17 October 2013

IR2- The State of Our Ruins

Places: Hampi, Aihole, Pattadakal and Badami

Bangalore - Hospet: 367 kms
Hospet - Hampi: 13 kms
Hospet - Aihole: 135 kms
Aihole - Pattadakal: 13 kms
Pattadakal - Badami: 22 kms

The historical ruins in Northern Karnataka (India) are an open observatory of the culture and lifestyle of its erstwhile rulers. These physical remnants give us a peek into the expansive tastes of the royals. This trip spanned precisely two days including reaching the main destinations, travel between the sites and journey back to Bangalore.

How to Reach?
The train Hampi Express (16592) offers a comfortable overnight journey to and from the destination. A large group of travellers could pool in and hire a private vehicle to drive them to Hampi and also around it.

Mayura Bhuvaneshwari run by the state’s tourism department, is conveniently located from the historical sites. The hotel offers comfortable services at reasonable prices and has a cordial staff. We took an auto-rickshaw from Hospet Station for Rs. 120.

Local Travel
We negotiated with the same auto to show us around all the historical sites in vicinity for Rs. 500! One can also hire a taxi. Please check with the hotel’s reception for details.

Day 1 - Hampi

http://goldfactoids.blogspot.in/2013/04/ancient-gold-coins-gold-plate-found-in.htmlHistorical Background - The Vijaynagara empire held prominence from 1336 A.D. through about 1650 A.D. During its golden period, Hampi served as the political and trade capital. Hampi is located on the banks of river Tungabhadra, has a hilly terrain and is home to the much-revered temple of Lord Virupaksha, an avatar of Shiva from Hinduism’s Holy Trinity. These topographical and religious factors aided in establishing Hampi as the ideal centre for the Vijaynagara empire. The Hampi group of monuments encompass a range of structures meant to facilitate the carrying out of public and private functions of the political elite. These monuments were classified as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1986.

We began our sightseeing from the Virupaksha Temple complex. The temple is built in classic south Indian style with a huge and intricately carved gopuram at the entrance. Apart from Shiva, it also houses shrines of goddess Bhuvaneshari and Pampa, who are the local deities of Hampi. This complex is buzzing with simian activity. They don’t have a tendency to attack and carry on with their business as the evolved species goes about clicking them! I even spotted a pair of monkeys sharing a bar of chocolate (link to image).

Very close to this temple is the Hemkuta group of temples. There are 33 shrines dotting this hillock and their location offers a breath-taking aerial view of the town. There are two massive Ganesha (15 A.D.) statues facing north-eastern and south-eastern sides.

After soaking in these larger-than-life visuals, we drove over to the Krishna temple located in a large complex which was under maintenance. A remarkable feature of it is a pillar that has all ten avatars of Vishnu carved on it. Bang opposite to this temple are the remnants of a sprawling marketplace of the yore. The Krishna Bazar is essentially a 500 mts. long field with rows of stalls that were used for setting up of shops.
The Krishna Bazar
The Badavlinga Temple is a 3-mts. high single-stone lingam in the midst of a thin stream. Right next to it is a 6.7 mts. high statue of Lord Narasimha. The deity is seated on the coil of a seven-headed serpent, in a yogic posture with a belt to support the knees. This imposing statue has suffered a lot of damage due to weather and also attacks which have almost entirely chipped away the statue of his consort Lakshmi seated on his lap.

We rode back to our hotel for a lunch break and in between stopped to check out the Underground Shiva Temple (14th C.). It is located in a quiet expanse of green and can be reached after climbing down a long flight of stairs. Due to a sad state of maintenance, the temple was reeking of dampness and there were tiny fishes in the water collected preventing one from walking up to the sanctum sanctorum. 

We also made a pit stop at the Queen’s Bath. The bath is actually a huge pool located in the centre of a royal structure and has a trench on all sides to ensure a constant supply of fresh water. 

The entire area is a concentration of temples with displaying excellent artisan skills of designing and carving. The Hazar Rama Temple is my favourite amongst all those visited. This is the only temple situated in the heart of royal enclosure, between the residential and ceremonial enclosures. The walls of this temple complex are covered with elaborate carvings, in three tiers. “Hazar Rama” literally means a thousand Ramas. The carvings and inscriptions, totalling up to a thousand, depict episodes from the Ramayana.

