Friday, October 31, 2014

On The Road Diary - Day 1

October 23, 2014. Diwali day. Hyderabad to Badami

Started out in the faithful Carlos. No relative of the assassin in the Day of the Jackal. This Carlos happens to be my faithful Santro, so christened after many years of being with me, by the kind hearted Anjali. Poor car should have an identity right.
Carlos - Still and ready
There was a bit of drama before all this. One Innova came into the picture (you can see it in the corner). Koni offered me the Innova, lying quietly in his control. All plans were made – sadly important documents went missing in the end and plans had to be shelved.
Anyway I was glad to get going on Carlos who has been on many such journeys with me. In fact Carlos did this very route thrice in the past six years. Goa all three times. Today we were targeting Badami, where I had booked myself into the friendly KSTDC Hotel, Mayura Chalukya online. My strategy was to drive at a friendly 70-80 kmph and enjoy the scenery.
Fog at Shamshabad
Off we went then at 6 in the morning. Hit Shamshabad and proceeded at a gentle pace towards Jadcherla when a thick fog enveloped us. Never have I seen anything like this fog in these parts. Last time I experienced something like this was when we drove from Dehradun to Delhi with Ranjan. That was worse of course but this was bad too. Visibility at times came down to five meters. Hazard lights were on, head lights were on and we gingerly moved along. Even in this fog we had several maniacs wanting to overtake, honking for the fog to move etc. We need more psychiatrists in our country.

Thankfully the fog cleared in some 20 minutes or so. We ran into the toll. The toll chap seems to have increased fares. From 49 bucks to 60 bucks. What's that for? Increase in fuel prices? Come on guys. Its like the airport user charges. These guys sit with essential services, monopolise the service and increase prices ad hoc. It’s a non-recourse for the customer too it appears.

From Jadcherla we turned off the NH towards Mahbubnagar and the road was not a problem at all. At Mahbubnagar bus stand we stopped for chai. There were early morning dosas being made so we had one along with chai. Nice. The route from Mahbubnagar to Raichur was not too good with some crater like potholes appearing once too often. Luckily I was not going beyond 70 kmph so I could react quickly and avoid big bumps.
Highway straight out of a song sequence from the 60s
A Raichur the potholes grew bigger. I made a strategic error and missed the bypass. It sneaks up quite unexpectedly and points to Belgaum as an option. No indication if it’s a bypass or a long cut to Belgaum that goes via Hyderabad. Now Raichur is the last decent stop for food and stuff – the rest of the route you are at the mercy of fruits (nice stuff but) and really small joints. Anyway we were well stocked so we passed through Raichur and headed towards Lingsugur.
Diwali shopping in a village
Today was Diwali day. I was keeping an eye out for festivities. Not much. Travelling at 70 kmph is a totally different experience from traveling at 80 or 100 kmph. You can really look around and imbibe whats going on around you. I had the time to catch stuff I’d have liked to keep forever in my mind. I’ll do the next best and write about it. 

One was a moment when two six or seven year olds were crossing the road and the older one held the younger one back, at the sight of my car. Something in her eyes, the responsibility, the care, the protective nature despite all the odds of a highway pitted against her. I cannot forget that look in that kids eyes. she must be as old as Anjali. I started looking for such moments in peoples eyes and found most in children’s eyes. I found another child, this one much smaller than her sibling, and she spotted the car and she held the older ones hand. It was a spontaneous gesture, one of fear for the older one who might not have seen the car and another of just wanting to hold on in the face of danger. Such innocence. And then one young boy, cannot be older than eleven or twelve, manfully riding his bicycle, fitted with four pots of drinking water in colourful plastic pots. Big task. I was surprised that one so young was entrusted with this man’s job. But one look at the boy and you know he has accepted the responsibility. His hair oiled and combed in a 60s style, his brow high, his gaze strong and steady – he would go to school and would do this job well too.
Water collection, washing clothes
Many women, young girls carrying the same plastic pots towards the water source, queues at the water pump. Women washing clothes at the stream, all peaceful stuff. They laugh, they smile and they work. I saw two women carrying water a long way towards their hamlet, and I knew they had a long day ahead for them. Cooking, puja, clothes, keep her husband and in laws happy. And then we had the young man filling water in the pots at the canal. Strong, able bodied, confident.

Many small traders were riding their mopeds, carrying outsized loads of plastic pots of all colors. Obviously there were water problems here.

