“Good morning, my name is Anand, but everyone calls me Coffee!” exclaimed Anand- the excited autowalah who came to pick us up at Hospet station on the gloomy morning of September. “I drink a lot of coffee and so my friends started calling me so, and now, no one calls me Anand anymore mam.” Coffee’s accentuated English was unexpected, but not surprising, as Hampi is a major attraction and an important Unesco World Heritage site. Tourists across the globe come here all year round to marvel its architecture. Coffee happily agreed to be our guide for the next few days. Within half an hour, we got dropped off at Hampi Bazar- the central market place that holds the entire gamut of hotels and guest houses.
Every other home in Hampi has been converted into a guest house to cater to the inflow of tourists. Our homestay was tucked away from the crowded market and our verandah faced the mighty Tungabhadra river. The lanes spanning the bazaar were extremely narrow and often occupied by accommodating cows. One of them even joined us on our breakfast of simple yet delicious- poori sagu, appams, chilli bhajjis and steaming tea at a small roadside stall. The stall which was actually an extension of a home and had a ‘Trip Advisor’ recommendation hung on the wall! We had a tete-a-tete with Miron, a tourist from Israel whose paths crisscrossed ours a few times later through the entire trip. Miron had travelled to most parts of India, but Hampi was where he kept coming back to. While sipping through my cuppa, my eyes followed the unending “Shikhar” of the Virpupaksha temple which stood in pride just a few meters away. I was fascinated to see how the contemporary Hampi was trying to thrive in and protect its treasures at the same time.
Day 1 :
Virupaksha temple, the tallest in Hampi, with its Gopuram shaped like the horns of a bull is bound to fascinate any temple lover. This is the main and the oldest temple of Hampi. Here we met Laxmi, the 12 year old friendly elephant who has been trained to duly bless only those visitors who place a ten rupee note in her trunk! The striking features of the temple are the Ranga Mantapa and a large urn made of stone.
Zanana Enclosure used to be the royal women’s quarters built in Indo Islamic style. There are a few interesting sites in the vicinity, namely, the Lotus Mahal, the watchtower, elephant stables and Octagonal Queen’s Bath.
Three kms ahead of Hampi, lies Kamlapur, home to the Daroji Bear Sanctuary. We were accompanied by Pampaiya Swamy, a photographer and a wild life enthusiast and conservationist who has done a commendable amount of work in expanding the sanctuary and preventing encroachment. With over 20 years of experience, Pampaiya knew the exact place and time the Sloth bears would show up. At about a distance of 200 meters, a rocky patch was smeared with a mixture of jaggery and oil. In over an hour of patiently waiting for the bears to appear, we spotted a hare, few peacocks, grey francolins, a pair of painted spurfowl and a huge clan of monkeys loitering aimlessly. But the bears were nowhere in sight. It drizzled on and off and our hopes drenched. After a good three-hour wait and half way through our return, the forest ranger approached us hurriedly from a distance, yelling that mommy bear and her 2 cubs were out to feed at the same spot where we had waited! We rushed back under the heavy shower, with a sudden adrenaline rush! Finally, we spotted the whole family of bears relishing their favorite food and playing around joyfully in the downpour for a pretty long time.
Anyone who has visited Hampi would unanimously vouch for Mango tree as the best restaurant. I usually do restaurant hopping, however to my amazement; I stuck to this joint through my entire trip! With dim lights, meditative music, cozy floor seating and sinful food, Mango tree is the unsurpassed place to retire after a tiresome day of endless walking. One cannot get enough of their Lassi, Nutela Pancake and french-fries!
