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A Travel Blog from India: December 2010

Wednesday, 22 December 2010

A Journey to the hinterland of Rayala Seema

"All journeys have secret destinations of which the traveller is unaware.” – Martin Buber
 I am not sure but this particular journey was somewhat like the quote!  Sometimes the journeys you don’t expect much results being memorable. One such trip was to the hinterland of Rayala Seema in neighbouring Andhra Pradesh – Tadipatri, Mahanandi, Bellum Caves and Ahobilam.
It all started as a sudden decision to go to Mantralaya, the pilgrimage center of Saint Raghavendra Swamy. It was then we thought of taking a detour to these fairly unknown places on our way back. To me, it was more exciting to see these places than pilgrimage having been to Mantralaya with family many times.
Rock formations in Oravakallu
Having had darshan and lunch at Mantralaya, we started on our journey to explore. The drive from Kurnool to Nandyal was good. A freshly topped road was an invitation to a good drive. Half hour drive after Kurnool, we were awestruck by amazing formation of stones. It was in the afternoon and these places in Rayalaseema are known for the dry and hot days even in winter. It was fascinating to see these unusual formations. A board on the road side said it was part of Oravakallu sanctuary.  As we reached Nandyal, it was around 4 PM. Checked in, freshened up and after a quick coffee we were ready to go to Mahanandi.
Mahanandi is an important pilgrimage centre. A drive of 10 KMs and we arrived at the place. A quiet place n the middle of fields with a small hill in the background, the setting looked very serene. The temple tank in the middle was filled with pilgrims taking a dip and young boys swimming. I came to know that that a spring keeps the water level in the tank full. After a quick round of temple we came to an interesting spot. Here was a live bull – Nandi – and people were passing under its belly!! I asked the priest as to what was the significance. The priest told me that if you pass under, your wishes will get fulfilled. Brinda and my Mother –in-law were game for it and I was indifferent. They passed under it though skeptical that that the bull may kick them off!! Hope their wishes were granted.... The setting, the serenity and quietude makes visit to Mahanandi  worthwhile.
Beautiful setting at Ahobilam
Though Ahobilam was close by, we could not go there as we had to return back to Bangalore the next day. Ahobilam is a beautiful place located amidst the Nallamalla forests – especially the upper Ahobilam is which has a waterfall as backdrop for the famous Narasimha temple. There are two temples dedicated to Lord Narasimha. The intricate sculptures on the temples make this place worth visiting. Possibly next time around.
As we left Nandyal and drove towards Bangalore, our next stop was Tadipatri. The road from Nandyal to Tadipatri was good. For the first time I happened to see the mosambi – sweet lime – farms on the way. Another interesting aspect of this drive is that it passes through the Kadapa stone quarries. These are slate stones and it is amazing to see naturally layered stone slabs in these quarries. As we stopped, looked at these formations and proceeded, we were greeted by another hot spot – Bellum caves!!. These are stalactite caves with lovely formations. Anyway, we could not stop over as we had to reach Bangalore. As we drove along, we came across a gem of a reservoir which was pristine blue in colour after Vobalapuram. When we reached Tadipatri it was 11 AM.
Bugga Ramalingeswra temple - notice the huge base of incomplete
gopuram in background
A small town, this is known for two beautiful temples built by Vijayanagar kings. Located next to Pennar River, Bugga Ramalingeshwara temple is an interesting place. It has an unfinished gopuram at the entrance. The girth of the edifice of gopuram is so big that archaeologists opine that had it been built, it would have been the largest in India. The edifice is also most ornate in grey-green granite you can come across anywhere in India The deity is a small Shiva linga set in a pedestal filled with water perpetually fed by a small spring.  
Sculpted pillars in Chintala Venkataramanaswamy temple
Chintala Venkataramanaswamy temple in the town is more elaborate in sculptural grandeur. A combination of Hoysala and Dravidian architecture, the stone pillars of the temple is adorned by beautiful figures.
As we left Tadipatri in the afternoon, we were filled with mixed feelings………happy to see some exquisite temples ……..but regrets of not having kept another day or two to cover Ahobilam and Bellum caves. To some extent, that was a boon in disguise as we can go back to these places again leisurely.
Reaching there
By Road
Tadipatri is at a distance of 50 KMs from Anantpur and Nandyal is another 50 KMs from there
Bangalore – Devanahalli – Chikkaballapur – Penukonda – Anantapur – Tadipatri – Nandyal
The road till Anantapur is top class and beyond Anantapur is good.
By Bus
Catch any KSRTC/APSRTC bus going to Anantpur and then change over to Tadipatri and Nandyal
By Train
There are two trains from Bangalore to Nandyal

