Incredible India has been a traveler’s dream from times immemorial. While the culture, riches, seats of learning and trading options have drawn visitors from faraway lands, the sheer natural beauty out of myriad geographical forms offer delightful visuals that enthrall foreign and local tourists alike. This travel site of mine intends to take you to the splendours of South India, particularly those that are reachable from Bangalore. The travel accounts cover places and monuments that my car could take me to, which, as you will discover, make up a considerable part of what this region has to offer. What could be of interest to you is that many of the places that this site takes you to are off beat locations, not necessarily the first stop for the usual tourist. So buckle up, put your face masks on and prepare to hit the road to the Southern Wonderlands. The pictures shared are from some modest attempts with my dated DSLR and some imaginative photography with the phone by my wife Bandana.
Anegundi, or Kishkindha as it is historically known, has many facets. Overlooking the ruins of Hampi on the other side of the river Tungabhadra, it is generally an addendum to the itinerary of tourists visiting Hampi. However, by the sheer magnificence of its landscapes and the folklores around it, Anegundi can have its own claim to touristic fame.
Those familiar with the Ramayana know Kishkindha as the land of the “Vanaras”, or the monkey brigade that had a significant part to play in the epic. Led by their king Sugriva and assisted by the monkey God Hanuman, the Vanara soldiers played a pivotal role in Lord Rama’s successful quest of his beloved queen Sita that culminated in a bitter war with the demon king Ravana of Lanka. One important member of Sugriva’s court was Jambavan, the divine king of the bears, revered for his wisdom. It is probably no coincidence that the region is also presently a well known habitat of sloth bears with the Daroji Bear Sanctuary located not too far away.
Hampi, the famous capital of the Vijayanagara kingdom, lies across the Tungabhadra, on the southern bank. The heritage sites of the Vijaya Vitthala, Virupaksha and other temples as well as the remnants of many royal buildings lie on the southern side. Back in the days of the empire, some military establishments of the empire lay on the northern bank, in Anegundi (Anegundi literally means “elephant’s pit”), where elephants were housed and trained for warfare. The remnants of the city wall is also visible as you approach Anegundi.
One of the attractions of the region used to be what is known as the Hippy Island. This had a number of homestays and shacks and used to draw a lot of young crowd and backpackers. These accommodations and shacks have now been closed down by the local administration in order to protect the area from excessive human presence that was seemingly posing a threat to the sustainability of this world heritage site.
Hampi and Anegundi have a number of folklores around the Ramayana, the happenings in Kishkindha being an epoch in this saga. The Anjanadri hill that was the birthplace of Lord Hanuman, the various hills and caves associated with the stories of Sugriva and Bali, their falling apart, Lord Rama’s arrival on this land and the final vanquishing of Bali (a morally debatable episode) all bear testimony to the ancient connections of this region.
Hampi and Anegundi provide a spectacular ensemble of heritage architecture and unique landscapes. Some of the adjacent areas like Kamalapura, Daroji Bear Sanctuary and Hirebenakal (a recently discovered megalithic site) add to the mix of experiences to be had in the region.
My interest in the spectacles of the setting and the rising sun was triggered by an incident in Cohin that I would like to begin the post with. I had asked my wife to join me in one of the office events organized at a beach resort off Cochin. She joined me on the last day and we stayed on for a couple of days to enjoy the place. On the last day of the event, a few of my colleagues, my wife and I were out on a stroll on the Cherai beach with the hope of enjoying the view of the sun setting on the Arabian Sea. Disappointment hit us right away with a gathering of clouds on the western sky close to the horizon and we had no sight of the sun. My colleagues and I thought of making up for the disappointment by getting back to the resort across the road and settle down with a few pints of beer. My wife, always seeking beauty in whatever is around her, decided to stay on at the beach.
What we missed on that day changed the way I would ever look at the skies at sunset or sunrise. While my colleagues and I chatted in the resort over beer, my wife Bandana, was treated to some astounding riot of colors after the sun had dropped down over the horizon. Clearly, the cloud cover had not extended much beyond and hence provided a great canvas of crystals for the rays of the sun to bounce off well after it had gone over the horizon. The sea played its part by reflecting the colors from the sky with the froth of the waves weaving patters as they struck the beach.
Ever since, I have always been on the look out for such spectacles that the sun provides in tandem with other elements of nature, during the trips that I make to different places in the south, be it the plains of the deccan plateau or the western ghats. And I have rarely been disappointed. From the red ball of fire quietly dropping itself into the dusk over palm trees and coconut groves on a clear day to a dispersed spectrum painting the sky in all hues, a visual extravaganza is on offer through the year.
Few among those living in the urban clutter of large cities are lucky to have a clear view of the sky. All it takes is a short drive out of the city limits to be able to witness this spectacular play of lights on the sky and the land. When you are travelling for leisure to the hills, the beaches or the forests, stay alert as the sun goes down and at daybreak – some of the most stunning colors show up when you least expect them.
