Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Hampi Travelogue

Hectic work has surely put a major roadblock on regular blog updates. And with December being the holiday season and lots of friends visiting from abroad, weekends are generally busy. So there you have it, excuses for no update in a long time.
Finally went on a long-wanted trip to Hampi. I had always been fascinated by the rise and fall of the Vijayanagar empire right from the time I read it in the history books. Who wouldn't be - with gold and diamonds sold like peanuts on the roadside, it must have been some empire!
Hampi is an interesting place to visit with something to offer to every kind of traveller - historically-inclined, touristically-inclined, religiously inclined, cinematically-inclined, herbally-inclined...
For the cinematically inclined, many national and international movies have been shot at Hampi - most recently Jackie Chan's THE MYTH and Mani Rathnam's GURU (you can catch Ash dancing in the rain around the Hampi ruins). Guess the place lends a magical touch in the background.
For the herbally inclined, Hampi is now supposedly a major rave destination. A discerning person can catch chillum smoking sadhus around Anegundi which is across the Tunga river.
And here is some fodder for the historically inclined. Will come to the touristically inclined later on.

Hampi was the erstwhile capital of Vijayanagar empire, of which KrishnaDevaRaya is the most famous and well-known ruler during whose reign the empire stretched from Orissa to Kanyakumari. It is about 12 km from Hospet (which boasts of the Tungabhadra dam). The story of how the empire was built is a fascinating one to hear. Legend has it that 2 soldiers from Warangal, Harihara and Bukka from the Sangama dynasty wanted to establish a strong Hindu rule in South India. At this place, they saw a strange sight where a rabbit was chasing down a scared hound-dog. When they narrated it to their guru, Sage Vidyaranya, he pointed out the powerful qualities of this place, its secure environs with hillocks on 3 sides and the Tungabhadra river nearby which could foster a teeming capital city. Thus, Hampapatna was established. Since this was to difficult for the later British rulers to pronounce, they simply butchered the named to Hampi (a la Oooty from Ootacamund) which stuck on. The city was plundered and ransacked after the Bahamani Sultans of Golconda defeated the Vijayanagr rulers. According to locals, the idols of all the temples have been broken and disfigured by marauding soldiers looking for treasure believed to be stuffed inside the stone idols during their consecration. Now, all that is left of it is in ruins. After it was recommended in the Lonely Planet guide, Hampi has seen a major inflow of tourists - both Indian and foreign - since then. This provides a major source of income for the locals who are all in the service industry ranging from accommodation to artisans selling authentic Indian artifacts. This year the Hampi Utsav in November was a grand event attracting around 2lakh people.
So took off on a Friday night along with friends in a rickety KSRTC Rajahamsa bus (they used to be pretty good, but the advent of Volvo Airavatas looks to have consigned the Rajahamsa to step-motherly treatment from the authorities). Couldn't get enough sleep on the bus and was pretty groggy in the morning. We were advised to stay at Malligi Hotel in Hospet, but since we didn't have any advance booking, we didn't find any room there. The hotel seemed to be teeming with foreigners attending some conference out there. The rude receptionist just as much dismissed us without even the slightest courtesy (Looked like athiti devobhava applies only to foreigners?? ;-))
Anyways we decided to have breakfast at the restaurant there and one of the waiters provided us with info on guest houses in Hampi itself.

So, on we proceeded to Hampi in a huge auto (which usually runs on shared basis). First thing you notice in Hampi are the rocks! The rocks really rock!! Whichever way you turn, seems like some divine force just sprinkled rocks out of a humongous salt/pepper-shaker all over the place.
We found a basic but good enough accommodation just next to the Tungabhadra riverbank called Keerthana Guest House. An early morning walk by the riverside and caught sight of the temple elephant being given a good scrubbing and it enjoying every moment lazing in the water. By the time we were ready to get out, it was around 11. We decided to hire cycles and roam around town. And one ride uphill and we promptly were convinced that cycling was not the easiest of stuff to do for people in the IT industry. We then returned the cycles and got ourselves 2 mopeds and a kinetic. It was fun to ride a TVS XL Super all around the place (made me nostalgic about the time I used to ride my mom's Luna way back in school :-D)
We first visited the eastern part of Hampi which included 2 huge Ganesha statues, Krishna temple complex and the Pushkarni lake. all of us were having a good discussion on the different sculptures in the temple.