Day 2 :
Matanga hill : With my alarm going off at 5 am, it was time to head to experience the breaking of a beautiful dawn. We walked across the bazaar towards the pathway from where, some 300 odd steps would lead us to the top of Matanga. A mammoth Monolithic Bull carved from a single rock stood at the base; the fore and hind legs of which had witnessed the harsh winds of time. We encountered hundreds of centipedes on our way up. The view got prettier as we ascended. Half way through, I halted. The melancholic grey clouds cleared and the golden sun god spread out his unending arms, touching the farthest expanses of Hampi, which was still wet from the last showers. This was the freshest and by far the most surreal sunrise I had ever witnessed. The soft glowing rays created magic by painting the entire ruins of Hampi, Anegundi and the winding Tungabhadra with dewy gold. Atop Matanga, is the dilapidated temple of Veerabhadra. The calmness here was unadulterated. Within the temple, devotees had created hundreds of small stone pyramids, made with a secret wish for a house to come true.
We descended from Matanga towards Achyutaraya Temple and its Pushkarni. A Pushkarni is a replica of a step well, usually attached to a temple. Wandering in the premises, could easily visualise the grandeur of the Vijayanagara dynasty under the rule of the great Krishnadevaraya and other kings, not just with regards to wealth but with regards to the creative brilliance of the artisans in that era. It was getting uncomfortably hot bt the time we passed the Sula Bazar, Varaha Temple and the Kings Balance. It is believed that the king used to weigh himself with gold, gems, silver and precious stones on the balance and distribute it to the priests during special ceremony seasons like solar or lunar eclipses!
Vittala Temple, without a speck of doubt, is the jewel in the crown of Hampi. It is here that the architectural extravaganza reaches its peak with the commendable Stone Chariot made from a single rock, resting on 4 gigantic stone wheels. Upon scrutiny, one can notice that the horse sculptures that weathered with time or during war have been replaced with elephants; the rear of the horses though, are still intact. Vittala temple also encapsulates the impressive Maha Mantapa or the pillared musical hall.
Mahanavami Dibba or the Royal Enclosure is yet another remarkable architectural wonder of Hampi. This humongous raised platform with extensive and intricate carvings is believed to have been the place for royal Dushera celebrations. Pushkarni, secret chamber and Minting area are also located here. The Ganagitti Jain Temple, Chandrashekhara Temple, Saraswati Temple are in close proximity.
The astounding Hazara Rama Temple has carvings covering important facets of Ramayana. The temple has thousand figures of lord Rama engraved on its walls and hence the name. We were being bombarded with architectural prodigies in succession, constantly pulling me deeper and deeper into imagination. The sculptures were so striking that I could visualize each idol exuding life. In a flash, the entire Vijayanagara empire was in front of me, gleaming in joy and dancing to glory with rich costumes and vibrant colors!
The afternoon heat had taken its toll and till the time we reached the underground Shiva Temple, we were baked. The largest Monolith statue of Hampi is that of the Ugra-Narsimha-one of the many forms of Lord Shiva. This incarnation of Shiva has protruding eyes and angered facial expression, hence the name “Ugra”, which means terrifying. However, the sculpture also seems to have a small idol of Laxmi sitting on its lap and hence it is also known as Laxmi Narasimha. Most parts of the statue were destroyed during the Mughal raid, however the idol is worth a visit!
Krishna temple with its unending stretch of stone pillar and canopy and the ruins of a spacious market will make a head turn. The vicinity also has a beautiful Pushkarni. Further on, there are two monolithic Ganesha statues – Sasivekalu and Kadalekalu Ganesha which translates into “Mustard sized stone and Peanut sized stone” respectively, when translated in the local Kannadiga dialect.
It was time now to climb up a hillock called Hemkuta hill to melt away in its mystical sunset. Hemkuta has a small Anjaneya temple and other structures amidst huge rocky boulders. Despite the dozen tourists and another dozen monkeys, Hemkuta was surprisingly calm; as if every soul was up there for a mission to connect with the quietest and deepest part of their self.
I was convinced earlier that day that I had witnessed the most amazing sunrise at Matanga. However, I was forced to change my opinion as I kept getting pulled into the alchemy of Hemkuta with every passing minute. The golden sky was quietly shredding its shimmer, transforming into purple and then deep blue. The Anjaneya temple with a stunt Plumeria tree next to it created a breath taking silhoutte, with the vast purple sky in the backdrop. As the sun finally hid behind the mountains at the far end of the horizon, I was awakened by voices around me of souls recuperating from the hypnotism. Hemkuta had casted an everlasting imprint on my mind and heart…
How to reach : Hampi is at 300 kms from Bangalore. Overnight buses ply from Bangalore. Driving can be a great option. Nearest airport : Hubli.
