Monday, 28 December 2015

Hattarsang Kudal - A Hidden Gem

Introduction

In a tiny hamlet of Hattarsang-Kudal, 40km South of Solapur, on the Maharashtra-Karnataka border off the Bijapur highway, there lies a treasure trove for seekers of early, pre-medieval Indian architecture. The village is nestled in a peninsular land form flanked by the rivers Bhima ana Sina. At the confluence of the two rivers lies the 17th Century temple of Sangameshwar. While this temple is innately beautiful, it pales in comparison to the one next to it - the Chalukyan Era (11th-12th century) temple of Harihareshwar.

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Getting There

Google mis-labels this place as Kudalsangama. Kudalsangama is located in Karnataka, about 100km south of Bijapur. This place is to be addressed as Hattarsang-Kudal. Pronounce 'Kudal' as 'kuddle'.

Getting there and then getting out is the most difficult task about this place. These historically and artistically important temples are yet to register on the tourist map. Add to that the fact that the place is practically located on the border of Maharashtra and Karnataka and you have a perfect recipe for bureaucratic neglect. From Solapur, there are exactly 2 buses that go to this place. One leaves Solapur by 10 am, goes to Hattarsang-Kudal and returns immediately. The other bus leaves Solapur at 5:30 pm and leaves Hattarsang-Kudal on the next sunrise. Both are practically useless.

The other option is to get on board a bus for Bijapur - there's one every 20-30 minutes - and alight at Takali. From Takali you have to hire a rickshaw for the last 10km on a very bumpy road. Keep the phone number of the rickshaw driver handy, since you might need it for the return to Takali.

On the Map

But whatever the odds, do make the trip. It is really worth it.

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What To See?

The temple complex is located at the fag end of the road and is surrounded by farm-lands with plantations of sugarcane. Just beyond these are the two rivers. There's a dedicated temple of Hanuman and Swami Samarth (of Akkalkot) - both are modern. Next to it is a small museum-ish place that houses two precious artefacts from the excavations of Harihareshwar Temple. Yes, the temple is a recently excavated one and is presently (hopefully) being restored.

One then proceeds across a small courtyard to enter the Sangameshwar Temple. After this, one heads down a flight of stairs East of this one to reach the Harihareshwar Temple. Make your way back to the outside of the courtyard and follow the marker to the sangam (confluence) of Bhima and Sina. Head back the same way.

Now, the treasure trove in pictures:

Hanuman Temple

Temple of Swami Samarth

Sangamaeshwar Temple

Sangameshwar Temple - outer sanctum

Sangameshwar Temple - inner sanctum

The temple drum

Harihareshwar Temple, with Sina River (dry bed) in the background

Artifacts outside the Harihareshwar Temple

Awaiting their rightful honor

Kaliamardan scene depicted on stone

Harihareshwar

The Nagraj

Krishna with 5 bodies - ceiling artwork

Krishna with Gopis - ceiling artwork

Krishna with friends - ceiling artwork

An inverted lotus - ceiling artwork

Statue of a goddess

Even the floors have carvings

The Hemadpanthi architecture - piling stones on one another without any cement

A broken ceiling piece from the Harihareshwar Temple

The smiling Krishna, excavated from the Harihareshwar Temple

This masterpiece is a 4.5ton heavy shivling with 360 shiv facets carved on the surface

The dry confluence of the Bhima-Sina (right-left)

This stall at Takali village serves awesome kanda-bhaji ... that too on such super seats

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The best season to visit this place is probably late monsoon, when one can expect some flow in the rivers.

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Other Places Nearby

Solapur || Naldurg || Tuljapur 

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© One Of The Road

Sunday, 27 December 2015

Naldurg - Maharashtra's Largest Land Fort

Introducing Naldurg

Naldurg was a must-do point on my Solapur Trip. Naldurg derives its name from Nala Raja who built the initial fort. The fort was later captured and considerably expanded by the Adilshah of Bijapur. Today, the fort enjoys the status as the largest land-fort of Maharashtra.

Naldurg, like Tujlapur, lies in the Osmanabad district, bang on the Solapur-Hyderabad Highway. It is located at a distance of 36 km South of Tuljapur, 45 km East of Solapur and is accessible from both these places by public transport. I had scheduled Naldurg after Tuljapur and arrived here in style in a battered old Mahindra Jeep filled with 20 people. The fort is about 15 mins walk from the bus stand of Naldurg.

