January 17, 2017

A Long Ride

Am on a long ride, a ride across cities, small towns and villages meeting people, understanding cultures, exploring wildlife, gazing at gorgeous landscapes, riding through various terrains, relishing local cuisines, framing moments and understanding India from a traveller’s perspective.

Through this post, I intend to give all the readers an insight into my travel experiences. The updates would be short briefs of my experiences on the road and about places I traversed. The detailed posts about destinations, activities and others would be separately published. I hope to update this once in 2-3 days

Day 1

Kochi to Thekkady
Distance- 164 Kms
Route- Kochi- Poothotta- Kanjiramattom- Pala- Mundakkayam- Kuttikanam- Peermede- Thekkady

Visit- Periyar Tiger reserve, Thekkady

The road from Kochi until Tripunithura had a fair bit of traffic which eased as I rode into Kottayam district. Though single tracks, the meandering roads with gradients are lined with rubber plantations, intermittent palatial bungalows of estate owners and pretty churches. The number of onlookers increased as I rode into smaller towns. With saddle bags, tank bag, backpack etc., could very well understand that curious expression on their faces. With an action camera fixed on the bike handle, capturing the ride, roads and landscape, the first-time experience was an interesting one. Though the weather was slightly warming up as I entered Idukki district, a cool breeze hit me on reaching Kuttikanam. The weather became mildly cold and the plantations changed from rubber to tea. The ride from Peermde to Kumily has a beautiful landscape with spread out tea plantations over undulated hills. Had booked my room at Able residency at Kumily through booking.com. Surprisingly, the concerned person was not in town and it was closed. However, he was responsible enough to book a room for me at Hotel Sithara. Seeing a Karnataka registration vehicle a few people conversed in broken Hindi and English. A smile spread over their face when they heard me respond in Malayalam each time. A quick Kerala lunch later, rushed to the information centre at Periyar Tiger Reserve to get tickets for the last boat ride for the day at 3.30 PM. Though the tickets are issued only an hour in advance, it was completely sold out. I was told to come early morning (5.30 AM) next day to get tickets for the first ride at 7.30 as tickets cannot be booked in advance. I hardly had any clue about the ‘drama’ that was to unfold next day morning at the reserve. Picked up entry ticket for the park (boating tickets are separate) and loitered around for a while gazing at the lovely lake, tall trees and the playful macaques. Missing out on the boat ride made me restless and I screened through the reserve’s other programs. Jungle scout, a jungle patrol with a guide and forest official at night seemed interesting. As the rush at the park ended with the sunset, we began the walk through the reserve at 7PM. Sighted sambars, gaurs, porcupines, wild boars, rabbits and night jars during the 2-hour trail. Headed to the room after dinner and slept off waiting for my alarm to ring at 5 AM.

Through the rubber plantations of Kottayam

A church at Erattupetta

video



Day 2

Visit- Periyar Tiger reserve, Thekkady

The day began with a rush to the park entry ticket counter at 5.30 AM. Was greeted by a small queue which had grown multi folds by the time the counter opened at 6AM. Clutching the ticket, rushed to the reserve entrance gate (1 km away), where there was a bevy of cars and autorickshaws lined up. At 6.20 AM, when the gates opened the vehicles rushed to the parking lot (2-3 Kms away). As soon as the vehicles reached the parking lot, visitors got out and started running. Absolute mad rush to the boating ticket counter. It was quite a run, more than 30 people running 200 meters to get hold of a ticket. On reaching there, we were told there are only 33 tickets available for the first boat ride at 7.30 AM (hopefully many had booked online many days ago, or else there are ‘ways and means’ to buy tickets). Of the 33, the first person took away 21 and a few more behind him got the rest. The gate closed and the remaining crowd waited in the same queue for the next boat ride scheduled for 9.30 AM. In this modern age where things are more organized, I just can’t understand this disgusting experience of standing in queues after queues to get hold of a ticket. As luck would have it, the 7.30 AM ride had a couple of seats available and the officials returned to check if they could squeeze one or two more. Right up in front of the queue and with just a single seat required, I was on my way to the anchored boat.

