February 26, 2014

Srirangapatna- Tipu Sultan's Isle...!!

Surrounded by river Cauvery , the the river island of Srirangapatna came into prominence after Tipu Sultan, one of the fiercest rulers made it his capital. Situated close to the cultural city of Mysore, this small island exudes the languorous character of a town that still breathes the fame and valour of its erstwhile ruler. The reminiscences of the empire are still evident and most of it are well maintained by the archaeological survey of India. State highway that connects Bengaluru and Mysore cuts the island into two . While travelling from Bengaluru, the fort enclosure and Ranganatha swamy temple is on the right, while Daria Daulat Bagh, Gumbaz and sangam is on the road that leads to the left.

Started early from Bengaluru and had a short stop at Maddur for breakfast before reaching Srirangapatna. I took a right near the bus stand which led me through the narrow road lined with street vendors and went past the Bangalore gate into the heart of this small river island. The island does have a few other entrance gates, namely Mysore gate, Delhi gate, Elephant gate and Water gate. The gates were the entrances into the fort from different sides during the times of Tipu. The first structure that I encountered after entering the fort walls was Jama Masjid, soaked in turmeric yellow. I rode past the masjid and Narasimha temple, and the straight road took me to Ranganatha swamy temple. The road is lined with vendors selling temple paraphernalia, food stalls and horses which are lined up to lure the visitors for a ride.The tall gopuram (entrance tower), though under renovation, looked quite attractive with its wonderful architecture. Built with a beautiful blend of both Hoysala and Vijayanagara architecture, the temple has Vishnu in reclining position as its main deity. The inside of the temple also has some wonderful architectural display on its pillars, ceilings, walls and in its courtyard. The temple teemed with both pilgrims and tourists and I made my way out after paying homage to the lord.

Bangalore gate
Ranganathaswamy temple

The places of interest have been marked with directions at most crossroads, which helps the tourists. I began with the ruins of Tipu Sultan's palace, also known as Lal mahal, less than 200 meters from the temple. Though only the base structure and a few broken walls remain, the palace was once well known for its splendid designs, rooms and halls of magnificent proportions and underground drains. The palace was dismantled during Colonel Wellesley's rule in early 19th century. The gate was closed when I visited and I peered from outside to have a glimpse of the ruins.

Lal mahal
The road from there took me along the fort walls to Colonel Bailey's dungeon, one of the most visited places on the island. A bastion cleverly conceals this dungeon and cannot be seen unless you reach very close. Many British prisoners including Bailey were chained onto the stone slabs and imprisoned here. I walked down to the dungeon and noticed that it had beautiful symmetric arches. There is a huge canon in the centre of the dungeon which had come down crashing through the roof during a battle. The big hole in the roof can be seen right above the canon. I walked back and captured a few frames of the beautiful cauvery, that flows next to fort wall.

Bailey's dungeon

As I rode on, the road to the Obelisk disappeared suddenly and all that I could see was a narrow trail which led to a secluded part of the fort. Greenery had overgrown onto the fort boundaries and the walls could barely be seen. There were a couple of  shepherds who were relaxing as their sheep enjoyed the pasture. The trail that led to the obelisk was across an undulating landscape. I trudged to reach the top where the obelisk is situated and there wasn't another soul around. Situated in the western corner of the island, next to the fort walls, the obelisk was erected in memory of the British soldiers who died during the siege of Srirangapatna. Since it is located at a corner of the fort, the views from the obelisk are beautiful. I walked back to my bike and then went past the dilapidated Delhi gate and Water gate to a few bathing ghats. These gates have narrow paths which lead to over grown bushy trails which ends at the bank of the river. I rode further past the small tea stalls, neatly painted houses and groups of chatting locals, in search of more history. The island definitely has a quaint charm of its own. There is a memorial erected at the place where Tipu Sulthan's body was found during the fourth Anglo-Mysore war in 1799. Another dungeon that I visited was Thomas Inmam's dungeon, which was used by Tipu Sultan and Haider Ali to imprison Maratha invaders and other Indian prisoners. 

