Category Archives: Heritage

Gandikota: The Hidden Grand Canyon of India

Picture an unconquerable fort built in red granite stone, guarded by a 20 feet high entry gate, enclosed in a  fort wall running around the 5 mile perimeter;  101 bastions, each about 40 feet high, are cut into the fort wall; beautiful palaces with exquisite carvings; perennial springs constantly irrigating the fruit and flower  gardens; old temples, providing a look into a past with their walls, pillars, ceilings and floors sporting bas reliefs, co-existing with a mosque,  probably built by different rulers……….

Unconquerable because the fort is protected by a deep gorge on one side, 4 km long and 700 m deep, with enormous boulders adding to its natural defense, cut by a river flowing below.

As I stood safely on one of the flatter and non-swaying stone platforms right next to the deep gorge, Pennar River seemed harmless, a bit stagnant and definitely not flowing, at the bottom. Nothing much of the unconquerable fort remains, albeit the crumbling fort wall, we couldn’t go a few feet without seeing some sort of a ruin that lay amidst a mix of stone boulders that were scattered around the place.

Welcome to Gandikota – the Hidden Grand Canyon of India.

Gandikota Fort (Google Maps)

Gandikota Fort and Pennar River as seen in Google Maps

How many places can claim to be literally gorge-ous, other than, of course, the Grand Canyon. The scale here may be smaller, or rather minuscule, as compared to the 446 km long, 29 km wide, and 1,800 m deep gorge cut by the mighty Colarado River in the Arizona State, USA, but the setting is no less breathtaking. And it goes one notch up if you were to imagine the backdrop holding a sprawling ancient fort, a mosque, a couple of exquisitely carved temples and the history behind the area which played a significant role in some of the well known dynasties that once ruled southern India.

A closer view (note the bastion walls)

A closer view (note the bastion walls)

Gandikota Fort is situated in Gandikota, a small village situated in the Erramalai hills on the bank of the river Pennar in Kadapa district, Andhra Pradesh. Gandikota gets its name from the word ‘Gandi’ which means gorge in Telugu. The fort is believed to have been constructed during the 12th century by a subordinate of a Chalukyan king and has also served many a crucial role during the reign of the Vijayanagara, Qutub Shahi and Kakatiya dynasties.

We did not choose this remote location for our next driving holiday for nothing. And we did not choose it overnight. Gandikota had been on our travel plans for quite a long time. We’ve been curious about this place for a while as photos from other travellers kept appearing in our Google stream.

Our driving holidays always started with the car headlights on. But this time, due to a pre-planned engagement, we had to push our start time way ahead of our usual 5.00 am departure to a 10.30 am one. Being a Saturday and the beginning of the long Pongal weekend (if you had taken a day off in between), we did not expect the traffic to be smooth flowing on the outer ring road. It took almost an hour to reach the Devanahalli toll.

Our route plan was to drive through  Devanahalli – Chikkaballapur – Gorantla – Kadri – Pullivendula – Jammalamadugu – Gandikota, passing many small villages like Thondur and Muddanur on the way. It was going to take us around 5 hours to cover the 250  odd kilometers.

Endless NH 7

Endless NH 7

The road was good, excellent in some stretches. We did follow the NH 7 till Gorantla, from where we took a right turn and followed the road to Kadri. We also saw the diversion to Puttaparthi ( and thought maybe some other time). The roads got a bit narrower whenever we had to  pass through smaller towns and we had to clamber across the sharp bumps sometimes. We also had some difficulty cruising amidst the many pilgrims who had congregated in front of the  Narasimhaswamy Temple in Kadri. Later we came to know it was Vaikunta Ekadashi, an auspicious day to visit the temple.

Kadri Narasimhaswamy Temple

Kadri Narasimhaswamy Temple

Once we had left the grime of the city behind, the scenery around us changed.  The landscape became a breathtaking mosaic of yellow sunflower expanses, fluffy cotton fields, jowar, millet, sugarcane and rice plantations. There were patches of barren scrub lands and conical hills dotted with jagged rock faces looming in the distance. While driving through the beautiful countryside I could not stop deeply breathing in with the clean air  the open roads,  a welcome break from the usual traffic congested and heavily polluted cities.



While driving on the village roads a lot of things can happen. You are sometimes stuck between goats with big floppy ears passing by or you are marveled by the sight of the white egrets waiting on the paddy fields to pull out worms and looking more like guarding a cricket patch, complete with all the positions starting from first slip, second slip and so on, or you are slowed down as the road has been encroached upon by a smart farmer who thought he could use it to dry hay or his red chilly produce of the day.

Scenes on the road

Scenes on the road

We also had to pay attention to the two wheeler riders. They need to be aware of the fact that their vehicles are meant for only two people and not for the whole town. One of the common sights on the road were to see up to three or sometimes four adult passengers on a  scooter. ‘And what is a helmet?’ they may ask in these places.

Other than the towering hills, some other towering machines also caught our attention. Wind mills, standing tall, casting shadows across the hills and fields, a stark juxtaposition of ancient and modern India. These wind-powered turbines set up by Suzlon Energy are here to bring a wind of change  and are probably the only solution to a country plagued by power blackouts.

Wind mills on the horizon

Wind mills on the horizon

At Mudannur, we took a wrong turn but an elderly man guided us onto the right road. He actually told us the way till Gandikota – first we had to cross a railway line and then go straight on the Jammalamagudu Road up till a huge bridge that crosses Pennar River. Before the bridge, turn left and the road will take you straight to Gandikota. But our Google map had something else in store for us and it coaxed us to take a left turn well before the bridge only to pass through a small village. Nevertheless, the villagers did guide us through a shortcut and we did reach the Gandikota APTDC complex by 4 pm.

APTDC Gandikota

APTDC Gandikota

Covering an area of about 10 acres with 12 cottages, a dormitory, a  dining hall and kitchen, and most importantly a huge parking space and kids play area, the APTDC complex at Gandikota is a sprawling affair.  To match with the fort beside, the whole complex is built in stone.

I had called the APTDC Bangalore reservation office to make bookings for the stay here. ‘There are no online bookings for Gandikota, only offline bookings’, a lady at the reservation center told me. She gave me the manager’s number but also warned me that the signals were very weak there,  but rooms will be available as it is a huge complex. After many tries I finally got the manager, Mr Ramanuja Reddy,  on the phone, and booked a room.

It turned out that Mr Ramanuja Reddy was away for the weekend and Mr Basha the manager cum attendant cum kitchen in charge cum everything else came to our service.

The room looked cosy and spacious, though the TV and water heater were not working. After keeping our bags in the room we did not waste timing in driving to the fort which was located just a kilometer from the APTDC complex.

At the fort gate

At the fort gate

We parked our car just inside the entrance and walked through the huge gate. It led us onto  a winding path that took us to an open area.

A whole village existed inside the complex – houses, shops and even a primary school. We followed the stone path, jumping over a few lazy cattle, cow dung and scuttling chicken. On the way, we passed several  ruins. We first saw a four-tiered tower, aptly named Charminar.



We passed a brick building which was marked as a Jail. The gate was locked from outside so we could not go inside the compound. We also saw a small path on the left that led to the Madhavaraya temple.

Gandikota village

The village road ended at the Jamia Masjid. We later came to understand that we could have taken the car further inside through the village road till the Masjid, as we found a few tourist cabs parked adjacent to the mosque’s wall.

Village path leading to the Jami Masjid

Village path leading to the Jamia Masjid

We wanted to see the sunset from the gorge before it would get late, so without paying much attention to the ruins we made our way to it.

We passed the Masjid, a building which was marked as Granary and the Ranganatha Swamy Temple.

Rocks with cool steps but graffitti

Rocks with natural steps but artificial graffitti

We had to scramble up, across and down a few huge rocks to reach the gorge.

Rocks everywhere

George ?

You do not realise that there is something in store for you till you reach the very end of the chasm.  If you’ve ever been here, you will know the feeling… your heart skips a few beats and you find yourself breathless as you approach the edge. A massive chasm, very wide and very deep, standing between you and the other side.


Pennar gorge

The walls of the gorge were extremely impressive.  Our eyes trailed down the magnificent cliffs and rock faces. We could make out the different layers of rock by color – red, brown, grey – which proved how old these mountains were. You see billions of years stacked up and cut through. Considering how flat the drive to Gandikota was, it was hard to believe how high you really are until you reach the rim and look down into this gorge.

billions of years rocks

Billions of years stacked up

The beauty of the gorge, the different colored rocks, the huge boulders placed precariously over one another as if they were dropped from the sky and the vast expanse of the place…… it’s amazing how nature works. There were several higher rock formations standing separate from where we were standing. We were lost in a world of magical shapes that rose from the ground and which gave a surreal touch to the landscape.

