Monday, 21 August 2017

The Exquisite Vijayanagara Temples Of Tadipatri

Introduction

The Vijayanagara Empire flourished at Hampi and the legacy has made it a major site for the Vijayanagara school of architecture. However, in terms of the striking intricacy of the sculptures, Hampi may have been beaten by the temples at Tadipatri some 200km away. The temples here are almost contemporary to those at Hampi, but built by their Pemmasani Naidu feudatories.

The majestic gopuram of the Bugga Ramlingeshwara Temple

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Tadipatri Impressions

The town of Tadipatri is located on the southern bank of the Pennar river. The river here mostly resembles a dry, uneven depression throughout the year owing to a dam upstream. The area around Tadipatri is marked with dark depressions left behind by the quarries of Kadapa stone (black limestone). An amusing side-effect of the stone mines is that most of the shanties here are actually made of discarded slabs of these stones.

The town itself is quite busy and is a centre of industrial activity in a fast desertifying area. The temples bring in a handful of tourists and/or devotees. The temples are open through the day, except for the sanctum which closed around noon - a fact I only realized when I reached there at around that time of the day. This is typical of small town temples, especially ones which are in active worship. I should've realized that earlier. Anyway.

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The Bugga Ramlingeshwara Temple

The Bugga Ramlingeshwara Temple is a Shiva temple located at the northern periphery of Tadipatri, right next to the dry bed of the Pennar. The temple is oriented in the north-south direction with one gopuram (temple tower) at either directions. The deity in itself is supposed to be of swayambhu (prophetic, self-originating) form and is fed by an underground stream (locally referred as a bugga). The main entrance to the temple is from the south. The temple has been constructed in the later half of the fifteenth century CE.


 The temple as seen from the north

The main temple in itself is built out of the local black limestone (kadapa stone), while the spire is mostly brickwork with a creamy-yellow plaster that seems like a later addition. The pillars of the outer hall (sabhamandapa) of the temple feature the usual suspects of the Vijayanagara school - the cavalry.

 
 The main temple

 
A close-up of the spire

The principle attraction of this temple are the twin temple towers with their dazzling and intricate sculptures. The two towers are predominantly made up of the black limestone. The outer facades of the southern tower features brick-work and masonry which appears like a fortification. The southern tower has a roof, while the one on the northern tower is absent. The passages inside the two towers are lined with sculptures in black stone, with a few coloumns each composed of red stone that gives it a unique visual effect. This is something I'm yet to see elsewhere in India.

 
Entering from the southern tower

 
 The southern tower from the inside

 
The left half of the southern tower from the inside

 
The right half of the southern tower from the inside

 
The left half of the northern tower from the inside

 
The right half of the northern tower from the inside

 
The composite passage of the northern tower ...
... note the absence of a roof

Outside temple walls, but inside the gated complex, one sees quite a few sculptures lying around. These are probably ruins from the secondary temples and buildings. A tall pillar (garudastambha) is also seen.

 
The garudastambha and some ruins

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The Chintala Venkataramana Swamy Temple

This is larger of the two temples of Tadipatri and is located inside a sprawling complex in the heart of the city. The temple is oriented in the east-west direction and has one gopuram (tower) at the eastern end. The temple itself, dedicated to Lord Vishnu, is sprawling. The overall plan sticks to the Vijayanagara school and is supposed to be very similar to the iconic Vittala Temple of Hampi.

The tower is seen from quite a distance

 
The main spire of the temple

After entering through the tower, one sees a gilded flagpost, set on a beautiful stone pedestal. Right behind this is a chariot shaped shrine which faces into the adjoining outer hall (sabhamandapa) of the main temple. This hall is supported on pillars bearing the iconic Vijayanagara cavalry. The outer walls of the main shrine is beautifully adorned, depicting scenes from the Indian mythos. The temple is surrounded by open halls that line the walls of the complex.

The gilded post as seen from the tower

 
The chariot temple

 
The outer hall of the temple

 
Siesta!

 
 The panels that adorn the walls

 The panels are revered too

 
The adjacent open halls are mostly for social events


The gated complex has a structure for supporting weighing-scales. There is a sparse lawn that is used by the locals for relaxation. There is the toilet at the western end. The toilet is clean.

 
The support for the scales

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Getting In And Around

Tadipatri is one of the major towns in the Anantapur district of Andhra Pradesh and enjoys good connectivity with the neighbouring cities of Anantapur, Kadapa, Jammalmadugu and Kurnool. Anantapur offers good connectivity to Bengaluru and Hyderabad. The caves of Belum are located on the way to Jammalamadugu.