One of our favourite jaunts is a trip to the Nilgiris and a stay in Parry Agro’s Sinnadorai bungalow in Pandhalur. Walks and drives around the place can potentially spring a surprise on you, and we had our share of many visual treats.
As the sun wanes and fades from sight , a hint of melancholy sets in with human activities in the the hills and the forests drawing to a close. The darkness of the land wakes up to the nightlife of the wild. Not to be outdone by the sparkles of the sunset, the dawn arrives with its own allurements.
Nature gives without your asking. This post is another attempt of mine to emphasize that the joys of nature can be had every time we care to look around us. Whether you are holidaying in an exquisite locale or driving by the farm lands just outside your city, nature offers you a generous dose of excitement at every corner.
Badami, Aihole and Pattadakal represent the glory of the Chalukya dynasty, a period stretching from about the 6th century to the 12th century CE with some period of Rashtrakuta rule in between. These towns in the Bagalkot district of Karnataka, in a region stretching across 40 kilometers, have been the centres of the Chalukya rule at different times. Consequently, each of these places hosts several gems of Chalukyan architecture in the form of temples with exquisite carvings. Among these, Badami is more known for its cave temples. While Aihole also boasts of a few cave temples, both Pattadakal and Aihole are known more for the standalone temple structures that dot their landscapes. One of the highlights of the temples in this region is the assimilation of different styles of architecture.
Pattadakal is the only UNESCO World Heritage site among these, as Badami waits for its inclusion in that list. Most of the temples in Aihole and the ones in Pattadakal had to be excavated from under human settlement and hence involved relocation. A look around some of the temple complexes scattered around Aihole will tell you how human settlement has grown around these temples with some of the village houses sharing walls with these structures.
The temples are largely made of sandstone, that is available in abundance in the area. Weathered sandstone rocks stand exposed all around in the hills that run across this region. Being among the softer of rocks, sandstone offered ample opportunities to the ancient builders to carve out some of the most amazing sculptures on the walls and pillars of the temples. No binding material holds the blocks that make up the walls, roofs, pillars and beams of the temples. All blocks were cut with precision to interlock into each other to be able to support these heavy structures.
This post is intended to kindle an interest in you about this region that is the seat of Chalukyan splendour, without getting into too much of details. No amount of writing, images or videos can substitute the contentment of learning and discovering things for yourself.
If you thought this region was all about Chalukyan temple architecture, you are in for a surprise. There have been discoveries of pre-historic dolmens in and around the region. There is one isolated dolmen on the way to Pattadakal on the right of the highway and many on the top of the Meguti hill (the southern face of which has a Jain cave temple) . Dolmens are megalithic structures that were built for the departed, generally as a tomb. Modern India keeps discovering various locations with such structures. Dolmens are commonly seen in Europe, particularly in the United Kingdom and France.
Window “jaali” designs in the temples of Pattadakal
Views from around the Badami temple complex. Notice the dots and the lines on the rock in the picture at the bottom right. Those are marks of attendance of the sculptors.
Badami, the town that serves as the base for travel to this region, does not have too many options for stay. We stayed in the Heritage Resort, which was a reasonably spacious property with decent facilities, at least in the cottage category accommodation that we had chosen to put up in. There are a few other hotels of fame but this Heritage Resort had the best reviews when we checked. It had intrigued me that the region has such limited accommodations for tourists. Once there, I realized that many people visit Badami, Pattadakal, Aihole in a day trip from Hampi, which is a good three and a half hours drive each way. I would strongly discourage visitors to attempt that, as that would do no justice to the wonders that this region can treat you to. I would recommend that you reserve one and half to two days for covering these three Chalukyan cultural bases, if you intend to have a fulfilling trip.
For years I have travelled across faraway lands,
to caper about snowy slopes and amble on desert sands,
to the falls and the blooms of the cooler climes,
the Northern lights and the Highland pines.
But missed all that lay a drive away,
the breaking day with its golden streaks
and the glistening dew on paddy sheathes.
This feeble attempt of mine, though not a faithful adaptation of the poem that Tagore wrote for Satyajit Ray the child, rues on similar lines that we often miss the spectacles that are a few paces away from us in our efforts to travel across the world.
As the pandemic forced us to limit ourselves to day trips and pick less thronged locales for longer stays, we realized the endless wonders that this part of south India around Bangalore had in store for us. A drive out to anywhere between 50 to 500 kilometres can take one to some spectacular sites, from centuries old forts and temple architecture to the hills of the Western and the Eastern Ghats, and beyond to the shores of the Arabian Sea and the Bay of Bengal. That is more than what you can hope to be able to check out in a few years.
