travel-record-repeat

Temples

Tanjavore

DAY 0 (Planning)
It was 2 months since my last trip, the long trek up sandakphu. Now it was time for another, only this time with family instead of friends.

Given the short time in hand and lack of interesting spots to visit, I decided to visit some temple towns this time; ironic for me given that I am a pseudo atheist. Mother and sister wanted to though, so the trip was on.

The plan was to tour only two towns, thanjavore and madurai and back in 3 days. All via train.

DATE Day Source Start Time Destination End Time Time Mode
SAT 23/02/2018 1 BLR 19:00 TJ 4:48 10 Train
SUN 24/02/2018 2 TJ TJ
MON 25/02/2018 3 TJ 6:22 MDU 10:00 4 Train
TUE 26/02/2018 4 MDU 6:00 BLR 4:00 6 Train

Booked all the hotels and train tickets 2 months in advance.

 

Day 1 (Bangalore to Thanjavore)
We had a late evening train from bangalore ; caught it at majestic as usual and was onboard by 7 p.m departure time. Now the food in IRCTC trains isn’t exactly reputed so to speak. I took the risk nonetheless, idli-vada it was and was it ..bad. The idlis were rock hard. To get that taste of the mouth, ordered “biryani” but that ended up equally bad, yellow colored rice is all. Disappointed with the dinner, it was time to forget it all. On the way to tanjavore, we passed by the railway track next to my house. We always did wonder where that track went on our usual weekend walk, well now we knew. If only there was was station next to my home. Our train was scheduled to reach TJN at 5 a.m.

 

Day 2 (TJN)
Spot on time , we reached TJN by 5.30 a.m. TJN station was clean and maintained well, as expected from small town stations. In darkness , Gmaps showed is the route to our hotel, hotel oriental towers. I had booked it close to the station by choice and it took us only 20 minutes by walk to reach the hotel. On the way we passed by the early morning tea stalls serving hot tea to travelers coming in/out of the town.

The hotel looked grand from the outside, is atleast 20 floors I think. The receptionist was fast asleep; probably cursed me when i had to wake him up from his slumber. He gave us the room on the top most floor which turned out to be mistake. The hotel itself is excellent; old paintings and sculptures adorn the halls and dim lighting gives a nice old world feel. Its definitely worth a stay. However It was summer already in TJN and without AC, the top floor rooms turn into ovens. I of course realized that through the course of the day. After freshening up, we were out by 8.30 a.m for so.

Oriental hotel

TJN is known for its authentic tamilian cuisine, the breakfast is especially good. Gmaps and trip advisor pointed us to sree krishna bhavan. Located only 1 km away from our hotel, it was rated one of the best in TJN, totally worth the 1km was our opinion. So we began the short long walk through TJN.

Streets of TJN

The restaurant had just opened it doors and we were probably the first ones in. Hot idilis, masala dosa and puri was the order. The breakfast is served with 2 delicious chutneys and the dosa was absolutely massive, almost too much for one person. We were pleased with it; especially my mom; sort of tired of eating the ultra liquidy sambar from BLR.

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After the hearty breakfast , it was time to start our sightseeing; the most famous one of TNK being the Brihadishvara Temple. It is one of the largest South Indian temples and an exemplary example of a fully realized Dravidian architecture.Built by Raja Raja Chola I between 1003 and 1010 AD, the temple is a part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site. I was never much interested in temples but UNESCO world heritage sights have always been on my checklist.

Managed to negotiate the 2 kms to the temple for 100INR and we were there in no time. The temple complex is massive, easily the biggest one I have seen. It is classified as a living temple; which means that it is not just an architectural wonder; there are live ceremonies always going on; some one is getting married, offerings to the god etc. all in parallel in the multiple ‘mini temples’ within the complex. Before going, slippers and bags have to given way; in the heat of the sun, walking barefoot on hot rocky ground is problematic but can’t be helped.

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The main temple is massive and over a 1000 years old; thousands of carvings adorn the walls and a proper guide could probably explain the the history of it all. A very old & large nandi statue guards the entrance to the temple. We joined the long line of devotees entering the temple. After a wait of about 30 minutes in the line darshan was finally possible and we headed back out ; it out in sweltering heat.  Thankfully the large complex has some rest spots.

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After a quick drink of water and few more shots of the complex, we were out.

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Next up was the Thanjavur Maratha Palace Complex , about 2 kms away with 100 INR for an auto. To be honest, the ‘palace’ is not well maintained; its not really a complete palace either , just parts of it. Over 200 years old, the complex comprises of Sardar Mahal Palace, the queen’s courtyard and the Durbar Hall.

