Temple Tales from Somnathpur

It took us a while to get into the temple premises. The temple is a protected monument and maintained by Archeological Survey of India (ASI). Tickets for entry to such places now require scanning an ASI QR code. Our phone network happened to be unusually slow causing some unnecessary delay, testing our patience, and sufficiently frustrating us.

As I entered through the doorway after reading the description displayed at the entryway, my jaws literally dropped. The magnificence of the temple caught me off-guard. I knew about this temple but hadn’t expected such stunning architectural brilliance. “How did I never happen to come here before!”, I couldn’t help wondering, having stayed in Bangalore for more than a decade now. This reaction was triggered off just at the very first glance. As we walked around exploring the temple, every corner only left us even more astonished.

Pic 1: The mantapa on entering through the doorway adorned with lathe turned pillars, which happens to be a typical feature of Hoysala architecture.

The 13th century Keshava Temple, also known as Chennakesava Temple, is located in a small town called Somnathpur in the Mandya district of Karnataka. It is at a distance of about 140 Km. from Bangalore and just about 35 Km. away from Mysore. Situated in the banks of River Cauvery, the temple was built by Somanatha, a celebrated army commander of the Hoysala Dynasty. He established the town of Somnathpur, which he named after himself.

The temples built during the rule of the Hoysalas are unique in their intricate sculptures and great story telling. The temples of Belur and Halebidu are said to be the best ambassadors of Hoysala architecture. I haven’t been there yet but have heard a lot about their spectacular grandeur. I had no idea that Somnathpur Temple belonged to the same league and was another masterpiece of Hoysala architecture.

Pic 2: The Western and Southern Shikharas. Notice the star-shaped elevated platform on which stands the temple.

The temple is carved from soapstone and is dedicated to Lord Krishna in the three forms of Keshava, Janardhana, and Venugopala. The main temple is at the center of a courtyard, built on an elevated star-shaped platform which, I learnt is one of the unique aspects of Hoysala temples. Surrounding the courtyard is a pillared corridor that has several chambers all along. Perhaps they would have housed deities at that time, they are empty now.

Pic 3: The pillared corridor that surrounds the courtyard.
Pic 4: The pillared corridor from another angle. Notice the chambers all along.

The temple wall on the exterior has intricate carvings and sculptures depicting stories from the epics of Ramayana and Mahabharata, and also Bhagavata Purana. The exquisite attention to detail that has clearly gone into these carvings was mystifying to say the least. The dancing Goddess Lakshmi, the angry Lord Ganesha, the ten incarnations of Lord Vishnu, the four headed Lord Brahma, the intricate Mahisashura Mardini – just to name a few. The meticulous carvings also depict battles, folklore, music, dance, and much more. The stories in carvings are in a clockwise direction, thoughtfully designed as it is the same as the direction of a pradakshina or circumambulation.

Pic 5: The fascinating and exquisitely detailed sculptures on the exterior wall.
Pic 6: The magnificence of these sculptures are a delight to the eyes.

After spending a descent amount of time walking around the temple admiring the detailed carvings, we stepped inside. The inside of the temple is just as fascinating. The magnificent ceiling with all the intricate ornate carvings and miniature sculptures is simply amazing. A guide, who was with another group, explained that the ceiling constitutes of 16 finely carved symmetrical squares, some of which are depictions of the Lotus flower at different stages of development. The main idol of Keshava is situated on the sanctum sanctorum while Janardhana and Venugopala  are on either side. According to ASI, the original Keshava idol went missing and has been replaced. The idols of Janardhana and Venugopala are damaged.

The temple is not functional and is not used as a place of worship anymore, the idols being broken and desecrated by invaders of that age and time. It stands as a monument today bearing testimony to the superior craftmanship of the artists and sculptors of the bygone Hoysala era.

Pic 7: The extraordinary craftsmanship is like a poetry unfolding.
Pic 8: One can spend hours examining the details that have gone into these carvings.

I am a nature person and usually get disengaged very easily with things that are lifeless. Museums and places of architectural significance as not quite for me. That explains why I overlooked visiting this place earlier. However, when it comes to such intricate artwork it’s a different story altogether. My mind weaves stories thinking about the artisans, their unparalleled creativity, the lives of people at that time – the royalty, the commoners, their festivals, their triumphs and hardships, and so on and so forth. It’s mind-boggling and fascinating.

Now, I can’t wait to explore the Hoysala temples of Belur and Halebidu. Had it not been for the pandemic, I would have long been on my way. Smitten by Somnathpur Keshava Temple, I was curious to know about the other Hoysala temples in the state of Karnataka. I learnt that there are 137 Hoysala temples of significant value in the state. Quite a number that is, isn’t it!

A Bizarre Travel Experience

Didi, for heaven’s sake be careful…..that sari may just slip from your hands!”, she pleaded. My wavering attention was immediately back to the precarious situation we were in. I controlled the urge to rebuke her at that moment for being so insistent on wanting to be at this place. A noisy family of more than a dozen people had just landed right beside us. My attention was quite automatically diverted towards this freshly added commotion. As if the already chaotic situation wasn’t enough!

We were at Triveni Sangam and had just taken a dip in the holy confluence of the three rivers – Ganga, Yamuna, and Saraswati.

My cousin had made sure to include Triveni Sangam in the itinerary when we were planning our visit to Varanasi. During her previous visit to Varanasi, she couldn’t make time for Triveni Sangam and this time she wasn’t going to miss it. I wasn’t much keen but agreed on her insistence.

Pic 1: Boats that take people to Triveni Sangam.

Triveni Sangam is located at Allahabad and is about 83 Km from Varanasi. It is a sacred place, one that is of religious importance to the Hindus, where the historic Kumbh-mela is held every 12 years. It is believed that a bath in the Sangam washes away all sins and paves the way straight to heaven. That’s not the reason why my sister insisted to come here though. It was just sheer curiosity. As for me, I just accompanied her though experiencing a Kumbh Mela is in my bucket list.