As we went through villages we could gauge the mood. The well off localities, the Ambedkar Nagars on the outskirts, the brash new breed in their cheap jeans and t shirts and funky hair cuts. The few Muslims, the many temples. Many furrowed brows. Satellite dishes on huts in the middle of nowhere. A kid no more than eight, t shirt, red shirt, shorts, taking a goat out to graze. The lone walk of a housewife headed to town to buy stuff perhaps. I wondered how long she’d walk and then I noticed that she had footwear thankfully. All of their eyes spoke of their fears, responsibilities, resignation, struggle and courage.

And then we have one Toyota Fortuner stopping in the middle of a small town. Gaudy in its opulence. A sticker over the number plates proclaiming the powerful position (AICC Member, Chairman of XYZ) showing off like cheap lipstick on a prostitute. And the prostitute himself, clad in pristine white, before the show begins. I must take that back – its not a prostitute, it’s a pimp. One dishonest soul among many honest men. Prostitutes are honest people.

We passed through Sirwar and then Lingsugur. Quietly made our way into Mudgal (is Shubha Mudgal from here?) and then onwards towards Hungund. It’s a bit tricky the road here – just before Mudgal the road splits – one to Gangavathy and another to Mudgal. (You must choose the Mudgal direction if you wish to go to Mudgal. Correct answer!).
Mudgal fort
At Mudgal the entire town was in the market place which was highly crowded. Fruits of all sorts were being sold, and so were many kinds of flowers. New clothes, little girls in red. Then again, the state highway hits the National Highway just before Hungund. Enter carefully, and then turn right towards the Humnabad signs. A kilometre down you find an innocuous sign pointing at Hungund, i.e. get off the highway and go left into Hungund. Don't get attached to the highway because it looks nice. Follow Bagalkot or Belgaum signs.

Not many eating options at Hungund. I like the look of the Lingayat Khanavalis there. Sometime I must stop and eat that food. Hungund is also teeming with people, shops, carts, market activity. I saw three brothers wearing shirts made from the same cloth. We used to do that when we were young. Further down the road we enter a village called Aminagad, famous for the Kardant sweet which is only made there. Some chikky type thing. Nice. Buy some. We passed along, saw boards that invited us to visit Pattadakkal and Aihole, ignored the same and went right up to the turn towards Badami. The State Highway continued towards Bagalkot on the right. We turned left to Badami. Badami is 32 kms away but it’s a single road in every sense of the road. So the 32 kms take almost an hour. We reach Badami by 3 pm.
Rocks before Badami town
Badami appears in a cloud of red dust. The roads are terrible. The town is messy, cramped, roads disorganised, dusty. Its something out of Sholay. We drove on till the Ramdurg turn and turned right after a couple of enquiries from our live GPSs i.e. helpful pedestrians and shopkeepers etc. Located the Mayura Chalukya which is a nice property, pink buildings, lots of parking and plenty of monkeys. The manager Mr. Sankh (Mobile - 8970650024) is a fine gentleman and the sort you want to meet on holidays – ever willing to help and provide information, ever smiling and always treating you like a customer which is a rare thing in India. Most places treat you like a tramp who lost his way. We checked in helped by Manju the man – there was a rare rush at Badami this being the Diwali weekend. Many small cars joined our Carlos in our modest dreams and modest vacations. I love the middle class.

The Mayura Chalukya rooms are very functional. Everything works and is in place. TV, ac, running water, bell. Great. The dining hall is downstairs. Good food (available till 11 in the night). The thali and stuff was really nice, just right. Service was off key but I guess they were stressed for staff. Mr. Sankh directed me to see the Badami caves that very day. Its just a kilometer away. We set out after lunch – close to 4 pm and headed to the caves in the car. 
Gumbaz - built by Adil Shah
We had to drive through some small slums that crawled up the hills, really small houses. A common sight there is the number of pigs (apparently varaha was the symbol of the Chalukyas but I don’t know if there is any connection to that and these pigs), an abundant number of monkeys (aggressive), cattle, and so on and so forth. Everyone and every creature coexists. I did not see anyone shoo off a single animal.

