0939

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

IMG_0955

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

 

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

3 day trip

Shimoga – of temples and backwaters

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

IMG_5246.jpg
Try the paddu- it may convert you even if you weren’t a fan earlier!

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

IMG_5276.jpg
Umamaheshwara temple

 

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

 

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

IMG_1755.jpg
Rameshwara temple

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

IMG_1718.jpg
Rameshwara temple

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

IMG_1740.jpg
Rameshwara temple

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

IMG_1749.jpg
Rameshwara temple

 

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

IMG_1766.jpg
The Jog falls- a few weeks later and it was a whole lot more forceful and stunning.

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

 

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

 

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

IMG_1781.jpg
Honnemaradu

 

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

 

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

IMG_1791.jpg
Honnemaradu

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

IMG_5317.jpg
Honnemaradu
3 day trip

Shimoga – Of dreamy palaces and green wonderlands

For our next stop, we headed to the Kavaledurga fort. This time the right one. We sensibly went with ponchos and shoes meant for the heavy rains that accompanied us.

Note: Please do so because we saw most tourists soaked to the skin despite their jackets and umbrellas, the latter is especially pointless since the steps are very slippery and you really better have both hands free in case you fall.It’s not a long trek, just a slippery one- so take your time and walk with care.

The trek starts in a not-so-typical fashion- by walking through a pretty rice field. IMG_2313.jpgA bit of a trek uphill through the dreamy fort walls and you’d reach a temple in the midst of the hills. The outside of the fort itself looks very fairy-tale-like- actually more like the prettiest scenes from Game of Thrones.IMG_2372.jpg

The moss-covered surfaces and the greenery bursting out of the corners of the rocks with the gentle drizzle lending an idyllic look to the whole scene. We walked in silence absorbing the sights at each turn.IMG_2388.jpg

Each layer of the fort has an entryway flanked by guard rooms where you could almost imagine sentries from another time. IMG_2441The first big structure you’d see in the fort is of the Kashi Vishwanatha temple with 2 stone pillars prominently in front of it and the dense forest behind.

IMG_2507.jpg

A little ahead and a short climb up later, there exists a huge rock on which you will see a small shrine named as “Shikhareshwara Temple”, despite it being even more slippery a bunch of folks including us gave it a go to climb up the black patches of the rock.IMG_2512.jpg

Most people return from here since the path is covered with grass and not obviously laid out, especially in the monsoons.IMG_2540.jpg

Moving on ahead towards the summit, if you don’t miss the opening through the shrubbery you’d see a few steps leading to the pond. Further on, and you’d come to the most dramatic structure in the fort- the palace in ruins. IMG_2564.jpgSince the base and the pillars are still present, one can experience strolling through the interconnected rooms around a spacious quadrangle at the centre of it all. IMG_2561.jpgWhile this is quite a scene, the highlight for me was the stunning pond behind this. The T-Shaped pond that one can reach via steps was full of water in a natural blue-green shade, even having tiny fish swimming in its embrace. IMG_2592.jpgIt’s quite an enchanting spot surrounded by the overlooking hills with every spot covered with a huge variety of flora in every size.

IMG_2612.jpg
Feeling blissfully lost in the perfectly picturesque wilderness

We very reluctantly left the place since it was getting darker.IMG_2610.jpg

The next morning after breakfast we went to the 12th-century Rameshwara temple which was a small non-ornate temple with beautifully rounded pillars in glossy black.IMG_1835It is surrounded by a well-maintained garden frequented by butterflies. IMG_1832Yet again, the yard behind the temple is the most scenic since it’s at the confluence of the tributaries Tunga and Bhadra.IMG_1871

On our way back we made a stop at the Chennagiri fort. This is a fort with 2 layers of walls and a moat. IMG_1939.jpgA small Ranganatha Swamy temple at an elevation and several bastions and a couple of watchtowers. IMG_1891The fort has a small stepped pond too enclosed within its stone walls. IMG_1961From atop the fort, you’d get a 360-degree view of the surrounding village, fields, plains and even the hills in the distance.IMG_2761.jpg

We picked up a friend who had packed lunch and sweets for us too and headed of to the Muruga Rajendra Mutt Park in Chitradurga for a green spot to have our lunch. This is run and owned by a religious organization but is very much just space for the locals to spend a day out with the kids. It is a theme park except that it seems like they couldn’t decide on one theme and decided to do them all. IMG_2002You start off with life-size dinosaurs, funny cutouts to take ones pics, evolution of mankind and civilization, religious figures, poets in Kannada from the ancient times with snapshots of their lives, social messages on alcoholism and other evils, and even a small zoo which was admittedly better maintained than some others we had seen. IMG_2087It’s the perfect place to wander around and do nothing while keeping kids busy with each new display.IMG_2053

And that right there was the end of yet another trip- that had everything from breathtaking scenes from the bygone era to confusing ones from the current one!