The Sangam is located some distance away from the banks and one must take a boat to reach there. At the confluence, the greyish and opaque waters of River Ganga is distinctly differentiable from the greenish and clear waters of River Yamuna. The mythical River Saraswati is invisible, believed to be subterranean. A series of boats were set up forming a sort of a platform where people performed religious rituals. There was a special arrangement for taking a dip in the waters. You step onto a log of wood holding the ropes on either side that are tied at the two ends of the log, much like a swing. The rope is slowly lowered till you are immersed in the water.

My sister was keen on taking a dip and also in conducting the rituals. I wasn’t sure for a while but then decided to take a dip too. It was going to be an interesting experience I thought, but no rituals for me. All the more, as the priest there demanded Rs 500 just for a coconut, some flowers, and a little vermillion.

Pic 2: Triveni Sangam marked by the flags seen here where a series of boats are set up to form a sort of a platform.

Now, the only problem was that we couldn’t see any place to change into dry clothes after the dip. It was the month of December and hence quite cold. We would have to get out of the wet clothes. Our boatman assured that he would make the necessary arrangements. “Yeh sari hai na” (we have this sari), he said, picking up two bamboo poles, as he spoke. Both of us assumed that he would use the bamboo poles and the sari to create a makeshift arrangement in the boat with enclosures on all four sides. We didn’t bother to clarify.

When we were done with the dip, he just handed over the sari to us. One of us was supposed to hold the sari from one end and stretch our hands up. The cylindrical sort of an enclosure created by the 9 yards yarn is where the other would change. It was a HORRIFIC proposition. The sari even seemed quite transparent to me. We resisted a bit but soon realized that it was the only solution and we could either do as instructed or shiver our way to the banks. Opting for the latter would most certainly cause us to fall ill. We were also quite shocked to see other women doing the same. Nobody seemed to have a problem, except the two of us.

Pic 3: Siberian Seagulls that migrate during winters making the holy rivers, Ganga and Yamuna, their temporary home.

My sister had to admit our Varanasi trip didn’t have to include Triveni Sangam, at least not now. However, it’s an experience that we hilariously recall each time we talk about our Varanasi trip. All said and done, our wish to be at Triveni Sangam during a Kumbh Mela remains as strong as can be.

Padmanabhapuram Palace

The Most Charming Palace I have Seen so far….

“Seems like some kind of natural air-conditioning in here!”, exclaimed my sister. It indeed felt cool inside. Surely, it’s got something to do with the way this place was constructed ages ago.

We were at Padmanabhapuram Palace, located about 30 Km. away from Kanyakumari at a place, known as Thuckalay. Built in the 16th century, this palace is situated in the state of Tamil Nadu, however, it remains under the administration of the Government of Kerala. The wooden palace, in its typical Kerala architectural style, is a masterpiece that left us completely spellbound. Once again, all thanks to fellow blogger Sugan for having recommended this place.

The pillared entrance with intricate wooden carvings.
The main entrance leads to the reception area. Notice the marvelous wooden carvings and terracotta tiled roof.

The unusualness of the palace is what charmed us the most. It was very different from all the palaces I have seen so far. It lacked the glam and glitter that one would expect of a palace but was majestic in its simplicity and intricacies. Some highlights from the palace are, elaborately detailed rosewood and teak wood carvings, exquisitely carved wooden columns, huge earthen urns, jackfruit tree columns, multi-colored windowpanes of various patterns, spacious hallways, ornately carved wooden ceilings, and so on.

There were different artistic representations of the Lotus flower, the favourite flower of the royalty (and also of Lord Padmanabhaswamy). The floors of the palace wore a unique look. It was glossy, smooth and of shining black colour. This is apparently the result of a unique combination of egg shells, lime, coconut, charcoal, river sand, and jaggery that was used in the raw material.

The Mantrasala – Here the King held important meetings with his ministers. Notice the elaborately designed ceiling.

Padmanabhapuram was the capital city of the erstwhile kingdom of Travancore, the rulers of which were dedicated to Lord Padmanabhaswamy (another name of Lord Vishnu) and considered themselves to be servants of the Lord.

The Covid protocols were very strict here. We had to buy gloves from the shops outside, which were selling only woolen gloves. That was no fun on a hot and sultry afternoon, with a temperature of nearly 30 degree centigrade. The palace was crowded with tourists, but all were locals. We stood out in how we looked and the clothes we wore, leading to us being mobbed by a gang of local people. The gang of 20-25 people followed us everywhere and wanted pictures with us every now and then. They meant no harm and we did indulge them initially but after a point their intrusion managed to irritate us enough and more.

Here’s a visual tour of some sections of the palace.

Ottupura (Dining Hall) – A description board here says that over 2000 people were served free meals in this grand dining hall on a daily basis.
These are huge Chinese jars that were used to store pickles for the daily feasts.
The Dance Hall. Notice the shining black flooring, which is the result of a combination of egg shells, lime, coconut, charcoal, river sand, and jaggery.
The palace temple. It was closed at that time so we couldn’t enter.
Curved shuttered wooden windows
Left: The Royal Bed, made of 67 different medicinal wood. Right: One of the Royal Toilets.
Here’s a picture of the people who followed us everywhere wanting to click pictures with us every now and then. And, here are only some of those from the large gang. The gang even made one of my sisters pull her mask down for a proper photo.

Ambling Around Kanyakumari

It was Christmas time of the special year of 2020 when a whimsical decision took us to Kanyakumari, the southernmost tip of the Indian mainland. We were all set to explore the coastal part of Karnataka but landed in Tamil Nadu instead. This was my third visit to Kanyakumari – first time as a 9-year old with my father, second time with a friend 8 years ago, and this time with my sisters. I had never thought I would be visiting Kanyakumari again, but it happened.  

Kanyakumari, known as Cape Comorin during British rule in India, is an ancient city that finds mention in accounts of Marco Polo and Ptolemy. It is the meeting point of Arabian Sea, Bay of Bengal, and Indian Ocean.

Pic 1: Sunrise at Kanyakumari. Vivekananda Rock Memorial & Thiruvalluvar Statue seen in the distance

Kanyakumari for me has been synonymous with two things – first, the tranquility at Vivekananda Memorial Rock; second, the deep ocean waters that sometimes appeared blue, sometimes green, and sometimes a combination of both. Oh yes, I mustn’t forget the amazing sunrises and sunsets. However, there’s much more to Kanyakumari, which I discovered this time.  And, the credit goes to fellow blogger Sugan, for all the recommendation and guidance.

