Monday, December 31, 2012

Images of 2012

Kambala at Jappina Mogaru
St. Mary's Island

Mammiyoor Mahadeva Temple

Revannasiddeshwara Betta

Banavasi Temple


Chamundi Hills

Kalil Temple

Boga Nandeeshwara Temple

Heritage Wine Tour

Sathodi Falls

Vibhoothi Falls

Chembra Peak
Doodhsagar Falls and Trek

Chikka Tirupathi

Upper Bhavani Dam

Ambegalu Krishna

Chembra Trek, Wayanad

The key to conquering any peak is not to look up for what is left, but to look back to see how much you have already covered.
The prospect of conquering any peak is always enticing enough to make me and my like-minded friends to put on our travel gear and head out to some place exciting. The Chembra Trek required no additional effort in appeasing the group to undertake this trek. A simple with a single picture did the trick and pulled-in the quorum for a trip. The single picture and the USP of the Chembra Trek was that of a natural heart-shaped lake half-way through the climb. This natural and perfectly heart-shaped lake with water throughout the year stimulated and intrigued many in the group. Although there were the last-minute drop-outs, we still managed to total six. This proved a good number to take our own car rather than depend on a rented one vis-a-vis cut costs for the trip.
If the heart-shaped lake is an asset of the Chembra Trek, then the guide who MUST accompany you along the trek is the liability. For every group that wants to climb Chembra, the forest department provides a Guide (whose fee is covered in the entry tickets). It is not like you need a guide to find your way around, but the forest officials insist that you must carry one with you. The ill-effects of carrying a guide in such a trek is that, the moment you tell him you want to climb all the way to the final peak and not go back after reaching the heart lake (as many do), he starts trying to de-motivate you about how arduous the trek is and blah blah blah. But then we are not the ones to be cowed down so easily. And despite a very slow mover in our group we succeeded in conquering Chembra Peak with reasonable ease. And this was the crowning glory of our last trip of 2012.
The trek begins with a stroll through a private tea garden until you reach a watch tower. From here starts the real deal. In the first 500mts my breathing got heavy. At the end of the 1stkilometer, my hands were on my hips. By the 2nd km I was dragging my feet. By the third I feel numb to all the pain, exhaustion and the heavy breathing. And in comes the heart-shaped lake like a breath of fresh air. Though I’ve seen the picture of this lake a hundred times, it was still unbelievably heart-shaped in real life. It takes me about half an hour to take the perfect picture of the lake without the tourists occupying the frame. And that’s good time to recover my strength and my breath. With that I set forth to conquer the peak. The distant elusive peak is an arduous climb, but not impossible.
After the disappointment in KP this time round my determination was strong. I had to finish this trek and would like to do it with considerable ease. My strategy was to not stop and rest but keep walking - no matter how tired my body was. When I couldn’t take it anymore I took short breaks of 3 minutes each. In those 3 minutes I practiced my Yoga techniques of taking deep breaths. Three short breaks of 3 minutes each and a half hour break at Chembra lake got me to the peak of Chembra. At 6900 feet I was standing at the highest point in Wayanad (or so the forest officials claim). It is obvious to any trekker or tourist that the peak that they claim to be the tallest here is definitely not true as there are more taller peaks adjacent to the one you are standing on. But why the forest officials claim that this is the tallest is beyond our imagination. Maybe it’s because there’s a threat of wild animals there, maybe they don’t want to entertain trekkers and tourists in these areas. But that doesn’t take away anything from the feeling of standing on a peak and breathing the fresh air of mother nature. Its not just air but pride that fills my chest when I take deep breaths at the peak.
On an average it takes 4 hours to reach the peak and 2 hrs to descend. A wonderful one-day trek with the everlasting image of the heart-shaped lake as a souvenir that will be etched in your mind.
Getting-there: Kalpetta->Meppady->Chembra Estate
Must-Do: Trek to the heart-shaped lake and beyond till you reach the peak.
Must-Don’t: Littering and camping overnight(not allowed)
My Rating: 8/10

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Karapuzha Dam, Wayanad

Returning from Edakkal Caves we realised we were not left with much options for the remainder of the day. Meenmutty Falls was our original plan but conflicting reports of it being closed for tourists and the fact that we may miss the deadline for entry into the area made us fall back on Plan B. We zeroed-in on Karapuzha Dam as that was the closest to our accomodation in Meenangadi. Plus, we wanted enough time to relax before a demanding Day2 of our Wayanad trip.

