14th March 2005
So this weekend we headed out of town. We had planned to get the 7 am bus from Bangalore Central bus station to Sravanabelagola, about a 4 hour bus ride away but unfortunately although we all arrived at the bus station on time, Tom and Clare, having not been to the bus station before did not know where the bus stops were and, as Ian and I didn’t do a very good job of directing them, we missed the bus. Fortunately there was a connecting bus that left at 7.30 am so we first went to Channarayapatna then from Channarayapatna to Sravanabelagola. The bus ride was fantastic and although I was tired I didn’t sleep as there were many villages, people, plants and animals to be seen through the bus window. We arrived in Sravanbelagola about 12 noon and headed out into the town to find something to eat.
The restaurant we stumbled on was an untraditional non-veg restaurant and as the proprietor did not offer us a menu we could only assume that the fish, chicken and eggs he offered was all he had. In fact much of what transpired during that meal inferred that this “restaurant” was in fact a farm and the chef a farmer making a little extra money. The table he showed us to was enclosed by three stone walls closely resembling a pig sty. When we asked for Pepsi a little boy appeared, left the building running and reappeared a few minutes later with four icy cold drinker then he realised didn’t have a bottle opener and left again to find one. Unlike the Pepsi the food was sadly questionable. We ordered chicken and were pretty much presented with a whole chicken cut up into miscellaneous misshaped pieces of flesh, bone and skin. I think Tom was the only one of us who actively enjoyed eating it. Clare and I pushed it around our plates and Ian struggled to each more than was necessary. Don’t get me wrong most of the food I have been eating over the last month has been great but as most of it is veg only I have pretty much become a vegetarian so to be presented with meat that actually resembled an animal was a tad unappetising.
After lunch we decided that it was too hot to try to the climb up Vindhyagiri hill to the naked man monolith. Our guidebook had warned us the climb was best taken in the morning or late afternoon so (and I don’t really no what our logic was at the time”¦) we decided to climb the hill opposite, Chandragiri hill, to reach some Jain temples instead! The climb was via a set of steps cut in the side of the rock. The entrance of the temple grounds began at the bottom of the hill so, as with all Hindu temples, we had to remove our shoes before we entered and thus before we could make the climb. Climbing bare foot in any conditions is probably uncomfortable but in the midday sun on rock results in very sore soles and lots of “ohh-ing” and “ouch-ing”!
Having hot-footed (literally) it to the top we were offered a tour of the site by an India Archaeological Survey worker. He showed us round the site of 17 temples each with a different Jain god inside and was highly informative. He found it very amusing that we were burning our feet and seemed to enjoy talking to us. Unlike the other monuments we were to visit this one was obviously less popular and perhaps he was happy to be able to show people around. Cleaning work was in progress onsite and we made a donation to the Survey for work to continue. We also took a look at a small cave set in the side of the hill that houses the tomb of Chandragupta Maurya, a legendary king who was a patron of Jainism. A carving had been made in the rock floor of where he was said to have stood during his ritual starvation. Nice.
Following our climb up Chandragiri hill we rested in the bus station awhile before heading up Vindhyagiri hill to see Sri Gomatheswar, the monolithic statue. It was funny sitting in the bus station because, as in other places too, we seemed to be of great interest. Throughout the weekend we appeared to be the subject of much conversation and many people including a large group of school children in Sravanabelagola bus station were very curious of us. Many asked “what is your country?”, “what is your name?”, “who do you work for?”, “why are you here?”, “where are your parents?” and the oddest question of all was “have you got a pen?” It seemed that as westerners we were the source of all the world’s pens. Unfortunately we only had one pen and were reluctant to give it out to one child in case we started a riot. We waited until a lone child asked us for one and give it to him I’m not convinced he was entirely satisfied with it but it was the best we had. Maybe I should buy a pack of pens to give out when I travel?