Pic 2: Sunset at Kanyakumari. This picture was clicked in 2012.

Vattakottai Fort

Built in 18th century during the reign of Travancore kingdom, Vattakottai is a coastal fort. Vattakottai fort, which translates as circular fort is a protected site, maintained by Archeological Survey of India (ASI). Built for coastal defense, the fort is constructed of granite blocks. The walls are carved with motifs of fish, that is said to be characteristic of the Pandya Kingdom.

Pic 3: The unassumingly simple architecture of granite stones at Vattakottai Fort

The most alluring aspect of Vattakottai Fort is its perfect scenic location, with the sea on one side and the hills of western ghats on the other. This coupled with the black sands of the sea beach overlooking the fort makes it extremely attractive. A part of the fort extends into the sea and that reminded me of Diu Fort, which I had visited 2 years back. The latter however is much bigger and is much more fascinating.

Pic 4: Nothing beats the scenic location of Vattakottai Fort.

Bhagavathy Amman Temple

Kanyakumari derives its name from Goddess Kanya Kumari. The virgin goddess, also known as Kumari Amman is believed to be an incarnation of Goddess Durga. Bhagavathy Amman Temple, dedicated to the Devi, is a 3000-year-old temple that finds mention in the epics of Ramanyana and Mahabharata.

Pic 5: A glimpse into the hallway of the 3000 year old Temple. Photography of the idol is not allowed.

Intrigued, after having read about the interesting myths and legends of the Devi in a book – from her love for Lord Shiva to the marriage that did not happen, her nose ring that had confused sailors leading to shipwrecks – I had always wanted to visit the temple. (You can read the legend in detail here ).

The glittering diamond nose ring is the most fascinating aspect of the idol. The sparkle of this nose ring had been mistaken as a lighthouse causing ships to crash on the rocky coast. As a result, the door facing east has been permanently shut and is opened only on special occasions.

Temple of Mayi Amma

It’s a very tiny nondescript temple on the beach, hardly noticeable unless you know about it. We happened to chance upon it. Again, I had read about Mayi Amma in a book. She was a saint, who would literally walk on the surface of the ocean waters and meditate on a rock for hours together completely oblivious to the hot sun. Her disciples constituted a pack of dogs. She hardly ever spoke to anyone but was revered by the locals. The temple has a couple of her black and white photographs. She is said to have taken samadhi in 1993.

Pic 6: A throwback picture with my sister and friend at Kanyakumari in 2012.

Vivekananda Rock Memorial and Thiruvalluvar Statue

Situated around 500 meters away from the shore, Vivekananda Rock Memorial is a mammoth rock where Swami Vivekananda had meditated and attained enlightenment. This rock memorial constitutes the main attraction at Kanyakumari. People all over the world visit Kanyakumari mainly to see Vivekananda Rock Memorial

Vivekananda Mandapam and Sripada Mandapam are the two main structures at the memorial. The latter is said to be a place where Goddess Kanya Kumari had meditated for Lord Shiva. This is ratified by the presence of a foot mark on the rock, which supposedly belongs to the Devi. Consequently, the rock where the memorial stands is known as Sripada Parai (Sripada means Devi’s feet in Sanskrit and Parai means rock in Tamil).

Pic 7: Vivekananda Mandapam, which also has a meditation hall.
Pic 8: At Sripada Mandapam

Thiruvalluvar Statue or Valluvar Statue is located on another rock just a little away from Vivekananda Rock Memorial. It is the 41-metre-tall stone statue of Tamil poet and philosopher, Valluvar. Entry to this statue was closed at that time and hence we could not go up to the statue. However, the view from Vivekananda Rock Memorial was good enough.

Pic 9: Thiruvalluvar Statue as seen from Vivekananda Rock Memorial. This picture was clicked in 2012.

Besides these places, we also visited Padmanabhapuram Palace located 30 Km. away from Kanyakumari. I have written about that in my next post.

Do visit my previous post on Manapad beach, which is another place we visited during our Kanyakumari Trip.

Kanyakumari, I will be back again! So what if I have already visited you three times! There are places that I couldn’t cover this time and so I must go again.

Christmas 2020

Pristine Beach by a Quaint Village

The evening sky broke into an intense assortment of red, pink, orange, and yellow as we watched the mellowed sun gradually recede into the glittering waters below. Standing on that elevated sandy ground, we silently observed the vermilion tinted waves compete with each other as they playfully rushed towards the shore. It was an incredible sight and we wanted to take it all in, keenly aware that it wasn’t going to last very long. 

Just behind us, on that sand dune, stood a beautiful Church, the white colour of which glowed with the setting sun. A few meters from the Church was a wooden Holy Cross standing tall on an elevated platform.

Pic 1: The sky was an assortment of colours – yellows, oranges, reds, pinks

We were at Manapad Beach. It was Christmas Day and I couldn’t have thought of being at a better place! And, this beautiful experience happened only because someone made it possible for us. I have always considered myself immensely fortunate when it comes to people I get connected with in my life. Some of these wonderful people are fellow bloggers I have met through WordPress and I have mentioned this umpteen times.

This post is dedicated to Sugan, who blogs at The Buffalo Rider. Do visit his blog and I can promise you that you will not be disappointed.  

On Christmas Day of 2020, I landed at Kanyakumari. Quite an impromptu trip and I hadn’t had the time to plan it well. I had visited Kanyakumari twice before, once many years ago as a little child with my father and another time a few years back with friends. However, the only thing that I recall about Kanyakumari is Vivekananda Rock and that’s not surprising at all.

It was during a random conversation on Instagram that Sugan had mentioned that he belonged to Kanyakumari offering to make recommendations if I ever decided to visit again. As promised, Sugan created an itinerary for me when I informed him about my plans. Usually that’s what people do. That’s what I would have done if someone was visiting Shillong or Bangalore. However, Sugan went a step ahead. He gave his precious time to us spending an entire afternoon and evening with us taking us around in his SUV, which he fondly calls ‘Buffalo’.

