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!

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.

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A Small Hike and a Soothing Afternoon

It was the month of February. The pandemic was already in the air, just that we didn’t know much about it.  The world at large wasn’t much affected till then. I received a call from a friend who informed that he had taken a sabbatical and planned to go to his hometown in Kalimpong. And, that he wanted to spend some time travelling in the North East. Back then neither he nor I had any idea that God had other plans and his sabbatical would not serve its due purpose. Before leaving Bangalore, he wished to go for a day hike somewhere in the outskirts of the city.

Achalu Betta

The following weekend, we were on our way towards Achalu Betta. Another friend had joined in and so it was the three of us. Achalu Betta, also known as Muneshwarana Betta, is a small hillock located in a sleepy village known as Achalu (‘Betta’ is a Kannada word meaning Hill). Just about 57 Km from Bangalore, this village has a temple that’s situated on the hilltop. The temple is dedicated to Lord Muneshwara, a form of Lord Shiva.

Pic 1: A ‘Nandi‘ idol at the hilltop overlooks the village.

Once we reached the village, it took us a little while to figure out the way up the hill. We could see a portion of the temple and a set of stairs going up but we had no intention of taking the stairs. There were not many people around to ask for help and not knowing the local language was another handicap. After a little deliberation, we did manage to find a trail that would take us up. A little more than an hour and we were up after a steady climb of about 3Km. The sun was shining bright making it a little tiring but the lovely panoramic view of the surroundings terrain more than made up for it. Also, there was nobody other than the three of us. It couldn’t have been better.

Pic 2: A villager with his bullock cart going towards the cultivation field located closeby.

Muthathi

After a quick lunch somewhere in a roadside eatery, we went towards Muthathi, a settlement located about 100 Km. from Bangalore.  Muthathi is situated on the banks of River Cauvery and remains surrounded by a dense forest, which is part of the Cauvery Wildlife Sanctuary. As the car speeded towards the sanctuary, the surroundings gave way to a fresh and verdant green. Tall trees of various kinds lined up both sides of the road against a backdrop of low lying green hills. Needless to say that it was an enthralling drive with dense jungle on both sides of a neat and well-paved straight road.

But the peace and tranquility of this stretch didn’t last very long. Soon we reached the riverfront only to encounter a chaotic situation. Hordes of people were all over the place cooking, eating, and merry making. They looked like people from the nearby areas. Though there were families and children, the crowd didn’t feel very decent. Feeling awkward and out of place, we left the place. We got to know only later that it was a festival day for the local people.

Pic 3: The calm and serene River Cauvery, though the water level was low at that time.
Pic 4: Another picture of the soothing river water.

A little ahead, we found a quiet place by the river. Excited, we parked the car and headed out to the river. Locating a nice spot, we opened our shoes, dipped out feet into the cool and soothing river water. In less than 10 min, a forest guard appeared from nowhere asking us to leave immediately. Apparently people are allowed only in the picnic spot that we had just left behind. Our attempts to convince him went in vain and we had to leave.

Pic 5: My friend goes scouting for a place deep enough to swim.
Pic 6: The afternoon was hot but the water was cool and this place had fishes swimming all over.

Further ahead we located a place that looked like a government guest house. Eager to spend more time in the river, my friend promptly went in to seek permission. He was told prior booking was mandatory. However, a little bit of convincing worked in this case and they allowed us to spend time beside the river though it was chargeable.

Once again, it was just the three of us. We had the soft flowing Cauvery just to ourselves. We spent a leisurely afternoon. While I chose a flat rock and sat there dipping my feet, both my friends swam around in the water. The afternoon slipped by as tiny fishes nibbled at my toes and soles. Evening descended sooner than we thought and it was time to leave for Bangalore.

Pic 7: The three musketeers in one frame!

Three Friends, A Lake, & A Monolith

“Hey, I’ve been here before!” I exclaimed excitedly as my friend slowed down the car and then pulled over. The still blue pool of water glistened in the afternoon sun like a piece of jewel in the crown of the surrounding greenery. It looked just the same as I had seen it 8 years ago – nestled right there down below amidst the green hills.