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A reasonable part of the palace is in ruins, but what remains is good enough for a single visit. There is a couple of small museums within & near the palace which one can visit for a small price. The museum contains sculptures and carvings hundreds of years old and could potentially take hours of time if one were really interested. I spent about an hour here.

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Apart from the these two major sightseeing spots, there isn’t much to see in TJN. There is the sivaganga park though which local visit on cool evenings but given the heat, we just decided to skip this to rest in the hotel and get some of those sweaty clothes washed.

The temperature cooled down a bit further in the evening and thus time for some dinner; Aranya Nivas was universally rated to be the best restaurant in TJN; especially the traditional thali. Even though it is located about 1.5 kms away from the oriental hotel, we decided it was worth it; we may never visit TJN again in life after all.

For a small town, TJN had a reasonable bit of traffic. After some hectic navigation, we finally reached aranya nivas. There is a general seating area and another AC seating area inside. The general seating was full, so we moved to the AC seating area which was empty.

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Our order, dosa, paneer pulao and nan-panner curry was decent enough; but we definitely wanted to try the traditional meal which was unavailable for dinner.So after a nice heavy dinner and the long walk back, it was time to hit the bed; our train was for the early next morning.

DAY 2 (To Madurai from TJN)
Our train to Madurai was scheduled for 6 am with the travel time to madurai 3 Hrs+. On the way to madurai, the journey was amazing. The fog lining the fields a few feet above the ground and relatively cooler temperature along with a hot cup of coffee, perfect for morning. Of course we knew it was going to get much worse soon, madurai is known to get very hot in the summer season. We reached madurai by 9 a.m or so; I had booked an hotel hardly a km from the railway station, so it was an easy walk to the hotel. Before reaching the hotel though, some breakfast need to be had. One specialty of Tamil nadu , in general, is definitely the awesome breakfast. Where else can find so many varieties of chutneys and all so delicious.

Yummy !

After an awesome breakfast, we arrived at our hotel which only 10 minutes away. There were only two sightseeing spots on our list, Thirumalai Nayakkar Palace and Meenakshi Amman Temple. It is always ideal to visit a temple in the evening, so that was postponed to the next day; which means the palace was on our list for the day. The advantage of a small town is that all the major spots are always close to visit; so was the palace located only 1.5 kms away. Google maps as usual helped reach the spot in most efficient way.

Thirumalai Nayak Palace is a 17th-century palace erected in 1636 AD by King Thirumalai Nayak, a king of Madurai’s Nayaka dynasty who ruled Madurai from 1623–59, in the city of Madurai, India. This Palace is a classic fusion of Dravidian and Rajput styles. The building, which can be seen today, was the main Palace, in which the king lived. The original Palace Complex was four times bigger than the present structure. In its heyday, the palace was considered to be one of the wonders of the South.

There is a small entrance fee for the regular entrance; in the evening , a sound and light show is organized with some additional fee. The palace is reasonably well preserved and worth a visit.

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We were done with palace by 5 p.m or so and then it was the long 2 km walk back to the hotel. On the way , some dinner and hit the bed.

Day 3 (Madurai and back to BLR)
The most famous attraction of madurai is obviously the Meenakshi temple complex. The complex now houses 14 gopurams (gateway towers), ranging from 45–50m in height, with the southern gopura tallest at 51.9 metres (170 ft). The complex has numerous sculpted pillared halls such as Ayirakkal (1,000 pillar hall), Kilikoondu-mandapam, Golu-mandapam and Pudu-mandapam.

We left for madurai temple early in the morning; on the way to the temple , we barely escaped getting ‘tricked’; an auto wallah met us on the road and told us that men were not allowed into the temple without a “veshti” or a lungi; legs must be covered which was true. However for 10 INR only , promising to take us to the temple dropped us off at an clothes emporium selling expensive sarees. No doubt he had sort of arrangement with them.  Having been in similar situations before, we decided to bypass entering the shop and walked off to find a store where we could purchase an expensive veshti ; after an hours of roaming the streets around the temple, we finally managed to find a shop selling one priced at 100 INR.

Now phones and cameras are not allowed inside the temple; so i could not record anything even for memories sake. After depositing shoes for safe keeping, we entered the complex through the eastern gate. There is an entrance from each of the directions, the complex spread over many acres.

The complex is quite vast; with multiple temples. We immediately entered the main deity temple first; there was a reasonably long line. The guards do not allow more than few seconds of sighted worship per devotee , so this was done pretty fast. On the way out, there are outlets selling snacks and delicacies at a reasonable prince which we were glad to purchase and gobble up. At various point , there are centuries old sculptures of various deities; the scale of the temple is mind boggling. After exiting the roofed temple complex, we entered the 1000 pillar museum which again has hundreds of sculptures. At another point, we witnessed a live puja with the aid of an elephant. Walked a bit more and an ongoing marriage; all these simultaneously happening is what makes this a ‘living temple’.