Pic 2: The Holy Cross Church and the wooden Holy Cross atop the sand dune

Just a few hours after we reached, Sugan picked us up from our hotel. After a quick lunch at a nearby restaurant, he took us to Vattakotai Fort. I will write in detail about this place in a separate post. Thereafter, we started for Manapad Village. Manapad is a coastal village with a dominant fisherman population and is located in Tuticorin, about 75 Km. away from Kanyakumari . The drive from Kanyakumari to Manapad is exquisitely beautiful, which was a compelling reason for Sugan to recommend this place to us.

Little Details from the Village

As we arrived at the village, the first thing we noticed was the steeples and spires of various churches nestled between the brick-red roofs of the whitewashed houses. The Gothic-styled churches stood out, intriguing us sufficiently. I got to know later that these were St. James Church and Holy Spirit Church – two of the three churches in Manapad. Thinking that we would visit them later, we headed towards the beach. The Holy Cross Church is located on an elaborate sand dune on the beach. It being Christmas there were a lot of people at the Church. We climbed the sand dune and spent the entire evening watching the sunset. Consequently, time ran out and we missed visiting the two Gothic styled churches we had seen earlier.

An interesting aspect of this beach is that water is separated by stretches of sand in some places creating clear blue lagoons. Another thing that drew our attention was a well in the beach which provides fresh water to the villagers who fetch drinking water from this well.

Pic 3: Climbing up a sand hill is not all that easy. Sugan on the left and my sisters on the right.
Pic 4: Clear blue lagoons separated from the sea by chunks of sand. Notice the village on the left, the spires of the Gothic-styled churches can be seen.

I wish I could spend at least a day in the tempting clean sand and blue waters of Manapad. I had no idea that such a quaint little village with a mesmerizing beach existed in Tuticorin and one that is easily accessible from so many places in South India. The fact that Manapad is relatively unknown to the usual touristy crowd only adds to its charm. Such offbeat places can only be experienced when you are lucky enough to have a local connection.

I definitely owe my Christmas, 2020 to Sugan. Your hospitality inspired me. You taught me how giving your valuable time to people visiting your hometown can completely elevate their experience of that place. I ought to do more when people I know visit my hometown.

Pic 5: Sugan spends a quiet moment lost with the waves.

An Addendum

Here’s an interesting story I read about the Holy Cross at the beach.

In 1540 a Portuguese ship was caught in a dreadful storm. It was at the risk of sinking with its sails splitting and mast snapping. The captain entrusted the safety of the vessel to Christ and vowed to construct a Cross from the splintered mast if they escaped alive and have it installed wherever they land safely. After drifting for several days, the ship washed up on the shores of Manapad. The captain kept his vow and planted a Cross atop the sand dune.

Furthermore, when the cross was in the form of a log, cut off from the broken mast, a villager had cleaned his foot removing filth by rubbing on the log. Soon, his foot swelled up and he felt immense pain. That night the villager had a vision that the ailment was due to his defiling the log. In order to get cured he was asked to wipe the muck off the log, smear the log with oil, and then apply the same oil to his foot. The villager did as he was told and was cured.

Easy Weekend Getaways from Bangalore

Craving for a break from the monotony of being confined to your home? Working from home comes with its associated challenges and we often find ourselves struggling to find the right work-life balance.  Sometimes we wish we could just leave everything behind and take off somewhere. But with that important deliverable lurking around the corner, it’s next to impossible to get a time off. How often do we find ourselves stuck in situations like these! Well, we don’t always need to have an elaborate plan to go outdoors and recharge our batteries. We have the weekends to ourselves, don’t we?

Here are a few quick weekend getaways from Bangalore. Most of these can be completed in one day – plan a Saturday and relax at home on a Sunday or vice versa. Some of these places are children friendly too. And, don’t forget to travel safely!

Achalu Betta

Achalu Betta, also known as Muneshwarana Betta, is a small hillock located in a sleepy village known as Achalu. Relatively unknown, this place promises a perfect getaway for spending quality time in complete tranquility. A temple dedicated to Lord Muneshwara, a form of Lord Shiva, is located on the hilltop. An easy climb of less than 2 hours through a well-marked trail in the wilderness will take you to the hilltop. You can also choose to take a flight of stairs. Enjoy the breathtaking panoramic views of the plains below as you climb up. If you want more adventure, plan a night trek here. You can pitch a tent, stay the night, and enjoy a great sunrise the next day.

  • Safe for children?

This trek is suitable for children, so go ahead plan a trek with your family.

  • How far from Bangalore?

Approximately 57 Km, one can easily drive down to Achalu Village. Park your car or bike in the village and walk up to the hilltop.

Kabbaladurga

Kabbaladurga is beautiful little hillock nestled somewhere in the rock-strewn slopes of the Kanakapura mountain range. A temple dedicated to Goddess Kabbalamma and a ruined fort are the highlights of this hillock. The route from the base village to the hilltop is well marked with arrows and there is little chance of losing your way. Some sections of the 8 Km. trek can be a little tricky especially in the rocky terrain towards the peak. However, the breathtaking view from the top more than makes up for it. Villagers regularly climb to pay their obeisance to the goddess. If you want more adventure, a night trek is highly recommended. Make sure to take your tent with you. Avoid this trek in rainy seasons.

  • Safe for children?

This trek is not quite suitable for young children as there are a few steep and tricky sections in the rock face near the top.

  • How far from Bangalore?

Approximately 70 Km., one can easily drive down to the Kabbala Village. Park your car or bike in the village and walk up to the hilltop.

Kaiwara Betta

Kaiwara is associated with the Ramayana and Mahabharata making it mythologically significant. It is named after Saint Kaiwara Tatayya, who was a well-known bilingual poet. The trek to Kaiwara Betta starts from the main gate of Kaiwara Tapovan, which is located at Shamarahosapete village. Before starting the trek, one needs to obtain permission from the Forest Department, which is easily available at the entry gate. A 2-3 hours trek maneuvering boulders and rocks takes you to the top. Kaiwara’s other attractions include a couple of temples. One can also visit Bheema Bakasura Betta and Vaikunta betta. The former is a small hillock that can be climbed through a flight of about 500 steps. Its legend is associated with Mahabharata, the fight between Bheema and Bakasura supposedly happened here. The latter is a small hillock where Saint Kaiwara Tatayya meditated and attained enlightenment in a cave.

