Monday, December 29, 2008

Dive Agar

On the vast coastline of Maharashtra there lies this little gem – Dive Agar. A tiny hamlet that is on the verge of a tourist boom due to the saturation of neighbouring ‘awesome’ tourist spots like Alibag and Janjira Murud. From Mumbai it will take you about five hours of leisurely driving with stopovers. The distance is just 195kms and the roads are also lovely. You have to travel on the NH17 – the Mumbai Goa highway upto Mangaon and then take a diversion to Shrivardhan and Harihareshwar. On this road you will come across a village called Mhasla from where this spot of heaven is just 16kms. There are two decent restaurants with clean washrooms between Mumbai and Mangaon. In Karnala that is 10kms from Panvel, is the ‘Vittal Kamaths’ multi cuisine restaurant and in Kolad 2okms before Mangaon is ‘Mai Bhavani’ an ethnic Maharashtrian restaurant which has a ‘Tulzapur Bhavani’ temple too! Dive Agar has become famous for its ‘Suvarna Ganesha’. On 17thNov97, Draupadi Dharma Patil, while digging in her betel nut farm, found a copper box which contained a Gold mask of Ganesha. On discovery of this treasure, she went and told her neighbours and the police about the same. Then as per law a ‘panchanama’ was carried out and the Gold Ganesha mask was taken over by the local governing council. It was then decided to place it in the existing Ganesha temple in the village for worship and display. Unfortunately, the ‘finder’ is not the ‘keeper’ in this case and all that she has received until now are just vacuous promises from the governing and the temple authorities. Who said honesty pays?! However, she has set up a small temple at the place where she had found it and people who visit there do donate towards her effort. Then there is another temple being built called the ‘Rupnarayan mandir’. It is still under construction behind which there is an old temple called the ‘Sundernarayan Mandir’ of 1962 vintage from where the idol is removed and placed in the new ‘Rupnarayan Mandir’. Now that one has taken care of ones spiritual needs, one can indulge. The beach is virginal, clean and beautiful. The sunset is awesome. There are tiny cottages all along the street and most if not all will offer you a hearty meal at very reasonable prices. However one has to inform them in advance or be prepared to wait for a while as the food is cooked on order. Did not see any liquor shop around and when we asked for beer, were told that it has to be procured from ‘Borli’ another village about 10kms away, so go stocked with your wines if you so wish. The sea food, especially ‘Surmai’ is delicious and you will get an option of either a Chicken Thali or a Fish Thali in the restaurants apart from the vegetarian Thali. For dessert, you can indulge in the ‘Ukdiche Modak’ – the steamed dumpling stuffed with grated coconut and jaggery. The use of oil is minimal but the coconut is used generously in all preparations. As far as accommodation is concerned, one can stay in any of the homestay cottages or in regular hotels of which there are just about three in all of Dive Agar. One is the MTDC leased ‘Exotica’ and then there is the popular mid range ‘Prathamesh’ where we stayed or ’Pinakin’ also a mid range hotel. Exotica is the only one that is bang on the beach while the other two are about a 10min walk away. Like all the villages in Maharashtra there is the ‘Shivaji Chowk’ which is the focal point of the village.
If you are the type who wants to relax and enjoy a bit of solitude while taking long walks on the beach, this is the place to go. But please go soon before it is trashed by noisy tourists.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Ellora Caves