Rock formations

Curious case of rock formations

We tried climbing up some of the boulders. It was a treacherous climb at some places, considering the fact that we did not know whether the stones were loose. The rocks were still warm from the scorching sun. If in January, when we visited, it was this hot, one could imagine how hot it would be in the summers.

On the rocks

Climbing up the rocks

From the top, we could also get a better view of the crumbling fort wall that snaked around the fort.

How did those goats get up there?

How did those goats get up there?

We could also get a glimpse of the Mylavaram dam and reservoir from the chasm.

Mylavaram dam and reservoir

Mylavaram dam and reservoir seen at a distance

Also snaking below was the Pennar river – that force that must have helped to shape this gorge – but now the river was not flowing. I had seen pictures of a more fuller Pennar, may be taken soon after the monsoons.

Pennar River

Pennar River

We realised that the sunset was actually behind us, on the opposite side of the gorge. As dusk was catching up and we didn’t want to stumble over the rocks in the dark, we thought we would climb up the nearby Ranganatha Swamy Temple and enjoy the setting sun from there.



Judging the position of the sun as it set, we mentally calculated that the sunrise would be directly over the gorge and decided to come early the next morning. And we also had to visit the temples and the mosque.

We had a simple dinner and slept early.

The next morning, watching the sun rise over the raggedy canyon was as mesmerizing as its effect it had on the ruins nearby. The rocks shimmered and shone as the sun rays fell on them. In the morning the place was a joy to behold. The babblers, thrushes and partridges were poking around for breakfast.  And of course the gorge itself is a visual delight.

With the sun right behind you, spring can't be far behind

With the sun right behind you, spring can’t be far behind

We realized that one cannot survey the gorge from the edge of the chasm. Maybe one should find a way through the rocks to venture inside and track down the hidden caves and tunnels once used by the soldiers to comprehend the depth of the canyon. We had read somewhere that there were a few paths to the valley through caves, one of them still used by the locals can be found near the western edge of the fort.



When the sun rose, we took in the breathtaking scenery that unfolded in front of our eyes. There was only one other  group of 4-5 people who had clambered further up to the very edge, but they were more interested in testing the gorge’s echo quality feature than the rising sun.

On the rocks!!!

On the rocks!!!

When the echoes got unbearable and the sun got beyond the reach of our camera we decided to make our way down. On our way back we again climbed onto the Ranganatha Swamy Temple for a few shots.

Ranganatha Swamy Temple

Ranganatha Swamy Temple

The temple was very much in ruins and the main sanctum stood on an elevated  platform. But the exquisite carvings had not lost their sheen.

Inside the Ranganatha Swamy Temple

Inside the Ranganatha Swamy Temple

From the Ranganatha Swamy Temple, the tower of the Madhavaraya temple and the Jamia Masjid were visible.

The Jamia Masjid was locked as was the Granary.

Jamia Masjid

Jamia Masjid

The Jamia Masjid looked grand even in its dilapidated condition. The granary had a vaulted roof and is now used as a tourism office. We walked around and took a few shots.



We made our way to the Madhavaraya Temple. We could see the tower of the temple from a distance, but it did take a few turns and twists to reach the temple. It looked as if it were locked from outside as a huge lock was dangling from the gate. But we found out that a smaller gate was built into the bigger one and it was not locked.


Gopura of Madhavaraya Temple

The temple was larger than the Ranganatha Swamy Temple and it did resemble the numerous Vijayanagara temples we had seen in Hampi.  We entered through the towering five-tiered gopura which was also the main entrance. The huge courtyard had pillared mandapas running  on all the sides.

Madhavacharya Temple

Madhavaraya Temple

The main sanctum was elevated and was at the center which had more pillars and a lot of intricate carvings. Other than the abundant simian population, both alive and sculpted, no other soul was in the premises.

One sculpture that caught our attention was an interesting combination of an elephant and bull. The head of both the bull and the elephant was merged skillfully, but if you would put your hand you could find that it looked like a bull from the right side and like an elephant from the left side.

elephant and bull

Elephant and Bull

Many of the stone carvings depicted stories from Ramayana and Mahabharata. We stepped inside the temple. There was no visible idol inside but a lot of bats flying inside the main sanctum.  As we perambulated the temple we realized that there was another entrance at the back side which had a crumbling gopura on top.

Inside the Madhavacharya Temple

Inside the Madhavaraya Temple

As we walked back through the village we realized how close the villagers were living to these historical monuments, almost encroaching upon some of the structures. Are they a threat to the cultural heritage posing as a danger to this historic fort?

 But don’t these residents belong to this place? This is the only social space that has been theirs for decades or may be for centuries.

Gandikota village

Gandikota village

Do they really understand or value the cultural heritage lying in their backyard? The banks of the Pennar were excavated long ago by Britishers and now by the ASI, only to find out that there was human habitation in the region even during Paleolithic ages.

The AP tourism should come up with plans to help the residents of the village to begin to feel ownership towards the historical monuments. We did not find any guides at the complex. And I understand that even if there were, they could only speak Telugu. But why should they bother? Only a handful of tourists drive down to reach this village and the rich heritage brings in little benefit to the villagers.

Gandikota village

Gandikota village

Gandikota is really an amazing place to see.    The size and scale of the place, if not as huge as the Grand Canyon,  is such that pictures cannot do it justice. You have to see it for yourself to really appreciate it. So go visit……

Mandu – A lost corner of the heart

When it rains in Mandu, it’s magical. The pitter patter, the ever spatter, and the cool breeze makes Mandu, a small hamlet in western Madhya Pradesh, one of the ultimate romantic monsoon destinations in India. Throw in a tragic love story in the back drop of a few monuments that exude history, and you know that you are in for a treat.

We took a trip to Mandu, many a monsoon back, but the varied hues of green meeting the grey horizon still remain fresh in  our minds.

This is a guest post by Rajesh containing excerpts from a post by him published elsewhere.


She was an ordinary village girl, extraordinarily beautiful and blessed with a divine voice. He was a Sultan, handsome, a lover of music and poetry, and content in his small fort kingdom up on a hill.

He heard her singing by the riverside on his way back from hunting one day, and asked her to join him in his palace. She agreed but laid out one condition – the rive Narmada was her goddess and she couldn’t bear to live without seeing and worshipping her. The Sultan consented to build her a pavilion at the edge of a cliff, next to his own palace, so that she could watch the river flowing down in the valley. When the clouds loomed over the hills and the plains, she found it difficult to see the river and would not eat a morsel till she sighted it.

One night, the river goddess visited her in her dreams and told her to  dig a tank near her quarters. When this was done, the holy waters come surging up and filled the tank. The queen was ecstatic and lived contentedly with her beloved, till… the dark clouds of a cruel fate gathered over their idyllic land and lives. A powerful emperor sent his merciless general who vanquished the Sultan causing him to flee the kingdom. But before the general could seek out the beautiful queen and make her his own, she chose to die a brave and honourable death by consuming poison.

Rani Rupmati's Palace

Rani Rupmati’s Palace

As we walked up the leafy country lane, spellbound by the tragic tale of Rani Rupmati, we saw the pavilion rise up like an apparition in the distance. In a natural frame of dark, looming rain clouds, it was hard to imagine that the Rani was not up on the terrace, gazing at the eternity of the Nimar plains. Looking at Rani Rupmati’s pavilion on that misty morning, we knew we were in a lost world of romance and tragedy – Mandu!

As he pointed at the chatris in front of us, our guide said in a conclusive tone, ‘…and that is Rani Rupmati’s pavilion, where she lived and loved – her music, her beloved and her Narmada. And when Adham Khan – Emperor Akbar’s general – and his large army attacked Mandu causing Sultan Baz Bahadur to flee his kingdom, the brave and virtuous Rani chose to consume poison and die an honourable death.’

I first read about Mandu in a bold, confident ad that seemed to hold its own among others that smacked of marketing disingenuousness. The reason? The monsoons had just begun, the time of the year that the tourism industry loathes. But the Mandu ad stood out in its honesty, proudly inviting anyone with a love of heritage, and a love of…well, love itself.

But it took a few more monsoons for us to make that trip. Not that we had forgotten Mandu. For one, the visions conjured up in my mind of a fort city shrouded in eternal mist was hard to fade. And, the poignant love story of Rani Rupmati and Baz Bahadur was one that moved us to see its setting for real.

