I have always been fascinated by the role various kingdoms of Karnataka have played in Indian history. Be it the famous Chalukyas whose King Pulikeshin II had stopped the advancing armies of Harsha-vardhan from conquering the Deccan; or the Chalukya kings’ continuous quest for supremacy against the Pallava kings of Kanchipuram. Or the mighty Rashtrakutas who possessed one of the strongest & fearsome armies of the world during their times and ruled a period called “Age of Imperial Karnataka” by winning over almost entire North India going up to the Indus River. Or the richest Vijayanagar empire, which was the world’s most prosperous kingdom of its time.
Karnataka has contributed to Indian history so much that when in September 2017, I had the opportunity to cover another state on two wheels, then Karnataka was the obvious choice.
Moreover, doing a bike trip to Karnataka from Mumbai would also provide me the opportunity to visit my alma-mater “Dr Vaishampayan Memorial Government Medical College” at Solapur after a long period of 12 years and meet many of my old-time friends.
I started this solo bike trip from Mumbai with plans to enter into Karnataka at Bijapur (now named Vijayapura) from Solapur and then visit Badami, Aihole, Pattadakal (Chalukyas), Hampi (Vijayanagar), Chitradurga, Halebeedu & Belur (Hoyasalas), Shravanbelagola (Jain pilgrimage), and Srirangapatanam & Mysore (Tipu Sultan).
I had plans to spend about two weeks exploring the remnants of these ancient kingdoms across the length and breadth of Karnataka.
Mumbai – Solapur (Day 1, 2 and 3):
I started this trip on Sept 16, 2017, with the aim to reach Solapur by the end of the day.
However, the Rain God started displaying its full fury the moment I started my journey.
During rains, the Western Ghats become a very pleasant sight as the entire mountain range gets covered with green. However, at the same time, the rains slow down the advance of the travelers. As a result, at the end of day 1, Saarthi (my bike and the trusted companion) and I could reach only up to Bhigwan a small highway town, about 150 km short of Solapur.
We reached Solapur at noon the next day and spent about two days meeting old friends, visiting my graduation college, hostel, and nearby sights frequented by us during my stay at Solapur (1999-2005). It was an amazing experience to revisit the street food stalls, movie theatres, which used to be our hangouts during college time.
At Solapur, I stayed at the home of one of the friends and it was a nice experience before I entered Karnataka and had to stay in hotels, guest houses, lodges, homestays for many nights to come.
Solapur – Bijapur (Vijayapura) (Day 4):
It was a short ride of about 100 km today, however, it marked the day when I officially entered Karnataka, which was the purpose of this entire trip. The trip had now begun in the true sense.
I had driven on Solapur – Bijapur highway multiple times in the past as it used to be our favourite getaway in college. We used to come out of Solapur city and drive towards Bijapur at every possible opportunity; be it to celebrate the end of exams, to enjoy dinner on the days when the hotel mess was closed, to ruminate about our future life, and many times to simply to kill boredom. The whole of drive on the highway today was full of nostalgia when we (Saarthi & I) crossed the state border crossing, those familiar highway restaurants (dhabas), and those twists and turns.
There were some changes though. The condition of the road had improved and many new dhabas had come up. However, one thing was unchanged that many of the roadside dhabas are owned by entrepreneurs from the North. As a result, sights like this were fairly common.
After having lunch at one such dhaba, I reached Bijapur in the afternoon. At Bijapur, I was surprised that one after another, the first three hotels I approached, all of them refused to accommodate me. Then, I had to ask straight away whether they have an issue with a single tourist travelling on a bike. However, it turned out that there was some event in the city and as a result, most of the rooms were booked in advance.
Anyway, shortly thereafter, I could get a room in a hotel near the Gol Gumbaz and had a sigh of relief. Plenty of time was remaining in the day for sightseeing and I was eager to make good use of it.
I had been to Bijapur earlier during college days and had visited almost all the historical sites in the city. As a result, now I wanted to only revisit the selected ones.
The first site that I visited was Gol Gumbaz where the tourist guide showed me around and demonstrated various unique acoustic features of this grand monument. It is fascinating that one can listen to the whispers, rubbing of hands from the opposite end of the massive dome of Gumbaz about 125 ft. away. The guide worked hard running from one end of the lengthy gallery under the dome to the opposite end in order to showcase these acoustic tricks.
