February 8, 2016

Heritage Tour Of Karnataka : Badami, Aihole and Pattadakal

Karnataka has abundant sites which oozes with culture and represents the heritage of the state. Hence on this particular road trip, we planned to cover all the sites which have entered in world heritage list or almost part of it, by making it to the tentative world heritage list. Therefore on a 4 day trip, 3 days was reserved to cover all the major heritage sites in northern Karnataka, which included Badami, Aihole, Pattadakal, Bijapur and Hampi. Since the distance between Bangalore and our first destination i.e. Badami was quite substantial, we decided to cover half of the distance till Davangere on the previous night itself, thanks to the effortless night driving on the 4 lane highway. The following day we covered the later part of the 500km journey from Bangalore.

Badami , Aihole and Pattadakal are all quite nearby , but unfortunately the only place where one can find accommodation is in Badami. There are only a couple of decent enough hotels in this town , and it pains to see the total lack of empathy by the Govt Of Karnataka in setting up and maintaining infrastructure to these heritage structures. The roads are pretty bad and totally neglected. But since the distance between each of these sites is just 20km , we were able to manage. On day 1, we reached Badami at noon, checked into the hotel, had lunch and then decided to explore Pattadakal and Aihole, and reserved Badami for the next day. These regions are quite dry and reminds one of a desert landscape. One feels sorry for the local inhabitants who lead a very frugal life and one can see poverty everywhere. This is in sharp contrast with the regions around Hampi, wherein you would be greeted with lush green fields thanks to the Tungabhadra reservoir.

After a 20km drive we landed at Pattadakal. This was after getting stuck for half an hour at Banashankari due to some village fair. Thankfully while returning we found an alternate route. There are a group of monuments by the banks of river Malaprabha. The group of monuments of Badami, Aihole and Pattadakal are considered to be the cradle of Hindu temple architecture throughout the Indian subcontinent. One can even find a temple dating all the way back to 450 AD, which according to some estimates is the oldest standing hindu temple. Pattadakal has temples dating back to the 8th century AD and has temples which represent both the Dravidian (South Indian) as well as the Indo-Aryan (North Indian) style of temple complexes. This UNESCO world heritage site was built during the  Chalukyan empire and have withstood as a mute spectator, when generation after generations of humans have come and gone.

We spent close to an hour and half at this site, admiring the beauty of these group of monuments. The most imposing temple being Virupaksha temple and one interesting thing to notice is that, in all the temples they used to worship Shiva. The ASI has maintained these sites quite well and these temple structures are surrounded by a lush green lawn which is in sharp contrast with the monuments they adorn.

From Pattadakal we moved towards Aihole, along a very bumpy road. The road just near the entrance of the village of Aihole is in real bad condition. One thing which irritated us a lot during our trips to these world heritage sites,  were the countless number of people trying force us to take them along as a guide and this included children who were barely 5 to 6 years old. Aihole in comparison to Pattadakal was a bit of a let down. The only things which interested me was the unique shape of the Durga temple and the Ladkhan temple. Ladkhan temple is believed to be one of the oldest surviving temples in the Indian subcontinent dating all the way back to 450 AD. After spending some time over here, including the mildly interesting ASI museum we reached back to Badami by nightfall.

We got up early next day and the objective in the day's first half was to explore the town of Badami itself. We first made our way to the cave temples of Badami which dates back to 8th century AD. There are 4 man made cave temples and one natural cave one can find along the 400 meter climb up the rocks flanking the town of Badami. There is a cave dedicated to Shiva, Vishnu, Jainism and the grandest of them all dedicated to Maha Vishnu. The natural cave is dedicated to Buddhism. The purpose of these cave temples was to allow saints to meditate in peace in their own respective temple of belief.  It must have been a hell lot of an effort to carve out these temples from huge rocks, including the pillars which come in various aesthetic shapes and sizes. The MahaVishnu temple comes 4th in the order of climb from the starting point. This cave temple has a huge hall adorned with attractive looking pillars which are carved from the rock itself. The most imposing of the carving on the walls is that of Mahavishnu, which was visually stunning.

From the Jain Cave temple, one gets the birds eye view of Bhootanatha temple and the Agastya tank which dates back to the 5th century AD. Hence after finishing our exploration of the cave temples we made our way to the Bhootanatha temple on foot. This route first takes us through the slums of Badami and then along the serene banks of this ancient lake. Explored the temple and its surrounding for an hour or so including the ASI museum, which again was mildly interesting. Post exploration we made our way towards Bijapur , which I would detailing in the sequel of this blog.

