November 30, 2016

Somawathi Waterfalls



Though not at its vigourous best post the monsoons, Somawathi falls formed by the tumbling of Somawathi river over a few huge rocks is an ideal place to refresh yourself after a tiring trek to Kudremukh peak. 

Somawathi falls is located near Mullodi, the base camp for Kudremukh trek in Chikmagalur.

November 25, 2016

Bidar- The Land of Tombs


The passerby inside Bidar fort was a bit upset when he saw just one photograph of Bidar in my guide book. I gave a half smile as he walked away. Bidar hasn't really made a big impact on the tourism circuit despite being steeped in medieval history. From the Bahmani empire to the Barid Shahi dynasty to Mughals and Nizams, Bidar has seen itself shuffle through many empires from 15th to 18th century. Known for its  numerous mausoleums, tombs and crumbling fortresses, and one of the earliest places in Karnataka to be influenced by Islamic architecture, this deccan outpost has many stories to tell which lay forgotten amidst its red laterite landscape.

The age old Bidar fort (first built during the Yadava dynasty as per archaeologists) was restored by Ahmad Shah 1 when he shifted the capital of the Bahmani dynasty from Gulbarga to Bidar. The tall walls stood plastered in shades of red and brown as I rode through its three tier entrance. The three entrance gates, Talghat darwaza, Sharza darwaza and Gumbud darwaza have huge arches and look beautiful with typical Islamic architecture. Built around a radius of more than 5 Kms, the fort had three moats, numerous bastions, seven entrance gates, underground chambers and a host of palaces. Though falling apart in many places, the fort has to an extent withstood the ravages of time.

One of the fort entrances
Fort walls
Rangeen mahal is the first mahal (palace) that you see as soon as you cross the third darwaza. It remains locked most of the time and the keys have to be arranged from the museum office which is further inside the fort. Built in 1487 by Mahmud Shah, this graceful building with numerous paintings inside has many pillars and is colourful. Adjacent to Rangeen mahal is the old jail during the times of Bahmanis. Inside this lies a museum which was Shahi hamam or royal bath earlier. The museum displays lots of stone sculptures of gods, people, porcelain ware, stone works and armoury.

Rangeen mahal and the old jail
A short walk further lies Solah khambh mosque with 16 pillars and hence the name. It was once the main mosque in Bidar. With beautiful arches, it displays rich deccan style architecture. Next to the mosque lies Tarkash mahal, falling apart and crumbling. Though built by the Bahmani kings, it also has a mix of Barid Shahi architecture which might have been added later. It was built for one of the king's wife who was Turkish and hence the name. Behind Tarkash mahal lies another palace, Gagan mahal. Opposite to Solah khambh is Chini mahal. All the 3 mahals look dilapidated and seem set to crumble further over a period of time. Amidst all these worn of structures lies a well maintained garden.

Solah Khambh mosque

Tarkash mahal
Further inside the spread out fort lies Diwan-i-Am and Diwan-i-Khass. Diwan-i-Am which used to be the public audience hall and where coronations of the kings happened amidst much pomp and glory. With open courtyards, huge arches, numerous rooms and colourful decorations, this was one of the most prominent structures in the fort during the hey days. Takhat mahal and Naubat khana are the other famed structures here. Takhat mahal looks grand even in its present dilapidated look. The fort wall extends far and wide and can be seen all along. Overgrown with grass, I walked through these ravaged structures with hardly another soul around envisaging an empire at its prime.

Diwan-i-Am

Diwan-i-Am

Takhat mahal
Chaubhara, a tall circular tower in the town which could have been a watch tower a few centuries back now acts as a roundabout.  It also has non functional clock surmounted on it.



A short distance away from Chaubahara lies the Madrasa of Mahmud Gawan. I was first intrigued by Bidar when I had a glimpse of this magnificent structure in a guide book. It was this madrasa that brought me to Bidar and when I stood there gazing, it did not disappoint one bit. The towering structures laden with colourful mosaic tiles and inscriptions on its facade makes it the most attractive madrasa I have ever been to. Built in the 15th century by Mahmud Gawan, the scholarly minister during Bahmani rule, this madrasa was one of the prominent centres of Islamic learning during those days. Lined on the model of Islamic institutions of Central Asia, it had numerous resident students from world over. The three-storey structure once had numerous cubicles, large halls, chambers, library and much more. There were four hundred feet tall minarets and the facade was adorned with colourful tiles imported from Iran. Though most of the structures were destroyed by explosions of gun powder and nature (lightning), the lone standing minaret and the diminishing blue tiles definitely gives a glimpse of what this madrasa would have been during the days of Mahmud Gawan. It presently houses a mosque and a few students still learn here. Visitors have restricted access and can only visit the ground floor.


