travel-record-repeat

Historical

Day 6 (In & Around Hue)

We were scheduled to be picked up by 8 a.m or so and the complimentary breakfast at the Canary hotel did not disappoint; and for once we were not in a hurry either.

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Jack (our tour guide) arrived by 8.30 am in front of the hotel and an air conditioned bus greeted us.
About Hue
Huế is a city in central Vietnam that was the seat of Nguyễn Dynasty emperors from 1802 to 1945, and capital of the protectorate of Annam. A major attraction is its vast, 19th-century citadel, surrounded by a moat and thick stone walls. It encompasses the Imperial City, with palaces and shrines; the Forbidden Purple City, once the emperor’s home; and a replica of the Royal Theater. The city was also the battleground for the Battle of Huế, which was one of the longest and bloodiest battles of the Vietnam War.

Some of the notable sights in Hue include
Thien Mu Pagoda
The Perfume River
Hue Citadel, The Imperial City
The Tombs of the Emperors: Tomb of Tu Duc
The Japanese Bridge: Thanh Toan Bridge
The Tombs of the Emperors: Tomb of Khai Dinh
Lady Buddha pagoda
Minh Mang Tomb
Royal Museum

First up was a quick visit to the local market; lot of fresh produce and we ended up purchasing quite a few eatables.

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Next on the list was the top attraction of Hue, the Imperial city. The Imperial City is a walled palace within the citadel (Kinh thành) of the city of Huế, the former imperial capital of Vietnam. Jack was very knowledgeable about the history of Vietnam; overall Vietnam had 13 kings, last one was in the year 1945 and most of them had lot of wives. Apparently some kings are not worshiped since they were incompetent. The imperial city is huge ; I saw a few folks using the motorized car although we just had to walk for all the distance.  Most of the imperial city was destroyed during the Vietnam war but is being rebuilt by the government.

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The imperial city is huge and 3 layered. The inner most is the ‘forbidden city’ which is where the king, wives and the eunuchs resided. Inside one of the temples, one can buy Vietnamese coins, stamps and few other artifacts.  It was a special occasion on that day and we caught a glimpse of many kids performing traditional dance right in front of the main temples. Most of the temples require a knee deep pant/skirt; thank god our half pants were size of 3/4.

After about an hour at Imperial City, Lady Buddha pagoda was up next. The only fact that I remember is that an old monk is buried there; the honor given because the monk helped rally the Vietnamese against the french. We toured the place for half hour or so before being taken to the nearby wharf to board one of the boats for a gentle 20 minutes ride on the perfume river which happens to be the life line of Hue city.

Boat Ride on the perfume

The boat was a typical tourist boat; the owner, a lady offered to sell some souvenirs to us. This was their way only source of income; while I intended to purchase some, they were simply too expensive. Cheaper variants were available outside.

After the boat ride, the tomb of emperor Ming Mang was up next. Almost every mausoleum comprised of the same basic key elements; the ministers at the entrance, a housing containing the exploits of the king, 2 large pillars to help the emperor’s journey in the afterlife and the burial site itself. Ming Mang’s mausoleum had some very beautiful koi fish and we spent 5K VND to purchase a packet of fish food.

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The last on our trip was the Mausoluem of Khai Dinh; the one which was the most expensive to build and understandably so; the interior are all colored ceramic.

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The last activity for the day for Incense stick creation; I did not participate in this particular activity; Karthik did though and even he wasn’t game to buy a bunch of incense sticks for 80K VNDs each.

At the end of the journey, we paid a tip of 50K VNDs to jack and another 25K VNDs to the driver before waving good bye. It was almost 4 p.m by the time we were dropped of at the canary hotel ; our pick up was scheduled for 5 p.m or so and an hour was spent on just loitering around at the lounge. The hue airport is almost 15 Km away and our driver was right on time. We were a little too early; there wasn’t much to do. The hue airport has a nice ‘town airport’ feel to it. There are a couple of souvenir shops and a few restaurants as well. I had a go at another bowl of hot noodle soup at the airport cafe; priced at 70K VNDs, a bit expensive but not too much,

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We found Vietnam airlines flight had much better leg room as compared to our previous Vietjet flight and is therefore recommend over others. After an hour or so, we reached Hanoi. There is a bus station right outside the airport and the bus dropped us off in hanoi old quarters which happens to be about 45 minutes away from the airport even in 0 traffic situation. GMaps helped us located Pillow backpackers which is located smack dab middle of the old quarters.

It was our first experience in a dorm of a hostel. There were 8 beds overall and the overall ‘feel’ of the place was interesting to say the least. Already checked-in folks very chatting, net surfing etc. We just huddled into our beds, closed the sheets and were off to bed.

>> On to Day 7


Pondicherry

Pondicherry is the capital city and the largest city of the Indian union territory of Puducherry. It is a former French colony is one of the best places to get a glimpse of colonial heritage with its lanes having small yellow-walled houses along with French cafes serving delicious steaks.

2 to 3 days is ample time to visit Pondicherry. As such the days will most likely be split between two activities.
1. Visiting Auroville
2. Everything Else

DAY 1
I reached pondicherry by train from bangalore and it took me about 45 minutes to locate my AirBnB stay which was in AvvaiNagar located about 9km from pondicherry railway station. My host aravind had the first floor spick n span for us and we i.,e Me, mother and sister just crashed on the beds for an hour; the overnight journey from bangalore is very tiring. Ola and uber while functional are too helpful if one is in the residential part of pondicherry. Aravind advised us to tour pondicherry using rented two wheelers. We took an auto and reached a bike renting store.