We resumed our sightseeing by going over to the far end of the historical sites. This cluster of monuments includes the ladies’ enclosure and elephant stables (!). Seen in the image are a watchtower at one end of the enclosure and intricate carving at the entrance of one of the structures. The significance of elephants, for military and other purposes, can be gauged by the special attention paid to their upkeep in the airy gallery and vast open spaces.

Our final stopover in this whirlwind tour of the stunning ruins was that of the Vitthala temple complex. While a lot of it is in a sorry state of ruin, that doesn’t take away from its magnificence. The complex houses what are possibly the most famous remnants of this capital. It has the Vitthala temple, marriage hall, festival hall, the King’s Balance and the famous stone chariot among many other vestiges. The entry to the core of this complex passes through a long road with wide open spaces (like lawns) on both sides. These were originally market spaces for the trading of horses. You can spot some horses grazing around, aloof from the prying eyes passing them by.

It was dusk by now and on our way back to the hotel, I stopped around the Talarigatta gate that was one of the main entrances to the urban centre of Hampi from the river's side.
Talarigatta Gate
Thus ended our day-long sightseeing of Hampi. We missed a few spots (eg., Mint and Granary) and skipped some temples, mainly because most of them are in a dismal state of maintenance. For instance, the Chandikeshwar Temple had cow dung (fresh and dried) scattered across its floor. Such callous state of affairs was painful to bear, both by the mind and the olfactory.
It is quite possible to check out the sights of Hampi and comfortably board the train to Bangalore in the evening. For the enthusiasts, though, 4-5 days (in comfortable weather) would be initially sufficient to appreciate the grandeur of Hampi. I was traveling with family and had booked our return tickets for the next day, so as to avoid any rush at either ends. This quick seeing of the important sights at Hampi left us with a whole long day to pass and no prior plans for it! The hotel’s receptionist was quite helpful in suggesting to us some other historical sites which could be visited the following day. We hired a cab, recommended by them, and took off early morning, to be back well in time for our train from Hospet.

Day 2

Aihole, Pattadakal and Badami were politically prominent sites during various phases of the Chalukyas (450-750 A.D.), whose reign preceded the rise of Vijaynagara empire. They also formed the trio of sites showcasing extensive and significant experiments in temple architecture of the south. According to Wikipedia, Aihole was the first capital of the early Chalukyas. Here they built over 125 temples in various styles and is said to be a laboratory of experiments in rock cut architecture. Pulakesi I, one of the greatest rulers of this dynasty, moved the capital to Badami nearby. It is from these temples that the Chalukyas gained their experience and went on to build the great temples of Pattadakal.  We didn’t visit the sites in the chronological order of their historical significance but stopped by as they came up along the route.


Our first pit stop was at this complex which houses a group of six temples in a dilapidated condition. The lingams were mostly not there (destroyed or stolen, I suspect), the carvings at entrances of various temples were severely weathered (or purposely scraped, can’t say) and it’s Nandi (Shiva’s man Friday, the personification of a bull) made for a sight best not seen.The only saving grace of this site is a small pond tucked away in one of its corners. It can be reached by climbing down a long flight of stairs and is home to some frogs.

Aihole, expectedly, is home to some of the most ancient and architecturally significant sites of this empire. They are surrounded by local population whose existence has almost merged into these archaeological gems. I could not explore most of the sites because they were either guarded by oxes and their carts, or had dung and sludge strewn at the entrances. While it may be alright to support an organic existence of present populace with historical sites, it does not merit such callousness on part of the Archaeological Survey of India or the local administration. 
These ruins are being further ruined because, apparently, they do not have any historical relevance for the villagers living there who happily service their oxes in the backyards of these sites! The administration’s disinterest was starkly evident in the state of the display signs which were rusted and crumbling. The Huchchappayana Matha carries the prized title of laying the foundation of south Indian style of rock-cut temple architecture. The complex has a temple and a matha located in the centre of an expansive lawn which I could not enter because there were oxes lazing at its gate! Next up was the 
Thryambakeshwar complex that has a set of two Shiva temples facing west and had to be entered by carefully avoiding the buffaloes seated around it
The Mallikarjuna complex proffered a sight of relief as it houses five shrines (8-10 A.D.), at a height and spaced out in a lush lawn. The Gauri and Jain temples in the vicinity had the path leading to them strewn with garbage and slush of cattle excrement.