Most of us that wanted to let out our pent up wanderlust, started to explore the lands that lay just outside the city. Being at the edge of the Deccan Plateau, Bangalore is in quite a unique neighbourhood of many delightful landscapes made up of hills, rivers, lakes, dams, plain lands and forests.
One interesting set of topologies, comprising parts of the Cauvery Basin, lies within the reach of a day drive from Bangalore. From the point that the mighty Cauvery is halted in arrogance by the Kishna Raja Sagar dam off Mysore, to Mekkedatu before it enters Tamil Nadu, the Cauvery Basin offers a series of changing moods of the revered Cauvery, the lifeline of the South.
There are a few drives that one can attempt in this region along the Cauvery. Shivanasamudram offers two spectacular falls of the Cauvery, the Gagan Chukki and the Bhara Chukki falls. One of the routes to the Gagan Chukki falls take you through a KPTCL township with buildings that are about 100 years old, dating back to the setting up of the first hydel power plant in the region. Slightly away from Shivanasamudram, in the small town/village of Talakadu, you come across a number of Shiva temples (Panchalinga temples) and Keerthi Narayana temple near the Cauvery, that were excavated from under the sand that the meandering Cauvery had covered its banks with.
As the Cauvery heads towards Mekkedatu, it is joined by the Arkavathy river at Sangam. A popular place of visit for day tourists from Bangalore, it is also close to the starting point of a trek to Mekkedatu. The Sangam is surrounded by dense vegetation most of which is protected forest area. The region extending to 30-50 km upstream of the Cauvery hosts two nature and adventure camps of the Jungle Lodges and Resorts, the Gallibore and the Bheemeshwari camps.
The drive from Kanakpura to Sangam is an extremely pleasant one through agricultural lands, grass lands and protected forest areas. In a recent trip to the Sangam, we picked the trail of the Chunchi falls from signs on the road, and ended up with the spectacular view of the falls with a rainbow created by its sprays and the falling afternoon sun. Of course, such a phenomenon would depend on a combination of factors like a full river, a clear sunlit day and the inclination of the sun in the afternoon. We were plain lucky to be there at the right time. However, this was not a fleeting moment as the rainbow continued to enthrall the visitors for the good part of an hour that we had been around.
The places described in this post are in the range of 70-100 km from Bangalore, each of them pretty much covered in a day’s drive out of the city. The Cauvery Basin circuit between Talakadu and Sangam can be covered in about 3 trips. If you add Mekkedatu and KRS Dam, that would be two additional trips. Do not rush through with your visits, there is a lot to enjoy during the drives and plenty of sights to stop by and admire. Post monsoon is a good time to visit these places as the rivers and falls would be pretty full and the landscapes lush green. There are many eateries on the way and if you choose to pack your food there are endless options to enjoy your meals amidst nature. Remember, though, to leave nothing behind and bring back all the waste you generate, in consideration of the environment as well as of all the other visitors that would follow you to these locations. More to follow on other interesting locales around the city.
Nilgiris, or the Blue Mountains as its name in Tamil alludes to, is among the signature mountain ranges of South India. A part of the Western ghats just before the latter breaks into what is known as the Palakkad gap, it inherits the bio-diverse splendour of the Western Ghats. As if to lend credence to the English adage “Distant hills look blue” the Nilgiris appear remarkably so when you approach it. I may be biased, but that’s how it looks to me every time I head towards the Nilgiris from Karnataka.
For most tourists, the usual destinations in the Nilgiris are the towns of Ooty, Coonoor, Wellington and Kotagiri. These places have numerous lakes, gardens, waterfalls and mountain viewing points to boast of. Not to take anything away from these locations, I have found some of the off grid places more fascinating that give you the true Nilgiris experience. This post is about some of these extraordinary locales off Ooty and Conoor.
The heritage buildings of the hill station towns are still a point of interest for me. As most of these towns were the getaway stations for the British as well as transit and recreational hubs for planters in the Nilgiris, they are home to many century old heritage buildings. Many of them are hotels, restaurants, government offices today, while some of the old tea bungalows continue to function as such.
The real gems lie away from these highly thronged hill towns. There are these pristine lakes, deep green valleys and tea estates tucked away in distant hills that rub shoulders with the wild. Most farm lands, and in particular the tea estates, are a result of invasive cultivation in forest lands, much of which occurred about a hundred or more years ago. As the world continues to sip its most loved beverage, you realize that this has come at a cost.
Some of my favourite places for stay in the Nilgiris are in the Emerald/Avalanchi regions and tea estates beyond the towns of Conoor and Gudalur. The quiet nights with faraway village lights glistening on hill slopes, the sounds of plantation activities in the day, the rustling of leaves as the winds swirl round the hills, all add to create the most calming ambience for a relaxed stay.