“Sri Dhanam two wheelers” located near the main bus stop offered an Avenger and pleasure, 400 INR each. The bikes were not in good condition but overall experience of touring pondicherry on bikes is totally worth it; so highly recommended to do this. We rented the bikes for two days. Ensure to check for scratches/dents before hand though.

1. Aurobindo Ashram
Our first stop was Aurobindo Ashram which houses Sri Aurobindo’s and Mother’s samadhis. The place was incredibly crowded with line almost 100 meters long. There is no entry fees and line moved fairly fast. There is not much to “see” per se ; just soak in the calm atmosphere, pray and buy few books. If one is looking for a long term commitment to the ashram though, I believe folks at the ashram are always happy to help out. Spend 30 mins here

Aurobindo Ashram

2. The Vinaygar temple
The Vinaygar temple is present in the guide books as sightseeing spot. It is located very close to the Aurobindo ashram. As such the architecture is “ok” although not good enough to be called a sightseeing spot. Of course one always visit a temple. Spend 10 mins here

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3. Pondicherry Museum
Located 5 mins walk away from the Vinayagar temple is the pondicherry museum. I think many people skip this spot but it is worth a visit.Housed inside is a gallery with sculptures and has the remains of archaeological findings from the Arikamedu Roman settlement. The museum also has a collection of rare bronzes and stone sculptures from the Pallava and Chola dynasties. Spend 45 minutes here.

Pondicherry Museum

4. Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Jesus
I never realized that the church is right in front of the railway station and it is a beauty. Not very large though; and since I was here on christmas eve, it was decorated with colorful lights. It is an oriental specimen of Gothic architecture. It contains rare stained glass panels depicting events from the life of Christ and saints of the Catholic Church. I went in just to soak it all in and was out in 10 mins.

Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Jesus

It was almost evening and time to head to the beach, the rock beach i.e and the one closest to my location. In addition, rock beach is located smack dab in the middle of most happening street in pondicherry, the beach road and promenade. The weather was amazing and there was a lot of crowd at the beach. In addition, rock beach road also has another 4 of the so called ‘sightseeing spots of pondicherry’ within a few minutes of walk away from each other. In all fairness, none of these are ‘impressive’ per se but a quick visit is fine nonetheless.
1. The Statue of Dupleix
2. The Gandhi Statue
3. The old lighthouse
4. The French was memorial.

and of course the rock beach itself.

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All of our travels were quite easy thanks to rented two wheeler and Google Maps. So this method is highly recommended.

Day 2
Auroville is located about 10kms from pondicherry city center and is probably the primary reason why most people even visit pondicherry. It is an experimental multi ethnicity cultural township envisioned as a place where people world over can congregate to find peace.  Many people come to auroville for a temporary stay and engage themselves in activities like yoga, medidation, Sustainable living, Organic farming etc; getting away from the modern vices so to speak.

1/2 litre of petrol was sufficient to get me to auroville. Ample car parking is available for a minor parking fee. The Auroville visitor center is located about 1 kilometer’s walk from the parking lot.The highlight of auroville for the lay person would be a visit to Matramandir. The Matrimandir can be viewed as a large golden sphere which seems to be emerging out of the earth, symbolising the birth of a new consciousness. It is truly a master piece of architecture. From what I know, special permission is needed to visit the inside of matramandir where people medidate.

The free tickets to view Matramandir from a distance are available at the visitors center. We were told that we would need to procure the tickets a day before visiting matramandir but that was not so; they were given to everyone on arrival. The auroville visitors center also two cafeteria serving up some quick chats for the ones hungry from the long walk. The Matramandir itself is located another 1 km away; the elderly can take a motorized cart to the destination but others have to walk the way.

Matramandir is a sight to behold, even from far away. The golden dome shining in the sun light will surely make you want to go inside the structure. We spent about half an hour here and then another an hour or so to get back to the city.

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Rest of our time in the evening was just spent in taking in sights and sounds of pondicherry. Overall 2 days was enough to cover pondicherry and the visit was worth it.

Recommended places to eat at Pondicherry
1. Cafe Xtasi known for their excellent woodfire thin crust pizza
2. Indian Coffee House known for their old world charm and excellent south Indian cuisine

Recommended places to stay at Pondicherry
1. We stayed at Aravind’s guest house which we found via AirBnb


Mahabalipuram

Mamallapuram, or Mahabalipuram, is a town on a strip of land between the Bay of Bengal and the Great Salt Lake, in the south Indian state of Tamil Nadu. It’s known for its temples and monuments built by the Pallava dynasty in the 7th and 8th centuries. The group of monuments at Mahabalipuram is a collection of 7th- and 8th-century CE religious monuments in the coastal resort town of Mamallapuram, Tamil Nadu, India and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.The site has 40 ancient monuments and Hindu temples.

The entirety of Mahabalipuram can easily be covered in a day. I managed to book a tour via trawell.in for 3.5K INR for pickup and drop in chennai along with sightseeing spots at mahabalipuram. As such this can be done at a much lower price if you manage to reach mahabalipuram using some form of public transport and then rent an auto for the day for 1.5k INR; but I was in a hurry and did not have the time for research.