Tadipatri on the map

The Chintala Venkataramana Swamy Temple is located at a 15 minutes walk from the bus station. The Bugga Ramlingeshwara Temple is at a 10 minutes walk from the Chintala Venkataramana Swamy Temple. One may hire a rickshaw if one pleases.

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Signing Off

The temples of Tadipatri are two of the finest specimens of architecture from the Vijayanagara period. A trip down to Tadipatri will definitely make you bow down to the artistic excellence of the old masters. These temples have unfortunately been neglected for quite some time now; its time hey receive their due recognition!

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© One Of The Road

Wednesday, 9 August 2017

The Pennar Gorge & Gandikota Fort

Introduction

Tucked away in the remoteness of the Telugu-hinterland, lies a sight that has the potential to humble man before the glory and raw power of the natural order. The river Pennar (also Penna, Penneru), originating near the Nandi Hills in Karnataka, winds its way first north and then east towards the Bay of Bengal and carves out a gorge as it passes the Erramala hills of central Andhra Pradesh. The southern wall of the gorge was the site of the medieval fortress of Gandikota - literally a fort (kote) on a gorge (gandi).
 
The Gorge of the Pennar at Gandikota

Gandikota, today, is a remote place with spartan infrastructure and spotty connectivity. Nevertheless, this is a place which has to be visited, if not for the history, then only to be humbled by the power of nature to shape our lives.

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The Gandikota Fort

The Gandkota fort originated as a simple fortification on the southern side of the gorge in the eleventh century, at a site identified for having excellent natural defences. The fort in its present state was upgraded by the Pemmasani Naidu feudatories of the Vijayanagara Empire (Hampi) during the fourteenth century. The fort passed through several dynasties and empires like the Golconda Sultans, Marathas, Tipu Sultan and eventually ending with the British who dismantled the armaments.

 
Entering the fort

The main gate of the fort 

The fort is almost squarish in structure with 101 bastions. The main entrance is on the eastern side. the eastern, western and southern walls are at a level for most of the part. The northern wall follows the topography of the southern wall of the gorge - from a high of almost 400 feet above the river to a low of about a 100 odd feet. This northern wall is a perfect place to see the gorge and the river. The Pennar here has water almost through the year owing to two dams - one upstream and one downstream from the gorge.

Watch towers next to the gate

The archway that leads to the inside of the fort

The fort jail

The fort has several structures of note which are covered separately.

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The Charminar

It is said in Hyderabad that all roads lead to the Charminar. The same is technically correct for the Gandikota Charminar as well, since the only road from the fort gate passes next to the Charminar before branching off to toher sites. Also, let the name not fool you here - this Charminar is merely a single square structure, rather than one with four towers. The monument is also the site of the small settlement which has been inside Gandikota for generations now.

 The Charminar of Gandikota

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Madhavraya Swami Gudi

The majestic gopuram (entrance tower) of the Madhavraya Swami Temple is visible far before one arrives at the actual fort walls. The temple is approached from a path south of the Charminar, that passes adjacent to a dilapidated tank.

 
The majestic Gopurum - with human for scale

 
The Gopuram - up close

The gatekeepers of the temple

The temple has a rectangular plan that begins at the outer wall which has the aforementioned tower on the eastern side. The main temple also faces east. The temple plan comprises of an outer hall followed by an inner hall and then the sanctum. The temple has a flat roof without a distinctive spire. The outer hall has the traditional Vijayanagar-style cavalry motif on the pillars. The inner hall has less ornate pillars, chiefly depicting various Gods and Goddesses. The sanctum is empty, except for bats. The site is a haven for the local langurs.

A troop of langurs having a good time

The Madhavaraya Swami Temple Complex

The outer hall of the temple - Sabhamandapa

The inner hall of the temple - Mukhamandapa

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The Granary and Jumma Masjid
The Jumma Masjid and the Granary are located in a single complex west of the Charminar, next to a stepped tank labelled simply as the 'Big Tank'. The granary is supposed to have a vaulted roof, while the mosque is known for its intricacy. This complex was locked at the time of my visit, so I could not see how it actually looks form the inside.

The granary of the fort

the facade of the Jumma Masjid

The 'big' stepped tank

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Ranganatha Alayam

This temple is located to the north of the mosque and granary complex on an elevated hillock of sorts. The inner structure has similar motifs to the Madhavaraya Swami Temple, but comparatively less ornate. The outer walls give a panoramic view of the entire fort.

