Tuesday, March 25, 2008

LEPAKSHI, an unfulfilled dream

The endeavor of fleeing rulers of Vijaynagar to build an alternative edifice @ Lepakshi must be visited by all puritans. The earnest desire to emulate the grandeur of Hampi Heritage is unravelled at Lepakshi.

At the enterance a huge Nandi is sculpted, which happens to be largest Nandi in India. As one enters the temple one is presented with a visual treat of pillared structure of Veerabhadra temple. The mural paintings on the ceiling is unmatched in artistic excellance. Unfortunately there is no effort to preserve the paintings. The least that the ASI can do is to provide a protective glass panels with dehumidifying silicones to preserve the heritage. If left unprotected the mural paintings will vanish with a few years.

It is alleged that the ruler of the time suspected the architect Jakana for misappropriation of funds, inorder to prove his innocence he banged his head against the walls and plucked his eyes as a testimony of his sincerity and threw the eye balls on the wall of the temple. The curse of the architect befell on the ruler, who was killed in the battle and his dreams of completing Kalayana matapa ( marriage hall ) was aborted.

The paintings on the cieling are so natural but in various stages of destruction, once again ASI needs to get its act together before another heritage site crumbles, mainly the paintings. One can see this paintings seems to have faded to its extinction.

Many of the depictions on the pillars and the facade of granite are figment of imagination and inspiration from the epic Ramayana. The perfection attempted in short duration of time span to emulate or outdo the grandeur of Hampi by the architect has to be appreciated. He had drawn fine print to complete the project with limited funds squeezing in all the resources. Probably he was aware of the prestige conscious ruler who was running short of patience and funds unlike his predecessors.

Improper access roads to the reach Lepakshi is a big downer, tension seems to always prevailing in the town due to communal dis harmony, tourists driving down to Lepakshi have to be doubly cautious of being misguided by sadistic local population. We were misguided by one such bikers. The Govt of Andhra seems to be ignoring Lepakshi due to its closeness to Karnataka. It remains an unfulfilled dream even today to resurrect the past and preserve the heritage. The architect soul will never rest in peace till the present rulers set right the mistakes committed by royalty.

The true legacy of Lepakshi can be only fulfilled with dozens of tourist flocking and admiring the undaunting effort of Jakana and saluting his spirit of architectural excellence and towing the right path. Lepakshi is the symbol of re-engineering with limited resources.

Veerabhadra is the main diety of Leepakshi, which happens to be our family goddess too. It is great to visit a heritage site which takes back one to his roots. However I am apprehensive that all the poojas and the priests will destroy the heritage just like what happened to Melkote temple, wherein all the gold jewellery was robbed. The current market value is worth more than 10 crores, whereas paintings and statues are in danger @ Leepakshi.

The biggest Nandi is found in carved in Leepakshi, we missed visiting the same, next time around we will make it. The photograph is courtsey is flickr member whom I acknowledge.

Lepakshi is just 120 kms from Bangalore, if one travels via NH 7 and takes a detour to the immediately after crossing Andhra Border. It is just 17 kms away from the highway. If one goes a little further he can visit Madaksira and Pavgada fort.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Agony & ecstacy of Penukonda

Penukonda was once a temporary capital for the Vijaynagar kings, who feared the Adil shah sultans, who were notorious for massacre of the Royalty and looting of the wealth of Vijaynagar Kingdom. Now Penkonda lies in ruins which does not have the attention of either the ASI or the Andhra government. There is a proposal to construct a road all the way to the top which may take a year or two.

The self appointed guide or endorsed by ASI was a greedy chap with high strung ego. Normally he is supposed to open the gates of the Gagan Mahal palace @ 9 a.m. but he was missing even after 10 am. I am wondering how such a prestigious palace, which backed up as summer capital was handed over to a temporary guide by ASI. He was demanding money as if he is the Lord or owner of the Palace. The attitude was not tourist friendly at all, which we hated in him, even though the amount demanded by him was not much. He challenged me to explain the history.

Penukonda signifies a huge hillock in telugu. The fort was constructed by Viru Virupanna Udiayar of Vijaynagar clan. It backed up as third capital or Summer capital for the emperors after Anegondi and Hampi. This location was backed by plenty of water and greenery, unlike recent times. It prompted the kings of time to go on building spree, of various temples dedicated to Veerabhadra, Hanuman, Lord Ganesh, Yoganarashima, etc. At one time 365 temples were completed to commemorate 365 days of the year.