The Nilgiri Mountain Railway is an attraction for those that look for that “toy train” experience in the mountains. This railway provides an important connection between Mettupalayam and Ooty and travelers get to chug through tunnels and over deep valleys and gushing waterfalls. Not quite bearing the cute “toy” kind of a look of the railways running in hill stations like Darjeeling (this one is a metre gauge track unlike the latter which is narrow gauge), this still holds a premium position in tourists’ to do lists.
An interesting fact about the Nilgiri Mountain Railway: the Coonoor Mettupalayam stretch has a very steep gradient and hence this route employs a “rack and pinion” arrangement to assist the climb to Coonoor. Notice the rack running in between the two rails of the track, in the following image.
The Emerald and the Avalanchi lakes and their surroundings offer some breathtaking sights. The two lakes feed each other, being connected at a narrow neck. They also receive water from lakes located at higher altitudes, an arrangement made to support some of the hydro electric power stations in the region.
If you are wary of the beeline of tourists to Ooty and Coonoor and yet want to quietly enjoy the Nilgiri clime, look for a bungalow stay in the midst of tea plantations away from these main towns. Red Hill Nature Resort in Emerald, Nonesuch Tea Estate near Coonoor and Parry Agro’s Sinnadorai Bungalow (Mangorange) in Pandhalur offer some of the most delightful leisure experiences that I have had in the hills, and I keep going back to them.
The Nilgiris, like the Western Ghats that it is a part of, has rightly been included as a UNESCO World Heritage site. The rich biodiversity, local tribes and the large number of species that are endemic to the region are forever under stress from growing human incursions. While tourism is an important source of living for many in the Nilgiris, as one can expect this does leave an imprint on the land. While the local administrations, NGOs and global institutions work very hard to ensure that a balance is struck between human led growth and sustainability of the ecology, visiting tourists have a role to play in this too. Responsible tourism is one of the answers to questions raised on human ingress dealing a death blow to the sensitive ecology of the ghats. Conscious adherence to the rules laid by the local administrations and forest departments is the least visiting travelers can do to help retain the splendour of the region. Let us, the visitors, commit ourselves to that.
Bandipur National Park is the gateway to the Nilgiris for most travelers from Bangalore and Mysore. It is perhaps the most celebrated and well known among the south Indian wild life parks and sanctuaries. It is an important part of the very diverse ecosystem of the Nilgiri biosphere. Its contiguous extension into other forest reserves makes this Tiger Reserve a significant player in maintaining the ecological balance of this region. Coupled with that is the socioeconomic significance of it being the passage to the states of Tamil Nadu and Kerala. The more you learn about this region, the more you begin to fathom how delicate this balance is, between nature, wildlife and local human habitat, and movement along the economic lifelines of national highways connecting the three states.
The Nilgiris provide a perfect backdrop to scenes from the Bandipur and Mudumalai forests.
While it has earned its fame largely as a Tiger Reserve, the Bandipur National Park ushers you to the foothills of the beautiful Nilgiris, and leads to the queen of hill stations, Ooty. At the North-western side it connects to the Wayanad Wild Life Sanctuary of Kerala as the Kollegala-Kozhikode highway cuts through it. This gives a fair idea of the amount of human and material movement that this park is subjected to. Growing demands of easing the curbs on night traffic movement, particularly to and from Kerala, brings this Tiger Reserve to the brink of an uncertain outcome of human decisions.
The Bandipur and the Mudumalai forests merge with each other without a break even as you cross the forest check-posts of Karnataka and Tamil Nadu, with less than hundred metres separating the two. So it is a big stretch of dense forests that one gets to enjoy while driving to Ooty before the uphill climb starts. Well into the Mudumalai Tiger Reserve, the road to Ooty splits into two at Theppakadu. Two different route options present themselves, one much shorter but with a steeper climb to Ooty than the other. The differences between the two routes do not end at that, but let us leave that for a later occasion to talk about.
The wild life in Bandipur is similar to that in the Nagerhole forests, with a good count of predators and a strong prey base. My encounters with the predators have been relatively few here, compared to my experiences in the Nagerhole National Park, though I know of many who have been luckier than me. I did chance upon a tiger in one of my recent safaris, but that was probably after a dozen attempts. Leopards too have been a rare sight, with only a few distant fleeting views. However, the unpredictability of such wild life sightings is what keeps you excited to get back every time. Speaking of which, my best tiger sighting in Bandipur has not been while in an organized jungle safari but at a time that I had expected it the least. It was after spending one New Year’s Eve in the Emerald region near Ooty, that I was driving through Bandipur on my way back. One kilometre into the state of Karnataka after crossing the forest check-post at the border, we were treated to a sight that one dreams for a lifetime about – a full grown adult tiger crossing the highway barely a hundred feet away from us. While the few vehicles on both sides stood still as if in reverence, this royal form with streaks of orange, black and white on its shining coat, moved across the windshield view and disappeared into the bushes.