We arrived in Mandu on an August evening when the mist hung heavy in the air and droplets of rain alternately fell and held back in pure indecision. As the climb began from the plains off Dhar, the road became narrower and less crowded. In an hour of taking in the countryside from the growing altitude, the first signs of reaching our destination spread out before us. We were crossing the Kakra Khoh ravine. The deep gorges on either side helped navigate us forward and, soon, the Alamgir gate saw us into the age-old township of Shadiabad, the city of joy, modern day Mandu.

Even in the failing daylight, the silhouettes of Mandu’s icons seemed to tell their tales. Incidentally, the heritage spots here are divided into 3 zones – the Royal Enclave, the Central group and the Rewa Kund group. The MP tourism resort we were booked in was near the Rewa Kund group. With the day almost over, there was just time to catch up on the remnants of a tranquil Mandu evening by the lake next to the resort. The next day would be a pleasantly long one – and we had an appointment with some of the characters of that old story.

Rani Roopmati's Pavilion

Rani Roopmati’s Pavilion

Early the next morning, we thought it best to invest in a guide and set off to unravel the mysteries of Mandu. In about twenty minutes and a rendering of the tale, we were standing before Rani Rupmati’s pavilion. At the southern end, near the edge of the hills that fall down over 300 m into the valley below, the Queen’s pavilion looks more like a vision. Originally built as an army observation post, two square pavilions with hemispherical domes were added for the queen – to look out at the Narmada flowing in the Nimar plains on the south, and her king’s palace on the north. From the top, the view is sensational – as though an oil painting were hung from the skies. As far as the eye could see, the plains that were swathed in a rainy film spread out forever, with the Narmada appearing to be more a meandering stream than the great river it is.

View of Godavari from the pavilion

View of River Narmada from the pavilion

We climbed down and walked over to Rewa Kund where an aqueduct from the Narmada sanctifies the reservoir that once united Rupmati with her goddess. The reverence continues to this day. A complete parikrama of the Narmada is said to take 3 years, 3 months and 3 days, culminating in a dip in Rewa Kund. A little way ahead, Baz Bahadur’s palace is clearly a shadow of its once glorious past. A large court with a dried-up fountain adorned the middle as halls spread out on all sides. These were, besides the king’s personal spaces, also used as meeting points for the public and court officials.

Rewa Kund

Baz Bahadur’s Palace and Rewa Kund

We drove back and stopped at Echo Point for an amazing demonstration of 15th century acoustics in today’s age. Useful, indeed, to convey critical news like the advent of an enemy’s army or the birth of a child. Towards the west, at the edge of a steep gorge is the Hindu shrine of Nilkanth. Pilgrims flock to witness the sight of a stream that flows in into a sacred pond around which a Shiva temple now stands. An example of the strong secular fabric of the times can be seen in the remnants of a palace built by Emperor Akbar for his Hindu wife. On the way back, a strange single storeyed structure, with arches leading into small cells, caught our attention. This was the infamous Chor Kot – the central jail of Mandu where the villains of the times cooled their heels!

We parked outside the Jahaz Mahal and looked in awe. The building looked like a grand ship ready to sail. A museum containing a wide range of ancient sculptures stands at the entrance.   All of 120 m in length,  Jahaz Mahal is a double storied structure that seems to float between Munji Talao and Kapur Talao. A veritable pleasure palace, this was where Sultan Ghiyasuddin Khilji ruled and lived with his large harem of 15,000 women. Such was the irresistible charm of Jahaz Mahal that even Emperor Jahangir couldn’t resist residing here with his queen, Nur Jahan. And the view from the top gives you an all-encompassing vista of the entire Royal enclave and its rich heritage.

Jahaaz Mahal

Jahaaz Mahal

Just beyond, the Hindola Mahal stands in all its uniqueness. Considered an architectural masterpiece, the swing palace gives the impression of the inwardly sloping sides swaying. The perfect setting for a Sultan to hold his durbar. Adjacent to the Hindola Mahal is the Champa Baoli, an architectural marvel that is a network of underground vaults connected to a specially constructed well provides for hot and cold scented water for the inmates of the mahal. The royal hammam, more a sauna bath, gives a glimpse of the sophistication of the times.

Hindola Mahal

Hindola Mahal

A short walk away in the enclave is the cluster showcasing two more wells, the Ujali and Andheri baolis. Another attraction is the Nahar Jharokha which boasts of being the spot where Jahangir was said to have conferred on Prince Khurram the title of Shah Jahan following his victories in the Deccan. A unique, though crumbling, structure is Gada Khan’s shop,  the departmental store of the times run by the wealthy and adept merchant, Gada Khan who supplied all materials from the sultan to the masses.

Ujali Baoli

Ujali Baoli

From the royalty, we moved back – to the Central group, with its equally impressive monuments. Inspired by the great mosque of Damascus, the Jami Masjid with its perfectly proportioned domes arrest you in its simple magnificence. As we walked up to an imposing court, the architecture blossomed in the huge colonnades with its myriad arrangement of arches and pillars that spread out in effortless symmetry.

Jami Masjid

Jami Masjid

Behind the Masjid stands the building now famous as the structure that moved Shah Jahan to model the Taj on. Housing Hoshang Shah’s tomb, this is the first marble edifice in the country, modeled on classical Afghan architecture. It’s hard not to find parallels here with the Taj right from the perfect domes, the intricate lattice work and the four towers that mark the corners. Inside, it was just deathly silence and the tombs of the Shah and his wives.

Hoshang Shah’s tomb

Hoshang Shah’s tomb

In this ancient world, what could be older than these forts themselves? Not far from the royal enclave lies the answer – the Lohani caves that date back to the 11th century AD. Overlooking the expansive valley, the caves are cut out of the rock face and were, supposedly, used by yoginis as shelter. A cistern filled with flowing water has to be negotiated to reach the cave’s entrance. Stone carvings and sculptures excavated from here now are preserved in the museum next to Hoshang’s tomb. Above, there is a sunset point that offers the best of sundown sights in the city of joy.

Lohani caves

Lohani caves

Despite spending a day in Mandu and gorging on its wealth, there were still stray jewels lying all over that we hadn’t yet seen. With the guide having done with his day’s work, we set off for some sightseeing of our own. Nearer to our resort, we walked past the thick baobab trees and buzzing villages towards a smattering of interesting monuments at Sagar Talao. The Dai ka Mahal used to house the wet nurses of the day; the Dai ka Chhotti Behan ka Mahal nearby; the pleasing contours of the Caravanserai with its many rooms for the traveller of the times; the Hathi Mahal to house the hordes of elephants.

With the failing light of the setting sun falling like a curtain on the sets of a historical play, we staggered amidst the ruins of this ghost town caught in an eternal time warp. The next morning, we were packed and on the road again early. The monuments on the Western Zone sat by like tired, old women clumsily draped in a white cloak of fog. The Royal Enclave seemed to be stirring awake and the Jahaz Mahal beginning its drift to nowhere.

As we exited the Alamgir gate, it was only clear why Mandu is considered poetry in stone, a celebration of love. Passing through the verdant Vindhya range, the sun had come out on the hillsides, leaving behind Mandu in a permanent, heavy mist. And in that surreal world lay the inscrutable mysteries of a dreamland – complete with a beautiful queen, her besotted Sultan, a song of life and an elegy of death.

Mandu had kept its promises. It’s one of those journeys that takes you to that lost corner of the heart that is just waiting to be discovered.


Here is a link to the original article posted at oktatabyebye

The Tonga Ride in Bijapur….continues

After lunch, we resumed our journey through the busy bylanes of Bijapur. It had been an eventful first half and we were getting to know this heritage city better.

The busy roads of Bijapur

On the way, Mohammad Anwar explained how difficult it was to maintain a horse with such a paltry amount they got from the tourists. A lot of his fellow tonga riders had migrated to bigger cities for better prospects only to end up on the streets doing menial jobs. “The city’s tonga population is fast dwindling with a very few left.” he said. “How many tourists do you get a day?” I asked. “You need a whole day to visit all the monuments. I hardly get to take a couple of tourists a day and make around Rs. 200 to 250. The foreigners are ready to pay more, sometimes giving me a Rs 500 note. They even offer me food or invite me to the restaurant for lunch. They enjoy tonga rides and they just love talking to the drivers. But, sometimes we are harassed by local policemen and traffic cops and we have to part with a percentage of our earnings.”

The balancing stone

I told him about the revival of the tonga carts in Lucknow, Agra and Old Delhi and how these carts would be used to take tourists to the historical sites with guides. A smile spread on his face for the first time. “The government should start this in Bijapur too. Madame, why don’t you write to someone about this.” I nodded my head. I did not know what else to do. Mohammad Anwar smiled again, his eyes fixed on the road. I knew his mind was elsewhere. Dreaming about that White Kurta and Lucknowi Jooti.