Karapuzha Dam is built on the Karapuzha Lake, which is however a conglomerate of a dozen lakes. This place is not very touristy, but if you have an evening to kill and watch the sunset in Wayanad, then this is the place for it. This place also promises to be a good one for birding but I guess our timing wasn't right. The dam in itself is a very quiet place and unlike other dams across the country, this one is open to public and hardly has any security personnel around it.

After waking around the dam for a while and waiting for the sun to set, SM and I (who had driven the car last night taking turns) found a comfortable spot to lie down on. And before we knew it, we drifted into a deep sleep. And when I finally woke up i found, much to my dismay, the sun had set! But from what I heard from my co-travelers, the sunset was magical.

Getting: there: 17kms from Kalpetta and 6kms from Meenangadi.

Must-Do: Watch the sunset
Must-Don't: Littering

My Rating: 5/10

Eddakal Caves, Wayanad

Wayanad is one of the perfect weekend destinations from Bangalore. For one, it is a mere 300 kms from Bangalore and with good roads, it makes for an easy drive. For another, there are so many destinations in a 50 km radius around Kalpetta that you can plan multiple weekend getaways to this sleepy town nestled in the great wide Western Ghats. Not surprisingly, this is my second visit here. The first time round I covered Pookode Lake, Soochipura Falls and Kuruwa Dweep Islands. Needless to say, this time round I had other destinations in mind.
Unlike last time when we booked a TT, this time we opted to take our own car and that meant a lot of driving shared between 2 of the 6 passengers. Thankfully the well carpeted asphalt lasted all the way till Kerala border. But there ends the good fortune. The moment you step foot on God’s Own Country, it is as if you set foot on Hell! There are no potholes on this road – only craters! Once you cross Sulthan Bathery the craters disappear, only to give you a feeling as if you just landed on Mars. The so-called highway is being re-carpeted and from the looks of it the work has been going on forever. There are no visible signs of any work being done. After gobbling on some Masala Dosas and Puris from Sulthan Battery we headed towards Meenangadi, where we had booked ourselves into RI Residency. To our dismay we found the road to be blocked and traffic not allowed to pass through. Upon enquiry we found that there has been a tiger-spotting here a while ago and the forest officials were trying to capture or drive-away the tiger from the (so-called) human habitation. Apparently the tiger also killed 2 goats and a cow the night before which has the local population angered. And Kerala being Kerala which calls for a hartal at the drop of a hat has started agitation for the capture of the wild beast.

That meant we had to take a detour back to Sulthan Battery and follow a different route to Meenangadi. This detour cost us at least an hour. We checked into our dormitory accommodation at the spanking new RI Residency which to our surprise was very neat and comfortable. And at Rs 150 per head we could not be any happier! A quick bath later we headed to Edakkal Caves.

For the uninitiated, the Edakkal Caves are famous for its prehistoric carvings. Some of these carvings date back to 5000 BC which is attributed to the Neolithic man. These Stone Age carvings are the only one of its kind in South India and points to existence of a pre-historic civilization. Not all carvings are believed to be from the same era. That implies that people from different times have inhabited these caves and left their mark. The oldest of the carvings are believed to be 8000 years old. The existence of Tamil script only adds to the intrigue of the place and the history of this Dravidian language.

Until a few years ago going by the blogs of that time, getting to the caves used to be an arduous trek. All that has changed now with the so-called tourism development. Crass commercialization, well-paved roads, steel staircases, different entry and exit routes has changed the experience for the worst! The hordes and hordes of picnic goers don’t make the situation any better. Coming to the carvings themselves, thankfully they are well-maintained. The guard on duty and the ASI officer ensure that these engravings aren’t vandalized. For a small fee they even explain the history of the place including deciphering some of the markings on display. With that dose of pre-historic life we decided to head to our next destination.

Getting-there: About 25kms from Kalpetta and 13kms from Meenangadi.