The following are the sites which I covered in sequence.
1. Shore temple & Beach
The Shore Temple (built in 700–728 AD) is so named because it overlooks the shore of the Bay of Bengal. It is a structural temple, built with blocks of granite, dating from the 8th century AD. Amazing architecture, well maintained with a beautiful garden entrance and with a minor entrance fee of 30INR at the time of my visit. The beach is right next to it but not maintained well at all; its not impressive either , so skip it. Lot of local stalls selling handicrafts, watches etc line the entrance to the beach. A couple of stalls serve food items as well. Spend about 45 minutes here overall

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2. Raya Gopuram
Few hundred meters from the shore temple is the Raya Gopuram; Stone remains of an ancient, unfinished temple entrance with ornate carvings & sculptures. Spend only 5 minutes here

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3. Varaha Cave
Located right next to the raya Gopuram downhill is the varaha cave which is a is a rock-cut cave temple. The most prominent sculpture in the cave is that of Lord Vishnu in the incarnated form of a Varaha or boar lifting Bhudevi, the mother earth goddess from the sea. Also carved are many mythical figures. Spend 5 minutes here.

Varaha Cave

4. Krishna Butter Ball/Trimurthy temple
30 seconds downhill from the varaha cave is Krishna’s Butterball (also known as Vaan Irai Kal[1] and Krishna’s Gigantic Butterball) ; a gigantic granite boulder resting on a short incline in the historical town of Mahabalipuram in Tamil Nadu, India.The boulder is approximately 6 meters high and 5 meters wide and weighs around 250 tons.It stands on an approximately 1.2-meter (4 ft) base on a slope, and is said to have been at the same place for 1200 years.

Attempts have been made for a long time to move the ball but with no success thus making the ball “legendary”. A visit to trimurthy temple which is next to the butter ball is good. Trimurthy temple is another fine example of indian rock cut temple architecture. Spend 20 minutes here overall.

Krishna Butter Ball

5. Ganesh Ratha
Located 30 seconds uphill from Krishna’s butter ball is the Ganesh ratha.It is one of ten rathas (“chariots”) carved out of pink granite within the group of monuments of the Pallava Period at Mahabalipuram, a UNESCO-inscribed World Heritage Site since 1984. Spend 5 minutes here

Ganesha Ratha

6. Arjuna’s penance/Descent of the Ganges
Located on the same road as the entrance to Krishna’s butter ball a minute away and measuring 96 by 43 feet (29 m × 13 m), it is a giant open-air rock relief carved on two monolithic rock boulders. The legend depicted in the relief is the story of the descent of the sacred river Ganges to earth from the heavens led by Bhagiratha. The waters of the Ganges are believed to possess supernatural powers. The descent of the Ganges and Arjuna’s Penance are portrayed in stone at the Pallava heritage site.

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7. Mahabalipuram Light house & Mahishamardini Temple
Located 5 minutes drive away atop a small hillock is the Mahishamardini Temple.

Mahishasuramardhini Temple is an example of Indian rock-cut architecture dating from the late 7th century, of the Pallava dynasty. It is a rock-cut cave temple located on a hill, near a lighthouse, along with other caves in Mamallapuram. Atop the hillock is also India’s oldest lighthouse built in 640 A.D. The new lighthouse lighthouse with a circular masonry tower made of natural stone became fully functional in 1904. I decided not to go up the lighthouse since it was quite crowded as is. Spend about 25 minutes here.

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8. India Sea Shell Museum & aquarium
A relatively newer entry to the list of “sightseeing” spots but an awesome one for sure, this is Asia’s largest sea shell museum housing a breathtaking array of sea shells on display. It was actually a visual overload to visit this place since I had never seen anything quite like this. There was a entry fee of 130 INR at the time of my visit but it is totally worth it. In addition to the Sea shell museum, there is small aquarium as well; not too big but houses at least 50 species of marine life. Mayabazaar offers consumers a range of products to purchase from including handicrafts, sea shells, bags etc.

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9. Pancha Ratas
Pancha Rathas (also known as Five Rathas or Pandava Rathas) is a monument complex at Mahabalipuram. Pancha Rathas is an example of monolithic Indian rock-cut architecture and dates back to late 7th century. Each of the five monuments in the Pancha Rathas complex resembles a chariot (ratha), and each is carved over a single, long stone or monolith, of granite. The structures are named after the Pancha Pandavas and their common wife Draupadi, of epic Mahabharata fame.In order of their size, they include the Dharmaraja Ratha, Bhima Ratha, Arjuna Ratha, Nakula Sahadeva Ratha, and Draupadi Ratha.

There is a small entry fee of about 30INR at the time of my visit and is located 5 minutes away from the sea shell museum. The architecture is marvelous and structures are well maintained. Spend about 15 minutes here

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Overall Mahabalipuram offers an amazing experience of old indian architecture. Totally worth a visit.


Somanathapura

The Chennakesava Temple, also referred to as Chennakeshava Temple is a Vaishnava Hindu temple on the banks of River Kaveri at Somanathapura, Karnataka, India. The temple was consecrated in 1258 CE by Somanatha Dandanayaka, a general of the Hoysala King Narasimha III. It is located 38 kilometres (24 mi) east of Mysuru city.The ornate temple is a model illustration of the Hoysala architecture.