After these disappointing sights we drove to the Durga temple. The complex is ticketed and thus monuments there are in a better state of maintenance. The temple’s exterior is reminiscent of a mini Buddhist chaitya. There are intricate stone carvings on its inside walls as well as the entrance pillars. To its south, in the same complex, is the Lad Khan temple devoted to Shiva. The windows are in a lattice similar to the north Indian pattern of window-carving.
Both these temples typify the sculptural practices of the early Chalukyan period. Bang opposite to this is the Ambigera Gudi complex deriving its name from the community of Ambiger (boatmen) living nearby. The complex has three temples, one of which is highly impressive due to its span and elaborate carving. The inner ceiling of its mandap has a lotus in full bloom.


The ticketed complex by the river Malaprabha at Pattadakal comprises of a total eight Shiva temples and one Jain temple. The earliest attempt to build a temple at this site has been dated to 3rd-4th cent. A.D. and the latest one is said to be of 9th cent. A.D. Although, the main eight temples were built by the Chalukyan kings and queens from 7th- 9th cent. A.D. The complex presents a compact appreciation of all that is unique to the prominent styles of temple-making in southern India.
The temples of Papanatha, Kasivisvesara, Jambulinga and Galagnath are all in the Rekhanagara style with curvilinear and elongated shikharas.

The Mallikarjun and Virupaksha temples were built in mid-7th cent. A.D. by the queens of Vikramaditya-II to commemorate his victory over the Pallavas of Kanchi. These and the Sangamesvara temple are all built in the Dravida Vimana marked by their tiered-roofs which are square-shaped and placed in descending size.

Original and replaced Nandi at Virupaksha Temple,Pattadakkal
These temples are in a much better state of maintenance than the ones we visited earlier. There were, of course, many evidences of weathering and even replacement of the original elements but this complex is a treasure trove of excellence and intricacy in temple-design. In 1987 they were included in the UNESCO’s list of World Heritage Sites.


Our next destination was the sleepy town of Badami famous for cave temples carved out of sandstone. It lies in a ravine and the top-most cave offers a spectacular view of the area, replete with its own sprawling Agastya lake at the bottom. The caves have been carved out of monolithic rocks and one has to climb about 2000 steps to soak it all in. The first cave is dedicated to Shiva with carvings of an 18-armed Shiva, Ardha Nareeshvar, Ganesha, and Mahishasurmardini among others.
The second and third caves are dedicated to friezes depicting various forms of Vishnu. The final cave is distinct from all of these as it is adorned with carvings of Jain tirthankars.
These caves give us an insight into the finesse of artistes that prevailed and their dedication to the craft. Unfortunately, this site is overflowing with simian activity which make it more of a menace than amusement. There are monkeys darting all across, sometimes even snatching footwear and the like. One has to be careful while climbing up and down the stairs as these open spaces are most prone to their movement. The interiors of the caves are, thankfully, spared of this scare and one can observe these sophisticated petrographs at peace.

A little further (5 kms) from the caves is the Banashankri Temple, who is also the local deity. The temple has an impressive image of Shakambari devi with eight arms and seated on a lion. In front of the temple is a huge tank lined by coconut trees on all sides.
Our main itinerary was covered with the visit to this temple and we slept on our long drive back to Hospet. A little outside the main town is the dam constructed on Tungabhadra river. One can stroll in and take a bus ride to the peak of this complex and see the mighty river being dammed, up close and personal!

Food: Hampi is severely lacking in abundant or hygienic options to eat out. We were quite drained and couldn’t find a place to just rest and munch. This left us with no choice but to come to our place of stay for lunch. Please carry snacks, fruits and juices to recharge your batteries and keep going from one monument to another.  

Tip: Best time to visit would be between Autumn to Spring. 
Click here for Images from this Trip
1. http://goldfactoids.blogspot.in/2013/04/ancient-gold-coins-gold-plate-found-in.html
2. http://www.dharssi.org.uk/travel/india/hampi.html
3. http://www.indiamapsonline.com/history-of-india-map/badami-chalukya-empire.html
4-5. http://www.4to40.com/travel/print.asp?p=Badami,_Aihole_and_Pattadakal
Coming Soon: R goes tripping the tropics at Lakshadweep!