Must-Do: Gobble delicious Pineapples on your way back to recharge yourself.
Must-Don't: Vandalism and Littering.

My Rating: 5/10

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Boga Nandeeshwara Temple, Bangalore

Strange are the ways of the world. There are some things that I just don’t comprehend. That every Bangalorean has been to or knows about Nandi Hills is a common knowledge. But ask them about Boga Nandeeshwara Temple and they will draw a blank. What’s the connection? Well, the Boga Nandeeshwara temple is situated right under the nose of Nandi Hills. What makes the matter even more intriguing is that this is no ordinary run-of-the-mill temple. This temple was originally built in the 9th Century by Bana Queen Ratnavali. This temple was then expanded and renovated by the dynasties of Gangas, Cholas, Hoysalas, Pallavas and finally the Vijayanagaras. This is also quite easily one of the largest temples in and around Bangalore. Despite all this, the Boga Nandeeshwara temple is off the tourist map for reasons unknown. Also the Karnataka tourism boards that usually display even the slightest place of tourism interest have conspicuously missed out on Boga Nandeeshwara temple. That could be one reason why so few people know about (and visit) this temple – which is good in way because this temple so far has been well maintained with sprawling lawns, well-kept structures and even clean bathrooms!

The Boga Nandeeshwara Temple houses three different temples namely, the Arunachaleshwara, Uma Maheshwara and finally the Boga Nandeeshwara temples. They all together represent three stages of Lord Shiva’s life – Arunachaleshwara depicts Shiva’s youthful life, Uma Maheshwara depicts Shiva’s wedding with Parvathi and Yoga Narashimha depicts Shiva’s renunciation stage.

To the trained eye it is easy to make out the architectural styles of Gangas, Hoysalas and the Vijayanagaras. The many stone pillars in the temple reminds its devotees of the temples of Hampi – rich in stone artwork. The also houses a Mahanavami Dibba and a stepped tank called Shringi Theertha a lot like the ones we saw in Hampi. The temple also has a few soapstone sculptures which leaves a Hoysala signature in the temple. The highlight of the temple, in my opinion, is however the Shringi  Theertha (a stepped tank). This pond is believed to be created by Nandi by plunging its horns into the earth to draw water from holy Ganga. We spent at least an hour in the serenity and peacefulness offered by this magical place (but for the annoying “caretaker” who came asking for money every 10 minutes for no reason, which we obviously didn’t oblige).
In the end it was hard to bid goodbye to this temple but then we knew we would come back soon enough.

Getting-there: Cross Devanahalli airport and the take the left which goes to Nandi Hills. This road ends in a T-junction where left goes to Nandi Hills. Take the right here and travel 5 kms.

Must-Do: Check out the Stepped Tank and the stone carvings around the temple.
Must-Don’t: Vandalism and Littering.

My Rating: 8/10

Banashankari Temple, Badami

The Banashankari Temple at Badami is a somewhat lesser known entity compared to its massively popular next-door neighbour - the rock-cut cave temples of Badami, so much so that I’m writing about this temple after almost 3 years of visiting the place. The inspiration came after a couple of friends recently went to this temple on their Hampi- Badami-Pattadackal circuit tour. Thanks to their trip, I start digging into the pages of history for gathering more info on the temple. It’s not for nothing people say that every travel is an education in itself.

Those were the days when my better half worked in Hubli and I in Bangalore. So on one of my visits to Hubli we decided to cover the Badami-Pattadackal-Aihole circuit. As it turned out, we cut short our trip after visiting Banashankari Temple and Badami Cave Temples. That morning we started off from Hubli in a rickety government-owned bus and reached our destination close to noon. After alighting from the bus we enquired about Badami cave temples with a rickshaw guy in our broken Kannada interspersed with Hindi. Whether it was a total communication failure or taking-us-for-a-ride thingy, we were dropped off in front of Banashankari Temple.

This 7th Century AD temple complex instantly catches your attention with its high walls, watch-cum-lamp tower and large temple pond with stone mantapas on three sides. Not one to waste an opportunity of looking at the architectural wonders of our forefathers we entered the temple and offered prayers to Banashankari (a.k.a Vanashankari) Devi. Banashankari is believed to be another form of Lord Shiva's consort Parvathi. This temple was originally built in 7th Century by the Kalyani Chalukya Kings and later renovated in the 17th Century by a Maratha Chieftain Parasuram Agale. Hence, even though the original temple has glimpses of Dravidian style, the later additions are the distinct style of the Vijayanagara era.