As the boat went past the protruding stumps of the lake, my mind slowly distracted itself from the grueling experience that I had to go through early in the morning. The gorgeous landscape of the lake with thick forests in the background makes a beautiful frame. Spotted a family of elephants, a huge herd of bisons, playful otters, wild dogs feasting on a carcass and numerous birds such as kingfishers, cormorants, herons, storks etc. In the afternoon after lunch, went on green trail through the forest with a guide. This trail gave a closer glimpse of the beautiful trees, numerous birds, a huge herd of sambars, mouse deer, hornbills, Malabar giant squirrels and a lone nilgiri langur. It was a long walk of almost three hours which took us through the expansive forest laced with dry leaves and percolating sunlight. The day ended with a tribal heritage performance by the Manan tribes who swayed to their folklore.

The serene Periyar Lake

Green walk

January 13, 2017

Badami, Pattadakal and Aihole- A throwback to the times of Chalukyas



Almond coloured landscape and men in white clothing are the first things that strike when I think about Badami- the sleepy dusty town which once was the capital of the great Chalukyan empire from 6th to 8th century. Though a bit far from each other, Badami, Pattadakal and Aihole are spoken in the same breath and are known for rock cut caves and numerous other centuries old temples. While Badami is known for its popular cave temples, Pattadakal has a huge temple complex listed under UNESCO heritage site and Aihole is believed to be where temple architecture was defined. Though the temples and structures have worn out over a period, most of them have been restored and maintained well by the authorities.

The tiny town of Badami has only one major road which accommodates all its commercial activities. However, beyond the main road and the tiny lanes that lead to its residential areas, Badami has a picturesque landscape with huge cliffs (south fort and north fort) overlooking the town. These almond coloured sandstone cliffs are separated by Agasthya theertha, a massive water tank.

A line of steps lead up to the first cave dedicated to Shiva in south fort area. Lined with carved pillars, this cave temple houses sculptures of Nataraja (Shiva as a dancer) and Ardhanareeshwara along with a mutilated nandi facing the inner sanctum. A few further steps meanders through the rocks to the second cave dedicated to Vishnu. This too has carved pillars along with sculptures of ten incarnations of Vishnu. The third cave has a Vishnu shrine and is the largest of all. There are elaborate carvings and impressive sculptures of various mythological characters and celestial figures. The coloured walls have eroded over the years. The cave also offers panoramic views of the Agasthya tank, Bhoothanatha temples, other smaller shrines and Badami town. The fourth cave is a Jain cave and has sculptures of Thirthankaras on its walls. Between cave 1 and 2 there is a sculpture of Padmapani (an incarnation of Buddha) on the rocks. 

Cave 1

Sculpture in Cave 1

Cave 2
 
Sculpture in cave 2

Cave 3
 
Sculptures in Cave 3

Cave 3

View of Agasthya theertha and Bhoothanatha temples

Steep steps lead from one cave to another

Jain cave

The expansive Agasthya theertha is the life of Badami, and has a rustic charm to it. It is a part of the people's daily chores as they take bath, wash and clean themselves here. The two Bhoothanatha temples at the lake's far end look gorgeous, definitely one of the best frames in Badami. Dedicated to Shiva, the shrine has a menacing expression on his face and is worshiped as the god of pancha bhoothas or five elements of life. There are other temples too by the stepped tank such as Yellama temple and Mallikarjuna temple. Look out and you will find more tiny shrines built on boulders and surroundings.

Bhoothanatha temples

The walk along the water body leads to the other cliff known as north fort. At the base of north fort is an archaeological museum which houses a huge display of sculptures and findings from excavations over the years. Further ahead, a steep climb of steps lead through massive boulders to the ruins of north fort which has a treasury, granaries, watch tower, lower Shivalaya and upper Shivalaya. The narrow passage flanked by boulders is an interesting trail (reminds you of geological books) that leads to the lower Shivalaya, and then to the huge circular watch tower which offers beautiful views of south fort, Agasthya theertha, Badami town and the surroundings. A further walk through the boulders takes you to upper Shivalaya, which has mythological carvings and sculptures on its walls. It is believed that these Shivalayas were the first temples built by Chalukyas with pyramidal towers (gopurams). A short detour from the museum at the base leads to Malegitti Shivalaya. Perched on a lone standing hill, a few steps lead to the temple dedicated to Shiva. Believed to be a surya temple earlier, it presently has many mythological and animal carvings.