IMG_2457.jpg
A variant of the banana plant on the Kavaledurga fort
3 day trip

Shimoga : Monsoon magic

Leaving on a Friday morning, we drove past bright green fields bursting with vegetables and paddy and impossibly symmetric rows of arecanut palms. IMG_1614.jpgThe water bodies were full thanks to the bountiful rains that ensured we made, even more pit stops, to admire them than on our usual trips whether it was to sit by a calm pond or stop by a bridge to watch and listen to the gushing water flow under it. IMG_1620.jpgEven the tree lined roads are scenic in the most alluring way. IMG_1617.jpgWe noticed saris used for bordering the fields at many points on our way and were intrigued by them.  IMG_1630.jpgAnd thus, we reached Shimoga just in time for lunch one fine August day. We decided to start off with the Kavaledurga fort. On the way we gave a lift to a very old lady who wanted to reach the nearby village to celebrate Ganesh Chaturthi with her family. She solved the puzzle of the saris and explained to us that they were used to keep pigs away from the fields!

IMG_1623.jpg
Our eyes were devouring the greenery like there was no tomorrow

Note: Maps shows 2 locations mapped to Kavaledurga fort, take the one that says Kavaledurga fort in Kavaledurga not the one mapped to Shimoga.

After the explanation above, it’s needless to say we reached the wrong one first.

With a sigh, we headed to the next spot- Mandagadde Bird Sanctuary. Now bird sanctuaries are notorious for not having any birds during most of our visits except during winter when they are seen in plenty. So with very low expectations, we headed that way, and just before seeing the board towards it I let out a gasp! IMG_1677.jpgThe scene was splendid…trees amidst the water with every branch filled with egrets and cormorants. As it turned out we had landed on the right season for this view. We spent some time with the other people who had stopped by, watching the noisy young ones being fed by the older birds, birds swooping into the water for their meals or just chilling in the sunlight.IMG_1675.jpg

Note: It is not a huge area but just a viewpoint from the road itself so while you could spend time watching the beauties like we did, do not expect a large area to walk within. It is very easy to miss since it’s a small board by the side and the viewpoint is behind a moss-covered structure by the road. Nevertheless, it’s a view that’ll make your heart happy.

The next nearest place was the Sakrebylu Elephant camp and the Gajanur dam of which the former was closed.

IMG_2198
Gajanur dam

To be honest, the dam is really not the highlight. What’s truly surreal is the sight of its stunning backwaters.IMG_1707.jpg Tree trunks stripped of their leaves upright in the calm river, and twigs in all directions perfectly reflected in the water make for a haunting scene you’d never want to leave. The Gajanur dam itself is a pit stop to watch the water and eat some delicious hot corn on the cob with a mild drizzle for company.

IMG_1695.jpg
The haunting backwaters

Since it was a long weekend and the whole of Bangalore had landed in Shimoga, we only found a shady looking lodge by the highway that turned out to be cleaner, significantly cheaper and better equipped than many others we’d stayed in. Shimoga is truly an excellent place if you’re travelling on a budget- especially for the stay. Just leave your popular sites (that all showed “sold out”)and head to the not-so-popular sites to find places to check out yourself before making the payment.

The next morning we headed straight to the most time-sensitive of the places- Sakrebylu Elephant camp, but not before passing by more fields in brilliant greens that do not require photo editing software.

IMG_1721.jpg
Talk about prime location for a home
IMG_1716.jpg
I forget what these birds are called- they seem to have a disproportionately tiny red hat atop their heads

Note: Its hours of operation are 8:30 Am – 11:30 AM. Do reach as early as you can to make the most of watching the pachyderms.

Amidst the backwaters, it’s a delightful spot to watch the elephants being bathed while they play in the water.

IMG_2225.jpg
The elephants simply revel in the pampering they receive during their baths

We picked a baby elephant to watch who was an adorable bundle of clumsiness – what with him unsuccessfully trying to pull out some grass with his plump trunk. Even standing in the drizzle was completely worth it to witness his antics.