a) Machilipatnam - Bangalore Express
b) Bangalore - Vijayawada passenger

Dharmavaram Junction which falls on Bangalore – Hyderabad route is a good place to change over for more options.
Places to stay
There are no luxury resorts at these places and have to make do with decent lodges. We stayed in Shashi residency in Nandyal which was decent.
Travel tips
a)    A good option for long weekend trip from Bangalore.
b)    Best season to Visit is in winter – Oct till February. Summers in these places are really hot.
c)    A good circuit will be Bangalore – Gooty – Sri Sailam – Alampur - Oravakallu - Mahanandi – Ahobilam – Bellum caves - Tadipatri – Bangalore. Sri Satya Sai Baba devotees can include Puttaparthi in this itinerary after Anantapur on the way back.
d)    You need at least four days to cover the above circuit.
e)    Better to make Kurnool and Nandyal as bases for exploring the area.
f)     Most of the places have good hotels. AP Tourism also has chain of motels in these places.
g)   Driving down from Bangalore is the best option.
Post Script – The snaps are not taken by me but down loaded from Web. I am impressed with the picture of Ahobilam. It reminded me of Badami. The trip was done sometime in 2003 ......
Some useful Links




Tuesday, 7 December 2010

Malnad Musings - A sojourn in Western ghats

“Where are you going next week?” Praveen asked as we sipped Coffee in the break out area. “Is it a long weekend?” I questioned. “Yeah, 24 Aug is a holiday. I am going to Pondy….Haven't you planned anything?” 

This question set in motion for our next “long weekend” trip. The planning part of any trip is exciting as well as tiring. We had done most places around. “Where next” I asked my wife. As we started googling, an idea stuck. Why not “Malnad in monsoons”? she said. We hit upon going to Tirthahalli in Malnad region of Karnataka. Malenadu or Malnad in Kannada means “Hilly region” of Western Ghats comprising of Shivamogga, Chikkamagalur and Coorg districts.

There were some challenges before we could embark on this plan. First was the road condition to Shivamogga and then on to Tirthahalli. We had a harrowing experience driving on this road two years back from Goa. We became adventurous and drove via Karwar, visiting Jog falls on the way. But the road from Shivamogga to Kadur (a distance of 50 KMs) was sheer misery. My fiesta had a torrid time negotiating craters and it took us two hours to cover this stretch. We wanted to be doubly sure about road. Once confirmed good, heaved a sigh of relief and moved to next challenge. Where do we stay?

Shivamogga district has fabulous flora, fauna, hills, water falls, heritage…….you name it and it has. But it does not have many good places to stay. Tourism has not picked up in the region and road conditions discouraged visitors. Googling and talking to some friends helped us decide to stay in Tirthahalli to explore Malnad. This led us to BANANKI HOMESTAY ( http://www.banankihomestay.com/ ). Having confirmed accommodation, we were raring to go.

The road till Tumkur is excellent. After Tumkur we branched out on NH 206. The road was surprisingly good with hardly any traffic. The recent rains had turned the parched lands in Tumkur district green. We spotted a cute little church – looked like built by British – in Gubbi town. Lo and behold! We were in Shivamogga at 12.30 Noon having covered a distance of 280 KMs in 4.30 Hours with a break of fifteen minutes for eating idlis! The drive from Shivamogga to Tirthahalli was fabulous as we entered the “Male nadu”. Driving through green expanse on the winding road through picturesque "Shetty Halli Wild Life Sanctuary" with small ponds with lilies on the sides made it a pleasure. 

Streams galore in Western ghats
The green canopy!
Mandagadde Bird sanctuary
The next fifty KMs drive to Bananki was smooth. We stopped to look at the egrets at Mandagadde Bird Sanctuary on the way. When we reached Bananki, it was 2 PM. Rachan and Arpita – the young couple whose home it is – were there to receive us. This is a sprawling bungalow amidst a plantation with well kept garden around. The old bungalow has been renovated by the couple. They provide three rooms inside the bungalow and have built two small cottages as well. The lunch – traditional Malnad vegetarian cuisine as we are veg – was god sent. It was just the beginning of our wonderful gastronomical journey in Bananki. Arpita is very good at preparing the food and we had our fill. After resting for a while we were on the road again.
The country Home of KUVEMPU - The Great Kannada Litterateur