The Ranganath Alayam

 
The insides of the complex

The outer hall - Sabhamandapa
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The Pennar Viewpoint

This is the calling card for Gandikota - the Pennar Gorge. The path from Ranganatha Alayam continues northward to the gorge. The last part of the trail to the gorge involves hopping on the boulders that comprise the landscape. This is the highest point of the gorge - the greenish river flows silently below. Westward from this point, the wall slopes down to almost meet the river. There are bastions there and it is possible to descend all the way down.

Approaching the Pennar
The backwaters of the downstream dam can be seen in the background

The Pennar Gorge and the fort walls

Looking down where the walls almost meet the Pennar

 A herd of buffaloes crossing the Pennar (black trails)

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Getting In and Around

The nearest town to Gandikota is Jammalmadugu, about 10kms away. The town has limited tourist infrastructure with a couple of lodges. APSRTC connects Jammalmadugu to Bengaluru and Hyderabad. There are three buses through the day that go to Gandikota, with the first bus leaving at 5:30am. Rickshaws are available as an alternative.

Gandikota on the map

APTDC has a resort of sorts next to the Gandikota fort. The resort itself is fashioned to look like a fort. Reservations are strictly online, with spot bookings not being entertained. They serve breakfast after 7am.

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Signing Off

Gandkota is a rewarding place. The endless vista of the Erramala, punctuated by the green river below, with occasional cattle crossings paint a beautiful canvas - a canvas in which one may feel inconsequential at best, or even timid to realize what minuscule power one holds over the might of nature. It's a little off track, but surely worth a visit. 

Also, one may head to Belum caves and/or Tadipatri for some more beautiful but offbeat places.
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© One Of The Road

Sunday, 4 June 2017

A Backpacking Weekend Around Guhagar

Introduction

The Konkan region offers some impeccable and quick getaways from Mumbai and Pune. Most of the destinations within a 4-5 hour driving distance are getting increasingly crowded and seldom offer the tranquil solitude that one expects from a weekend. But then if you can travel overnight, then some quirky gems await you.

 The natural tidal gorge

Take the Guhagar section for instance - you have the empty beaches, weird coastlines, histoic temples, forts, a light house, a jetty, a power plant and crocodiles! Add to that a dash of the laid back lifestyle and you have an idyllic break that will bring you back here again.

 
Beckoning - at Guhagar Beach

This post is aimed to be a starting point on spending a quick weekend around Guhagar for a solo backpacker. The effective area is the one that lies between the creeks of Dabhol in the north and Jaigad in the south.

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Getting In and Around

Guhagar - for a weekender - is best approached by an overnight bus. Direct services are available from the MSRTC from Mumbai and Pune. Private operators also run their buses which terminate at minor villages along the coast. The route follows the Mumbai-Goa highway up to Chiplun city and then forks off to the west for Guhagar.

Another alternative is the Konkan Railway. Chiplun is the convenient rail head and is in itself a major station on the line. Guhagar is about an hour away from Chiplun.

 
 The Guhagar bus station

Whatever your mode of transport, aim to reach Guhagar by dawn so that you can spend the best time here. From Guhagar ST buses and 6-seater rickshaws are available for most of the destinations from 8am to 6pm.

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Guhagar - The Start and The Base

Guhagar is a small coastal temple town gifted with a long stretch of beautiful white sand beach. The bus stand is the effective centre of the town, just next to the 'T' junction of the east-west road from Chiplun and the north-south road parallel to the coast. The main beach is a half-minutes walk from this junction. The beach is the best place to sit down and unwind on the morning after the long journey here.

 A mid-summer beach morning

 Sands and waters and casuarina trees

Another place where you can unwind - albeit in a different manner - is the Vyadeshwar (Shiva) Temple. The spacious temple with its gentle rhythms and music is perfectly in sync with the setting - one can say it almost defines it! The temple is significant too, revered by many families as their kuldaivat.

 The tops of the Vyadeshwar Temple

The deepmaal at the temple

Walk for a minute or two on the roads leading north and south - varcha pat and khalcha pat - and you'll find yourself amid expansive wadis of coconut, betelnut and mango trees. This is the quintessential Konkan.

 The lanes to the beach

There are a couple of other significant temples here - the Durga temple and the Ufarta Ganpati Temple - both to the northern side. The beach stretches northward and southward until it is interrupted by hills on either side. The beach - though beautiful - is notorious for being unsafe and strict precautions must be taken.