Without a doubt, the tourist guides need determination and a lot of fitness to do the tough climbs to the whispering gallery and then running around to help tourists appreciate the highlights of the Gumbaz repeatedly multiple times every day.
Gol Gumbaz is a big monument and as a result, it is difficult to get it in the photo frame from anywhere near the monument. In such cases, I have always found that the tourist guide is the best person to guide you to the appropriate spots in the compound that can give you the best compositions.
Gol Gumbaz was no exception and the guide took me to a garden nearby where I could get a photo of the entire Gumbaz in a frame.
And not to forget, the tourist guides also have to double as a photographer. And they are the best person to tell you how you can get the best pic clicked with the monument. In my experience of riding solo, guides have been the best person to click my photographs at any monument.
The museum at Gol Gumbaz is a nice one with many historical artifacts, which includes many items (esp. kitchen and ornamental wares) imported from China and other countries.
Such museums help me understand the thriving trade between different civilizations during ancient times despite rudimentary modes of transport. I am always amazed by the risks and difficulties faced by ancient travellers, traders, seamen who used to traverse high seas without today’s technological supports and a much larger threat of pirates. They were the true travellers who used to go places risking their lives.
I keep all such people in high regard. Their unrecorded courage, which resulted in these artifacts reaching Indian shores and subsequently, in today’s museums, is the true motivation for any traveller. I can only aspire to reach their level of determination to travel the world.
The next site that I visited was Ibrahim Rouza. It is the mausoleum of the king and his family. This monument is so beautiful that as per some writings, the architects of the Taj Mahal were very influenced by it the minarets of Ibrahim Rouza influenced the minarets of the Taj Mahal.
The place was very clean and well maintained with landscaped gardens. As a result, it was a very pleasant experience to spend time at Ibrahim Rouza.
One challenge I faced at Ibrahim Rouza was that there were no readily available tourist guides here. As a result, I had to go around the place on my own using the Lonely Planet’s India guide and Wikipedia. Later on, locals told me that it is advised to hire a guide at Gol Gumbaz to accompany you to Ibrahim Rouza.
The last site I visited at Bijapur was Gagan Mahal, which served as a residence and the durbar hall for the king. It is a nice site with a beautiful garden.
The garden at the Gagan Mahal seemed to be a favourite among locals as I could see many families spending time here.
With a short and refreshing visit (actually a revisit) to these monuments of Bijapur, I returned to the hotel. The known part of the trip was going to end today. From tomorrow, I would venture into the new territory, which contained so many important chapters of history that I could not wait to reach there early and fast. In the anticipation, sleep was hard to come by.
Bijapur – Badami (Day 5):
Badami was an illustrious city at its peak as the capital of the Chalukya Empire (4th to 8th century CE). At the height of their influence, Chalukyas ruled almost the entire south and central India from Deep South to the Narmada River in the north and were a very powerful state.
Badami is a short drive of about 120 km from Bijapur and the road is very good. The drive was pleasant with overcast skies protecting from the sun. It included crossing a very long bridge over the reservoir of the Almatti dam on Krishna River. The ride was very relaxing through a beautiful landscape.
I reached Badami in the afternoon and decided to stay at a budget hotel mentioned in the Lonely Planet India guide. An old poor couple was running the place. They did not speak any other language than Kannada. However, a few gesticulations could help me get the room including a discount.
The hotel despite being on the main road was not frequented by the tourists as I was the only person staying there for the night. I could understand the difficult times for the poor old couple.
After checking into the room, I noticed that Google in its Map listings marked the place as permanently closed, which was obviously an error. I immediately edited the hotel’s listing on Google Maps that the place is up & running, which was updated by Google within a few minutes. Hopefully, the poor old couple may get a few more visitors.
As mentioned earlier Badami was the capital city of Chalukyas who over time ruled from three nearby cities: Badami, Aihole, and Pattadakal. As a result, all these three locations have a lot of monuments and temples including the monuments of Pattadakal, which is a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Badami is famous for its rock-cut cave temples, which have very intricate work of cutting the rock face of massive hills to create rooms for the temple and then carving out beautiful statues on the walls.
