Prelude : The trip undertaken across the Pooja holidays turned out to be a cracker of a trip, so refreshing and so different from what we usually expect during holiday trips. This was not just a trip; it was a journey that took us back in time travel, back to the 1500’s when the mighty kings ruled this great country. I was really amazed to see to such rich cultural heritage right here within Karnataka and was also wondering why it is still not being treated as a jewel in your crown. The kids really loved the lesson in history which was missing from their academic history classes and we made sure that we bought the tourist guide books and also availed the services of the local guides who happily recited the tales about the glories of the yonder years. Without their help we would have just roamed around aimlessly and would perhaps have not been able to appreciate the sculptures in their true sense. Let me try and take you through our journey and share this wonderful experience with you all.
Day 1: Stop 1 – Chitradurga Fort
It took us about 3 hours from Bangalore including a pit stop for breakfast to reach Chitradurga. Huge windmills scattered across the mountain tops churning away kept us engrossed for most part of the journey. And these windmills could even be seen from the Fort, I later realized. Frankly all that I knew about this place was what I heard in the Kannada song ‘Chitradurgada Kallina Kote’. I had no idea about the rich history associated with this. Right at the entrance you will feel overwhelmed at the massive structure that stands literally like a rock, so widespread, one wonders how they even went about building it. The rocky structure is interspersed with small and huge boulders, water tanks, temples, so many up and down steps and rock solid walls. It was even told that the rain water harvesting system inside this fort was so good that even if it did not rain for years altogether, they could survive without any hitch. And we feel that technology is what has helped imporive our lives!!!!! No wonder this fort was called the impregnable one. It was sunny and windy and the trudge all the way up and down and up to the Onakke Obbava’s kindi of the folklore fame really took its toll on our group despite a drink of cold buttermilk along the way. However there was not one minute of boredom as each turn, each step, each gateway revealed some piece of history and marvellous structures that took your breath away and made you just want to stand and stare. This fort gives you a feel of the rich history associated with it. If you care to stand on top of the fort and look around, you may well transform yourself into a sentry dating back in time keeping on the lookout for those enemy soldiers. We finally got our chance to do the photo ops at the Onakke Obbava’s kindi and realized that the Hyder Ali’s soldiers who tried to creep into the fort probably did not even realize what hit them!!!! For the sake of fun and adventure we also had Kothiraja (No, not a monkey) who was entertaining visitors by climbing up on the walls of the fort without any support. Here is a sample of the breathtaking views of Chitradurga. After a decent lunch at the KSTDC Mayur Hotel, we bid adieu to Chitradurga and moved on towards our next destination, The Tungabhadra Dam, en route to Hampi.
Day 1: Stop 2 – Tungabhadra Dam and Gardens
Much before we actually reached the dam, we saw the beautiful Tungabhadra river, mildly undulating. She looked to picturesque and so at peace. Most water bodies have this effect on you that they calm you down. But the first sight of Tunga certainly took our breath away and we pulled to the side of the road just to keep staring at her. It was bright and the sun was beating down and she stood there surrounded by mountain peaks looking so majestic.
After clicking away, we moved on to the dam and the surrounding gardens. The dam looked smaller than the KRS, but made for a near perfect scenery, with the sun shining down on parts of the water from amongst the clouds. There was a light house as well and the sunset view here promised to be fantastic. We just stood by willing the sun to come down and put up a show. But somehow it appeared as if the sun was just not in a mood to come down that day as we waited and kept clicking away. So, finally we decided to make our way to our halt for the night at Hampi. As we turned our cars on to the roads and started our journey, it appeared as though the sun was shy was of us and was waiting for us to leave to set. The majestic changing hues of the skyline and the scenic beauty even seen from the roadside will remain a truly memorable sight in our minds. It was dark and the roads were narrow and not really motorable and there were no proper street lights or signs too. So it was purely Google maps zindabad that got us to our hotel in Kamalanagar, near to Hampi. This place is nothing less than a village and shuts down early. So after dumping our luggage we quickly went out in search of food even though it was only eight thirty. After settling down for masala dosas at a nearby joint since nothing much else was available we retreated back to our hotel rooms. Some kind of processions kept going through the village the whole night with a whole lot of band baaja that really disturbed our sleep. However the excitement of seeing the beautiful Hampi and the promise of reliving its glory still got us up from our beds and we were ready for the show by 7 or so.
Day 2: Hampi
The whole of the second day was spent in Hampi moving through the various ruins of the magnificent structures that was once the capital of the powerful Vijayanagara empire. One day is not really enough if you really want to soak in the essence of the place and take time to appreciate each and every architectural marvel that abounds in this place. It is astounding to think that even in the 1500s when there was not much technology, such wonderful structures were built. It is no wonder then that this place has been designated as a UNESCO World Heritage site. As you move through the city you are fully made aware of a once bustling thriving empire which finally had to give in to the Bahmani invaders who chose deface and vandalise almost each and every one of these wonderful creations. Story goes that since it was told that almost idols had lot of wealth hidden underneath, the soldiers went about destroying the idols in the greed of finding the wealth. Did they find it ? I wonder what happened. Did they at least stop, think, pause and appreciate the art before they swung their hammers or swords or whatever it was? It is indeed sad to see such a wonderful part of history standing as a ruin in testimony to the pillaging that was done.