It was almost noon and an autodriver there guided us to a place called Mango Tree for lunch. And that place was just awesome. They had seating on the ground and on different levels on the wall overlooking the river. So one could just relax and eat under the shade of the huge mango tree taking in the sight of the serenely flowing Tunga in front. After a hearty and rejuvenating meal, we resumed our sightseeing and visited the LaxmiNarasimha temple, Queen's bath and the Mahanavami Deepa complex. We had fun discussing how the queen would have taken bath on that huge complex and how the guards would have had to keep a hold on themselves lest they get their heads cut or something. The MahanavamiDeepa was really regal to look at. This was the place where the festivities used to happen and the king would watch different contests sitting on his high perch. Hampi is an awesome place just because of its ruins. The ruins provide a mystical quality to the whole place. It was such a difficult fact to digest that so powerful and rich an empire could just be reduced to such abject ruin. As Suppi recollected, it was very much like the poem Ozymandias we studied way back in school - however powerful you are, someday you are just reduced to dust and rubble. It was almost dusk and we caught the sunset from here.
Now came the most adventurous journey I have been part of in a long time. One of us wanted to withdraw money for shopping and the ATMs were all at Hospet. We decided to go to Hospet but realized that none of our vehicles had headlights. The 12km journey from Hampi to Hospet in the dark on the highway with all types of vehicles zooming past and in front of you, with their high beams, man! that was some journey! We somehow managed to reach Hospet without any mishaps. After fiddling with the light systems, we realized 2 of the vehicles had their headlights working and we that reassured us about our return journey. Else it would have been too difficult since the last 4km to reach Hampi is absolutely deserted and has absolutely no streetlights. After finishing the ATM work, we safely rode back to Hampi with the 3 vehicles following one behind the other. I chose the one without headlight. In hindsight , it was actually fun to ride it.

We then returned the bikes, had a leisurely dinner watching highlights of South Africa's collapse on the 2nd day at Wanderers at a funky restaurant. We finally retired for the day and decided to wake up early for sunrise. But the previous day's journey was so tiring that I was the only one awake at dawn. Seeing that the others were fast asleep, I went back to my much-desired sleep.
Finally woke up fresh at around 9. Had breakfast at a roadside thela where we gorged on lip smacking idlis and bajjis. Coffee was served in a huge glass which was worth every drop. One thing we sorely missed on the first day was a guide. Without a guide, it was just as good as walking down on MG Road looking at shops. You really don't get to feel the history of the place. So second day, we trooped into the KSTDC office there and booked a guide. All morning was spent in shopping. And since there were 3 girls, it was a major item on our to-do list. The sheer variety of stuff available was so enticing that we too picked up some stuff for ourselves. Finally, at 1 we started on our sightseeing - the guide took us to the Vitthala temple. Here was the most fascinating stuff - the musical pillars. The temple complex has these set of pillars all round the temple, which one tapping the pillars, emit different musical notes - one set of pillars had the Sa Ri Ga Ma tune, one the jal tarang tune, one the calling bell tune, one the mridnagam sound - it was truly amazing. Whoever sculpted this was someone par excellence.