The magnificent madrasa of Mahmud Gawan




Kali Masjid is a popular mosque in Bidar as it is known for its Khanqabs (monasteries), rarity in a mosque. This was probably due to the influence of Sufism or because the Bahmani kings constructed them as resting places for visiting mystics.

In the outskirts of Bidar lies Chaukhandi, the beautiful mausoleum of saint Hazrat Khalilullah who was an advisor to the Bahmani kings. This unusually shaped octagonal structure is on a hill with a raised platform and steps leading to it. This popular pilgrim centre also has many other tombs inside and outside the main structure along with a couple of other small structures. A few boys strolling outside urged me to go inside the mausoleum and have a look at the engravings. Beautiful they were. 

Chaukhandi
Just outside the fort walls in Ashtur, lies the royal tombs and mausoleums of Bahmani sultans and their wives. There are nine mausoleums here with gorgeous domes and arcades with distinctive architecture.  Mausoleums of Ahmad Shah I and Allaudin Shah II are the most impressive ones. All the mausoleums have square structures surmounted with huge domes. I first walked into the tomb of Ahmad Shah I, where apart from me there was just a caretaker. Insides of the tomb have magnificent gilded paintings and calligraphy on walls and ceiling. On one side the painting has faded off, but it still looks quite beautiful. Adjacent to this lies the more magnificent and grand tomb of Allaudin Shah II. The design is slightly  different with influence of Mughal and Persian architecture. The blue tiles on the exterior and black lining along the edges make it graceful and it is definitely the most beautiful tomb here. Next to this is Sultan Humayun's tomb which despite being split in half by lightning, looks absolutely terrific. The dome is large and interiors have arches and corbels. There are many more tombs and dome structures within the walled complex. The entire place is well maintained and reminded me of Velha Goa with greenery, paved roads and medieval structures. These massive structures which look dilapidated and destroyed lay over a huge dynasty which remains almost forgotten beneath them. 

Colourful interiors of the tomb of Ahmad Shah I

Mausoleum of Allaudin Shah II

Tomb of Sultan Humayun

Inside a mausoleum

More tombs
In the middle of Bidar town, the Barid Shahi mausolems spread themselves on either side of Udgir main road. On one side is the tomb of Ali Barid Shahi who was also a linguist and calligrapher. The mausoleum is on a raised platform where along with his tomb, there are also 64 other tombs of his concubines. The insides of the mausoleum has nice colourful Arabic calligraphy. The place has not been well maintained, there is a lot of overgrown grass in the surroundings and the tombs are decorated with bird droppings. Another dome structure lies a few meters away within the same complex which has a few tombs and looks all the more neglected. The premises however was quite serene in morning and the only other visitors were a few students studying on the platform.


Mausoleum of Ali Barid Shahi and his 64 concubines

Tomb of Ali Barid Shahi

Another mausoleum within the premises
On the other side of the road opposite to the bus stand lies the tomb of Qasim Barid, who was behind the beheading of Mahmud Gawan. Unlike the tombs on the other side, these tombs are inside  a well maintained garden and children's play area. Set on a raised platform, the tomb is a pretty plain one with a few decorative motifs. The tomb of Qasim Barid II, the last Barid Shahi Sultan is also located within this garden. The structure which is devoid of much designs or architecture also houses the grave of his wife. There are a few more tombs in the park which is visited by numerous people in the evenings. It is one of the best places in Bidar to see the sun going down the horizon sitting alongside the Barid Shahis. It is only open from 6 AM - 8 AM and from 4 PM - 8 PM.


Tomb of Qasim Barid

Tomb of Qasim Barid II

Another tomb inside the complex
Away from all the ruins and tombs, a short detour from Udgir road lies Guru Nanak Jheera, an absolutely serene gurudhwara with a large sarovar (pond) outside. The interior of the shrine is beautiful, serene and nicely decorated. This popular pilgrim centre also has a huge library that houses a plethora of books. With numerous pilgrims, soothing devotional songs and a serene ambiance, it did seem like I was transported from medieval kingdoms to Punjab in a jiffy.

Guru Nank Jheera Gurudhwara



Bidar is known for its metalwork which is also referred to as bidriware. This popular craft has intricate floral designs and geometric patterns in gold and silver on vases and candle stands made of copper and zinc. There are numerous shops near the Chaubhara  which sell bidriware, an ideal souvenir to take back home.
Bidar offers all that a history or architecture enthusiast would love to explore. Ruled by various empires, their remnants reveal myriad stories as one meanders through the imposing and crumbling structures of Bidar.

Location:

Bidar is well connected to many cities in Karnataka via road and rail. The closest airport is at Hyderabad (152 KM ).