Pathway to north fort

Circular watch tower

Upper Shivalaya

Malegitti Shivalaya

Banashankari, five kilometers away from Badami is known for its temple dedicated to Parvati. Adjacent to the temple lies the massive Haridratheertha (water tank) with pillared walk ways along its four sides. The large lamps in front of the temple are pretty impressive.

Haridratheertha at Banashankari

A few kilometers away from Badami lies Chalukyan temple complex at Mahakuta. Though a functional complex, most of the structures are in a dilapidated state. There are ten temples here dedicated to Shiva, the prominent ones being Mallikarjuna and Mahakuteshwara. The Vishnu pushkarni (water tank) in the middle of the complex is believed to have a natural spring.

Temples at Mahakuta

Vishnu Pushkarni

Pattadakal, the second capital of the Chalukyas is believed to be their coronation site. A UNESCO world heritage site, this temple complex spread over a well laid out garden has an array of temples dating from 7th to 9th centuries. The largest and the most decorated of all the temples are Mallikarjuna and Virupaksha temples, built to commemorate the victory of Chalukyas over Pallavas. While Mallikarjuna temple displays stories from Mahabharata and Ramayana on its walls, Virupaksha has beautiful carved pillars with mythological stories and characters. The other popular temples with magnificent architecture include Galaganatha, Kddi Siddeshwara, Jambulinga, Kashi Vishwanatha and Sangameshwara temples. The temple complex is situated by the Malaprabha river and the exit gate leads to the same.  Papanatha temple just outside the complex is one of the oldest temples in Pattadakal. The isolated Rashtrakuta jain temple is another prominent one in Pattadakal.

Pattadakal temple complex

Mallikarjuna temple

Viruypaksha temple

Galaganatha temple

Sangameshwara temple

A mutilated nandi ssculpture

Papanatha temple

Jain temple

Further away from Pattadakal lies Aihole, believed to be the place where Dravidian temple architecture was born. It has numerous temples spread all over with some well-maintained ones inside complexes and some secluded ones in neglected ruined state. Aihole is believed to have had more than a hundred temples, all built between 6th and 12th centuries. Durga temple complex is the most celebrated place here with the popular horse shoe shaped Durga temple. The temple has extensive sculptures on its exterior, interior and ceiling. The numerous ornate pillars look gorgeous even today with their beautiful carvings. The wonderful sculptures pop up as you circumnavigate the horse shoe shaped pathway. Dedicated to Durga, the deity is a fierce looking Mahishasuramardhini. Lad Khan temple is one of the other impressive temples within this complex. It is also the oldest one here and has a different architecture with another shrine atop the roof. It has carved pillars and a nandi sculpture facing the inner sanctum. Dedicated to Shiva, the temple gets its name from a Muslim saint who lived here a few centuries ago. The other temples in this complex include Gaudaragudi, Chakragudi, Badigergudi and Suryanarayanagudi temples. This complex also houses a museum which has a good display from excavations over the years.

Durga temple

Carvings inside Durga temple

Sculpture along the horse shoe shaped pathwway

Lad Khan temple

Gaudaragudi temple

Ambigeragudi complex lies opposite to durga complex and has a set of lovely temples with fine architecture. Jyothirlinga temple complex is one of the nice complexes with numerous shrines, nandi structures and a pushkarni. Huchchappayanamath temple complex is a secluded one which is neatly maintained and has a well laid out garden, walkway and temples in typical Chalukyan architecture. Mallikarjuna temple complex has five temples apart from a pushkarni. 

Ambigeragudi temple complex

Jyothirlinga temple complex

Huchchappayanamath temple complex

Mallikarjuna temple complex

Kontigudi complex has numerous temples, but is set amidst a lot of filth and cattle. Next to it lies Rachigudi complex which has a spread-out garden and shrines amidst it. Charanthi matha and Tryambakeshwara complex are perfect examples of how lovely heritages structures can be neglected and left to ruin. 

Rachigudi temple complex

Ravanaphadi is a rock cut shrine dedicated to Shiva, but much smaller in size compared to the ones in Badami. Though externally it might not be an impressive one, the magnificent sculptures inside which include Shiva in a dancing stance can leave you amazed. There are more huge sculptures of Varaha, Mahishasuramardhini and other figurines. What also makes it special is that the shrine is cut out from a single rock. It is peaceful inside and is definitely my favourite shrine in Aihole. Huchchimalli temple complex ahead of Ravanaphadi has three shrines dedicated to Shiva and has beautiful carvings inside. A steep climb up the hill behind Huchchimalli leads to Meghutti temple, a double floored structure with pillars. The hill also has a few caves alongside the temple. The evening sky and Aihole town looks beautiful from the hill. 