Next we crossed the Tunga river near the unfinished bridge. The bridge was supposed to be the connection of Hampi with Anegundi village across the Tunga. It remains unfinished since the UNESCO feels that movement of vehicles on the bridge will weaken and finally result in falling of the Vitthala temple. So the only way the Anegundi can be reached is by a coracle ride. One can see bikes and people together on the coracles crossing across. People have the sit on the bikes to balance them. It is a pretty funny sight. After crossing the river, we had lunch at a dhaba and from there, proceeded to Anjanadri hillock. This place has another legend attached to it. There are multiple versions of Ramayana - Valmiki, Tulsi, Skanda - according to Skanda Ramayana, Anegundi is the birthplace of Hanuman. Climbing on Anjanadri, one could find innumerable monkeys all over the place. There is a Hanuman temple at the top of the hillock where we paid obeisance to Hanuman, whom we consider the God of rock-climbing, actually any sort of climbing ;-)
We caught the sun going down from the top of the hillock. A funny sight was a small baby monkey playing bashfully with a coconut it had laid its hands on. It was a true showman, playing to the gallery and pleasing all of us camera-toting enthusiasts.
Finally reached back to the guest house, which included a motorboat ride powered by a RX-100 engine.
Got another auto back to Hospet, had a nice, leisurely dinner at Temptations in Malligi and were at the bus stop waiting for another Rajahamsa to fly us back to Bangalore and the same old office the next day!

Hampi Facts:
Post monsoon and pre-summer are the best times to go. Summer will be scaldingly hot out here. If you want star accomodation, stay at Hospet. Most people recommend the Malligi Hotel, but going by our experience, I wouldn't comment on that.
For taking in the full splendor of Hampi, stay at any of the budget guest houses at Hampi which allows you to explore the ancient city till late evening and then spend the rest of the time shopping. It's definitely a shopper's paradise with numerous atrifacts and clothes to choose from. There are enough places inside Hampi to rent cycles and bikes from. Most of the restaurants would have a "Recommended by Lonely Planet" sign, and their menu if definitely not South Indian. We had to really struggle to find places which sell idlis and dosas for our desperate-to-eat-idli US-returned friend :-)
But food is generally good out there. Go to the state tourism office and they are very helpful with giving directions to visit as well as helping with getting guides. They even have some interesting books and maps on Vijayanagar.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Diwali Cracker!

Right on the heels of this news item...

Hema Malini, Laxmi and others are passé. The most interesting branding of a firecracker I have come across till now :-)

Wonder what he catchline would be...
Mein Kampf-or?? (as in Main Camphor...jal jaaaooongaaa!!)

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Weekend fun...

Last weekend was a long one, owing to Dasara and Gandhi Jayanti. So decided to take off to my native place to attend some pujas and generally meet relatives. Since we heard that the normal Bangalore-Mangalore route was a bone-jarring one, we decided to take the alternate route through Mysore and Madikeri. And what a beautiful decision it was. We got to drive on the smooth flat Bangalore-Mysore highway, the enchanting Madikeri section and the neat Kerala roads. The weather was just perfect for the long drive - neither too hot not too cold and spells of rain in between giving a magical touch to the hilly countryside.
And stay there was perfect. Our house is nestled way up in the hills right under the shade of the highest peak (Posadi Gumpe) in Kasargod district. All round, one can see the Western Ghats looming high in the sky. Now I understand why I dont get as excited as the other city-bred friends when we come across an impressive hill terrain during our treks. Guess I have been so used to such sights from my childhood days :-) I used the opportunity to get some good trekking and photography done. The monsoons which had just completed had left a lush green tinge on everything available.

Standing on top at the peak, one can get a clear view of the Arabian Sea far on the horizon. Though, this time, the view was blocked by huge rain clouds. On a clear day, you can also see the Kudremukh peak far up north from Gumpe. Another feature of this peak is the 5 deep, yawning holes situated just near the peak. According to my uncle, legend has it that the Pandavas used these to hide during their vanavaas. One can drop a stone in one hole and hear a clunk deep down through the other hole which means that all of them are interconnected somewhere deep down.
Here are two panaroma shots I took of the view from Gumpe - one a 360 degree view from the peak and another of the hills merging into the Arabian Sea.

Well, the blogger pics aren't large enough to make out the details. You can find bigger, clearer shots here and here(I uploaded them on Webshots).