Our first stop was “Kavi Shyla” – the memorial for Kuvempu, the great poet and litterateur in Kannada. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kuvempu )The memorial is built by a team of his disciples and family with lot of love and affection. It shows in the way the ancestral home of Kuvempu has been renovated and converted into a nice museum. The museum has display of rare photographs, items used by the poet, awards and medals won. I have never seen a better memorial to any Indian litterateur (I have not seen Tagore memorial in Shanti Niketan.) The “Kavi Shyla” close to the memorial is a hillock where the poet used to go to draw inspiration from. The setting of the hill is just stunning. It has panoramic views of Sahyadri Mountains with lush green paddy fields in the valley. The team has created “Stonehenge” kind of structure around the place where the poet was cremated. The place has been developed with lot of aesthetic sense. Sringeri – the famed temple town – was the next stop. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shringeri) After visiting temples of Sharada Devi and Vidya Shankara, we spent some time on the serene environs of tunga river before heading back. 

The day dawned with chirping of birds and cries of peacock! After an excellent cuppa, we stepped outside into the garden to see some beautiful birds. Not being a birder, I could only identify a woodpeckerL. The binoculars came in handy as we were able to see at least six types of birds. “Why don’t we go far a small walk” asked Brinda. I was game for it and Rachan recommended us to take a path going down the bungalow leading to a small stream below. Not minding a slight drizzle, we stepped out. The light drizzle, young sun and greenery made the walk a pleasure. On the way, we could see a cute little pond with fringed with bent trees. We came back and Brinda opened her shoe to see in horror a swollen leach between her toe fingers! She was seeing it for the first time and was naturally scared. I told her not to worry, went to kitchen and removed it after smearing it with lime (Sunna/chuna). The lime is supposed to help in clotting blood quickly.
Picturesque Nagara Fort
Breakfast done, we hit the road. We wanted to go off beaten track and just drive in the forests. Our first stop enroute to Nagara was Ambu Thirtha - birth place of Sharavathi River. On the way we passed by Kavale Durga – a small fort atop a hill – with fabulous views of hills. As we entered the Nagara town, we stood bowled over by the fort. The setting – on a small hillock with a lake in the foreground - is romantic and reminded me of Mandu in Madhya Pradesh which I visited 20 years ago. The fort can be covered in 45 minutes. We were keen to see the backwaters of Linganamakki Dam. An hour’s drive from Nagara through woods and streams landed us at the boarding site for ferry.
Surreal picture of backwaters!
This place was just breathtaking. It was huge expanse of water. The clouds, clear water, small islands, submerged tree trunks give this place a tranquil and serene feel. I had thought Thekkady to be picturesque, but this place beats it by miles. The shores are ideal spots for camping. We put our car in ferry and crossed over in ten minutes. Enroute to Sagara, we saw the famous temple at Ikkeri. As we reached Sagara, we were in dilemma. To go to Jog Falls or not. We had seen Jog in full glory couple of years back. It was already 4.30 in the evening and the clouds were giving an early warning. Jog is unpredictable in the evening as envelope of mist blocks the view of falls. We decided against and instead moved towards HEGGODU, the cultural centre with NINASAM repertory (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ninasam) established by KV Subbanna, Magsaysay Award winner. It is a small village known for many cultural and sustainable livelihood activities. Every October, Heggodu comes alive for a week during “Cultural Festival” where literary, development seminars, cultural shows are held. The day was well spent. Leisurely drives in the woods are a good kick indeed. The dinner was fabulous as ever, especially the soup.
The Sandy beach @ Bheemanakatte
Packing up, we planned to leave after an early breakfast. Rachan suggested visiting Bheemana Katte, a small unspoiled place on the banks of Tunga River. River Tunga creates numerous sandy beaches during its course and Bheemana Katte happens to have one of the longest. There was a plan to mine the sand but local opposition drove away the contractors. Thus the place was saved! On the way, we wanted to visit Bhadra reservoir in Lakkavalli near Tarikere. But it started raining and we decided against.

As we drove back, we promised ourselves to come back to “Malnad” and savour the other sights we had not explored – Agumbe, Kundadri, Kodachadri, Kavale Durga, Gudavi bird sanctuary, Belligave, Gerusoppa, Hidlamane Falls, Koodli, Chandragutti, Kanoor fort, Bhadra reservoir……………and many other places.

So folks, here is an excellent alternate destination to Pondy, Coorg, Ooty, Wayanad, Chikkamagalur and Yercaud for your long weekends. One can comfortably spend three days exploring the places. If you are a trekker add couple of more days.