We started our day with a visit to the Viru Paksha temple where the deity still resided and pujas were held. The whole temple complex with pillared structures with intricate carvings on either sides of the main complex and majestic towers stands out from the crowd from afar. Even the main complex where the deity is housed is adorned with artistic pillars and there was work even on the ceilings. This place is truly a photographer’s delight and we gladly clicked away. It was real fun to play peekaboo with the pillars, each one had some crevice or some opening through which you could peek. It appeared as though every pillar was so different and so unique and you did not want to miss the chance to be captured for eternity with the history. It was almost like if you could talk to the pillars, each had a magnificent tale to tell. They used to stand so majestic and royal thousands of years back when the Kings and Queens visited. That was the time when they were appreciated. Then they stood silently and watched as invaders came and destroyed the city. The once powerful Vijayanagara empire fell into ruins and they stood by watching helplessly, perhaps whispering to each other for company and consolation. Yes indeed, these pillars could talk if you cared to listen for they were sculpted with love. If the beauty of this place still tugs at your heart and astounds you, just imagine how it must have been thousands of years back in all its glory. We paid our obeisance to Lord Virupaksha and continued our exploration into the history. At the back of the temple, almost unnoticed is a small dark chamber with a small hole in the wall. The shadow of the main temple tower falls on the wall here but what amazes you that it is upside down. The other interesting thing about this place was the monkeys in abundance, jumping all around and trying to grab whatever they can from the visitors. And at times, nonchalantly seated on top of the temple complex removing each other’s ticks, so engrossed, as if they were up to a very important task on hand.
Post this we decided to hire an auto which seemed to be the norm to go round the whole city just so that we don’t miss out on something good despite peering at maps on our own. The auto was a big one and it could take all nine of us and few of us gladly settled in the back seat simply for the chance to look out. Next stop was the Kadalekalu Ganapathi, a huge Ganesha statue that literally takes your breath away due to the sheer size, 18 ft tall. After this, we moved on to the Vijaya Vittala Temple. This is truly a place where if you care to close your eyes you can actually imagine the Hampi Bazaar where gems and pearls used to be traded at a time. Long lines of stone pillars leading up to the temple tell a story of a once flourishing empire. Just imagining how it would have been in the evenings when the people strolled through the markets looking at the wares gives you goosebumps. Here you find the stone chariot, which is famous the world over through Sun temple of Konark. It seems the wheels of this chariot could actually be turned till a little while back when the tourism department decided to cement it in order to prevent abuse from tourists. The sculptures of this structure and its surroundings are really worth a visit. The huge mantapa in the middle is where the King used to have dancers perform for him. There are stone hooks on the top as well as the bottom wherein colourful screens used to be tied when the performances happened. Each and every pillar here is carved and designed in such a way that they make a different sound or sura as it is in the saptaswara of music. A lot of this empire’s history is depicted in the various figures around here. The next stops were the Mahanavami Dibba from where the King used to enjoy the Dushera festivities, a huge open air platform and the base of the queen’s palace and a huge Pushkarani (pond) tell tales of a bygone era. There is one structure called queen’s bath which was used by the queens for taking bath and there is the lotus mahal and the elephant’s stables near that. Then you have the sasvekalu Ganesha, Ugra Narasimha and a huge Shiva Linga. Each is a masterpiece that is worth a look. After seeing all this, we decided to get back to our rooms and regroup our energies before heading back to the sunset point.
The sunset point is atop a hill and interspersed with structures and temples. We waited with a bated breath for the Sun to put up a show and he did not disappoint us. The sunset in the backdrop of the Hampi ruins with the sight of the Tunga and the majestic mountains in the backdrop is a truly breathtaking sight that kind of makes you forget everything else in this world. You just sit there and stare at the world around you and it looks so peaceful and beautiful, at one with the nature. It appeared as though the world went quiet watching the sun set even though it is an everyday happening.
Day 3: Stop 1 – Aihole
We started from Hampi at around 7.30 in the morning and reached Aihole by around 9.30 or so. We were the first to be let in to the Aihole complex which housed a few architectural marvels. The fact that this was an architectural center of yesteryears is pretty much evident as you see a lot of structures few big, few small, few complete and few incomplete across the complex. Aihole was the capital of the erstwhile Chalukya rulers. The durga temple here stands out as it so amazingly resembles our Indian Parliament building. Perhaps the Brits took inspiration from this. A whole host of other temples with the idea that no two temples should be similar in any way was the result of a challenge put to the architectural students who came here to study. The adaptation and innovation they showed along with their creativity is clearly seen each and every minor sculpture of this place. Stories of the Mahabharata and the ten avatars of Lord Vishnu are seen etched in the various places here. Aihole was the primary school of architecture in those days and that is seen and felt throughout the city. There was also a museum in the complex that housed a few of the relics.
