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Published: April 23rd 2012
NORTH KARNATAKA Mumbai – Dandeli – Sirsi – Yana-Hampi – Pattadakal – Badami – Aihole – Bijapur – Mumbai 20th – 25th March’2012
We left Mumbai by Mangalore Expresses at 10.15 pm scheduled to reach Karwar next day 8.30 am. The idea was to start our North Karnataka tour from Karwar with plans to enjoy about 2-3 hours of para-gliding and other beach activities at Deobagh Resort, Karwar in the morning before proceeding further. However the train reached about 2 hours late forcing us to drop the idea and head straight for Dandeli by road.
Lesson 1 learnt :- Kokan Railway operates on only one track and thus invariably trains run late, so keep enough time margin on hand.
For going to Dandeli from Mumbai, better is to embark at Londa Station which is just about 38 kms from Dandeli. Your Dandeli hotel would invariably arrange for a pickup at a small cost or local taxis are available just outside both Londa or Karwar station for Dandeli.
Karwar – Dandeli is about 112 kms but took us more than 4 ½ hours as about 25 kms of road in between is extremely
bad, almost non-existent! Even though this is supposed to be a state highway, apparently the forest department is holding back permission for rebuilding of road due to ecological reasons as it passes through forest. But hello- somebody enlighten me, what is bad for ecology and pollution and noise creation and vehicle maintenance? Number of vehicles traveling remaining same (as everybody is forced to take this road, it being a state highway actually), vehicles traveling smoothly in 4th
gear or vehicles forced to travel in 1st / 2nd
gear for over a distance of 25 kms!
Our booking was at Kali Adventure camp run by Jungle Lodge & Resorts and was for riverside facing tents.
Tip :- When booking, ask for tent number 3,4, 5 as they offer best river view.
The booking is on per person basis, two sharing a tent which actually is a kind of permanent structure with attached bathroom. Gives you fairly an adventurous atmosphere without sacrificing the comforts we city people are accustomed to!
The booking includes all food (breakfast, lunch, dinner) , 2 hours jungle safari (choice between morning 5.30 am and evening 4 pm safaris), coracle (round traditional boat) ride
in river. The food is on buffet basis and quality is Ok. The evening fish curry made from freshly caught Katla fish from the river was excellent with high local spicy tang.
People mainly go to Dandeli for river rafting. A 9 km rafting is provided in the river Kali and the rapids are not very “rapids” means everybody can do it. Apparently they are not even as strong as Kolad near Mumbai (though Dandeli is definitely more scenic), forget the north Indian Himalayan river rapids.
Tip – As the river water flow is controlled by hydroelectric Dam nearby, best season to enjoy would be just after monsoons when river would be naturally gushing through. At other times, specially summer times, you are at the mercy of the dam (no pun intended) people. So the moment you land at your Dandeli hotel, first check for Water flow and immediately book, don’t wait for next day. Who knows next day no water might be released from the dam to the river and thus no river rafting!
Luckily the day we reached, there was a good water flow and thus we had a quick lunch and headed straight for
rafting. The total time involved is about 3 and half hours as the rafting starts from a place called Ganeshguddi, about 20 odd kms away inside forest. Rafting charges are not included in the hotel package and currently the rate is Rs 1300 per person. The hotel arranges for the tour including pick up and drop in a jeep to the rafting point.
The rafting experience begins first with a lecture on safety precautions to be taken in case of emergency (yes, accidents do happen, in front of us about 4 passengers fell off another boat in the 9th
rapid, nobody was hurt). One is provided with a helmet and life jacket (so knowing swimming is not a requirement for rafting!). Jeans, heavy clothing are not allowed as when wet, they tend to drag you down if you fall in water. Best is half pants and Tshirt.
The boat navigator is an experienced person (ours was an imported one all the way from Nepal) and guides you well. About 8 – 10 people are in a boat and first thing after reaching mid river is an order to jump into the river! This is mainly to drive away
fear of water from those who don’t know swimming. Your life jacket allows you to stay afloat, so go ahead without fear and jump. Also another staff is always there in a kayak alongside ready to help anybody requiring help.