According to the scriptures, people of this area were harassed by the demon Durgamasura. Answering the fervent prayers of the inhabitants, Shakambari Devi was sent to protect the people. Not surprisingly the demon was killed in a fierce battle and peace restored in the area. The forests around the temple provided enough food for the people here in times of a famine. Hence the Goddess got the name Shakambari. It is definitely worth visiting this temple which is rich in history and mythology.

Getting-there: From Hubli take the Gulbarga-Bijapur highway and take right at Kulgeri.

Must-Do: Check out the age-old lamp tower and temple pond.
Must-Don’t: Vandalism and littering.
My Rating: 6/10

Mahabaleshwar Temple, Gokarna

The Mahabaleshwar Temple in Gokarna is believed to be one most significant temples in South India from a mythological perspective. The presence of an Atma Linga here makes it one of the holiest and highly revered temple. Legend has it that Ravana’s mother who is a staunch devotee of Shiva was performing a penance for her son when Indra jealous of her devotion, disrupted her penance by throwing the linga into the sea. A distraught Ravanna, performs a severe penance in Mount Kailash to please Lord Shiva. Impressed by his devotion Shiva bestows a boon to Ravana. Ravana asks Shiva for the Atmalinga. Shiva then gifts Ravana the atma linga with instructions that it should not be placed on the ground. Perturbed by the powers bestowed on Ravana, Shiva’s sons approach Vishnu to redeem the situation.

While Ravana is heading back to Lanka, Ganesha intercepts him taking the form of a little boy. Ravana asks the little boy to hold the idol (and not place it on the ground) while he would be back after offering evening prayers. But when Ravana does not return in the stipulated time, Ganesha places the idol on the ground and leaves. Once placed on the ground, Ravana tries with all his might to lift the linga but it stays put, thereby forcing Ravana to return to Lanka empty-handed. It is this atma linga in the temple that draws devotees in the thousands.

Our original plan after visiting Viboothi Falls, was to go to Unchalli Falls and if time permits Kumta Beach. But some mystical power forced us to re-draw our plans to end the Sirsi trip with a visit to the Mahabaleshwar Temple in Gokarna and a beach trek from Gokarna to Kudle. As soon as we entered the temple we were confronted by a battery of poojaries. They cornered us like salesmen and started rattling out a list of poojas that they can perform for you. And the a la carte included poojas of varied denominations starting from as high as Rs.500 to as paltry as a sum of Rs.50. And that frankly was a big turn-off. Thankfully we got a quick darshan and we were out in no time. The best part however was that you get to touch the Atma Linga in the sanctum sanctorum of the temple.
After the tryst with the atma linga we walked to Gokarna beach and without spending another minute(going by past experiences) started walking towards kudle beach. Kudle has been one of my favorite beaches ever since I went there almost 3 years ago. But going there after all those good memories I was a little apprehensive. In the last 3 years, surely Kudle must have been commercially sold out. There sure is going to couple of resorts, some tens of night clubs an hundred little shacks. I dreaded the thought of watching such a sight. Thankfully I was not entirely proved right. But Kudle is slowly and surely going that route. Another couple of years and Kudle would have gone the Goa-way. Sigh! After another wonderful Sunset (a Kudle speciality), we headed back to Gokarna. A laugh-riot dinner later we started to head back to… Damn I don’t even want to mention that name… L

Getting there: In the heart of Gokarna town. The temple is right on the beach.

Must-Do: Touch the atma linga.
Must-Don’t: Waste time at Gokarna Beach. Instead head straight to Kudle.

My Rating: 6/10

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Viboothi Falls, Sirsi

When we first planned to visit Sirsi, the idea was to go waterfalls-hopping. Sirsi and its surroundings have so many waterfalls that we were skeptical of being able to cover them all. But ironic as it may seem, after one and a half day of travelling, we had so far seen just one waterfall. Days prior to the trip when we were reading up on Sirsi, we stumbled upon places much more interesting than just waterfalls and so it came to be that we were going to the second and last waterfalls of our trip.