Route taken :

Bangalore-Davangere-Hubli-Badami-Pattadakal-Aihole (Avoided Chitradurga to Hospet route due to some bad reviews)


January 15, 2016

The Christmas Vacation

A long christmas vacation and my hands were itching to plan for a long drive. But thanks to my previous experiences with long weekends, decided to keep couple of things in mind. First, was to head towards a rather offbeat destination rather than an out and out travel destination, and the second was to head back to Bangalore on a non-holiday , so as to avoid the huge traffic mess one can encounter on the highways leading back to the city.  Therefore keeping these 2 major pointers in mind I had a very relaxing drive and holiday, even though more than half of Bangaloreans had abandoned the city for a vacation spot.

The 600 odd steps climb

In total it was planned to be a 4 day drive with the last day being reserved for a family function in my native place. Hence that left us 3 days to explore the places in the vicinity. On the first day we left Bangalore quite early in the morning, but still had to encounter a lot of traffic, which were trying to make their way out of the city for the long weekend. Our first destination for the day was Shravanabelagola, which is off the Bangalore - Mangalore national highway. We took a left deviation at a small village named Hosur and got off the main highway. Even the condition of this particular deviation was good, and we reached our first destination taking close to 2.5 hrs after leaving Bangalore. We could see the grand Bahubali statue from quite a distance, even before entering the town. Parked our vehicle nearby, and it was time to climb the 600 odd steps of the Chandragiri hill to reach the main attraction of this place, the Bahubali statue.

There are certain restrictions when climbing up the Chandragiri hill. One has to let go of any type of footwear, and this might be an issue if the temperature rises especially during the middle of the day, considering that this huge monolith hill is void of any shade. Hence it is advised to commence the climb either early in the morning, or in the evening. Even though any type of footwear is not allowed, one is allowed to climb with their socks on. Hence it makes sense to bring along a pair of thick cotton socks. When we started the climb, even though the sun was shining bright, it was quite pleasant, thanks to the winter morning chill. Since my mom was accompanying us we completed this climb taking frequent breaks in between. For those who are fit, this climb will just be a piece of cake. For the sick and old there is another option of getting carried to the top in a palanquin by 4 men.

We reached the top after climbing for an hour or so, after encountering a lot of gopuras and Basadis en-route. The giant statue looks quite imposing from close quarters, and it was worth it to climb all the way up the hill. The views from the hill were breathtaking too, especially of the pushkarani pond of the town sandwiched between the 2 hills. We climbed down the hill quite quickly, and were back on the highway. Had our lunch at an A2B restaurant just before Hassan.
No space in the canvas : Halebid

Our next destination for the day were the historical sites of Belur and Halebid, which are actively vying to get the UNESCO world heritage site tag. We first visited Halebid temple i.e Hoysaleshwara temple built in the 12th century AD. We hired a guide and she took us on a tour of the temple and explained the various intricacies of the place. The carvings on the outer wall was just mind blowing, and unlike anything I have seen before. I don't suppose the intricacy with which they have sculpted the various scenes from the  mythological texts, can be achieved today even with the help of modern technology that we possess. These sculptures looked like they had been 3D printed to be precise.

Door to Heaven : Belur

Chennakeshava temple complex
From Halebid we moved on to Belur, which was about half an hour's drive from Halebid. Both the temples were brimming with tourists, who were awing at the fabulous visuals. Even though Belur is much famous in comparison to its sibling, I somehow felt that Halebid was the better of the two. For starters, the level of intricate carving of Belur dulls in comparison. It somehow gave a feeling that there was lot of empty space in the outer wall of this 12th century temple after having been to Halebid. Nevertheless this temple has its own charm. When in direct comparison Halebid has some mind-blowing carvings on the outer wall, but Belur takes a lead when comparing the carvings inside the temple. Hence one should not miss either of the attractions. Belur temple complex is also much larger, with a huge gopura entrance and various other temple complexes flanking the main temple. We spent some peaceful time in here , witnessed a glorious sunset and then it was time to move towards Chikmagalur, our final destination for the day.

