February 24, 2016

Heritage Tour Of Karnataka : Hampi

If one has to short-list the best heritage sites in India, then Hampi would definitely be in the top 3. Imagine an entire city dating back to the 16th century, preserved in a pretty decent condition. The time required to explore these ruins can vary anywhere from a single day to even a week. It all depends on one's interest and patience to keep on exploring. For lesser mortals like me, a couple of days would be sufficient , because after that one becomes saturated with an overdose of temple ruins. Moreover this was my second visit to this world heritage site after a gap of nearly 5 years. Hence I was the de-facto guide :P.

Tungabadra River

After having breakfast from a darshini in Hospet we drove to Hampi which is at a distance of around 14km. Hospet actually has more stay and food options when in comparison with Hampi, since there are certain restrictions for construction within the protected area. After driving through lush green fields we reached the core of Hampi, the Virupakshi temple. This is one of the only temples within Hampi, wherein daily pooja takes place and also from where one can hire guides, autos etc. This 16th century temple complex is huge especially the main gopura. Interestingly Hampi was one of the largest cities in the world during its prime. According to some estimates it was the second largest in the world during its prime in  early 16th century.  It was laid to ruins during the raid of the Deccan Sultanates, who defeated the Vijayanagara empire in late 16th century.

Hampi is like a goldmine for people who are interested in ancient architecture. Since we had already covered Badami, Aihole, Pattadakal and Bijpaur so far in this trip, we were a bit saturated. Hence it was decided to visit the major sites of interest and finish Hampi within a day. When in Hampi, in any direction you look, you can find a monument , gleaming with glory. We explored the inner sanctum of Virupakshi temple, including the room which acts as a pin hole camera, projecting an inverted image of the main gopura on a wall. We even visited the banks of River Tungabhadra. As expected tourists would be pestered by people, who would offer to be their guide in the surroundings of Virupakshi temple, but once you leave this place you can explore the other sites in peace.

Elephant Stables
Our first stop was the Kadilekalu Ganesha, which is a very huge Ganesha statue, fully enclosed. From there we moved to the Krishna temple. This temple was peaceful, in contrast with the hustle and bustle of Virupaskhi temple. We explored the outer walls and the inner sanctum , which however is void of any deity.  From Krishna temple we moved to the Ugranarasimha statue, which unfortunately has its hands chopped off, probably during the raid. Nearby is the giant Shivalinga which is always submerged in water due to the fact that it is built on a flowing water channel. Moving further we came across temple which is projected to be underground, but the fact is it is built just below the normal ground level and nothing more. This temple was always flooded with water, on both the occasions that I have visited it.

The next destination was the royal enclosure , which used to house the members of the royal family and their servants, guards etc. This place is ticketed and once we enter this place one can get a good idea of the type of palaces that used to exist within this high walled enclosure. There is the most prominent Lotus Mahal and bases of other buildings which have subsequently crumbled. According to legend each of these buildings used to house a different wife of the King. Behind the Queen's palace is the huge elephant stable. On top of stable is a lot of symbolism used, pertaining to different religions. Hindusim , Islam, Jain, and Buddhism have been projected showing the tolerant nature of the Vijayanagara empire. There is also an ASI museum within this high walled enclosure and it was mildly interesting, having very old photos of the monuments when they were just discovered and before restoring them to the present state.

View from Mahanavami Dibba

From the personal area , we moved towards the official area. This area mainly comprises of buildings wherein the King used to conduct his official business. These included the Mahanavami Dibba, the underground secret meeting room and the pushkarni, apart from the ruins of other buildings. One gets a good birds eye view of the surrounding structures from the top of Mahanavami Dibba, which infact was built to celebrate the victory of King Krishnadevaraya, over a kingdom in present day Orissa. We visited other nearby location which included a grand Queens bath. One thing which did bother me was the distance between the queen's palace and the queen's bath !!!!! :D :D

And after finishing all these places, it was time to visit the icon of Hampi. The stone chariot enclosed within the Vijaya Vittala temple. Hence travelled quite some distance to reach the parking spot of this complex. Had to cover the last 1km in Govt provided electric vehicles, which according to the locals was in order to reduce pollution in its vicinity and for its protection. As usual the stone chariot was getting all the attention. The other interesting part of this temple complex is the musical pillars of the Ranga mantapa. Unfortunately this area has been cordoned off for the tourists , for some renovation. The other mantaps also have these musical pillars which when hit softly with hand gives a very distinct musical note. And no two pillars give the same tone. But the main mantap had these musical pillars crafted with much more precision, only making us wonder what it might be like to hit these pillars. These pillars give this particular notes based on the fact that the heavy stone roof puts too much strain, resting on these quite delicate pillars. The basic concept is that of a guitar string :).