One can see the Arabian sea waters shining under the sunlight escaping from the clouds bang in the center of the below pic on the left. Another one of me just waiting to take off into oblivion :-D

We climbed up the hill at around 5 in the evening. Could see huge rain clouds pouring their fury on some hapless town far away. Enjoyed being on top for about 2 hours and then descended down. About halfway down the hill, we visited the house of one of our relatives who lives up there. By them time we started down again, it had started raining and the rocks became slippery. But the experienced cousin of ours directed us in the dark and we safely reached our destination.

Another fun thing was the Hulivesha - which is an integral part of South Kanara and Kasargod during the Dasara festival. Troupes of people (as part of a religious vow) dressed up as tigers/lions/cheetahs, hunters, jokers go house to house and dance for each household in return for some money. The music is really foot-tapping and its pretty interesting to watch the dance. We had one troupe visiting our house which I have captured on camera.

On our way back to Bangalore, near Sullia, we saw a hanging bridge built by Infosys and the Rotary Club of Sullia. It was a really cool experience walking on that bridge. Pretty surprised to see the Infosys name in Sullia. Never knew that bridge existed until now. Walked on it and clicked some pics around.

The roads in Kerala are just too good. Even the roads connecting the remote villages and towns like our village have smooth tarred roads. The best example was while returning, near Sullia, they have a huge board saying "Welcome to Karnataka" and just beyond one could see gaping potholes welcoming us with open arms, feet, everything! Was too overwhelmed at that time to remember to click it on the camera, though.
While the same road until then in Kerala state was a featherbed. Same was the case when moving from Londa to Ponda on the way to Goa. Guess its just one of the pitfalls of being a larger state with larger area to be administered. But still, something to learn from the neighbouring states.

Stopped at an uncle's place at Virajpet near Madikeri on the way back. That is a beautiful town in itself. There is a clock tower at the town center which was built to commemorate King George's coronation in 1911!! Also, got a view of the Western Ghats rising above the forests far in the background.

On the whole, a pretty interesting and satisfying trip. It helped that I wasn't driving this time as my brother took complete control. Just chilled around in the backseat humming (or is it nose-ing??) away to Himesh's tunes :-D

Directions to Gumpe:
From Mangalore - Take a left at Pumpwell towards Kasargod. Travel about 35km to Uppala. There is a left turn here which leads you to Bayaru village past Paivalike. Take the right turn at Bayaru and proceed on the winding road among the hills towards Gumpe. The Kerala Government has put up tourist signboards at various places for assistance. Or any local can easily guide you to Gumpe.

From Kasargod - Travel about 20km and take the right turn at Bandiyodu. Travel on the Dharmatadka road for about 20km and follow the road directions to Gumpe.

You will get buses that go till the foothills of Gumpe. From here, its short 20minute walk uphill to the peak. There are no eating/resting places at Gumpe itself. Nearest hotel is at Bayaru while the nearest town is Uppala.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

On to Shivansamudra (Bluff) - Ganganachukki, Bharachukki

The extra-curricular activites club in office decided to organize a one-day trip to Shivanasamudra last Saturday.
The day dawned,cold and cloudy. Perfect weather for an outing. Too much sun just drains out the energy!
We were supposed to leave at 6.30AM from office but by the time everyone arrived, it was 7.30. And we still had people to pick up on the way. Finally we hit Mysore Road at around 8.30 and chugged along the smooth road. The final count was 27 people including family and friends. The 28-seater bus was just about filled to the brim. Though we found the seats a bit uncomfy in the beginning, we soon relaxed and started enjoying the journey. The bus had a surprisingly good speaker system. Usually, on buses, you find speakers either too high on treble which jars the eardrums or too low on volume which is again ueless! Here it was just great. Almost Bose-quality sound I should say (I could almost hear "give me blood, I'll give you freedom" ringing in my ears! Ok, ok...sorry for the PJ. For those who didn't get it, try connecting the quote and Bose :-p).
There was quite a bit of holiday traffic going towards Mysore so the speed was not great. And our bus wasn't going anywhere near 60kmph. Felt like Narain Kartikeyan in a Jordan against the Ferraris and Renaults.
Stopped for breakfast at Kamat Lokaruchi adjoining Janapada Loka at Ramanagaram. I guess people go from Bangalore to just have breakfast out there. It was more crowded than any of our Darshinis out here. After settling down, we had some yummy dosas and idli-vadas.
We also packed lunch from there in a humongous tiffin carrier. They charged a deposit of 1500 for the carrier. Wonder if it was made of silver or platinum ;-)

