Travel Shot: St. Mary’s Island

Once upon a time, ok in November 1998, a friend and I decided to travel down the West coast of India. We started in Honnavar in Karnataka and travelled all the way down to Thiruvananthapuram, hopping in and out of trains and buses. It is a trip that makes me nostalgic even thinking about it. One the places we “discovered” was St. Mary’s Island, off Malpe Beach near Udipi.

St. Mary’s Island, also called Coconut Island by the locals, is an uninhabited island with a shelly beach and clear, cool waters. This is how the local operator who ran motor boat services to the island sold the beach to us. What he did not mention was that the island was made up of columnar basalts, and that it was a geological monument.

7 November 1998: St. Mary’s Island

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Disappointment @ the Daroji Sloth Bear Sanctuary

“Hurry up ! The bears are already there. We need to get to the observation site quickly,” urged Doreen, our tour organiser. We scrambled out of the vehicle and followed Doreen to climb some rather steep steps that seemed to go on forever.

Our tour group had just driven to the Daroji Sloth Bear Sanctuary from Hampi (about 15 km) over some rather bad roads, through beautiful scenery, and imminent rain. We were at the Sanctuary to see the Indian sloth bear or karadis, who came out of their caves every evening to have a special paste of rice and honey (or was it jaggery?) that was smeared on the rocks near their caves by the Sanctuary guards. For me karadi brought forth images of Baloo, the Jungle Book bear, resplendent in his Disney avatar or Jambavan, the wise bear king from the Ramayana. I was rather keen on what the karadi really looked like!

Created in 1994, the Daroji Sloth Bear Sanctuary covers an area of about 5.58 sq.km. In addition to the bears, the Sanctuary is also home to wild boar, leopards, porcupines, striped hyenas, monkeys, hare, and peafowl, along with many bird species. Though we had come here to see the sloth bears, I secretly hoped to spot a leopard or two as well.

After about five minutes of huffing and puffing, we reached the observation site which is at the top of a hillock with fencing all around. Quite a few people had gathered there to watch the bears and they all seemed to be looking across the fencing and pointing at some black dots on the opposite hillock quite some distance away. It took me a while to realise that those black dots were actually the karadis.

A view of the black dots, sorry sloth bears, from the observation point

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The Banashankari and Mahakuta temples: Examples of neglect and apathy

My recent trip to some heritage sites in North Karnataka (Aihole, Badami, BijapurHampi and  Pattadakal) was an eye-opener in more ways than one. While I was amazed to see the excellent work done by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) in restoring and maintaining the sites, as well as the efforts taken by the Karnataka Tourism Board, I was appalled to see condition of heritage sites not maintained by the ASI. My visits to the Banashankari Temple and the Mahakuta Temple Complex, both near Badami, are perfect examples of this.

The Banashankari Temple site has been a place of worship for about 14 centuries or so, though the current temple building is only about 200 years old. The temple’s name is derived from its location in the Tilakaranya forest. The main deity, Banashankari is also known as Shakambari or the vegetable goddess. Banashankari was the kuldevata or the tutelary deity for the Chalukya kings of the 7th century.

Our tour group arrived at the Banashankari Temple after spending a magical and enchanted evening at the Bhoothnatha Temples and the Agastya Teertha, near the Badami Cave-Temples. And came back to earth rather rudely with a ride through narrow, dusty, potholed and dirty access road to the temple. It was an inkling to the state of the temple itself.

Outside the Banashankari Temple. The guard-cum-lamp tower at the entrance to the Harida Teertha in the centre of the photograph

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The temple ruins of Hampi – 3: The Krishna, Ugranarasimha and Ganagitti temples

The temples and other monuments of Hampi were built over 3 centuries, destroyed over a period of 6 months, and “seen” by our group over two, half-day sessions. Obviously, we could not do justice to all the monuments.

This meant that while we spent more time at the Hazara Rama Temple, the Vittala Temple, as well as the monuments of the royal family, we breezed through the Krishna Temple, the Badavilinga Temple, the Ugranarasimha or Lakshmi Narasimha Temple, and Kadalekalu Ganesha and Sasivekalu Ganesha Temples. We could not visit some monuments at all—the Hemakuta group of monuments, the Ganagatti Jain Temple, the octagonal water tank, Bhima’s Gate, etc., were pointed out to us by our guide in passing.

So, while I cannot write a detailed post on these quick visits here, I will compensate that with some photographic impressions of those “breeze in, breeze out” visits here.

Carved pillars at the Krishna Temple, depicting stories from the Bhagavatham. The Krishna Temple was consecrated in 1513 and is a complex with many sub-shrines and halls.

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The temple ruins of Hampi – 2: Vittala Temple

If Hampi was the showpiece of the Vijayanagara Empire, then the Vittala Temple is undoubtedly the showpiece of Hampi. Everything about the Vittala Temple is designed to make a statement—right from its settings and surroundings to its architecture to the temple complex itself. Everything. It is for this reason that the Vittala Temple is the most visited monument in Hampi, thereby making it the most talked about or written about or photographed monument. It is also the reason why our tour group was standing outside the Vittala Temple complex at 8.00 am one Saturday morning last month. Doreen, our tour organiser, was insistent that we visit the Vittala Temple before any other monument to avoid the tourist hordes. It was a good thing too, as the tourists started arriving in waves as we were leaving.

Located on the banks of the Tungabhadra with Anegundi on the opposite river bank, the approach to the Temple is through the stone ruins of a bazaar. We also pass a water tank and some manadapa-like monuments.

Bazaar outside the Vittala Temple

The temple ruins of Hampi – 1: Hazara Rama Temple

The simple and elegant entrance to the Hazara Rama Temple

For me, the Hazara Rama Temple is right on top of the list of temples I liked in Hampi. This is not one of the biggest or the grandest of temples in Hampi, but it is certainly the most intimate temple, a temple which felt like my own personal space. It is also the temple with the most intricate carvings, which begin with the outer walls of the temple complex itself.

Inside, the temple is no less ornamental. It is full of bas reliefs from the life of Rama or Krishna, both avatars of Vishnu. I was very proud of myself for being able to recognise the various characters in the panels and reliefs and the stories that were trying to convey. All thanks to the stories that my grandmothers and my mother narrated to me in my childhood. And of course, Amar Chitra Katha!