Viboothi Falls is a mere 8kms from Yana, but the winding and treacherous road makes it look longer than that. From the end of the motorable road it’s another 2 km walk to the waterfalls. Viboothi is as pristine as they come these days. Nestled in the Sahyadri Ranges and formed on River Gangavali, Viboothi gets its name from the limestone formations in the area. It is a 3-tier waterfall that forms a tiny pool, worthy of being called heavenly. The riverbed in this pool is haphazardly stuffed with big boulders, making it very perilous for the tourists. You have to be extremely stupid to dive into these waters. Unlike Sathodi, this is the kind of falls where you can relax, unwind, take a dip and refresh yourself in the pristine waters. It is an ideal picnic spot where you can spend a couple of hours playing in the waters and not know the time fly-by. Though Sirsi has many waterfalls, not all of them entertain the tourists to play in their laps. Viboothi is one such falls that embraces her visitors and leaves them wet, fresh and recharged. A must-visit waterfalls for your Sirsi itinerary.

Getting-there: 8kms from Yana.

Must-Do: Take a dip in the water and get totally refreshed and rejuvenated.
Must-Don’t: Diving into the pool and littering the place.

My Rating: 8/10

Sunday, November 04, 2012

Yana, Sirsi

Bhairaveshwar Shikara
It pays to have good friends, more so when these people are random guys you met in blogosphere. So, on Day1 of our Sirsi trip when we had given up hope on finding a room (all rooms in all hotels occupied, thanks to Dassera) in Sirsi, this blogger friend of a fellow traveler turns out to be our knight-in-shining-armor. All it took was one phone call and within minutes the six of us were given two of the best rooms in a hotel which belonged to a relative of our blogger friend. As if that magnanimity wasn’t enough, the hotel refused to take a single penny from us for our one-night-stay! A hot water bath and a good night’s sleep ensured all of us were all charged-up for the next day. A sumptuous breakfast later we were headed towards Yana.

Bhairaveshwar Shikara with Shiva temple
Yana is famous for two massive rock formations. Essentially, these rock formations are black crystalline limestone. The entire village of Yana is known for these rock formations. But there are 2 such formations that are of mythological significance, namely, Bhairaveshwar Shikara and Mohini Shikara. Yana is as much a geologist’s delight as it is for a pilgrim. The Bhairaveshwar Shikara is popular for a Swayambhu (self-manifested) linga. Add to that water drips on to this linga from the rocks thereby making the alliteration that it is holy Ganga flowing. However, the scientific reason for the formation of the swayambhu is attributed to phenomenon of stalactites and stalagmites.

Most of the pictures you find of the two shikaras on internet do no justice compared to the real deal. These are massive rock formations, standing as tall as 120 metres (Bhairaveshwar Shikara) and 90 metres (Mohini Shikara). These rocks are not without its share of mythological stories and prominence, as the names suggest. As per the mythological stories, the demon king Asura through persistent penance obtained a boon from Lord Shiva whereby on whomsoever’s head Asura places his hand, would turn to ashes (hence the name Bhasmasura). But Asura turns a Frankenstein’s monster and wants to test his strength on Lord Shiva Himself. After being chased by Asura, Shiva seeks refuge and advice from Lord Vishnu. Vishnu takes the form of damsel Mohini and entices Bhasmasura with her beauty and dance. An infatuated Bhasmasura agrees to a dance competition between the two. In one of the mudras (dance pose) Mohini places her hand on her head which an unsuspecting (and blindly in love) Asura copies, only to be turned into ashes by his own foolishness. The resulting combustion was believed to be so intense that it blackened the limestone formations of entire Yana. The Bhairaveshwar Shikara (Shiva’s Hill) and Mohini Shikara (Mohini’s Hill) thus got their respective names and temples (Mohini Shikara houses a Parvathi temple).
Mohini Shikara
Just like in Banavasi, the priest of the Shiva temple here gives all the devotees a briefing on the mythology of this temple. The pradikshina of the temple here is probably the longest and toughest of them all as it involves walking around and between these rock formations on barefoot. Once you are done with Bhairaveshwar Shikara, there are steps downhill that takes you to Mohini Shikara and the Parvathi temple.
This area once used to be a dense Sahayadri forest. And it took a trek of nearly 17kms from civilization to just reach these rocks. But crass commercialization and road-laying has done away with all this. And now visitors need to walk just half a kilometer from where they can park their vehicles. The day is not far behind where you can drive right up to the base of these hills. There’s a popular saying in these parts of the world - Sokkidhavanu Yanakke hogutaane, rokkiddhavanu Gokarna ke hoguthane, meaning, the one with tremendous guts and determination goes to Yana and the one with money bags goes to Gokarna. Unfortunately that is no longer true in these times of rapid and unbridled development.