Visiting Somnathpura was first part of Somnathpura-Talakad-Shivanasamudra journey which had started at 5 a.m in the morning. It was me,Sanjeeva and Karthik only. On the way to Somnathpura, we stopped at an awesome place called the “Vasu hotel” and relished on some hot puri and idli. We intended to have the dosas there since it is famous for the dosas but unfortunately dosas weren’t ready that early in the morning.

The route took us through many villages and the pleasant weather made the drive very pleasant with the good music system in Karthik’s Car.We reached Somnathpura by 9.30 a.m or so and it took hardly 2.5 hours or so. There is a small entry fee and it is worth it since the place is very well maintained. A big garden leads to the complex. The temple complex itself is huge and the rock carvings are reminiscent of what I saw the Belur temple. In addition, there were hardly any people ; so we got some good shots as well.

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>>> Onto Talakkad….


Talakadu

Talakadu is a desert-like town on the left bank of the Kaveri river 45 km (28 miles) from Mysore and 133 km (82 miles) from Bangalore in Karnataka, India. It once had over 30 temples, most of which now lay buried in sand.

We reached Talakadu from Somnathpura in about 1.5 hours or so, it was nearly 12 in fact. There is decent space for car parking and its at least 1 km+ of walk around the temple complex. No entry fee though. There are multiple temples within the entire complex; the first of which is the “Vaidyeshvara temple”. The temple is pretty big ; post taking ‘darshan’, we purchased huge ladoos to keep us going for the rest of the journey. Going in around the temple in a round robin, there are at least 5 temples (which were previously buried in the sand). Not all are that impressive though; we visited some of them and one we skipped; the grandest of the temples is the “Kirtinarayana temple”;  is at the last and was buried in sand for a long time. It is impressively built and located in a sort of canyon like depression.

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Overall, talakkad temples can be covered in 1 hour or so.

The river bank near talakkad is well known for being very clam and clean; fortunately or unfortunately , it has lead to excessive commercialization around the place with loads of restaurants and shops. There is a small entry fee to the place as well. In addition since it was a holiday on the day of our visit, hundreds had gathered there to cool off in the water.

The river bank @ talakkad

We too joined them for about half hour or so and left for Shivanasamudra falls. On the way, there aren’t many restaurants as revealed by a google search. A hearty lunch at one of the local shops was very satisfying for its authentic rustic taste. It got us more than ready for a visit to the falls.


Trek to Chandrashila Peak, The Beginning (Day 1)

WALKING THE PLANK
The trek to the highest shiva temple in the world, the tungnath temple..the stuff that legends are made of. It took me some time to agree to this one, not because of timeline of the journey itself but the amount of preparation involved. Months of training to increase stamina comprising of running everyday for half hour at least, the idea is to be able to run at least 4 to 5 kms in half hour. Well, finally I made up my mind to do it given the breathtaking sceneries that can be captured during the Deoriatal-Chandrashila Trek (This is the name of trek btw). Sent a message across to all the adventurers I knew. Some of them agreed and most declined since it was new years and everyone wanted to spend time with family; my colleagues Shashank, Sandeep , Ramya and Apoorva; Shashank and Sandeep’s wife agreed to join them (much to their dismay).

The legendary Chaukhambha which drew me to the trek

The legendary Chaukhambha which drew me to the trek

We had about three months time left for the trek and the first thing to do was plan out the itinerary, especially in terms of booking the flight tickets which tend to get expensive in the new year time frame. We got it fairly cheap, about 8000 INR , to and fro Bangalore-New Delhi. Of course apart from this, there was booking the train tickets, hotel rooms at intermediate points etc. All took a decent amount of research to cut down the costs to the minimum. Cumulative it came to like 20000 INR per head or so for the basic travel + stay initially.

Since this was my first high altitude trek, there was decent amount of stuff to be purchased; necessities really. These include trekking poles, Water proof gloves, Ponchos, Thermals and woolens (this was a winter trek see), CAT 4 sunglasses, thermos flask, trekking shoes and so on. There are ample videos available on the internet which should help you out with the required items. I purchased few and borrowed many items; despite all that the final cost came to more than 10000 INIR (Yes, the initial one time cost is high if you intend go for a proper trek). I spent half a day at Decathalon purchasing all the required items.

Once done with all this, there was …The..Long wait…Almost 2.5 months.
The start of the journey. BLR to Delhi.

THE ANTICIPATED DAY FINALLY HERE !
So we had an early morning flight at 6 a.m and was really surprised to see the airport very crowded once I was there. Shashank needed to come from Jayanagar and he was running late. So I decided to exhaust some bandwidth provided freely to people waiting at the airport and streamed a full episode of big bang theory. Shashank, Shwetha, Sangamesh reached the airport by 5 a.m. Sandeep, swaroopa (sandeep’s wife),Ramya and apoorva had a flight at 8 a.m and we had decided to meet them at Delhi airport post landing. (We had booked their flight separately to reduce the costs as we got 4 tickets at a slightly lower price thereby bringing down the cumulative cost of the flight charges for the 8 of us.)

