Travel Shot: The snake on the ceiling

The back of my neck prickled, and an uneasy shiver ran down my spine. I looked around and could see nothing unusual or scary. It was a bright sunny afternoon at the Badami Caves and our tour group was gathered around the guide at Cave Temple 1. There was nothing unusual or strange or eerie there.

Yet, the feeling of being watched persisted and I just could not relax. I still don’t know what made me look up at the ceiling. And when I did look up this is what I saw.

Carving of a snake on the ceiling in Cave 1

Now, I do not have Ophidiophobia, but the huge carved snake on the ceiling gave me a scare. It looked so real that my first instinct was to run away; a couple of people in my tour group actually did leave the cave and walk away when the guide pointed it out to them. To me, it looked like the beautifully carved snake with the multi-hooded head was stretching out its hands towards me. I could not take a photograph right away and this one was taken only after I had visited all the other caves.

Even as I type out this post, I can remember that prickly feeling of unease. I actually looked up at the ceiling to check and found only the ceiling fan whirring away !

Have you come across such realistic looking sculptures during your travels? Do share them with me here. :-)

The Emerald Route: One book, many narratives

What would you call a book that

(a) is primarily a travelogue,
(b) is also a concise literary, spiritual, religious, mythological, and political history of the region,
(c) is part autobiographical, and
(d) includes a description of taming wild elephants, a folk tale and a one-act play.

The cover illustration is by R.K. Laxman

The book that I am talking about here is R.K. Narayan’s (RKN) The Emerald Route, which is the outcome of the author’s travels along with R.K. Laxman, his brother and the famous cartoonist, through the length and breadth of Karnataka.

First published in 1977 by the Director of Information and Publicity, Government of Karnataka, and then by Penguin India in 1999, I recently bought the latter edition on the recommendation of Smeedha, a friend.

RKN chose to title his book “The Emerald Route” for one important reason—he did not encounter even a single dry patch during the first phase of his tour from Mysore through Hunsur and Hassan and back. He says:

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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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An enchanted evening at the Agastya Teertha & Bhootnatha Temple

The two Bhootnatha Temples of Badami are located in one of the most picturesque settings that I have seen in my travels. In the photograph below, the Agastya Teertha or lake is spread out with the Bhootnatha Temple on the eastern bank visible somewhere near the centre of the photograph. Though I had seen pictures of the Agastya Teertha and the Bhootnatha Temple in a similar setting, the feeling of “Wow” is quite different when you see it yourself, than the “Wow” you feel when you see a photograph.

The Agsatya Teertha and the Bhootnatha Temple on its eastern bank

The Bhootnatha Temples are dedicated to Lord Shiva—Shiva in the form of the God of souls, spirits and ghosts. Built out of red sandstone probably sourced from the surrounding hills, the two temples are placed opposite one another at the eastern and western banks of the Agastya Teertha. The approach to the Agastya Teertha and the Bhootnatha Temples from Badami Caves is via a narrow and winding path that passes through a village.

It was around 5 pm when we arrived at the banks of the Agastya Teertha. From there we could see both the Bhootnatha Temples. The sun, which had been playing hide and seek with the clouds and us the whole afternoon, came out for a brief while. Almost on cue, the strains of a shehnai began, probably played from western Bhootnatha temple. The strains soon grew louder and discernible as Raga Sarang.

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Badami rocks !

The first time I heard about Badami was in my undergraduate Geology class nearly 20 years back. It was a class on the Geological Time Scale and we were being shown slides from various parts of India and the world as examples of different geological time periods. I still remember the Badami slide from that class—the sheer red sandstone cliffs, silhouetted against a deep blue sky. It was love at first sight.

Red Sandstone Cliffs of Badami

At that time I had absolutely no idea that Badami was also the location of rock-cut cave-temples dating from the 6th century. I got to know about this only a couple of years back, when one of my brothers visited the cave-temples of Badami and shared his photographs. Now, it was love at second sight!

When the opportunity to visit Badami, along with other heritage places in North Karnataka, as part of an organised tour group came up, I grabbed it with both hands. I applied for leave from work a full month in advance, juggled deadlines, prayed hard, etc., etc.

Bijapur was our first halt and after an overnight stay in that town, we left early next morning for Badami, with a short halt at the Almatti Dam Gardens. By noon, the red sandstone cliffs of Badami appeared in the horizon. There is an interesting reason as to how Badami got its name. Someone in the historical or mythological past, and I don’t know who, felt that the red stones were the colour of  badam or almonds. And hence, the name!

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The journey to a destination

Someone said, and I can’t remember who, that the journey to a destination is as important and interesting as the destination itself. But sadly, most of us do not give much importance to what we see around us during journeys. I, too, have been guilty of this.        

But a recent holiday to North Karnataka (where I visited Bijapur, Badami, Pattadakal, Aihole, and Hampi) changed all this. Since I was travelling with a tour group for the first time, common courtesy dictated that I do not bury myself in a book all the time, something I normally do while travelling.        

But more than that, I feel that the main reason for the interesting journey was because I did not travel in a sterile aeroplane or air-conditioned train compartment (except on my return journey to Mumbai), or an air-conditioned car/jeep/bus, which usually does not allow you to be a spectator or participant to the world around you. Travelling in a Second Class train compartment or non air-conditioned vehicle forced me to look out of the window and breathe in the fresh, cool air or sometimes air flavoured with dust and diesel/petrol fumes !       

This recent trip was a veritable feast for my jaded eyes and soul. Every leg of the journey (and the various destinations, about which I will write in other blog posts) presented something new and refreshing.        

Enroute to Bijapur from Mumbai by train …       

Lush green countryside after Solapur

River crossing near Tadwal

Railway lines and stations often come in the way of traditional grazing grounds for cattle. Here, a buffalo and her owner make their way along a well-tread path through the railway station. The way the pair of them came charging down the path, I thought that they would get into the train !

On the way to the Bhootnath Temple at Badami…       

A film shooting was in progress on the steps of the Agastya tank. As far as I could figure out, the scene being shot involved people stoning a woman as she cried out to her mother for help

Enroute to Pattadakal…       

A magnificent, 300-year old banyan tree outside the Mahakoota Temple

Enroute to the Vittala Temple in Hampi…     

Talarigatta Gate, one of the entrance gates to the ancient village of Vittalapura

Enroute to the Daroji Bear Sanctuary…     

Sunflower field with fast approaching rain clouds

Enroute to Hubli…    

Tungabhadra Dam (Photo Courtesy: Shailaja Apte)

Enroute to Mumbai by train…    

Passing a thickly forested area before Londa Station

There were so many things that I was unable to photograph and share it here with you:       

  • endless fields of bajra, jowar, corn and sugarcane
  • lush green banana plantations
  • agressive pigs, nervous dogs and emaciated cats in the various towns and villages that we passed through
  • monkeys, monkeys and more monkeys
  • the ever-changing landscape of North Karnataka
  • the hundreds of beautiful trees in the region
  • eager-eyed children with their families

 The list can go on and on and on…