Day 3: Stop 2 – Pattadakkal
We bade goodbye to Aihole around 11 and made our way to Pattadakkal, which is also a designated UNESCO World Heritage site. The beauty of this complex just hits you the moment you put your eyes on it. You start clicking even before you enter the temple complex. It looked so majestic and fantastic against the backdrop of a clear sky and the brightly shining sun. It’s almost like history is screaming at you with each and every one of the structures here so intricately sculpted and having a tale to tell. Pattadakkal is by the side of the river Malaprabha and is also a relic from the Chalukya era. A whole host of temples each one a marvel in itself kept us engaged for more than an hour. The guide regaled us with tales of each of the structures, the story behind it and also explained many of the sculptures. Here too there was one temple where the reigning deity was still worshipped and the majestic Nandi stood watch outside as usual. Two temples built by the two queens in honor of the King’s victory stand side by side and each one had sculptures from the legends of Ramayana, Mahabharata, Bhagavata and even tales from the Panchatantra. We were truly amazed at thousands of years old inscriptions that still stood on how and why these temples were built. Pattadakkal was the college of architecture where all most things learnt from the school of architecture was implemented.
I wondered whether the sculptors who worked on these would know that their art would still stand as a testimony to their wonderful sart thousands of years down the line.
Day 3: Stop 3 – Badami Cave Temples
Drained from having gone around in the sun exploring the various temples and trying to grasp the associated history, we left Pattadakkal and made our way to Badami. Right through the way, corn fields adorned the roadsides and farmers were busy with their harvest, having shelled the corns and were drying them up on the roadsides. A thought came to mind: What if with the sun shining so brightly, would the corn end up as pop corn J And just imagine mounds of pop corn by the road side…..Wow…….. We also saw sunflower fields along the way and of course we had got used to the huge mountains and boulders by now. They were just part of the parcel.
We had been tipped off on the quality of a local meal at Badami by our guide in Aihole and so we searched and found it. A small nonchalant place which you would have surely missed out if you were not looking for it. An olden style kitchen where women were sitting on the floor and kneading dough and tapping out jolada rotis with that typical sound was a real scene. And yet the kitchen and the whole place were so neat. We patiently waited our turn at the humble Krishna Bhavan to get our share of the jolada rotis that were served with green gram and ridge gourd curries that fully reminded you of home food and they were just so yummy J They also had groundnut chutney powder and salad of radish, onions and methi leaves. Rice followed with a simple saar and one felt so happy to have had such a tasty meal while on travel. And then lo behold, here comes the obbattu or the delicacy, once again the groundnut based one, but wow, it just melted in your mouth. And then, to top it all, delicious bananas. Oh, all we felt like doing now was to get back to our rooms and sleep !!!!!
But we had miles to go before we sleep and so we dumped our luggage in the KSTDC hotel rooms and made our way to the world famous Badami cave temples. These cave temples craved out of huge rock boulders just stood so majestic, huge and tall and you really wondered how in those days of zero technology as we know it, they managed to carve out such wonderful marvels on these rocks. Badami has four levels and each one has really good sculptures of the Vishnu avatars and other stories from the Hindu mythology. All of them had pillars carved out. The Nataraja was the standout point of the first cave. All the caves were interspersed with figures of happy couples and drunken couples. The second cave had interesting sculptures of Vishnu and Vamana. The third cave had the Vijaya Narasimha and the fourth was a Jain temple which had sculptures of the Bahubali and other Teerthankaras. The climb from the first to the fourth really took its toll. Luckily here we got the same guide as we did in Aihole as he had travelled from there with another family. So our stories continued and we really enjoyed the lessons in history.
After this, we decided to visit the Banshankari temple. Due to the Navarathri festival, there was a huge rush there and lot of activities were going on. So we decided to pray the goddess from outside the sanctum sanctorum and then made our way out to a tea shop. Oh, cutting chai and hot bhajji followed by Girmit (Puffed rice with masala or a South Indian Bhelpuri), feeling little bit refreshed, we turned back to our rooms. Hot water baths have never felt so good and refreshing as they did during these 3 days when we hit the rooms in the evenings and took a bath to try and take the tiredness from our bodies. A late dinner and then we hit the bed.
Day 4: Start time : 6.a.m
Our entourage started back at sharp 6 in the morning and started making our way back to Bangalore. Again the roads were passing through villages mostly and were lined by fields on either side. Also since it was early morning, the road sides and field sides were also lined with the villagers going about their morning duty. So much for the prime minister’s swacch bharat and build the toilet initiative.
The sun rise though was superb and soon we saw vast sunflower fields, resplendently shining yellow. We stopped to click a few snaps and take in the beauty of this magnificent flower. It was well worth it. Soon we were on our way again and we gobbled the packed breakfast of sandwiches provided by the KSTDC hotel staff. Nothing much was available on the way and soon we started finishing all our left over stocks of eatables and juices. Finally we touched the highway again and took a break at Sirra for lunch. Lunch done, we again hit the roads and touched down in Bangalore at around 2. It still took us about an hour to get homeJ
This was one of those trips where we did not feel sad when we got back to Bangalore again. The memories still flooded our minds and there was a promise that we would go back some day. Yes, few places are worth visiting again and again just to remind us of our history and wonderful lineage. Till then……Adios………..