The Obelisk
Delhi gate

I then rode my way back to Bangalore gate after circumnavigation of the fort and my last place of visit was Jama masjid, soaked in turmeric yellow. I so wish the mosque was painted in white, which would have given it a lot of elegance. However, the beautiful architecture with tall minarets somewhat made up for the weird colour sense. As I walked in, it was a delight to see a number of young children trod in for their Islamic studies since  the masjid doubles up as a madrasa. It was so calm and peaceful inside, and the only sound that disturbed was the cooing of the many doves that happily nestled inside the minarets. It doesn't come as a surprise why Tipu offered him namaaz at this beautiful mosque.

Jamia Masjid

Across the highway, the first place of stop was Daria Daulat Bagh, the summer palace of Tipu Sultan. Built in 1784, this palace is now preserved as a museum amidst sprawling greenery. Built on a raised platform, it has open corridors and wooden pillars.The palace extensively displays beautiful intricate murals depicting victories in war, scenes from Sulthan's noble court and various portraits. It also houses a list of Tipu's memorabilia, historical data, European paintings and Persian manuscripts. The palace definitely gives a thorough insight into the life of Tipu Sultan, the various wars fought and the fall of Srirangapatna.

Daria Daulat Bagh
From Tipu's summer palace I went past a Catholic cemetery and  took a right turn at Abbe Dubois church to ride past vast open fields and deserted narrow winding roads to Ghosai ghat. There are a few shrines by the Cauvery at this bathing ghat. Interestingly there were a few idols on a couple of rocks jutting from the river. It seemed like a surreal frame as the idols placed on the rocks stared in oblivion and the cauvery peacefully flowed against a green background. The left turn from Abbe Dubois church leads to the famous Nimishamba temple, which I skipped. 

Ghosai ghat
Gumbaz, the mausoleum of Tipu Sultan and his parents lies about a kilometer away from the church. I gazed at the beautiful structure with impressive intricate Islamic architecture for a while before entering the inner chamber. It extensively displayed the exceptional skills of workmanship. Gumbaz was built by Tipu Sultan and enshrines the tombs of Haider Ali, his wife Fathima Begum and Tipu himself. A magnificent large dome crowns the structure with polished black granite pillars, carved windows and stands on a wide stone platform. There are also numerous other tombs in the outer courtyard which belongs to the relatives of Tipu. Next to the Gumbaz is a mosque, Masjid-E-Aksa, which also has wonderful architecture. 

The tombs inside the chamber
After paying homage to the Tiger of Mysore, I rode to my last destination- Sangam, which is further east of Gumbaz. I was greeted by hoards of pilgrims, cormorants spreading their wings on jutting rocks, vendors selling eatables and semi immersed idols at this confluence of two tributaries of Cauvery. Cauvery looks most gorgeous at this point as it flows at its vigorous best. Many pilgrims who visit the place consider a dip in these waters as sacred. Numerous coracles can be spotted which are ready to take the visitors on a ride. There is a small shrine at the confluence near the steps that leads down to the gorgeous Cauvery. 

The flowing Cauvery

After a few solitude moments at the Sangam, gazing at the serene landscape, I rode back to Bengaluru. For a moment I stopped by to capture the age old stone pillared Wellesley's bridge, which connects Srirangapatna to the mainland. It still stands strong over the Cauvery even after heavy floods over the last couple of centuries and helps people travel from the chaotic world to the world of a bygone era.

Wellesley's bridge

Signing Note- Soak in the quaintness of this river island as you enrich your historical knowledge...!!

Route- Bengaluru- Ramnagara- Maddur- Mandya- Srirangapatna

Distance- 125 Kms

February 21, 2014

Has Travel Become Easier?

Gone are the days when road maps and milestones were the only resources to get to a destination. Today, within the reach of a click, you get the distance and route options. On the move, you have the GPS to guide you to your destination. However, I still prefer doing it the old school way by asking the stranger on the road, direction to my destination. Does it not have its own charm? I somehow feel it helps in mingling with people making the journey more interactive. Also there is a lot of fun in getting lost and finding your way back than relying on technology. However, modern day traveller lacks both time and patience to go the old school way. He/ she expects transportation, bookings, comparisons, itineraries and everything related to travel to happen in a short span of time. With all the technological resources available, you can't really complain if the traveller asks for more. If there is technology to help you travel, why not make use of it.

