June 29, 2016

BR Hills- Call of the wild


The car screeched to a halt immediately after a sharp curve. The bewildered monitor lizard stared for a while, undecided whether to retract or cross over. After a couple of seconds, it crossed over, only to go back in a flash to where it came from. It gave one final glare before scurrying into the bushes. Interesting curtain raiser to what lay ahead for the next two days, I said to myself as the car crossed the forest entry gate into BR Hills (Biligiri Rangaswamy hills). The harsh summers had taken the sheen off the forest and almost all of it stood withered under the blaring sun. Another screeching halt and this time it was an elephant head that popped out from the bushes by the side. Luckily, this was a few meters away. However, it was reluctant to cross over completely, the reason for the same appeared shortly. A baby elephant with its mother followed soon and they swiftly walked into the bushes on the other side. Had the monitor lizard not crossed over, I would have happily driven quite close to these pachyderms. Even a few seconds make a difference. It is adventure time, I said again. The drive from there meandered through leafless tress, intermittent green patches, past loitering langurs and a couple of deer.

Monitor lizard hurrying across
The pachyderms
The blooming rhododendrons at Jungle Lodges resort at Kyathadevara Gudi (a.k.a K.Gudi) was a beautiful welcoming frame. BR Hills is known for its biodiversity, wildlife and a variety of avian fauna. K. Gudi is a small forest clearing in BR Hills, where the western ghats meets its eastern counterpart. A forest camp so typical of the Niligris, lined up with a few houses, a school, a dispensary, a lake and a resort. Serene life! Nice cottages adorn the premises of K.Gudi Wilderness camp with numerous trees, hammocks beside them and expansive vistas of the distant hills. An ideal place to sip some coffee and gaze at nature or read a book and doze off on the hammock.

K.Gudi wilderness camp

 However, my naturalist had other plans. A heavy meal, a power nap and a hot cup of coffee later, we were on a jeep that grunted beyond the resort premises and the tiny houses into Biligiri Rangaswamy Tiger wildlife sanctuary. This wildlife sanctuary is home to more than 200 species of avian fauna apart from a host of mammals such as tigers, leopards, bears, wild dogs, deer, boars and monkeys. We went past a few more houses which I was told belonged to Soligas, the local tribe. A blend of the summer brown and the faded green was splashed all across like a canvas. I clung on to the handrail as the jeep lunged forward through the mud trail deep into wilderness. Out came cameras, binoculars and avian guide books as we spotted numerous birds one after the other, a few perched atop a branch and many happily chirping around. As we went deeper, mud trails turned into foliage, intermittent ponds showed up, alert deer gave a long gaze, langurs gave a chatter and wild boars ran around gleefully.

A buzzard
Wild Mynahs
A tree pie



We did stop by a few half dried up water bodies, and waited patiently for more exciting wildlife. All that we spotted by the ponds were the camouflaged tortoises. I however love such moments, patiently waiting amidst the silence of the forest with peering eyes and sharp ears in search of a glimpse or a sound. Even though we were disappointed that nothing popped up, that blissful ambiance more than made up for it. As the jeep retracted, we spotted a barking deer peacefully grazing, but slid away into the bushes quickly. Never spotted a barking deer so close before. More birds flocked over us as the sun went down the horizon. The light slowly faded and we drove back through the mud trail to the main road. We enthusiastically still looked out in the hope of spotting wild dogs or a lonely gaur. None appeared and we were almost near the resort when at a curve the jeep stopped. We spotted a white colour on a flat rock 20 meters away from us. In a second, my naturalist whispered, "It's a leopard". It was lying on its back, and hence the white colour of its belly struck us. It twirled, twitched, rolled and we gleefully gazed at each other for long. In quite a playful mood, it happily posed for the lenses. Usually a shy creature, this one was least bothered about human presence within its short vicinity. Another jeep joined us and we spent more than 10 minutes staring at the leopard which absolutely had no qualms about its audience. It got pretty dark soon and we left while the feline rolled over and bade us good bye. It seemed quite ironical that while we drove all over and waited patiently inside the park, this fellow was happily enjoying himself very near to the resort. The safari couldn't have ended in any better way. 

Twirling and rolling

The gaze
Darkness had engulfed the whole premises of the resort by the time we had evening tea. I was told and did even read that wildlife was frequently spotted near the cottages at night. That sounded exciting, and the fact that there is no electricity in the premises after 10 P.M. made me more anxious. Would the leopard stroll by? My thoughts ran amok as I finished dinner and walked back to my cottage, 100 meters away, swaying a torch. 10: 15 PM and the lights went off. Though I did stay awake for a while in the hope of seeing some gleaming eyes in the dark, nothing turned up and I slept peacefully in the lap of BR Hills.