The parking lot at Ellora is right in front of the largest single monolithic excavation in the world, the great Kailasa (Cave 16). The Great Kailasa is attributed to Krishna I (c. 757-83 A.D.), the successor and uncle of Dantidurga. A copper plate grant from Baroda of the period of Karka II (c. 812-13 A.D.) speaks about the greatness of this edifice. Ellora represents one of the largest rock-hewn monastic-temple complexes in the entire world, that too of three different religions - Buddhism, Brahmanism and Jainism. These caves are hewn out of the volcanic basaltic formation of Maharashtra, known as ‘Deccan Trap’, the term trap being of Scandinavian origin representing the step like formation of the volcanic deposits. The rock formation, on weathering has given rise to the appearance of terraces with flat summits. One can also have a glimpse of the channels (near Cave 32) through which the volcanic lava once flowed. These channels, due to overheating, have a characteristic brownish red colour. The basaltic rock is ideal for rock hewing, as it is soft during the initial excavation and hardens on exposure to environment. This induced the religious followers of various creeds to establish their settlements in them. The Ellora caves are datable from circa 6th - 7th century A.D. to 11th - 12th century A.D. There are nearly 100 caves of which 34 caves are popular and visited by many tourists. Caves 1 to 12 are Buddhist; Caves 13 to 29 are Brahmanical and Caves 30 to 34 are Jaina. Thus, we have the greatest religious conglomeration at a single place, signifying the religious tolerance and solidarity of different faiths. The caves are excavated in the scarp of a large plateau, running in a north-south direction for nearly 2 km, the scarp being in the form of a semi-circle, the Buddhist group at the right arc on the south, while the Jaina group at the left arc on the north and the Brahmanical group at the centre. A tourist can plan the visit of these caves according to the time available and depending upon the interest in ancient art. If a visitor has at his disposal three to four hours, then Cave nos. 10 (Visvakarma Cave), 16 (Kailasa), 21 (Ramesvara) and 32 & 34 (Jaina group of caves) should not be missed and one can have a glimpse of the representative art of Buddhism, Brahmanism and Jainism. If a visitor has an entire day at his disposal, then Cave nos. 2, 5, 10 & 12 of the Buddhist group; Cave nos. 14, 15, 16, 21 & 29 of the Brahmanical group and Caves 32 to 34 of the Jaina group should be visited. All this valuable information about the caves has been gleaned from the Archaeological Survey of India’s website We had barely a couple of hours, hence just reveled in the beauty of Cave 16 and visited Caves 10 & 12. The sunset from Ellora is also worth a view and we spent some time gazing at the beautiful sight. On return to the parking lot, we were surprised to see a bunch of langurs being fed peanuts by tourists. We were told by the peanut vendors that these monkeys are harmless and will wait patiently for the visitors to feed them. You buy a packet of peanuts worth Rs.5/- and empty them out on your palm and hold it out to the langur. The langur will then amble towards you, hold your hand and pick out the peanut with the other hand and eat! So friendly! Our only regret was we could not see more of Ellora and missed out on the other two major attractions of Aurangabad – the Daulatabad Fort and Paanchakki. Hopefully will do that some other time. Some important information about Ellora Caves Open from sunrise to sunset Closed on Tuesday Entrance Fee: Citizens of India and visitors of SAARC (Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Maldives and Afghanistan) and BIMSTEC Countries (Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Myanmar) - Rs. 10 per head. Others: US $ 5 or Indian Rs. 250/- per head (children up to 15 years free)

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Ajanta caves

Though we had planned to leave from the MTDC resort in Aurangabad by 0700hrs for Ajanta caves, we could leave only around 0830hrs, thanks to their laid-back restaurant service. It took us two and a half hours to cover the 105kms to Ajanta. The roads and signage all the way were pretty good. Four kms from the caves there is a huge parking lot where all vehicles have to be parked. From hereon you have to use the environment friendly buses run by the authorities. The charges for the shuttle service are Rs7/- one way by non-aircon and Rs.15/- one way by the aircon buses.
The distance between the parking lot and the Bus Bay is filled with stalls selling souvenirs, snacks and bottled water. At the base of the caves too, there is an MTDC restaurant, just after you purchase the entrance tickets. Since the usage of flash for photography in the caves is prohibited, they have installed fibre optic lights, which will be switched on for you on production of a Rs.5/- ticket that has to be purchased at the time of purchasing entrance tickets. The caves attained the name from a nearby village named Ajanta. Apparently, these caves were discovered by an Army Officer in the Madras Regiment of the British Army in 1819 during one of his hunting expeditions. The official guide’s charges are Rs.600/- (non negotiable) or you can avail the services of the freelancers at the door of every cave who will do the job per cave (Rs.20/- to Rs.50/-) or all caves for Rs.300/-. All rates negotiable.
The caves, famous for its murals, are the finest surviving examples of Indian art, particularly painting. They were excavated (circa. 2nd century B.C. to 6th century A.D.) in the shape of a horseshoe, overlooking a narrow stream known as Waghora and each cave was connected to the stream by a flight of steps, which are now almost obliterated.
Totally, 30 excavations were hewn out of rock including an unfinished one. The earliest excavations belong to the Hinayana phase of Buddhism. These caves are datable to the pre-Christian era, the earliest among them being Cave 10 dating from the second century B.C.
The object of worship is a stupa and these caves exhibit the imitation of wooden construction to the extent that the rafters and beams are also sculpted even though they are non-functional.
The world famous paintings at Ajanta fall into two broad phases. The earliest, in cave nos. 9 & 10, are datable to second century B.C. The second phase of paintings started around 5th – 6th centuries A.D. and continued for the next two centuries. These exemplary paintings of the Vakataka period can be seen in cave nos. 1, 2, 16 and 17. The main theme of the paintings is the depiction of various Jataka stories, different incidents associated with the life of Buddha, and the contemporary events and social life.
The ceiling decoration invariably consists of decorative patterns, geometrical as well as floral. The paintings were executed after the elaborate preparation of the rock surface by chiseling grooves so that the layer applied over it could be held in an effective manner. The chief binding material used here was glue. These paintings are not frescoes as they have been painted with the aid of a binding agent, whereas in frescoes, the paintings are executed while the lime wash is still wet and acts as an intrinsic binding agent. It took us about three hours to explore Ajanta so on return near the parking lot, we fortified ourselves with some hot ‘Puri Bhaaji’ and ‘Aloo Parathas’ at one of the ‘fast food stalls’.