We got down near a board that said ‘Malik-e-Maidan’.

‘The Monarch of the Plains’ was no ordinary ruler. An Iron Man – this was the largest medieval cannon (whatever that means) in the world. According to the ASI board, about 4 m long, 1.5 m in diameter and weighing 55 tons, this canon was brought back from Ahmadnagar by Muhammad Adil Shah as a war trophy. It took 400 oxen, 10 elephants and thousands of soldiers to get the beast to Bijapur.

Sherzi-Buruz (Lion Tower)

The canon was perched on a small tower, called the Sherzi-Buruz or the Lion Tower, named after the two lion sculptures carved at the entrance. We climbed a sprial staircase to reach the canon.

And there it lay, gleaming in the sun. The canon was an alloy of copper, iron and tin. The muzzle looked like the mouth of a tiger with open jaws with an elephant on both sides crushed by its sharp teeth. It is said that the sound from the canon was so deafening that the gunners would submerge their heads in water before firing.


The canon had a few inscriptions in Persian or Arabic embossed on to the surface. Not to mention the numerous people who had taken effort to deface this national treasure by carving in their names and even postal addresses. What a shame!! And it is said that if you touch the gun and make a wish, it will come true! But the poor canon had a heavy price to pay.

If this canon had  found its way to the Crimson Drawing room in Windsor Castle in England with a “Presented by the Adil Shahi Emperor” tag, would it have been treated so shabbily? Yes, my friends, the British had planned to heave this canon to England, but dropped it for obvious reasons.

It was time for our next destination – the Uppali Burz. Built as a watch tower this 25 m high tower is reached by a winding flight of stone steps. We started climbing the steps amongst hordes of giggling school girls who were finding it difficult to control their skirts flying in the winds.

Uppali Burz

It was very windy at the top, but the view at the summit was breathtaking. You could make out most of the monuments of Bijapur from here. At the top of the tower, two long canons lay.

On top of the Uppali Burz

Our next sight seeing option was Bara Kaman.

Bara Kaman is the unfinished mausoleum of Ali Adil Shah II. The monarch had wished to build a mausoleum for himself that would be one of the best in planning and architecture. As per his plan, twelve arches were to be placed vertically and twelve horizontally surrounding his own tomb, thus giving the name Bara Kaman – 12 arches. The mausoleum was left incomplete with only a few vertical arches raised, however, twelve arches placed horizontally were completed.

Bara Kaman

The story is that Ali Adil Shah was murdered by his father Ibrahim Adil Shah to prevent him from constructing this magnificent structure. Ibrahim Adil Shah feared that Bara kaman would surpass the popularity of his Gol Gumbaaz. If completed, the shadow of the Bara Kaman would have fallen on Gol Gumbaaz.

Nobody knows who the architect was but some records point to Malik Sandal, who had built the Ibrahim Rouza. To build the arches he had used an innovative technique. He had built solid walls in the shape of an arch and then had the inner part toppled so that the outer arch remained. Some of the walls were found intact to prove this point.

The arches, tombs and pillars at Bara Kaman

The Bara Kaman looked unlike any monument we had seen. It looked more like the ruins of a Tudor church, only the tombs gave an indication that this was a mausoleum. We walked among the arches, taking photos of one meeting another at the corners. A single intact tomb had been raised on a platform and the rest were on ground level, some of them in ruins.

It was time for our final stop, the Gol Gumbaaz.

Gol Gumbaaz or the round dome, the mausoleum of  Mohammad Adil Shah II, is a masterpiece of Islamic architecture and synonymous with Bijapur. Known as one of the largest domes in the world, Gol Gumbaaz is also unique in the fact that the dome is not supported by any pillars.

Gol Gumbaaz

It was the last stop in our ride around Bijapur and also time to bid farewell to our excellent guide cum charioteer. Though we requested him to pose for a snap, he excused himself and suggested we click his horse instead.

The second largest dome in the world now stood before us. We still had a couple of hours for our train back and intended to make the most of it at the Gol Gumbaaz.

The complex was brimming with tourists. Probably this was everybody’s last stop on their itinerary. Right in front stood the Gol Gumbaaz in all its grandeur. The monument was partially hidden by a two-storied building with tall windows in the shape of arches. This was the Archaeological museum; we decided to gave it a skip seeing the serpentine queues. School children were jostling against each other to get inside the museum.

Archaeological Museum – Bijapur

We followed a blue board that said ‘Way to Gol Gumbaaz’, rounded the museum and reached a single storey building. Passing through it we got our first unobstructed view of the Gol Gumbaaz.

This was one of that occasions when you wished you had a ‘wider’ angle lens. Sometimes your lens just doesn’t want to go back, far enough. But with glass that starts at 17 mm, we should not be complaining.

Front View of Gol Gumbaaz

The massive brick dome is supported, as earlier mentioned – not by pillars, but by a system of eight intersecting arches that create an interlocking system that bears the load of the dome. This system of interlocking pendentives is not commonly found in India. On all the four sides of the monument were seven storied towers with arched windows. These towers held the spiral staircases one had to climb to reach the top. Now only two remain open, one for the climb up and the other for the climb down.

We entered the monument and checked out the tomb first. On a platform at the centre of the  dome chamber lie the tombstones of Mohammad Adil Shah, his two wives, his son, his daughter and his mistress. The monarch’s tomb was covered by an ornamental wooden stand.

The tomb stones and the mosque at Gol Gumbaaz

Their real graves lie in a chamber under the gallery. And thank God for that!! For all these centuries,  these resting souls have had to endure something very horrendous that would probably be waking them up from their deep slumbers. For the Gol Gumbaaz is more famous for its “Whispering Gallery” which has now turned into a “Screaming Gallery”.

The view of the whispering gallery at Gol Gumbaaz from below

As we looked up to see from where the sounds or rather screeches were coming, we could see the rim of the gallery, near the ceiling of the dome, and people looking down, resembling a few ants on the wall.

We lined up behind a group of students for the hard climb up the seven stories to the whispering gallery. The stairs were narrow, spiral dark and claustrophobic. With every passing floor, we could hear the noise from up above rise. At first, it began as a distant drone but by the time we had heaved ourselves to the top, it was a blaring roar that seemed to echo itself many times over. Ten times over – to be precise.

Because of the dome’s remarkable acoustic properties, the faintest sound made at one end of the gallery can be clearly heard at the other end. Every sound echoes 10 times and reverberates for 26 seconds, the longest known reverberation count for any building.

Way to whispering gallery at Gol Gumbaaz

We stepped out from the dark stair case and found ourselves on the roof of the monument and at the base of the dome. The view from the top was magnificent and a bit scary too – if you are afraid of heights.

On top of the Gol Gumbaaz

The cacophony was getting louder and as we stepped into the dome it seemed as if the whole world was trying to prove a point – that every sound echoes 10 times. We heard all kinds of sounds we had never dreamt of hearing. Sreams, screeches, whistles, claps, hoots, growls, roars, monkey noises – I wonder how the emperor and his family are resting in peace.

View from the top of Gol Gumbaaz

The look down from the gallery is not for the faint-hearted. The wall of the gallery was dangerously low and as we looked down at the entrance of the gallery from where we had started our climb, the people near the tomb chamber seemed liked ants, again.

Inside the whispering galley at Gol Gumbaaz

The guard at the entrance said the best time to visit the gallery was during the early hours in the morning. We promised ourselves that we would stay in Bijapur the next time and experience the “Whispering Gallery”.

It was time for our journey back.

Bijapur was a revelation. A treasure trove for those who love history, architecture, heritage and symmetry. There were a few monuments we had to give a miss. Gagan Mahal, Asar Mahal, Saat Kabar, Jal Manzil, and many more. But there is always a next time.

As we started our walk from the Gol Gumbaaz to the railway station, we scanned the roads for Mohammad Anwar, our companion for the past few hours. He was nowhere to be found. But there were others, some waiting for their customers, others trying to look for a prospective one.

But we decided to walk anyway. The tonga ride had to wait till another visit.

Journey back

A Tonga Ride in Bijapur

Mohammad Anwar looked older than the photograph on his guide ID card, pinned to his front pocket, that he flaunted proudly. The once-pure-white-now-off-white soiled Kurta and Pyjama he was wearing, showcasing the muck and grime of the alleyways of Bijapur, and his unkempt beard, only added to the degree of scruffiness. He had bags under his eyes and deep lines around the corners of his mouth. Being a Tonga driver must be tough.

The moment we stepped out of the railway station in Bijapur in our touristy attire (backpack, camera, Bisleri bottle et al.), we were swarmed by a group of heckling auto drivers vying hard to get our attention. From what we had researched and understood, we knew that the nearest ‘sightseeing option’ was a kilometer and a half away from the railway station.