Naldurg on the map

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The Entrance

The first entrance of the fort is flanked by two huge bastions, but does not have a gate. The old moat that surrounds the fort is also patched up at this point to facilitate entry. Inside this entrance one has to pass through a long wide passage flanked by high smooth walls and port-holes on both sides till one reaches the Hatti Darwaza (elephant gate). The passage is in mint condition, but access to higher sections of the walls have been sealed off.

The fort entrance - welcomed by a goat

The inner passageway leading to the Hatti Darwaza

The Hatti Darwaza, today serves as an entry-exit checkpost. A Rs. 2 ticket is charged per individual, plus Rs. 10 for photography. The Darwaza is opened just enough to let one man in at a time. It is a bit difficult to get in with a backpack. there's a list of 'donts' on this fort that one can mostly not pay attention to.

The Hatti Darwaza

The best time to visit Naldurg is in the monsoon. I was about 5 months late (considering the dismal monsoon this year). Except for a few tamarind trees and a far-off masjid, there was not a trace of green anywhere as I saw from the entrance. Everything was a dry and dusty shade of yellow. The fellow who took the money for the entry was a nice chap and directed me from his mental map. I noted the directions.

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Raj Mahal, Nav Buruj, Upali Buruj and Pani Mahal

First stop was the Raj Mahal. A curious aspect of this fort is the river Bori which passes through. There is a check dam on this river and also the Pani Mahal - more on those later. The Raj Mahal has a balcony which opens to a semi-circular riverfront view with the Pani Mahal and check dam completing the panorama on the other side.

Next up was the Nav Buruj. This peculiar bastion is a beauty in itself. This bastion has nine semi-circular sub-bastions arranges in an arc. What one sees from the front is like a nine-faceted tube extending about 200 ft. in height. the front view can be seen from the highway - I could only see the top view. There is a mausoleum-like structure on the way to this bastion and a couple of other ruins with some nice stucco work.

The view from atop Nav Buruj - note the moat on the left

Ruins on Naldurg

Still more ruins

Probably once was a prayer room

A mausoleum - why does one seek to be immortal in stone, rather than in thought?

Upali-Buruj, the highest point of the fort, came next. This bastion has a straight flight of 77 stairs to access the top where one can see the Magar (Crocodile) and Hatti (Elephant) cannons. There seem to be a few rooms inside the bastion, but I did not see a way to get in.

The cannons on Upali Buruj - this one is the Hatti

The Magar

The Upali Buruj

Next to the Upali Buruj is the Pani Mahal. The river Bori passes through the fort and has been blocked here by a check-dam. The dam overflows every year during monsoon in two waterfalls. There was none waiting for me. Even then there was enough water in the check dam to interest a flock of birds, who seemed to have their own fun here. This area was quite green too. The Pani Mahal, today however, is just another balcony to enjoy the view.

The Pani Mahal, as seen from the check dam

The other side of the dam, with a ruined fort wall

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The Silver Lining

I returned to the main gate aiming to head back to Solapur. I had spent close to 2 hours on this 116 acre fort and was starving. Here, providence decided to throw in a silver lining - a literal silver lining on a literal dark cloud. That's it though - no food.

The silver lining on a relatively dark cloud


That might change soon though, since the maintenance work on this fort is now being taken over by a private company from Solapur on a lease of 11 years. Hoping for the best.

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End Of Day's Play

I got a Maxximo ride back to Solapur and was back in an hour. The total expenses were Rs. 30 for the Jeep ride, Rs. 40 for the Maxximo ride and Rs. 12 for the entry.

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Other Places Nearby

Solapur || Tuljapur || Hattarsang-Kudal

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© One Of The Road

Saturday, 26 December 2015

Hitchhiking - Thumbing The Long Road

Introduction

Travelling to some far off, remote place without ones own vehicle can be a pretty demanding exercise. Arranging logistics for such trips is a complicated task in itself. The timings of the public transport available may not match your schedule. Some places are so remote or locally unimportant that they do not have a fixed transport infrastructure of any sort. Also, there is no guarantee that you will find yourself at the right place at the right time to catch the right bus to the right destination! Well, if you miss any of those rights, its time to stick your left thumb out! (left thumb valid in places with left side driving :P)

You are bound to miss many though

Wikipedia has the following definition: Hitchhiking (also known as thumbing or hitching) is a means of transportation that is gained by asking people, usually strangers, for a ride in their automobile or other road vehicle.