Getting-there: Around 40kms from Sirsi town.

Must-Do: Check out the rock formations and the Swayambhu.
Must-Don’t: Littering and Vandalism. 

My Rating: 8/10

Information Courtesy: Wikipedia, OurKarnataka

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Sathodi Falls, Yellapur

This was my second attempt at getting to Sathodi Falls and yet again for a briefest of moments I felt my chances of getting to see this waterfall receding, just like the sun setting in the horizon. The first attempt was a failure because accessibility was an issue. After reaching Yellapur, I found that there were no buses that go to Sathodi Falls. I knew it wasn’t wise to hire a Jeep or a rickshaw as they would charge me buckets. I was told that youngsters there offered to take you to Sathodi for a nominal amount. As it turned out, the nominal amount was Rs. 400 – something that I was expecting the Rickshaw-wallas to demand. I decided to drop the plan and instead go to Magod Falls. But even that didn’t materialize since the bus timings were very erratic and less frequent.

But this time round I was travelling with a group and with our own transport – a Tavera. The threat to our chances was however from the receding daylight. Our first challenge was to enter the forest area before 6:30PM before the gates close. And the second was to spend enough time enjoying the view and yet get back to civilization before it’s too dark. Sathodi is a 28km drive through the forests from Yellapur town. The roads are in a bad shape for the first 23kms. For the last 5 kms there is simply no road. Ok.. Im exaggerating a bit here. There is indeed a mud road for the last 5 kms but it’s in a pathetic condition. The rains make the road even worse with loose soil and slippery slopes.

With the menacing road taking a toll on the vehicle and the eager-to-retire sun looming over our heads, we started questioning the rationale of going ahead with our plan. Would the destination be worth the journey? Would we be able to spend at least 10 minutes there? Even if we do, are those 10 minutes worth the trouble we took just getting here? What if we have a flat tyre on the way back? Is it safe to spend the night in this jungle? Just as all these questions were hovering around inside the confines of our heads, we got our first glimpse of the backwaters of Kodasalli Dam. And just like that, our apprehensions started disappearing. We were now more than eager to get to the waterfalls.

We finally reached the check-in point of the falls where we paid a nominal entrance fee and quickly made our way to the falls. A one kilometer walk later we gaped with open mouths at India’s little Niagara falls. I had to admit that the pictures you see of Sathodi in the internet do no justice to the real deal. Even though you don’t get to go near the foot of the falls, the view is pretty intimidating. While most waterfalls I’ve seen till date are tall, and single or multi-tiered, this one was w-i-d-e. And thanks to all that rain for the last couple of weeks, Sathodi was a decked-up princess. Anybody with half a brain would know better than to venture into the water. At this time of the year Sathodi was strictly a viewing-only waterfall. Even though we had set ourselves a deadline of 15 minutes to reach back to our vehicle, half an hour had already passed. Not completely content with the amount of time we spent here, we had to drag ourselves back to the car. Our apprehensions of a flat tyre were highly misplaced and we reached Yellapur, and subsequently Sirsi, incident-free.

Getting-there: Sirsi->Yellapur ->Sathodi (Follow the signboards at Yellapur)

Must-Do: Start early so as to spend enough time there and get back safely
Must-Don’t: Adventurism or heroism in the rapid waters.

My Rating: 8/10

Sahasralinga, Sirsi

The literal translation of Sahasralinga means a 1000 Lingas. And that’s precisely what you get to see here. On the banks of river Shalmala are carved hundreds and hundreds of Shivalingas and Nandis (Basavannas). It is believed that for every Linga, there is a Nandi staring at it. Currently there are far too fewer lingas, and even the ones present have suffered some damage over the years thanks to the force of the ravenous waters. Even then the sheer number of Lingas and Nandis is sight to be seen to be believed, notwithstanding the fact that we went there at a time when the water flow was high.