Swimming in a flowing mid river is definitely a high adrenalin stuff. More so when the your guide quietly informs everyone that there are crocodiles in the river! No joke, we actually saw two , quietly basking on one of the river small islands. Apparently the crocodiles are satisfied with whatever fish they get in the river to bother any human beings sloshing around in the water. No human has ever been bitten / eaten by any crocodile in this river as per the locals.
So after some swimming around in the river, you are pulled back in the boat by the guide (pulling back in the boat is an art by itself, try pulling a guy weighing upwards of 80 kgs, straight out of water in a boat) and now its showtime, the rafting is about to begin.
First the guide asks all the rowers to pool together their paddles and do a high five with
them and asks them to shout out “Jack Ali”! Faithfully everybody shouts out Jack Ali. Jack Ali? Did I hear it right, was it some kind of national integration programme involving people from different religions? I couldn’t resist and asked him again to speak it out slowly and now he says “Jai Kali”, the river is kali river and by saying it you are paying your respects to the river to protect you. So from where this Jack Ali thing has come? Well, it is just pronounced that way for the benefit of the foreigners!
There are total of 9 rapids in the stretch , the first and last are best, the in betweens are rather tame once you have experienced the very first one. There is an “onboard” professional photographer who frequently gets down on river islands to take your snaps in action. Charges Rs 500 for it, worth it, go for it as you yourself are in no position to take your own photos while rafting.
Its late evening by the time you come back to the resort but a nice surprise awaits you there, campfire accompanied by unlimited hot pakoras and chicken tandoori barbqued right
in front of you (part of the package, no extra charge, tho that does spoil your dinner lit bit later on) . Bring your own bottles if you want to enjoy more (offitially not allowed but everybody had brought one and kept hidden in paper bags!). There is a reasonably priced bar but it offers very limited range, even Bacardi was not available. Day 2
Woken up by staff at 5 for morning for jungle safari drive.
Tip :- If river water flow is not constraint, do rafting in morning and jungle safari in afternoon as morning jungle safari was too foggy when we went. Jungle being absolutely thick, you could hardly see deep inside or get the apparently excellent view of mountain valley side.
Morning air was quite chilly and cold even though it was start of summer, so if you are going in monsoons or winter, be prepared with heavy woolens.
There are apparently about 50 odd black leapords in Dandeli apart from tigers, but as always you need all the luck on your side to spot any of them. We had to be content only with their foot prints but we did
see bison, jackal, deers, snakes and variety of exotic jungle birds.
Back from safari, had a nice breakfast and headed for river in front for a Coracle ride. Coracle, a round traditional boat made from bamboo is supposed to be so sturdy that it can carry 8 people and in villages it is used to carry even motorcycles across .
The boatman takes you around for about half hour ride to a nearby river island where crocodiles come for basking. If you are brave enough, he will help you to actually get down on the island for a photo opportunity (we did).
We had booked only for one day , it was time for us to check out . It might be a good idea to actually stay for two days, one day for pure relaxation. However two things, the resort is not in deep jungle as one expects it to be and second it is bit overpriced for the kind of facility and food offered (Rs 2,950 per person per day for tent accomodation). However the staff is very friendly and helpful. The counter got us extremely reasonable priced excellent taxi for further 5 days trip.
Tip : You can get very cheap rates at Kulgi forest camp (Rs 400 per night) but it is actually nowhere deep in the forest, so unless you have your own vehicle, it may not be right choice plus apparently it requires advance reservation from Forest department which till last moment we couldn’t get (or didn’t know how to get all the way from Mumbai). Also not sure whether rafting and jungle safari can be organized from there, your own vehicles are not allowed inside the jungle.
Checked out around 11 as we had a long planned road journey. The plan was to go to Sirsi, Yana and stay for the night at Jog Falls. Got a good rate from the resort for a Ford Toofan ( a 10 seater) , very spacious and comfortable vehicle, the guy charged us only Rs 7.50 per km, not aircoditioned, (minimum 300 kms a day) plus Rs 100 per night driver allowance, a steal for us when compared with rates for other vehicles. We booked it for next 5 days.