Invasion of technology has brought about a lot of changes, and an increase in the number of destinations has to be right up there. Earlier, people travelled to the same, beaten to death destinations again and again. Those far flung unexplored destinations remained elusive. The reasons were proximity, development and lack of information. With numerous travellers coming out with comprehensive details of both hackneyed and off beat destinations on their websites, it has helped every other traveller explore all those dream destinations. Not to forget are wikipedia and a host of travel websites like wego travel which gives the travel enthusiast all the required information making travel easier in today's world. Information about that distant secluded lake, that lone village over the ridges of a hill, that nomadic tribe in the desert or that unexplored forest patch are splashed across with a click. Flight bookings, train tickets or bus tickets are no more a tough task and is only a few minutes job with numerous web portals running exciting offers. Comparing hotels and reviewing them online has helped in selection of your comfortable stay. Besides helping people travel, companies like airasia  promote travel and tourism with tempting offers for tourists. Internet has definitely helped the traveller to stay updated even when he/ she is on the move. Even though backpacking has always been an attractive mode of travelling, flashpacking is sure to catch up in the coming years. 

It isn't just technology that has helped and brought out the enthusiastic traveller in every other person. There are numerous travel companies who chart out tours, expeditions, motorcycle journeys, treks, family vacations and much more. All those journeys which otherwise seemed almost impossible without a proper guide or a back up vehicle or tenting equipment now seem all the more probable. There is a plethora of stay options too for the travellers. In addition to hotels there are home stays backpacker hostels, shacks and youth hostels to help make your stay a comfortable one. Couch surfing has gone a step ahead to make the backpackers happy. Inviting travellers to stay at your place is slowly catching up worldwide.

All these developments and invasion into travel has created an industry helping both the travellers and the people who help others travel. It has also turned holidaying couples into serious travellers, weekend travellers into longtime backpackers and many travel enthusiasts into nomads and vagabonds. Travel definitely has become easier and travelling has turned into serious business.  

In which ways has travel become easier for you? Please share your thoughts.

February 18, 2014

Temples of Khajuraho...!!

The word 'erotic' and the place 'Khajuraho' sell and gel so well together that the next word that you hear after Khajuraho is erotic.  How apt is this with respect to the wonderful sculptures on the magnificent temples built by Chandelas? Are there erotic sculptures? Yes, there are. Are there only erotic sculptures? No, there are others too. But sex sells and sells big, when beautifully packaged like in Khajuraho. Regardless of what they portray, they are so synonymous with each other.

 Khajuraho was the capital of the Chandela kingdom during the 9th and 10th century and was a celebrated temple town until it went into oblivion sometime during the 16th century. It was not until the 19th century that it was rediscovered by the British engineer, T.S. Burt. Built by the Chandelas in the 10th century, only 25 temples remain from the initial 85 that were constructed. It was conferred the world heritage site tag by UNESCO in 1986 and is glorified for it architecture, carvings and love making sculptures. Why the erotica on temple walls is a question that conjures up in every mind. It is there in mine, in yours and in many other people's, but there has hardly been any convincing answers that have come up.

Putting those thoughts aside, I reached Khajuraho after a short drive from Panna national park. I would rather enjoy the wonderful creations than find answers which even historians have found tough. After a relaxing lunch at the the very popular Raja cafe, headed to explore the beautifully intricate temple sculptures of the western group of temples in Khajuraho. Western group of temples are the most popular and preferred ones over the southern and eastern group. This UNESCO world heritage site is enclosed inside a huge and well maintained garden area and the temples look stunning even from a distance. Audio guides available near the ticket counter are definitely helpful unless you want to create your own stories about each sculpture. However, no guides are required to gaze and to get lost amidst those marvellous chisel works. Western group comprises of Varaha temple, Lakshmana temple, Kandariya Mahadev temple, Jagadambi temple, Chitragupta temple and Vishwanatha temple. Of these, Lakshmana temple and Kandariya Mahadev temple outshines others with their elaborate and spectacular art work, while Vishwanatha temple happens to be the most popular one.

All the temples are erected on high platforms, has an entrance porch, pillars with carvings, extensive artwork on its outer and inner sanctum, and is dedicated to either Shiva or Vishnu. There are various points marked and the audio guides explain in detail the importance and the story at every juncture. Varaha temple is where I began my temple tour. Inside, a huge sculpture of a boar (incarnation of Vishnu) with intricate works on its body stands peacefully staring at the other temples. Lakshmana temple, the most beautiful one inside the temple complex is dedicated to Vishnu. The facade is emblazoned with beautiful sculptures depicting armies, dancers, celestial beauties, amorous lovers, animals and social life. The inner sanctum also has many chiseled works on its outer, on pillars and on the ceiling.  I found many students of art making their exquisite pencil sketch creations on paper from the sculptures in stone. There was a guide with a group of foreign tourists, who concentrated on explaining only about the erotic sculptures. I found that to be disturbing. Erotic sculptures constituted of hardly 10% of all the sculptures. Why then would you want concentrate so much on it? Why can't people look at at as any another sculpture?