I was up before the wake up call for the morning safari and continued my gaze into the woods. A few colourful birds chirped and flew around happily. Soon we were on the jeep again for the morning safari. We went past the rock where the leopard was spotted last evening. Nothing there, the leopard was true to its nocturnal character. We were yet to enter the park when a couple of wild dogs or Dholes as they are also known as, crossed our jeep. Seeing us they ran into the near by bushes. We waited for them to come out and they in turn waited for us to leave, as they vigilantly stared through the bushes. We gave in shortly and drove ahead to spot a larger pack playing by the road. The sun had by then spread its colours, the fog slowly cleared up and the dholes trudged off together in a perfect line. Undoubtedly a beautiful frame. In between the two packs of dholes, we missed out on a lonely gaur that was peacefully grazing by the road. We traced back to have a closer glimpse of it before driving into the sanctuary again.

Dhole
More dholes
The lone gaur
More deer, monkeys and numerous birds were sighted as we drove around the park. The dry ponds had packs of wild boars roaming around. Spotted deer were found locking horns and a few young ones were rubbing the velvet off their horns. A lone barking deer seemed puzzled as it posed for the cameras. We stopped by a water body in the hope of that elusive wild sighting. As the wait continued we spotted malabar squirrels jump from one branch to another, a lonely tortoise strained its neck to give a beautiful frame and more deer and fawns sprinted across. Beautiful sightings, I said to myself. These too are a part of the forest and am a firm believer that there is more to the jungle than just that elusive wild cat or elephant sighting. We drove around through the mud trails for long taking in the fresh air, the wonderful sightings and the blissful ambiance of the forest before driving back to the resort. We did find some bear droppings on the way back, sighting the bear was  probably meant for the next visit.

The mud trail deep into the forest
Locking horns

Barking deer

A lone tortoise
BRT wildlife sanctuary is one of the least explored sanctuaries near Bangalore and undoubtedly has loads to offer for the wildlife enthusiast. A short drive away lies the popular Biligiri Rangaswamy temple atop a hill.

Getting there: K.Gudi is 200 km from Bangalore.  BR Hills is about 15 km before K.Gudi. From Bangalore take the Kanakapura road which leads further to Malavalli. Take a left at Malavalli and drive past Kollegal to Yellandur. From Yellandur signage boards lead to K.Gudi.

Accommodation and Food: K.Gudi Wilderness camp is the best option for stay and food. There are a couple of eateries near Biligiri Rangaswamy temple.

June 16, 2016

Nomads!


Without a base or a fixed location, nomadic tribes in small groups move from place to another in search of new destinations. Very often their location changes and after every few days they pack, unpack and move on to camp at a new unknown place. Referred as banjaras in India, they could probably be one of the earliest people to introduce the concept of long term travelling (or forced to take up) in this civilized world. 
Bijapur, October 2013

June 1, 2016

Dholes!


...and they trod along together in a pack through the hills of Biligiri Rangana sanctuary during the early hours of an April morning.

May 27, 2016

Bhoganandeeshwara Swamy Temple, Nandi Hills



The magenta sari of the bride made a stark contrast against the dark grey outer walls of the inner sanctum. The newly wedded couple with beaming smiles posed for photographs after taking the blessings of Bhoganandeeshwara. Despite being a crowded day, a marriage entourage was the least of the expected visitors at this beautiful temple at the base of Nandi Hills.

Nandi hills is one of the popular short getaways from Bangalore with winding roads, panoramic vistas, Tipu's history, fort walls and Yoganarasimha temple. However, Bhoganandeeshwara temple tucked away at the base of the hills is frequented more by pilgrims than travellers. With exquisite architecture, sculptures and ornate pillars, this temple is a perfect example of Dravidian architectural style. Built in 810 AD by Ratnavali, consort to Bana king, Vidhyadhara, The temple has had many additional contributions later by Chola, Hoyasala and Vijyanagara rulers and their styles are quite evident. 

I strolled along gazing at the line of pillars with figurines carved on them and the huge Nandi structure facing the inner sanctum. In addition to the main shrine of Bhoganandeeshwara, there are two more, namely, Arunachaleshwara and Umamahehwara, all adjacent to each other on an elevated dais. I circumambulated the inner sanctum along the wide corridor to notice that the outer wall too had no dearth of fine art work and designs. 




 
Pilgrims were in a rush, scurrying past me. With offerings closely held, they were neither keen on the art work nor the pillars. All that they wanted was to enter the inner sanctum to have a glimpse of the well sculptured shrine, not to admire the creation but to cry out for blessings. I did not enter the inner sanctum, nor did I ask for blessings. All that I did was to gaze in admiration at the skill work of the innumerable creative unknown craftsmen. 