Headed straight for Sirsi, about 80 odd kms from Dandeli. About 15 kms before Sirsi is Sahstralinga. As the name
suggests, there are hundreds of big and small shiv lingas carved on boulders in a river bed.
The story goes that few hundred years back, local king Nayakan 1 did not have son, heir to his throne. The court astrologer told him to do shiva puja by constructing 1001 shiv lingas. Hence the river bed is filled with them (sahsra is thousand), though now the big ones have got broken off over the years maybe due to flowing debris in flooded river during monsoon. So if you want to see them, monsoon may not be a good time as they would be submerged in high river water level. Be prepared to wade through the river to see them and huge carved bulls alongside.
It is not known whether all this construction of shiv lingas cured the problem in the king’s linga and he getting his much desired heir. But definitely worth a visit . Right side of the car park, a path goes to a hanging bridge from which you can watch the river flow by below.
From there, we proceeded to Yana, another 60 odd kms.
Tip :-Road to Yana goes through absolutely thick impenetrable
jungle, most of it totally isolate except for one or two villages in between. So plan yourself such a way that you must reach there latest by 3 pm so that you can head out back to civilization by 5 - 6 pm, i.e. before sun goes down.
Yana is nature’s wonder. Huge towering rock structures, apparently carved due to impact of flowing rainwater over them over millions of years. From car parking, you have to walk down for about a km and half in a forest path and suddenly it opens in front of you.
There is a 800 year old shiva temple inside a cave below one of the rock structure. The cave has running water from a stream bringing water deep inside from mountain. Apparently regardless of whether it is summer or heavy monsoon, the water flow remains constant and volume doesn’t ever change.
Around the temple, you can go round through a natural opening in the rock structure. For climbing up , proper staircase have been made but for coming down, its still rough path, So not advisable for elderly people. But for others, definitely worth a visit. Religious people go around taking
it as a pradikshna (going around) the temple. You are not allowed to wear footwear so be ready to get some painful jabs from stones. But don’t miss it for such flimsy reasons. As I said, it’s a nature wonder. Going up and back down again takes about 20 odd minutes for young fast people though we took almost an hour enjoying the rock structure inside.
Back to civilization but at Sirsi we were informed that going to Jog falls (highest waterfall of India?) would be futile as the water flow is controlled by dam on top and as per the local person, at this time of the year (March) and till monsoon, a cow pees more water than the water flowing in the falls. So we decided to drop Jog falls and head for Hubli for the night stay.
This meant long drive of about 125 kms and we reached Hubli at about 9 pm, dead tired. Nothing to see or do in Hubli, only a night halt against our earlier planned night halt at Jog water falls.
Started from Hubli and went to Hampi (110 kms), the glorius capital of Vijaynagara empire, now
a World Heritage site.
Hampi is in two parts with Tungabhadra river flowing through in between. Modernisation has taken its toll and now the nostalgic coracle boat ride across is replaced by motor boat. While all the main ruins are on the side of Hampi village, the other side, actually an island in the river, offers wonderful staying facilities.
We decided to go across and stay at the island, planned it as a rest day.
Tip : The boat to Hampi island stops at 6 pm and there is nothing available for crossing the river after that, so be planned and careful. There is alternative road 35 kms long to reach the island from Hampi village while the boat crossing hardly takes 10 minutes, so makes sense to park your vehicle on this side and take the boat across if you want to stay on the island or visit the sites on other side. The other side had lines of back packer resorts one after another, all targeted at firang backpacker crowd. We enquired at few places and finally settled at Mowgli Resort. What a good decision that turned out to be. It offers river facing hut
styled rooms , neat and clean, food was great. There are khatiyas (wood and coir beds) and swings in front of each hut and you could just laze through on them whole day. Even the dining area offers a separate floor sitting area under the trees and lined with cushions where you can have old Indian style floor sitting lunch / dinner. And all this is very reasonable priced (Rs 600 for a river facing hut having a double bed and attached bathroom), the room rates were much lower than next door resorts offering same kind of stuff. Though apparently season time (Oct – Feb) rates go upto Rs 2000 per hut.
Tip – Hampi off season is from April – August, actually some of the hotels close down during these months simply because the temperature crosses 45* C and since all the sites are in open, you would be spending whole day out in blazing sun.