Where to stay : Ample homestay and guest houses available. We stayed at Kiran Guest house. 9448143906. Charges: 600 to 800 per room per day. One can also choose Hyatt at Hospet, 20 kms away.
Where to binge : Mango tree restaurant, Hampi Bazaar. Try their lassis and Nutella chapatis.
Best time to visit : Nov through Jan. Hampi gets extremely humid and hot in summer. Monsoons can be a good option too.
How to roam around : Hampi is best explored by walk. Take an auto if pressed for time. However, autos cannot very close to all sites, hence walking can’t be ruled out! Call Coffee for auto services : 9481664743. Charges at 800 to 1000 per day.
Must do’s : Trekking up Matanga for sunrise, climbing Hemkuta for sunset, coracle ride at Sanapur lake. Guide service is recommended for Vittala temple, Hazara Rama temple and Mahanavmi Dibba. Wildlife enthusiasts can explore Daroji. Contact Pampaiya Swamy : 9449136252
Carry a map for better navigation. Carry loads of sunscreen..
What to shop : Brass artefacts, aroma oils and soaps, incense sticks.
Safety: Highly safe. Great for solo women travelers!
continued here….. https://gauricosmos.com/2015/10/11/aihole-pattadakkal-and-badami/
My last blog “Hypnotism at Hampi” gave insights about planning a trip to Hampi. Read here : Hypnotism at Hampi
This blog is an extension with more travel agendas around Hampi.
Anegundi is a sleepy hamlet on the other side of Tungabhadra, away from the hustle and bustle of Hampi. I did not intend to climb the Monkey hill unlike most tourists. While waiting for the boat to take us to the other end, we encountered Laxmi, the temple elephant, having her morning bath in the river. She enjoyed being scrubbed by the Mahauth and merrily sprayed water over herself, rejoicing the daily ritual.
Crossing to the other side of the river in a coracle was just a two-minute task. We hired a bike and set off to ride on the fringes of the Sanapur Lake. While we halted for tea at a local stall, I saw a little girl who had tied a rope to an unusually big, scary-looking fly with bulgy eyes and chestnut wings. It seemed like the fly was wearing a sparkling green headgear. Each time the girl spun the rope around her, the monstrous fly (almost the size of an egg) fluttered its wings at high speed, made a noisy buzz and stuck itself to the girl’s skirt- playing dead! Our eyes met and we shared smiles, the little girl had taught me to fetch happiness in small things in a span of 5 mins. As our bike rode past fresh green fields, the first view of Sanapur lake came into sight. The lake was spread to as far as my eyes could see. The emerald water was serene and untouched. A few coracles floated along its periphery. A river tern calmly dived into the water for a quick catch and broke the pitch silence with its shriek. Next, we made a quick visit to the Tungabhadra dam situated around 25 kms ahead.
We bumped into Benjamins Music Cafe while hunting options for lunch. Benjamin’s was a cozy shack with bamboo and fresh green creepers gliding through. A guitar, a congo and a harmonium were placed carelessly next to the low seating. We were greeted warmly by the amazing hosts who were in their late 40’s. Whilst the wife spread an array of home-made food, Benjamin started to string his guitar and hum a song. He spoke to us about his life and its ups and downs as though we knew each other for ages. Tired of the push and pull of the fast paced life, the couple had decided to settle here and had built this shack-cum-home all by themselves. They also ran a home for orphan girls in the village, providing for their shelter, food and basic education. A feeling of gratification took over when we finished an extended lunch amidst musical conversations. We shared a few snaps and heartfelt hugs before we bid them goodbye.