These temples have beautiful statues carved out of the sidewalls of the temple like the image of Natraj (Lord Shiva in dancing position) on the right side of the picture below.
This image of Natraj has 18 arms and each combination of one arm from each side presents a dancing pose. Therefore, the statue has a total of 81 dance poses in itself. It was a humbling as well as amusing experience when the tourist guide posed in front of the statue to help me appreciate each of these 81 dancing poses of Lord Shiva. I could appreciate that the guide had worked hard to learn these dancing poses so as he could enlighten the visitors and help them appreciate the true messages from Badami’s ancient architects.
These temples leave a person in awe thinking about the kind of intricate skill and hard work that would have gone into first cutting these massive hills to carve out these cave temples and then the wall statues with little margin of error as any mistake could ruin the planned architecture. If the mistake happened when a significant amount of progress had happened on the temple, then there was no way to start afresh by cutting into a new hill without massive economic and time impacts. Anyone making a mistake at this scale would have surely faced death.
And what if the architects and labourers work hard to their best efforts and only to find that the king is not happy with the final outcome.
When I asked my guide about it then he took me to a remote section of the mountain and showed me some of the unfinished wall carvings.
These carvings were the architectural plans or blueprints, which were shown to the king to seek his approval before committing the money and the manpower to any rock-cut cave temple.
The next site was the beautiful Bhutanath temple.
Bhutanath temple is on the shore of a lake. However, it seemed that this year, Karnataka did not have sufficient rains, therefore, the lake had a very low amount of water than usual. As a result, I could walk on the lake-bed adjoining the temple and spend a nice time in the evening.
The guide intimated me about the fierce rivalry between the Chalukyas of Badami and Pallavas of Kanchipuram. They fought many wars among themselves and each side turned out victorious at different times. After one such war, when Pallavas defeated Chalukyas, then the Pallava King left a Tamil inscription at Badami endorsing his occupation of the city and the defeat of Chalukyas. Later on, when the subsequent generations of Chalukyas attacked Pallavas and defeated them, then they retaliated with putting a Kannada inscription at Kanchipuram endorsing their victory.
Standing at these monuments, one finds oneself travelling in the past imaging the kind of bloodshed these very steps, stones, hills, and soil would have seen when one king tried to overcome another. The sights where currently we tourists spend our leisure time appreciating the beautiful architecture might have been devastated in the past with a huge loss of lives. History is a great teacher and has the ability to humble anyone.
Badami – Aihole – Pattadakal – Badami (Day 5):
Badami, Pattadakal, and Aihole are like a cluster of cities, which used to be the epicenter of Chalukya Empire at different points of time. Each of these villages is about 15-20 km from each other.
I had dedicated the current day to explore the temples of Aihole and Pattadakal. Therefore, I started the day early and I headed straight for Aihole. I was lucky that I could get one of the few registered guides at Aihole who could show me around the sites of both Aihole and Pattadakal.
Aihole contains a lot of temples, some of which are located as a cluster on one side of the village. The area is neat and clean and is very well maintained with landscaped gardens.
The main temple in the Aihole cluster is Durga Temple, which is a mixture of Hindu temple architecture and Buddhist architecture.
Durga Temple has a very beautiful stone-carved statues at its entrance, where a visitor can appreciate the level of skill of the Chalukyan sculptors and the architects.
Aihole village has even more temples apart from the above cluster of temples. These other temples are scattered around the village. There are numerous small rock-cut cave temples around the village, which indicate that Aihole used to be the practicing ground for the architects and artisans to learn and improve their skills before they applied them to the grand temples desired by the royal families.
On a small hill, just next to the village, there is a very beautiful Jain temple called Meguti Temple.
At Meguti Temple hill, the guide showed me the bird’s eye view of the Aihole village and pointed out many more temples, which are still present within the Aihole streets and narrow lanes. He told me that currently, the attempts to shift almost the entire village are going on so that these temples within the village can be restored and renovated and can be converted into tourist sites.
Aihole is a place dotted by so many temples that one cannot help but imagine that centuries ago, the village must be a very bustling place with continuous rock carving activities going on, with thousands of sculptors living on the site and then additional thousands of people providing supporting services. It would have been a big attraction for people from nearby villages to migrate to earn a living.