Bidar to Bangalore- 691 KM
Bidar to Bijapur- 280 KM

Food & Accommodation:

Most of these attractions in Bidar do not have any eateries in its vicinity. The hotels are located in the town and on main roads. There are a few mid range and budget options for stay near the bus stand and on Udgir main road.

November 21, 2016

November 18, 2016

Temples of Gadag and Lakkundi



Gadag and its surroundings in northern Karnataka are well known for numerous Chalukyan styled temples embellished with ornate pillars and intricate carvings. Built between the 10th and 12th centuries during the rule of Chalukyas, the architectural style is also sometimes referred to as Kalyani Chalukya style. More than fifty temples and over a hundred stepped wells were built during that time, however only a few have withstood the time. Most of these temples are well decorated with rich sculptures and have been maintained to a great extent by the archaeological department. Though they might not be as popular and extravagant as its more popular neighbours (Badami, Pattadakkal and Aihole), these temples are an excellent example of the beautiful Chalukya architecture.

Trikuteshwara temple complex in Gadag town has temples with shrines of Shiva, Brahma and Vishnu. The Shiva shrine has three lingams on the same stone. Apart from these there is also a Saraswathi temple which stands out due to its extensive carvings and sculptures in Chalukyan architecture. The sculptures on the walls and the pillars are absolutely magnificent and elaborate. While Saraswathi temple is a non functional one, the other shrines are functional.

Saraswathi temple



Extensive carvings on the pillars

Outer wall

Other shrines
Veeranarayana temple with its impressive entrance gate (gopuram) is one of the other popular temples in the town.

A short distance away from Gadag town, Lakkundi has some of the best preserved Chalukyan temples. Brahma Jinalaya is the oldest Jain temple in Lakkundi and has a nice Dravidian style architecture. The three storied structure has decorative motifs all across its exterior and there are numerous ornate pillars supporting the roof. Apart from the main shrine of Mahavira, the inner sanctum also has shrines of Padmavati and Brahma. The temple gets its name from the Brahma shrine. Adjoining this is another temple with a headless sculpture of Mahavira. There are two more temples nearby, namely Neelakantha and Naganatha. While Neelakantha temple has a dilapidated half structure, Naganatha which was a Jain temple has been converted into a Hindu temple. Just behind Brahma Jinalaya is an archaeological museum which displays numerous excavations of stone works from the Chalukya period.


Brahma Jinalaya

Ornate pillars



Brahma

Padmavati


Another shrine

Naganatha temple

Neelakantha temple
Built on a raised platform with ornate pillars, extensive carvings on its exterior, inner sanctum and a hall, Nanneshwara temple displays all the features of typical Chalukyan architecture. The guide here was an enthusiastic lady who took me inside the inner sanctum to show the glazing ornate pillar on which appears a double reflection of any object. While one is a proper reflection, the other is an inverted one. This is quite an amazing work of art.

Nanneshwara temple



Double reflection
Opposite Nanneshwara temle is Kashivishwanatha temple (dedicated to Shiva), the most popular temple in Lakkundi. Though on similar architectural style like Nanneshwara, Kashivishwanatha is much more elaborate, has more carvings and sculptures all across. The temple is known for its exquisite and intricate carvings on its exterior, pillars and on the door frames. The exterior of the temple has many sculptures depicting stories from Mahabaratha and Ramayana. While the eastern entrance door has seven layers of carvings, the southern entrance is more elaborate with nine layers of intricate carvings. The inner sanctum houses lathe polished pillars with beautiful art works on them.  This is a twin shrine temple and facing the Kashivishwanatha is the surya shrine, both connected by a platform.

Kashivishwanatha temple

Carvings on the entrance door

Southern entrance with nine layers of carvings

Sculpture on the exterior

Surya temple
Manikeshwara temple behind the bus stand at Lakkundi is popular for its stepped well which is also referred to as Muskina Bhavi. Though there are other stepped wells in Lakkundi, this is probably the most popular of all due to its wonderful architecture.


Manikeshwara temple

Muskina Bhavi
There are many more Chalukyan temples around Gadag, the other popular ones are at Itagi, Lakshmeshwara and Dambal. It is recommended to club Gadag and Lakkundi while visiting Badami, Pattadakkal and Aihole.


Location: 

Gadag is well connected by trains and buses to places across Karnataka. The closest airport is at Hubli, 65 Kms away.

Gadag to Badami- 65 Kms
Gadag to Hampi- 104 Kms
Gadag to Bangalore- 470 Kms

Food and Accommodation: 

There aren't much options to eat near these temples as they are a bit isolated. Ideal place to stay would be Gadag town which has mid range hotels.


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