  • Is it safe for children?

Kaiwara Betta trek is not quite suitable for young children because of certain steep sections. However, Bheema Bakasura Betta and Vaikunta betta is suitable for children.

  • How far from Bangalore?

Approximately 65 Km. away, one can easily drive down to Kaiwara town.

Savandurga

Savandurga is a huge monolith hill that is one of the largest in Asia. It’s a single gigantic granite rock that can be climbed up to the top. Some places have indentations to enable a proper grip on the rock-face. There are two temples at the base of the hill – Savandi Veerabhadraswamy temple and Sree Lakshmi Narasimhaswamy temple. It takes about 2.5 to 3 hours to reach the top. A Nandi temple adorns the top besides mesmerising views of the plains below. Though it’s a rocky hill, this trek presents the opportunity to walk through forests and caves while enjoying little ponds on the way – depressions on the rock where water has accumulated.

  • Safe for children?

This trek is not quite suitable for young children because of the steep sections through the rock-face.

  • How far from Bangalore?

Approximately 60 Km. away, one can easily drive down to Savandurga.

Muthathi

Muthathi, situated on the banks of River Cauvery is the perfect getaway for a picnic with family or friends. Surrounded by a dense forest, which is part of the Cauvery Wildlife Sanctuary, the fresh and verdant green presents the perfect balm to a tired mind. It’s not uncommon to find the picnic spot crowded though, especially if it’s a festival day at the nearby temple. If that happens, all you need to do is find another spot by the river. A Jungle Lodge located closeby can be the perfect place as an alternative. Spend a soothing afternoon dipping your feet into the cold waters of River Cauvery.  

  • Safe for children?

It absolutely is, however make sure to keep your children away from the river water.

  • How far from Bangalore?

Approximately 85 Km. away, one can easily drive down to the Cauvery Wildlife Sanctuary.

Shivanasamudra

Pic 1: Barachukki
Pic 2: Gaganchukki

Shivanasamudra or Siva Samudram constitutes two sets of picturesque waterfall – Gaganachukki and Barachukki – that are formed by the cascading waters of River Cauvery.  Gaganachukki is formed by a huge horsetail shaped waterfall along with two large parallel streams that drop from a height of about 90 m.  Barachukki, which is about a kilometer away is more spread out and is formed by several streams that fall from a height of 70 m. A flight of stairs can take you down to the base of the waterfall. The foaming white waters of these waterfalls in the backdrop of lush green hills and valleys are a treat to the eyes.

  • Safe for children?

It absolutely is, however watch out for the strong currents and the deep gorges.

  • How far from Bangalore?

Approximately 120 Km. away, one can easily drive down to the island town of Shivanasamudra.

BR Hills

BR Hills or Biligirirangana Hills is a hill range uniquely located at the meeting point of Eastern and Western Ghat. It is a protected reserve forest that is a Tiger Reserve too. The drive from Bangalore to BR Hills has a lot to offer as it passes by picturesque quaint villages. After entering the reserve forest the winding road that goes up to the top with acres and acres of green on either side is refreshingly soothing to the senses. The two main attractions here are the Billigiri Rangaaswamy Temple and BR Hills Wildlife Sanctuary. While the temple offers splendid views of the valley, one can go on an early morning safari to the Wildlife Sanctuary. If you want more adventure, you can indulge is trekking through the jungles and rafting in Cauvery and Kapila Rivers. You can also indulge in angling, fishing, and coracle boat riding.

  • Safe for children?

It absolutely is unless you plan to indulge in adventure sports of trekking and rafting.

  • How far from Bangalore?

Approximately 170 Km. away, one can easily drive to BR Hills. To enjoy the place however, a one-night stay is recommended. There are several hotels and home stays easily available.

Horsley Hills

Horsley Hills constitute a series of hills located in Chittoor district of Andhra Pradesh. Located very close to Bangalore, this place is fondly referred to as ‘Andhra’s Ooty’. Once past the entry gate, one can easily get lost in the well-paved and winding road through the breathtakingly beautiful surrounding hills and valleys. The huge rocks and boulders of various shapes and sizes are perfectly harmonized with the divergent green foliage. There are several viewpoints from the top, a couple of lakes, the Van Vihar Park which houses the famous 150 year old Eucalyptus Tree along with some animals and birds. The best thing about this place is that everything lies within a radius of 2 Km. and can be easily explored on foot.

  • Safe for children?

This is an ideal place for some great family time with your children.  

  • How far from Bangalore?

Approximately 125 Km. away, one can easily drive to Horsley Hills. You can choose to be back on the same day or stay back for a night. There are a couple of guest houses and home stays easily available.

Go ahead and start planning your weekend exploration! Make sure you have the right clothes, shoes, and accessories for a comfortable and safe trip. Take a sneak peek into wildcraft.com for all that you need to experience the joy of outdoors.

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The First Day of 2021

An unplanned visit to Horsley Hills

It was the first day of 2021. We didn’t have any definite plan unlike every other year when this day would effortlessly sequence into our elaborate year-end travel or trek. Times are no longer the same and the first day of 2021 was just another holiday at work. My sister and I were not in Bangalore though. We were at a small town called Madanapalle, situated in Andhra Pradesh but just about 125 Km. away from Bangalore, spending the last day of 2020 at The Satsang Foundation.

A friend happened to mention that Horsley Hills was close by and we could go visit it. I knew about this place but didn’t know that it was located very close to Madanapalle. A quick googling and yes, it was just about 27 Km. away. So off we went to explore Horsley Hills. Happy that we were doing what we love doing on the first day of the New Year.

Named after W.D. Horsley, a British collector, Horsley Hills constitute a series of hills located in Chittoor district of Andhra Pradesh. W.D. Horsley had built his home at this place, possibly because of the cooler temperature compared to the hot and dry surrounding. Located at 1,265 m. from sea level, Horsley Hills is fondly referred to as ‘Andhra’s Ooty’.

The driver of our rented car informed that we should have planned an early morning visit as that’s the time for the best views from the top. We agreed but that wouldn’t have happened as we had other plans for the morning.