Friday, November 14, 2008


Grishneshwar Temple is one of the 12 Jyotirlingas and a must visit for all Lord Shiva devotees. It is located just ½ km from Ellora Caves and has some interesting legends. One of them is about how, while playing chess, Lord Shiva lost to Parvati and on a whim, he went south to the forest of Kamyavana. Parvati followed and wooed him resulting in the two deciding to stay there for a few days.

One day Parvati was thirsty and there was no water nearby so Shiva pierced the earth with his trident and created a lake. This lake came to be known as Shivalay. The legend continues with Parvati preparing sindur. Sindur is a paste made from vermilion powder, which married women apply in the hair parting on their forehead, to indicate that they are married. As Parvati was rubbing the vermilion powder and water with her thumb, the vermilion turned into a lingam and a great light appeared in it. Parvati installed the lingam there and called it Grishneshwar, because it was created by “grishna” or friction of her thumb.

Another legend is from Shivapurana, which narrates a tale about a Brahmin named Sudharm and his wife Sudeha who lived in Devagiri. They lived happily but for the fact that they were childless. Sudeha blamed herself for this and to ensure that her husband’s lineage continued, she got her sister Ghushma married to Sudharm. She also instructed Ghushma to make 101 lingams, worship them at Grishneshwar and then immerse them in the Shivalay Lake. Soon, with the blessings of Shiva, a boy was born to Ghushma after which Sudeha felt neglected, resulting in jealousy and a murder most foul. She killed Ghushma’s son and threw him in the lake. When his wife awoke, she saw that instead of her husband there was a blood stained sheet and in a panic went and informed Ghushma, her mother in law, who was busy praying and so did not respond and continued with her daily rituals. When she went to immerse the lingams, she saw her son emerge from the lake. Then Shiva appeared before her and told her that Sudeha had killed her son. Ghushma requested Shiva to forgive her sister. Pleased with her devotion and generosity, Shiva offered her a boon. Ghushma requested Shiva to eternally reside there so that she could worship him up close. Shiva agreed and decreed that the shrine be named Ghushmeshwar. Hence, the temple is known by both the names ‘Grishneshwar’ and ‘Ghushmeshwar’.

The temple looks as if it is built with redstone. As per the ‘Archaeological Survey of India’, quote, “The Ellora caves are hewn out of the volcanic basaltic formation of Maharashtra, known as ‘Deccan Trap’, the term trap being of Scandinavian origin representing the step like formation of the volcanic deposits. These channels, due to overheating, have a characteristic brownish red colour. Similar rock was used in the construction of the Grishneshwar Temple nearby and also utilised for the flooring of the pathways at Bibi-ka-Maqbara.” Unquote.

There are carvings all over the temple and the pillars within.

To enter the sanctum sanctorum the males have to be topless. Photography in the sanctum is prohibited.

The langurs have a free run outside the temple. Was fun watching and clicking them.

The Grishneshwar temple was re-constructed by Maloji Raje Bhosale of Verul, (grandfather of Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj) in the 16th century. His Samadhi is outside the temple.

Temple Timings Open 5.30 am - 9.30 pm

During Shravan (Aug-Sep): 3 am - 11 pm

Tuesday, November 4, 2008


Taj Mahal, the pinnacle of Mughal architecture, was built by the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan (1628-1658), in the memory of his queen Arjumand Bano Begum. Inspired by this wonder, Emperor Shah Jahan’s grandson Prince Azam Shah, built a similar mausoleum near Aurangabad, in memory of his mother, between 1651 and 1661 A.D.

Bibi-ka-maqbara, as it is called, is a beautiful mausoleum of Rabia-ul-Daurani alias Dilras Banu Begum, the wife of the Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb (1658-1707 A.D.). An inscription on the main entrance door states that it was designed and erected by Ata-ullah, an architect and Hanspat Rai, an engineer. Though Azam Shah wanted to construct the monument wholly in marble, it was not to be as his father Aurangzeb was not in favor of building a monument as lavish as the Taj and even blocked the transportation of marble that was being procured from the mines near Jaipur. Somehow, Azam Shah prevailed upon his father who eventually relented and ultimately the "Taj of Deccan" was constructed, though a poor imitation, hence also known as the poor man’s Taj!

It is built on a high square platform with four minarets at its corners, and is encased with marble up to the dado level. Above the dado level, it is constructed of basaltic trap up to the base of dome, which is built of marble. A fine plaster covers the basaltic trap, given a fine polished finish, and adorned with fine stucco decorations.

The mortal remains of Rabia-ul-Daurani are placed below the ground level surrounded by an octagonal marble screen with exquisite designs, which can be approached by descending a flight of steps. The mausoleum is crowned by a dome pierced with trellis works and accompanying panels decorated with floral designs.

One enters the mausoleum through the main entrance gate on its south, which has excellent foliage designs on brass plates that cover the wooden doors. A screened pathway that leads to the mausoleum from the entrance has a series of fountains at its centre, which adds to the serene ambiance. As you approach the monument, you notice that there is only one mosque on the main plinth of the Maqbara as against the two mosques on either side of the Taj, giving it symmetry. Apparently, this mosque was a later addition. Legend has it that in 1803, Nizam Sikander Jahan was so captivated by the Maqbara that when Aurangabad and the Marathwada area were annexed to his kingdom he had planned to shift the Maqbara to his capital, Hyderabad. He even ordered the dismantling of the monument, slab by slab, to facilitate the smooth transfer. But then, he had a premonition of some disaster, which would befall him, were he to harm the existing structure. Hence, he stopped the work and got the mosque built as penance. According to the "Tawarikh Namah" of Ghulam Mustafa, the cost of construction of the mausoleum was Rs.6,68,203-7 (Rupees Six Lakh, Sixty Eight Thousand, Two Hundred and Three & Seven Annas) in 1651-1661 A.D. It is now a protected monument under The Archaeological Survey of India and a must see when in Aurangabad and is situated just around five kms from the city. Aurangabad is around 375kms from Mumbai.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

PANCHAVATI and some....