It was a Saturday when I was out on a long drive in the honour of my cousin, S, who was visiting me all the way from Shillong. The car belonged to a childhood friend, G, who also lives in Bangalore now. Our long drives together date back to Shillong during our college days when we would do the same in G’s Maruti 800. Yes, this drive was an attempt of recreating memories of the past.

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Pic 1: Manchanabele Lake as I had seen it 8 years back. Savandurga hill is seen in the background.

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Pic 2: Manchanabele Lake as I saw it today in 2020

It was a little before noon when we started from Bangalore and had no specific place in mind. While on the way, we decided to go to Savandurga, which is considered among the largest monolith hills in Asia. Driving in the outskirts of Bangalore is sheer pleasure. Well tarred roads in most places, intermingling green hills and valleys, sporadically dotted with rugged barren rocky hills, lush forests, and quaint hamlets.

The pool of water that we found on the way was Manchanabele Dam, which is a reservoir built across River Arkavati. Also spelt as Arkavathy or Arkavathi, it is a tributary of River Cauvery. About 40 km. away from Bangalore city, it is a man-made dam built mainly for the purpose of irrigation. After clicking a few pictures, we decided to proceed towards our destination and come back before sunset. A few meters ahead, we found fresh fish being fried and sold in makeshift shops. We helped ourselves on my cousin’s insistence and then proceeded to Savandurga, which was about 14 Km away.

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Pic 3: At the lake 8 years ago. This plank is no longer there and the lake looks a lot different today.

The sun was at its peak and it was well into afternoon when we reached Savandurga. Any other day we would have climbed up the hill but we were late and weren’t prepared in terms of clothing and shoes. We spent some time in and around the hill exploring the temple at the base of the hill and the surrounding grassland. Thereafter, we set off to catch sunset at the dam.

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Pic 4: A part of the monolith hill, Savandurga, behind the remains of a temple

Driving an additional 9 Km after taking two wrong turns, we arrived at the dam just before sunset. As we were about to turn the car onto the narrow muddy road going towards the lake, a guard appeared from nowhere saying public entry into the lake is prohibited. My argument of having been here a couple of times before fell on deaf ears. After a while he said he would let us go in if we pay Rs. 200.00. After haggling for a bit, we paid the amount. G asked for a for a receipt, which he obviously refused. So, it was a bribe – we are guilty.

G carefully maneuvered the car downhill through the broken and muddy road littered with small and big stones. Near the lake we met a family who had also paid bribe to the guard. We shared our apprehensions of doing something illegitimate. The ban apparently was implemented two years back after a series of drowning incidents when people attempted swimming in the water.

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Pic 5: The gorgeous sunset at the lake.

Soon the colour of the sky started changing with rich hues of reds blending with oranges and crimsons. Our guilt and apprehensions were completely forgotten as our collective focus was unknowingly directed towards the yellow ball of fire that appeared to change scenes every second. Within a few moments the show got over. We bid goodbye to our momentary acquaintances and retraced our path to the car. As we drove back, S and G sang medleys of popular Bengali Tagore songs (Rabindra Sangeet) all through the way making for a soothing end to a beautiful day.

An April Afternoon by the Beach

Thankfulness to a helpful stranger!

“Aap ko toh tourist guide hona chaiye!” (You should rather be a tourist guide!), my sister joked with Praveen, the auto driver we met a few moments ago. Acting on Praveen’s advice was the best thing we did that afternoon.

It was the month of April, last year. We had arrived at Mangalore around noon after visiting Bekal Fort in Kerala. Our train to Bangalore wasn’t until 9 PM. We had the entire afternoon and evening in Mangalore without any specific plans. Mangalore being a coastal city we knew we would be spending the afternoon at a beach. We had some financial limitations and wanted to restrain our expenses for the day. The waiter at the insignificant roadside eatery, where we had a delicious lunch of Pomfret fish curry and rice, recommended we go to Panambur Beach. We were, however, interested in Surathkal Beach as it was recommended by a friend but on enquiry got to know it was a little away from the city. Tad hesitantly, we settled for Panambur as it was accessible by bus and hence would cost less.