Hitchhiking can be free or paid. In most cases you may not be even dropped to your actual destination; usually it will be some major town/village midway from where you may get a proper ride. Hitchhiking can be a pretty enlightening experience for an intrepid traveler: anyone stuck with a co-traveler with a story to tell can relate here.

I have grown quite accustomed to hitchhiking as a part of my travel, for Mask or otherwise. Anyways, dedicating this post to some of my hitchhiking experiences and a few pointers on how to bag that ride!

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Some Experiences Of Mine

1: Hitchhiking on the back of a pick-up/tempo/goods-carrier: One of the most typical forms of lifts available on the highway. Usually will charge a nominal amount. Stretching out in the cargo section can be very relaxing, although sometimes you are better off standing if the condition of the floor demands so. Cross your fingers though, they can often ride rough!

Your hitchhike could also make his day ...

2: Hitchhiking in the cabin of a cargo vehicle: You seriously don't know how many people can be crammed inside a cabin of any cargo vehicle; be it a simple pick-up or a big dumper, there is always room for more! Indulging in a bit of small talk with the driver can be quite fun. However, it is advisable not to doze off here.

Truckers have amazing tales to tell
 
And campers make bumpy roads easy

3: Hitchhiking in a car: Unfortunately, I've no experience in this category of vehicles. Known to be very comfortable.

4: Hitchhiking in a bus: This is always a paid transport with nominal rates. But be prepared for a thorough interrogation of your visit, your purpose of travel, reasons for missing the last public bus, your occupation, religion, cast, creed, family ... everything!

5: Hitchhiking in a tractor: Sounds strange, but yes, these powerful crawlers do accept hitchhikers. This is going to be one hell of a jerky ride with the possibility of your great fall if you don't hold tight.

A guaranteed bumpy ride on a smooth highway

6: Hitchhiking with train staff: Travelling without a ticket is passe. Hitchhiking in a train means you will be treated as a guest on-board! You need to be damn lucky to get these ... seriously lucky!

Maintaining decorum can lead to tricky pics

7: Hitchhiking on a bike: Bikers are usually helpful and plentiful too. Be prepared to ride triple-seat singing along to 'Yuhi Chala Chal'..

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Some Pointers For Successful Hitchhiking

1: The action: Extend your left hand with the thumb pointing towards the direction you want to go. Any other action (waving of hands over the head, the taxi flag-down gesture, shouting) are considered thoroughly inappropriate and will usually not work.

2: The position: On the edge of the road, without in any way interfering with the vehicle's path. Left foot on the road, right foot off the road. Anywhere closer to the middle and you will end up being knocked over or annoying the driver. Anywhere farther, you risk being invisible to the driver.

3: Number of passengers: Always try to indicate the number of passengers with you. Basic finger symbols work here.

4: Be at ease: Always have an easy demeanour while asking for a lift. Don't be too aggressive on the driver. Also, don't appear desperate. Remember that you are requesting for a lift, not demanding one.

5: Eye-contact: Maintaining eye-contact is essential. It will tell you if the driver is interested in offering a ride. Uninterested people will usually look away. No attempt to make an eye-contact from your side also means that you are not seriously interested in the ride. This may deter people who may genuinely want to help you.

6: Smile: Be a person who someone will like to have in their vehicle. Try to look like a bright company rather than a sour one.

7: Politeness: Do not be rude in any way to the driver. If you feel offended in any way, politely refuse the offer.

8: Appearance: Appearances go a long way in an activity that usually relies on first impressions. Look clean and respectable. Nobody wants a stinky and dirty loafer for company

9: Patience: Lastly, be prepared to wait for hours to get a ride. Patience is the most values virtue in a hitchhiker. Patience will truly take you places and will shower those on the road experiences of a lifetime.

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And Some Words Of Caution

1: Do not consider hitchhiking as a viable option when travelling with a family or a large group. This activity is better restricted to hardy youth travelling in small groups.

2: Avoid resorting to hitchhiking after dark, especially in the interior, less accessible parts of the countryside. It is better to spend the night in the village nearby or spend some bucks for a private taxi.