Best is to go at March end or Aug-Sept , i.e just before or just after offseason so that you get best of the rates, atmosphere has improved and avoid the season crowd.
Late afternoon we tied up with a
rickshaw to go around the island side. The standard rickshaw charges for a 3 hour ride around is Rs 350 – 400 and for a Tata Magic Rs 650 .
Tip – Don’t bother to take this ride, compared to what is offered on main Hampi side , this side has hardly anything worth seeing except for two things, both of which you can actually walk through if you love long walks.
The first thing is for the religious minded, Pampa sarovar, this lake finds its mention in old hindu mythology. Apparently this was where Ram came during his long 14 year old vanvas and met Shabri (the one who offered berries to him). His footprints are still there in the temple there. The name Pampa later became Hampa and then Hampi, the modern name of the place. The lake is full of brilliant white lotus flowers.
The second thing is for both religious as well as normal tourist, Angini mountain. For normal tourist , climb up this mountain is must as top offers a fantastic view of entire Hampi. Absolute must for everyone to watch sunset from there. On top , there is kind of flat
top and you can sit on any of the big boulders to watch the sunset. Any day, there would be scores of people up there for it (mainly whites, don’t know why there was no Indian except us). There are about 600 odd steps (properly made) to climb up, takes about 30 - 45 minutes to climb up.
Now for the religious people and the answer to why 600 odd proper steps have been made to reach top. On top is a Hanuman temple, its birth place of Hanuman! This is where his mother Angini met his father Vayu. And from there the name, Angini Parbat.
After watching the sunset and visit to the temple, climb down and back to the resort for a well deserved round of drinks and wonderful dinner, unfortunately the resort has only a beer license!
Cross over to main Hampi by boat and have a guide for full day. If you really want to see and understand Hampi, a full day guide is must. Depending on who they think you are, the asking rates differ between Rs 800 and 2000. One fellow asked for Rs 1500 and refused to bargain
even at the cost of loosing us! Finally we found another (good one ) for Rs 800 (go to tourist information office for it, just opposite main car park).
Hampi was definitely one of the golden days of India, after Chandragupta and Ashoka empires. To see it fully, atleast 2 to 3 days are required but we settled for one and half days. The ruins tell the stories of how rich , culturally / artistically / financially India was in those days.
Vijayanagara empire lasted about 200 odd years from 1450 to 1650 AD and Hampi got built over this time, massive temples, palaces, markets. They had gold and precious stones market 700 meteres long in front of the main temple, the makets attracted business people from Iran, Greece, Arabia, Chinese , not forgetting the Europeans. Each of these nationalities have been carved in their exact details on the temple walls showing some business dealings (like horse buying etc)
Virupaksha temple is main temple, even during those days pin camera concept was there and you can see it inside the main temple where the inverted image of 20 storied high gopuram (temple tower) is seen on a
wall, with zero degree correctly marked (point where image inverts). On the roof there are 3 D carvings of various mythological stories. These are painted with paint still retained.
The other main temple constructed was Vithala Temple, a huge complex about 12 kms away, you are taken inside by battery operated vehicle (to avoid pollution damage to sites) run by ladies only (all employed under Rural Employment generation Scheme of governement). This temple was constructed when Vithala Statue was brought over from Pandharpur (about 800 kms away) when Pandharpur was attacked by muslim rulers of Bijapur. Apparently after bringing over the statue, the king found success in whatever he did and as gratitude, built this massive complex. It has a stone chariot whose wheels still run, though now they have been glued to floor as people did nothing but keep revolving this!
Whole temple is built on Vaastu shastra concept and your guide (if he is good and knowing) will explain you those concept and once you see it , you understand why the Vaastu shastra principles are what they are.
The temple has both south Indian and north Indian temple styles signifying the vastness of empire
of vijaynagara empire. It has even a sun temple style konarka , Orissa way.