From the bus station we could see the top of Sri Gomatheswar’s head towering above the town and soon we were anxious to see just how tall he was. The climb up this hill was similar to the last but the rocks were less hot and didn’t burn our feet nearly so much. However, having already climbed one hill that day we were pretty exhausted and dehydrated so by the time we reached the first temple we were retched. Here though, we saw monkeys clambering all over the temple tops and pillars and it was great to rest and watch them scamper about.
From the first temple we continued the climb to see Sri Gomatheswar. He stands 17 feet tall and is over 1000 years old yet he looked brand new. He is carved from a single piece of stone and is one of the tallest monolithic structures in the world. Our guide informed us he took 12 years to complete and every 12 years the Jains celebrate his creation by bathing him in a misture of milk, honey, ghee, coconut oil, herbs and flowers. It seems that they treat him almost as if he is alive as they were busy cleaning him when we arrived. He was as impressive as I had expected and I was happy to have made the climb to see him”¦ he did look pretty happy to see us too!
Having realised earlier in the day that there we no buses back to Bangalore late in the afternoon and that we were too tired to sit for another 4 hours on a bus we decided to head to Hassen to stay over. Hassen was about an hour away from Sravanabelagola and would provide us with a good base to visit the Hoysala temples at Halebid and Belur the next day.
On Sunday morning we ate breakfast at the hotel and then caught a bus to Halebid. On arrival in Halebid we were bombarded with questions for all sides as we had come to expect but we were also offered many souvenirs and gifts to buy as well. In order to get the sellers to go away I agreed that I may buy something when I left the temple. This was a mistake because, as you may expect, they remembered and when we returned from the temple we were again accosted by these men but this time they were much more persistent. Most were selling soapstone carvings of Nandi (meaning bull, vehicle of Shiva), Ganesh and an elephant. They were quite charming and would certainly remind us of our trip so we each brought a set. It was very amusing to see the sellers trying to out do each other by dropping their prices and I think we got a good deal in the end. Unfortunately there were many more sellers than gifts we were willing to buy and once we had brought from some sellers the others wanted to know why we didn’t by from them. One seller, a young man about 15, followed us for over a kilometre down the road begging us to buy from him. I felt quite sorry for him but as I had already brought the ornaments he was offering from another seller it seemed ridiculous to buy more.
The temples at Halebid were much more ornate than those we had seen at Sravanabelagola the day before. Again we were shown around by a very enthusiastic and friendly guide. Here he showed us the intricate carvings of the Hoysalas on the walls of the temples. Many of the carved panels he showed us depicted moral tales and I was particularly taken by one frieze showing the alternative faces of drinking alcohol. This panel showed a person sitting next to a carafe. Drinking from the carafe was a crow indicating the feeling of freedom and weightlessness you feel after drinking a little alcohol. Below the carafe was a snake representing the evil side of drinking too much how true!
At Belur we visited the Chennakeshva temple. The main entrance to the temple courtyard is a 7 storey gateway or gopurum (see photo) built in the Dravidian style. Inside, the main temple stands in the centre of a paved courtyard. The walls of this temple are again extremely ornate and the entrances are guarded by ample bosomed female doorkeepers carved from single pieces of stone. Our guide here was happy to tell Clare and I that there were over 600 different hairstyles illustrated in the carvings and that much of history simply repeats itself. During one of his monologues he pointed to Ian’s shorts and to a carving on the temple wall of a male in short trousers and said “See, history repeats itself”. It was very funny.
The bus ride home was longer than our journey on Saturday and because of the rest breaks it took us over 5½ hours and we didn’t get back to the Diamond District until after midnight. As we got out of our rickshaw we saw Michelle, Shane, Neil, Sagar et al. returning from their weekend trek in Kerala. They looked pretty tired but had obviously had a good time too. It was satisfying to know we had all taken the time to see some parts of “real” India. I look forward to seeing Mysore next weekend.
Posted 3/18/2005 at 3:48 AM GMT on Xanga