August 25, 2016

Wandering alone in Karnataka - Part 4: Hampi-Dudhsagar-Margao-Murdeswar

Hi Guys,

To read Part 1, click here (The Start)
To read Part 2, click here (Exploring Hampi)
To read Part 3, click here (Reminiscence of Vijayanagar Kingdom)

Day 5 – Aug 3, 2016
I had kept a couple of alarms around 5 am so that I donot miss the train. But I woke up 15 minutes before the planned time, thanks to the Power Cut. The auto driver, Rama Li had come by 5.10 am much earlier than the scheduled time. I started around 5.30 am from Hampi to Hosapete Railway station and took a train at 6.20 am to Madgaon (commonly referred as Margao) The train was filled with Party mood with lot of people heading to Goa. The main objective of this trip was to experience the journey via Braganza Ghats (a section of Western Ghats) which is a 26 km rail route connecting Goa to the hinterlands. It is considered as the most complicated construction of Indian Railways. This route is most famous for Dudhsagar Falls which can be accessed only by train.

As the train headed towards Hubli it started raining heavily. After reaching Dharwad at 11.30 am, the train entered the dense cover of Western Ghats and was moving at a snail’s pace. So, the train was chugging amidst rains, forests and mountains. The excitement started building up as the train moved closer to Dudhsagar falls through tunnels and streams. From Castle rock station, it took almost 30 minutes to reach the place and it was marvelous with water flowing in full force thanks to the monsoons. Dudhsagar means 'Sea of Milk' and there is no exaggeration in the name. The falls is viewed better when the train takes the next turn and you face straight at the falls. At this point, you can view the falls in its entirety whereas in the first turn the train is so close to the falls and all you see is water gushing. After slowing down for 3 hours, the train was back at a good pace and reached Margao at 3 pm which was a delay of little more than an hour.
Dudhsagar Falls (Image from Wikicommons) - You get this view when the train takes a turn
Here came my next surprise. I had booked retiring room for overnight stay at the Railway station. The caretaker said no rooms are available. I said I had made online booking. He took me to the room. The room was turned upside down. They were treating it for Bed Bugs! Then the booking authorities had no clue of how to cancel the reservation and I wasted one hour. Then finally I managed to cancel it with some special reason and headed to a nearby Hotel based on Google reviews.

In the evening, I took a bus nearby and went to Colva beach which is one of the key beaches in South Goa and is 6 km away from the station. The city is filled with old buildings and green trees. I fell in love with the city. The beach in itself was beautiful with lot of people, both Locals and tourists. A group of fishermen were taking out fishes and crabs from the fishing nets and lot of dogs and crows surrounded them looking for some feast.
Colva Beach

A fresh catch

Little kids trying their Luck!
Again with cloud cover, I missed out on Sunset. After exploring the city market for some time, purchasing some cashews I went to a restaurant at around 7.55 pm and the server told me, ‘Sir, you are late. We run out of things by 8’. Then I don’t know what he thought, he went inside and brought me a Masala Dosa. After munching, I went back and crashed for the day.

Day 6 – Aug 4, 2016
The day started at 8.30 am as I headed back to Madgaon station. As I started walking, a guy came on a Motor Bike and asked me, ’30 Rs, OK?’. I was blinking for a minute before realizing these are bike taxis of Goa. Then he asked me how much I can give. I agreed for 20 Rs and he dropped me at the station. Despite being a walkable distance, the huge rucksack I had made me go for the ride.

After having breakfast at the Railway station’s restaurant (which was pretty good unlike the usual stuff we get in Railway stations), I waited for my Train which was from Bikaner to Kochuveli. Supposed to arrive at 9.20 am, the train arrived at 10.20 am. Half the train got down at Margao and I was wondering why I booked 3AC in the train when Sleeper would have done for the three hour trip to Murdeswar. In entirety, there were 10-15 people in the coach.

Hence started my journey through the Konkan Railways with tunnels, bridges and mountains. Naturally, the train was an hour late at Murdeswar too and I got down at around 1.30 pm. There were no Autos in the Railway station and I walked around 300 meters to the entrance of Murdeswar and got an Auto for Rs. 30 to the temple (for about two kms).