IMG_1723.jpg
Our little star

Note: They do have boat rides, elephant rides, being allowed to bathe elephants at a charge but all of them are suspended during the rains. So do not promise your kids any of these like a parent had unfortunately done, much to the annoyance of his child who immediately threw a tantrum! I’d rather go during this time though, since otherwise like we saw in the Dubare sanctuary, the close interactions with humans only leads to more pain for the elephants.

IMG_2243.jpg

From there we went to Sri Siddi Vinayaka Temple, Chibbalgudde. From appearances outside and even within the temple, it’s quite non-descript. IMG_1772.jpgHowever, most of its beauty lies just behind the temple that faces the beautiful river Tunga bursting at her seam. The river was full and rushing ahead even drowning out the seats on the bank for people to sit and watch the river go by. However in summer, one could feed the fish that crowd at the steps of the temple, being used to devotees feeding them. It is also officially a matsyadhama /fish sanctuary with notices not to harm the fish in the water. It’s a spot that manages to feel vast and yet like a secret hideout at the same time. If you’ve a keen eye, you will also see a variety of birds in the area.IMG_1775.jpg

Up next : Shimoga- Of ruined palaces and green wonderlands

 

 

3 day trip

Pondicherry and the charm of Rajagiri fort

Continued from here 

Capture

The next morning, without even planning it, the entire family was up and ready early for yet another walk by the beach. I guess we were all eager to make the best of the sand and the seas when we could. Once there, Anand and I walked in the bylanes near the beach while the rest of them enjoyed their morning walk. IMG_1495Just as we returned to join them, we realised there was another unexpected treat lined up for us at the promenade- there was a rangoli contest as part of the Heritage Festival. There were about a 100 participants out there in the morning recreating kaleidoscopic visual treats with just coloured powder and sheer artistry.

IMG_1564.jpg
This one was our favorites

Needless to say, this gave us a very colourful start to the day.

 

We had a breakfast at Surguru and realised the restaurants too were in on the Heritage Festival and had special menus with local foods. Much to our disappointment, we entered it to find they only served it in the evenings. Our review of the place – the food was good, but considering the menu only has everyday south Indian breakfast items, the money may be better spent in a simpler place.

We picked up some snacks for Bangalore from the Auro Cottage bakery and made another stop for food to eat on the way from Bon bakes, a little further ahead. Their almond cream croissants are to die for. We only tasted the food later in the day or we’d have bought a lot more of them.

Our next stop was only at the Rajagiri fort that we had missed seeing completely the first time around. This time we went straight in and it’s a surprisingly huge area, not apparent from the entrance.

Tip: Rajagiri fort has a huge number of monkeys. They are smart, quick and will take things from your hands even if not food, just out of curiosity. Do not keep your bags down and be very alert of your surroundings when consuming food.

IMG_1743.jpg
They’re always watching!

These are some of the structures we happened on.

Granary: A huge granary with vaulted chambers each for possibly different types of produce or maybe produce from different times of the year.

Gymnasium: Just a closed large hall with not as much ventilation as one would think would be needed in a gymnasium.

IMG_1614.jpg
The gymnasium

Elephant Tank: This was my favourite place (as always). It’s a very large step pond that had water even in February. Somehow very few tourists noticed it since it’s on the side, which makes it even better. The pond is surrounded by a pillared arcade

IMG_1725.jpg
Breathing space

 

Horse stables: These are endless rows and rows of sections used as horse stables and possibly also barracks.

IMG_1585.jpg

Kalyan Mahal: This was presumably the vast area in front of the mosque. All that remains now are stubs where pillars were supposed to be and pavilion with a very polished stone in the shape of a bolster.

IMG_2176
Any guesses on what the bolster may be used for?

 

Mohabat Khan Mosque:  It was a multi-tiered structure with layers of windows. Mohabat Khan was a very trusted friend of Raja Desing, the king of Gingee, and fought several battles beside him till his death. We were wondering if there was a way to go up this structure, but nothing seemed apparent.IMG_1606

While Mom went ahead, reached half way atop the stairs to the fort and came back down to find us, we made our way up while she rested. It’s not an easy climb by any standards. However, the steps are wider and therefore less precarious than the Krishnagiri fort. Dad, Sis and I made our way up and Anand reached us after a while too.

IMG_1672
A stunning top-view of the temple after the climb

Halfway up, a splitting headache threatened to attack me in the heat and we decided to find a shady spot to rest on the way till Anand reached us. My very energetic Mom yet again made her way up to meet us and the 4 of us rested and took pictures till Anand got back after exploring the top of the fort. Since it was past lunch time by now, he too came back after almost reaching the top, concerned that the rest of us would be waiting hungrily.

 

At the top there is a Ranganathaswamy temple, a clock tower, an Audience hall, a granary, a cannon, the treasury and a Kamalakanni Amman Shrine and a sacrificial slab in front of it.IMG_1669

As per the Hindu legend, the presiding deity, Kamalakanni, is believed to be the widow of demon king Acalamaccuran.

IMG_1679
Kamalakanni shrine and the sacrificial slab

There were some really beautiful trees of the frangipani flower (chempakam/plumeria) at the point where the rest of us waited for him. That flower’s fragrance is a favourite of both mine and Dad’s. Once Anand joined us, all of us got together on a mission to get a small branch of it for Mom to plant at our home in Bangalore. Since the branches were quite high, it involved a lot of jumping and Anand cleverly using the handle of his camera bag to try to loop it over the branch to pull it a little lower.

IMG_1660
The action spot

Meanwhile, while all of us were engrossed and pitching in ideas to help, sneakily we had a simian friend reach his camera bag and open it up to check for food! despite his angry growling and snatching at the bag, mercifully my reflexes kicked in and I managed to pull the bag away from him. Well, cameras are expensive, you got to do what you got to do. Even if it is intimidating a creature 1/4th your own size and feeling relieved it worked.

 

So after that little bit of excitement, the family walked back down and out of the Rajagiri fort. Just outside of it is the Saad-at-Ulla Khan mosque named after the last Mughal governor who was the Nawab of the Carnatic. However, it’s doors were closed so we could only afford a peak into it through the grills.IMG_1765

We drove a little ahead in the area and got to the Shiva temple. It is well maintained with lawns that make it a nice spot to sit and relax. By now we were ravenous, and mercifully had the croissants and other eats we’d gotten from the bakery. We dug into them with gusto and everyone unanimously agreed that that would keep us going a while longer after which we could lunch. Note that we ate inside the car, there are a huge number of monkeys in the vicinity and they WILL snatch your food if you are in the open.

Tip: We recently purchased a car organiser with an insulated section. We found it very useful during this trip since most places were really hot and we needed to keep such cooked food from going bad. To give you an instance of how sunny it was – At one point it was too bright to look ahead and I asked Anand to help hold my bag to let me replace my regular glasses with my shades. Turned out, I was already wearing shades 😐

Once satiated, at least temporarily, we went inside the Shiva temple, which has 2 structures, the smaller one even surrounded by a moat. IMG_1785.jpgDespite this being such a long post, there was still so much more to see at Rajagiri. There were another larger temple pond, a prisoner’s well and multiple temples. I guess we need some reason to visit again someday. However, we had to drive back to Bangalore and we had a long way ahead of us.

We decided to stop at the Ramana Maharshi Ashram at Thiruvannamalai. We entered into a place with loads of trees and foreigners. It is the ashram of the philosopher Ramana Maharishi who emphasised the personal experience of self-realization. There are quite a few small sections- a meditation hall, an area where the devotees chanted the Vedas (?), accommodation for devotees, a library of related books, a kitchen etc.IMG_1804.jpg

After a short while, we went to a restaurant just opposite to it that mercifully still had good simple lunch (though limited in variety) despite it being 3:30 pm already. Thus satiated, there ended our trip with a glimpse of both Pondicherry and Tamil Nadu that left us yearning to visit again, except maybe in cooler weather 😉

Tip: Thiruvannamalai itself has a lot of old, huge and beautiful temples. If you have the time, they may be worth the visit.

Up next : China: Beijing- The old Great wall and the new TV Tower

 

3 day trip

Pondicherry: The usual and the unusual

Continued from here

Capture

The next morning, Anand, Dad and I were up for a walk in the morning to the Rocky beach again. Even though we were late for sunrise, we were still greeted with the sky in brilliant hues even between the buildings just as we got there. While Anand got busy being the shutterbug he is, the 2 of us had a lovely walk and sat by the water a while too, making the best of the location.

IMG_1288.jpg
Picture perfect scenes

We returned to the hotel, freshened up and after a breakfast made our way to Auroville. After a mandatory 10 min video viewing, we were given free passes to the area. It was disappointing that the video spoke more of the construction of the Matri Mandir (which is admittedly interesting) and nothing about the philosophy and beliefs that drove the creation of the society within Auroville.

IMG_1398.jpg

Tip: If you want to see inside the Matri Mandir, you need to go personally the previous day and get a pass. While the pass is not charged, the visiting time the next day is only early in the morning before the regular tourist inflow. While I haven’t been there, Anand has and he does admit it’s impressive. However, it depends on how many days you have in Pondicherry and what else you’d prefer to do then.

That aside, after a walk through paths mostly shaded by trees we reached the Matri Mandir viewpoint. On the way are different boards describing the 12 qualities symbolised by flowers and colours. One can only see if from afar on the same day as the visit. IMG_1361.jpgThere is a free shuttle service too so you don’t necessarily have to walk both ways. After a bit of shopping in the stores at the exit, we headed out. On the way back there are several stores selling handmade woven hammocks. They will even custom make one for you if you have the time to wait. Mom was delighted with her purchase and the demo they gave her of the weaving process too.

We stopped for lunch at the restaurant of a Belgian lady and had a really nice meal with each dish served one at a time since she was the only cook with just one helper. Mom managed meanwhile, like she frequently does, to have a chat with her about her entire family and very interesting life.

Our next stop was an unconventional choice in Pondicherry, The Science Centre and Planetarium simply because I’d been longing for the past 2 years to visit the Planetarium at Bangalore and hadn’t been able to and Mom hadn’t been to one before so we figured it may be interesting. The place is a much smaller version of the Visvesvaraya Industrial and Technological Museum in Bangalore, just one floor of a small building so is the planetarium. However, the staff are willing and eager to help and it’s a really fun experience to get re-introduced to science concepts you last recall from your middle school exams in a fun way.

IMG_1412
Small reminders of the great scientific minds from the past

Sidenote: if you are in Bangalore and haven’t been to the Visvesvaraya Industrial and Technological Museum, go now! It’s an incredibly under-rated and fun place where you can easily spend a day- and not just for kids.

It’s the perfect excuse to be silly and giggle while pretending you are learning all of the important stuff you’re supposed to know in the first place. All of us had an absolute blast trying the various controls that are thoroughly entertaining. Make sure you do not miss the cool interactive exhibits all around and outside the building- whether it is the contraption that lets you carry your own weight up or my personal favourite- the parabolic reflectors that let you communicate across a distance even while whispering.

IMG_1410
This would be useful for high-rise apartments with power outages- the self-help elevator

Tip: The shows in the planetarium are at a slightly flexible schedule simply because they tend to wait for sufficient audience. So our show at 3 pm in English started a little later around 3:30 and we luckily didn’t miss much. Do check the show timings unless you also speak Tamil because alternate shows are in Tamil and there are only a few shows per day. Also, Monday is a holiday.

We dropped into the Promenade beach to watch some of the dance performances and also visit the Heritage Exhibition that was on due to the celebrations. The latter had a potter’s demonstration on the wheel too that understandably had people transfixed at the hypnotic sight that combined precision and fluidity with such grace.IMG_1439

Anand had noticed a church-  Eglise De Notre Dame Des Anges on his wanderings that morning and we all headed right there. It’s the most cake-like church I’ve ever seen. Coloured in pastels with huge arches and a calm interior with no other people it felt like being enveloped in a fairy tale. If you’re up for it, it is apparently the only church in Pondicherry to have a mass on Sunday in all 3 languages – French, English and Tamil.IMG_1465

Hungry by now, we looked up places and headed off to a restaurant at Serenity beach. Unfortunately we didn’t enjoy the food as much except for the starters but on the other hand, we were right by the beach, behind the shacks of the fishermen and we saw boat after boat piercing the darkness with just a torch each and slowly making its way back home at the end of the day.

IMG_1026
Love has no language ? Or maybe has too many!

Up next : The charm of Rajagiri fort

3 day trip

Pondicherry : Gingee fort- the heat and the rewards

Capture.PNG

Planning for parents’ often involves a lot of worrying- whether they’d like the food, the price of the food(they didn’t), the place, whether it’d involve a lot of walking, trekking or whether they’d be bored on the long drive. Hence with a lot of trepidation, we finally got my family (parents and sister) together with us to head off to my first visit to Pondicherry.

It was a long drive, but made easy with stops for tender coconut, Dad and Anand plucking tamarind from the trees on the roadside for Mom, a playlist with songs in all languages we knew, having yummy buttermilk and chopped fruit packed by Mom, translation of boards in Tamil thanks to her too,  and lots and lots of conversation and ribbing. After an early breakfast just after Hosur, our first place on the itinerary was at Gingee to visit the fort. It was hot and involved climbing, so we headed back to  Gingee town to get some lunch before we proceed.

IMG_1190.jpg
Quite a dramatic view, even from below

Tip: it’s a small town without too many restaurants, but opposite to the bus stand there are a few. You can’t go wrong ordering a “meal”/thali in Tamil Nadu.

There are 2 visible boards in the general area your online maps will point you towards- one is the Krishnagiri fort and the other is the Rajagiri fort. Right at the start, you have steps ascending to great heights. Our confidence high after lunch, we decided to head up. The steps are not the most convenient- they are significantly narrow at many points and inclined at some others.

IMG_1064
Endless stairs

Also since we drove from Bangalore just that morning, the only time we could reach here was early afternoon which is probably the worst time.  Anand, Dad and I managed the uphill climb. Dad was impressively fit due to his walking routine despite not being a regular trekker. IMG_1074We almost gave up after a point 3/4th of the way to the top due to the heat but Anand who had gone ahead insisted that it may be worth the effort of going all the way uphill.

IMG_1107
A father-daughter moment

And it was indeed quite a treat, there were granaries, multiple temples, and even a small palace.

IMG_1139

Tip : it is hot, no matter what time of the year it is. We’d highly recommend you wear full sleeved cotton fabrics, cover your head with a hat/cap and carry plenty of water when you visit either of the forts. It is going to be hot despite this, but at least it’ll reduce your chances of a heat stroke or dehydration. Do not be misled by the sight of local kids running up the stairs, sometimes barefoot, without a care in the world. You may not survive the same! However, the place only opens at 9 AM and closes at 4:30 PM so an earlier or later trek is not feasible either. There are no food stalls/water/drinks there so you’ll have to be prepared with refreshments yourself.

IMG_1163

We headed back to the town for a quick stop just to ensure we were all re-hydrated with a glass or 2 each of lime juice that seemed heaven-sent.

Just opposite the Krishnagiri fort is a Shiva temple. It’s inside a cave and has a large linga very simply adorned with some oil lamps by a very old priest. It’s surrounded by monkeys, though.

IMG_1189.jpg

We checked out the Rajagiri fort next and went straight into the very last point you can reach with a car – the Venkataramana temple. It has a huge gopura and a 1000 pillars. If you have a 1000 pillar ancient temple on your list and hate crowds, this is your go-to spot.

IMG_1204.jpg
Notice the gentleman with the cricket bat? Young men were actually playing cricket here!

It’s a sprawling temple and significantly cooler once you enter the temple area due to the stones used. The place has beautiful carvings-especially at the entrance, a small temple pond and layers of structures one inside the other, typical to older temples.  IMG_1249.jpgIt has 3 mantapas inside: Kalyana Mandapa(for weddings), Urchava Mandapa (for temple festivities) and Yaga Sala Mandapa (for rituals)IMG_1209.jpg

We next headed to the spot at the Rajagiri fort entrance. However, they were just closing- 4:30 PM and so we decided to visit it on our way back.

We checked into the hotel and headed off to Appachi for a Chettinad dinner simply because we’re biased towards structures in ancient houses. We did enjoy our meal and then headed to the Rocky beach/Promenade beach. It’s less of a typical beach and more of a promenade by the beachfront. It is quite a delightful place for people to have walks in the more pleasant time of the day in a safe space with the waves providing a calming background score. The place is really just what you want to visit to get to see a slice of the people in Pondicherry from all walks of life, all ages, languages, and communities.

IMG_1305.jpg
Space to sit and stare in the city

With no prior research, we happened to have landed in Pondicherry at the time of the Pondicherry Heritage Festival. Also, we were just in time for the finale of the day so were treated to an exciting performance by a troupe of young boys of all ages performing acrobatics with flaming rings and juggling fire torches. After that, with ice-creams in hand, we had a charming walk on the shore passing by the Mahatma Gandhi statue, the French War Memorial, the office of the Department of Revenue housed in a lighthouse, and the numerous other buildings with architecture from times gone by.

IMG_1320.jpg

The silhouete of the statue of Gandhi later in the day

Up next : Pondicherry- the usual and the unusual