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Pic 1: Footprints only to be washed away by the waves-fleeting impermanence of all things in life!

We landed at Panambur only to realize this was not the place where we would like to spend the rest of the day. It was crazily crowded even with the blazing Sun in the hot coastal afternoon. The sand was burning, and the place looked like a fair – joyrides for children, camel and horse rides, hawkers selling ice-creams, and what not. We immediately decided to spend whatever money it takes and go to Surathkal Beach instead. Walking through the heated sand out of the beach was an ordeal in itself and then there were no autos waiting by the roadside.

After a while Praveen arrived and was ready to take us to Surathkal for an amount that seemed a little high but at that moment we were in no mood to haggle. Wasting no time, we hopped in. Praveen started his auto and just took a turn towards our destination when I poured out my frustration about Panambur beach. I also told him that we have a train from Mangalore at night and would need to go back. Praveen recommended we go to Tannirbhavi beach instead as it would be easier to go back to the city from there.

Tannirbhavi turned out to be just like our kind of a place. The beach wasn’t much crowded and lacked the hustle and bustle of Panambur. The eateries and a few joyrides were restricted to just one small section of the beach a little away from the sea. The sand was clean, pristine and much cooler. The best part was the tall pine trees all along the beach that not only made it scenic but also provided refuge from the hot afternoon sun.

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Pic 2: The pleasant and scenic Tannirbhavi Beach

Set on the shores of the mighty Arabian Sea, Tannirbhavi beach was just perfect for nature lovers like us – peaceful, serene, and tranquil. It may not appeal much to those who love beach activities as it had none. We spent the rest of the afternoon wading knee deep into the water, walking leisurely on the sparkling sand through the length of the beach, listening to the waves lazily crashing on the beach, observing the golden coloured crabs hurriedly make their way and disappear into the sand, watching the playful sea birds flying around in definite patterns, and when the Sun felt hot resting under the shades of Pine.

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Pic 3: Boats parked on one side of the beach

As the afternoon was slowly giving way to evening, a cluster of clouds came along floating into the sky and the setting Sun played hide and seek with us. The result was, we did not have the perfect sunset but that didn’t matter instead we watched a young man practicing his surfing skills in the tides.

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Pic 4: Not an ideal sunset but it didn’t matter. Do you spot the surfer practicing his skills?

Praveen had mentioned a certain tree park nearby which he said was a must visit. He also told us about a temple in Mangalore. We were so lost in quietude at the scenic beach that we totally forgot about the tree park and remembered only when we were leaving the beach. We decided to give it a miss. On the other side of the beach runs Phalguni River, where one can take a ferry ride and cross over to Mangalore City. It’s the cheapest way to go to the city from the beach – something we wouldn’t have known had it not been for Praveen.

On reaching the other side of the river we visited the temple that Praveen had mentioned before heading to the Railway Station. The temple was beautiful and it was a good way to end our day at Mangalore.

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Pic 5: Ferry ride over Phalguni River

Isn’t it fascinating to meet random people like Praveen while travelling! To me, they are God-send. Praveen was an auto driver, who went out of his way to help and guide random strangers in his city. It wasn’t a part of his duty. Rather he could have misguided and taken advantage of us in the lure of making some quick buck from ill-informed tourists. Instead he gave us a glimpse of Mangalore in the 20 minutes that we spent with him and invited us personally to come again for a longer period. He even created an itinerary for us to spend the rest of the day in the best possible way. Such delightful rendezvous add so much colour to travel memories.

Ever since, our memories of Mangalore is associated with Praveen and we can never forget the beautiful afternoon at Tannirbhavi Beach. I will go back to Mangalore as I haven’t explored the city at all and whenever I do so, I will reach out for Praveen.