This chance encounter was all over before we could gather our senses about us and get our camera firing. The best we could manage were some quick phone clicks as we drove away. Dumbstruck as we were with this unexpected stroke of luck, it reinforced the importance of driving with caution on these roads through the forests. While an encounter of this nature may be rare, it is common to find elephants, chital and sambhar deer, langurs and gaurs on or very close to the road.
Even though you are on national or state highways, specific rules apply when you are driving through the forests. The rules are quite clearly indicated on roadside signs. In case you are not forewarned on these, just remember a few basic ones. Do not over-speed and do not stop for clicks even if you spot wild life on the sides of the road. However, do slow down if you see any animal close to or on the road to avoid a collision. The only time you stop is to allow animals to cross the road as they have the right of way. Remember, the price for violating the rules of driving on forest roads is pretty high, both in terms of prosecution by law and your own safety.
Not much change is noticed as one moves into the Mudumalai Tiger Reserve after crossing the forest check posts of the two states. The typical mix of deciduous forests, evergreen forests and grasslands continue for some time, before you start noticing increased presence of moist deciduous vegetation and grasslands. Different parts of the Mudumalai National Park have different mix of vegetation, a result of the unequal distribution of rainfall in the region, in turn caused by the adjoining Nilgiri clusters. The images that I am sharing here are more from the Masinagudi side, along the route that takes a shorter but steeper climb to Ooty.
An opportunity to stay well inside the Mudumalai forests many years ago was a revelation of the sounds of the wild at night. That was special, as a series of thunderous roars of a tiger, alternating with elephants trumpeting in clear disapproval, shook the forests and the bordering hills. These were indications of conflict between an elephant herd and a tiger that might have been targeting a calf for its prey. As the confrontation eased, the jungle started to get back to normal, with the sounds of crickets, jungle fowl, occasional alarm calls and the continuous rustling in the vegetation taking over.
Seasons and the Sun lend their colours to the land.
Masinagudi sets the tone of the journey into the Nilgiris. As you leave Masinagudi behind, the road to Ooty finds its way through exquisite undulating terrains that present different views in changing seasons.
Bandipur-Mudumalai-Masinagudi serve as a fitting gateway to the marvels of the Nilgiris. In the posts to follow, I shall take you to some more of the jewels that adorn the crown of the Nilgiri biosphere. The region is treacherously poised on human development and a diverse but sensitive ecosystem, with tourism testing its limits. The greatest appreciation for these southern wonderlands can come in the form of responsible tourism. So if you like my posts and if you are fascinated by the Western Ghats and the Nilgiris, make sure you place responsibility ahead of self gratification as you tour these lands.
The Nilgiri Biosphere covers vast areas of mountainous and plain lands in and around the Nilgiri mountain ranges of the Western Ghats of India. Many of its parts are fairly close to Bangalore and make up some of the most coveted destinations for nature lovers and general tourists. Places like Ooty and Coonoor are the stars on the tourism map while other places of natural beauty and the wild life reserves and sanctuaries are the hot spots of the informed nature lovers and wild life enthusiasts. These make for some interesting trips from Bangalore and, quite on expected lines, these places have ended up as my favourite short haul destinations.
In this post and a few others to follow, I will share with you some of the most diverse experiences that the Nilgiri biosphere can offer. I start off here with one of the most celebrated national parks of Karnataka, the Rajiv Gandhi National Park (Nagerhole). So switch on your wild side as I lead you into a tryst with nature’s wild.
Rajiv Gandhi National Park, Nagerhole.
This National Park stretches along a part of the Karnataka Kerala border and is regarded as one of the most beautiful forests in Karnataka. It has two tourist zones (that offer organized jungle safaris), one at the Kodava (Coorg) end and the other at the HD Khote side along the Mysore-Mananthawady highway, more popularly known for the backwaters of the Kabini reservoir that lines the forest’s southern fringes. The Kabini backwaters provide an interesting visual confluence of the Bandipur National Park, the Wayanad Wild Life Sanctuary and the Nagerhole National Park, with the waters separating the first two from the third.
Nagerhole is extremely rich in wild life, with a great balance of predators and prey. Though spotting wild life is a matter of chance as most enthusiasts would know, I have experienced some amazing encounters with wild life in the forests of Nagerhole.
Unlike the highways that cut through Bandipur National Park (one to Tamil Nadu and one to Kerala), the Mysore Mananthawady highway through the Nagerhole National Park ferries lesser traffic and the overall human interference is well controlled. Consequently, animal crossings are less accident prone and when one does use the highway to head to Kerala, animal sightings around the road is very common. Part of the original highway has been discontinued and a new route skirting the park introduced, in order to minimize the drive time through the core forest areas.
