Pattadakal is a cluster of around 10 temples built in South Indian, North Indian as well as a combination of both styles of architecture. Pattadakal means the ‘coronation stone’ or ‘site for coronation’ and it indeed was one, for the Chalukyan kings. UNESCO‘s website writes about this fascinating architectural wonder thus:
“Three very closely located sites in the State of Karnataka provide a remarkable concentration of religious monuments dating from the great dynasty of the Chalukya (c. 543-757). There are the two successive capital cities – Aihole (ancient Aryapura), Badami, and Pattadakal, the ‘City of the Crown Rubies’ (Pattada Kisuvolal). The latter was, moreover, for a brief time the third capital city of the Chalukya kingdom; at the time the Pallava occupied Badami (642-55). While Aihole is traditionally considered the ‘laboratory’ of Chalukya architecture, with such monuments as the Temple of Ladkhan (c. 450) which antedate the dynasty’s political successes during the reign of King Pulakeshin I, the city of Pattadakal illustrates the apogee of an eclectic art which, in the 7th and 8th centuries, achieved a harmonious blend of architectural forms from the north and south of India.”
Apogee it truly is, for Pattadakal is one of the most beautiful sites in Karnataka’s rich heritage. Spend some moments in quiet solitude and you can almost hear the stones whisper stories about the kings and their victories of yore. As for me, all I could hear were the collective shrieks from the school children who seemed to have an itinerary similar to ours.
More than a year down the line after my solo trip to Coorg, another new year’s eve was fast approaching. Instinct told me this was going to be another one of those boring occasions when the world parties hard to welcome the new year whereas yours truly tries to forget everything, finishes his night shift job, scouts the city scape in his superhero costume, rescues a couple of victims from the city’s seedy underbelly and then goes back to sleep and wakes up without a hangover in the new year.
It was clear that the urge to travel again was fast becoming an addiction. I called up my room-mate on Christmas and discussed a hastily laid plan I had made, of a weekend trip to Bijapur. Some time later, he called in with updates on fitting in Badami, Aihole and Pattadakal into the trip as well.
Fast forward to Majestic bus stand on Friday night at around 10.45 pm, with 5 of us waiting for a KSRTC sleeper coach to the sleepy town of Bagalkot in northern Karnataka. The bus would take around 8 hours to cover a distance of 530 odd kilometres from Bangalore. The plan was to check-in at a hotel in Bagalkot, take in Badami, Aihole and Pattadakal – all of them in within a radius of 13-20 km from Bagalkot on Saturday. Later that night, we could catch a bus to Bijapur, check-in to a hotel and the next day, take in sights of the famous structures built by the Deccan sultanates.
In late December, the bus journey got uncomfortably cold that night. Thankfully, I had a sweater for protection but I have a faint recollection of my roommate wrapping himself with a towel, shivering, while the bus ate up the miles towards Bagalkot.
Bagalkot – Badami, Aihole and Pattadakal
Around 5.30 in the morning, we arrived at Bagalkot bus station and headed to a nearby hotel blaring tamil devotional music, to get a cup of coffee and rid ourselves of the cold enveloping us. The hotel guy directed us to a cheap hotel situated bang opposite the bus station. It would cost us between 500 to 600 for 5 people in a dusty room with 3 beds that had never seen water, detergent or sunlight. Still, we checked in, freshened up and were out by around 8 to look for a vehicle to take us to the one of the gems of India’s ancient history.
It so turned out, the folks in Bagalkot did not know the art of a good bargain. Any attempt to negotiate the rental cost of a vehicle was met with an obstinate refusal. We finally managed to wring a deal for a rickety Force Trax that would take the 5 of us around Badami, Aihole and Pattadakal for around 1500.
The weather in Bagalkot, or for that matter anywhere in North Karnataka, can get extremely hot even during the winter months. If you’re thinking of carrying a bottle of water, it would be a good idea to get two of them. So it was, that on an uncomfortably hot morning, the 5 of us, in a vehicle meant for 11, were making our way through some extremely bumpy roads that were surrounded by farmlands as far as the eye could see.
We arrived at Badami at around 11 in the morning to catch our first glimpse of the famous Badami cave temples. Wikipedia mentions Badami as the capital of the earliest Chalukyan dynasty, also known in history as the ‘Badami Chalukyas’. It was during this time, beginning in the mid 6th century that the roots of the Chalukyan style of architecture were born. The temples themselves, numbering four (wikipedia mentions a fifth cave temple that is accessible only by crawling into it), are built into caves on different levels of sandstone cliffs. The cliffs overlook a body of water known as the Agastya Tank.
The first thing I noticed there were the numerous monkeys dotting the cliffs and jumping up over the vehicles in the parking space and resting in the shade underneath. The second thing was that we had probably landed up on a wrong day. Badami gets a lot of tourists through out the year but we had landed up on a day when there were around 5-6 buses full of school children. Apparently, there was some sort of a school picnic cum educational tour going on that day and the cave temples were thronging with shrieking, thrilled and a very excited lot of children.
The lady at Lakshmi Heritage was kind enough to sew back the button on my shorts the previous day (Shorts or capris are necessary in Hampi’s heat, combine it with a linen shirt for maximum comfort) – extra points for the stay then.
Phaddu, a round shaped snack made from dosa batter, is a popular snack in Hampi and you will find various small shops selling phaddu early in the morning. Phaddu is what we had for breakfast on the second day, with spicy green chilli chutney and some very bad south Indian coffee for company.
After wolfing down copious amounts of phaddu, we asked around for motorbikes or bicycles available for hire. There are very few motorbikes available for rent, but you’ll find a lot of mopeds on hire at around 200 bucks a day + petrol charges extra. Bicycles are available at around 60-80 bucks a day, but be sure you have the stamina to ride the bicycles all day. The terrain is not really flat in Hampi and we saw plenty of tourists huffing on their cycles while climbing up the gradients on some of the roads.