We spent many hours exploring the temples at Aihole and Saarthi (my bike) served as a very useful companion to move around the temples scattered around the village. After having a delicious lunch at the state tourism restaurant, we headed for the next destination for the day, Pattadakal, which has even more beautiful temples.
Pattadakal group of temples are included in the UNESCO World Heritage site list. Visiting these temples, which are located on the bank of Malaprabha River with beautiful gardens around them, is a very peaceful experience.
Having a knowledgeable guide was a blessing at Pattadakal as he could help me appreciate the different architectural styles of temples here. Some of the temples had curvilinear tower tops.
Whereas other temples had square roofs and receding tiers.
More importantly, the guide could give me insights about the design of temples, which included an inner sanctum called Garbhgriha crowned with a Shikhar that usually has a Kalasha on the top. There is usually a congregation/meeting hall in front of the Garbhgriha.
There are different temple styles with more elaborate chambers but the basic structure remains the same. Moreover, almost all the temples had intricate stone artwork on the wall in the form of beautiful statues.
It was a very nice experience to visit these temples and witness the rich heritage that we possess. I felt thankful to the determined efforts of the architects, sculptors and the kings who made these marvelous monuments possible.
I could come back to Badami in the evening after visiting Aihole and Pattadakal. It was a tiring day as I had to walk a lot and listen attentively to the deluge of historical, architectural and mythological knowledge given to me by the guide. I decided to take a good rest today and then head tomorrow to the best attraction of this trip, Hampi, the seat of revered Vijaynagar Empire.
Badami – Hampi (Day 6):
Hampi is another historical site, which is on the UNESCO World Heritage site list. It is a monumental tourist location with more than 3,000 temples. Many times, tourists stay here for weeks to explore it properly and to gain insights about one of the most majestic kingdom of its times, the Vijaynagar Empire.
I had decided to dedicate two days to Hampi with the first day for self-exploration and then the second day dedicated to a guided tour of the ancient ruins.
Hampi is a short drive of 140 km from Badami. I travelled mostly on countryside roads through small villages. Google Maps ensured that I could reach Hampi without asking anyone for directions along the way.
I appreciate that in Karnataka, even the interior roads are very good. At one point, as per Google maps, I was riding on a national highway for about 25km, which was actually a single lane road. However, this road was built very well.
Hampi is a destination, which is very famous and frequented by a lot of tourists, foreigners and Indians alike. Therefore, there are a lot of options for stay and food. I stayed in a homestay, which was comfortable. The food at Gopi Restaurant was delicious.
I befriended a local at the restaurant who advised me to explore the sites on the other side of the Tungabhadra River today, which included a Hanuman Temple on the top of a hill. Moreover, the friend who liked riding the motorcycle himself told me about a road traversing through the villages and fields around the mountain range there, which would be a very enjoyable ride.
I had plenty of time in the day to comfortably visit these places. However, there was one challenge. Hampi is on the banks of Tungabhadra River and one can cross the river in a ferry. However, the ferries do not take motorcycles on them.
My new-found friend guided me to a road bridge over the Tungabhadra River about 15 km from Hampi, which I could use to take Saarthi with me.
The devotees had carved out the stairs through some of the most difficult terrains to reach the Hanuman Temple.
One needed to climb 575 stairs to reach the Temple. However, in order to explore more, I did not realize that I descended on the opposite side of the mountain. Now to come back to the top, I had to climb the steps on the other side, which counted 425 steps. Therefore, in total, I had to climb 1,000 steps to pay my homage to Hanuman Ji.
The writings claimed the temple to be the birthplace of Hanuman Ji, Kishkindha Nagari.
However, it seems that almost every region of India has someplace identified as the birthplace of Hanuman Ji. Nasik in Maharashtra has one. Andhra Pradesh also has one.
Nonetheless, the stay at the hilltop was a great experience, especially the time that I spent on the sunset point on this hill.
The clouds provided the shade. The gushes of cool wind and the view of the green valley below made it a blissful experience. I could not move before I had spent an hour sitting on the top feeling mesmerized by the beauty around.
