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A Travel Blog from India: June 2012

Tuesday, 19 June 2012

Hampi Wonders and Sandur Splendours!

"Going to Sandur?". Eyebrows were raised and volley of questions poured in when we told that we are going to big bad lands of mining hotspot of Sandur. Not many knew that this charming little place has regained its pristine glory of good old days when it was known for its beautiful valleys, pretty streams, great bird life and wild life. Splendid Sandur is back to its erstwhile glory!

Thanks to ban on mining in Bellary!


Circa 1982 - The classic Kannada movie " Manasa Sarovara" directed by the legendary director Puttanna Kanagal had been released. It wowed the audience with beautiful locales of Sandur. Mining was very limited those days in Ballary unlike in the last few years and Sandur was known as "Scotland of North Karnataka" with undulating hills, deep gorges, gushing streams, lovely lakes, great bird life and wild life. Puttanna, who was pioneer in exploring new places and known for outdoor shooting, shot the entire movie in Sandur. I was in college and Sandur bug bit me then.

Anyone who has seen the movie would yearn to visit the place. Though we had been to Hampi many times, somehow we never made it to Sandur.

Over to circa 2012 - Last year, we came to know that the erstwhile palace of Maharaja of Sandur - Ghorpades - was getting converted into a hotel under Welcome Heritage banner. We called up these guys eight months back and we got reply that the renovation was still on and were not sure when it would open. We did not check and let it pass.

Couple of weeks back i was reading about rejuvenation of Sandur and return to its earlier glory in the Kannada newspaper. When i told this to my wife she suggested as to why don't we go there on one of the weekends. One thing which held me back initially was the scorching heat of the region which is notorious to stay above 40 degrees during summer. I called up my friend who is from Ballary and he said that Sandur is looking lovely after spells of summer rains. Added attraction was an opportunity to make yet another detour to Hampi and a chance to see the sloth bears in Daroji.

The problem was to find a place to stay. Keeping my fingers crossed, I called up the guys managing
the palace hotel. To my surprise, the response was positive. The hotel was opened to public in March and the rooms were available. Relieved, the plan was to leave on Saturday morning and return on Monday morning and head straight to work.

It was a weekend well spent. Some pictures to start with before we explore Sandur.

Verdant valleys of Sandur

And quiet flows Tungabhadra......

Wonder called as HAMPI.....

Splendor of Sandur - Nari Halla

As usual, we left home around 7.30 AM with some packed breakfast of Uppittu and Mosaru (Upma & Curds). somehow I never relished eating in Kamat's . Normally our breakfast joint on NH 4 is Davanagere but since we were taking a detour at Hiriyur, we had no option but to pack the breakfast.

The route taken was

Bangalore - Tumkur - Hiriyur - Hanagal - Gudikote - Ramadurg - Kudligi - Sandur

We were at Kanakapura road junction of NICE road at 8 AM. A quick pass through the toll, we were cruising on the NICE road and hit the highway soon. I was expecting some traffic on NH4 as we left the toll. But to my surprise, there wasn't much and we settled down comfortably to cruise past Tumkur. After crossing Sira, we stopped for Breakfast on the road side. The sad part of all these four lane roads is that it is hard to find any road side trees unlike two lane roads. A quick bite - Uppittu and Mosaru was heavenly - and fifteen minutes later we were back on the road. We crossed Hiriryur bye pass and saw the prominent signage for deviation to Ballary.

We got off NH 4, went around Ambedkar circle and were now on SH 68 - the road connecting Ballary to Srirangapatna. I am not sure how the road from Hiriyur to Sri Rangapatna is. But the road from Hiriyur to Ballary must rank as one of best roads in Karnataka. Not a single pothole or undulation could i experience. With hardly any traffic on this road it was a pleasure to drive. I understand that this stretch was infested with humps earlier. All the humps are gone now. You may still find some speed breakers before prominent towns. Watch out for that. But for these we enjoyed this drive thoroughly as we crossed Challakere and reached Hangal.

