Saturday, October 28, 2017

Belum Caves, Andhra Pradesh.

Last week I visited the Belum Caves near the town of Tadipatri. From my place it is around 250 kms. I took an overnight bus from Nellore to Tadipatri.

Tadipatri is a small rundown town. It has nothing much to offer. Fortunately for me one of my college friends was from this place and he had recommended an hotel for me. I headed straight for this hotel as soon as I reached Tadipatri. It was good enough for the time being.

After a rejuvenating bath and a nice breakfast I made my way to the Bus stand to catch a RTC bus to Belum Caves. After a journey of around 40 mins, I found myself at the entrance to the Belum caves.
Opposite to the entrance there are a couple of eateries. Apart from them the whole area is quite remote and barren. I went inside the premises.Its a long walk to the actual cave entrance. On the right I could see a number of cars parked. There was public after all.

I went over to the counter bought the ticket and went over to the opening in the ground which was the entrance. I descended into the opening through a flight of stairs. To the left the caves started but before is was a spectacular opening in the roof. Sunlight was streaming in and lighting up the whole place. A couple of benches were provided here for the visitors. From here I moved on to the actual cave complex. A narrow entrance led to a broad opening which eventually expanded to a huge opening. There was no sunlight now and everything was lit by the bright orange colored lamps.

These caves are around 1.5km long are the largest cave system open to public in India. These were extensively explored and studied by a German team in 1982. The size of the passages inside range from huge to narrow to the point where you have to crawl on all fours.

The day I visited there were a lot of people inside which was leading traffic jams. I stopped at junction where I had to wait for almost fifteen minutes while the people in the opposite direction moved along.It turned quite suffocating with the damp earth and the number of people there. There are two exhaust fans pumping

There were a few highlights on the system the best of which was the Kotilingalu area. Millions of stalactites glistened from the roof there. Though not very sharp or pointed they looked almost magical in the light. After strolling for almost an hour and a half I finished my walk and went outside by retracing my steps. The fresh air outside felt very refreshing.I walked back to the main road and waited for a bus. Eventually one arrived and I was on my way back to Tadipatri at around 1 in the afternoon.

After a good nap in my hotel room, I left for Nellore by an overnight bus in the evening.

Friday, October 20, 2017

District Science Museum, Chemudugunta (Near Nellore)

A few weeks ago I set out to search and visit a museum whose existence I got to know from my colleagues at work. There wasn't much information available on the internet about it. So I had to go out with only two pieces of info. First that it lies on the Nellore Chennai highway and second that it lies not more that 15 km away from Nellore.

I  was on my way with this info and after crossing 10 kms I started looking around for any signs of a museum. But even after going past the 15 km mark I did not find any.At this point I saw a dhaba ahead.I stopped to have breakfast. I asked the waiter there about a museum nearby and he had no idea about it. A passerby heard our conversation and told he read about a museum in a local newspaper some days back and guided me the location. It was 5 km away on the same route I had come.I was a bit doubtful about the man's info but nevertheless I proceeded. At the village he mentioned I asked around and to my embarrassment I found that it was right on the main road with the gate clearly mentioning 'District Science Museum'on the top. 

I went inside the premises. A small three-storey building greeted me. There was a park in front of it containing many science models. I could identify the Pythagoras pump immediately. As I was parking my bike there, I saw a man walking over to me. I asked if the museum was open to which he replied it was and told me to first look around the park at the various models there ,which I did.

There wasn't much to look and the heat was getting me so after quickly taking a look I went inside. The man identified himself as Mr Siva Kumar, the Physical Education Teacher of the Govt School which was the initiator/caretaker of this museum.  He quickly showed me around each and every exhibit there. We went around all the exhibits on the all the floors. And were finished within an hour. The exhibits were good enough. But this was not in the strictest terms a museum. It was more of an Activity Center. Very good for the kids. A mildly exciting stroll for the adults.

Mr Siva kumar showing me one of the exhibits
Location- Beside Nissan showroom on the Nellore Chennai Highway.Just enter Çhemudugunta Science Museum' in Google Maps.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Hampi,Karnataka. Day 2.