The name is derived from the Sanskrit paƱca (five) vata (Banyan Tree). This area of five Banyan trees is situated on the banks of River Godavari in Nasik, Maharashtra, India. The Ramayana has a huge presence here as every other stone and pond here has a tale from the great epic to narrate since Rama, along with his wife Sita and brother Laxman, stayed in Panchavati during their Vanwasa (exile) period. There is also a cave here called Sita Gumpha where they worshipped Lord Shiva during their exile.The ancient Shivalinga still exists in the small temple in the cave and is visited by devotees. Lakshmana is supposed to have cut off Surpanakha's nose (nasika) at Panchavati. The famous Laxman Rekha is located in Panchavati about a kilometre away from Sita Gumpha. It was from here that Ravana abducted Goddess Sita. Today this area is a major pilgrimage and tourist attraction. Panchavati is a pilgrims' and tourists' destination for various reasons. My recent visit was very personal - to immerse the ashes of my beloved father, who passed away after leading a very fruitful life of eighty eight years. It is believed that if the ashes of the deceased are immersed in the 'Ram Kund', the soul attains nirvana. Ramkund is one of the most important places in Panchavati.It is so called because Lord Rama is believed to have bathed there. The ashes (Asthi) immersed in this kund or pond, are immediately absorbed in the water. A dip in this sacred kund is also considered very holy. Adjacent to this is the Gandhi Lake in which there is a white marble monument, in memory of Mahatma Gandhi. His 'Asthi' were immersed in Ramkund too. Situated in Panchavati area, on the bank of river Godavari is the Naroshankar Temple of Rameshwar built by Naroshankar Rajebahaddur in 1747. This temple houses a famous bell , called 'Naroshankar'. This bell is a memorial to celebrate the victory over the Portuguese by the Maratha Ruler Bajirao Peshwa's younger brother Chimaji Appa who won the fort of Vasai from the Portuguese. Naroshankar Rajebahaddur played a critical role in this war. After winning the fort over, the Vasai Portuguese Church bell was removed and taken in a procession on elephant back till Nashik with great celebration and offered to Naroshankar as a medal - an award for his bravery. It is made of bronze, and six feet in diameter. The year engraved on it is 1921. The toll of the bell is said to be heard up to about 5 kilometers. This bell and its ringing is so famous that there is a title in Marathi "Naroshankarachi ghanta" which is given to a woman talking loudly! Panchavati is a good side trip while you visit Nasik. You would not require more than a couple of hours to explore Panchavati so plan your trip accordingly. There are plenty of temples around to worship in, depending on ones beliefs. For more information on all the temples in and around Panchavati, and there are plenty, Click here Or you may just soak in the religious ambience, walk around and amuse yourself at the various con games being played out by the so called priests making a living exploiting the religious sentiments of the pilgrims. We were swarmed by these on arrival and given a list of our sins that could be washed away here by various rituals! The minute they sighted the ashes urn, they listed out different rites and rituals which once performed, there would be no need ever to even think of performing a ritual for the deceased as all their souls would have acquired 'moksha' or freed from the cycle of rebirth! Then you have the fruit/meal vendors who at a price would distribute fruits and or meals to the poor. They too have rates to suit every pocket depending on the type of charity that you wish to indulge in starting from Rs.100/- which would be eight dozen bananas distributed among those lining the steps for handouts. If you intend spending a day there, for whatever reasons, you would be well advised to carry packed lunch/snacks and bottled water. There are plenty of stalls selling snacks and stuff but I did not see any place worth having a bite out there. This could possibly be because nobody goes there to eat or sleep. Whoever that goes there goes with a definite purpose and leaves the minute it is over. Mostly it is people who go there to perform the last rites/rituals