After driving through roads right out of the moon with its craters (that would give Koramangala roads a complex), we reached Shivnasamudra at around 1230. That was 4 hours from Bangalore including the 1.5 hour Kamat break.
Here let me give some trivia on Shivanasamudra itself. It was here that the first hydro-electric station in India was built by the great Sir M.Visverwarayya. It was the hydel power from Shivanasamudra (also called Bluff) that lit the first electric bulb in India at the K R Market in Bangalore!! And way back in 1905!! How many knew that??
Bluff comprises of 2 falls - Gaganachukki and Bharachukki. Cauvery divides itself into 2 arms and each of the arms fall into a gorge creating these two spectacular falls. Gaganachukki is the larger, voluminous one where one cannot get into the water (lots of lives have been lost there trying to be adventurous). When one comes from Malavalli, there is a deviation which says Shivansamudra/Gaganachukki. This will take you to the hydro-electric station and the viewpoint from which one can see the falls from the opposite side. Instead of taking this left, go further about 10kms, and then after passing a bridge, you will get another deviation that takes you to the head of Gaganachukki near a dargah. There are steps from near the dargah which lead right to the head of the falls.
1KM further down from the dargah, Bharachukki is the smaller, wider one which falls in a U-shape breaking into different small falls. You need to climb down about 900 steps to reach the base of the falls.Here, there are lots of places where one can sit right under the water.

We passed the dargah and went directly to the Bharachukki falls. After getting down the steps, we reached the base of the falls. No sooner we reached there, the water was too alluring and everyone strode off in a line to enjoy the falls. After changing into water wear (whatever that means :-D), we were all under the falls feeling the hard jet of water on our backs and ears. Was ultimate refreshing! The government should actually advertise this as a natural massage unit. Am sure it will be a hit. (Actually was quite surprised at the government apathy towards most tourist destinations in Karnataka. There is not one hotel/rest house/shops nearby and if one does not carry food and other essentials, it is quite painful!)
Shilu discovered a route by which one could go behind the waterfall, under a ledge, into a cave like enclosure. That was an awesome place to sit and enjoy the falls standing on the ledge and watching the water fall from behind over your head.

There were the customary snaps and videos that were shot. We played long into the afternoon and by the time we climbed the steps back to where the bus was parked, we were damn tired, and hungry to boot! After refreshing ourselves with coconut water and cucumber slices, we went to Gaganachukki near the dargah and had a great view of the majestic falls!

Even though the water was less, it was a breathtaking sight nonetheless! By now, people were restless with hunger. We drove to a meadow with lots of coconut and plantain trees where we had our lunch. The lunch tasted delicious and was consumed ravenously by all.

Finally, we were back on our way to Bangalore after an enjoyable time. We played some dumb charades and antakshari and before long, we were back in Bangalore!

There are 2 routes to Shivansamudra - the shorter but bumpier Kanakapura Road route or the slightly longer but excellent Mysore Road route. We took the Mysore road route. The road progressively become sbad after Malavalli, though.
From Bangalore, get on to Mysore Road. Drive past Bidadi, Ramnagaram and Maddur. Take the left fork at Maddur and proceed onto Malavalli. From here, take the road that goes to Kollegal. About 30km into it, you will find signboards annoouncing Shivanasamudra. Take the left if you wat to see the hydroelectric station and a far frontal view of Gaganachukki. Else, keep going straight for about 10km, cross the Forbes bridge, and then take the deviation that takes you to the dargah. From here, you can either decide to go to Gaganachukki or to Bharachukki which are just 1km apart.