Sighting predators like tigers, leopards and wild dogs is a matter of great luck, mainly because of their active nocturnal behavior and relatively low level of activity during the day. However, if you are lucky enough, you could spot the wild cats at a water hole at the end of a warm day or find one lazing on a dirt track in the wee hours of the morning after a night full of action that likely ended in a hearty meal.
Leopards are more reclusive than the tigers. While tigers can amble down the forest tracks without much care, leopards are wary of crossing paths with wild dogs and the obsessively territorial tiger. So most often you would find them atop a tree or on a rock, the excellent climbers that they are.
The naturalists who accompany the tourists in the safari trips are well experienced and extremely knowledgeable. The excitement of tracking down a predator by following the alarm calls of langoors, chitals (spotted deer) and sambhar deer makes you long for an encore. Of course, on your lucky day you may find one of these majestic creatures just walk out of the bushes into the open for your eyes and cameras to feast on it.
But Indian forests are not just about the predators or the majestic cats. Among the herbivores, spotted deer and elephants are quite common, followed by the gaur, sambhar deer and the more elusive barking deer. The list of fauna is a long one and it is a treat to see these animals in their natural habitat. Nagerhole, like many of the other forests of Karnataka, is also a birder’s delight. It is a recognized bird area with hundreds of bird species. In our very first safari, we were treated to a real preying action, that of a serpent eagle swooping down on a snake and making a kill. The vegetation is a mix of moist deciduous, dry deciduous and montane, making the seasonal changes quite noticeable. The winter months leave most of the forest quite dry and wilted, but the first hint of spring showers seem to bring the forest back to life. And with that, you will almost definitely be treated to one of the most exotic courtships in the animal kingdom: peacocks in full plumage puffing out their tail feathers while in an amazing dance ritual to attract the peahens.
So, while in any of these forests, do not get obsessed with making a tiger or a leopard sighting. Leave that to lady luck and instead soak in the jungle atmosphere, its eeriness, accentuated by the sounds of birds, animals and crickets, the smell of the vegetation, the stillness of time, the vastness of nature when left untouched. For us city dwellers, it is a fantasy come true, a reminder of what nature was conceived to be and what precious bit is left of it.
Some information about the wilds of Nagerhole: the Rajiv Gandhi National Park is about 60 kilometres from Mysore. While you could camp in Mysore and drive down for the safaris organized by the Karnataka Forest Department, you could also stay in the vicinity of the National Park in the handful of properties located around the Park. The resorts are quite exclusive in that they are either located on the banks of the Kabini, or at the edge of the National Park and, in some cases, both. Jungle Lodges and Resorts (a Govt of Karnataka eco-tourism initiative) operates a sprawling property there. It also operates well guided safari trips that are used by other resorts in that area for their guests at additional charges.
This park is in the plain lands adjoining the Nilgiri mountains. As we move from the plains to the foothills on way to the Blue Mountains (the Nilgiris), I shall bring to you two more wild wonders of this land, the Bandipur and Madumalai tiger reserves. Stay tuned.
Hampi is a historian’s delight as much as it is a tourist’s fantasy come true. The capital and the seat of power, trade and culture in the Vijayanagara kingdom’s prime, this place retains the evidence of a thriving and glorious empire from the 14th to the 16th centuries.
One look across the landscape with boulders strewn all across leaves you with no doubt about the enormous opportunity that the architects had, to exhibit their creativity and the abundance of resources and skills set the stage for artistic indulgence in the kingdom’s heyday. However, heavy attacks by the Delhi sultanate and its allies and the final downfall of the empire left most parts of this glorious kingdom and its famed structures in ruins and hence the oft repeated reference to the “ruins of Hampi”.
A tour of Hampi generally starts with the Hemakuta hill, formed of a single rock, a monolith. This hill with its structures, the neighbouring Virupaksha temple and its adjoining market place and the Krishna temple formed a part of a buzzing town life. The boulders and rocks on top of the Hemakuta create some magical forms.
The Virupaksha temple, started in the 9th and 10th century, acquired its size and grandeur during the reigns of the Vijayanagara rulers. A live and a very active temple, it is an attractive stop for both the religiously and the architecturally inclined.
As in many places of the country with references to ancient Indian history, you see a number of step-wells in this region. You would find a few in the temple complexes, quite large ones, and one close to the royal area. A great town planning marvel is the aqueduct that was built to supply water to the town settlements from a lake (Halli Kere) more than two kilometres away .
Among the top temples of Hampi are two of my favourites, the Hazara Rama and the Achyutaraya temples. The former is located near the royal area and has some splendid carvings of scenes from Indian mythology.
A trek along the Tungabhadra – it rocks!
We were lucky to get connected to a local guide, Hussein (more about him later), who had planned a walk for us along the Tungabhadra. The idea was to walk down from the Virupaksha temple complex end to the famous Vijaya Vittala temple along the river. What was planned as a walk turned out to be a trek as we had to work our way up and down the innumerable boulders that line the banks of the river. The effort was absolutely worthwhile as we came across the strangest of land forms and stunning craftsmanship adorning some of the rock faces.