Ravanaphadi cave temple

Interiors of Ravanaphadi cave

Shiva sculpture

Huchchimalli temple complex

Meghutti temple

Badami, Pattadakal and Aihole are undoubtedly a favourite with architecture and geological lovers. Moreover, the fact that these magnificent heritage sites still thrive amidst all the modernization makes them all the more impressive and worth the visit.

Travel Tips:
  • Make Badami your base and explore the other sites.
  • Badami and its temples would need a day to visit. Similar is the case with the complexes of Aihole. Pattadakal can be covered in half a day.
  • All the siates have a dry landscape and a hot climate. Make sure to carry hats, sunscreen and water.
  • The museums do not allow photography inside.
Location:

Badami is 458 Kilometers away from Bangalore. The closest airport is at Hubli (102 Kms). Though Badami has a railway station, the major station where most trains pass by is at Bagalkot (38 Kms). There are buses that connect Bagalkot to all major  cities across Karnataka. From Bagalkot there are frequent buses to Badami.

Food and Accommodation:

Most hotels have their restaurants and there are a few messes too. The cuisine is typical north Karnataka style. Badami court is a nice option to stay in Badami. There are budget options such as Mookambika deluxe (I stayed here) and Hotel Mayura Chalukya. Aihole has a KSTDC budget hotel.

January 6, 2017

Bijapur- Sprinkled with Monuments


Traverse the roads of Bijapur and it takes you on a journey through its history, structures and monuments from the medieval period when the city was at its prime during the rule of Adil Shahi dynasty. Ruled by the Yadavas in the 12th and 13th century, it was taken over by the Adil Shahis in the 14th century turning Vijayapura to Bijapur and converting it into a lovely cosmopolitan city with huge multi- cultural influences. It attracted many artists, poets and scholars from far away lands over the years. By late 17th century Mughals under the rule of Aurangazeb took over the city with constant intrusions from Marathas. After the British established their stronghold over Bijapur, it slowly faded away as most of its monuments lay neglected and in tatters. Even today, the city doesn't seem impressive apart from Gol Gumbaz and Ibrahim Rauza. However, for the discerning traveller, Bijapur is soaked in monumental history, if you have the patience and eye for it.

The crumbling fort wall, citadel, mosques, mausoleums and numerous other structures seem like they have forgotten to move beyond the 18th century. These black stone structures against the red soil further fuels it and gives the city a stillness, a stark contrast to to what it was a few centuries ago. Bijapur more or less seems like a city lost in time lapse.

Gol Gumbaz has always been a popular monument, thanks to our history books in schools. However, it can be quite beguiling at the first glimpse. The structure you see first is the museum and not Gol Gumbaz. Both Gumbaz and museum are so well super imposed that the dome sits perfectly over the roof of the library when seen from the entrance gate. But, as you walk closer, both structures reveal themselves. The archaeological museum has an extensive display of paintings, metal works, bidriware, armours, deccani carpets, stone inscriptions, sculptures and much more.



Just behind the library the impressive Gol Gumbaz stands intimidating with its sheer magnitude. Built in early 17th century, Gol Gumbaz is the largest unsupported dome in India and also the fourth largest in the world. The dome has a diameter of 124 feet and the whole structure stands 198 feet tall. The square base structure is made of granite and has engravings on its outside near its massive front door. The dome has motifs at its base and is made of brick. The well spread out interiors has plain walls and houses the tombs of Mohammed Adil Shah and his family on a raised platform. The four octagonal minarets have numerous arched windows and exquisite architecture on its top. The towers also have narrow spiraling stairs that lead up to the whispering gallery which runs around the dome. It is said that a sound or a clap here reverberates. However, I found it to be eerie with the crowd howling from all corners. The pathway outside the dome offers nice views of the surrounding garden and the expansive Bijapur city.