All this walking and it was almost time to check out of our hotel; 12 p.m is what was told to us. But our train out of madurai was scheduled for 6.30 p.m ; so we had many hours to kill and not a single sightseeing spot left to see, in madurai i.e. Well there are a couple of temples but we were done with out share of temples for the trip. Movie and mall came to my mind; under normal circumstances I despise malls but there was no choice left to us whatsoever. It was terribly hot out in the open and there was no where left to go.

There is only one mall in madurai, Vishal de mall and there were only two hindi movies running in the theatre at that time. The mall-theatre were located about 20 minutes away from the station, We deposited our luggage in the madurai station clock room and caught an auto to the mall.Ran my calculations and realized that we would be cutting in too close to train’s departure at 6.30 p.m; the movie was 2.5 hours long and scheduled to start at 3 p.m. So we decided to skip movie altogether and head to the food court to kill time.

There wasn’t much variety as such in the food court either but at least it was ‘cool’. I ordered a burger meal while mom & sister went in for some chettinad rice combo. Both were high on price and average on taste.

 

 

At 6.30 p.m we finally departed for bangalore. A good temple run had finally come to an end !


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.


Day 3 – Caves @ Dambulla

Day 3 started with breakfast, idiyappam, dal, bananas, chicken curry, tea, watermelon and tea. This was served to us by our hosts and cost us 1200LKR (which we initially thought was free, the 2nd B in AirbnB)

Post waiting at the bus stop for half an hour , we finally got one and reached the dambulla caves junction which was hardly 10 mins away from sanda guest house.

#Dambulla Caves Historical Importance#
Dambulla is the largest and best-preserved cave temple complex in Sri Lanka. The rock towers 160 m over the surrounding plains.There are a total of 153 Buddha statues, three statues of Sri Lankan kings and four statues of gods and goddesses.Prehistoric Sri Lankans would have lived in these cave complexes before the arrival of Buddhism in Sri Lanka as there are burial sites with human skeletons about 2700 years old in this area

The entrance to dambulla caves has a huge pagoda along with The Golden Buddha statue and Dambulla golden temple.

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A flight of stairs next to the golden temple leads up to the dambula caves; however do not proceed without taking tickets (They are checked at the entrance top of the hill and you don’t want to trek all the way down). The ticket station is actually atleast 1/2 km from this point. Take a gate on the left and proceed down the hill to reach a point where there is another flight of stairs leading up. Climb and 50 steps later, a ticket counter is available. International tourists were charged 1500 LKR per person. Continue taking this flight of stairs and a good half an hour later (with breaks), you are at the top.

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There are total 5 main temple caves which one needs to visit. The history of the each of these best left to a wikipedia but all the caves have a plethora of statues and murals worth admiring.

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We met a big group of vietnamese Buddhists monks as well;  on a visit to all holy buddhist sites around the world.

The trek down took us 20 mins and we were quite hungry by the time we reached the bottom. There weren’t too many eateries around, so we just entered one the small bakeries on the street. For 500LKR, three of us ate some of the stuffed baked items (stuffed potato patties, puffs etc). On a full stomach, it was time to plan our journey to sigiriya rock. Reached Sanda guest house, paid the 1400 LKR for breakfast and pushed off to sigiriya rock via bus. The bus can be caught from dambulla main bus stop; the journey took us about an hour.

We checked into our airbnb stay which was located 1 km from the bus stop, decent enough for what we paid.

Sigriya Airbnb stay

Soon enough we realized that there was no money left for dinner. Hah. Precisely calculated the amount of needed for dinner at the “Sigree Cafe” for Sandwitch, Omelette and Fries which came to 1800 LKR which we had thankfully. The problem was the nearest ATM was located quite far away and we weren’t sure that the location was valid enough; it wasn’t worth it walking in the darkness. So back to the room it was; walked in complete darkness listening to ‘Sultans of Swing’, ‘November rain’. We planned out the next day after reaching the room by 11 p.m. Shaheed wasn’t too excited about the next day given that this would be the trek of his life.:)

>>Day 4


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.


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.

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Hoysaleswara Temple
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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.

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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).

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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
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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
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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.

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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.

 


Shravanabelagola

Shravanabelagola
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hravanabelagola located about 50 Km from hassan city centre is most famous for  58-feet tall monolithic statue of Gommateshvara Bahubali which is considered to be the world’s largest monolithic stone statue. It is central to Jainism and is more than 2000 years old. It is in absolutely pristine condition which is amazing considering the time that has passed.

Trip Itinerary
Shravanabelagola – BelurHalebidu 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.  