Mullayangiri Peak

The next day we got up quite early, at the crack of the dawn and made our way towards Mullyangiri , the highest point in the state of Karnataka, at an altitude of 1930 m above sea level. Even though I had trekked to this place using a different route , I had heard about the thrilling and narrow motor-able route leading to the roof of Karnataka. We started early in order to avoid the crowd and thankfully it did get crowded as the day progressed. A piece of advice for those attempting to climb all the way to the top, is to be confident of your driving skills and your ride, since at many points you would be tested, with scenarios such as reversing uphill on a narrow road with steep drops to hell and on top of that void of any crash barriers. My wife and mom were scared to the core !!!! :P.  Reaching the top is one achievement, parking there is another, reversing your vehicle and coming back is yet another. Two cars can barely cross each other at most of the locations, and if a much larger vehicle comes then you are done for :). Anyway after reaching the top it was worth all the effort. Even though we couldn't get any views, it was totally engulfed in mist , gale winds and was totally worth it. We visited the temple on the top, guided my wife and mom to the secret caves I had explored when I had trekked to this place and then it was time to return back.

While returning back we came across a place Sitalayangiri, which is 3kms short of the Mullyangiri peak and most of the taxi guys dupe their customers saying this was Mullyangiri. This place was also good, and by this time the sun was out, and we got some great views of the surroundings hills including the all imposing Mullyangiri peak, which was playing hide and seek behind the clouds. We returned back to Chikmagalur, had breakfast and then it was time to leave the town, and move ahead in our journey. From Chikmagalur we went to Horanadu, passing through some thick vegetation in form of Kudremukh wildlife Sanctuary. But unfortunately Horanadu was crowded like hell, which was surprising since in our entire road trip, this was the most crowded place we encountered, which was infact in the middle of nowhere. Visited the temple for a darshan and completed ours from the entrance itself, since there was a huge line to get inside the temple. Left Horanadu and moved along the Kudremukh Wildlife Sanctuary stopping at some tourist spots such as Lakya dam, tea gardens and so on.

By nightfall we reached Sringeri, and we faced some issues with the online hotel booking, but it was resolved soon enough. There is a dearth of decent vegetarian eateries in Sringeri , which is  surprising considering the huge footfalls this place gets. First thing the next morning we decided to head towards Sirimane falls. Quickly had our breakfast and then headed towards this falls situated close to 15 kms from Sringeri via the temple town of Kigga. We reached just after the opening time at 8.30 and by the time we got into the beautiful falls, we practically had it all for ourselves. We had a nice massage session sitting under the gravity assisted water droplets. By the time we were done, it was already crowded. This particular water falls is regulated by the forest department, which has provided toilets and changing rooms, and hence collects an entry fee for the same. After returning back from the falls we went to have darshan at Sringeri temple, which has a very unique and an ancient architecture dating back to the 14th century AD. Went to the riverside where constant feeding by the devotees has resulted in a school of fish of giant shape and proportion. Had a free prasadha lunch at this place and then we moved to our next destination.

Sirimane Falls
Entire falls to ourselves !!!!!

Next on our list were the little known temples of Inna and Mundkuru which were built by my ancestors. Since these temples were void of any crowd, it was a very peaceful and calming experience visiting these places of worship. On our way back to Uppinangadi we visited the 1000 pillar jain Basadi at Mudabidre, but this was a big let down, since for starters there were hardly 80-90 pillars in the temple, and they seemed to have hyped it up to increase the popularity. We were in and out of it within a matter of 10 mins. Finally we reached Uppinangadi by nightfall. Attended the family function the following day, and then a relaxing drive all the way back to Bangalore on a non-public-holiday - weekday :).


Moodabidre: "1000 pillar" temple

December 22, 2015

Thumping Nice Road Half Marathon !!!!!

Having missed the Bengaluru Half Marathon in the month of October, thanks to a 104'er viral fever, I was raring to participate in a half marathon. And the next possible opportunity I got was in the form of the Ajmera Thump Bangalore Celebration marathon, conducted in a section of the NICE ring road after blocking vehicular traffic.I didn't register for this event until just 3 days leading to it, because I didn't want history to repeat and myself  getting disappointed again, sitting in the sidelines and unable to participate.

In comparison to the previous 2 half marathons which I have completed, this looked comparatively easier in terms of the elevation profile and the running surface and obviously the finishing time does conform with this. The half marathon was started early in the morning at 6 am and I was just in time to start the race. The initial section of the run was through the 2 lane concreted road and the early morning weather was favoring the runners to maintain a good pace. One thing I learned from this race is proper hydration and nutrition early in the race, goes a long way in helping to maintain the stamina in the later sections of the run. Hence at every aid station I would stop and have a mini refill of salts and glucose infused into my blood stream.

Thanks to the smooth road, I had finished half of this race within 1 hr clock time and  was raring to finish the other half. Never have I experienced such energy reserves in my previous long distance runs. Therefore I think it might be because of the physical shape and also the nutrient intake leading to the race. BTW I had a cheese filled pizza dinner the previous day :P.