The Beautiful stretch of road between Hiriyur and Ballary

At Hangal, we turned left towards Kudligi and to my surprise the road condition was excellent except for two kilometres of broken road. The road goes through interior villages. The landscape was red with lands tilled and ready for the rain. The monotony of the red was broken by the green of trees and brown of boulders strewn around. After rain, this must be a nice drive though green expanse. Some farmers were tilling the land and praying for a good rainfall.

The contrasting colours of Rural Landscape

Waiting for the rain gods

Some rest before we toil again.....

Kudligi, is a small town in Ballary and is a taluq HQ. After checking for directions on reaching Kudligi, we were on our way to Sandur which is 23 KMs away. The road became curvy and we had to manoeuvre few bends as we approached Sandur. We could see the hills in the horizon which started coming nearer as we drove on. We now reached Yashwant Nagar, a small village. I don't think any one would have heard or noticed this town before mining mania hit the region. Today it is hub for mine workers and contractors who operate the trucks in Sandur region.

As we left Kudligi, we started climbing through a hill road. The road condition deteriorated and for the next five KMs, the road condition was quite bad but can drive in second gear. All due to mining trucks. We slowed down. But the bad road was compensated by the first glimpse of the valleys of Sandur. Two Kms into the ghat road, we come across a view point. A small climb led us to a vantage point from where we could see the lovely views of the valley. It is just green and green all around. The green expanse is only disturbed by rocky outcrops and cliffs

The verdant valleys of Sandur rejuvenated again. Thanks to Supreme court ban on illegal mining. Look at Cliffs and rocky outcrops and streams which sustain the forest. Dry in summer.

Samir Ahmed, the amiable Manager of Shiv Vilas was guiding us as we entered Sandur town. I was disappointed to some extent as i was expecting the town to be on the hill. Rather it is at the foothills of sandur ranges. It is a small town which used to be a principality of Ghorpade Dynasty. We could see the influence of Royal family in the town as many institutions bear their name and still run by the trust.

The security guard opened the gate as we entered the Palace. It is a cute little palace located in a 25 acres of greenery. It reminded me of Usha Kiran Palace of Gwalior and Jhira Bagh Palace in Dhar near Indore. A simple and elegant structure with central courtyard. The palace was built in 1920s and renovated in 1940s had housed the royal family of Sandur till last few years when the thought of converting it into a nice palace hotel struck the family. There are two suite rooms - maharaja and maharani - and 12 deluxe rooms. We had booked a deluxe room. The rooms are very spacious with high ceiling. The people associated with renovation have really taken pains with lot of eye for details to make this place a elegant place to stay in.

Ghorpades' had distinguished themselves as respected rulers in the region. After amalgamation into India, the maharajas involved themselves in public service. M Y Ghorpade was an eminent public figure having been MP and MLA. A very well read person, eminent public servant, able minister, Ghorpade was also a famous wildlife photographer.

Another plus point of this place is the huge library with rare collections. If you a bibliophile, you should not miss this place. The hotel has a nice pool and jogging track etc. The estate has good bird life for birders as well.

Website of the hotel

WelcomHeritage Shivavilas Palace, Sandur | Heritage Hotels in Sandur | Sandur Hotels

Some pictures of the palace hotel

Shiv Vilas palace glowing in the evening sunlight

The Central court yard

Billiards room - Notice the wild life trophies on the wall

The room we stayed in - Notice the high ceiling

Balcony facing the pool and vast garden

View of arched corridor from balcony

The corridors elegantly done with seating

A good lunch was waiting for us as we moved into the small and cute dining hall. We were the only guests for the week as there was a spate of cancellations. So we were like Maharaja and Maharani with whole palace for us for the weekend!!
The weather was hot and mercury was hovering around 40. So there was no question of getting out to see anything before 4 PM. As i started discussing the places to see around with Samir, he offered to accompany us in the evening to show them. We wanted to see Narasimhana swamy Honda and Nari Halla in the evening.
When we entered the room in the afternoon, we were zapped at the exquisite wall hangings. They looked beautiful. We knew that it is the work of Lambanis - Banjaras of South - who live in the region. When we were speaking to Samir, he said that we should visit the Handicraft centre and see the work done by these women. We were thrilled and it got added to the list.

Tea at 3.45 PM and our first stop was Narasimha Swamy Gundi. It is at a short distance from hotel. There is a small temple on a hillock. The cave temple has Lord Lakshmi Narasimha presiding over. More than the temple, i was itching to see the "Gundi" or the natural pool flanked by tall rocks. A small walk from the temple led us to the spot and we were not disappointed. Some sort of a natural wonder, the only disappointment was there was not much of water in the "Gundi". Still the place looked nice. Since it is closer to town, it also happens to be favourite picnic spot for locals which could be seen the garbage strewn around.

The temple of Lakshmi Narasimha

The Narasimhaswamy Gundi - notice the gorge and rocky pillars

Samir took us next to the "Sandur Kara Kushala Kendra" or "Sandur Handicraft centre". This centre was started way back in seventies by Sandur royal family to provide an opportunity to local artisans. Lambanis - Banjaras as they are known in South - are amazingly skilled in needlework. You get exquisite bedspreads, wall hangings, bags, bolsters, cushion covers etc here. Apart from the needlework or "Kasuti" as it is called in Kannada, the centre also makes sculptures and cane work. The work done by the centre is now globally recognised and some of the master craftswomen have received President of India's Gold medal. You can buy on line and here is the website.


The tailoring area

Lambani woman busy with her work

No doubt, we picked up some good stuff at the cost of emptying the wallet! We bid good bye to the centre and moved towards Nari Halla.
Reaching Nari Halla from Sandur is a nightmarish experience. The road after Donimalai junction is very bad and good that we had SUV. The local trucks transporting iron ore from the NMDC owned mines to the Jindal factory which is thirty KMs away are monsters on the road. They drive so fast you just can't imagine. It is a sort of competition as more number of trips to the factory fetches more money to the transporter. So everyone is in a race whether it is the fully loaded truck while going or the empty truck while returning. It is just scary out there.

The road and the monsters!!

We managed to reach the place with the onset of twilight. The water level was not full but still it was worth a visit. The huge water body surrounded by lush green ranges, gorges, rocky outcrops makes this place a fascinating one. The lake is surrounded by tall peaks of Sandur ranges. The colours of green and brown on the edge of the lake makes it a charming setting. Unfortunately the place was getting ruined due the mindless mining. Thanks to the ban, the place has rejuvenated and was looking lovely after spells of summer rains. Nari Halla is a small dam built by Karnataka Irrigation department in the valleys of Sandur. I am not sure how the name of Nari Halla came into being as "Nari" in Kannada means "Woman" and "Halla" means "Lake". But the place just awesome.

Let the pictures talk.......

As were clicking pictures, we heard the sound of a train. At a distance across the lake we could see a goods train chucking away. Travelling on this must be a thrilling experience as it would be going through mountains. Samir said it is built by Jindals to move iron ore from mines.

It is sad that the government has done nothing to develop facilities here. A resort which is close by used to operate boats in the lake but they too have stopped. A boat ride in the lake through the mighty gorges should be a thrilling experience.

Two short videos we shot at the place



A You Tube video downloaded from net on boating experience in Nari Halla

We were the only three on the banks as we spent a lovely evening savouring the beauty of nature. This place should look more better after the rains when the water level increase.

Sun went down and moon was coming up as we headed back. I had to be really careful driving the next 8 KMs. I have to take care of the road and the monsters on the road. The trucks were furiously running as the closure time in Jindal is 7 PM and they have to reach there before that time. When i reached Donimalai junction, we heaved a sigh of relief as the nightmare was over.

Samir's team was ready with a good cup of tea as we returned. Samir asked whether we want the tea served next to pool and we said yes. We thought of spending the evening next to pool but mosquitoes were not to allow that to happen. We returned back to the room and evening was spent quietly with some books borrowed from the library with bubbly to give company. Bishwajeet, the man friday of Samir called us for dinner at 9. Simple and good food as usual which was relishing.

The next day's plan was to leave very early in the morning to catch some pictures in Hampi as morning light is always good and return back and then go to Daroji in the evening. When we retired, that was the plan.

You will never get satiated with Hampi. I have been to this marvellous place many times and every time you go there, it will surprise you. One of the reasons for us to come to Sandur was an opportunity to visit Hampi once again. This time, the intention was to visit a famous Hanuman temple known as "Yantrodharaka Hanumanta" and then wander around the river and click some pictures.
Our plan to get up very early came kaput and we were able to leave only by 7.30 AM. Sandur actually is very close to Hampi - 30 KMs - but this direct road is being done up and Samir advised asked us to go via Yashwant nagar as the condition was very bad. The route via Yashwant nagar is longer and also have to drive on bad roads for five KMs. We did not have an option and we started at 7.30. After Yashwant nagar, the road condition was good and we hit NH 13 comfortably.

The road condition of NH 13 surprised me. It is excellent though a double lane. Heavy Truck traffic is the norm here even as early as 8.15. Soon, we started seeing the huge expanse of backwaters of Tungabahdra Dam. The reservoir is getting dried up due to lack of rain but still it looked like a sea.

Backwaters of TB Dam

We were cruising comfortably when traffic slowed down and came to a standstill.There was huge pile up of trucks for two KMs. We had to wait for 45 minutes before the vehicles started moving.

This place - just before the Hospet Bye pass - is a perennial hot spot as there is a small ghat section which the larger trucks find it difficult to climb. Sometimes they get stuck and this creates havoc on the traffic which is very heavy. Construction of a tunnel is also going on and you have a railway crossing too. All these create a big mess. But for this NH 13 is in excellent condition and that should be good news for anyone who is planning to travel to Hampi.

We reached Hospet around 9 AM. After a quick breakfast in Shanbag fast food, we headed towards Hampi. We crossed the archway and the surroundings turned greener with sugar cane fields. We got the first glimpse of monuments as we turned over a bend and saw Kadalekai Ganesha covered by huge boulders in front. A small bird provided the contrast as we clicked this picture.

We reached the junction where we had to pay parking/car entry fee. At this junction, you get surrounded by guides and we picked up Purushotham to guide us to the different places.

Sun was bright and the day was getting hot. Our first destination was "Yantrodharaka Hanumanta" temple. The temple closes by 12 Noon so we did not want to take chance. We parked the car near Virupaksha temple and walked along the river. BTW, the markets in front of Virupaksha temple are relocated and Archaeological survey of India is reconstructing the "Bazar street" as it existed in good old days. I came to know that there was lot of resistance from vendors who were entrenched there for a long time. It is good to see a clean and neat streets in front of the temple.

Yantrodharaka Hanumanta is something special. Located on the banks of Tungabhadra, this is a small temple. The ghats here are sacred and many Pilgrims take a dip in the river and offer prayers in this temple. You can not but the vision of the rulers who have made sure that all ghats have "Mantapas" or "Shelters" for people to take rest or keep their belongings. The sanctum houses a small idol of Hanumanta who is bound inside the "Yantra" or star like sign. The deity and Yantra is etched on the boulder which is the practice in many small temples in Hampi. A quick darshan and we were out to explore.

Tungabhadra as seen from the ghats near Yantrodharaka Hanumanta temple

A mantapa on the banks of Tungabahdra surrouned by boulders

A nice video i saw on the net on Yantrodharaka Hanumata temple


Purushotham suggested that we should also visit Kodanda Rama temple which was nearby and we obliged. This is again as small temple with beautiful life size idols of Rama, Lakshmana, Sita and hold your breath, Sugriva!! This must be the only place where Sugriva finds a place instead of hanuman. According to legend, Hampi is also known as Kishkinda of Ramayana. It is at this place Lord Rama blessed Sugriva after killing Vali. The idols are very beautiful. We were not allowed to take pictures of them.

As we came out of Kodanda Rama temple, we wanted to go to Koti Linga near Chakratirtha. But it would have been a long walk over boulders on the bank. We skipped and started exploring nearby places. By now we decided that there was no point is in going back for lunch and we planned to have lunch in Royal Orchid. Since Daroji is only 20 KMs from Hospet it made sense. We called up Samir and told him we would not be there for lunch.
We started exploring the area around and Pursushottam was guiding us. We were humbled at the vastness of the empire which was one of the mightiest in its times. Hampi always throws surprises and this time was the same.
Let me now take you on a tour of what we saw in next two hours.

The first temple we visited is a Vishnu temple. The idol of Ananta Shayana carved on the walls of the temple looks very graceful. The sanctum of the temple has the defaced idol of Vishnu.

There are group of temples near Kodandarama Temple which are set against the backdrop of Malyavanta hill with boulders around. The contrast in colours is photographer's delight.

As we moved on, we found another Vishnu temple. Locals offer flowers but no proper puja takes place. The pillars are carved and the idol is very impressive.

The next stop was the Varaha temple. There is no idol in this temple but the sculpture on the walls is worth a dekho. The temple also has the royal emblem of Vijayanagar Kings.

The royal emblem of Varaha - avatar of Vishnu, Sun, Moon and the sword

There are very few Jain shrines in Hampi. We saw this defaced idol in a jain shrine.

As we walked towards Achuyutaraya temple, we noticed a watch tower and a pillar side by side in the horizon. We clicked the picture and walked up to the spot.

The watch tower provides you a vantage position and some great views. Here are some.
a) Sight of Virupaksha temple from here is wonderful. The second picture captures the Hemakuta group of temples which are next to Virupaksha temple.

b) Rock formations

c) View of the old bridge built during the empire. Only pillars remain now.

d) At the bottom of the watch tower, there was another Vishnu temple without the main idol. We could spot the nice sculpture of Hanuman and Elephant on the wall.

e) Gopura of Vijaya Vittala temple - The finest in Hampi

f) Purandara mantapa

g) The Hanuman temple on Anegondi hill which is on the opposite bank of the river

We now climbed down and started moving towards Achutaraya Temple.

Achyutaraya Temple and surroundings are wonderful example of how the concept of temple as a cultural and business centre was visualised by the rulers of Vijayanagara. You find similar arrangements in front of Krishna temple as well.
Let me take you on a pictorial tour of the place now.

Panoramic view of Achyutaraya temple. The street leading to the temple is flanked by mantapas acting as market place. On the right hand side of the temple is a large Pushkarani - holy tank.

Matanga hill as seen from Achyutaraya Temple

Look at the symmetry of the pillars used for mantapas.....Amazing

The Pushkarani - A beautiful structure with mantapa in the middle. It is dry now. It must be a charming and delightful place after rains when it gets filled up. The pillars are nicely carved and the backdrop of small hills makes this place stunning.

Stone formations in Hampi are amazing sights. Take a look at two examples here.

I happened to see a beautiful video on Achyutaraya Temple and surroundings


We skipped going inside the temple. We now had to climb through the Matanga hill to come back to the place where we had parked the car. Imagine doing this at 12.30 noon in hot summer with mercury around 40. We did not have much option though.

View of Achyutaraya temple from Matanga Hill

View of Hampi Bazar from Matanga hills - Notice the deserted place compared to what it used to be earlier

The main mantapa where all the programs of Hampi Utsav are held

Walking in the hot sun for two hours had sapped our energy and we badly needed a good place to sit and have a lunch. We bid good bye to Purushotham and headed towards Royal Orchid which is near the railway station in Hospet. A nice beer and good lunch was needed to boost up the energy levels as we prepared to leave to Daroji to have a tryst with Sloth bears. The food at Royal Orchid was very good indeed which was a surprise.
Daroji is the only sanctuary in the country for Sloth bears. Sloth bears are shy animals and nocturnal. In Daroji you can see them from a watch tower as they come out to eat the food spread by the forest officials every evening. The forest guys prepare a concoction of rice, jaggery and honey or sometimes sweet Pongal and leave it at vantage points in the sanctuary for the bears to feed on.
The road from Hampi to Daroji is in excellent condition. Daroji should be easily added to list of must sees to anyone visiting Hampi. Daroji can be clubbed with excellent Pattabhirama Temple which falls on the way.
We were greeted by huge archway at gate of the sanctuary. A lone forest guard opened the gate. We were the first ones to come in as the park opens only between 1.30 PM to 6 PM and the best times to see bears is between 4 PM and 6 PM. We were in the forest at 4 PM. A entrance fees of Rs 300 per head is charged and you can take your own vehicle till the watch tower which is around 4 KMs from the gate. There are no safaris here.