Now it so happened that the due to crowd, the baggage check took excessive amount of time , almost 30 mins and we reached the gate at 5.45 a.m and the security says,” sorry sir, we cannot allow you to board the flight. You are too late”. Just great , our trip of a lifetime was going to end before it even started.We pleaded but he was unrelenting. Finally luckily an airport bus arrived and he allowed us to board the bus after giving us an earful.Phew !!!

We reached Delhi Airport by 8.20 a.m.After having a quick breakfast at Cafe coffee day within the airport itself; we decided to head and roam Delhi for a bit since our train to Haridwar was scheduled for 3.20 p.m. It was awfully cold in Delhi and very foggy with a visibility of hardly 50 meters. The closest tourist spot to our location was Red fort which required us taking the metro to chandini Chowk from the New Delhi railway station ( which also happened to be our boarding point for the train to haridwar). We off loaded our luggage at the cloak room facility at NLDS for a minimal charge and proceeded to chandini Chowk railway station which was few stops away.

Chandini Chowk was absolute chaos, the kind I have never seen…Ever.. Vehicles were separated from each other by a distance of few cms and 80℅ of the road was occupied by sellers all kinds of things. A 10 mins rickshaw ride from chandini Chowk and we were at the legendary red fort.A really long queue at the ticket counter greeted us and took us nearly 20 mins to get the tickets.

Red Fort shrouded in the Fog

Red Fort shrouded in the Fog

Red fort is huge, spread over many acres and there is so much to see and by extension , lots of walking. The weather was pleasant and so we did not mind clocking steps on the fitness band. The museum housing old artifacts, the pool, the living chambers, the courtyard etc are take you back hundreds of years and the foggy day added to the mystical element on that day.

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We probably walked at least 3 to 4 kms on that day within the fort itself but it was totally worth it. Post exiting the fort, we made our way through the chaos that is chandini chowk again via a richshaw and finally reached the NLDS again post taking the metro from Chandini Chowk to NLDS. We wanted to finish our lunch but we realized (thank god) there simply wasn’t enough time. As a matter of fact, we made it just in time to NLDS to catch our train to Haridwar. Ramya, Apoorva, Sandeep and Swaroopa also made in time and we all met up within the train.

The quality of food offered by Indian railways seemed to have improved and we gorged on some Biryani and tomato soup; it was a long journey of 4 hours after all. We reached Haridwar by 9 p.m or so in the night. It was quite cold at Haridwar as well(single digits Celsius easily). The booked hotel (The Sun hotel) was only a km away from the main railway station and the ever trusty google maps helped us locate the hotel , even though it was tucked away in some narrow lane off the road. Checked in, had dinner at the in-house restaurant and slept as soon as possible since the pick up bus to Sari village the next day for scheduled for 6 a.m.

>>Day 2


Halebeedu

Halebidu
Halebidu, another tourist destination famous for Hoysala architecture temples was the capital of the Hoysala Empire. The most visited locations are Hoysaleswara and Kedareswara temples. With its close proximity destination to Belur, both the sites can be covered in ~3 hours.

Trip Itinerary
ShravanabelagolaBelur – Halebidu are three famous tourist destinations in Karnataka which are ideally to be covered in single day if possible since the three spots are located quite close to each other. We booked the tour via Karnataka Tourism and State department which offers the single day trip from Bangalore and Mysore and covers all the three spots. It starts from the Badami house in Bangalore at 6.30 am and reaches Bangalore at 10.oo pm and costed 950 INR at the time of the blog.

Reaching Halebidu & Getting Around Halebidu
S
tarting off from Belur at about 4.15 p.m, we reached Halebidu by 4.45 p.m. The guide from Belur tagged along. It was pretty crowded , just like Belur was. Since it is located only 30 km from Hassan, an half hour bus ride will get you from Hassan to Halebidu. Travelling from Shravanbelagola will take about an hour.

Popular Tourist Destinations
Hoysaleswara Temple
T
he magnificent temple is dedicated to lord Shiva. Its construction started in 1121 and could be completed only in 1207. The figurines are even more profusely carved than the Chenna Keshava temple at Belur. Even after working diligently for about a century, there are still some unfinished portions in this amazing edifice. But even then, this is a sculptural extravaganza contains 35000 exquisite carvings and is considered one of the most remarkable monuments by the hand of man.  The sculptures depict mythological epics Ramayana, Mahabharata, puranic legends and beasts.

Nandi Mandapas
There are two large nandi mantapas at Hoysaleswara temple. One of them is known to be the most beautifully decorated nandi statue in India and is also amongst the largest nandi statues in the world.

Halebeedu3

The Hoysaleswara Temple is renowned for the beauty of sculptures on the outer side of the temple. (Unlike the Belur temple which is known for its inner beauty)

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There is an archeological exhibit near the temple which can be entered by paying a fee of Rs 5/- (at the time of the blog).

Halebeedu1

We left Halebidu by 5.30 p.m and reached the bangalore by 10 p.m. The road is very smooth and therefore is journey is quite comfortable. Overall a day well spent.


Belur

Belur
B
elur is famous for its Hoysala Architecture temples , Chennakesava Temple being the most famous & visited.

Trip Itinerary
Shravanabelagola – Belur – Halebidu are three famous tourist destinations in Karnataka which are ideally to be covered in single day if possible since the three spots are located quite close to each other. We booked the tour via Karnataka Tourism and State department which offers the single day trip from Bangalore and Mysore and covers all the three spots. It starts from the Badami house in Bangalore at 6.30 am and reaches Bangalore at 10.oo pm and costed 950 INR at the time of the blog.