Only when there was 5 km left to finish the race did the sun come out of the cloud cover, but thankfully by that time majority of our run was completed. As usual did a sprint to the finish line and finished off the race with a personal best time of 2 hrs, 7 mins, 39 secs. This is close to 11 mins better than my previous half marathon finish time. So end of the day was very happy for inching closer to my short term goal of a sub-2hr finish time.

RankBIBName10.55KChip Time

1451525Nithin Uliyar0:59:482:07:39

December 18, 2015

Pitstop At Srirangapatna !!!!

On a single day trip to Mysore had a pitstop at Srirangapatna, the land of Tipu Sultan and off late a figure of controversy here in India. Spent close to 3 hours exploring the sites of religious and historical significance. This town is situated on the Bangalore - Mysore highway, and reaching this place is a no-brainer at all. As soon as we entered the town we had to pass through narrow gate opening, which is part of the huge fort wall encircling the town of Srirangapatna. The first stop was to the Ranganathaswamy temple. According to the ASI board near the entrance, this temple has its origin dating way back to 980 AD, making it more than a millennia old temple. The main gopura of the temple is quite impressive, but the interiors was like a mixed bag. Apart from the certain lathe made pillars the interiors were not so impressive. Had darshan within a 10 min wait were now off to other destinations of the town.

The next destination was the Colonel Bailey Dungeon. It might sound surprising that the rulers of Srirangapatna named this particular place after an officer of their nemesis, but when we get to know the details of this place it pretty much becomes clear. During the second Anglo-Mysore war this particular officer who was leading the British army was captured as a prisoner of war and it was in here that he was held for close to 2 years till he breathed his last. The security guard at this place also acted as an unofficial tour guide explaining the significance of the place, the architecture as to how these dungeons which are just next to river Cauvery has various water ducts in order to bring water from the river and flood this place as a means of torturing the prisoners, who would be tied up in neck deep freezing water. Other points of interest was the cannon which sits in the middle of the dungeon and supposedly weighs more than a ton. One also encounters the place where Tipu Sultan was found dead just next to the road when going to all the major attractions.
The next stop was the Daria Daulat or the Summer palace. This place has a huge garden and fountains adorning the wooden summer palace of Tipu Sultan. The interior walls of the palace has some beautiful and delicate paintings, but unfortunately photography is completely restricted once inside the building. There are lot of exhibits within this palace including clothing, weaponary, canvas paintings , sketches, memorabilia and so on. After the tour of this place our next and final destination for the day was the Gumbaz structure which is the final resting place of the sultan. This building, just like the summer palace has a huge garden surrounding the place and the structure looks like a mini Taj Mahal, and once inside there are coffins of Tipu, his father Hyder Ali and his mother. Apart from the impressive structure there is nothing much of interest. Overall a good educational trip and explored some more places, having visited Srirangapatna already in the past.

Summer Palace
Gumbaz- Final resting place of Tipu and His parents

December 6, 2015

Kodaikanal, With A Stopover At Madurai

Silent Valley Viewpoint

This trip was more of an impromptu trip without much of a planning involved, thanks to the long weekend for Dasahara. But I had one of the greatest enlightenment of recent times, "Never to visit a traditional travel destination on a long weekend especially during the school vacations". Kodaikanal does fall under this category of a "traditional holiday destination" and hence we had to endure the wrath of an overcrowded place , going totally against the concept of vacation wherein one is expected to relax and unwind. Further it was my second innings to these hills, after a gap of nearly 6 years and I could see drastic changes everywhere. Since I was the only one on driver duty it was decided to split the journey into smaller manageable legs and hence we left for Salem once I was back from office.  We rested for the night at the Raj Residency at Salem which was a well maintained service apartment. It was big. It was neat. It was totally worth the money spent.

We left Salem in the morning after having breakfast at one among the innumerable "Saravana Bhavans" dotting the landscape within the city and its outskirts. It seemed that naming their eatery anything apart from "Saravana Bhavan" was a great blasphemy :P.  Also found that the servers at this particular restaurant were ladies, which was the first time I have experienced in a not-so-high-end restaurant giving a vibe that women are much more empowered in these parts of the country. Once you are out of Salem travelling towards Madurai which is at distance of close of 240km there is an immediate dearth of any decent eateries along the highway. The highway between these 2 Tamil cities was smooth and we reached there just in time, before the Meenakshi temple closes at 12.30 pm. Infact we were among the last few people allowed in and my wife was literally the last person allowed in. But one complain is that the streets of Madurai leading to the temple are narrow , congested and pothole ridden. It didn't make sense that they couldn't maintain or improve the infrastructure to one of India's most famous temple !!!!