Our first stop was the Virupaksha temple, accessible by a small walk down the road from our stay. The official website mentions that this is the oldest temple in Hampi, and one of the oldest ones to still remain functional in India. You can read up more about the temple here. The temple premises are inundated with monkeys and it would be a good idea to not carry eatables into the premises. I saw a monkey jump onto the head of a shrieking girl and do away with the ‘prasad’ that she was carrying.
The temple elephant, as in any other temple in south India, has been cleverly trained to pass on any currency or cash offerings from devotees to the mahout. Any eatables go straight into its mouth.
Moving on from the Virupaksha temple, we went to the banks of the Tungabhadra river. The banks themselves are a photographer’s delight with snake charmers, coracle rides, women washing clothes, hawkers displaying umbrellas, bangles, jewellery and other stuff made locally. If you plan to buy any of them, remember to inspect thoroughly and bargain hard.
For a sum of 20 bucks per head, a boat will transport you to the other bank, which stands out in sharp contrast to the earlier one. Here you will find lush green fields of rice plantations dotted by coconut and palm trees. There is so much greenery on display that it would be hard to not seek a moment of solitude to take it all in.
We hired a diesel auto rickshaw for all of us, a cool 400 bucks for the day and asked him to take us to various locations on that bank. He started off with the Anjaneya hill, where a temple dedicated to the Hindu monkey god Hanuman stands, and is believed to be his birthplace.
The climb up to the hill is steep, laborious and extremely energy sapping. It would be a good idea to do this climb as early in the morning or as late in the evening as possible. But once you do make the effort, the views from the top are to die for.
The auto driver took us to Pampa Sarovar and a few other places on the same bank but these were inundated with devotees and we found nothing notable on any of them after the architectural delights from the previous day.
After lunch and a few snacks, we decided to call it a day in Hampi then and proceeded to Hospet where we spent some time at the magnificent Tungabhadra dam and then made our way back to the bus stand to catch the return bus to Bangalore.
Hampi really stood out for me as one of the better trips I’d been to. Amidst the boulder-strewn landscape and all the ancient architectural marvels, you’d be forgiven for thinking that time somehow stood still in Vijayanagara. Do not expect a lot of creature comforts in Hampi and make it a point to stay in Hampi itself, not Hospet like many visitors do. An ideal time would be to visit it during Oct-Dec. Any later and with the tourist season starting, you’ll have to contend with crowds and higher hotel fares.
A special mention for the ‘Purple Grass’ restaurant in Hospet – they served a most scrumptious fare. Do make it a point to drop in if you plan to have dinner there, all the dishes are worth every penny. The owner’s name is Nuthan Shetty. Consult him for their best dishes and if he asks you on the source of the referral, remind him of a ‘Mahesh Bhupathi’ look-a-like and he’ll know.
Moving on, the auto rickshaw guy took us to the Zenana enclosure in Hampi. Wikipedia tells me ‘Zenana’ is a persian term that was used for areas reserved for women, whereas the areas reserved for men were called ‘Mardana’.
To the left portion of the enclosure lie the remains of what was probably a huge palace in those days. Speculation abounds about what it would originally have been or looked like, with some even saying that the structure was built of sandalwood and pointing out traces of sandal wood found during excavation. However, no conclusive evidence exists. Pictures of the other attractions follow:
I had read stories about an air-conditioning system that was used to keep the interiors of the Lotus Mahal (reserved for the queens of the empire presumably) cool. Entry is denied inside the Lotus Mahal itself and there was no way I could check up on traces of such a system.
Further up ahead from the Lotus Mahal, is a gate that leads to the famed elephant stables and the guard quarters.
With the heat bearing down even more, (this was in October and I can’t imagine how it would be in summer), we took a quick break for lunch in some run down place that the auto driver took us to. We moved on to the famous Vittala Temple after lunch.
The Vittala temple compound contains the face of Karnataka state tourism – the famous stone chariot. Tales abound of how, at one point in time, the stone wheels could be used to move the chariot around. The elephants drawing the chariot, as many articles will tell you, are replacements for horses. Be warned however, any attempt to mount the elephants will earn you a stern (and well-deserved) reprimand from the guards there. The compound also houses the famous musical pillars temple, which is now undergoing repairs and is cordoned off to the visiting public.
Thankfully, there was an ice-cream vendor just outside the Vittala temple. The mango dolly he serves is recommended, very highly, not for the taste but for the heavenly bit of coolness it induces.
Our last stop for the day was the Malyavanta Raghunatha temple which stands atop the Malyavanta hill. The auto guy told us that Rama, while on his exile, shot an arrow that struck the ground here and caused water to spout. That spot is now marked by a well inside the compound but other articles and blogs online differ from the events he narrated. Anyway, the hill provides an excellent view of the boulder-strewn landscape of Hampi against the setting sun.
Sight-seeing for the day done, the auto rickshaw drivers dropped us near the Mango Tree for dinner. Our experience in the Mango tree, buttressed by raving reviews from other visitors was like a damp squib. Quite a few menu items were not available and the ones that were, didn’t really live up to expectations. A special word on their drinks menu though- do stay away from the lassi, especially the Pineapple lassi – it tastes like vomit. After dinner, we walked back to our stay from the Mango Tree in pitch black darkness, helped only by intermittent light provided by the moon when the clouds allowed it to.
With such a long and tiring day behind us, it wasn’t possible that we had the energy to stay up for long and I slept like a child that night. A long, dreamless sleep that was a preclude to the early morning visit to the Virupaksha temple that we had planned for the next day.