2 October 2013

IR1 - Buddha and Beyond in Bihar

IndieRoverS debuted by travelling across some of Bihar’s (India) religious hotspots. Our journey was aimed at exploring the historical side of these sites.

Places visited: Pawapuri, Nalanda, Rajgir and Bodh Gaya

Patna - Pawapuri: 85 km
Pawapuri - Nalanda: 14 km
Nalanda - Rajgir: 12 km
Rajgir - Gaya: 80 km

The closest city is Patna and can be reached by flight or train. From thereon we recommend you hire a cab which will drastically reduce the travel time to any of these sites. Since we already were in different parts of Bihar before this trip, we reached Bakhtiyarpur by train and reserved an SUV to travel around Pawapuri and Nalanda in 2.5 hours.

Day 1

Pawapuri is where Mahavira, the 24th and last Tirthankar of Jains attained salvation. The whole town (puri) is sprinkled with Jain temples, most important of which is the Jal Mandir. The sanctum sanctorum houses footprints (pawa) of Mahavira and a marble temple has been constructed to mark the exact spot where he was cremated.
The temple is named so because of being situated in the middle of a water (jal) tank. There is a pucca passage to the main temple flanked by swarms of lotus plants, mostly decayed.

We drove around this sleepy demi-town only to find some of the other temples being shut, purportedly for a nap. The entire area rouses to life during the festivals of Diwali (date of Mahavira’s salvation), Mahavir Jayanti (birthday), Paryushana and Samvatsari when it is brimming with Jain devotees. 

Jal Mandir:(Bottom right) a blue Jacana with its extremely long toes and claws that help them in walking on floating water plants.

Next stop was at Nalanda, famous for its monasteries and shrines significant to the Buddhist traditions. The Archaeological Survey of India maintains a museum housing sculptures (mostly of the Buddha in different poses), copper plates, seals, plaques and coins among other discoveries from this area. On the other side of this museum is the main attraction of Nalanda: ruins of 6 temples and 11 monasteries spread over more than a square kilometre. They are all arranged in a well-planned layout impressing upon us the depth of its influence during its heydays.

A solitary monk strolling in the ancient university's campus.
We recommend you spend at least an hour to walk around these ruins while soaking in the splendour of college and hostel life in 5 A.D.!

The complex is closed for visitors after 5.30pm.


Our final stop for the day was at Rajgir. This is a town of religious importance to both the Hindus and the Buddhists. There is a collection of seven hot-water springs and a pond, locally known as Brahmakund. These springs are believed to have medicinal properties that help in the cure of skin diseases. Our main reason of visiting Rajgir was to take a dip in these springs and one of us did exactly that.

Owing to the holy Hindu month of Saavan, the area was teeming with devotees dressed in saffron and a fete like atmosphere prevailed there, replete with a ferris wheel! Searching for an ATM, we ended up walking a long distance from the Brahmakund to the town’s main market, through a dimly lit and sparsely populated road lined with ‘guest houses’.

Day 2
The other main attraction of Rajgir is the ‘World Peace Stupa’ built in 1969. It is among one of the 80 such peace pagodas constructed across the world to spread the central tenets of Buddhism. 
This attraction is aided by a ropeway which leads to it. The ride is slow giving you ample time to soak in the breath-taking natural beauty and you may spot some monitors, just like we did!
On the top, there is the Stupa,

a Japanese temple...

...and this breathtaking view!

The ropeway’s ticket is priced at Rs. 60 and it is shut during lunch hour from 1pm - 2pm.
If stuck at the top end, then you can watch the frogs while waiting for services to resume!
View from our rooms at Rajgir
We persuaded a horse-drawn carriage (tonga) to ferry us back and forth from the Stupa, just for Rs. 100! We stayed at Bihar Tourism’s Hotel Tathagat Vihar which was reasonably priced and had a cordial staff.
By the time we returned from the Stupa it was late noon and the overcast sky gave way to mild showers. This foiled our plan of revisiting the ruins at Nalanda and instead we simply booked a cab to...
Bodh Gaya
The main town of Gaya is bustling with the activities characteristic of any semi-urban area in a not-so-developed state. There is a military cantonment on the outskirts and the airport has direct flights from New Delhi, Kolkata, Bangkok, Colombo and Yangon. Now you know what to expect when you move from the obvious Gaya to the holy Bodh Gaya. We suggest you choose the latter for your stay as it is physically only 3 miles away, but spiritually, many miles beyond! 
Their A/Cs gave us a real
 blast from the past!