An underrated, unexplored Tirthahalli and Malnad beckon you! So, what are you waiting for? Not packing your bags?

Getting there

Tirthahalli is 330 KMs from Bangalore.

By Car

The route is Bangalore - Tumkur - Tiptur - Arsikere - Kadur - Tarikere - Bhadravati (bye pass) - Shivamogga - Tirthahalli

Road till Tumkur is four lane and excellent. Road beyond is two lane and is quite good. There is hardly any traffic on this stretch beyond Tumkur which helps build up speed. Travel time 6 Hours with half hour break in my fiesta.

By Bus

There are many buses to Shivamogga from Bangalore and from there it is 1.15 hour journey to Tirthahalli.

By Train

The inter city night train to Shivamogga is a good option to those who do not want to drive.

Stay Options

Bananki as mentioned is good. The USP is excellent food. The accommodation is decent. There are other good home stays around Tirthahalli. Get more details from http://www.travelmalnad.com/

Travel Tips

a) Make Tirthahalli as base to explore Malnad region of Shivamogga district and also neighbouring Chikmagalur (for Sringeri, Agumbe and Horanadu). Being centrally located it has good access to many places in the region. The place can be visited through out the year. Though monsoons are heavy, but you can enjoy the rain.

b) An excellent alternative to Wayanad and Pondicherry for long weekends from Bangalore. The driving time is same.

c) A pristine and unexplored territory.

d) Good place for religious minded too - Sringeri, Kollur, Ikkeri etc....

e) Good and leisurely drives in western ghats. Do not hurry up!!

f) An excellent area for trekking buffs.

g) Great place for wild life enthusiasts - specially for birders

h) Carry good binoculars and good shoe. Be willing to rough it out if needed.

i) Heggodu comes alive every October during cultural festival which has seminars, dramas, folk performances, rural market etc.

You may also like the following posts on Malnad in this blog

An itinerary to explore Malnad

Monsoon drive in Malnad

Driving Holidays from Bangalore - Magical Malnad!

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Wednesday, 1 December 2010

Badami, Aihole, Pattadakal - Glory of Chalukyan heritage

We always got confused when the history teacher asked us the question
"Which  is the capital of Chalukyas"
Is it Badami or Vatapi.....was the eternal dilemma.

Chalukyas were the earliest rulers of Karnataka in 6th century and were the first dynasty in South to extend their empire till Narmada after defeating Harshavardhana. Having read so much about them, it was a pity we had not seen them all these years.

It was in October 2008 that we decided to do a road trip to these places after reading a nice write up on these places by noted artist Shakti Maira in The Hindu. We planned to go to Goa via Badami - Aihole - Pattadakal.Our search for accommodation in Badami ended at Badami court, the only decent hotel then in Badami. It was also accidental that this happened to be managed by a friend of ours. 

The weather was good and driving after monsoons in south India is a pleasure as you find greenery everywhere. The road till Chitradurga was a blast. We were sceptical about the road beyond as we had a bad experience on our trip to Hampi last year.  Surprisingly, the road seemed looked new, relaid and smooth. We were able to reach Hospet in five hours. The road beyond Hospet was not bad either and took us another two hours to reach Badami by around 2.30 in the afternoon - in time for lunch.

Knowing the owner of the hotel has its own advantages! We were give royal welcome and a good room. Badami court is a small resort. The rooms are decent and food is good. This is is the only decent hotel in the town from which one can explore the amazing sights of the bygone era.

A quick rest after lunch and we were on the go. With Chandru our guide, we decided to explore the cave temples of Badami. The rock outpouring in Badami is just awesome. It really makes you feel so small that you are awestruck for the first time.

At the Entrance of Badami caves - look at Rocky Outcrops

As we climbed to the cave temples, we were treated to another spectacle - the panoramic view of Bhutanatha temple surrounded by the small hills. If you are lucky and go to this place in monsoon, you can see beautiful waterfalls from the rocks behind the temple which is just awesome!
Panoramic view of Bhutanatha Temple. In monsoon, waterfalls can be seen from the top of rocks!!

Cave temples in Badami are known for earliest rock cut sculptures in India. These sculptures are magnificent and more than life size that you will be struck by their beauty. Especially the Trivikrama, Vijaya Narasimha, 18 handed Nataraja, and Harihara sculptures. Look up at the celling and you will see the beautiful motifs. These are rock cut temples. Chandru was explaining to us how the sculptors could have done those beautiful sculpting on the ceiling - lying on a plank of wood parallel to the ceiling!!!.
Brinda in front of 18 handed Nataraja

The Archaeological Survey Museum in Badami is well maintained and has some good exhibits. Unfortunately, the government has not been able to relocate the village and clear the surroundings which is an eyesore. Returning back to hotel and freshened up, we were ready for a deserving mug of chilled beer!