Bijapur Railway Station

In order to wave off the crowd, we started walking as if we owned the city, following a yellow board which clearly said that the Gol Gumbaaz was 1.5 km away, when we were stopped in our tracks by a soft but earnest voice. “Sirjee, tonga mein jaana hai? (Sir, would you like to go in a horse carriage?)”.

The Tonga!

The magical sound of the horse’s hoof beats … clip-clop, clip-clop, clip-clop. Doesn’t it bring back a lot of  memories? Right from my school days, when I used to feel jealous of my class mates being ferried by the ‘vandichettan’ to the later days of watching Rangoli on DD 1 while the Biswajeeths and the Dilip Kumars serenaded the Sadhanas and the Vyjayanthimalas, there was something I felt very romantic about a tonga ride.


The painted carriages, the seats in the brightest of colours, the rainbow feathers in the horse’s bridle and the royalty attached to a horse-driven carriage.

Tongas have been an integral part of the Indian roads, right from the time of the mighty emperors, princes and princesses who must have trotted about proudly in their elaborately decorated carriages. The advent of automobiles failed to dampen the business of the horse-driven carriages, which continues to enjoy mass popularity.

Of late, places like Delhi, Lucknow and Agra have been trying to bring in these colourful horse carts that would trot off to historical sites, with guides clad in white kurta-pyjamas and Lucknavi jooties, bringing back the charm of the old days and sprucing up tourism in those cities.

Our guide-cum-driver, horse and carriage seemed miles away from that mere thought.

The paint on the carriage was peeling off in places, the sponge was coming out of the seat cushion, the wooden wheel spokes were chipped, a huge stone was kept on the foot rest to keep the cart in balance, the horse was a bag of bones held up with skin and the driver, Mohammad Anwar, looked far from being the smart tonga driver.

We looked at each other, unable to decide whether to take the ride or just walk off, avoiding him. But it was difficult to dismiss him as we had ignored the cackling auto-drivers, and we found ourselves climbing onto his tonga ready for our vintage ride through Bijapur.

Bijapur – The capital of the Adil Shah Kings from the 15th to the 17th century. Ruins of forts, palaces, mosques and mausoleums lie scattered around the city, celebrating the renowned symmetry of the Islamic architecture.

Riding out of the railway station, we followed the Station Road, now christened  as the Mahatma Gandhi Road. The tonga took a sudden left turn, and right in front of us spread the magnificent Gol Gumbaaz. The tonga did not stop and sensing the disappointment in our eyes, Mohammad Anwar said that the Gol Gombaaz would be our last stop in this ride.

Various hues of Bijapur

The tonga took us deep into this maze, like a labyrinth, of alleyways that gave us a feeling it had not been changed much over the centuries. The houses painted in different hues of green, remnants of the old city crumbling to pieces and encroached upon in places, streets with rickshaws,  cows (and cows and cows), pigs, goats, women fully covered in black purdah, small children rushing to their Madrasas – girls covering their heads with their scarves and boys wearing the customary skull caps. Bijapur was like a period classic playing out splendidly before our eyes.

Our first stop was the Jama Masjid.

The Jama Masjid, built in 1686 during the rule of Adil Shah I and  to commemorate the Talikota victory, is one of the first and largest mosque’s in Bijapur.

From outside it looked unimpressive, a grey stoned structure with small arches built into the walls. Vendors of different kinds were trying to sell their wares, tourist maps, fruits and little knick knacks. Somewhere inside the Masjid there must be a Madrassa, as we found little girls and boys running around, books in their hands. Groups of elderly men were sitting on the steps and on the smaller walls, smoking, chatting and mostly doing nothing.

The wait – outside Jama Masjid, Bijapur

Our first chore was to buy a pamphlet showing all the tourist spots in Bijapur from an old lady sitting on the steps of the mosque. We climbed a flight of stone steps and passed into a huge rectangular hall. Once we entered inside the mosque, we realised how grand this monument was. The hall continued on three sides, enclosing a small tank in the middle, and was lined with high arches that divided the hall into 45 compartments, each with beautiful carvings. Above the hall resting on the beams was a  dome, shaped like an onion. The masjid is said to accommodate about 2250 devotees; the floor is painted with 2,250 squares for each worshipper.

Inside the Jama Masjid in Bijapur

We took off our foot wear and walked around taking in the beauty and largeness of the mosque. There was barely anyone in the prayer hall, only a couple of praying men absorbed in themselves. In front of the main hall, the wall is adorned with golden paintings and inscriptions, the lower portion faded by the continuous touching of devotees. Now a bamboo barricade and a stern Maulavi stands, or rather sits, between the wall and you. The mosque holds an exquisite copy of the Quran written in gold letters.

Other than the pigeons flapping and the little girls giggling in their class rooms, there were no other sounds. How majestic this structure would have looked, back in the 16th century?!

Seeing our cameras, a couple of girls surrounded us asking us to take their photographs.

Inside the Jama Masjid in Bijapur

From the Jama Masjid the tonga took us further down the busy inner roads. The horse stopped suddenly by the road and our guide pointed to a beautiful building and said ‘Mehtar Mahal’. We would not have noticed it if he had not pointed it out. ‘It’s the gate to the Mehtar Mosque’, he said ‘and closed for renovation’ he added.

Mehtar Mahal looked more like an amalgamation of a haveli, from Rajasthan, and a Hoysala temple from Karnataka; probably only the two minarets on top giving away its Moghul origins. This three storey building had a lot of carvings in Hindu architectural style – we spotted lotuses sculpted on to the walls. The brackets resembled the mythical creatures we had seen in the temples at Belur and Halebid.

Mehtar Mahal

We resumed our journey through the small road till we reached a busy circle. From there the roads got wider and we were passing through some of the main market area.

We stopped in front of a domed structure. A second glance revealed another dome peeping out from the side. The Jod Gumbaaz it was – the twin domes of Abdul Razaq Dargah. Built around the late 1600s, the domes hold the tombs of Khan Muhammad and Abdul Razzaq Qadiri. According to a metal hoarding belonging to the Karnataka Tourism, the two men – one the general and the other the spiritual advisor of the Adil Shahi family – were considered traitors as they helped the Mughal Emperor, Aurangzeb, defeat the Adil Shahi ruler, Sikandar.

Jod Gumbaaz

As we entered the gates of the Jod Gumbaaz, we realised that, other than the larger twin domes, there were other smaller ones around the complex. There were neat lawns with huge shady trees, a respite to visitors on hot sunny days. Some of the trees had small shrines at the base.

We walked towards one of the domed structures. At the ground level of the tomb was a dargah. At the entrance, we found an inscription from the holy Quran painted in green. There were people, mostly ladies and children, sitting in front of the entrance of the dargah. The Maulavi was reciting some prayers and offering them holy water.

Without disturbing the religious fervour, we walked around the dargah. This must be an important religious centre for we found several people staying in the complex, setting up small makeshift sleeping places, clothes hanging around to be dried and food being cooked on brick fire places.

Domes, tombs and shrines at Jod Gumbaaz

The  tombs painted a beautiful picture against the skyline.

It was time for our next stop. The tonga took us further to Taj Bawdi.

When the Bahamani emperor,  Ali Adil Shah,  brought down the  Vijayanagar empire in the mid 16th century, other than building palaces and mosques, he also undertook the task of improving the public water supply system in the city of Bijapur. His son, Ibrahim Adil Shah, built Taj Bawdi in 1620 for his first queen, Taj Sultana.

In its heydays, this monument must have been a bustling place with weary travellers. Now a sole security guard sits with a stick that does the job of shooing away stray dogs or to poke back the cricket ball that’s hit in his direction by kids playing in the lawns outside.

Taj Bawdi

You are welcomed by a huge arch which is flanked by two towers on both sides. These octagonal towers used to be rest rooms for the travellers. We passed beneath the arch and climbed down a flight of stone steps to reach the tank. A  stone wall skirts the three sides of the tank, covered by arch windows, that had rooms meant for the use of travellers. An iron gate has been built to prevent people from entering the water.

And why would one enter the water? The tank has turned into a dumping pit. The garbage of Bijapur is finding its way into Taj Bawdi, once the sole water supply of the city. The water was green and  stinking. We learnt from Mohammad Anwar that the Karnataka Government, after declaring Taj Bawdi as a protected monument, had spent around 8 lakh rupees in 2005 to renovate the tank, remove the waste that was dumped here and refill it with clean water. But without realising the national importance of this monument, people started to use the tank to wash the clothes and to dump garbage, again.