Only a handful of other places have given me such a great experience. Early morning visit to Taj, sitting on the shore of Nubra river in Panamik in Ladakh, standing on the wall of the fort at Lakhpat in Gujarat looking at the vast erstwhile delta of Indus River while facing sea breeze and the Great Rann of Kutch are the only moments that can match today’s experience at Hampi.
Next on agenda was the ride in the countryside around the mountains, through the village roads as guided by my friend at the restaurant. The drive turned out to be a mesmerizing ride along the lake, along the banks of a canal, across lush green paddy fields. It truly made my day.
On my way, I could see the remnants of the efficient water management system created by the Vijaynagara Empire with the help of Portuguese engineers like the now broken elevated waterway on the pillars in the pic below.
Today was a day well spent exploring the other bank of Tungabhadra. I could see huge granite rocks along the river on my way today. These are the same granite rocks, which were used by the architects of the Vijaynagara Empire to create the most beautiful city of its time. Tomorrow, Kumar, a registered guide and a friend of my guide at Aihole and Pattadakal, will show me around the ancient ruins of the main city and the temples.
I could envisage that it is going to be an intense day full of historical insights. Therefore, today, a good night’s sleep was the most essential.
Hampi (Day 7):
Today, I visited key sites of the Vijaynagara Empire with Kumar, my guide. “Key sites” is important because as mentioned earlier, there are more than 3,000 temples in & around Hampi and sometimes visitors stay here for weeks to see all of them.
The biggest attraction at Hampi is the magnificent Vittala Temple, which is reached either by foot or by hopping on to electric carriages for about one kilometer from the main road.
The Vittala temple complex has a famous stone chariot, which now symbolizes the glory of the Vijaynagara Empire.
It seems that when the Deccan sultanates defeated the Vijaynagara Empire in 1565 and later on, ransacked the city, then the chariot was destroyed. Now, the Archaeological Society of India (ASI) has tried to restore the chariot. Though it seems nearly impossible to bring it back to its original glory. One can notice that instead of horses, now small elephant statues are placed in the front to complete the chariot.
The importance of chariot has been duly recognized and the current Indian ₹50 currency note bears the image of this stone chariot.
Other key attractions at Vittala Temple are its musical pillars, which reverberate when we tap on them. One of the key benefits of getting a registered knowledgeable guide is that they are able to demonstrate all these features to the tourists. Kumar, my guide, was able to create a symphony by tapping these pillars just like playing any musical instrument.
Kumar told me that the archaeology department is doing deep studies of these monuments and whenever it comes across any new feature then all the registered guides are trained to showcase and demonstrate the new features and findings to the tourists. As a result of such training, tourists are able to appreciate features like musical pillars or sculptures, which look different when seen from different angles etc.
The ruins of the royal palace is another key attraction of Hampi. One can get a bird’s eye view of the entire layout of the entire palace by climbing upon a still standing two-story building.
The Royal Palace has ruins of multiple buildings where only the foundations are the remaining structures. However, there is a stepped tank, where the ASI has done a commendable restoration job. This tank is one of the most impressive structures at Hampi.
The waterways created to bring water to the tank shows the intricate understanding of water systems developed by the Vijaynagara Empire.
The Royal Palace also has the beautiful Lotus Mahal and the grand elephant stables, which are intact.
There are innumerable temples spread along the slopes of the granite hills like these ones at the Hemakuta Hill.
The Hemakuta Hill also had a huge sculpture of Narasimha (Lord Vishnu), which was carved out of a single stone (monolithic). The statue was destroyed by the marauding armies of Deccan sultanates and despite the best efforts of ASI, it seems nearly impossible to restore it to its former glory.
Temples of Hampi stand out for their sheer size and scale. The city at its peak time had about 500,000 inhabitants. No wonder that the temples were made to serve thousands and thousands of people. Each of the temples used to have long lanes of bazaars in front of the main gate. The granite pillars forming the shops in these bazaars are still standing. A visitor can see these lanes which seem almost a kilometre long at Vittala Temple and also at the Virupaksha Temple.
The aspirations of the Vijayanagar Empire to achieve scale in each of their acts gets reflected in their sculptures as well.
One such example is the statue of Kadalekalu Ganesha, which has a height of 4.6 metres (15 feet) and has been carved out of a single boulder. The belly of the Ganesha statue resembles a Bengal gram (called Kadalekalu locally).
