Tag Archives: heritage

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.

Malik-e-Maidan

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

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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.

Mosque

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.

Reflections

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.

Raya-gopura

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.

Tungabhadra

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

Danger

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: 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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