As the auto dropped me, I was looking at the mammoth temple tower and the statue of Lord Siva. But the sea was more mesmerizing with rough waves and cloud cover in the backdrop. I headed into Naveen seaview restaurant which was covered by Sea on all sides and ordered a Meal. And it started pouring outside. I had the lunch amidst breezy rains, amazing views and splashing water. The lunch was not great, but good enough and economical at 70 bucks. I waited for the rain to subside and then went straight up to the Shiva statue. Both the temple and statue are constructed by a business man known as R.N. Shetty. He owns nearly half the properties in the small town and I am not sure if this temple is a dedication to Lord Shiva or just another business with his own guest houses and restaurants built. The temple and statue are free to visit and to that extent what he has done good work not commercializing the entire area. The temple is huge with 18 towers, but I found it plain with nothing so aesthetic about it.
A breathtaking view of the temple
The majestic statue of Lord Siva
At 3pm, the temple doors opened and I visited the temple which is also neatly constructed. I was surprised to see patches of artificial grasses inside the temple. With the huge rucksack I abandoned my desire to go the 18th floor and have a view (at a charge of Rs.10, a lift takes you all the way to the top). Coming out I sat by the sea and started admiring the sea for quite some time.
Inside of the temple
Naveen Beach Restaurant with nice Sea view and decent food
A view from the other side of the temple
At around 4 pm, I started back to the station (Rs. 40 Auto Charge) and waited for train Karwar-Bangalore express. The station is pretty picturesque with mountains on either sides. The sky opened again for a short span of rain. The train as usual came 40 minutes late and the compartments were fairly empty. A young boy studying 6th standard started chatting with me on what I was reading on (he was curious about Kindle) and where I’m heading to. The train reached Udupi at 6.45 pm – 30 minutes late than destined. As I got into an auto and headed to my booked hotel (Hotel Shambhavi), it started pouring again.

To be continued...

Happy Reading!

August 20, 2016

Wandering alone in Karnataka - Part 3: Reminiscence of the Vijayanagar Kingdom!

Hi Guys,

To read Part 1, click here (The Start)
To read Part 2, click here (Exploring Hampi)

Day 3 – Aug 1, 2016
It was my second day at Hampi and I was determined to cover most of it that day. After an energetic toast and tea at Mango Tree, I rented a Bicycle (Rs.100 per day) and headed straight to Kamalapur. Cycles are good way of covering Hampi though it can be a bit tedious covering distances and riding across the hilly terrain. Kamalapur is a small village 4 kms away from Hampi and has 3 ATMs. The route is filled with all the key ruins apart from lush green paddy and sugarcane fields. After withdrawing money from one of the ATMs, I headed back the same way to start the exploration.
My Cycle for the day
First stop was Lotus Mahal which is inside the Zenena enclosure. There is the basement of Queen’s palace in this enclosure along with beautifully designed Lotus Mahal, the treasury building and a few Watch towers. Just outside the complex is the Elephant’s stable which consists of 11 spacious rooms interconnected with each other. After some imagination of how splendid this place would have been with Queens, soldiers and Elephants, I moved on (You might wonder how Queen's palace and treasury building are in same place - there is a contradictory view that this place was never the Queen's palace and was an administrative building)
Basement of Queen's Palace (Watch Tower visible on extreme left)
Lotus Mahal
Watch Tower
Elephant Stable
After taking my cycle, I headed to Hajarama temple which is said to be a temple built only for the Royal people. Then I headed to the Royal enclosure which houses a lot of ruins which were once the palace that were adorned by Kings. The entrance has Mahanavami Dibba which is tall structure with inscriptions of elephants, horses, etc. The detailing is exquisite. The kings and royal audience have attended ceremonies and festivals from this place. The complex also has a marvelous stepped tank which has beautifully carved out steps leading to the water. Apart from that there are ruins of the palace, King’s Audience and a underground war planning chamber.
Stepped Water Tank
Queen's bath
On the way back, I made a visit to  a huge Krishna temple which is also currently in ruins, but the Government is making efforts to revive the temple. After that, I stopped near a hillock and visited Sasikavelu Ganesh, a huge statue of Lord Ganesh and started climbing the steps and ended upon the two tiered entrance and the Sunset point. Only, then did I realize I was at Hemakunta Hill and how the place is structured. I met another interesting group here consisting of people from Pondicherry staying in Hampi for 7 days and exploring. As I started back to the Bazaar, the sky opened up. The rain coat I had carried all the way came in handy. After finishing Lunch at Mango Tree, I came back to the center of Hampi and it started pouring again.
Krishna Temple Entrance
Sasivekalu Ganesh
I took shelter under the magnificent tower of Virupaksha temple. Once again an Auto Driver came asking if I wanted a whole trip of Hampi in Auto. As I said no, he started chatting with me casually and told he was planning to come over to Tamil Nadu on a trip. I learnt that there are totally around 50-55 temples around Hampi which will take days to cover. As rains slowed down, I came back to my room.
A view from the Sunset point
I went to Virupaksha temple in the night and it was just splendid. The sodium vapour light created a mystic feel to the temple. I again visited the inside of the temple with not much crowd. This time I was able to realize the temple is not just magnificent, but has so many intricate details. I promised to come over early next day to see the temple in broad daylight.
Virupaksha Temple - majestic in day and mystic at night...
Only by the end of this day, I was able to visualize the entire setting of Hampi and the locations of monuments. After looking into the map now, I was able to realize what I had seen and what I had missed out.