of immersing the ashes of ones' beloved. The others are those who wish to experience Ramayana. Panchavati is at a distance of about 5kms from Nasik and around 190kms from Mumbai. We set out from Mumbai at 0630 and reached Panchavati at 1100hrs. The roads were mostly good except on the ghats which were potholed and bad, although one must admit that the authorities had started patching up the bad roads. There were plenty of waterfalls of various sizes along the way that one could stop and revel in. The Mumbai Nasik route during the monsoons is very picturesque with rolling greens and as you traverse through the Kasara ghats you are actually driving through dense clouds! The visibility on certain stretches is just about 50metres! It is an enthralling sight to watch all vehicles crawling with their hazard lights blinking. The signage all along is very good and does not leave you wondering at any crossroads. Enroute, along the highway, there are a couple of good places to eat like 'Bhagat Tarachand' which serves up wholesome vegetarian food at reasonable prices and 'Manas' which is good for both vegetarians and the non vegetarians too. Manas has a bar but Bhagat Tarachand does not. Bhagat Tarachand is near Vashind, closer to Mumbai while Manas is in Igatpuri, closer to Nasik. Manas is a motel while Bhagat Tarachand is only a restaurant. So take your pick! And then of course once you reach Nasik the choices are limitless. Once in Nasik, you can also plan a visit to Shirdi and Trimbakeshwar. Shirdi is famous for its 'Sai Baba' and Trimbakeshwar for its 'swayambhu' (naturally occurring) Shiva temple which is one of the twelve Jyotirlingas, a must visit for all Lord Shiva devotees. There is a belief that anybody who visits Trimbakeshwar attains salvation. It is considered to be the holiest place to perform Shraddha ceremony as mentioned in 'Nirnaya Sindhu' - a religious book of Hindus. Non Hindus are not allowed inside the temple but one can get a clear view from outside. Trimbakeshwar is about thirty kilometers west of Nasik, and if you are going from Mumbai, you have the diversion before reaching Nasik. So, you can either do it on your way to Nasik or Panchavati or on your way back to Mumbai. About 8km south of Nasik, off the Mumbai Nasik highway, is a group of 24 rock cut Hinayana Buddhist caves dating from around the 1st century BC. They are know as 'Pandav Leni' or the 'Pandavas' caves. The Pandavas are supposed to have spent some time there. Some of them have excellent carvings on the doorways. Of them, caves 3, 10 and 18 are noteworthy. Cave 3 and cave 10 are viharas with some interesting sculptures. There is a carved Buddha in Cave 10. Cave 18 is a Chaitya, well sculptured with an elaborate facade which is particularly noteworthy. Shirdi is at a distance of about seventy five kilometers from Nasik. Shirdi is famous for 'Sai Baba'. Saibaba is believed to have arrived at the village of Shirdi when he was about sixteen years old. He took up residence in a Khandoba temple, where a villager (Mahalsapathi) at worship first called him Sai ("saint"). Bearing an extremely simple and ascetic life, Sai Baba lived in the village as a mendicant monk. His inherent charisma soon began attracting followers. He has been attributed numerous miracles which still live expanding the list of his devotees. Presently, Shirdi is almost a twin city of Nasik and offers almost all if not more facilities available in Nasik. All these places are easily accessible from Mumbai which is very well connected to the world by air, rail, sea and road. Due to this the opportunities for the type of visits from Mumbai are plenty. You could plan on a day trip, wherein you just visit Shirdi or Panchavati. Or maybe an overnighter at Nasik which would be the base from where you can visit Trimbakeshwar and Panchavati one day and Shirdi and Pandav Leni the next, on the way back to Mumbai. Or maybe a two nighter wherein you could also spend a night at the beautiful hill station Bhandardara which is at a distance of about eighty kilometers from Nasik off the Nasik Mumbai highway. All These places are tourist oriented and hence offer accomodation and cuisine to suit all pockets and palates. For more on Bhandardara Click here To read about Trimbakeshwar Click here