3: Hitchhiking is always the last resort during any travel. Although cheap, this is a very unreliable option of transport. The potential pitfalls (safety, reliability ...) will always outdo the merits. Don't let the romanticism fool you. Having your own ride is always more dignified than requesting (also read as begging) others for a ride.

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Adios! Thank you for reading. Do enjoy your hitchhiking!

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© One Of The Road

Thursday, 24 December 2015

Tuljapur & Revelations

The Start

Tuljapur was a day trip that I did as a part of my larger Solapur Trip in Dec 2015. Post breakfast on a Saturday morning, amid the bustle of the city, I made my way to the central bus stand. There's a bus for Tuljapur every 15 minutes. Most of these buses are Latur bound, with Tuljapur as a major stop in between.

Tuljapur on the map

I got in to the first bus, but had to get down since it was already packed and there was no place to sit. The one that followed had a spare bench near the back where I took a seat. The 45 km journey lasted for about an hour, and cost me Rs 50. I slept most of the way, and woke up just as the bus laboured on the incline that leads to Tuljapur.

The temple is at a distance of about 5 minutes walk from the bus stand. The way to the temple is crowded as in a typical temple town in India. At the gate was a notice which said that bags and mobiles were not allowed. The guy at the cloak room though said otherwise and I got to take my day-pack and my phone in the temple. But photography was strictly prohibited.

The entrance to the Temple Complex

A Stranger In My Own Land? 

I walked into the Tulja Bhawani Temple at Tuljapur, ducking the offers by various poojaries of a direct darshan, direct pooja and what not. Too perturbed to ask anyone for directions, I made my way to the first line that I saw just to stop the barrage of prompts. The line was for the Gomukh - a stream of water flowing from the mouth of a stone cow. I just imitated what the others in line did before me - wash the hands, feet and mouth. I did not, however, drink it as teerth.

From there I moved in to the actual temple complex. The complex consists of the main temple made out of stone. It is surrounded by a wada that houses minor temples of other deities. There is a temple of Ganpati at the entrance to this temple complex. There were quite a few devotees in the wada as I walked in, oblivious to the offers directed at me. Various poojas were being offered at various places.

I asked around and made my way to the darshan line. There are two types of darshans - dharma darshan and mukha darshan. Dharma darshan takes you inside the sanctum of the temple and obviously is the most sought after. The mukha (face) darshan will make sure you get a sight of the goddess, however from outside the sanctum. I was hard pressed for time and hence chose the mukha darshan - took me about 10 minutes. The dharma darshan would have taken at least 2 hours on that day.

After the darshan of the main goddess, I did the pradakshina (circumambulation) of the main temple, and with that saw the other smaller temples as well. While exiting from the temple, one has to take darshan in the temple of Aadimaaya Aadishakti. There's a practice of applying haldi-kumkum on the forehead with three main fingers, which I did not indulge in.

The exit from the temple takes one through the old market lane. Again, I did not bother to stop and look at the wares. Also, turned a blind eye to the number of women (jogtinis?) asking a daan for their jogwa of the devi.

All this - the temple, the market, the entire place - was abuzz with the chant of "Tulja Bhawani cha Ude-Ude".

A funny incident happened while I was in the Gomukh line. A local man - probably in early 60s - was in the line ahead of me. For a moment he turned around and asked me: "I've kept my thaili (carrybag) at the entrance. Will it be safe?". With some remote aspect of faith in the divine entity and with a motive of not hurting the man at that moment, I replied: "Yes, probably".

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What Do I Seek?

An existential question? Yes, probably.

The Tujla Bhawani temple's wada has a curious artifact. There's this stone - perfectly spherical in shape. You pace your both hands on this stone and make a wish. If the stone turns right, it means your wish is granted. There was a smallish queue of people trying waiting to try their fortune with the stone.

I took a deep breath. There were a number of things I could've checked out, but spending a moment there made me question what I wanted. Were the things that I desired to know at that moment - also, at this moment in life - really worth it? Was is justified to question a divine entity on a question which even if answered would not matter to anyone in the world, but me? I walked away amid exclamations of "Firla! Firla!!" (it turned!)

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Inspirational - Captured at Tuljapur, somewhere on the street

Significance: Wikipedia does it better than me.

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Getting Out:

After Tuljapur, I made my way down to the medieval fort of Naldurg.

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Other Places Nearby

Solapur || Hattarsang-Kudal

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© One Of The Road