A warm sunny day greeted me as I flipped open the windows of my room.This brightened up my spirits.We still had a lot of places to visit, but like the previous day we decided to do it at our own leisure. We weren't looking to tick off places, we just wanted to have fun. After a quick breakfast we started our round.

Our first stop was the Achutarayah Temple.This is, in my opinion, the best temple among the Hampi ruins. It was largely empty when we went and the lonely atmosphere only added to the beauty. The main temple is in the middle of rectangular boundary of structures. The entrance reminded me of the Angkor Vat temple in Cambodia.(I have never been there.I am just talking about the pictures I have seen of Angkor Vat). After spending ample time here reveling in the solitude it offered we made our way to the Courtesan's street in the opposite direction.This was the fabled street where diamonds were sold on the street. Only patches of green and empty pavilions greeted us today. 

Next we passed by what must have been a tank. This place looked magnificent with the Matunga hill overlooking the landscape. From here we moved on in the general direction of the Vittala Hill. As with the dominant feature of the Hampi landscape, there were rocks everywhere. To the left crumbled rocks.To the right giant pieces of rocks. Rocks everywhere.

As we were walking we passed by the Two storied Gateway. It didn't look that exciting so we decided to skip it and continue heading towards Vittala Temple. But Bhanu insisted that we just have a quick look. So we proceeded towards it and I am mighty glad that we did. This place offers excellent views of the surroundings.We spent around 45 minutes here. We liked it so much. There was absolutely no one here apart from us and it was serene and peaceful.

We moved on from here and reached the King's Balance. It is said that the king was weighed on a scale here and equivalent amounts of gold and other stuff used to be handed over to the poor.

Next stop was Vittala Temple, perhaps the most popular of all the sites in Hampi. There was a group of people right outside the entrance waiting for a bus. Men, women, young and old. Everyone was here. We were wondering the whole day where the crowd was and here was everyone. We entered the complex and it was swarmed with people. We strolled around and noticed the famous Chariot in the middle. We took a closer look and it reminded me of the Chariot at Konark Temple in Orissa. Of course this was smaller in size but there were similarities in the structure. We waited for a while to get our chance to click some pics and after we got some we moved on to the Vittala Temple.

In the Vittala Temple the most striking part is the below ground passage that runs around the base of the temple. One can take a walk here. The light was streaming in from the sides of the temple walls and the sight was unearthly. We decided to end our stroll here and head over to the other side after crossing the small river. But as we were walking towards the village it started raining. We had our rain gear with us but we decided to wait it out. We ran towards a small shack sitting at the side of the river, selling some light snacks and tea. There was already a couple sitting there having tea. We took shelter under the thatched roof and ordered tea and snacks. As the warmth of the tea spread over inside I looked around. Far away on the river I saw a small coracle carrying a group of tourists. The rain was falling heavily now and the man rowing the coracle was making a commendable effort to take it to the bank nearest to him. I sipped at my coffee and looked at this race with trepidation. Thankfully the man guided the boat towards safety and the people quickly disembarked. The feeling of relief was visible in their body language.

The rain was not showing any indications of stopping so we decided to wear our rain gear and get going. Which is what we did. We went back to the Hampi village and asked around as to how to cross over to the other side. We were directed to a ghat from where boats leave every 30 mins for the other side. We took our cycles with us and booked a seat in one of the boats which was leaving.
It is a short ride. Within minutes we reached the other bank. It is a steep climb uphill here and we were assisted by two kids in carrying our cycles to the top. They wanted to ride the shiny cycles and we obliged. When we reached the top they were waiting. A tip and a thank you later they ran into the narrow streets.

I had hoped that this part of the town would be free of the commercial feel of the Hampi village. Oh boy was I wrong. This part was even worse. The whole left side of the street was lined with one resort after another.On the opposite side were fields of paddy. They did look beautiful in their yellowish glow but the whole touristy feel to the place ruined it for me. Though a bit disappointed we cycled on. After a couple of Kms we reached another river crossing. Here we saw an ancient structure which initially I thought to be a bridge but in fact was an aqueduct. We cycled to the main road here and it felt good to ride on the good solid tar road after riding on mud roads for the last two days. We went in the right direction(from the mud road joining the main road). We went a long way thoroughly enjoying the sights. It was a beautiful countryside studded with green fields nearby and rock hewn hill sides far way. We had made our plans about when to turn back but an unexpected incident changed it.