The temple on the other hand was spectacular. Mammoth in size and even though the gates of the temple were closed, we were allowed to spend our own sweet time exploring the temple and no one forces you out of it. One of the unique feature of this temple is the usage of bright colors to decorate majority of the sculptures and not even sparring the roof from it. The inner sanctum can be accessed only by Indians and foreigners and strictly prohibited from entering this place. And a funny thing happened in here. There are entrance doors with different entry fee starting from 20, 50 and 100. So the general perception was that the higher you paid , faster the darshan would be since all these queue's would ultimately join the same general Q at some point. We took the 20 Re ticket since it didnt look like it was crowded in there and to our surprise there were more people in the 50 and 100 Rs queue than the 20 Rs Q :P. Had a good laugh seeing their surprised faces on seeing the much short er 20 Rs queue :D.

Silver Cascade Falls

After exploring the main sanctum, we explored the other parts of the temple which included the 1000 pillar Hall museum, the super tall gopurams and so on. Spent close to 2 hours exploring this place and then we left for Kodaikanal our main destination for this trip. The route from Madurai to Kodaikanal is a well maintained 2 lane highway. But at the checkpoint of the hills we were stopped by police officials, who basically wanted us to prove that we were husband and wife. Had some comical turn of events because of that, which I wont be describing though :). Had a small break at Silver Cascade falls which one encounters couple of KM before the town and is very gorgeous. We had booked rooms at Kodai Sunshine Hotel and had also got a good deal. Hence once we entered the town of Kodaikanal we first explored the area around the Kodaikanal lake. But thanks to the long weekend and school holidays it was a chock-a-block in the heart of Kodaikanal. Our hotel was in outskirts of the main town and it was very peaceful over there.

Upper Shola View

The next day we were to explore all the major sightseeing spots of Kodaikanal. But due to the tourist rush it was really a painful experience trying to navigate through jams on these hilly roads. We first went to Upper Lake view wherein one gets a good view of the entire town especially the lake. Following this we went to the observatory. Even though it was govt run organization it was pretty informative and I saw solar spot for the first time in my life . All the major sightseeing places of Kodaikanal are situated in a loop sort of road which begins and ends back into the town. After the educational tour we encounter the beautiful pine forest , but looks like due to heavy footfall there was a lot of garbage strewn across the place.

The Jam !!!!

Berjam Lake from a distance


The best part of being in Kodaikanal was the weather , which was close to freezing even though the plains were simmering with heat. Once we were fed up of navigating through the heavy traffic and we reached the Suicide view point we saw the board as the entrance to Berijam lake. This lake is highly restricted and "supposedly" only 25 vehicles are allowed in per day (But we saw a lot more during our 1 hr wait at this place :)). For those who cannot take their vehicle there are minibuses run by the forest department for every hour or so and we caught the last bus for the day at 2.30 pm. The tour lasts for a couple of hours and this was the most peaceful part of our sightseeing trip in Kodaikanal. Found some breathtaking view points inside this reserve forest, the most exciting among them being the Silent Valley view point. Other major stopovers are Caps fly and the lake itself. It is more like a guided tour and the driver provides some interesting background information regarding each individual places.

Once we were back to the entrance of the this park the traffic had reduced and we proceeded with our traditional tour covering Pillar rocks and then back to the town. Since we had skipped our lunch thanks to Berijam lake excursion,  we were starving like hell and surprisingly none of the eateries were serving any food and it was just 6 in the evening. Finally we went to a Bangalore based restaurant "Woodys" and once they came to know that we were Bangaloreans they prepared food from scratch including chutney to serve us. In process they got all our gratitude and a fat tip :). Later we had shopping for home made chocolates to be taken back home.

Pillar Rocks

The following day after having our breakfast and checking out of our room we decided to visit the Bear Shola falls which is pretty much within the town limits. There was not much water flow in this particular falls and it was just ok. From there started our return journey back to Bangalore. The initial part of the return journey was good and we had a stopover at Salem for lunch. After that we got caught within the huge rush of vehicles trying to make their way back to Bangalore. We literally encountered a 2 km jam before the Dharmapuri toll gate. After this ordeal we checked google maps for the traffic updates and saw that there was a huge 4-5 km jam at Krishnagiri tollgate. Hence decided to take a detour and took the lesser used state highway. We took the route Dharmapuri-Rayakottai-Hosur hence avoiding the Krishnagiri stretch and probably saved fuel, toll fee and a lot a frustration. Reached back home after an exhausting drive back :).

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