Musical Pillars
Hence after the completion of the enchanting second tour of Hampi, it was time to bring down the curtains on the Heritage tour of Karnataka. We moved towards Anantapura for the night, to explore Belum Caves and Gandikota , the following day.

A Glorious Sunset

February 15, 2016

Heritage Tour Of Karnataka : Bijapur

The next destination on this heritage tour was Bijapur, which is way up in the map of Karnataka. The only reason why we took such a big detour from Badami to Hampi, was to visit Gol Gumbaz and nothing else. Even though there are other historical sites in this land of the Deccan Sultanates, according to the reviews provided by fellow travellers, they are far from impressive when in comparison with this colossal monument. The only other place we had shortlisted to visit was the Ibrahim Rouza.

We took NH 218, which passes through Bagalkot town and the backwaters of Almatti dam. The bridge over the backwater of Almatti dam was hugh and is close to 3kms long. One gets a good view of the backwaters from this bridge. We reached Bijapur at noon and hence decided to have our lunch, before we go exploring around. Got hold of a very good Udupi restaurant near the railway station. One gets an idea of how massive this structure is, when you get a glimpse of this structure completely dominating the skyline of Bijapur, even from the outskirts of the city. Pretty much like how the Eiffel tower dominates the skyline of Paris.

Coming to some of the interesting facts about this structure. The dome is the second largest free standing dome in the world after St. Peter's Basilica in the Vatican City. The entire structure comprises of just one hall, and is considered to be one of the single biggest chamber spaces in the world. The height of this structure is about 7 storey's high, but with each storey to be around 1.5 times of today's standards, it can be considered to be about 11-12 storey's high. Imagine a giant cube with length and breadth of 11 storeys, but having just a single room enclosed within it. Hence in short it is just as massive from within, as it is from the outside. The entire structure has a simple, yet a very intimidating design.

The Dome
Ibrahim Rouza
We entered the structure in mid afternoon, when the outside weather was scorching. But on the inside it was cool, like an oasis in the desert. This structure is a mausoleum dedicated to Mohammad Adil Shah and was completed in the year 1656. There are 4 minarets flanking the structure, which also house the staircases to climb to the top. But the staircases are very narrow and steep, hence care should be taken while climbing. Once after reaching the top, we get a breathtaking bird's eye view of the structure from the top. The inner dome is also designed to echo sounds and according to some estimates it can even echo up-to 7 times. But due to a lot of people trying to hear the echo at the same time, I couldn't manage to count it. The huge inner chamber also acts like a whisper chamber as seen in the Golconda fort (Hyderabad), but again it was way too noisy to test this. There is a lot of similarity in design, between this structure and Golconda fort, since both of them were built by rulers who were part of the Deccan sultanate. This design can be classified as Indo-Turkish architecture. The centre of the structure houses the tomb of the Sultan and his immediate family members.

After spending close to 2 hrs at this place we left for Ibrahim Rouza complex. This structure is close to 4 kms away from the Gol Gumbaz and this again is a mausoleum, dedicated to Ibrahim Adil Shah, who was the father of Mohammed Adil Shah. Even though this structure is not as massive as Gol Gumbaz, the main difference in here is the attention to detail given in designing this structure. It has some beautiful minarets and according to legend this structure acted as an inspiration to THE TAJ MAHAL which was built 30 years later in year 1656. This structure has a building which consists the tomb of the king and facing it is the mosque. There are some intricate wooden carvings, probably verses from the Kuran adorning the windows of the the structure. We spent close to half an hour at this place and then it was time to move towards Hospet. The route between Bijapur and Hospet is a tolled 4 lane highway and hence driving 200km between these destinations was a relaxing experience.

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 bank 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.

Aihole-Durga Temple

Lad Khan Temple
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.

Mahavishnu Cave
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 be 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)
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