Varaha temple
Lakshmana temple

Next in line was Kandariya Mahadev temple, the largest of the lot. This again has a plethora of carvings on its facade similar to the ones on Lakshmana temple. The temple also boasts of the largest number of chiseled figures amongst all the temples. Its elaborate plan and design makes it one of the most evolved and sublime creations. I found its gopurams (towers) to be extraordinarily attractive. The inner sanctum has many intricate works and the entrance arch is supposedly one of the finest works. The sculptures have been so beautifully carved that I kept gazing at them in oblivion as I circumambulated the temple. Dedicated to Shiva, this tall temple was constructed to celebrate the victory of King Vidhyadhara over Mahmud of Gazni. Situated on the same platform as the Kandariya Mahadev temple is Devi Jagadamba temple. Another beautiful creation with loads of beautiful carvings both on outer and inner.

Kandariya Mahadev temple

Jagadamba temple

From there I strolled to Chitragupta temple which is dedicated to Sun god and looks similar to Jagadambi temple. It has an impressive sculpture of sun god in a chariot driven by seven horses. The temple has fine carvings of celestial beauties and erotic couples on its outside. As I was about to enter the sanctum, the security guard came to me and said he will show me whatever has to be seen. He went to one side of the temple and expected me to follow him. I did not move as I understood what he wanted to show me. He came back and again asked me to follow him. Followed him this time, and he pointed to a few erotic sculptures on the outside of the temple. I am not interested in that I said, and he gave me a confused look. I smirked and walked away. It again showed people are keen only on erotic sculptures in Khajuraho. Be it the visitor, the guide or the security guard.

Chitragupta temple

The temples close for visitors as the sun sets and I had to make a dash to Vishwanatha temple, the last one inside the complex. Dedicated to Shiva, the most popular and the grandest of Western group of temples was under renovation and the towers looked as though it needed some immediate rubbing. However, the pillars and the lower portion of the temple looked neat and beautiful. Extensive carvings and sculptures of gods, goddesses, celestial beauties, amorous couples, animals, armies, dancers and much more has been harmoniously engraved on the  outer walls of the temple. Unfortunately could not enter the inner sanctum as the temple had shut down by then. There is also a shrine of nandi (bull) on the same platform.

Vishwanatha temple

Next day, I hired an auto and visited the lesser explored Eastern group of temples and Southern group of temples. A short drive away, Chaturbhuj temple which is a part of the southern group is dedicated to Vishnu. Though the temple has numerous carvings on its outer, it does not have any erotic sculptures engraved. Duladeva temple dedicated to Shiva is the other temple which forms a part of the southern group. The temple has extensive carvings on its pillars and gorgeous chisel work on its gopuram (tower).

Chaturbhuj temple

Duladeva temple
Jain group of temples were the first eastern group of temples that I visited. Temples dedicated to Parshvanath and Adinath are the prominent ones inside this complex. Not very far away is the famous Vamana temple, dedicated to the dwarf incarnation of Vishnu. The temple also boasts of beautiful and intricate art works on its facade and inside the sanctum. Near to Vamana temple is Javari temple with attractive sculptures on it, especially the beautiful entrance arch. Brahma temple and Ghantai temple are the remaining ones that constitute the eastern group of temples.

Parsvanatha temple
Adinatha temple
Vamana temple

Javari temple

Matangeshwara temple is a living temple adjoining the walls of western group of temples and is quite a popular one with the visitors. Chausath Yogini temple is another important temple in Khajuraho. Everyday at 7 p.m., a sound and light show is conducted inside the enclosure of Western group of temples. The show narrated by Amitabh Bachchan gives an insight into the history of Chandela kings and Khajuraho. Anyone who visits Khajuraho must make it a point to enjoy this wonderful show. The ASI museum opposite the western group of temples displays some exquisite statues and sculptures from various centuries and is a must visit for any archaeological enthusiast.

Sound and light show

Signing Note- An architectural extravaganza...!!

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