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Travel - A pilgrimage... Concluding Part 4 (Vittal-Hassan-Shravan Belagola-Halebid-Belur-Bangalore-Mumbai)

The time had come now to embark upon the most dreaded part of the journey. From Vittal had to reach Hassan to visit Shravan Belagola, Belur and Halebid. There were two routes to do so. One was via Charmadi Ghats and the other via Shiradi Ghats and both the Ghat roads were reputed to be a challenge for offroaders, so it was a matter of choosing between the devil and the deep sea. After a lot of consultation and advice received on various auto and travel forums, decided on the route via Shiradi Ghats. We left Vittal in the afternoon at 1430hrs, after attending an important religious function in the temple that was followed by a sumptuous prasadam lunch. The road, right upto the Shiradi Ghats, though two laned was good. Had to crawl all along the Shiradi Ghats after which again the road was good right upto Hassan. Took us four hours to cover 151kms and checked in the Hotel Sri Krishna at 1900hrs. This Hotel is clean and convenient. Next morning we decided to visit Shravan Belagola before visiting Belur and Halebid to ensure that we did not have to climb up the steps in the hot sun. We checked out at 0815hrs after an ‘Idli Vada’ breakfast in the in-house restaurant, got on to the Mangalore Bangalore highway, and at Chanarayapatna took a right to reach Shravan Belagola at 0900hrs – a distance of 50kms.
The signage throughout is good. Parking at the designated parking lot costs Rs.20/- and the police ensure that everyone parks in the right place, thankfully. Everything is very organized out there. Since it has a religious significance, one has to climb it barefoot. At the base there is a stall with attendants where, for a small price, you can leave your footwear against a token and can climb assured that it is safe. There are people selling socks too if you wish to protect your feet. Next to it are clean pay and pee toilets and areas to wash your feet before and after the climb.
It took us about 30minutes to climb up the 600+ steps to reach the top. You may hire the services of palanquin bearers who will cart you all the way to the top for a nominal fee.
At the top we were breathless as a result of the climb and the panoramic views apart from the giant monolith towering over us.
Shravan Belagola is an important Jain pilgrimage center. Incidentally, in the Kannada language, Bel means white and kola means pond.
The white pond that is alluded to is possibly the pretty pond at the bottom of the hill. The giant statue of Gomateshwara (17meters high) is situated on the summit of Indragiri hill.
It was carved out of a single block of stone sculpted by Aristanemi in 981 AD and Chamundaraya, a General and minister of the Ganga King Rachamalla installed it in 983 AD. Regarded as one of the largest monolithic statues in the world, it symbolizes renunciation, self-control, and subjugation of ego as the primary steps towards salvation. The naked Digambara form of Bahubali represents complete victory over earthly desires. The statue came to be known as Gomateshwara, which in local parlance means ‘a handsome young man’.
The sheer size of the statue does not permit any devotee to bathe the entire Gomateshwara statue everyday hence only the feet are washed. However, every 10 to 15 years, when there is a favorable conjunction of the stars and planets, the entire statue is bathed in milk, honey and herbs and is called Mahamastakabhisheka.
The monolith stands in a compound surrounded by a colonnade sheltering additional Tirthankara images.
The sacred Chandragiri hill with Chamundaraya Basadi with manastambha on the top. The photograph is taken from the Indragiri hill on which the Gommateshwar idol stands. After taking in all the views and blessings, we raced down in 15minutes and moved back towards Hassan to go to Halebid. Reached Halebid, 81kms away in 90minutes, at 1230hrs. Halebid was the capital of the Hoysalas until it was destroyed in the early 14th century after attacks by the Delhi Sultanate.
The Hoysaleshwara temple survived the pillage but it somehow managed to remain incomplete even after 87 years of uninterrupted construction.
The temple is dedicated to Shiva and has two enormous Nandi bulls at the entrance.
The intricate architecture of ancient times and the meticulous craftsmanship is nothing short of Divine.
There are carvings inside, outside and on the roof of the temples!
There are plenty of stories depicted on the panels all round the temple and are interpreted by local guides to suit the interests of their clients! After spending an hour there and talking to some research students who were busy replicating the art and the architecture, we moved on to Belur which is just 23kms away. The road connecting Belur to Halebid is single laned and it took us 30minutes to cover the distance. The parking fees at Belur and Halebid are Rs.30/- each. Since both are temple premises, footwear is not allowed, and if you reach there in the afternoon socks are advisable as the stone tends to get extremely hot in the afternoons. Bittiga, the fourth and mightiest monarch of the Hoysala dynasty, was converted from the Jain faith to the Vaishnava faith by the sage Ramanuja. The king changed his name to Vishnuvardhana and built temples with great vigor and dedication. In order to commemorate his victory over the Cholas in the battle of Talkad, he built Belur Temple in 1117 A.D. His queen Shantala, though a Jain by faith, was noted for catholicity of her religious outlooks.
She was a well-known dancer and on one of the temple's brackets her dancing pose has been sculptured in the most ornate and in exuberant style. The most outstanding temple in Belur is the Chenakeshava (handsome Keshava), a monumental edifice that took 103 years to build, possibly because of the intricate details and the myriads of friezes and sculptures that embellish the temple walls.
It is about one hundred feet high and has a magnificent gateway tower (gopuram), built in Dravidian style.
The main temple, surrounded by a group of subsidiary shrines, stands in the center of a rectangular, paved courtyard along the perimeter of which are ranges of cells fronted by a pillared veranda. The main temple has a pillared hall (navaranga). The extensive hall is supported by forty-six pillars, each of a different design.
The Narasimha pillar it seems could be rotated at will, but not now. :)
The Hoysala kingdom that flourished in these parts of ancient India between the 11th and 14th centuries is widely acknowledged as the 'crowning glory' in Indian architecture. After reveling in the splendid historic art ambience for an hour, we had to return to the present to satiate our hunger at Mayura restaurant outside the complex. Simple, airy and clean. Left Belur at 1530hrs and reached Malleshwaram in Bangalore at 1900, a distance of 220kms. Enjoyed our stay in my in-laws house for a few days and was privileged to be driven around and then regrettably had to end the vacation. While in Bangalore visited the HAL (Hindustan Aeronautics Limited) Museum. Somehow it gave the impression that it was more of a botanical garden than a museum for aircrafts. They had proudly displayed the trophies that they had won in horticulture and of course the flowers were beautiful.
Unfortunately, the aircrafts were left dusty and forgotten.
The drive back to Mumbai with an overnight halt at Belgaum was uneventful but pleasant.
Back to the grind.