These Shiva lingas were built by King Sadashivaraya of Sirsi. It is best to visit Sahasralinga during the dry seasons, when the flow of water is pretty less. Sahasralinga is 10 kms from Sirsi. A recent addition to this tourist location is a hanging bridge built across the river to connect neighboring villages. Since the flow of water is comparatively gentler, this place can also double up as a picnic center. Children might enjoy play in the water here.

Getting-there: About 10 kms from Sirsi en route Yellapur.

Must-Do: Visit during the dry seasons to see more of the lingas surfacing.
Must-Don’t: Vandalism and Littering.

My Rating: 6/10

Monday, October 29, 2012

Madhukeshwara Temple, Banavasi, Sirsi

Long before colonial Bangalore was deemed the capital of Karnataka, there was a lesser known capital for the state, which goes by the name of Banavasi. Set up in the 9th Century AD by the Kadamba dynasty, Banavasi was known to be the earliest known capital of Karnataka. As with most dynasties of that era, the kingdom revolves around the main temple in area. Madhukeshwara Temple occupies that significant stature in this regard. So prominent was Banvasi and the Madhukeshava temple that the temple originally built by Kadambas were renovated/extended by Chalukyas and the Hoysalas. As a result one can easily notice the different architectural styles starting from the garba griha to the mantapas. And yet there is no denying the fact that the mastery of the Hoysala craftsmen shine through. Hoysala craftsmen are top-of-the-class pioneers in stone craftsmanship. And their style is so distinct and uniform you can identify it pretty easily. The famous Hoysala artisan Jakkanacharya is being credited for the Hoysala additions. Im really beginning to doubt the existence of this character called Jakkanacharya. He’s been being associated with every Hoysala Temple dotted across the state. So unless he’s a superhuman sent from outer space, it’s highly unlikely that he would have worked with each of these temples

Onte Kallu Mantapa

Banavasi is a true-blooded Kannadiga pride temple town. Not only was it considered the first capital of Karnataka, it was also the birthplace for Kannada’s first poet, Adikavi Pampa. Few coins discovered here a few years ago, date back to the 5th Century with Kannada inscriptions on it. This means that the existence of a mint factory here can be considered amongst the oldest in the country.
When we arrived here, we found out, much to our dismay that there were no ASI guides who could give us a sneak peek into the history of this magnificent temple. But just as we were loitering around clicking pictures, a priest herded us together and starting giving us a guided tour of the temple. Even though we knew pretty well that there was no such thing as a free meal, we didn’t mind paying the priest for an insight about the temple.  The priest began by giving a brief history of the temple built by the Kadambas and subsequently renovated and improved upon by the Chalukyas and Hoysalas. He told us the reason behind the Shivalinga being called Madhukeshava. The large linga here is in the color of honey (madhu) contrary to the black that we see elsewhere. He also talked about the specialty of the large bell outside the garba griha. This bell made from pancha loha (5 metals) is unique because the gong of the bell rings for close to a minute. He then showed us the Triloka Mantapa carved out of a single stone. It is undoubtedly the work of the Hoysala craftsmen. It goes without saying that such artwork can only be produced from the Hoysala breed of artisans. This is followed by the trademark Hoysala pillars, that’s a common garnish in every Hoysala Temple. The concave and convex reflective pillars not only accentuated the viewing experience of the performing dance artists but also speaks volumes of the mastery of these stone artists.
Can you spot the right eye of Nandi?
The Onte kallu Mantapa (single stone mantapa) is yet another classic from the Hoysala staple – again, carved from a single stone. The other notable and no less artistic brilliance is the Nandi statue. The first thing most of us might straight-away notice is that the Nandi is not directly looking at Shiva but is rather looking slightly to the right. The reason behind this is that while Nandi’s left eye is looking directly at the Shivalinga, its right eye is looking at Parvathi which is separate temple adjacent to Shiva’s. Such is the mastery of the stone artisans of that era that despite a maze of pillars, the right eye of Nandi is transfixed on Parvathi Devi. Unbelievable? Well, you can confirm it yourself by standing in front of the Parvathi temple and looking at Nandi. Another important attraction here is the Ardha Ganesh. This statue of Lord Ganesh is split vertically right at the middle. It is believed that the other half is in Kashi.
These are only some of the stand-out features of this temple. By the end of it all we were left dizzy with amazement. With the Sun beating down hard we decided to spend a little more time admiring the place. After all it’s not every day you get to be a part of history. All that textbook knowledge of our History lessons look so worthless compared to the couple of hours we spent here.
Now did I say there’s-no-such-thing-as-a-free-meal a while ago. Ok, I take that back, because there was a free anna daanam in the temple served at exactly 1PM. We devoured the hot rice, blistering sambar and the super cool majige like there’s no tomorrow. With a content stomach and heart we started for the next leg of our Sirsi trip – Sahasralinga.
Getting-there: Approx 30 kms from Marikamba Temple.
Must-Do: Ask the priest for a guided tour. Free Anna Daanam at 1PM.
Must-Don't: Vandalism and Littering
My Rating: 8/10