Starting from Bangalore
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he bus left badami house at around 6.40 am and it was full on early saturday morning. Parking is available within badami house for vehicles. The bus halted for half hour at Mayuri Restaurant located off the highway at around 8.30 am. The restaurant was very pleasant and the breakfast prepared fresh. KSTDC has sort of tie up with this restaurant since we were the only customers. The food was decently priced and it is the midst of a huge garden. It is almost a resort to be honest as evident from the pictures.

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Post a nice breakfast, the bus pushed off at around 9 am for Shravanabelagola. The route itself , being a highway , is very smooth.

Reaching Shravanabelagola & Getting Around Shravanabelagola
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assan is quite close and there are frequent to & from buses available. The overall distance from Bangalore (International Airport) is about 150 Kms. Autorickshaws can be used to go around Shravanabelagola. The road leading to Shravanbelagola passes is scenic with green fields on both the sides of the road and passes through many small isolated villages.

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At Shravanabelagola
The tour bus reached Shravanabelagola at around 10.30 am and we were provided only 1 hour to visit the  Gommateshvara Bahubali Statue and return which is actually not a lot if you are slow in the climb. There about 700 steps on a steep hill which lead you to the top. There aren’t any resting spots in the first phase. So it will be continuous climb. If the climb is done in the afternoon, it is very important to wear socks since the steps become hot. Shoes are not allowed. In case you forget to bring socks, there are vendors selling socks at 20 INR.

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There is catch though. The first phase of the climb dies not lead you to the statue. It leads to an intermediary temple on a plateau. Take the darshan and continue on to the right. There is another set of steps 100 steps or so which will take you the Gommateshvara statue. On route, you can have a scenic view of the town below and the surrounding hills. The rock bed on the plateau has all sorts of Sanskrit inscriptions which are protected by a transparent glass.

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The Walls around the steps leading to Bahubali statue are also sculpted with images of gods and goddesses of hindu mythology. The archaeology department has maintained the location in very good condition. Hopefully things don’t deteriorate with the increasing population of visitors, especially during the holy / festive seasons.

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Gommateshvara Bahubali Statue
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he entrance to the Bahubali statue passes through a entrance under a temple archway. There is a corridor surrounding the main corridor where the statue is present. So take walk in the corridors around the statue before entering the main corridor with the statue.

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The monolithic statue is magnificent, almost 60 feet high and more importantly in pristine condition even after 1000 years. Take the monks blessing and take a ten minute break here.
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There is another set of beautiful sculptures exactly opposite to the Bahubali statue.
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Get ready for the long climb down post now and keep encouraging the people on the way up. Of course with gravity assisting you, it will be relatively easier. At the town, there a number of vendors selling refreshments ; we just had some cucumber since it was a really hot day. The tour bus departed Shravanabelagola for Belur town at about 11.45 a.m.


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
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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.

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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
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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.

 


Shiva Ganga Hills (Shivagange Betta)

Shiva Ganga or Shivagange is hillock located just 70Kms. from Bangalore and is a favorite for trekkers since it is quite close to the city. In addition, find your spiritual side with the number of temples located along the way to the top.

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The easiest way to reach the sivaganga is via the Tumkur National Highway. Switch on Navigation function since there is a left turn on the highway which one can easily miss. The left turn takes you through a couple of small villages before reaching the hillock. Overall travel time from centre of Bangalore to Sivaganga is approx. 2 – 2.5 Hrs. (1 Hr to cross Bangalore Traffic). From my experience, the best time to go to sivaganga is the early morning for two reasons :
1. Avoid Bangalore Traffic and reach early.
2. Start the climb early. It gets awfully hot in the day time and the rocks reflect heat which make climbing up and by extension climbing down quite difficult and uncomfortable. By starting early, you are down by the time sun is up and this makes for a pleasant experience. Click all the pictures you want on the way down.

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The overall trek distance is approximately 2 kms and the hill is quite steep, especially the last bit to the top. Railings are built to assist climbers. Depending on the rate of ascent, the journey uphill might take approximately 2 – 3.5 hrs. There are a number of resting points & eateries along the way which provide refreshment.  (If climbing early morning, this will not be available, so carry own refreshments)

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There are a lot of monkeys at the top. Be wary since they are known to be mischievous. I have personally witnessed them snatching bags away and looking inside searching for eatables. So don’t eat any food items in the open and risk being attacked.

 

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The view from the top is amazing. Unfortunately, it was cloudy that morning and I wasn’t able to click good pictures. Well,,there is always a next time.

I found a good blog(Link below) which has a lot of helpful information.
http://www.bangaloretrekkingclub.com/2013/05/shiva-ganga-hills-trek-to-remember.html

Cheers and Happy trekking