Main attraction of this temple was sangeet mahal, a 57 pillared structure. Each of these pillar (about 2 storied high) was made from a single stone and carved in such a way, that a musican could actually use his hand to play a particular musical instrument on it. Means when he tapped his fingers on it a particular way, it would emit sound of that particular instrument like tamboora, tabla, pakhawaj etc. Apparently those days , no actually musical instrument was used in the temple, the whole music was generated by these pillars only. Its not allowed now to be shown at Sangeet mahal pillars (whatever remaining there are), but your guide will show (play) the music at a smaller adjoining hall with smaller pillars.
There are carvings which are kind 2 in 1 and 5 in 1 etc, means same carving when you see from different angle seem different. So two in one is like elephant from one angle and bull from other angle. The guide covers different parts of the carving one by one to show the different kind
thing worth seeing in Hampi are ofcourse the 20 - 30 odd high feet two huge gansha statues (much damaged) and narsimha statue (sort of reassembled now), they are really huge and made from one single block, one wonders at the carvers imagination and skill to carve out these gigantic structures.with minutest details. One of the ganesha statues when looked from front is pot bellied ganesha, but from behind looks like a lady sitting with her back, the hair style, curve of waist unmistakable. The explanation apparently is that from back it is supposed to be goddes parvati having her son ganpati sitting on her lap in the front.
The other palace worth seeing is the queens palace which was the palace for queens when their husbands would go out for long drawn battles etc. It has a natural airconditioned palace where water used to get dropped at the top of the third floor and then flowed down all around bringing in the coolness inside. There is an elephant area outside capable of holding 11 royal elephants, one dome for each elephant and each dome has got a different architecture and design.
Unfortunately mid sixteenth century, the king
fell in love with his court dancer and on her advice, appointed her brother to a high court position. The dancer and her brother were actually spies for muslim rulers of Bijapur and over next few months, collected all the vital military secrets of Hampi.
Based on this knowledge, Hampi was attacked by Bijapur around 1650 AD and over a period of six months, they systematically destroyed everything that was there. To blow up the sangeet mahal, they brought entire Gold market wood in front and piled up the wood in the center of the mahal and lighted it up. The extreme heat generated was the only way the stone structure could be broken. And now only few pillars remain, the main structure gone, all blown up.
Similarly all the other structures of Hampi were destroyed, palaces, 18 – 20 foot tall well carved stautes (Ganesha, Narsimha, Vithalla), all in name of religion as this was deemed against the requirement of muslim religion. About 67 temples were looted and destroyed. Total of 600,000 people were massacred during this period. Only about 30% of original Hampi remains now, but even this 30% shows how grand the city must have
been before its destruction.
We saw a repetition of this recently when 2000 years old Banyam Buddha in Afganistan was blown up using canons by Taliban. So much hatred, so much destruction towards something which one feels is not as per his religious belief, what a loss of art and creativity. Certainly this is not what any religion really says.
After the destruction, Hampi lay forgotten for next 200 years till late 19th
century when one of the British Geographer stumbled on the ruins. Seeing whatever was visible, he got so impressed that he got in touch with Royal Geographical Society , London and asked them to send their best photographer who came over all the way and photographed entire Hampi and sent the photos to London. Based on those photos, British governement declared it as a heritage site and so it is actually thanks to British that Hampi was revived again. The exploration still continues as much of Hampi apparently still is buried in sand. Apparently come monsoon, the villagers go treasure hunting as water flow invariably brings up some or other treasures buried. Day 5
Afternoon left for Pattadakal, 110 odd kms away. Actually
it’s a triangle , three tourist places within 20 odd kms of each other (Pattadakal, Badami and Aihole), Each of these have stone temple structures prior to Hampi days.
Badami was first when independent structures were yet to come and temples were carved out in mountains (5th
Century AD). So it has 4 caves, one for Jain , one for shiva , one for Vishnu and one normal. The third cave is the main and biggest one and the carvings are absolutely brilliant, huge statues carved in the mountain side.
Pattadakal was next in line of construction when individual standing temples started getting built. Unfortunatley again, the muslim invasion destroyed most of temples and the stautes inside but a huge bull made of granite still survives showing the carving capability of the carvers during those days who had the capability to carve the hardest known stone to mankind.
Stayed at Badami just opposite bus stand.