Bhanu was cycling much further ahead of me and I wanted to take a video of him from behind. Now I did not want bhanu to turn around anytime when I was taking the video so to tell him to not to turn around I shouted out his name. Now generally Bhanu doesn't do stupid stuff but at that time I don't know what got into him. He did two things he should not have done simultaneously though either of the action independently wouldn't have been much of a problem. He abruptly looked back and at the same time he tilted the handle of this cycle to take a sharp turn. This had the result of him being flung in the air and fall on the hard road. I was looking at the whole scene speechless. By the time I had reached him, Bhanu was on his feet trying to lift the cycle. I quickly took the cycle from him and parked it on the side. He was now checking the extent of his injuries. He had scratches on both elbows, his palms and on feet. The sight of blood was making him giddy so he lied down on the soft grass beside the road. Luckily for us I had a first aid kid with me. I quickly applied bandages and gauze wherever required but I knew we had to buy some more band aids soon. This would do for the time being. So we headed the way we came back and bought some band aids in a shop nearby.

After changing all the bandages we made our way back towards the river bank. We quickly boarded the 1700 Hrs ferry and went back to our hotel room.The ferry service stops at 1730 Hrs. Bhanu took a quick nap to calm himself. Later we packed and left Hampi by 1900Hrs. It was a memorable stay here and the fact is true that it is absolutely not possible to cover Hampi in 2 or 3 days.

Saturday, October 7, 2017

Hampi,Karnataka. Day 1.

World Heritage Site.What exactly does that mean? Wikipedia states that it is a site 'having cultural, historical, scientific or some other form of significance, and they are legally protected by international treaties'. It 'symbolizes a remarkable footprint of extreme human endeavour often coupled with some act of indisputable accomplishment of humanity which then serves as a surviving evidence of its intellectual existence on the planet'

Hampi is a World Heritage Site. And I could see why. It is a city complex of ruins of spectacular structures. And it is spread around a huge area. Hampi was once the Capital of the Vijayanagar Empire. At the height of its prosperity they developed their capital city Hampi into one of the finest cities of India. But after the Battle of Talikota in the year 1565 the city of Hampi was reduced to ruins. It never recovered after that. Last weekend I spent two days there exploring the ruins with my friend Bhanu.

Day 1

It was a wet morning as I arrived at Hampi. The skies were overcast with the look of imminent rainfall anytime. As I alighted from the bus,I was greeted with the sight of the imposing Virupaksha Temple.The path leading up to it was still damp from the previous nights rain. The builders of this temple are still unknown. It is said that it existed even before the time of Vijayanagar Empire. As I was looking around I spotted Bhanu waving at me from a street ahead. He had arrived a couple of hours earlier and had already booked a hotel in the small Hampi Village. I was much thankful for that. As I had to change 3 buses from Nellore to Hampi ,I was mighty tired. We walked into the main area of the Hampi village,through narrow lanes to our hotel. The village is quite strange. It is lined with homes converted to shops,restaurants and hotels. I suspect since they are in a World Heritage Site no new construction has been allowed. So everything in the village is congested and narrow.
A street in Hampi Village

After reaching the hotel, I had a refreshing bath while Bhanu went out to buy some stuff for the day ahead. Then we got down to planning our course of action for the next two days. We decided to hire bicycles for our stroll around the ruins. Also we decided to have some rest first and then start for the day.

So at around 1130 am we started off on our round. We first had breakfast in a typical Hampi Restaurant where the menu has options like English Breakfast, Continental Breakfast and Israeli breakfast. We had a mix of Indian and English with Uttapams and Pancakes.Then off we went to hire cycles. They are available at many places. The one we approached was at a street corner.It was nothing much, just a bunch of cycles parked at a spot and a man standing nearby.The price for one cycle for one day was Rs 100. So we had a deal for two cycles for two days which cost us Rs 400.