We stayed at Bihar Tourism’s Hotel Siddhartha Vihar that was quite comfortable on all grounds, except for their restaurant services.

Day 3

The Mahabodhi temple complex is a vast area constructed around the peepul tree under which Buddha attained enlightenment. Visitors have to remove their shoes at the entrance and the delicate-footed may want to carry socks or shoe-liners to traverse the open-air complex. Sitting under the shade of this magnificent tree was one of the most soothing experiences of our lives. Time flew by without a whisper and if I could, I’d be rooted there forever.

Meanwhile, S. also went around
clicking images of monks
in various modes of meditation.

The most interesting of all was this one with spectacles perched on his face mask!

We eventually goaded ourselves out of this complex and headed back to the hotel for a siesta.

 In the evening, we walked into a fancy-looking restaurant called F3/ Food Fusion Factory and the service was painfully slow. When our orders finally arrived, the brownie was burnt on the inside, the garlic pizza had way too much garlic and the chicken momos were under-cooked. Phew!
We walked over to the '80-ft. Buddha' statue that was constructed in 1989 and consecrated by HH The Dalai Lama.

The Great Buddha
(constructed by Daijokyo, Japan)
Day 4
It was originally supposed to be the day of our departure from Bodh Gaya and return to our destinations. A series of unpredictable happenings right from the morning ended up making it possibly the most stirring day of all! Even before dawn could break, S. had an acute stomach ache which he suspected to be an ulcer pain, or maybe the momos were acting up. He held his calm and his stomach till 6am, finally requesting the only available hotel staff to head out and get some medicine to soothe his pain. The blessed soul rode his bicycle to the far end of the town looking for an open pharmacy and bought back the said medicines.

In a few hours, S. was in a condition to walk and we headed to the railway station. The train that was supposed to take me back arrived much after its scheduled time and once there, simply refused to leave as expected. The wait for it had upped my frustration which got further fueled by the knowledge that this is a train best-avoided if one has to ever reach anywhere on time. S. had been chivalrously waiting for my departure and had to forego boarding his train. That was it! I stomped off the train and the charm of Bodh Gaya pulled us back to it.

That evening we headed back to the Maha Bodhi complex and walked around in the soothing environs enhanced by the solitude of a star-lit sky. For dinner, we decided to play safe and chose the only dedicated south-Indian food joint. This place also disappointed us with their preparations. How wrong can you go while making a simple dosa and chutney? Visit them to know it for yourself!

Amidst all these disappointing food-related experiences, the only saving grace was our breakfast at ‘Swagat Restaurant’ on Day 3. It is located at walking distance from the Maha Bodhi temple complex, has a decent menu, amiable staff and good ambience. The service was a little slow, but the quality of food and flavours were just fine. 

Day 5
For our return from Bodh Gaya, we chose the state government’s luxury bus-service (a Benz, no less) to Patna.
Tradition laced with Modernity: a kanwariya at Rajgir
Kanwariyas are Hindu devotees of Lord Shiva who undertake an arduous journey of collecting water from the holy river Ganga and offering it at their local major Shiva temple. In this region, the water is collected from Sultanganj (Bihar) and offered at Deoghar (Jharkhand), a distance of 109 km (details here). The entire journey has to be begun and completed within the month of Saavan where devotees are expected to maintain rigorous piety that includes walking barefoot.

The area immediately around the Maha Bodhi tree is filled by rows of such flags by Buddhists from various countries. It seems as though space-claiming is an essential activity in marking the presence of devotees from a distant land.
At Nalanda we came across many such 
ancient bricks of the monasteries defaced by
callous visitors.
RoverS Say



Here's a video for a quick and musical tour of the highlights in Nalanda and Rajgir

Coming Soon: R trails the ruins of Chalukya and Vijayanagara empires in northern Karnataka, India.