No place of historical significance is complete without its share of ancient or mythological anecdotes. There are many around Hampi too. The west bank of the Tungabhadra where one sees the abundance of boulders is also called Kishkindha, the famous kingdom of the monkeys that finds reference in the epic Ramayana. The siblings, Bali and Sugriva ruled this kingdom around the time that Lord Rama came to this land during the days of his exile while in search of his beloved queen Sita. It is said that Lord Rama’s army of monkeys had carried boulders from this site to the coast in Rameswaram to build the “Ramsetu” bridge to Lanka. There is also a formation of stones that hides a cave between them, referred to as the Sugriva cave. This is the cave that Bali and a demon had gone into while engaged in a fight till death. Sugriva’s assumption of Bali’s death on seeing blood flow out of the cave became the contentious point in the enmity the ensued between the brothers.
Note: we did this trek of approximately 4 kms, pulling ourselves over boulders, jumping off rock faces – all with our N95 masks on, and our guide Hussein followed suit. For all those who think masks can be an impediment to any activity, it’s time to rethink.
The Vijaya Vittala temple is probably the most photographed monument of the Hampi ruins. The exquisite carvings and sculptured pillars have attained global fame and draw the maximum footfall. Apart from the iconic stone chariot (that finds its place in every reference to Hampi), the musical pillars in the mandapa that let out different musical notes when struck, are amongst the most fascinating features of this temple. Unfortunately, the musical pillars are out of bounds for the viewing public. A look at those pillars will tell you why – the abuse by years of visiting tourists is evident.
The monuments in this city of ruins are countless, and the variety, endless. Back to the royal area of the city, a different kind of architectural design waits to charm you. The lotus mahal and the elephant stables bring a hint of indo-islamic styles with their arches and domes, though these were built very much in the Vijayanagara kingdom’s days.
Some details about our trip and the stay:
This was among the first few trips that we undertook after the 1st wave of the pandemic, that needed us to hire an accommodation. We wanted to ensure that we stay safe, away from crowded hotel locations. We had no first hand knowledge of accommodations in and around Hampi, including in Hosapet, the nearest large town. After some research and deliberations, we hit on the idea of staying in the heritage property, Shiva Vilas Palace, in Sandur. This property is a palace turned hotel, with members of the Ghorpade royal family still retaining part of the palace for private use. Sandur is about a 45-50 minutes drive from Hampi, though that’s a lot of time for the distance of 30 km. The drive is slowed down considerably because of iron ore/manganese laden tippers that ply on this road, and the busy streets of Hosapet that one has to negotiate on the way. The drive is very picturesque, though dusty (from the red iron ore dust that the tippers leave behind). It, however, offers some great views of the surrounding hills and meadows.
The pandemic has had its effect on the footfall of tourists in this magnificent seat of Indian history. We could easily count the number tourists that we came across at each monument. There were places where we found ourselves to be the only ones, something unthinkable in Hampi during its peak tourist season. The uncertainties faced by the local populace, so dependent on tourism, was a painful realization that left us saddened.
Shiva Vilas Palace hotel, Sandur.
Hussein, our guide for the two days that we romped around amidst the ruins of Hampi, is clearly a pro in the business. He had his own way of planning the visits to different parts of Hampi, based on rush hour movements of tourists, and heat and light conditions. His suggestion to take the walk along the Tungabhadra was a super hit. He carries enormous knowledge, not just about Hampi and the Vijayanagara kingdom, but also about the various south Indian dynasties that lent a lot of flavours to his narrations and analogies. He is a man well educated in history and has been trained by the ASI for his work. Even though you might have a number of other resources to tell you about the monuments and sites that you would be visiting, knowledgeable and educated local guides add significantly to your experience with their share of insights and anecdotes.
Ever since the pandemic restricted movement in our lives in early 2020, we have been desperately seeking options to unwind in the usual way that we knew: be with nature and the wild or spend time with heritage structures, soaking in the romance of historical reminiscences. This was not easy, considering that the world around us and our own lives had been so thoroughly disrupted. The attempts at distracting ourselves with exotic cooking, stints of self learning, binge watching and reading (all these through the various stages of lock-downs) could not take away the pain and the gloom associated with lives cut short, loss of livelihood of many, prospects of a stalled economy, uncertainties about almost everything and the fear of the future. The pressure on the mind has been enormous (and without any inkling of what awaited us in 2021).
It was then that we started to find means of freeing up our minds, take long drives out of the city, in any direction, quite often without a plan, and come across some breathtaking sights that for some reason we never imagined had existed. This set us thinking and we started consciously looking out for places of interest in the vicinity of Bangalore and were astounded by what we learnt. The sheer number of visual marvels and the trail of remnants of time that dot this land is mind boggling. We are still in the process of discovering more of these places for ourselves, reading through accounts of other day travelers, and every such trip reinforcing the natural and historical splendour that this geography has to offer.