Aihole, Pattadakkal and Badami: We started off from Hampi before sunrise since there was a lot planned for the day. A three hour ride brought us to Aihole, the town with hundreds of Buddhist, Hindu and Jain temples and Jain Basadis. A quaint Malaprabha flows calmly through Aihole and Pattadakkal. The Durga temple here has some great architecture and should not be missed. The tower of the temple has been dilapidated, and a structure resembling a lotus is seen fallen on the ground. I spent only around two hours exploring Aihole before proceeding to Pattadakkal.
Fifteen kilometres beyond Aihole lies Pattadakkal, another Unesco World Heritage site; so vast, that it looks like a town in itself! The temples here are a confluence of Chalukyan, Aryan and Dravidian architecture. Taking a guided tour is strongly recommended to understand the stupendous construct and the intricacies of its architectural brilliance! Pattadakkal is impregnated with depictions of episodes from Ramayana, Mahabharata and other epics. The more you understand Pattadakkal, the more you want to see of it!
Badami, famous for its rock cut caves, got its very name due to its almond (Badam) colored rocks. Reaching to the top of the hill is quite a climb but presents panoramic vistas. As I climbed breathlessly, my eyes feasted on the enormous rock carvings of various gods and goddesses. The last cave on the top has the most beautiful and huge sculpture of Mahavir Buddha. How these structures were built, what engineering was used for accuracies and why these were constructed at such heights are few questions that one would constantly ponder upon while exploring the caves of Badami.
The views of the Agasthya lake below are astounding. A peaceful Bhootnath Temple overlooks the lake. There is a small cave next to the temple which has a Buddha carved on a rock with natural ribbon-like formations in multiple shades of brown.
We headed back to Hampi the same evening with just enough time in hand to gobble on the sinful Nutella chapati at Mango tree before we could wrap up our experiences and return to Bangalore.
P.S : “We” is in reference to me and my spouse, Mihir, who is usually my partner in most of my travel sojourns…
Note : Aihole, Pattadakkal and Badami can be covered in a day. The idea is to start a little before sunrise from Hampi by hiring a cab for the whole day. Cab charges are usually INR 3000. Kiran(9448143906) who runs a guest house and Coffee(9481664743), the auto driver can make cab arrangements.
When your feet want to run away from the blazing summer sun; your eyes see a mirage in the middle of a road; your body yearns for a cold splash but you know that you have to wait for a few more months for the rains to quench your desire, what do you do? It’s time you head to Hogenakkal!
Hogenakkal, which simply means “Smoky Rock” in Kannada, is a place worth a quick visit over a weekend. Located on the river Kaveri in Dharmapuri district, it is around 180 kms from Bangalore. One side of Hogenakkal falls in Karnataka, the other, in Tamilnadu! The falls are often compared to the Niagara Falls; which, I honestly found to be a bit overrated but definitely not disappointing. It is said that the Karnataka side of the falls score more in terms of beauty than the Tamilnadu side during monsoons!
The drive from Bangalore to Hogenakkal is very plain and does not demand stopping for photography unless you really want to click some water birds lurking in a couple of ponds. All I stopped for was an unusual abandoned chariot with 2 bright yellow wheels and a few landscapes.
Hogenakkal pops up as an unexpected retreat, since you will be greeted by total chaos while approaching it. You will find your feet making way through a crowded village with loads of people including the locals and the tourists. Do not get bogged down by the guilt of having chosen this place for a quite weekend! Hogenakkal has a good amount of hotels to cater to the large chunks of visitors. The scale of business here can amuse you to an extent; I could confidently say that there are at least 500 food stalls. TTDC has a rest house here named “Hotel Tamilnadu”; the rates of which are reasonable and the place is pretty tidy. You have to walk barely 200 mtrs from the resort to reach the point from where your journey would begin.
To explore Hogenakkal, you need to get into a coracle boat. A Coracle is a round boat made by cris-crossing bamboo hides, water proofed by bright blue or black colored plastic sheets and coal tar. Do not get deceived by the delicate look of the coracle as it is sturdy enough to easily accommodate up to 8 people at a time. Coracle rides are the major source of income for the villagers here apart from fishing and oil massage. The rates charged are negotiable to an extent of INR 100 only. I recommend that you take a coracle all to yourself, which will cost INR 900 over weekends and around 700-800 over weekdays. The fee is rather expensive, however, you are left with no other alternative.