A similar example is found in Badavilinga Temple, which contains a three meters high Shiva Linga carved out of a single stone.
One is awed by the constructions undertaken by the sculpturers in that era with basic tools.
The entire city is coloured light grey by the granite used in omnipresent remnants of the Vijaynagar Empire. The Empire had cut so many stones in the 16th century that these suffice certain requirements of the city even today like the roadside resting seats, and a few bus stops.
The city is awesome. The ruins take one back to the era where she is left imagining the liveliness in the city with bustling bazaars in front of the temples. The pillars of the bazaar shops are still standing tall after 5 centuries.
We surely have a rich history and Hampi reveals it to all the visitors.
Hampi – Chitradurga (Day 8):
Today’s destination was Chitradurga Fort about 150 km from Hampi. Chitradurga Fort is famous for its impeccable defenses. It’s said that the fort remained unbeaten for about 200 years.
The drive from Hampi to Chitradurga though short but was tiring. However, it was my own making. While checking the route on Google Maps, I noticed that it showed me the route through the countryside roads instead of the national highway (NH) 50, which is a direct route.
I had driven on NH50 while coming to Hampi from Badami two days earlier and had found it an excellent road. Therefore, I decided not to follow the Google Maps’ route recommendation and instead took the NH50 to Chitradurga. To my bad luck, the entire stretch of the NH50 from Hampi (Hospete) to Chitradurga was under construction. The road was broken and had innumerable traffic diversions with dust flying all around.
Google had tried to warn me by not showing the straight NH as an optional route and I paid the price for ignoring it. It was a lesson learnt.
However, the pain of driving on a bad road was reduced a bit by the tasty fried parantha I could eat at a roadside restaurant (dhaba) on NH50.
Chitradurga Fort is told to have formidable defenses. The path to the entry gate has thick granite blocks arranged in zig-zag fashion to break the momentum of charging elephants. The granite walls are so strong that even the cannonballs could not break them. The indents of cannonball impact are still visible on these walls.
Hyder Ali attacked Chitradurga fort and laid siege around it multiple times. But had to return empty-handed as he found the fort impregnable. As per one story, during one such siege, when his spies tried to find out the stock of water inside the fort, then they were told that the fort will not run out of water for 12 years. This broke the morale of Hyder Ali and he returned without attacking the fort.
In another attempt, the forces of Hyder Ali could find a secret path to enter the fort. The path was very narrow and led inside the fort via a small opening in the rocks, which could fit only one person in it. The soldiers of Hyder Ali used the secret path to reach the opening. But the brave wife of one of the soldiers of the King of Chitradurga (Nayakas), got the hint of enemy soldiers attempting to enter via the opening.
As per the sayings, the lady (Onake Obavva) killed every soldier who tried to enter the fort via the narrow opening in the rocks. She pulled the dead soldiers away so that other enemy soldiers coming behind do not get suspicious. She killed many enemy soldiers, which in turn defeated Hyder Ali and saved the fort.
Currently, one of the chowks in the Chitradurga city is named after Onake Obavva to commemorate her contribution to the defense of the fort.
The fort has layers of thick walls.
However, the huge boulder ridden hills form the biggest defense of the fort.
To appreciate the size of these hills, one needs to compare it with the size of the human shapes trying to climb the rock walls in the pic below.
The defenses of the Chitradurga fort were impregnable and Hyder Ali could conquer it in his third attempt only by bribing the insiders.
The fort has some beautiful temples inside the complex like the Hidimbeshwara Temple.
The fort also shows the panoramic views of the Chitradurga city in the background.
The location of Chitradurga Fort as a cluster of multiple hills ensures that there is always a strong wind blowing at the place. It makes a visit pleasant as well as provides the opportunity to generate renewable wind energy. One can see many windmills on the hills surrounding the fort.
It was a tiring day with the rough drive from Hampi to Chitradurga in the morning and then climbing the hills at the fort in the afternoon. The sleep I had at Chitradurga was one of the best.
Chitradurga – Belur – Halebeedu (Day 9):
Another day, another dynasty, another capital city.
My today’s destination was the ancient kingdom of Hoyasala Dynasty and their main cities of Belur and Halebeedu.
