Sunday, November 6, 2011

Time travel to Hampi, Aihole, Pattadakal and Badami

It was nearing five in the evening and we were desperate for a cup of tea. As I reached out to unlock my apartment door, the front page of newspaper supplement lying on the floor suddenly caught my attention. Karnataka has ranked among the top 5 tourist destinations in India in nationwide survey 2011. Quite a coincidence I felt, for we were just coming back after a time travel to Hampi, Aihole, Pattadakal and Badami, amazing heritage sites lying in Karnataka and had every bit of our money worth.

This was quite unlike my experiences from other heritage sites and monuments that I had been since early age. Thanks to a host of factors including a combination of commendable work done by Archaeological survey of India (ASI),  Karnataka Tourism and UNESCO recognition, Hampi looks remarkably unperturbed by ill-effects of ever-encroaching human habitation in modern times, although time and history has left its indelible mark on its once glorious past. ASI is trying hard to restore and keep the buildings intact.Even today, excavation is going on and more is expected to surface.

Hampi was lingering on our minds from several years since we landed in Bangalore. For the uninitiated, Hampi is the erstwhile capital of Vijayanagara empire which flourished on the banks of Tungabhadra river around 15th century and is now a UNESCO world heritage site. 

So, we zeroed in on this destination quickly and referred Karnataka Tourism website, a one-stop-shop for all information, for planning a round trip. Online booking facility at Karnataka Holidays made sure that I could plan our route and accommodation in no time. Going by past experience, I knew that Karnataka Tourism hotels would have the best locations possible across all the destinations and so I didn't look beyond and booked at Mayura Bhuvaneshwari (Hampi) and Mayura Chalukya (Badami). Team-bhp portal, as always, provided the much needed advice on routes to take and more importantly, the ones to avoid. 

D-Day Arrives...

At last, the day we eagerly waited for! At the day-break we were cruising away from the metropolis, driving down the NH4 towards Hiriyur. Modern highways are a definite boost for people driving out to distant places although it gets monotonous after a while, and one starts missing the old-world charm  of picturesque roads dotted with big trees on both sides. 

Once we were off NH4, into SH-19 and then NH-63, countless humps tested my driving, let's call it, braking reflexes every now and then. Braving all that, we reached Hospet in the afternoon, bypassing Bellary, and found our way to Kamalapur another 11 km away, along relatively flatter roads.

As was expected, Hotel Mayura Bhuvaneshwari located in Kamalapur village wins hands down on the location front. Situated next to Hampi world heritage site, the pristine surrounding, abundant open spaces, lush gardens with birding chirping and whistling around on trees, and the spacious room -     were all present there to welcome us after a long and tiring drive. After some recharge, a nick-of-time visit to the nearby ASI museum armed us with an overview of the historical landscape and helped us have a coverage plan for the site, thanks to the definitive miniature model of the site.

A long day packed with whole new experiences was awaiting us!

Journey begins...

It was to be a whole day affair. What makes Hampi different is its 26 sq. km area with clusters of monuments having historical significance and all connected by narrow roads, in most places. One can drive or take a bicycle ride from one cluster to another and cover the nearby monuments on foot. The landscape is well-maintained, spots and directions clearly marked. Numerous neem trees all across the site shelter travelers from the scorching sun. Pattabhirama Temple, Virupaksha Temple, Vitthala Temple (with musical pillars), Pushkarani (stepped bath), Queen's Bath, Royal Enclosure, Hazararama Temple and Zanana Enclosure are among the most prominent of all landmarks.


Vitthala temple is the one which impressed us the most with some intricate carvings, and musical pillars although the main temple building was under repair when we visited.

Throughout the day tourist traffic was moderate and interspersed, allowing enough space for every visitor to gaze and assimilate the architectural marvels that lay all around. Limited restrictions on photography let us capture some of the splendors of architecture, most notably, the famous Stone Chariot of Vitthala Temple. Guides were available at the spots, but they were not pushy at all and posed little or no interference for those who didn't opt for their services. It was also a time for us to quickly revisit 16 different world heritage sites in India, courtesy the ASI entry ticket, although the current cultural list stands at 23.

Onward to Badami through Aihole, Pattadakal

Mr. Sankh, manager at Hotel Mayura Chalukya, Badami was kind enough to suggest us the route from Hampi to Badami through Aihole and Pattadakal. After a short stop at Tungabhadra Dam, driving towards Bijapur on NH-13 and taking diversion from Hungund, we reached Aihole around noon. In Chalukyan period, this was a prominent city and temple complex served as a training site for would-be sculptors who would then exhibit their genius in Pattadakal. This was evident in the artistry depicted in sculptures in both the places. We spent some time going around the monuments, most notably, the Durga Temple, before moving forward.

After Aihole, we drove through remote villages and forests bordered by red sandstone hills on moderate to bad roads to reach Pattadakal, a village on the banks of Malaprabha river.Pattadakal was the coronation site for Chalukyan rulers, and is right in the middle of  wilderness in Bagalkot district. One would have to reach the place to believe that such an incredible piece of heritage lies hidden there. So much so that some of us were out of our mobile networks at that time. Different styles of architecture, Dravidian and Nagara (derived from northern India), are prevalent in number of temples in this compound.

The most prominent of buildings within this temple complex are Virupaksha Temple, Sangameshwara Temple, Kashi Vishwanatha Temple and Mallikarjuna Temple. After spending an hour and a half, wondering at the magnificence and richness of the craftsmanship of that era, we headed for Badami, waiting for us around 22 kms away.

Badami Caves

Badami got its name after red sandstone that covers the terrain, and was earlier called Vatapi, the capital of Badami Chalukyas who ruled here from 540 to 757 AD.

Beware of monkeys! They are everywhere in large numbers in Badami and are very much at ease with human co-existence. Hotel Mayura Chalukya (another KSTDC hotel) is located just outside the hustle and bustle of the town, on Belgaum road. We were received by friendly staff and were guided towards our room.

Next day, we made our way to the heritage site. The main attraction is centered around the Agastya Tirtha (lake named after Sage Agastya) with sandstone outcrops surrounding it on three sides. It is flanked by wonderfully sculpted Cave temples on one side of the lake, and Bhutanatha Temple, ASI museum on the other. The banks are not connected though and so one has to take a narrow lane at the Tonga Circle to reach the temple and museum complexes. 
Again, the place was strikingly litter-free, well-maintained and there was no chaos despite crowds pouring in large groups, mostly families.

Cave temples depict different incarnations of Lord Shiva(Cave 1), Lord Vishnu(Cave 2 and 3) and reliefs of Jain Tirthankaras(Cave 4). One can't help but gasp at the carvings strewn all across on the cave walls, ceilings and pillars.

Next, we turned to visit the museum through that narrow lane that barely accommodates one small-sized vehicle. Among other exhibits, it has some of the artefacts, narrations on history pertaining to that era, sculpting tools obtained from excavations and  a model of natural cave tunnel formation. Next stop was the Bhutnatha temple cluster located right on the bank of the lake. Temple with backdrop of clear blue sky and greenish water formed a breathtaking sight and had a seemingly calming effect on us. 

After relishing the cool breeze blowing over the lake, enjoying the calmness and solitude in the courtyard of the temple, we made our way back to the hotel, saddened that we would have to travel back to our time the next day. 

All in all, Hampi, Aihole, Pattadakal and Badami - A MUST SEE  for all World Heritage enthusiasts! In fact, this was enough inspiration and motivation for me to key in my first blog post ever.