Have a look at our experience with some the beautiful monuments and locales around Bangalore. Most of these places are in the range of 100-250 km from the capital city, as you drive out on the national and state highways. I begin with what we call our Hoysala temple trail, a treasure trove of architectural gems in the nearby districts of Tumkur, Hassan, Mandya and Mysore.
The Hoysala temple architecture is most popularly represented by the three famous monuments located in Belur, Halebeedu and Somnathpur. However, many smaller temples of that era, some unfinished and some less celebrated, are scattered across south central Karnataka.
The series of temple images that follow are from different locations in Hassan, Mandya and Tumkur districts, all reachable by road from Bangalore and easily covered in day trips. You could combine a few locations in a single trip, but this belt is a pleasure to drive around, so one would not mind going back to these places over many weekends.
Hulikere and Halebeedu
Step-wells had been an integral part of community living in ancient India and their remnants are seen in different parts of the country and span across different eras. This particular step-well (referred to as “Pushkarani” ) in Hulikere is tucked away in the corner of a small village in Hassan district. Hulikere is the name of the large lake bordering the village and the much celebrated Hoysaleshwara temple of Halebeedu.
In probably less than a kilometer from the great Hoysaleshwara temple in Halebeedu, a Jain Basadi and the Kedareshwara temple remain remarkably hidden from the tourist’s gaze. Both are protected monuments and splendidly sculptured. One does come across many Jain monuments in the region amidst the Hoysala temples, all built around the same period. The influence one has over the other is often evident in the architecture and sculptures that adorn them.
Most temples of the Hoysala era are characterized by a polygonal or stellate plinth that extend beyond the core structure. The more famous ones have this, but many that we came across had been built on rectangular plinths. The influence of the preceding Chalukya and the succeeding Vijayanagara reigns is evident in the variations in the sculptures and the architecture. Another architectural characteristic of Hoyasala temples, particularly the bigger ones are the lathed pillars. These are pillars with profiled circular cross-sections that are very noticeable and a testimony to the capabilities of the architects and designers of that era.
Off the beaten track
Marvels unfolded as we took to the lesser known temple trails around Hassan. Most of these places are easily located in Google Maps, within 20-40 kms from Hassan, occasionally requiring you to make a judgement about the right turn or the correctness in the way a name is spelled. Though the places mentioned here are not very difficult to locate, occasional re-routing will make your discoveries more interesting.
Some additional info on the Hoysala architecture: based on the number of shrines, the Hoysala temples are ekakuta, dvikuta, trikuta, chatushkuta and panchakuta. The last two are rare and the chatushkuta Lakshmi Devi temple in Doddagaddavalli enchants with its shrines dedicated to Kali, Lakshmi, Vishnu and Shiva (Boothanatha linga).
Many of these temples are located well inside present day villages or towns and are often obscure. While some do get impacted by the proximity to human settlement, most are well taken care of by the local inhabitants. Often the caretaker of the temple structure or its priest is a close neighbour.
The vimana or the part of the temple housing the shrine, would have a tower on top of it in most cases. Sometimes the tower on the vimana would be missing, often as a result of destruction, cave-ins or sometimes left unfinished. The missing towers on some shrines of multi-shrine temples may give the feeling of a lack of symmetry when looking from far. A closer inspection makes the reason clear.
As you pick the names of the locations from the captions, look them up in Google Maps for the directions. For those in East or North Bangalore, the drive will be down Tumkur road followed by a turn to the left at Neelamangala on to the Bangalore-Mangalore Highway (NH75). Do not shy away from taking day trips to these locations from Bangalore. The drives are worth taking on distances of 200 km or more one way, the roads excellent and plenty of scenic locales to stop by and enjoy the food and beverages that you can bring along. There are number of eateries along NH75 to stop by and pick some food up from, in case you want to avoid closed spaces for your snacks and meal breaks.
Important – while it is a great idea to enjoy your food in the open in the middle of nature, please do not leave any waste, plastic or paper behind. It upset me no end that some of the beautiful locations we stopped by were strewn with plastic bottles, paper plates and beer cans. Please remember to carry your trash bag to bring back all the food, paper and plastic wastes that you would have generated.
Everyone loves traveling, in his or her own way. Despite being a common hobby or passion, preferences are very personal and varied.
My work-life over the years has made me seek leisure in relatively smaller travel efforts. Bangalore, and large parts of South India, offer a number of options to drive away from the humdrum of the daily city life for a few hours to an extended weekend of unwinding.
My posts will be more on places, monuments, structures and interesting anecdotes around Bangalore, and as I have said elsewhere, as far from Bangalore as my car could take me.