Belur and Halebeedu are about 150 km from Chitradurga and about 15 km away from each other. Today’s ride was a pleasant one without any challenges.
As per folklore, the Hoysala dynasty got its name when a man named “Sala” killed (“hoy” = strike in Old Kannada) a tiger to save his guru. The dynasty used this event as their beautiful emblem which showed a warrior fighting a tiger.
The Hoysala temples are outstanding in terms of the intricacy of work and win hands down if I compare the finesse of work in all the temples that I saw on this Karnataka trip until now. Be it Chalukyas of Badami, Aihole, Pattadakal or Vijaynagar Empire of Hampi. The fine work of Hoyasalas is without second thoughts much above all of them.
No wonder, these temples remained under construction for more than 100 years each.
The temple at Halebeedu is known as Hoysalaeswara Temple, which is located in a beautiful garden and is well frequented by local and outside tourists.
The fine work of Hoyasala architects and sculpturers is visible in every section of the temple. Each statue had to be carved out of a single stone and would have taken years. And there are hundreds of statues.
The Nandis are carved with elaborate ornaments. They have even shown the blood veins on Nandi’s face in the statue. Such attention to fine details is highly appreciable.
The Channekeshava temple at Belur is equally impressive.
The monumental seven-story gopuram (entrance gate) contains numerous illustrations.
The artwork on the statues is equally intricate where the statues seem lively with every single piece of ornaments is meticulously designed out of a single piece of stone.
The temple walls contain great artwork with very beautifully carved artworks like a series of elephants at the bottom carrying all the weight of the temple.
The visitor cannot help but get engrossed in looking at the numerous other illustrations of fine work by Hoyasala artisans.
It pains to hear that these masterpieces of artwork (Belur and Halebeedu temples) were never completed and were damaged by the marauding armies of Allaudin Khilji under the command of his general Malik Kafur.
The guide pointed me to the following section on the wall of Halebeedu temples, where parts of the statues depicting “Samudra Manthan” were cut off by the ransacking armies.
Looking at such destruction of great pieces of human heritage, one cannot help but understand the futility of war and loss it inflicts in terms of man and material.
Anyway, until now, none of the places that I have visited on this trip have disappointed me as a tourist. In fact, each subsequent place has shown itself to be better than earlier ones.
The trip until now has been very educating.
One good thing that the Karnataka government has done is to provide licensed guides at each of the monuments. These guides are well trained in history, architecture, mythology etc. and they keep getting additional training as and when new findings are made by newer findings. The Guides, Lonely Planet India book and Wikipedia have helped me a lot to keep up with the history of each place that I have visited.
Karnataka, which was hitherto a largely unexplored place for me has revealed itself to be the one with a very rich history in art and culture. The kingdoms of the state were the main front of resistance against the invaders from the North.
I feel lucky that I made this decision to undertake this trip.
Now I would enter the final leg of the trip. Tomorrow, I would go to Srirangapatnam, the capital of Hyder Ali and Tipu Sultan. On my way, I plan to visit Shravanabelagola, a Jain pilgrimage site.
Halebeedu – Shravanabelagola – Srirangapatnam – Mysore (Day 10):
Shravanbelagola is a key Jain pilgrimage site as it contains a massive 17.5 m high status of a Jain deity Gomateshvara (Bahubali). The statue is carved out of a single piece of stone at the top of Vindhyagiri hill and is probably the largest monolithic statue of the world.
It is said that Bahubali meditated in the standing position, motionless for 12 years and as a result, various vines grew around his legs. The statue at Shravanabelagola shows these plants and some anthills at its feet as well.
Shravanabelagola is also important in history because the first emperor of India, Chandragupta Maurya came to this place after renouncing his kingdom.
Shravanabelagola is about 85 km from Halebeedu and the ride was uneventful. I took a room in a hotel near the base of the Vindhyagiri hill for a couple of hours to store my belongings and to park the bike safely before I could take commence the climb of 614 steps to reach the Bahubali statue atop the hill.
It was my good luck that it had rained recently. Otherwise, the message at the start of the steps that it is forbidden to climb these steps wearing footwear would have been dreadful. The rocks may heat up a lot on any sunny day.