There is ample parking space at the bottom of the hills. The tickets are some 2 or 5 rupees for Indians and some 250 rupees for foreigners. You see the caves rising up on the right, the first one, then the second and so on, cut into the sandstone mountain. The sandstone hills are surreal and shine red in the evening sun. We found that all English and Hindi guides have been taken already – vacation time, On offer was the lone Muthu Chalukya, Kannada guide par excellence, who knew little English and Hindi. I know no Kannada. But I asked him to come along. 400 bucks was agreed upon. One hour he said. 
The entry point to the four rock cut caves, the first one in pic
He was meticulous and went on manfully in Kannada. He’d get upset when we did not get it. He’d call Anjali, Kutti.
Let me share some bits of real information from the brochure here. Badami was the one-time capital of the Chalukyas. King Pulakesin I (I remember this guy) mad it his capital in 540 AD. The town is situated in the mouth of a ravine between two rocky sandstone hills. Badami was known as Vatapi Adishthana earlier. Legend is that two demons, Vatapi and Ilvala, who were famously making a living by tricking and killing mendicants were killed by Sage Agastya at Badami.
Muthu striking a dance pose, he's good
The rock cut cave temples are on the Southern cliff. There are four caves on this tall sandstone rock, one above the other. Muthu led us to the first cave – the Nataraja Cave. Then comes the Vaishnava cave above it, then the Mahavaishnava cave and lastly the Jain cave. The Nataraja image has eighteen hands, striking 81 dance poses, intricate, imaginative stuff that will take a few days to figure out and understand. Muthu strikes one above. An unusually trim an slim Ganesha stands close to the Nataraja. Inside the sanctum (not live) is a Shiva linga. Other sculptures (all beautiful) are of Mahishasuramardhini, Kartikeya, Harhara, Ardhanareeswara etc. Being rock cut, one can imagine that the sculptors chiseled their way into the rock and cut out these beautiful scultures and caves as in Ellora.
Cave three
Exquisite sculptures, amazing work. Cave two is of the Vishnu avatars. You have to climb a few steps. Exquisite sculptures of Lord Vishnu seated on Garuda, Varaha, Trivikrama can be seen here. The ceiling has many sculptures too.
One of the many wonderful sculptures, this is of Vishnu
The third cave is that of Paravasudeva, the finest and the largest of the cave temples. The magnificent sculpture of Paravasudeva seated on a coiled serpent is breathtaking. There is an inscription here, stating that the cave was wrought in 578 AD by Mangaleesha, second son of Pulakesin I, in the days of Kirthivarman I. 

The fourth cave, highest among all caves is a Jain Tirthankara cave, dedicated to the Jain faith. Tirthankara images like Parshwa, Suparshwa, Yakshas, Yakshis, Bahubali etc and a large sculpture of Mahavira are found here. This cave leads to the fort at he top of the hill.
All around Badami we find our ancestors
One has to be wary of the monkeys. Don’t carry food, or bags that are loosely held – they assume the bags may carry food and snatch it away. Don’t let kids carry food and walk about. Also don't panic. The monkeys normally do their own thing. But its clear who is the boss there.
Agastya lake to the left of the caves
As we go to the second cave we see an astounding sight to the left. You realise that you are on the right end of the horseshoe shaped hills which was the Chalukyan capital in the 6th century.
The 52 rock fort on the other side of the lake with a few temples atop
In the middle of this magnificent ravine is a lake that looks so beautiful and serene that you wonder if it Is real. It is called the Agastya lake and it is like nothing I have seen. Standing in the water at one end of the lake is a beautiful temple, part of the Bhutanatha group of temples.
Bhutanatha temple in Agastya lake
To the left of the lake rises a hill – the 52 boulder hill or fort – with more temples on it. The horse shoe you realise, is cut off on its mouth by the town, or the slums that occupy the land in between. To the left, behind the parking lot is a beautiful gumbaz constructed by Adil Shah of Bijapur. 
The gumbaz from the top of the caves
The climb to the third and fourth caves offer even more scenic views of the sky, the caves, the lake and the temples on the other side of the hill.
That hole is the entry to the upper caves
The climb itself is beautiful - we enter though a door that opens into a flat floor. If ever one could use the word enchanting, it is here. It is almost not of this world you’d think.

A better view of the 52 rock fort, the lake and the town of Badami to the left
After the fourth cave was done to satisfaction, Muthu and another Hindi speaking guide conferred to offer me the best way about.
Badami at sunset
See the Banashankari temple now, they said, check out the lake, the Bhuthanatha temple and the museum tomorrow at 6 am. That’s wonderful isn’t it? They open at 6, the temples at 8. Here we cannot see the Golconda fort until 930 am. Why?

We drove to the Banashankari temple, old as the town. Its 6 kms away. It is famous for the shrine dedicated to Goddess Banashankari, a form of Parvati. It has an annual temple festival in January - February every year.
Banashankari temple
Very clean and well kept.  It appears as if the priests stay on the premises. We saw some puja services and prayed and came out.
The tank outside the temple
A huge tank with old structures stands outside. All belonging to some other time. Some other place. Drank some coconut water and came away. It feels good. 
An age old structure near the tank, outside the temple
A nice dinner at Mayura Chalukya and we were tired enough to sleep off for the night. Tomorrow we plan on a quick walk around the lake at 630, check out the Bhootnath temple, come back to hotel, check out and leave for Pattadakkal.

I slept like a log. Anjali watched cartoons till late at night. 

No comments: