Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Shivagange, Bangalore

It’s a brand new year. And with a new year comes new hopes and a fresh beginning. But when it comes to traveling, every journey is a new beginning - a fresh start. The destination may or may not be new, but it’s a new beginning nevertheless. My latest weekend getaway had something new about it too, for it was the first time I was take a trip to Tumkur district of Karnataka. Shivagange or Shivaganga was my object of fascination in this latest trip.

Shivaganga is roughly about 60 kms from Bangalore, depending upon where exactly you stay. Considering the freezing climate we left home at 6:30 AM (half an hour late compared to our usual time) and by the time we reach Jallahalli I was already cursing myself for starting so late. The ride from Yeshvantpur to Nelamangala was a real nightmare, what with all the traffic, bad roads and construction work on the elevated highway. By the time we stopped over for breakfast at Hotel Agarwal (cant remember the exact name), I had decided to not come towards Tumkur until the Elevated Highway is ready. But after the super delicious breakfast I was ready to come and eat there if not anything else. Yes, the breakfast here is to die for. Do not forget to try the Khara Baath. After a much satisfying and invigorating breakfast we were back on the road. Right after you cross the toll-gate till the foot hills of Shivagange the roads are a biker’s paradise.

Shivagange is a huge hill rising up to 1368m. It is also famous for religious reasons…yes there always has to be a temple on every hill top. Gangadhareshwara is the presiding deity here. Other (religious) attractions include the Olakala Teertha, Nandi Statue(s) and Patala Gange.

After parking our bikes right outside the temple, and giving ourselves a good stretch, we gazed at the monster ahead of us - 1368m of almost vertical climb to the cloud-covered peak. Luckily, footwear is allowed for the climb except at places of worship. But unlike us, most were doing the whole trek on foot, which made us look a little sinful. But then who cares, after all I was wearing my brand new Woodlands trekking shoes and was more concerned about the safety of my new shoes than the sinful feeling of wearing footwear “near” the place of worship.

The first stop after climbing some 50 odd steps is the Gangadhareshwara Temple dedicated to Lord Shiva. It is believed that performing an abhisheka with ghee turns the ghee into butter. There is also tunnel in this temple that is believed to lead to the Gavi Gangadhareshwara temple in Bangalore. Whether, somebody has undertaken the task of verifying this claim, I cannot be sure. But apparently the tunnel is closed from both ends for safety reasons.

Climb further for about half an hour and you reach Olakala Teertha. Here in this cave temple one would find a small hole-in-the-stone which has a natural spring water source. It is believed that only pious people would be able to touch this water. This also translates into the fact that if you are a tall person with long arms then you are pious :)

Another half hour climb and you reach a relatively new shiv-parvathi idol in glistening white. From here you would get your first good look at the highest peak in Shivagange. We were already huffing and puffing by the time we reach shiv-parvathi and to make matters worse, the next stretch ahead of us was one vertical climb. The rock-carved steps, the rusty rickety railings and in some cases absolutely no steps, makes the climb very treacherous. It is also a physically demanding and absolutely exhilarating experience. After a monkey had confiscated us of our water bottle and emptied its contents, were dependent on lassi’s available at the numerous shacks along the way. During our climb we found a couple of boys carrying water from the foothills to the peak. Curious, we asked them about their daily routine. Their answer shot our brains through our eyeballs. These guys apparently make 10-15 trips per day depending on the demand and get paid Rs. 20 per trip. That’s right 10-15 a day, and sometimes even 20! They definitely have one of the toughest jobs in the world. Had somebody asked me to do a second trip that day, they would have witnessed a Houdini’s act in front of their own eyes.

Two hours, nine lassis’, one lemonade and one bottle of water later we were standing next to the stone carved Nandi. The cool windy breeze here seemed to take away with it every last bit of exhaustion from our body. We no longer remembered to complain about the heat, the exhaustion and tingling sensation in the ankle. We were totally at peace with the gatekeeper of Shiva’s abode. Due to space constraints we could not stake our claim to enjoy a few peaceful moments and had to give way to other devotees.

A little further, there were two more temples and what looks like a runway for fight planes from a warship. A relaxed half hour here and we made our way down. Surprisingly the descent was way too quicker than expected. On the way back, we came across Patala Gange. Here we found a natural spring water source. A priest stationed here gave this spring water as teertha as well as jug-fulls to quench everyone’s thirst. The priest tells us that the spring water level in this cave never changed over the past 60 years – no matter how much you draw out of it. It is believed that the Holy Ganga of the north is the source of this water. A little hard to believe, but that’s the way it is being believed.

Another belief is that the spring water here has some connection to the spring water source of Anthargange. Submerged in this water are the 9 Jyothirlingas, one Vinayaka and one Subramaneshwara. The priest also told us that come Ugadi 2010 and these stone idols would be moved to a new abode near the newly sculpted shiv-parvathi.

With a heady dose of spirituality and trekking we rushed back to Bangalore for a sinful indulgence of Hyderabadi Biryani – our prize for conquering yet another “betta”.

Getting-there: NH4 all the way till Dobbaspet and then a left detour for 6 kms.

Must-Do: Check out Olakala Teertha and Patala Gange. Keep yourself hydrated. Carry absolutely no baggage as they will either be confiscated by the monkey or will impede your progress. No need to carry water bottles too and there are many shacks along the way.

Must-Don’t: Littering. Coming with kids as it could prove dangerous.

My Rating: 6/10.