As we approached the entrypoint, we were greeted by cops who stopped our car and thoroughly checked everything we carried with us. It being New Year, the authorities were extra vigilant. Also, we could see dozens of bikes parked all over. I recalled a friend mentioning that Horsley Hills was an ideal place for bike trips. Soon we learnt that bikes were not being allowed past the gate on that day. In all selfishness, the prospect of lesser people up in the hills delighted us quite a bit.

As the car slowly made way through the well-paved and winding road the surrounding hills and valley looked breathtakingly beautiful. Huge rocks and boulders of various shapes and sizes interrupted the lush green hills. The naked rocks and boulders seemed to be in perfect harmony with the strikingly divergent green foliage. In some places, the well-tarred road barged through jungles of tall trees unabashedly intruding nature’s personal space. Soaking in the freshness, I lowered the car window and looked up at the blue sky sharply contrasting with the various shades of green. The first day of 2021 felt perfect.

Gali Bandalu or Wind Rocks

This is the most frequented place at Horsley Hills. Gali Bandalu literally translates as ‘Windy Rock’ and that’s exactly how this place is with strong gusty winds blowing all day long. It’s a single huge hill rock that slopes very gently into the valley. One can easily walk down the slope for a significant distance before it drops while enjoying unhindered views of the surrounding hills as strong winds keep you company. We were not wearing appropriate shoes and hence didn’t dare to walk beyond a certain point. Though we had taken off our shoes, we had to exercise extra caution walking bare foot lest we stepped on something undesirable.

The Microwave station located near Wind Rocks is supposedly one of the oldest Microwave stations. We discovered a trail beyond the Microwave Station and climbed up a relatively easy rock face. The wind was gustier here and there was nobody other than the two of us. Our new year was certainly made!

We missed the View Point, which was supposedly behind the Governor’s Bungalow, but didn’t feel too bad about it.

Kalyani – The Eucalyptus Tree

A 150 year old Eucalyptus Tree with a height of 40 m. and a girth of 4.7 m. is situated inside Van Vihar Park and is said to be the oldest Eucalyptus Tree. Wrapped in layers of stories and history this tree was planted by W.D. Horsley himself.  Located behind a forest bungalow inside the park, we could locate the tree only after asking around. This is no ordinary tree, it won an award too as was mentioned in a board displayed against it.

Pic 4: Kalyani, in all her glory.

Besides Eucalyptus, Horsley Hills also boasts of Silver Oak, Mahogany, Coffee, Jacaranda, Allamanda, Gulmohar, Red Sanders, and Sandalwood.

Van Vihar Park also houses a mini zoo with some birds, deer, monkeys and crocodiles. It also has a viewpoint. We were here, however, only to see Kalyani.

Gangotri Lake

We wondered why this name, which conjured up images of the Himalayas in the far North. Also, we remembered spotting at least one more lake, then why does this one have a name? Is it because it seemed to be larger? No answers to our questions. And, the lake with its still green waters, soaking in the warm sunlight peering through thick foliage, couldn’t care less. Later we got to know that the other lake we had seen is known as Mansarovar.

Pic 5: That’s Lake Gangotri.

Horsley Hills also has a couple of temples. So engrossed we were in the natural surroundings that we decided to skip the temples.

The best part about Horsley Hills is that all the places of interest can be visited by walking as everything is within a radius of 2 Km. It has the best recipe for a one day trip from Bangalore.

Pic 6: A beautiful shimmering lake we came across somewhere while driving back to Bangalore. Maybe this one deserves the name Gangotri or Mansarovar!

Nohkalikai Revisited – Pandemic Perks

Shrouded in a mist of white, we stood there staring at nothing. There was nobody other than the five of us. The gushing sound of water, arising out of nowhere, echoed in the background as if trying to hush our overexcited voices.  A row of empty shacks lay behind us. The entire place looked completely different – peaceful and serene. If I minus the shacks and the ugly green building, the place looked exactly like how I had seen it more than 15 years ago. We were at the viewpoint of Nohkalikai waterfall, the tallest plunge waterfall in India at a height of 1115 feet.

“Thanks for nudging me to come here,” quipped BIL, my bother-in-law, as we waited for the clouds to clear. My nephew and sister had taken up their respective vantage points, all set to capture nature’s delightful drama that was expected to unfold soon. BIL and I walked around, making the most of the empty surroundings. Everyone patiently waited for the surroundings to clear. We all knew that having Nohkalikai just to ourselves was once in a lifetime opportunity – perks of the pandemic.

Pic 1: A prominent notice at the entry gate and all shops and shacks remain closed.

Three years back when I happened to pass by Nohkalikai while trekking to Nongriat, I was in for a shock. (Read my trek story here.) The place was teeming with tourists and backpackers. There were vehicles of all shapes and sizes. Dozens of shops selling all kinds of local wares were lined up on one side of the viewpoint. A restaurant with a direct view of the waterfall bustled with activities adding to the already cacophonous situation.  All of these completely doused the brilliant gorgeousness of the waterfall. It was a complete contrast to how I had seen the waterfall several years back, when tourism was yet to take off in North East India. Tourism boosts local economy and needs to be encouraged but tourism with no focus on sustainability is sheer foolishness, and that’s just what’s happening in Meghalaya. I do hope the authorities take control of the already deteriorating condition.

Nohkalikai is the pride of Meghalaya tourism and is located in Cherrapunji, about 2 hours away from the capital city, Shillong. Cherrapunji, also known as Sohra, is one of the wettest places on Earth. Its lush green layered hills and low hanging clouds appeals to your senses evoking a frenzied sense of ecstasy. And, I say that with no exaggeration, whatsoever! However, it remains overcrowded with tourists throughout the year. As a result, it’s been over a decade that we stopped visiting Cherrapunji. This year was different. Due to the pandemic, Meghalaya had shut its borders and there were no tourists in the state. Tourist places remained closed for several months and opened up in mid-October, but only for the locals. This was our opportunity and off we went for a drive to Cherrapunji. As expected, it was deserted and we had all the fluffy clouds, the winding roads, the tall pines, the layered hills just to ourselves.

