From Tigers to Tombs

and all things heritage…..a trip covering the UNESCO World Heritage Sites in India.

Archive for the month “March, 2012”

Surya Namaskar at Konark

We (the two of us and three of our friends- Dhruva,Anirudh and Abhinav) arrived at Konark late in the evening all tired and weary.We managed to catch glimpses of the Sun temple then itself, and from what we saw we knew there was something special in store.
As we got to the temple next morning we were just awestruck by this wonder.Built by King Narasimhadeva 1 in the 13th century, the temple has a huge building in the centre that is flanked by twelve chariot wheels. We later on came to know that this main structure was just the mantapa and the actual sanctum was destroyed centuries ago. Apparently with the real sanctum, Konark would have been in the league of the highest temples in the world.Another thing that struck us was the intricate artwork all over the temple complex. The attention to detail in all that imagery just cannot be missed. The temple entrance has the figures of seven horses depicting the seven colours of light and the horses were pulling a chariot made of twelve wheels that represented the twelve months of the year.The chariots also acted as a sundial by which one could judge the time of the day to pin point accuracy. Such attention to detail and scientific data being depicted on a temple cannot be found anywhere else.
One cannot miss the erotic imagery around this amazing temple. Apparently this was done to lure people back into family life as the male population was dwindling (because of the numerous wars) and the few survivors were only interested in becoming sanyasis(hermits)! We cannot authenticate the accuracy of this information provided by our guide, but we can surely say that the images would have clearly made an impact.
Though we reached there quite early (at sunrise), the place started filling up by seven in the morning.  The visitor inflow kept on increasing, clearly proving that its a very popular site for the locals around. Most of them had gathered there early to pay respect to the first rays of the sun.The entrance to the mantapa has been walled, almost 100 years back as the structure would have collapsed if it was left untouched.The huge lawns of the temple were also well maintained and added to the overall beauty of the temple.
Konark was surely an interesting experience. A temple dedicated to the Sun God, adorned with erotic imagery and replete with scientific references was something that pleasantly surprised us. The Temple does stand as one of the greatest example of East Indian Architectural brilliance and gives us a glipmse to a past ruled by a heady mix of religion and reasoning.


Hampi, a trip to rediscover our past.

You can never get enough of Hampi, that’s one thing our trips there have always proved. A visit there is sure to transport you to a bygone era where this was once the greatest city in the Deccan Plateau.

This time we  decided to start off our Hampi trip with a visit to the Hanuman Temple. The temple is around 7 kms from Virupapur Gadde which is on the opposite side off the Tungabhadra river, from Hampi. We climbed up the 600 odd steps to the temple just in time for sunset. Every step of the climb was completely worth it when we got to view one of the best sunsets of our lives. The entire landscape of Hampi being covered in a pale orange blanket by the setting Sun was a sight to behold.That particluar moment actually made us realise a unique cycle that the Sun presides over..the setting of old empires and the rise of new ones..with nature being the all-pervasive constant.

We then went on to explore the Hampi side from the next day. Cycling was our preferred mode of transport, as we went around lazily exploring the whole area. The highlights definitely have to be the Vittala Temple, Achutaraya Temple and the Zenana Enclosure. Vittala temple is synonymous with the Garuda Chariot that we see in most photographs from Hampi. The Temple also houses the famous ,musical pillars. We weren’t allowed to see them, as ASI(Archaeological Survey of India) supervised renovation work was being conducted there. We were informed that the work has been going on for five years now! The Zanana enclosure with the Lotus Temple and Elephant stables impress you by their sheer beauty and craftsmanship. The Achutaraya Temple situated next to the Tungabhadra, is one of the best works of Hindu Temple architecture we have come across in that area. The pillars leading up to the temple, give you a sense of the grandiose of the amazing temple you are about to enter. The Virupaksha Temple in Hampi Bazaar is another fine example of great Vijayanagara architecture.

It is tough to try and convey what one experienced at Hampi. It can never be done, just like how one can never take in everything that this mesmerizing town has to offer.Hampi lets you connect with Nature, that omnipresent entity, which is visible here in all its majestic glory; with our past, our forefathers who built this amazing city on the banks of the mighty Tungabhadra and finally with ourselves, where we learn that we are just a passing cycle, but where we are given an opportunity to leave an everlasting impact.

A chalukyan Chronicle

An overnight train from Bangalore deposited us in Badami. After checking into hotel Sanman, five of us(including 3 of our friends,Vinita, Shruti and Rasika) got into a maxi-auto rickshaw and went to the Banashankari temple, housing the deity Shakambhari, an incarnation of goddess Parvati.

A 33 km ride on the bumpy roads in the heat of the morning, past dry shrub vegetation took us to Aihole. During the Chalukyan period, Aihole was the experimental ground for different styles of temple construction. Today, a lot of these temples still stand majestically amidst an otherwise quiet village. The mid day heat reflected off the rock used in the temples made the place warmer than what it actually was. But, stepping into the doors of each of the temples transferred us back to those royal times despite the musty smell of bats. The durga temple, resembling the Indian Parliament was the highlight of the Aihole complex.

On entering the compounded area in Pattadakal, one is immediately taken aback by the range of monuments located one next to the other, unlike the temple dotted hills and plains of aihole. This well maintained monument has a bright green colored lawn with trees marking the boundaries, providing a wonderful contrast with the brown stone of the temple wall. Built by the chalukyas too, the place continued holding importance under the Rashtrakutas as well. If an overdose of temples requires you to have a break, one does not have to look beyond the simple north Karnataka meals served right outside the temple.
The day ends with a ride back to Badami via the rock-cut cave temples. A steep climb up a flight of stairs on the red rock, showed us temples that were cut out from these rocks. Resembling the Petra in Jordan, these cave temples were built sometime between the 6th and 8th century. Having climbed to such a high vantage point over the rock cut temples and well Orr the town of Badami, we enjoyed a serene setting of the sun turning everything around us a beautiful red.

Mahabalipuram – A Seaside Wonder

The bus ride to Mahabalipuram from Chennai covering a distance of 60 km, was anything but enjoyable. It was hot and humid punctuated by a series of traffic jams till we left Chennai. But that did not deter us one bit as we were looking forward to being dazzled by this seaside wonder.

Our first stop in Mahabalipuram was the Shore Temple. Built by the Pallava Kings in the 8th Century AD, as a dedication to Lord Shiva, it sits majestically overlooking the Bay of Bengal. We just couldn’t take our eyes off this intricate work on granite and its picturesque setting next to the beach.

We then headed out to explore the Five Rathas. It takes a bit of explanation on what these actually are. They can be described as Temples in the form of chariots dedicated to the 5 Pandavas and Draupadi. It is actually beyond comprehension how a civilisation that existed 1300 years ago could actually convert solid granite rocks into such fine pieces of art. One can just observe and be amazed!

Our next stop actually has a unique distinction. It is the Largest Open-air bas-relief in the world!  Known as Arjuna’s Penance, the figures carved on the rock can be interpreted in two different ways. One symbolises the descent of River Ganga onto the earth and the other shows the penance of the Pandava prince, Arjuna. There are a lot of interesting figures that further adds mystery to this interesting monument like the Praying cat, a headless scribe etc.

Mahabalipuram did surprise us. It was clean and had all the adequate facilities for tourists.The fact that this seaside wonder survived the Tsunami is testimony to its sturdy architecture that is coupled with exquisite designs. It will clearly continue to impress  numerous tourists in the years to come.

Thanjavur treats

7th march,2011:It was 4 AM as we reached thanjavur and we zeroed in on hotel karuna opposite the new bus stand. With three chola temples to complete in a span of 3 days, we boarded a 2 hour bus to kumbakonam which was followed by a 1 hour bus to Gangakondacholapuram to view the first of the three temples.

Set in the midst of thatched hut villages, this temple must have once been the royal attraction to the chola kingdom that spread far and wide. The poverty that exists outside the temple is totally hidden once you enter the gigantic gateway. Well manicured lawns and perfectly trimmed bushes provided a wonderful contrast to red and brown sandstone that was used to build this magnificent shiva temple. This temple built by Rajendra I(son of Rajaraja chola I,the builder of brihadishwara temple) is only slight smaller than the temple his father built in thanjavur.

The Airavateswara temple in darasuram can be seen while on the way back to thanjavur,near kumbakonam. One temple built for shiva,while the other for parvathi are again built with an intricate attention to detail.

The brihadishwara temple in thanjavur clearly steals the show. A visit at sunset is highly recommended to capture the different colours the sandstone assumes in the dying rays of the sun. 2011 marked the 1000th year of it’s existence and one just cannot see it’s age due to the superior quality of the craftsmanship and materials that were used by the cholas in their prime.

A leisurely walk around the magnificent main structure which holds a giant shivalingam that faces one of the biggest Nandi statues in India made us think how grand this place must have been a 1000 years ago. As we boarded the bus to chennai at night, the bus drove past an illuminated Brihadishwara temple almost as if to ask us to appreciate it’s beauty once more.

To Ooty and beyond.

After months and months of planning we were finally on the road, to our first site in Ooty.The mountain railway station was not that hard to spot,it was just next to the main bus stand in Ooty where we got down. Our train was scheduled at 2 and by the time we got there at 1.45 there was quite a crowd already waiting for the train.With the price being just Rs 23 for a trip to Mettupalyam, we werent actually surprised at the crowd that had gathered. Fortunately there where cops to manage the crowd and the ticket collector helped those who had reservations to find their respective coaches. When we got to our coach, it was actually filled to the brim.Ten people were supposed to fit into an ancient train cabin, along with their luggages! A lot of squeezing and shoving later, everyone managed to settle down. The Great Indian mantra of ‘thoda adjust karo’ worked its magic one more time.
As the train began to move we began to realise the enormity of the journey it was to undertake. The train was actually traversing through the Western Ghats to take all its passenger down to the plains of Tamil Nadu. We saw amazing scenes of nondescript hilly towns, thick mahagony forests criscrossed by meandering streams, and large fields where tea plantations and terrace farming was practised. That one train ride helps you understand the essence of living in  the hills. Life moved around at a slow pace just like the train but one would never complain because there was so much to see and lots more to experience. Towards the end of the journey we did get a bit bored, so we started keeping a track of all the savouries our rather large co-passenger consumed, the honeymoon couple who couldn’t take their eyes of each other and the foreign tourist whose interesting hair cut ensured that she was the centre of attraction for the locals. The train finally came to a halt at Mettupalayam after a journey of almost four hours. Only when we reailsed that the mist was missing and the air had gotten a lot warmer did we comprehend the importance of this magnificent engineering marvel that has been transporting people from the hills to the plains and vice versa for more than a hundred years now. Don’t finish a trip to Ooty without getting on this train, you are going to experience a slice of history with the sweet toppings of beautiful mother nature.

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