Mohammedan Watch Tower
We started by the Hampi bazaar and cycled out crossing a gate. Right outside the gate the road goes uphill. It was a tough climb.Using the maps we had with us, we first made our way to the Krishna Temple.It was built by the King Krishnadevaraya in memory of his victory over the Gajapati Kings of present day Odisha. The main idol here was bought from Udaygiri Fort in Nellore Dist in Andhra Pradesh. (I already have Udaygiri on my wishlist). After a quick stroll here we moved on and started cycling over to the south side.The scenery was spellbinding all around. There were hills lined with rocks everywhere with occasional patches of greenery. 

From the Viewpoint 
As we were cycling along, we saw to out right a lone watchtower located in a vast empty field. We stopped and checked our maps. This was the Mohammedan Watchtower.From far off the forlorn tower looked majestic. Again there was no one here. Only a herd of goats were grazing nearby. We took a nice casual stroll around the place. We looked for any entrance to the tower but the only entrance was locked, which was expected actually. We retraced our steps to our cycles and just as were starting we saw a car parked on the opposite side near by a small hill covered by tress. We were curious so we cycled there and climbed up the hill. It was a view point. There was a model shoot going on there. The model was wearing heavy ethnic wear in that humid climate.Just looking at her sweating it out in those clothes pained me. Anyway we made our way past them and looked around. We could spot the Virupaksha Temple far away . The defining feature of the dreary landscape was the number of rocks. They were everywhere.
Watchtower 1

From here we wandered in the general direction of the Lotus Mahal which was our next stop. But we soon found ourselves near a stage like structure which looked as the base part of a pyramid. Reminded me of the pyramids of the Incas and the Aztects. This was the Mahanavami dibba. We climbed atop,looked around,took pics and rested for a while. 

From the the dibba we moved ahead to our next stop,the Lotus temple. The lotus temple sits inside a fort. It is in the middle of a large park. This fort complex has three interesting features. The lotus temple and two watchtowers. We first walked past the first watch tower. This was the tallest tower we had seen in Hampi. Reminded me of Age of Empires. From here we went towards the Lotus Mahal. It is a very beautiful structure. From any side you look you will observe it has three levels. It is built in the Indo Saracenic type of Architecture. We sat here in the park surrounding the mahal and rested for a while.

Watch tower 2
Near the corner of the boundary wall there is another watch tower. All the three watch towers that we had seen in Hampi were different from each other. I wonder why. As we were sitting here the sky was beginning to turn dark and the threat of rain loomed. We had come prepared for this. I was already wearing a rain pant and had my rain jacket with me. Bhanu had his' in his small day pack.
Lotus Mahal
Elephant Stable
From the Lotus Mahal we moved towards the Elephants stable. This is a grand structure built for the Royal Elephants. There were eleven sections which were interconnected. As were strolling around it started raining. Within minutes the whole ground was clear as people ran inside the stables. Bhanu and myself, now wearing our complete rain gear were the only ones standing in the rain. We moved slowly, deliberately, enjoying the rain and made our way past the stable behind it towards some structures. We walked in the rain now becoming stronger. It was wonderful. We couldn't see far ahead as the rain turned stronger. The structures were nothing much to look at. Around the last one we turned back and went towards the stable. From here we decided to head back to Hampi village and continue the exploration the next day. We resumed our cycling and started on our way back. The rain was getting stronger by the minute. Our cycles picked up speed as we sped downhill and the rain beat on our faces even more strongly.I let out a huge roar out of excitement! That was the best part of the whole trip.

Bhanu and myself.
As we neared the village Bhanu indicated me to stop near the Krishna Temple. Over the sound of the rain Bhanu suggested we check out the market area in front of the Krishna temple. I agreed.After parking our cycles we walked to the market. We entered the left side of the market where the shops used to be and walked under the stone roof.It was a lovely scene. The rain falling.Our walk. And the solitude. We enjoyed it thoroughly.

From there we cycled back to the Hampi village. It was getting dark by the time we arrived and we were mighty hungry by then. We stopped by another restaurant and had nice warm coffee.
We had done a lot of walking and cycling and it was beginning to show.Our muscles were paining from the exertion.

From there we went back to our hotel. At around 8 pm we heard some awesome trance music blaring from the direction of the Virupaksha temple. Though we were intrigued as to what was going on, our tiredness finally won and we just went to sleep,thereby ending our first day at Hampi.