It was late noon when we reached Hogenakkal and since I wanted to witness it during sunset, we quickly got into a Coracle rowed by Gopal, whose face was wrinkled by his age and the hardships that life had put him through. Gopal opened up an unpleasant secret to us that the rowers get nothing out of the money that is charged for the rides! He was honest enough to request us to give him whatever we wished to, provided we felt the ride was worth it. Poor little soul!
I breathed a sigh of relief after having surpassed the crowds to begin our journey to witness the striking landscape. The coracle took us to the first rocky patch and we had to cross over a series of steps to get to the other end where the actual ride began. As the coracle silently drifted into the waters, we felt an instant change in the atmosphere. The remote silence was only occasionally interrupted by another coracle passing by. Gopal first took us to the waterfall and placed the coracle right under it; kindling an instant cheer and making us giggle like a baby! We were able to get under the fall since we did our trip in April, however kindly note that if one plans to visit the falls in the monsoons, the coracle will not lead you to the falls for an up-close view, so plan accordingly.
After letting us enjoy the shower spray from the falls, Gopal displayed his skills by swirling the coracle confidently. After getting his share of compliment from us, he proudly rowed us further to witness the sight we had been waiting for! The water fell calm and so did the air, since we were now between cliffs on either side of us; the experience was instantly captivating!
A little ahead, a coracle selling chips and other eatables passed by pleading us to buy stuff. A pair of egrets was flying around trying to find a meal; a couple of night herons and pond herons perched on the cliff busy pruning themselves; a few monkeys were trying to get lucky on a quick snack fed by the over enthusiastic tourists. The only sounds that encompassed us were the water splashing against the rows and gentle wind blowing past our ears!
Gopal then lead the coracle to an itsy-bitsy beach which had only 2 things to offer- white sand and a shack selling fried fish. The sun was setting rapidly and we climbed over a rock patch which was around 30 feet high to get a 360 degree magical view of the entire terrain. The melting sun overcast its golden rays into the waters which glittered each time a coracle cut the waves. My eyes caught sight of a pathway on the opposite bank leading to a small temple. The overturned black coracles looked like resting giant turtles on the riverbed.
The entire cliff seemed as if God had taken his own sweet time to perfectly carve out the landscape, making Hogenakkal look like a perfect painting! After basking in this timeless splendor for a while, we decided to head back to the rest house and Gopal returned happy after he got his 200 bucks from us!
The next day we headed to the watch tower to get a view of the falls from an elevation. You can get some good snaps of the falls and the Carbonite rocks with coracles going up and down the river from here. These rocks at Hogenakkal are believed to be one of the oldest in South Asia and the water is also said to have medicinal properties.
We reached a gushing fall and what caught my eyes were a dozen of plastic bottles in unison, eager to make their way to the other end of the fall but were being vetoed by the force of the water, so they swirled over and over again at the same place. The act was interesting, though it instantly made me think of the disaster this place is heading to.
We moved on,carefully stepping over the oil stained rocks to the other side to see the rope bridge. Suddenly we found ourselves trying to make our way between a hundred other feet! People getting drenched under smaller falls; merrily dancing to portray how lucky they were to find a corner to themselves; people eating “Upputu” (sweet roti with jaggery and dal filling) and savoring freshly caught fish fried to glory with lip smacking spics-the aroma instantly made my mouth water! And then there were tones of people gifting themselves an oil massage with the local oil; basking under the morning sun and then having a dip in the river. The atmosphere here could be compared to a local weekly market; hustling with crowd, chaos, noise and of course- loads of oil!
For a soul that I am, the instant feeling was to run away and get out. So I decided to head to a corner which was less maddening. I saw a fisherman perched on a high rock for a fresh morning catch. The net being thrown from a height was a pleasure in itself to watch and more pleasurable was to time the camera to get a perfect snap of the net merging itself into the water.
I would like to mention here that the entire place is seized by an alarming population of monkeys; aggressive and dramatic! After clicking a few frames, we decided to head back to the rest house and while doing so, we passed through the rope bridge and witnessed a comical scene. An overconfident monkey snatched the bag of one of the tourists who was all set to go for his oil massage and perched itself on the top corner of the rope-way. The wise mammal ensured that it took custody of the towel and returned the empty bag to him. The aggravated person climbed up the rope and slowly approached the monkey, pulling his towel back. While heading down, he slightly tapped the monkey’s paw as a punishment and to our astonishment, the monkey slapped him back! We burst out laughing appraising the unexpected move of the gutful creature!
It was early noon when we decided to head back to Bangalore with some fond memories and some not-so fond ones due to the very fact that Hogenakkal is losing its identity and charm to loads of trash, plastic, rags and oil and filth. Thanx to the careless and selfish tourists, this heavenly abode is already half way through destruction. Instead of augmenting its beauty, the locals are busy enriching themselves by collecting money from all possible sources- unauthorized parking, watchtower fee and overpriced coracle rides. I could stare endlessly at the picturesque terrain with the Goddess Kaveri obediently passing through the rocks and sustaining the coracles in her womb like a loving mother; providing the villagers a never ending source of livelihood. Hogenakkal is trying hard to secure and sustain its unrivaled beauty amidst a man made jungle.
With a disturbed mind, we started our drive back to Bangalore, but this time we chose the alternate route through the serene Melagiri forest instead. The range is said to have elephant corridors; though we weren’t lucky enough to spot any, the drive was definitely worth it!
Leaving you with a few more seized moments…
I have been fascinated by strange dreams of venturing into the lush and humid Amazon; of wandering deep into the rain forests and spotting a gorgeous bird of Paradise dancing its way into glory. Curiosity took its toll when I got to know that I wasn’t too far away from a hidden rain-forest hiding in the lap of Karnataka. I decided to explore Agumbe, also referred to as the “Cherapunji of the South”.
Agumbe is known for its picturesque sunsets, virgin waterfalls and snakes- especially the King Cobra. However, someone who has visited Agumbe in the monsoons will vouch that they have fallen short of words when asked to describe the unparalleled beauty it beholds during the monsoons. Agumbe is situated in the Shimoga district of Uttara Karnataka, approx 360 kms from Bangalore. Since we weren’t lucky enough to get a booking at “Dodda Mane” (significance of this place has been mentioned later in my blog), we decided to book a room at Mallya Residency. Don’t be fooled by the name tag as it is a very basic lodge located adjacent to bus station. The caretaker, Sudheendra was very hospitable and made all arrangements for our trek including a guide and a jeep. He can be reached at 09448759363.
Our first pit-stop was to visit a ruined temple atop a small hillock. We followed our excited driver–cum-guide through continuous drizzle. When we reached the top, the wind blew forcefully with a “whoosh-whoosh” making us shiver within our wind-cheaters. The rain and clouds played a constant hide and seek, disappearing and reappearing every few minutes.
We returned to visit the Rain Forest Research Station to seek information about the insects, snakes and amphibian species of Agumbe. One of the researchers took us to a spot where a Pit Viper had snuggled itself in a corner under the thatched roof and played dead! Next, we headed to Dodda Mane. Dodda Mane which translates as “Big House” in Kannada holds a special significance in Agumbe. This popular home stay is managed by a very humble matriarch; Kasturi Akka, commonly addressed to as “Kasturakka” with love and admiration by the locals. The legendary TV series of the 80’s, “Malgudi days” which showcased a collection of short stories based on the book by the famous cartoonist, R.K Narayan had a few episodes shot in this 150 year old heritage home! We weren’t lucky enough to experience the warmth of this house as it was already booked 2 weeks in advance, however, I did not want to miss the chance of having a glimpse of Dodda Mane that looked charming in the dull twilight.
Next morning we took off to Kavaledurg fort, a few kilometers beyond Agumbe. The fort was at a gradual elevation and distinct from the other forts that I have seen. Moss and creepers had enveloped the grey stoned fort with shades of the brightest and freshest green. Whilst strolling through the fort, we met Mr. Pill Millipede who resembled a mini goods train. Transforming into a ball when I tried to gently greet him, he refused to budge until I left! We encountered loads of frogs in varying sizes and colors. I moved on and halted after a few feet to capture a miniature temple next to a bare tree on a small hillock within the fort. It instantly brought a word to my mind- companionship!
The fort that comprised of a palace when it was alive was now reduced to a few remnants – a weathered bath tank, some stand-alone and fallen pillars, a proud Nandi, a few carvings and a beautiful temple which still looked quite sturdy.
A dog appeared from no where, like the guardian of the premise and giving us company all through our exploration. A juvenile monitor lizard was busy in a portfolio shoot by a group of highly enthusiastic photographers.
Agumbe holds some virgin waterfalls- Jogigundi, Barkana and Onke Abbi, to name a few. Access to these falls were restricted due to the heavy downpour, except for Sirimane. Around 50 odd tourists were crazily enjoying the ice cold showers, occupying the best place for themselves under the falls. For a moment it felt like a complete no-go, however we decided to join the madness. Placing our feet carefully on every rock, we managed to get directly under the falls which was firing incessant ice pebbles though its machine gun. After soaking in the ultimate bombardment, we got out shivering and headed straight for a sizzling hot cup of tea at a stall nearby. By the time we returned to Agumbe, darkness had crept in. Our eyes tiptoed into sleep with the lullaby of the continuous drizzle and the orchestration of crickets.
The next morning we met Vittala, our local guide who specialized in snakes and knew the forests in and out. Vittala spoke only Kannada and barring a few words, I could comprehend nothing of it. to keep leeches as bay, we smeared a magic potion consisting of snuff, castor oil and limestone prepared by the seemingly confident Vittala.
A few meters into the jungle, we were welcomed by the true owners of Agumbe- the leeches- thousands of them! I started getting paranoid by their number. My spirits dampened as my entire focus shifted to save myself from the blood suckers! The leeches kept sticking to my slippers, trying their luck to move their way up. In an attempt to pull of every leech that tried to stick itself to my feet, I lost track of Vittala who was moving with lightning speed. A rock-thrush whistled faintly in the woods, the tune was so mesmerizing that I could follow it blindly and get lost. A green vine snake made its appearance in the bushes. We ventured deeper and reached a spot from where we could hear a gushing sound. Within minutes I was standing next to a beautiful waterfall that tossed and turned with tremendous vigor like a mad bull set free.
In this part of the earth, the air had a refreshing scent of wet mud and woods. The pleasant pitter-patter of raindrops merged with the symphony of insects was so soothing that it made me drift away into another realm of existence altogether. Alienated from civilization, Agumbe reached the peak of its beauty. I realised that I had long forgotten about the leeches. Whilst returning to outskirts of the forest, I looked down at my floaters. Around 30 leeches that had attempted to reach my feet, had given up and died, all thanks to the magic potion.
Agumbe was in fact their kingdom and the leeches play a very significant role in the survival of the dense rain forests.
My trip to Agumbe had ended with memories of my tryst with a thousand leeches and glimpses of nature in its purest and untouched form.
Come another weekend and my feet begin to get itchy to explore the hidden and offbeat places around me. This time, I stumbled on a lesser known place called “Gandikota” located in Kadappa district in Andhra Pradesh. Around 290 kms from Bangalore, Gandikota can be easily covered over a weekend drive of approx 6 hours one-way. The drive is mostly comfortable except for a few kilometers of patchy roads here and there but the irritation is soon negated by vast sunflower fields acres of red chilli farms that one would encounter enroute.
Gandikota got its name from “Gandi” which means a Gorge and “Kota”meaning Fort in Telugu. The gorge, holds in its womb, the Pennar river, which seems as though gallons of dark ink has been poured with the utmost care into a deep valley.The river shivers intermittently with the blowing wind cut by the massive boulders on either sides.