Pic 2: Clouds kiss the ground here.
Pic 3: Layered hillocks in varying shades of green.

Nohkalikai, however, happened only because I insisted. Other family members were not too keen as everyone felt, “How many more times will we see Nohkalikai.” I knew with nobody around, Nohkalikai would look completely different. The glorious waterfall would dazzle like it did several years back. And, right I was! There’s no denying that Nohkalikai is one of the most stunning waterfall in India.

Getting a clear view of Nohkalikai is quite often like the roll of a dice given the fickle nature of Meghalaya’s clouds and rains. This time it was no different. It was 4.00 PM by the time we arrived and the thick clouds didn’t seem to have any intention of clearing at that time of the day. However, knowing the weather like we did, we decided to wait for a while. There wasn’t much hope as it was the fag end of the day.

Pic 4: The clouds recede steadily revealing the waterfall as a thin strip of white.

But it turned out to be a very fruitful wait as nature rewarded us with the most spectacular show. The clouds started moving slowly, the sun popped up once again, the green hills started gently making their appearance. The show was turning out to be way better than we had anticipated. The curtain was raising and it was like a drama unfolding in nature’s amphitheater.

Pic 5: And there it is….

The sparkling white beauty made a glamorous entry cascading on the stage of green forested hills. The reflective white strip singularly stood out plunging amid a dozen shades of green. The clouds moved further and then disappeared altogether while displaying the still pool of turquoise down below. It seemed as though the mighty plunge needed some much deserved rest.

We stood there gorging on every single act, not a word from any of us. Slowly the clouds came back, the curtains were drawn, the show was over, and once again we were staring at nothing. “Let’s get going,” said someone.

Pic 6: The clouds start coming back and eventually covers the waterfall completely once again.

Monoliths of Jaintia Hills

Meghalaya is home to monoliths and megaliths that are spread across the state. They are quite literally scattered everywhere. And, if you take a drive in the countryside, you can’t miss them at all. Whenever I see them, I can’t help but wonder how they would have landed into such positions. Some are certainly manually placed, especially the ones in the city of Shillong. But, what about the others? Those that I see randomly placed in the meadows and hills?

Monolith is a geological feature that constitutes a single massive stone or rock. Megalith, on the other hand, is a structure made of large stones interlocking them in a way that does not require the use of mortar or cement.

Cherrapunji, in East Khasi Hills, has a monolith park. I would have most certainly seen the monoliths during my childhood, when going to Cherrapunji happened at the drop of a hat. I do not recall an organized park though. Guess, it would have been created recently to cater to tourists. Cherrapunji remains overcrowded with tourists, which significantly drowns the yesteryear romanticism of clouds, mist, and rains.

Pic 1: Random monoliths clicked somewhere during a long drive in the countryside.

There is another monolith park in Jowai, the capital of Jaintia Hills. This one had aroused my interest sufficiently because of its historical significance and because it has the biggest collection of monolithic stones in one single area. It also boasts of housing the tallest monolith in the state.

So, when cousin and I visited the temple at Nartiang recently it was quite obvious that we would visit the monolith park too. (Read Here) The park is located just a kilometer away from the Nartiang Durga Temple. We were running late after having spent a good amount of time at the village. Cousin was almost about to drop the plan of visiting the park promising to come back another day. I would have none of it, especially after going all the way from Shillong, and who has seen tomorrow! She agreed after I promised that we wouldn’t spend a lot of time there.

Pic 2: Entry gate to Jaintia Hills

It being the pandemic times, there was nobody around when we arrived at the park. The gates of the park were thankfully open. A prominent plaque and a Meghalaya Tourism signboard at the entrance provided a glimpse into certain historical facts. Most importantly, the monoliths were erected between 1500-1800 AD during the reign of the Jaintia Kings. The menhirs, or the single standing erect monoliths, are locally known as Moo Shynrang (meaning men). The dolmens, or horizontally placed flat monoliths, are locally known as Moo Kynthai (meaning women). The menhirs and dolmens are placed rather haphazardly in the park. Locals believe that each monolith marks a specific event or an individual.

The tallest menhir is about 8 meters high and 18 inches thick. It was supposedly erected by U Marphalangki, a trusted lieutenant in the Jaintia Kingdom, to commemorate his victory in a battle. There’s an interesting legend associated with this menhir. It is believed that Mars were giant sized men with exceptional capabilities. They could perform extraordinary feats and were patronized by the Royal Court of Jaintia Kingdom to defeat the enemies at the battlefield. Some say Mars would have probably been a rank in the Royal Army.

Pic 3: No stepping out without the mask whether alone or with others, a grim reminder of the times we’re in.

Legend Associated with the tallest Menhir

Marphalangki decided to seek God’s intervention after several failed attempts to erect the monolith. He performed Oomancy or egg divination (methods of using eggs for predicting future). Based on that he interpreted that a human sacrifice is needed to appease the Gods for the stone to stand tall. It being a market day, people had gathered to watch Marphalangki’s display of strength in erecting the stone. An idea struck Marphalangki and he pretended to accidentally drop the lime and tobacco gold container (locally known as dabi or dabia). When a spectator bent down to collect the container, Marphalangki dropped the huge stone over him. That incident is believed to be the beginning of human sacrifice among the Jaintia Pnar community. A practice that was later banned and ceased to exist altogether. (Story courtesy HH Mohrmen)

Legend Associated with the Dolmens and Menhirs

A Jaintia King by the name of Luh Lyngshkor was at a village called Raliang when it started raining. He requested an old woman to give him the traditional bamboo umbrella (locally known as knup). The woman refused saying that the king was a well-built man and could use the giant stone slab at the market to shelter himself. The king went to Raliang market, lifted the stone slab and used it as an umbrella to protect himself from the rain. He carried the stone umbrella, and reached Nartiang (Nartiang was the summer capital of the Jaintia kings). After that incident, Raliang market was shifted to Nartaing and that market continues to remain at Nartiang.

Rameshwaram – The Temple Town

It was somewhere towards the end of February. Covid-19 had already arrived in India and by then three cases were reported, all of which were from South India. Oblivious about the implications, we set out on a trip to the temple towns of Rameshwaram and Madurai. Dhanushkodi, which automatically is associated with Rameshwaram, was on our list too. This trip was for my parents.