Dirty waters at Taj Bawdi

Now the iron gate and security guard ensures that we do not see boys frolicking in the water or their mothers washing dirty clothes. But it is sad to see that, still, the cities’ garbage mysteriously finds its way into the tank. Plastic bags lay strewn on the steps of the tank and immersed in the water.

We climbed onto our royal carriage for our next destination. By this time we had already learnt the art of climbing with ease.

Our next stop was the Ibrahim Rouza, arguably the second most striking monument in all of Bijapur.

Ibrahim Rouza

Ibrahim Rouza was built by Ibrahim Adil Shah II as a mausoleum for his wife, Taj Sultana.  Ironically, the emperor died first and was buried here. This huge complex consists of a mausoleum and a mosque, facing each other on a raised platform.

As we entered the gates, after paying our entry and camera fee, we could get a feel of the grandeur and the largeness of this monument. A red sand path, neatly laid and lined with small pruned bushes, cut through the enormous, manicured lawn. We could make out three structures in front of us. On our left was the larger structure, the mausoleum; on our right was the mosque; and in the middle, a small squarish building with four minarets that, upon a closer look, turned out to be the entrance gate to the Rouza. This building had connecting walls, with huge arches cut into it, running on all four sides of the Rouza creating an outer wall boundary.

We passed through the small door of the entrance gate and came to a flight of stoned steps. The steps took us to the raised platform where the mosque and the mausoleum faced each other. An empty step tank with a fountain in the center lay between the two structures.

The Mausoleum at Ibrahim Rouza

The Mausoleum was built from a single rock and the architect, according to the inscriptions on a wall, was Malik Sandal. The outer wall of the mausoleum had seven arches each on all the four sides, two of them narrower than the others, creating an outer walkway. The inner aisle had pillars neatly placed for symmetry.

Inside the mausoleum at Ibrahim Rouza

The panels on the wall had inscriptions in Persian and other floral patterns and embellishments.  The doors and windows of the tomb were made of wood and had carvings that resembled temple doors. The inner tomb chamber has six tombs that belong to Ibrahim Adil Shah II, his wife Taj Sultana, his mother, his daughter Zohra Sultana and his sons Darvesh and Sulaiman. The original remains are said to be in an underground chamber.

The tomb chamber at Ibrahim Rouza

The mosque was smaller in size and had a  prayer chamber with a facade of five arches in front. The over hanging roof has four minarets at each corner, a single bulbous dome with a row of petals at its base at the center and a beautifully carved parapet. The prayer hall was lined with high arches, each with beautiful carvings.

The Mosque at Ibrahim Rouza

The place was bustling with tourists. Children in school uniforms of all  imaginable colours, walking in pairs and groups alike, listening keenly to what their teachers were explaining; ladies clad in burqah with their kids tagging along; a few serious devotees oblivious of the noise around, praying silently; and a couple of foreigners, red from the blazing sun, and carrying cameras with lenses bigger than their backpacks.

Our cameras were going crazy.  The monument seemed to be a perfect place for photography enthusiasts.The tombs against the skies, peppered with scattered clouds, looked out of the world and gave us some beautiful pictures.

Another view of Ibrahim Rouza

We walked back to the entry gates, ready to resume our tonga ride.

But it was already past noon and time for our lunch. Our tonga stopped in front of a vegetarian restaurant. We invited  Mohammad Anwar for lunch but he declined, politely, saying that he had his own food with him.

We had at least four more hours, post-lunch, and had to cover as many number of monuments. For the time being we were exhausted, from the sun, from the ride, our stomachs were empty; but our minds were full from the continuous supply of knowledge on history, heritage and architecture. We had to rest our minds too – for a while.

The tonga ride continues….

Hampi: Day 3, on a moped

The moped dragged us across the bumpy terrain of Hampi. Today was our last day in this surreal landscape. There was only one agenda in mind. Hire a moped and explore the ruins of Hampi. Follow the nose (of the moped) to the not much trodden paths and get lost somewhere among the boulders, broken palace basements, fallen temples and watch towers.

We had earlier rented a moped from Hampi bazaar and had paid Rs. 300, inclusive of the fuel. There are numerous shops in Hampi bazaar that rents out cycles, scooters and mopeds. They even let you to keep the vehicle overnight at your hotel. You just have to give them a xerox copy of any valid photo identity proof.

From Hampi bazaar we took the road to Kamalapura village. Right before the underground Shiva temple we saw a mud track and decided to follow it. After a few turns we reached a watch tower called the Mohammadan watch tower. The watch tower had steps leading up to a balcony which overlooked the mud track.

Mohammadan watch tower

A few meters from the watch tower is the Danaik enclosure.

Danaik’s enclosure

This was used as the military training area. Only the systematically partitioned basement of the enclosure remains.


Right next to the Danaik enclosure is a mosque and and another watch tower called the band tower.

The band tower

On the other side of the Mohammadan watch tower is the noblemen’s quarters.  This was where the aristocrats lived. Just like the Danaik enclosure, only the basement remains.

Noblemen’s quarter

Right next to the quarters is a modern watch tower with steps, railings et al. We climbed the watch tower to get a better view of the whole area. The bird’s eye view was worth the climb.

Our next stop was Malyavanta Raghunatha temple. This temple is situated on top of Malyavanta hill which is on the way to Kampili village. The road was steep, winding and long.

Road to Malyavanta hill

I was obliged to dismount at a point and followed on foot.

The legend is that, after killing Bali, Rama and Lakshmana rested at this place before going in search of Sita.

The eastern gopura

The 3-storeyed eastern gopura of the temple leads into a large courtyard. There were a few neatly pruned trees and a few dogs enjoying their pre-noon siesta.

Malyavanta Raghunatha temple

Other than a single devotee reading shlokas from Ramayana, we were the only people inside the complex.  The temple has large pillared ornate mandapas on both sides.

From  the western side of the temple you can step onto the Malyavanta  hill and climb a bit further up. From the top of the hill you can get a view of the tough and rustic Hampi terrain.

View from the top

There is a small shrine on top of the hill with a lot of shivalingas sculpted out from the rocks.

Shrine on the top of Malyavanta hill

Our next stop, Pattabhirama temple, though as large as Vittala temple, is less frequented by tourists. It is is probably due to its location being a little away from the rest of Hampi and just beyond the Kamalapura village en route to Daroji Bear Sanctuary.

The security guard at the gate seemed a bit surprised to see us. He said only the most committed of visitors make it to Pattabhirama temple. Modestly patting ourselves, we entered into the temple complex through a side entrance.

Pattabhirama temple

The temple must have been a grand structure during its prime. The huge courtyard has various mandapas on all sides with the main sanctum at the center.

Another view

Other than the abundant simian population, both alive and sculpted, no other soul was in the premises.

Further down the road we came across a rectangular shaped structure with a dome called the Domed gate.

Domed gate

Within the Domed gate there is an image of  Hanuman carved on the wall.

The Hanuman temple inside the domed gate

This gate had no similarities with the Bhima’s gate we had seen earlier. However, we did find some similarities with the Talarigatta gate we saw later.

Talarigatta gate

In ancient Hampi, very few people would have had houses with private bath areas. People must have enjoyed going to public bath houses. We came across at least three public bath houses, not to mention the innumerable pushkarinis (water tanks) we saw.

The most magnificent of them all is the Queen’s bath pavilion, the bathing area for the queen and the mistresses.

Queen’s bath

The pavilion has a veranda that runs on all sides. In the middle is an open pond that can be accessed by steps. Projecting into the pond from the verandah are many balconies decorated with tiny windows. There are various aqueducts terminating inside the pond. The pavilion does not have a roof.

The moat around the pavilion

Around the building is a water channel that was probably designed to prevent intruders from walking into the pavilion when the women took bath! The Queen’s bath can be found right next to the road to Hampi bazaar.

Another public bath, the Octagonal bath, as the name suggests, is an octogonal bathing area.

Octogonal bath

The bath has an octagonal shaped platform with aqueducts at the middle and has a pillared veranda around it.

Inside the Octogonal bath

The area between the veranda and the platform must have been the bathing area. This is found on a mud path about a kilometer from the Queen’s bath.

The Octogonal water pavilion, found on the road to Hampi bazaar, could have been a magnificent water fountain in its prime.

Octogonal water pavilion

Now practically in an abandoned stage with bushes and wild grass growing around, it looks more like a makeshift cooking place.

We had spent three days in Hampi and had not seen the sun rise or set. The sky was overcast on all days during dawn and dusk, not allowing us to capture the beautiful event. We climbed up the Hemakuta hill with whatever energy that remained to capture whatever remained of the sun through the overcast skies.