Reaching Belur  
Starting from Shravanabelagola town at about 11.45 a.m, we the tour bus took us to a restaurant owned by the Karnataka Tourism department. We actually expected the price of food items to be low given that the restaurant is owned by the government but that wasn’t the case. It costed as much. (About 150 per head without alcohol). Again only half hour for lunch only.

As such Belur is located about 40 Kms from Hassan , a 45 mins Bus ride from Hassan will get one to Belur. Belur and Halebidu are only 25 Km apart and both the spots can be covered in 3 hours. (Major Sight seeing spots)

Popular Tourist Destinations
T
he Chennakesava Temple is located within belur, so reaching the destination was hardly a problem and we were there by 2 p.m. Remove your slippers outside and a small fee to the guard.

Highly Important
At Belur, a free lance tour guide enters the bus and offers his services without a mention of his rates. Folks assume that he is provided by KSTDC which he is not. He mentioned his charge only at the end of both Belur and Halebidu tour which is quite high. (100 INR per person, so for a family of four it is 400 INR). Ensure that you get the rates clarified at the very beginning since he is not going to mention them.

Belur1

Gopuram

Chennakesava Temple
An almost gold coloured sculpted gopuram greets us as we enter the temple

The entrance of the temple takes us to a huge courtyard, at the centre of which stands the Chennakesava Temple. According to records, it took 103 years to complete this masterpiece of hoysala architecture. The complex overall has many smaller shrines, mandapams and other structures. Unfortunately, it was so crowded on that day , that I couldn’t get a decent picture without at least a hundred people in it.

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The main temple is located right at the center of the huge courtyard.

As I mentioned before, a guide strung along with us and was able to provide a decent amount of information. The 500 year old temple is made of soapstone and is built of interlocking components which join together and provide the structural integrity.  Apparently the entire temple can disassembled and reassembled at another location, something that I find very hard to believe.
At the very entrance, there are sculptures of the ten avatars of lord Vishnu above the doorway.

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Inside the temple, it is pretty dark. There are multiple intricately sculpted pillars supporting the roof and each of the pillars tell a different story. The finest are the Mohini pillar on the south west and the the Narsimha Pillar on the south east.

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Narsimha Pillar

At the very center is the main shrine dedicated to lord Vijayanarayan, one the 24 incarnations of Lord Vishnu. The main priest continuously requested the tourists not to take pictures of the main diety but no one was paying attention which was quite irritating.
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Outside the main temple, take a stroll in the main courtyard to visit a number of other smaller temples.

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We were done here by 4.00 p.m and left for Halebidu.

 


A visit to Lepakshi

Lepakshi, a small village situated on Andhra Pradesh – Karnataka border is famous for the Veerabhadra temple and its “floating pillars”. The shrines here, dedicated to various hindu gods are centuries old ( > 500 years) and are therefore of significant importance, both archaeologically and culturally. According to legend, Lord Rama helped the wounded Jatayu attain moksha here by uttering the words “le pakshi“, which is Telugu for “rise, bird”. Hence the name, Lepakshi.

Trip Itinerary
T
he idea was to cover two sites, Gudibande fort and Lepakshi in a single day and back to bangalore by sundown. Accomplished!!

Leave BLR – 8am  –>  Reach Gudibande 10 am
Trek (Up + down) – 12 pm (2 hours)
Leave for Lepakshi post lunch – 12.30 pm –> Reach Lepakshi – 1.30 pm
Cover Lepakshi (2 hours)
Leave Lepakshi – 3.30 pm –> Reach Bangalore – 5.30 pm

Reaching Lepakshi
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t is about 15kms from the NH7 (Bangalore- Hyderabad Highway). Take a left on the highway and it is more or less a straight route to Lepakshi. Continuing from Gudibande,  we started off post lunch at about 12.30 pm. Knowing that lepakshi was only an hour away, this was a well thought of decision. We reached lepakshi at about 1.30 pm. Again a Navigaton app should be of use here.

Popular Tourist Destinations
1. Lepakshi Nandi
The first spot where one halts and is located right at the entrance of lepakshi town. Can’t miss it. The importance ? It is the largest Nandi statue ( 4.5m high and 8.23m long) in India and made of a single piece of granite. The government has built a sort of mini park around it wherein people can just relax as well. It is fairly well maintained. It is quite close (A couple of hundred metres) to the main lepakshi temple (Veerabhadra temple). It was rather difficult to get a good shot (with people crowding the place for selfies with the granite bull :))
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Nandi at the entrance to lepakshi village
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2.Veerabhadra temple
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he Veerabhadra temple , more famously known as just the lepakshi temple is situated 200 meters from Nandi statue. Almost 4oo years old and built with architectural style remnant of the vijaynagara empire, the murals, painting and sculptures depict stories of ramayana and mahabharata. A narrow on the left from the main road takes you to the entrance of main temple. The sides of the narrow road have multiple shops and hawkers selling a variety of items including some “pooja” items.