A short distance away is the huge Jamia masjid, the largest mosque in Bijapur which was built by Ali Adil Shah I to commemorate the victory over Vijayanagara empire. The mosque is known for its gorgeous symmetrical arches and intricate designs which is a testimony to Adil Shahi architecture. It also has an impressive external architecture, a beautiful internal courtyard and a huge dome. The prayer hall has impressive engravings and paintings on display. 





Near Jamia Masjid lies Mehtar mahal, which could be easily missed out. This tall architectural structure has lovely works all over and was a gateway to a mosque. This ornamental structure is nicely tucked away amidst modern staructures and is a fine example of how one can easily miss out on such wonderful monuments when in a hurry.



Opposite Mehtar mahal, the road leads to Asar mahal, built in mid 17th century by Mohammad Adil Shah. Also referred to as Adalat mahal, it earlier served as the royal hall of justice. It also enshrined a sacred hair from the Prophet's beard. 



Bijapur has two forts, inner fort which houses Gagan mahal, Anand mahal etc and the outer fort which goes around the city. The inner fort lies in the centre of the city and its walls can be seen from Asar mahal. Gagan mahal also known as Sky palace has huge arches and is a lone standing structure amidst a garden. It was once an audience hall built in mid 16th century by Ali Adil Shah I and has been witness to many events.



Bara Kamman is an uncompleted wonder which stands tall amidst all the chaos of the city. It was envisioned to be a huge thirteen floor structure, larger than Gol Gumbaz. The expansive arches definitely gives a glimpse of what it was meant to be. However, the death of Ali Adil Shah II brought the construction to a halt. It presently houses his tomb.





When the outer fort was built in mid 16th century, it was strengthened with moats and more than ninety bastions all around, some of which still has been intact with cannons atop. Malik-e-maidan cannon is probably the most popular amongst them. This fifty five tonne cannon made of bell metal is considered to be the largest medieval cannon in the world. The lovely engravings in Arabic and Persian makes it a unique one.



A short walk away lies Upari burj, another tall bastion where a flight of steps lead to its top which houses two cannons. The tower also offers nice views of the city.



Bijapur during its hey days was known for its numerous tanks and fountains . The city still houses many water tanks such as Taj Bawadi, Chand Bawadi, both known for its impressive arches and towers. The water however is quite dirty and the tanks remain neglected.



Jod Gumbaz, a pair of domes were not built by the Adil Shahis. Instead, they were built as a tribute to traitors who helped Aurangazeb defeat the last Adil Shahi ruler. One of the domes is a dargah and there are a few tombs within the complex.



Ibrahim Rouza lying outside the fort walls is definitely the most beautiful frame in Bijapur and the second most popular place of interest after Gol Gumbaz. Set amidst a beautiful garden, this twin domed monument is believed to have inspired the Taj Mahal. Built by Ibrahim Adil Shah II, the structure on the left is a mausoleum and the other is a mosque, both separated by a water tank. The mausoleum houses the tombs of Ibrahim Adil Shah, his wife, mother, daughter and two sons. This is quite an impressive structure with its magnificent carvings on doors, windows, ceilings, pillars and corridors. The marvelous Persian and Arabic writing along with extensive engravings makes this mausoleum an absolute mesmerizer. The mosque too is a graceful creation with beautiful arches, engravings and stone works on the exterior.









Saat manzil, Jal manzil with lovely architecture, Kareem ud-din mosque which looks similar to a temple and Pasari Kaman with its nice arches are some of the other prominent structures in Bijapur.

Beyond the Gumbaz and Ibrahim Rouza, Bijapur might not evoke enthusiasm for the run of the mill visitor. However, if you are a history and architecture lover, every nook and corner of Bijapur reeks of it.

Travel Tips:

  • Explore the city early in the morning when it is less crowded, especially Gol Gumbaz.
  • Avoid the summers, as the weather can be quite harsh.
  • Bijapur is for the discerning traveller who appreciates even the smallest of carvings or architecture. 

Location: 

Bijapur lies 525 Kms north of Bengaluru. It is well connected by trains and buses to all major cities in Karnataka. The closest airport is at Hubli (201 Kms).

Food and Accommodation:

Though Bijapur isn't known for any particular cuisine, North Karnataka dishes are easily available at most hotels in the city. There are many budget and mid range stay options within the centre of the city. I stayed at Kanishka International, near Gol Gumbaz which is a mid range hotel.


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