As you pass through the gloomy hamlet leading you to your final destination; you have the slightest clue of the unexpected view that is about to strike you in your face! Within moments, you find yourself witnessing a spectacular wonder that you can’t get your eyes and heart off!This mesmerizing landscape offers some breathtaking views of sunrise and sunsets amidst the granite boulder-clad cliff lining the river.
One can carefully perch on the edge of the cliff to get an adrenaline rush! Just one glance at the depth below will make you wonder of how the universe can make you feel totally minuscule in a fraction of a second!
Gandikota has a ruined fort which protects the river with all its might and strength. One side of the fort provides a very subtle and subdued view of the gorge. Here the Pennar takes the contour of a marshland fringed by a bald mountain sparsely dotted with vegetation.
You can choose to stroll freely as there are no signboards anywhere. Alternatively, you could walk on the fort wall without pulling your sight off the gorge. Well, if you feel that the adventure -bug has suddenly bitten you, go that extra mile to attain Nirvana on an isolated rock. Be cautious one wrong step would lead to a deep free fall..
The Fort, with two ruined temples and a Masjid, has its own captivating beauty. The odd fact that every single idol within the temples has disappeared, will amuse you. You can explore the fort throughout the day, but ensure you reserve the sunrise and sunset exclusively for the gorge.
It’s no surprise why the number of tourists flocking to Gandikota is on a rise. Who wouldn’t be eager to witness the magical landscapes of “The Grand Canyon of India”!
Since the place is tucked away and not easily accessible, tourists rely on the recently built “Haritha Resort” – the only rest house in this area. Run by the Government; the resort is decently built with Kadappa stones and has a good number of guest houses, dormitory, cafeteria and a small exhibition hall. Though the resort is not crowded , online booking has been made mandatory. Expect a very basic meal with only a couple of items on the menu; people who dread chillies need to place a special request to the staff here to reduce pungency in the food!
It’s a paradox in India that when a place starts gaining popularity either due to its historical significance or its unrivaled beauty; we start displaying our insolent attitude and mark the stamp of our very existence! Gandikota, sadly has not been spared of this devastation either.What comes as a warm welcome as you make your way to your room; are loads of beer, vodka and water bottles, plastic and other garbage dumped carelessly into the Resort’s vicinity!
We witnessed litter-festooned benches that a few foreign tourists had merrily perched on the night before. The authorities in charge of the guest house are least bothered about the situation in and around the resort.
This is not all, the story continues as you make your way to the fort and towards the gorge, both of which are a kilometer away from the resort. You pass through the scruffy village by literally holding your breath and stealing your site away from human waste and trash all the way up to the temple premises. The locals carelessly lead their cattle to graze into the fort creating “dung delight”!
More so, civilization itself has tip-toed into the fort’s vicinity. Huts have emerged right inside the fort paving way for more garbage accumulation. It wasn’t surprising to not have spotted a single authority or security in the entire area to guard the gorge or the fort.
All said and done, Gandikota left me short of words with its charismatic beauty. Capturing magical images of the rising and setting fireball over the ultra-calm gorge only made me hungry for more. But what I also brought along with me are the images of devastation and a strong and immediate urge to raise an alarm to plead the government, the villagers, the travelers and tourists to do their bit to save Gandikota. Awareness, respect and responsibility towards conservation are the rudiments of the Rubik’s cube that will keep Gandikota from giving in to “litter-terrorism” and burying itself irreversibly under the garbage grave.
After you have basked in the absolute bliss of Gandikota, you could visit the Belum Caves, around 60 kms ahead. A guided tour is recommended to understand the history and information of the stalactites and stalagmite structures formed here.
Further more, take a quick off-route diversion at Tadipatri to witness the plateau lined up with windmills; you could stand right beneath one and hear it go whoof-whoof!
The perfect way to end your trip would be to munch your way into the sunflower seeds while driving back from your weekend destination!