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The first sculpture that you notice as soon you enter is of course the ones at the entrance gopuram. Some of the heads of sculptures were missing ! . The gopuram entrance leads to the main temple entrance directly. So instead we decided to take a stroll around the temple first keeping the main attraction for last. The main temple is surrounded by a large courtyard. Somewhere along the courtyard are inscriptions on ground. A lot of people were just sitting near the pillars and having lunch. Not really supportive of such an activity around an old historical site.

Beyond the courtyard and just strolling around the temple pillars, we located the “hanuman’s foot”. Although Some say it is not hanuman’s but Sita’s. Guess that will remain a mystery. An associated mystery is as to how the imprint remains wet..supposedly all the time. Well, something to ponder about when you are there.

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Hanuman’s foot

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As you stroll around, you come across the unfinished kalyan mantapam. According to legend, the main architect Virupanna ran out of funds while trying to build & complete the temple without the king’s consent. Virupanna pretty much emptied the treasury. And thus the incomplete temple. Regardless the sculpted pillars are beautiful.

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We visited the main temple next. The sculpted pillars greet us again. The roof of the main temple has a beautiful circular engraving. For reasons yet unknown to me, people were busy taking selfies and photos with main deity despite specific instructions not to. Inside the main temple, there are multiple deity statues of various deities including veerabhadra, Durga, Hanuman etc.

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Last but not least, the floating pillars! ;  one of the highlights of the Veerabhadra temple, the pillar apparently “floating” above the ground. The one floating pillar that I did find was actually supported by a point wherein it touched the ground i think.So it wasn’t floating, not really. 🙂 Well atleast I don’t think so.

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There is well maintained park which surrounds the veerabhadra temple.

Restaurants at Lepakshi
Something that is worth mentioning here is that there are almost no decent restaurants or locations to eat in Lepakshi (Not that we found since we searching for them) ; the only one we found was maintained by Andhra Tourism and it is right next to the lepakshi Nandi. Traditional South Indian Thali priced at 92 rupees (at the time of the blog). Decent enough but I suspect that the owner is fleecing given the pricing but can’t be sure though. Anyways be sure to pack food since there isn’t much “choice”.

Overall lepakshi can be covered in approximately 2 to 3 hours easily. Given its reasonable proximity to Bangalore, it makes for a good weekend getaway.
Have fun !


Trek up Gudibanda Fort

Gudibanda Fort, a multi level fort Byre Gowda in early 17th century, so almost 400 years old.  One of the many forts in karnataka ; is a site for many visitors from Bangalore and makes for a good weekend drive / ride. A shiva temple is located at the top, so lot of folks from the nearby village make regular visits, so it is quite safe as well. However on weekdays, you get find yourself in a isolated location. So Choose your day wisely. 🙂

We (it was just me and a friend) started off from bangalore city at about 8 a.m in the morning on my trustee bike. Since the fort is only about 100 Kms from the city centre and the road to Gudibande is a National Highway (NH7) , it makes for a very pleasant driving / biking experience.

My Trustee Bike
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Trip Itinerary
T
he idea was to cover two sites, Gudibande fort and Lepakshi in a single day and back to bangalore by sundown. Accomplished!!

Leave BLR – 8am  –>  Reach Gudibande 10 am
Trek (Up + down) – 12 pm (2 hours)
Leave for Lepakshi post lunch – 12.30 pm –> Reach Lepakshi – 1.30 pm
Cover Lepakshi (2 hours)
Leave Lepakshi – 3.30 pm –> Reach Bangalore – 5.30 pm

Reaching Gudibanda Fort
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lug in gundibande fort into a Navigation platform (Google Maps). On NH7 is is straight ride / drive for almost 50 Kms and the route is quite scenic with fields, orchards and hills lining the sides of the road.
Take a diversion from Nh7 and travel for another 10kms or so to reach gudibande village. The right turn to reach the start of the stairs to take you to the fort is rather obscure and is very narrow. Ask the townsfolk and they should be able to help out. By the way, the term for hill in local kannada dialect is “betta”. Finally we reached Gudibande by 10.30 am.

At Gudibande Fort
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view of long winding stair of steps going up a hill and reaching the fort greet you at the base.

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As you climb up, the remnants of 400 year old fort become more visible. One can move off the steps and explore the hill at some select locations, mostly wild plants and flowers exist. Not exotic enough to be called a photographers paradise but still better than being in a city I guess.A particular variety that was common all along the way during our visit was a yellow variant.  These also line both sides of the steps at select locations.

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At many locations, the staircase goes from under the rocks. I wonder how this was done, the rock is perching right on top of the steps. The steps here are jagged and uneven at many locations , so take care not to slip & fall.

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As you make your way up, you see potential locations from where the fort would have been defended. The enemy is essentially left open to whatever form of long range attack the soldier up the fort intend to employ. The steps are carved out of the rock itself.

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On the way to the top, there are locations where one can rest , especially if it is sunny. The actual reason why these were constructed here (from a military fortification perspective) are unknown to me.

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After about half hour of continuous trek, you reach the top. Phew
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There is shiva temple at the top of the hill which is believed to be one of the 108 Jyotirlingas. A sculpted pillar is present at the entrance. On the day of our visit , unfortunately, it was closed but from the looks of it, people visit the temple quite often.

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Go around the temple, to get a panoramic view of gudibande which is quite breathtaking.

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Overall, the trek should take about half hour only and is therefore suitable even for the inexperienced trekkers / beginners. Do take water, sunblock and some eatables along.