The thought of having gallivanted all those places with my parents as Covid-19 lurked around the region gives me the chills today. Especially so, for my septuagenarian father with ailments like high BP, hypertension, heart disorders, chronic pulmonary disorders, and so on. My parents have always loved to travel. During his heydays, my father had taken us on quite a few family trips. That is highly commendable given his limited means with all the responsibilities he had at that time. All that was hardly enough to satiate his wanderlust. Now, they have the means but not the health – ironies of life. It’s my turn now and I try my best to travel with them at least once a year.

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Pic 1: East-end Gopuram at Ramanathaswamy Temple 

I was eight, when my father had taken us on a South India trip. We visited many places, including Madurai but Rameswaram hadn’t happened. My parents would always rue about it. Hence, taking them to Rameshwaram had been on my mind. The timing of our visit happened to be the weekend of Maha-Shivaratri. This was completely unintentional, something we realized after the flight and hotel reservations were done. Rameshwaram was expected to be overcrowded during that weekend. Nevertheless, we decided to go ahead. Not for once did the thought of Covid-19 bother us even though the existing cases weren’t very far away.

When traveling with parents, everything needs to be planned to a T. At the same time, we need to be flexible as plans may have to be changed on the fly. It’s a lot different than how I otherwise experience a place. Consequently, the trip was more curated than I would have otherwise liked. I sure do have to visit Rameshwaram once again.

Here’s a brief of the places we visited at Rameshwaram.

Ramanathaswamy Temple

The temple is dedicated to Lord Shiva and has one of the 12 Jyotirlingas in India. Mythologically, Rameshwaram and this temple is associated with the epic Ramayana. The sanctum has two Shiva Lingas – Ramalingam is made of sand, believed to have been built by Lord Rama and Vishwalingam, believed to have been brought by Hanuman from Kailash.

Architecturally, the unique aspect of this temple is its three strikingly long corridors. The first and innermost corridor is around the sanctum sanctorum. The second corridor has 108 Shiva Lingas and a statue of Ganapati. The third and outermost corridor is adorned by 1212 brightly coloured pillars set on an elevated platform and is said to be the longest pillared corridor in the world. The temple also has 22 holy tanks. One is supposed to take a ritualistic bath with water from each of the tanks before visiting Ramalingam. We didn’t do that though.

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Pic 2: North gate of the temple. The east-end Gopuram seen in the background.

The temple has four entry ways, in all the four directions – North, South, East, and West. Two Gopurams stand tall at the East and West gate. The North gate of the temple was just a little walk away from our hotel. We visited the temple twice. My mother accompanied us once. My father was content with seeing the temple from the outside afraid of being unable to manage himself in the crowd. Though the crowd was much lesser than we had anticipated.

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Pic 3: The colourful outer corridor with 1212 pillars. Mobile phones are not allowed inside and it’s not possible to click such pictures. However, when we entered for the first time nobody stopped us at the entryway and we had our phones with us. So, just a chance photograph.

Other than the colourful corridors, something else caught my attention inside the temple. It was a powerful message from Swami Vivekananda, who had visited this temple is 1897. The message is prominently displayed at the main entrance of the temple. Below is an excerpt, you can read the entire message here.

"It is in love that religion exists and not in ceremony, in the pure and sincere love in the heart. Unless a man is pure in body and mind, his coming into a temple and worshiping Shiva is useless. The prayers of those that are pure in mind and body will be answered by Shiva, and those that are impure and yet try to teach religion to others will fail in the end. External worship is only a symbol of internal worship; but internal worship and purity are the real things. Without them, external worship would be of no avail." ~ Swami Vivekananda
Agni Tirtham

Agni Tirtham is a beach located on the eastern side of Ramanathaswamy Temple. The norm is to dip in the waters of Agni Tirtham, followed by the ritualistic bath in the 22 holy tanks inside the temple, and then offer prayers to the deity. We did not quite intend to dip in the crowded Agni Tirtham and just paid a visit late in the evening. Consequently, I don’t have any pictures of Agni Tirtham.

Rama Tirtham and Lakshmana Tirtham

Rama Tirtham and Lakshmana Tirtham are water tanks with temples associated to each. These are water tanks where apparently Lord Rama and his brother Lakshmana had bathed.

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Pic 4: The water tank at Rama Tirtham

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Pic 5: The water tank at Lakshmana Tirtham

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Pic 6: The vibrant colourful pillars inside Lakshmana Tirtham temple.

Panchmukhi Hanuman Mandir & Floating Stones

A huge black stone statue of Lord Hanuman with five faces welcomed us in this temple. Our interest in this temple was because we were told it displays floating rocks. Rocks that are believed to be of the kind that were apparently used to build the Ram Setu towards Lanka. The rocks were quite a letdown as they were way smaller than we had visualized. I didn’t click any pictures here.

Gandhamadhana Parvatham Temple

This is a small temple situated atop a little hillock. We loved the quietude in this temple. The cool breeze and the view from the temple made it even better. It is believed that Lord Hanuman took off from here towards Lanka to fight the demon King Ravana and his army.

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Pic 7: View from the temple.

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Pic 8: At the terrace of the temple.

Pamban Bridge

We traveled to Rameswaram by road from Madurai and hence drove over Pamban Bridge or Annai Indira Gandhi Road Bridge. This bridge on Palk Strait connecting Rameswaram with mainland, is India’s first sea bridge. A little more than 2 Km., crossing it was a scenic experience. A rail bridge runs parallel to the Pamban Bridge, which has a functional double leaf bascule section midway to allow ships through. We had plans of coming back and spending time on the Pamban Bridge and rail bridge but that didn’t materialize.

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Pic 9: The rail bridge as seen from Pamban Bridge.

Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam Memorial

This is a museum dedicated to former President of India, Dr A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, that showcases his life and work. It is a memorial built at his burial site and displays selected photos, paintings and miniature models of missiles and other artifacts. Dr. Kalam had passed away in Shillong on July 27, 2015. Seeing the name of our hometown didn’t fail to delight us though.

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Pic 10: Outside the Kalam Museum