 

The corridor further lead to the adjoining mantapas (halls) such as Vasanta Mantapa and Tulabara mantapa. Hardly a crowd there, but the huge stepped tank, Shringi Theertha with cloister walls enclosing it had children splashing waters and selfie lovers in various poses and angles. I walked along the long steps and the farther I went, feebler became the laughter of the children. I wish I could sit at the farthest corner of the tank in tranquility, staring at the beautiful steps in oblivion. Peaceful. There are claims that South Pennar river flows out from this tank.



I walked out back to the corridor to see the bride still smiling for poses against the beautiful backgrounds. Wish more marriages were held amidst such gorgeous and historical surroundings. Adorned with intricate carvings, chiseled pillars and numerous sculptures, Bhoganandeeshwara temple is definitely an architecture lover's paradise. The best aspect is that it is very well maintained and has a charm that takes you down the history lanes. 



Getting there- The temple is 55 km from Bangalore. Take the NH-7 from Bangalore and the detour to Nandi hills. At the base of the hills where the road forks, take right. Left leads to Nandi Hills. Public transportation is infrequent.

Food and Accommodation- There are a few eateries and shops just outside the temple. For proper hotels and lodging, Nandi hills is a better option.


May 9, 2016

Lepakshi- A Testimony to Vijayanagara Architecture


The sun rose slowly and splashed a deep orange hue over the horizon as we left Bangalore and its cluttered traffic behind. The Royal Enfields thumped their way across the barren brown vast lands of Karnataka- Andhra border into Rayalseema on a fairly cold morning to Lepakshi. It is known for its 16th century Veerabhadra temple built on a hillock during the Vijayanagara empire. Lepakshi is believed to be the location where Ravana and Jadayu had a tussle in Ramayana.

Shortly after the border at Bagepalli, we detoured onto the village road. The green surrounding was a delight from the brown landscape on the highway. The road snaked its way past tiny villages, smiling onlookers and small shops before being welcomed by the huge monolithic Nandi (bull) sculpture just before the temple. The place was crowded with visitors, pilgrims and locals.

Climbing the steps, we entered the massive entry door, and beautifully lined pillar with chiselled sculptures which runs all along the outer courtyard welcomed us. We ambled along gazing at the wonderful art work to the assembly hall or natya mantap. A huge dance hall during the golden times, what remains now are numerous pillars, many of which are free standing ones. Every pillar has a figurine or a mythological character chiseled on it. From one wonderful creation to another, we walked further along the pathway to the huge carving of Ganapathy and then to the massive hooded naga with a shivlinga beneath it. The naga structure is absolutely a marvelous creation carved out of a single rock.



Natya mantapa or assembly hall





Further ahead lies the ante chamber or the ardha mantapa. A relief from the scorching sun, this mantapa undoubtedly holds the best of the creations at Veerabhadra temple. Numerous pillars with exquisite chisel work adorn this mantapa. Every pillar here has large magnificent sculptures of dancers, musicians, mythological characters, saints and figurines. There are pillars where scenes from mythology are portrayed through the carvings. The ceiling of this mantapa has huge frescoes depicting 14 avatars of Shiva. Though most of it has faded, the detailing is still visible. These frescoes are considered to be the largest in Asia and is a wonderful testimony of Vijayanagara pictorial art work. The biggest attraction here is the hanging pillar, a free standing pillar which does not touch the base floor and happily hangs from the top. Many tourists were seen sliding their towels beneath the pillar to test the same. Though the story behind this is fairly unknown, the technicalities taken into consideration even during those times does need an applause. The ardha mantapa faces the inner sanctum where the presiding  idol Veerabadra sits in full grandeur.

Ardha mantapa






The hanging pillar

View of inner sanctum from ardha mantapa
We walked down from the ante chamber to circumnavigate the inner sanctum and get back onto the outer courtyard with more pillared walkways by the side. There is no dearth of pillars with sculptures at Veerabhadra temple as they are present all over the temple premises. This temple at Lepakshi is soaked in architecture and it is an absolute delight to gaze at the magnificent creations and go back in history. Had a short pit stop by the huge monolithic Nandi structure (the largest nandi structure in India) before riding through the meandering village road back to the highway.

Outer courtyard
Nandi structure

Getting there: Lepakshi is 125 Kms from Bangalore. Drive on NH-7, cross the Karnataka- Andhra border and a take a left at Kodikonda after Bagepalli. There are regular buses from Hindupur to Lepakshi. Closest railway station is at Hindupur.

Food and Accommodation:Though there are small eateries in Lepakshi, Chikballarpur and Hindupur has better options.



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