 


Srirangapatna

Srirangapatna is a “historical town” located 120 kms from Bangalore and a mere 25 kms from mysore city centre. It primarily known for its forts, temples and as the death & resting place of Tipu Sultan.

Reaching Srirangapatna
Connected via the national highway which runs through the town, it is easily accessible via road from the two major cities nearby, Bangalore and Mysore which is only 25Km away.

Getting Around Srirangapatna
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utorickshaws are available ; Bus service is sporadic in nature. Personal mode of transportation , a rented car or taxicab is recommended.

Popular Tourist Destinations / Things to Do
1. Tipu’s Death Place

The body of Tipu Sultan was found here. Cannot be really termed as a tourist spot since there is not much to see , there is some amount historical significance attached to this location. So a small altar has been constructed here which is maintained by the local government. There is no entry free at the time of this blog. The destination is adjacent to a main road. Spend about 10 mins here.

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2. Sri Ranganathswamy Temple
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he most famous temple (and most visited) temple of Srirangapatna. The entrance to the temple is through the huge “gopuram” as shown in the images. The gopuram has beautiful architecture. Photography is prohibited within the temple and it gets extremely crowded in the evenings, especially if it is an auspicious hindu occasion. Be ready to wait for hours. We went on a non-auspicious day and it still took us half an hour for the “darshan”.
Stalls of refreshments line the walkway leading to the temple.
Spend 1-3 Hours here.

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3. Gumbaz
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umbaz is a  mausoleum within landscaped garden which holds the graves of Tippu Sultan, his father Hyder Ali and his mother Fakr-Un-Nisa. There are lot of thugs outside charging a bomb for parking. At the time of this blog, it is 40rs for a four wheeler. So park the car at a distance and walk to the spot.

The eyes are greeted with a very well maintained walkway with a landscaped garden on both sides. The walkway leads to the main Gumbaz. Remove footwear at this spot else it will be robbed / taken away never to be found. We personally did not enter the gumbaz since it was late evening but is highly recommended for people visiting the spot. Spend about an hour here.

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4. Dariya Daulat Bagh
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ipu’s summer palace and one of the primary attractions of Srirangapatna. The palace itself is located in the midst of a huge landscaped garden. There is a small entry fee (Rs 5/- at the time of the blog). At the time of our visit, the crowd was excessive , so try to make it on a day on which the probability of crowd is lower. (Non-weekends / holidays etc) . The walkway to the palace is lined with trees on both sides. A lot of people visit this place in the evenings just to relax in the garden (due to the low entry fees).

Photography is prohibited within the palace. There is a guard who checks the phones of people (ones who have their phones out) for photos taken using mobile cameras. The walls of the palace is decorated with centuries old artwork depicting the wars and conquests of Tipu sultan and hyder ali. Within the palace, old guns and swords along with artwork featuring the old forts and kings can be found.
Spend about an hour here (2 hours if you intend to relax in the garden)

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There are a couple of more of things within Srirangapatna that we probably missed but covered the important ones. Overall, a day can be spent in Srirangapatna before moving on Mysore maybe.


Hampi

Hampi is a village in northern Karnataka, India. It is located within the ruins of the city of Vijayanagara, the former capital of the Vijayanagara Empire. The ruins are a UNESCO World Heritage Site, listed as the Group of Monuments at Hampi. A great place to visit to experience the India that was.

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Hampi has some fantastic places to see including the almost thousand years old Virupaksha Temple, Vittala temple, Saasivekaalu Ganesha Temple, Pushkarani and the lotus temple. One can visit the Virupaksha temple early in the morning to listen to the prayers. There is more than enough to do in a day’s time near the Hampi Bazaar itself. Go trekking up the matunga hillock, about 5 mins by walk from the Hampi Bazaar and if you are lucky and there is no mist, watch a beautiful sunrise.

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A recommended method of touring the ruins would be renting a bicycle. Hampi is a small village and one can easily tour all the major ruins by just cycling around. In addition, it will work out much cheaper and is so much more fun. The other mode would be renting an autorickshaw but it could be slightly more expensive and tourists, especially foreigners are susceptible to swindling.

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In order to make it easy , book one of the many available home stays right in the middle of Hampi bazaar. These are really cheap off season and its convenient to tour the ruins as well. Best time to visit Hampi is from October to January since the place gets really hot rest of the year.

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There are more than enough convenient places to eat. The recommended place is the mango tree restaurant within the hampi bazaar. They serve a variety of dishes ranging from Chinese, Continental, English and of course Indian.

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There are a lot stray temples amongst the ruins. So the ideal way to really soak in the beauty of hampi would be just to take the road less travelled. Some tourist spots are across the river and it can be crossed on a small motor boat for a small fee. Once there, take a motor bike for a minimal charge post negotiating with the locals. This is a Hanuman Temple atop a hillock which is the prime attraction in this region.

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Travelling to hampi is fairly easy. If you have your own car, it should take about 6 hours from Bangalore. (Just use navigation to reach the destination). The road from Bangalore to Chitradurga is national highway and is the easy part of the journey; from there the road becomes narrow with lot of trucks plying. So it gets significantly slow from here.

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In all, a great place. Spend a minimum of two days at least so that a majority of ruins can be covered.