Day 4 – Aug 2, 2016
After two days of rains, it was a day with bright sunlight. I had few thoughts in my mind – To head to Hospet to see Tungabhadra dam, to cross the river and see Anegundi (the earlier capital of the kingdom) or visit the left over portion. Decided to go with third option and rented a cycle again. The day started with Virupaksha temple. I also met the same group from Pondicherry again at the temple. The temple was wonderful in bright daylight and it kept throwing new surprises at me. I took a detailed note of the inner sanctum carvings which were designed in the 5th or 6th century. After that, I went to an area marked as ‘Inverted Tower’. It is designed in such a way that light coming through a small hole makes the main tower appear inverted in nature. Interesting design!
Virupaksha Temple in Broad Daylight
Again went all the way to Kamalapur and went to the Archaeological museum. The entrance fee is Rs. 30 and there was no one inside apart from me. The four galleries had a few statues and in center there was a huge model of Hampi designed way back in 1978. The museum wasn't worth a visit.. As I came out, a boy came and told I have to give Rs. 5 for cycle parking and I had to visit a few shops around to get the change! I moved on to Pattabirama temple which is nearby to the museum. As I went there, the place was in complete shambles with the floors and roof opened up and work going on. I came back to the main road and headed to Ganagitti Jain temple which is again on the outskirts. There are quite a lot of Jain and Muslim structures in the area constructed in the same time period as that of Hindu temples.
Ganagitti Jain Temple
Again I moved back to the Royal Enclosure and now with my enlightened knowledge, I had a better glimpse of the place. There were lot of tourists this day compared to the first two days. It was good to see people around after roaming alone in most of the places. As I came out, I saw the two giant Doors kept in floor which I had missed the other day. Similarly, I visited the Underground Siva temple on the way back but it the underground portions were unreachable due to the rains. I headed back to the Hemakunta hill and went to see Badavi Linga and Ugra Narashima, two giant statues located at the entrance of Hampi.

The two giant doors
Badavi Linga - always dipped in water
The magnificent Ugra Narasimha
The day was hot and I was tired by then. So, I slept for some time in the afternoon before returning the cycle in the evening. Around 6 pm, went to Tungabhardra River for the sunset. Unfortunately the clouds avoided the scenic view. Made one last visit to Virupaksha temple in the night and then headed to the room. I had to pack my bags to catch an early train the next day and I was in no mood to pack. I was emotionally attached to Hampi by then.
Tungabhadra River in the evening
After a tough time, I packed things up and slept with dreams of how magnificent the city would have been in its peak. Every rise has a fall!

To be continued...

To read Part 4, click here (Hampi - Dudhsgar - Margao - Murdeswar)

Happy Reading!

August 14, 2016

Wandering alone in Karnataka - Part 2: Exploring Hampi!

Hi Guys,

To read Part 1, click here (The Start)

Day 2 – Jul 31, 2016

After finishing my breakfast at Mango Tree, I was all set to start my exploration!

A bit about Hampi here – Hampi is one of the biggest ruins that you will see in our country. Hampi was the capital of Vijaynagar empire which is of the key kingdoms in India around 14th-16th century in India and had the famous Krishnadevaraya as one of the kings. The city was established in the southern banks of mighty Tungabhadra River amidst Rocks and Boulders. The city has been constructed with Rock on Rock. The ruins are spread across 29 sq. km of Area and is a UNESCO Heritage site. There are around 85 key marked monuments and numerous unmarked monuments here.

Though I had seen a lot of maps on Hampi, nothing stayed in my head for the place is humongous. I started with Virupaksha temple which is the centre of Hampi today. It is a huge temple that was built across various phases starting from as early as 5th century when the Inner Sanctums are said to be built. The outer structures and towers were built by the Vijaynagar rules around 14th century. The temple's entrance tower is majestic at a height of 50m and 9 tiered. It is a still a living temple and visited by numerous people from surrounding villages every day. The mainy deity is Lord Shiva. The temple was so crowded when I visited the first time. Then I headed to Tungabhadra River which borders along the temple. The river is huge, was flowing full with monsoon waters and so scenic. Had to admire the stone steps that were constructed centuries ago to access the river and also the height prevents the flooding of river.
Virupaksha Temple
I came out of the temple and got a Local Map from one of the sellers and as soon as that happened, many Auto drivers swanked around me saying that they will take me around the full of Hampi. I was in no mood for that. If you are running short of time, Autos are the best option to roam around. They charge around 600-800 for a full day which is till 4 pm. After dissuading them, I climbed on the hill that is on the left of the temple. Also known as Hemakunta hill, the hill houses a few temples including temples for Lord Ganesh, Hanuman, Jain temples, a two towered entrance and a Sunset point. The first time I climbed, I had no idea where to head to and climbed down half the way.
Atop the Hemakunta Hill
Jain Temples on Hemakunta Hill
Then I headed straight from the temple and started following a trail. The trail was along the Tungabhadra River and was filled with boulders. It led to Kodandarama temple which is a small living temple. The priest outside advised me to go ahead and there are lot of places around. So, I started walking and after sometime I was roaming all alone with no idea of where the trail leads. As I was wondering of turning back, met a group of tourists coming from the other way. They advised me to go ahead as there are lot of interesting places.
Tungabhadra river along the trail
Ahead was an interesting place known as King’s Balance where Kings used to weigh themselves and donate to the villages around. Going ahead I striked upon the famous Vittala temple complex. Vittala temple is currently a ruined temple, but is known for the famous Stone Chariot. An impressive Chariot made completely of stone is constructed facing the temple. The entrance to the temple is Rs. 30 and can be used to access Lotus Mahal too if accessed on the same day. On coming out I figured out, there is an easily accessible way to the temple on the other side with a road connecting Hampi to the place (but that is at least 8 kms away from Hampi).
Vittala Temple
The famous Stone Chariot
Then I followed back the trail and as I reached Kodandarama temple, there was Chaos outside. A cobra had entered the temple and it was crawling around. A few Cows were coming by the way and they were threatening the Cobra and people were threatening the cows to get away. It was quite a scene. I headed to see the Monolithic Bull statue and then tried climbing the Matanga hill, but then stopped after 30-35 steps as I saw no one around. As I came back to Hampi Bazaar, monkeys were running all around snatching anything edible from people. A child lost her banana and her mother lost the flowers that decorated her hair. As I was clicking photos of them, one monkey snarled at me. I closed my camera, kept it inside the bag and rushed to Mango Tree for Lunch and it was already around 3 pm. It started raining as I was having lunch.
Monolithic Bull
One of those mischievous monkeys

After rains, I went back to room and then headed again to the Tungabhadra river. As I was sitting on the banks, the rains arrived again. This time it was quite scenic to see the rain spreading from west to east and how people figure out arrival of rains and cover the shops. And the rains meant an end to my explorations for the day.