Tip : The Karnataka tourism hotel is way out of the place and not worth staying. It seemed like a ghost hotel where everything was locked up. Good food availability in Badami seems to be a big problem. Even
ordinary sada dosa seemed to be a big problem there from taste point of view. Day 6
Left for Bijapur (80 kms away), on the way took a halt at Kudala Sangama where two rivers merge and there is a shiva temple middle of the merged river bed! Now they have made a huge round tower (about 5 odd storied high) around the temple. You cross a bridge over the river bed to reach this tower and then climb down inside the tower to reach the temple, as normally there would be river water all around outside it. Wonder in old days, how this temple was built and how they reached it.
Bijapur, the marvel of Islamic architecture, Gol Gumbaj is the main attraction and is the largest free standing dome in the world (tho now the claim for the same is being made by Vipassana pagoda built in 2008 at Gorai , Mumbai) , built in 17th
century, it is HUGE and one really has to appreciate the architect who designed it.. Must be more than 15 storied high.
It has got graves of the ruler with his wives and kids and very interestingly his
hindu court dancer aptly named “Rambha”. The dynasty destroyed Hampi and its temples as it was deemed unislamic, then how did the king enjoy hindu classical dance (music and dance are unislamic as per some interpretations) and also so loved the court dancer that she was buried with him? Also the muslim religion forbids building of huge remembrance structures over dead, but we see this rule being totally forgotten by most of our muslim rulers. (both Gol Gumbaj and Ibrahim Rosa at Bijapur are actually mausoleums)
Anyways, gol gumbaj speaks of how advanced the muslim technology was when it came to architecture. You climb up the top through a narrow staircase and reach whispering gallery. Here if you whisper in a wall at one end, the person exactly diagonally opposite with his ear to the wall, will clearly hear it though the distance in between is as big as a football field and is totally empty. Unfortunately the crowd instead of whispering , shouts and howls, thinking the echo is the wonder, not realizing that true wonder is the whisper. It was one of the guards who showed us actually how it works ( a small payment to him
Kudal Sangam Temple
Climbing down the river bed to reach the temple
for the service worked for us).
Bijapur also has Ibhraim Roja, the memorial built for yet another ruler and has his and his family graves, good Islamic carvings and a palace of arches.
There is also a 55 ton canon called Malik a Maidan (ruler of battlefield) on one of the hillocks. It was the largest and heaviest built at that time to defent bijapur and was actually given as part of dowry when the queen got married. British tried to take it to London (just like everything else they could of india’s golden history). Luckily it was so heavy that the crane which was specially brought to lift it up from its place broke and thus the operation had to be abandoned. And thus the canon now lies little bit below from its original place where it fell after the crane broke.
The canon’s roar was supposed to be so loud that there was a specially built underground pit next to it. It was filled with water and the canon firing staff had 12 seconds after lighting the ignition to jump in this pit and stay inside the water. This was to protect their eardrums from
Unfortunately or fortunately the canon was never used in an actual war and rather than Malik a Maidan, it remained Malik e Akhbar (ruler on paper!)
From Bijapur, we went straight to Solapur (80 kms) to catch our night train to Mumbai. The highway is totally congested with truck traffic and takes good enough more than 3 hours against our expectation of 2 hours. So keep enough margin if you are traveling this stretch.
From Solapur , one gets Siddheswar Express starting at 10.45 pm and reaching Mumbai next day morning at 6.30 am
Last but not the least, if you are traveling North Karnataka during the Ugadi (New year, Gudi Padwa in Maharashtra) days (which was March 23 this year), better avoid the internal roads. This day and the next day (for 2 days) is actually celebrated as Rang (colour) panchami there and its exactly like Holi played in rest of country. Every few kilometers your vehicles will be stopped by rowdy gangs of boys carrying oil colour cans and unless you pay up (anything between Rs 10 to Rs 50 depending on crowd size and your bargaining capacity) you and your vehicle will
be painted by these oil paints which are very difficult to get rid of . And at some places, inspite of us paying , they still put colour on our poor driver and threw the colour on vehicle front glass and side body.
That brought end to our short tour of North Karnataka, a hectic but refreshing tour covering both natural as well as man-made wonders.
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