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Marikamba Temple, Sirsi

A trip to Sirsi has been in the offing for quite a while. The plan was made at least 2 years ago. The idea was simple – cover as many waterfalls as possible in given time between August and October. The timing was important because this was the time when the monsoons would have abated leaving the waterfalls packed to capacity. But as the plans got serious and looked on the verge of being conquered thanks to a few enthusiastic co-travelers cum nature lovers cum awesome friends, the plan started taking a different shape and dimension.  My biggest learning before and during this trip was that Sirsi was not all about waterfalls. This sleepy little town is rich in cultural, linguistical and mythological heritage. Sirsi is as much about the cultural heritage of Karnataka as it is about the waterfalls. Add to that, there are so many places of mythological significance that it is difficult to cover Sirsi in a weekend. You definitely have to devote at least a couple more weekends to experiencing Sirsi.

After Alemarigalu’s planned Sirsi trip got cancelled because of drop-outs this time we fixed a quorum of 5 members to make a trip out of it. And 5 we were to explore the wonderful land of Sirsi. Our first stop after freezing bath in a canal was Sri Marikamba Temple.

Sri Marikamba Temple is a 17th Century temple located at Sirsi in Uttara Kannada. Marikamba is believed to be the Goddess of Power by Her devotees.  The seven foot tall wooden idol of the deity was resurrected from a tank near Hangal and a temple built for Her in the year 1689. Local puranas mention the deity as Renuka or Yellamma. She is also referred to as Doddamma – elder sister to all younger Mariammas installed in different villages and towns. She is believed to control evil spirits and epidemics. So in order to appease Her, devotees used to offer animal sacrifice. But all that changed in 1933 when Gandhiji  visited Sirsi but refused to enter the temple considering the brutal animal sacrifices that were performed here. Distinguished citizens like SN Keshwain and Vitthal Rao Hodike started educating the masses against this inhuman practice. They even went to the extent of kidnapping the buffalo the night before the sacrifice and have the courage to face an angry mob. Eventually the masses relented and the practice of animal sacrifice was finally banned.

The Marikamba Temple is also famous for its Kavi art. The temple walls are adorned with artwork from famous local artists. These wall murals depict episodes from the Ramayana and Mahabharata. The first impression of the temple is that it looks nothing like a South Indian temple and that impression stays throughout, thanks to the wall murals. It is unlike any temple you will ever see in South India. Here’s why you should you visit Marikamba Temple:

1.       It’s bang in the middle of Sirsi town

2.       The wall murals on the temple depicting episodes from our epics

3.       Take inspiration from the fact that God will be appeased even if animal sacrifices aren’t done

4.       Learn about how the courage of two brave and educated men can change age-old customs for the better.

5.       It is en route Banavasi Madhukeshava Temple.

6.       Because 5 reasons are good enough to go there!

Getting-there: Right in the heart of the town.
Must-Do: Check out the murals adorning the temple
Must-Don’t: Animal sacrifice of course. Photography of the deity.
My Rating: 7/10

Information Credits: Kamat's Potpourri