To be continued...

To read Part 3, click here (Reminiscence of Vijayanagar Kingdom)

To read Part 4, click here (Hampi - Dudhsgar - Margao - Murdeswar)

Happy Reading!

August 7, 2016

Wandering alone in Karnataka - Part 1: The Start

Hi Guys,

It has been sometime since I took a break and went somewhere on a trip. After a few failed plans, I decided to go on a Solo Trip somewhere. But the question was where to. My first instinct was to go somewhere north of Delhi. Then after some pondering and considering the low budget in mind, I switched over to Karnataka which some of my friends had been insisting me to visit. Karnataka has so many places spread over, so again I had to circle down upon a few.

Taking clues from the trip we had planned (and cancelled) last December to Badami and Gokarna, I thought of expanding the list. I wanted to loop in Jog falls and Hampi. After doing all research over the internet, the final list was completely different considering all the travel options I had. The final plan was to spend some time extensively in Hampi before moving to Udupi and covering a couple of places en-route.  I had made bookings just a month earlier and to my surprise, I got confirmed train tickets for all the places. Guess, due to monsoon the tourism at all the places are at a very low.

Day 1 – Jul 30, 2016
I had dumped all the necessary things into one trekking rucksack, thanks to my roommate who lent it for the trip. The first leg was to Hampi any my plan was to take Lalbagh Express to Bangalore and then catch Hampi express from there. It was pouring in Bangalore and the city was all over in the news. Two hours into the journey, rain started lashing and it was becoming gloomy. The train started to slow down. The stop over time between the two trains was a mere 25 minutes, but my hope was that the stop over time was 1 hour if I get down at Bangalore Cantonment station. Luckily the train picked up pace was on time (happened to be the only train that arrived on time at destination in the entire trip).

Hampi Express also arrived on time at Bangalore and the train was filled with a layer of water. Passengers carrying heavy luggage were facing a tough time. I fell asleep soon and got up at around 6.45 am ready to get down.

Day 2 – Jul 31, 2016
The train was just chugging into Guntakal station to my horror. We should have reached here by 4.45 am. So, I got back and fell asleep again cursing my bad luck. Finally, the train reached Hospet (now called Hosapete) by around 9.00 am, a delay of 1 hr 50 mins. I went outside and lot of Auto Rickshaws were calling out passengers for Hampi which is 14 kms away from the station. Ignoring the Auto drivers, I waited to catch a Bus to Hampi.
Hampi - A view of Virupaksha temple
After waiting for 15 minutes, an Auto driver approached me again and said he will take me to Hampi for 100 bucks as he had go back there. I was OK with 100 Rs for a 14 km trip. So, I got in and as we started off and went half a km, a bus with signboard ‘Hampi’ was heading to the Railway station. Still, I was content with the Auto. The driver's name was Rama Li and he was saying this is Off Season in Hampi and most of the guest houses would be empty. If you come directly, you can get one for Rs. 450-600 which otherwise goes for double in peak seasons.

I had booked in ‘Laxmi Heritage Homes’ based on reviews in TripAdvisor. After getting a few deals on ClearTrip, the cost of room came to almost Rs. 600 per night. The place is not as comfortable as a hotel room, but it is good enough for a nice stay. The owners of the place are really hospitable and make your stay good. My observation was that it is mostly foreigners who stay up at these guest houses. If you are looking for a full-fledged comfortable Hotel, you need to stay at Hospet and travel to Hampi which will take around 30 minutes. After getting ready at around 11 am, I headed to Mango Tree Restaurant for Breakfast (only good restaurant inside Hampi) and was all set to start the exploration.

To be continued...

To read Part 2, click here (Exploring Hampi)
To read Part 3, click here (Reminiscence of Vijayanagar Kingdom)
To read Part 4, click here (Hampi - Dudhsgar - Margao - Murdeswar)

Happy Reading!!!