The pedestal for the guard - empty in the morning

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Hedavi - The Southern Tip

Hedavi is the best place on this coastline for a quick dip. The beach is rather small, but virtually empty. The waves are easy, the slopes are gentle and the sand for most part does not stick. Of course, going into the water necessitates that you have a place to change - Hedavi has a few home-stays where one can stay and this issue is sorted as well.

 Inviting waters at Hedavi Beach

 
 Watching the Sun go down

People who don't wish to enter the waters should also visit the beach to see the spectacle of 'Bamanghal'. Bamanghal is a steep and sharp gorge carved in the rocks to the north of the beach by the sea. Time your visit to coincide with the high tides and you can witness the water gushing through the gorge like a huge fire-hose. The route to the gorge starts behind the Uma-Maheshwar temple at the north of the beach.

 Rekindling friendships - rather precariously

Silhouettes around Bamanghal

Speaking of temples, the main attraction of Hedavi is also a temple - the Dashbhuja Ganesh mandir. The temple dates back to the times of the Peshwa. The temple is known for the unique 10-handed (dashbhuja) idol of Lord Ganesha. A math dedicated to Swami Samartha is also quite beautiful.

 The Dashbhuja Ganesh Temple

 Swami Samartha Math at Hedavi

Hedavi is an hour's bus ride from Guhagar on a road which for most part passes through dense mango orchards.

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Velneshwar - The Picturesque Descent

Halfway between Guhagar and Hedavi lies the sleepy village of Velneshwar. The road from either place descends to Velneshwar from a considerable height and offers an amazing view of the palm-lined coast. On a good day the view from the road resembles a tir-colour strip - green palms, white sand and the blue sea.The village is famous for the temple of Velneshwar, i.e. Shiva. The temple sees quite a crowd during Mahashivratri.

The Velneshwar Temple

The colourful deepmals

The beach is close at hand, but the slope is steep and the sea tends to become quite violent at times here. Definitely not advised to venture out into the water here.

The road to the beach

The beach and the sleepy guard

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Anjanvel - Big Things Up North

Anjanvel is another sleepy village, but to the north of Guhagar - about 30mins away. The first thing that strikes a visitor here is the sheer number of huge buildings enroute this village. These are the remains of the world famous Enron power plant - or the Ratnagiri gas and Power Limited as it is known now. The power plant is usually associated with Dabhol, which lies on the other side of the Dabhol creek (of the Vashishti river). It was probably better known than Anjanvel, so the name stuck. The road to Anjanvel passes next to the premises of this massive plant.

 The village of Anjanvel

The road to Anjanvel descends sharply from a height to the sea-level when the main village is and then rises again westwards to reach the Gopalgad fort. The fort is now private property (how?) but entry is free. One can take a stroll along the ramparts taking in the view of the sea and the Dabhol Creek.

 The fort of Gopalgad

 
 The moat around the fort

 
 The power plant as seen from the fort

 The fort walls overlooking the sea

 
 The view of the Vashishti creek

From Gopalgad one can head further west to the Anjanvel light house and Takaleshwar Temple. The lighthouse has visiting hours from 3pm to 5pm and offers a commanding view of the sea and the docks used by the power plant. It gets pretty crowded sometimes. There's another viewpoint close by which again offers a good view of the sea and the lighthouse itself. Its a good place to catch the sunset, if one does not have to hurry elsewhere.

 The temple of Takaleshwar with the lighthouse in the background

 
 The radars at the lighthouse

 
 The view-point as seen from the lighthouse

 
 The lighthouse and the radar station
A sandbar used by the power plant is seen in the background

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The Vashishti Creek - Crocodile Dundee

The creek of the Vashishti river is a thriving ecosystem which houses one of the apex predetors - the Indian salt-water crocodile, a.k.a. the mugger. Quite a few of these large beasts populate the area and it is possible to see them up close on a crocodile safari. The safaris are piloted and guided by locals who are quite familiar with the sites and movements of these beasts.

 The boat makes way on the tranquil waters

 
 The narrower straits

 
 The beast takes a nap

Parchuri, located about an hour's bad road from Guhagar is the place to spot these. Safaris can be booked from Guhagar itself. The timings of the safaris vary depending on the high and low tides - low tides are preferred.

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Getting Out and Goodbye

With the weekend about to come to a close, one has to say goodbye to this slice of Konkani paradise. Let the sun set and catch yourself a breather. Gulp down some tender coconut water for good measure. Go to the temple of Vyadeshwar again, about the time it closes. Soak it all in once more.


The buses from Guhagar to Mumbai or Pune leave at about 8pm. The trains from Chiplun leave much later. In most cases, you'll find yourself at your work-desk on time the next day.

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© One Of The Road