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.
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.
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 exterior looks more like the home of a wealthy landlord from a bygone era than the stereotypical temple structure we’re used to.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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. A 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.
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.
Each layer of the fort has an entryway flanked by guard rooms where you could almost imagine sentries from another time. The 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.
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.
Most people return from here since the path is covered with grass and not obviously laid out, especially in the monsoons.
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. Since 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. While 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. It’s quite an enchanting spot surrounded by the overlooking hills with every spot covered with a huge variety of flora in every size.
We very reluctantly left the place since it was getting darker.
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.It is surrounded by a well-maintained garden frequented by butterflies. Yet again, the yard behind the temple is the most scenic since it’s at the confluence of the tributaries Tunga and Bhadra.
On our way back we made a stop at the Chennagiri fort. This is a fort with 2 layers of walls and a moat. A small Ranganatha Swamy temple at an elevation and several bastions and a couple of watchtowers. The fort has a small stepped pond too enclosed within its stone walls. From atop the fort, you’d get a 360-degree view of the surrounding village, fields, plains and even the hills in the distance.
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. You 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. It’s the perfect place to wander around and do nothing while keeping kids busy with each new display.
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!
Leaving on a Friday morning, we drove past bright green fields bursting with vegetables and paddy and impossibly symmetric rows of arecanut palms. The 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. Even the tree lined roads are scenic in the most alluring way. We noticed saris used for bordering the fields at many points on our way and were intrigued by them. And 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!
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! The 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.
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.
To be honest, the dam is really not the highlight. What’s truly surreal is the sight of its stunning backwaters. 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
From there we went to Sri Siddi Vinayaka Temple, Chibbalgudde. From appearances outside and even within the temple, it’s quite non-descript. However, 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.
Up next : Shimoga- Of ruined palaces and green wonderlands
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.
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. As 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.
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.
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. We 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.