Jain temples

The Hemakuta hill is dotted with a lot of temples, the main being the Jain temples. The Jain temples look a bit different from the other temples. The main difference is in the stepped tower over the main shrine.

Hemakuta hill is an excellent vantage point. Other than the Virupaksha temple and the bazaar, a lot of other temples and ruins can be spotted from the top. Sun or no sun, a lot of tourists had come to enjoy the light cool breeze of the evening.

It was time for us to leave. Return journeys are the most toughest. What we did figure out, though, was that this journey was so worth it.

Hampi: Day 2, the Walkabout

The sky was a little overcast the next morning. We decided to go for a walk before breakfast. Taking a mud path, we walked, enjoying the bird songs and the cool breeze.

This way to

The mud path led to a board that said ‘Bhima’s gateway’ beyond which was an arched gateway.

Bhima's gateway

The gate led into a courtyard which had a lot of stone carvings depicting the stories of Bhima. One carving shows Bhima carrying the ‘Sowgandhika’ flower.

Bhima carrying the Sowgandhika flower

Another one shows Bhima killing Keechaka.

Bhima killing Keechaka, while Draupadi is watching

Draupadi is standing nearby watching the scene.


After breakfast, we hired an auto rickshaw to take us to Hampi bazaar. It had started to rain. The  drizzle did not dampen our spirits.

Cleanliness and Godliness

We were trying to see the positive side of it. Rain can give a totally different texture to any landscape.

Walking towards the monolithic bull

We walked through the Hampi bazaar, in the opposite direction of the Virupaksha temple. The bazaar was slowly waking up to a wet morning.

At the end of the bazaar is a huge idol of a bull called the monolithic bull.

Monolithic bull

A lot of monkeys were swinging  around.

The climb up to Achutaraya temple

The steps from the bull led to a small mandapa from where the Virupaksha temple could be seen.

View of the bazaar and Virupaksha temple

Further up, was a small Hanuman temple. A lady, who was sitting in front of the temple,  gave us ‘prasad’.

The lady and her Idol

From the Hanuman temple, we climbed down a few steps to reach the Achutharaya temple complex.

Achutaraya temple complex

Located at the foot of Matanga hill, this large temple complex has a Devi shrine at the center. This temple, as the other temples in Hampi,  has many gopuras.

Northern gopura of the inner courtyard

The outer courtyard has a large gopura on the northern side which is also the main entrance and the inner courtyard has three gopuras, on the north, east and west.

There are various pillared mandapas around the courtyards. Most of the carvings depict stories from Ramayana.

Soolai bazaar

Right outside the temple are the ruins of a long street or bazaar once famous as the Soolai bazaar or dancing girls’ street. At the end of the bazaar is a beautiful water tank with steps on all sides and a small mandapa in the center.

Water tank

From the tank we walked further to our right and reached a small cave called the Sugriva’s cave. The legend is that Sugriva kept Sita’s jewels inside the cave. Right outside the cave is a pool called Sita sarovar.

Sugriva's cave

Opposite to Sugriva’s cave is another temple which has a stepped tower over the shrine, thus making it look like a Jain temple.

The Jain temple?

But there are a lot of Vaishnavite sculptures in the temple like the two dwarapalakas at the entrance.

The dwarapalaka's

The temple has a two-storeyed mantapa which is reached by a flight of stone steps.

The deepasthambham

In front of the temple is a stone deepasthambham.

The King's balance

The path further leads to a gateway popularly known as the King’s balance. This balance was used  for weighing the king against gems and gold during auspicious occasions. The balance has two huge granite ornate pillars supporting a stone beam. There are a number of ruined shrines near the balance.

On the opposite side of the balance is the ruins of a structure called the Raya-gopura which has tall pillars.


Behind the Raya-gopura is a Vishnu temple which was closed for renovation.

Vishnu temple

We started walking back. We were to reach the Soolai bazaar from where we had taken a right. We walked past the Soolai bazaar and reached the Kodandarama temple. The temple stands on the banks of Tungabhadra river, opposite the chakratirtha, a bathing ghat. The temple contains the standing figures of Rama, Sita and Lakshmana.

Kondarama temple

We rested for a while on the banks watching people crossing the river on coracles.


It was way past lunch time. There was a small restaurant on the banks of the river, where we had lunch.


After lunch, we then took a stone paved pathway, passed by some huge boulders that took us right back to the monolithic bull.

We then walked to Hampi bazaar, did some shopping and then took an auto rickshaw and returned back to our hotel. But not before finalizing our next days plan.

We were to rent a moped for the next day.

For Day 3: Click here

Hampi: Day 1, the Touristy Approach

By 8 am we had reached Hospet, a sleepy nondescript town, 20 km from Hampi.

We took an auto from the bus stand to the Karnataka State Tourism Development Corporation (KSTDC) owned Mayura Bhuvaneshwari.

Mayura Bhuvaneshwari

Mayura Bhuvaneshwari is an ideal choice to stay in as it is very close to Hampi. Hospet is a bit too far off for anyone keen on staying in the thick of the Hampi action. This resort is in Kamalapura and it is a further 4 kms to Hampi Bazaar but a much better bet than the accommodation options in the Bazaar area.

Dining area

The complex is sprawling and peaceful and has a laidback charm to it. The reception area takes you into a large courtyard which doubles up as the dining area.

Inside Mayura

Besides the lovely photos of Hampi that hung on the walls, the rooms had some endearing artwork both outside and inside.

Before checking in, the manager told us that KSTDC was conducting a one day guided tour to all the major points. We thought, to get a better idea of the place, it would be better to go for it.

By 10.30, we boarded the KSTDC bus and were on our way to Hampi bazaar to see one of the most important temples in Hampi, the Virupaksha temple.

Today, we decided to be tourists.

From whatever research we did on Hampi, we came to understand that there were more than 1000 ruins in and around Hampi. Hampi’s ruins are broadly divided into the sacred center (mainly the temples and mandapas) and the royal center (palaces, forts, gates etc). And to see them all in 3 days was no child’s play.

Virupaksha Temple Eastern Gopura

Virupaksha temple, one of the oldest and main temples in Hampi, is an important pilgrimage centre for the worshippers of Lord Shiva. Located on the southern bank of Tungabhadra river, Virupaksha temple is said to be one of the oldest functioning temples in India.

What stands out is the entry point into the temple, a 9-storeyed eastern gopura which leads to the outer courtyard. There is another gopura on the northern side too. These gopuras are visible from almost anywhere in Hampi.  Right from the open restaurants in the Hampi bazaar from where one can endlessly gaze at those magnificent towers to the Hemkuta hills from where one can watch the sun set right behind the temple.

Three-headed Nandi

Upon entering the outer courtyard, on the left, a rare 3-headed Nandi is found. Other than the many small shrines present in the courtyard, the major structures found in the outer courtyard are the Phalapuja mandapas.

Outer courtyard

The outer courtyard is connected to the inner one by a small 3-storeyed gopura.  The inner courtyard has pillars running on all the four sides with a rangamandapa in the center.  Behind the rangamandapa is the main shrine of Virupaksha.


There are various sub-shrines around the inner court.  On northern side near the gopura is a water tank called the Manmatha tank. Towards the back side of the  temple is a small dark room where you get to see an inverted image of the main gopura, as light falls through a small slit on the wall.

Lakshmi against the gopuras

The temple has its own animal brigade. Right from Lakshmi, the temple elephant, which would eat bananas from your hand and bless you for a few rupees, to the monkeys hanging around the northern gopura eating rice from the plantain leaves offered by the devotees.

Eating out...

The street leading from the temple is called the Hampi bazaar.

Hampi Bazaar

About a kilometre long, the bazaar is lined with a series of granite pavilions, some of them two storeyed. These structures were once part of a thriving market.

Living on heritage?

Most of  these pavilions are encroached upon and made into shops, restaurants, homes, schools and even a police station. A lot of guest houses can be found around the Hampi bazaar area, mainly catering to backpackers. The signboards in Hebrew, the Italian and German bakeries and the tie and dye clothes hanging from the shops give the Hampi bazaar a ‘Janpath look’.

The shops sell everything and anything from ethnic clothes, bags, religious artefacts etc.

In the name of God

But in July, 2011, the district administration of Bellary, armed with a Karnataka High Court order, brought in three bull dozers to demolish the 20-year old bazaar. The entire stretch in front of the temple has now been razed to the ground, leaving hundreds of people with no means of livelihood .

Debris of History!

We took the road from the Hampi bazaar that climbs steeply up towards Hemakuta hill.

View of the Hampi bazaar from the top of the Hemakuta hills

The next stop was the Kadlekalu Ganesha temple on the Hemakuta hill.