There are many images of Jain Tirthankaras around the Bahubali statue. There were two statues near Bahubali’s feet which had the similar intricacy of artwork that I had seen the previous day at Hoyasala temples.
The overcast skies with the intermittent rains had created a very pleasant atmosphere atop Vindhyagiri hill. The cool breeze was blowing, which took away the pain of climbing up so many steps. Moreover, the view of the valley below was very beautiful.
Mysore was about 80 km from Shravanabelagola and it was a quick ride with nice roads. I reach Mysore in the afternoon and therefore, I had plenty of time to visit Srirangapatnam during the day.
I visited the Daria Daulat Bagh, which was used by Tipu Sultan as his summer home. The palace is within a beautiful garden compound.
The palace has been converted into a museum contains various pieces of Tipu Sultan’s armor, weapons, royal clothes, cutlery, furniture etc. The walls of the palace contained various paintings depicting wars with the British. Unfortunately, photography was not permitted inside the palace.
Next, I visited the Gumbaz, the tomb containing the graves of Tipu Sultan, his father Hyder Ali and his mother.
The complex also contained tombs of the entire extended family of Tipu Sultan. The difference between being the leader (Hyder Ali and Tipu Sultan) and being their inconsequential relatives is glaring in this building with numerous tombs of cousins, uncles, and aunts being scattered all over the place.
Next, I visited the Srirangapatnam fort. However, I was surprised to see that the fort is like any sector/colony of any city with a big population residing in flats, villas inside the fort. All the business including banks, SMEs had their shops within the fort. The fort hardly served the purpose of telling me its history.
The only part of the fort that gave some insights was the prison where Tipu Sultan kept the British prisoners including Colonel Bailey.
The prison did not have any steel bars. Instead, the prisoners were tied to the walls.
It was intriguing to imagine a high ranking official tied to these walls.
Mysore – Tumkur (Day 11):
Today was dedicated to exploring Mysore city and the nearby sights.
In the morning, I visited the Sri Chamundeswari Temple at a hill near the city. The road went up to the temple atop the hill, so I could take Saarthi with me on this pleasant drive.
The temple was very busy with a long queue of devotees waiting for the darshan. I usually avoid temples with long queues. Therefore, I skipped the darshan. After having a delicious South Indian breakfast at a restaurant near the temple, I started my way back to the city. On the way, I saw a big and beautiful statue of Nandi, which was about 5m high.
Next, I visited the royal palace at Mysore. The palace was completely intact in its full glory.
The first thing that comes to mind when I see luxurious palaces and forts intact in current times, is that their owners might not have fought for their independence and instead “cooperated” with the powers like British, Mughals etc. It was no different in the case of Mysore palace as well. The incumbent Wadiyar family was put in charge here by the British after they defeated Tipu Sultan. The walls of the entire palace & museum were full of photographs depicting the cooperation of Wadiyars and the British.
I did not feel like spending a lot of time there and therefore, I finished my Mysore exploration fast. It was only 1 PM.
As I saw no point in waiting for the next day to start the ride back to Mumbai, I preponed the departure and left Mysore for Mumbai in the afternoon.
The Rain God always showers his love whenever I start a ride. Heavy rains in Mumbai marked the beginning of the Karnataka ride on Sept. 16th. And today again, the heavy rains greeted me three times after I left Mysore. There was hardly I could do apart from parking Saarthi on the road and take shelter in front of random homes/shops and watch Saarthi along with all my luggage getting drenched.
Finally, after losing two hours to rains, I reached Tumkur, 150 km from Mysore and called it a day. It took me two more days to cover about 900 km from Tumkur to Mumbai.
In all, after 13 days and 2,600+ km later, by traversing the length and breadth of Karnataka, Saarthi and I took rest at home in Mumbai on Sept 28, 2017.
This trip was a special one as it took me back to Solapur which is my Alma Mater. I could relive the moments that had spent in the medical college there. I met my batch-mates and old friends after 12 long years.
Karnataka as a state was a revelation to me. My respect for the empires of Karnataka has increased many folds now. All of them had done a stupendous job of preserving and promoting Indian culture.
There is much more to be explored in South India. If Karnataka is the primer, then I am sure going to enjoy other states as well.
Currently, I am covering one state at a time! It won’t be long before Saarthi and I choose our next destination.
Until then, take care!