The gate leading to watch tower

We climbed the steps leading to the watch tower. There were two forest officials. I checked with them as to what time the bears are likely to come out so that we can see them. Since it was very hot, the chances of spotting the bears was only after 5.15 PM. Now we had wait for another 1 hour. fortunately we had shade and the breeze was cool. We did spot some pea hens in the forest and nothing else.

The watch tower is located very far off from the place where the bears become visible. This is a big disadvantage. If you don't carry your Binoculars, you will not be able see them well. Since we were well equipped, we kept waiting. The time now was 5.15 PM. I asked the guard if we see anything at all. He gave an assurance that the bears will come and guaranteed it for us. He said that since the weather is very hot, they may come out little late. Our fear was what if they don't come before sun set. Fortunately, one of the senior forest officers were visiting the park and the guards assured that the park will be kept open till sunset today!!

A view of the park. The landscape of the park is made by Shrubs and boulders.

I looked at my watch. It showed 6 PM. I casually looked through Bino. I could see a black giant moving slowly on the rocks. I got excited and told my wife and handed over the Bino to her. Slowly, behind the giant couple of smaller ones and some babies were also sighted. It was lovely to see these hug animals in the wild. Unfortunately we did not have the bazookas to click decent pictures.

You can see some nice pictures of Daroji Bears in this website.


We left the sanctuary and took a detour to Thornagallu and then back to Sandur. The road between Thornagallu and Sandur goes through Nari Halla and we had to face the monster trucks once again. But the beauty of Nari Halla make sure that you will forget the driving experience.

The team was again ready with the tea. It was a good outing though it sapped our energy due to heat. Evening was spent lazily walking around in the palace estate topping it with a good mug of bubbly and dinner.

We still missed out exploring Kumaraswamy temple - One of the oldest temples of Lord Kumaraswamy in the state built by Chalukyas - due to lack of time. We also missed out the car museum of the Royal family as well.

We were to be back at work on Monday. So we left Sandur at 5.30 AM in the morning and we were on NICE road at 11 AM with a break of 20 Minutes for quick breakfast at Kamat Upachar at Sira. The route taken was the same.

Postscript - It was a good weekend trip to a place which is still unknown to many. Sandur used to be a popular tourist spot before the mining mania started there after which it got neglected. I am not sure whether anyone has explored for trekking trails in the region or if there is any organised wild life tours etc. In fact there is lot of wild life in the region including Leopards.

There wasn't any good place to stay to explore the region earlier. Shiva Vilas Place fills that gap. We have told them that the key to their success is completion of the short road between Sandur and Hampi which will be helpful to explore Hampi as well. The route we took to Hampi is long and has risk of getting stuck in traffic.

The rates of the hotel is steep and we went for a package which was Rs 11.3 K plus taxes for 2 Nights/3 days including breakfast. Their rack rate is much higher. The lunch and dinner is extra and is priced higher which we told them to reduce lest they won't have any guests. The hotel is very well done and a welcome addition. Samir and his staff is excellent. John who is Samir's boss could not be met as he was in Bangalore and we spoke over phone.

Travel tips

Getting there

a) Rail - Hospet is well connected on Rail net work.  Hampi express from Bangalore is the best bet to reach Sandur and Shiva Vilas Palace. One can ask for pick up by hotel from there.

b) Road - There are buses run by Karnataka State Road Transport Corporation to Sandur. You can check their website for details.

c) Air - Nearest airport is Hubli. But it is better to reach Bangalore and then take a cab.


a) Shiva Vilas Palace can be made as a base to explore the region including Hampi.

b) Best time to visit - September to February. Summer months will be very hot.

c) I would strongly recommend that a trip to India should include visiting Hampi. Archaeological Survey of India have brought out excellent guide book on Hampi as part of World Heritage Series.

d) Hampi requires minimum of two days to explore. I also recommend to club world heritage sites of Badami - Aihole - Pattadakal. Look at my post on this in this blog.

e) For more information about Hampi take a look at this excellent website

f) Sandur can also be done as a day trip from Hampi in case the accomadation is not available at Shiva Vilas.

Did You like this post? Do you want help in planning a trip to Hampi and surroundings? Please write to poorna62@gmail.comHappy to help.Smile

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