Kadlekalu Ganesha

Here Ganesha is seen with his paunch shaped like a green gram seed, though it looked far more bigger than a green gram seed.

Right next to the Ganesha temple is a Krishna temple devoted to Balakrishna. The idol of Balakrishna now lies in a museum in Chennai.

On the other side of the road is a bazaar and a pushkarini (water tank).

Further down is the statue of Lakshmi Narasimha.  This giant monolithic statue of the man-lion god is the largest icon in Hampi. Narasimha is depicted in a cross-legged seated position. The original structure had his consort Lakshmi sitting on his lap.

This image was destroyed during the enemy invasion. Currently, only a hand of the goddess resting on his waist can be seen.

Right next to the Lakshmi Narasimha is a Badavalinga shrine which was built by a poor woman. The pedestal always remains immersed in water.

Akki-Tangi sisters

A few meters ahead is the Akki Tangi Gundu better known as sister stones. Two huge stones stand precariously leaning into each other. The story is that two sisters came to visit Hampi and were cursed into stones as they ridiculed the place. The sister stones were recently in the news because a portion collapsed.

Our next stop was the underground Shiva temple. As the name suggests, the temple is below ground level. The structure is in a dilapidated state and the main sanctum is under water.

We moved on to the Zenana enclosure next. This used to be the ladies’ quarters. The enclosure has a huge wall running along the four sides.

Main entrance to Zenana enclosure

There are three watch towers and remnants of the Queen’s palace inside the enclosure.

Northern watch tower

Eastern watch tower

But what stood out was the Lotus Mahal.

Lotus Mahal

The Lotus Mahal stands on a raised platform and has two storeys. The first level has huge arches and pillars to support them and the level above has a lot of windows on all the sides.

Basement of Queen's palace

Just outside the Zenana enclosure is a long oblong building with huge domes on top. This is the elephant stable. There are hooks attached to the inside of the dome probably used to tie the elephants.

Elephant stable

Close to the elephants stable is the Guard Room, which has arched entrances.

Guard quarter

We next visited the Hazara Rama temple.

Hazararama Temple

On the inner and outer walls are depicted the main incidents from Ramayana and a few scenes from Mahabharata.

Stories on a wall

We walked ahead to the King’s palace which encloses the King’s audience hall, a large water tank and a huge pedestal structure called the Mahanavami Dibba. The King’s audience hall must have been a huge pillared structure in its prime. But now what remains is a platform with a lot of vestiges of pillar-sockets.

Kings audience hall

The Mahanavami Dibba was erected after Krishnadevaraya’s victorious campaigns in Orissa.

Mahanavami dibba

Ever since, it has played a prominent place in the Navarathri celebrations.

At the base of the Mahanavami Dibba is a water tank with steps on all sides. There are inlets and outlets around the tank.

Water tank

It was almost 2 pm and we were famished. Our lunch was arranged at Mayura Bhuvaneshwari.

Vittala Temple

After lunch, the bus took us to Vittala temple.

Entrance into the main shrine

The Vittala temple complex is another architectural showpiece. The temple is built within a walled enclosure and, just like the Virupaksha temple, has huge pillared Mandapas on all sides and towering Gopuras overlooking the complex.

Northern gopura

The Mandapas have numerous beautiful carvings and stand on ornate platforms. One such carving took our breath away. It looks like an elephant from the right and a bull from the left.

Elephant and Bull

The highlight of Vittala temple is the stone chariot. This iconic structure is the symbol of Karnataka tourism.

The stone chariot

By the time we had walked around the complex, it was 6 pm and we decided to call it a day.

A walk through Hampi can be both mysterious and rustic. The boulders, the fallen temple stones, the broken palace basements – all have a story to tell.  But we wanted to find some of those stories on our own. We had 2 more days in Hampi and we had already made up our mind.

We were going to be travellers for the next two days.

To read more: Go to Hampi: Day 2, the Walkabout.

Hampi: An Epilogue and a little bit of History

It was the last day of our 3-day trip to Hampi. We were waiting with our luggage at a small tea stall near the Hampi bus stand for a bus to take us to Hospet from where we were to proceed to Bangalore. The sun had just gone down and the whole of Hampi bazaar was bustling with shop keepers, locals and tourists, both Indian and foreign.

The previous day was Diwali. A lot of leftover crackers and rockets were  whizzing around. We, a little bit tired from the three days of walking around, were just taking in the scene and enjoying hot pakoras and tea. The tea stall was empty, we being the only customers.

Suddenly, we were joined by a group of around 10 people, kids, men and women.  They were Gujaratis, from what I could understand from their language. From the other things that we understood, this was their first day in Hampi and they had hired a van for the day that had cost them Rs. 1000. They had been promised to be shown about 25 ‘points’ and only 20 were shown and they wanted part of their  money back. The driver was trying to pacify them telling them he would show the rest of the ‘points’, the next day.

The 'Points' of interests

A small crowd had now assembled at the tea stall, some taking sides of the Gujarati family and others supporting the driver in his cause. By the time our bus came. We  could not know whether they got their money back or they compromised on seeing the ‘points’ the next day.

While travelling back to Bangalore, I was reminded of a quote by G.K. Chesterton. “The traveller sees what he sees. The tourist sees what he has come to see. ”

Following the crowd?

So were we travellers or tourists? A little bit of both, maybe.

Before our trip to Hampi, we did a lot of research. As loyal tourists we had scoured the old issues of all the travel magazines we had stacked up, took printouts of the maps and any information regarding the structures in Hampi from the net to make sure that we had taken note of all the ‘points’ of interest and more importantly, read a lot of blogs on Hampi.

As travellers, we have also tried to go a bit offbeat sometimes, walking on those side tracks that would take you nowhere discovering new ‘points’ of interests.

Or taking the off beaten path!

Hampi had always been on our travel list for a very long time.

But before that, a little bit of history.

Little did Hakka and Bukka, two brothers and soldiers in the employment of Muhammad-bin-Tuglaq, know that  seeing a fox being driven away by rabbits would lead them to the establishment of an empire on the banks of the Tungabhadra river. Once, while walking  by the banks of Tungabhadra river, they saw the strange sight of a fox being chased away by rabbits. They then met a sage and told him about the strange event they had witnessed.

The sage’s name was Vidyaranya. He told them that the land they stood on was very powerful and any city built at this spot as the capital of  a kingdom would repulse attacks from even the most powerful of kings. Thus, the city of Vijayanagara (city of victory)  or Vidyanagara (named after sage Vidyaranya) was born.

Hakka and Bukka wanted to  build a huge kingdom with palaces, temples and forts. But Sage Vidyaranya wanted to fix an auspicious moment to dig the foundation for the city. The brothers waited for that moment and suddenly they heard the sound of a conch shell. Thinking it was the announcement of the auspicious moment they started digging the foundation.

Hakka and Bukka consulting Sage Vidyaranya

But then they heard a second conch sound. Confused they went to see their Guru who said that the first sound was made to announce the sunrise and the second sound was made by Vidyaranya to announce the right moment which, if they had followed correctly, would have led to the kingdom to last 3600 years.

The rabbits chasing the fox could be just a story. But the empire of Vijayanagara  founded in 1336 lasted for only 360 years. Vijayanagara was ruled by many dynasties including the Sangama, Saluva and the Tuluva.  The descendents of Hakka and Bukka belonged to the Sangama dynasty. The fortifications and irrigation work owe much to their efforts. They also managed to overthrow the muslim rulers.

The greatest of the Vijayanagara rulers, Krishnadevaraya, belonged to the Tuluva dynasty. He ruled till 1529 and his time was considered to be the golden age.

Several Portuguese travellers and traders who visited Vijayanagara wrote detailed reports about its glory. Domingos Paes (1520–22) who visited Vijayanagara during Krishnadeva’s reign, was fascinated by the greatness of Vijayanagara’s fortified urban landscape, its markets, temples and the royal centre. Paes’ detailed description of the city of Vijayanagara  is of immense help for identifying and interpreting the still impressive ruins of Vijayanagara which once was, according to Paes, as large as Rome and “the best provided city of the world”.

Krishnadevarayya and his consorts

But after Krishnadevaraya’s  death, his descendents struggled to keep the invaders out. Vijayanagara was destroyed by the united armies of the central Indian Sultanates in the battle of Talikota in early  1565.  The muslim invaders took just 5 months to demolish and loot all those magnificent palaces, forts and temples which were built over the years.

These magnificent ruins which are now declared as a world heritage site are situated in Hampi.

So armed with all the paraphrenalia, walking shoes, sun tan lotion, maps, guide books and a lots of enthusiasm, we boarded a bus from Bangalore to Hospet, the nearest town to Hampi.

To read more: Go to Day 1.

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