Chandru was ready at 7.30 in the morning next day to take us to Aihole and Pattadakal. These two places are located in the Malaprabha valley at a distance of 35 KMs. Aihole was our first stop. It is difficult to believe that this small village was once upon a time a major centre of art and culture. Aihole is called the cradle of temple architecture as you see earliest example of temple architecture here. The Durga temple is a well known landmark. Notice the stone ladders in the neighbouring temple. Interestingly, the Durga temple also had some earliest examples of erotic sculptures as well!! An excellent museum again. You can also climb to see basadis of Jain tirthankaras which will allow you to see the beautiful Malaprabha valley as well here.
In front of Temple in Aihole. Notice the figures on columns.

The next stop was Pattadakal. A UNESCO heritage site - very well maintained - this is where the different forms of temple architecture was practised. You can see the North India "Nagara" Style with Dravidian style. You can spend hours appreciating the amazing details of temple architecture.
At Pattadakallu complex - Notice Nagara style on left and Dravidian style in the middle

From Pattadakal we went to Mahakoota. Architecturally not great, this is an interesting place with a small "Pushkarani" or "temple tank" where devotees were seen bathing before entering the temple. Since we were visiting during Dasara, it was more like a village festival with people from nearby villages assembling there. We partook a meal from a family who had come all the way from Athani near Belguam who were gracious enough to share "Jolada Rotti and Bele Chutney" (Jower roti and Dal Chutney) which was very tasty.

With villagers from Athani - Sharing meals!
We ended the day with the visit to Banashankari temple in Badami. Banashankari temple was established after Marathas took over the region and it resembles the typical Maharashtra style.

This trip was like a history lesson for us. Chandru, our guide was well versed with the historical and Architectural aspects and was able to give good detail about the places. The guy can speak in Kannada and English.

Winters is the best season to visit these places which are just outstanding.

Getting there

By Road

Distance from Bangalore - 480 Kms by road via Chitradurga. I do not recommend this route now as the road is bad and would advise to go via Bellary. These are the other options

a) Bangalore - Hiriyur - Challakere - Ballary - Hospet (NH4 till Hiriyur is a blast)
b) Bangaloree - Anantpur - Ballary - Hospet (NH 7 till Anantpur is a blast)
c) Bangalore - Chitradurga - Harihar - Harapanahalli - Hospet (longer route)
d) Bangalore - Chitradurga - Hubli - Nargund - Badami (Longer route)
Option (a), (b) are best if are planning to visit Hampi also. Ballary - Hospet road is not great but is not as bad as NH 13. At some places you will find bad road but is much better than NH 13
Option (d) is best if you are going only to Badami. Though longer, the roads are good.  

By Train

Hampi express from Bangalore is an excellent option if you are not inclined to drive. Hire a taxi for a day trip from Hampi if you don't want to stay.

Alternately, you can also catch Gol Gumbaz Express which takes you straight to Badami from Yeshwantpur.

By Bus

KSRTC has direct buses from Bangalore to Badami. It would be better to go to Hospet and then change as the frequency to Hospet is more.


We stayed in Hotel Badami court which has decent accomadation and good food. The other option is "The Heritage".

There are no other good options for families as others are run down.


a) You need at least one and half days to explore the places. Better make Badami as a base. You can also do a day trip from Hampi but have to leave early.
b) Get a good guide. Chandru is good and can be contacted on 9448823161
c) Good to read something on these places helps before you go. To begin with Wikipaedia helps! "Blue Guide on South India" is also very good.Also follow the links given below which are excellent sources
d) Savour the village atmosphere. People are generally friendly. Hence no worries.
e) Nothing much to shop.
f) The cave temple of Badami has many monkeys. Be careful with eatables.
g) Badami is also an excellent place for rock climbing. If interested contact hotel staff and they will help.
h) Don't try to climb the rocks if not trained. It can be dangerous.
i) Driving in these areas after monsoon is exhilarating as it is very green.
j) You may be surrounded by agents near Banashankari temple to help you get quick darshan. Don't oblige.

Postscript - This blog entry does not cover the historical and archaeological details of the ruins. They are available in Wikipedia and other sites as below