The Fort, which is built on the huge hillock does not have proper direction or guidance, we were totally lost in our endeavour to discover the Fort. We took a wrong route which was laden with thorns, which we had to abandon midway. By mere preview we were able to judge there are at least 7 watch towers to cover a large expanse. We heard that AP government is building a road to lead upto the Fort. Hopefully we will be able to witness the grandeur next time around.

The temples in and around are almost in a ruined state, in between there is Kalliswar ashram and Babayya darga. There is sense of prevailing tension in the air with armed guards protecting the ashram. A huge stretch of govt. land is being utilized with national monuments being isolated. Photography of the spot is being disallowed by the guards, obviously to protect their self interest. The place is wonderfully landscaped.

There are no proper directions for the various temples, which has enormous tourist potential. I hope some action is initiated to clear the pathways which have been encroached up by settlements. Some of the temples have great architectural value. Gangan mahal palace even though began Devaraya seems to have been completed by the Moghuls or Sultans.

It is sad that ruins around the Fort and the city speaks volume on the neglect of heritage site. If sincere effort is made tourists will fill the coffers of the locals and the ASI. Since Penkonda is close to Puttaparthi it makes sense for the govt. to showcase heritage to the tourists.

Penukonda can be reached from Bangalore through NH 4, and it is closer to another major religious centre, which famous for Sai Baba Ashram. Penukonda is approximately 140 kms from Blore and Puttaparthi is another 37 kms away from this place.

Trekkers Paradise & Photo Buffs delight

Vijayanagar empire was attacked furiously by the Bahamani sultans ferociously in 1565, with unrivalled brute force. The capital Hampi was meticulously erased to ground by the plundering armies, who looted the gold, rubies and the world famous diamonds of Hampi for a period of six months.

The rulers began spreading their wings to other parts of their empire. In the bargain the construction of temples and forts served as back up for employing the skillful artisans of the time.

Devaraya and his men fled leaving behind their women and children to be slaughtered by the Sultans. Blood flowed like a river @ the Krishna temple with blazing fire to camouflage the carnage perpetuated by the enemies.

The immediate shelter for Devaraya was Penkonda Fort and Gagan Mahal Palace, which was no where in comparison with Hampi palaces. This became a focal point to spread their wings to other parts of the south.

Pavgada fort was commissioned with great sense of urgency, along with Madaksira fort to act as a back up. The sheer adventure of trekking up into the sky is demanding physically, which takes around 45 minutes without break, and with break it can stretch upto 90 minutes.

Even the heavens were at their best with slight drizzle, gust of cool breeze and sun playing hide seek was great fun. We were able to shoot beautiful pictures of this picturesque Fort. When compared to other Forts in the region, this unfinished Fort is in pristine condition.

At the beginning of the ascent one comes across a Hanuman temple, on the left a purported Ganesh temple is located. Midway one comes across the first arch where a Hanuman rock carving is present. Further on the top a grand design was formulated to have a palace for the king with underground bunker, a pond for bathing of queen and king. Watch tower on all four sides of the fort gives an expansive vision to survey the area for any enemy troop movement. An unfinished Nandi formation is laden on top of the hill. The statues of unfinished deities and pillars have been either stolen by the British or lying in safe custody of ASI is subject of speculation.

Overall one can spend 2 hours on the peak exploring the unkown architect plans for completing the grand fort, which has remained on the drawing tables. The frequent change of rulers in the deccan plateau with Vijayanagar empire crumbling, Sultans retracting, Moghuls invading, Tipu Sultan exploring and the Nayaks succumbing to the wodeyars the time and inclination to finish the Grand Fortress was not available.

If ASI can spare some resource or funds, or even worse cum worse give it to a hospitality group a Grand heritage site can be created, an unfinished dream of Vijaynagar rulers can be fulfilled. It is an absolute photographers delight to shoot pictures on Pavgada fort. I found there was no material on the internet nor any of the sites to fill in the details. My hunch is that palegars who migrated from Hampi were instrumental in building this massive structure, but midway they have aborted their effort due to lack of facilities and fear of moghul invasion.

For accommodation down the hills a DSK rest house is available @ Rs 120 for a double accommodation. Pavgada is famous for Shan mahatma temple, one has to visit preferably on Friday to have darshan on Saturday dawn @ 4.30 am. A special pooja is performed @ 5 am. There is a devi temple 3 kms away as one enters the Pavagada town from Leepakshi route. One gets to see the Madaksira massive fort enroute too.

For trekkers and adventurist a visit to Madaksira Fort and Pavgada Fort can be an enriching experience. It is advisable to seek proper guidance for visiting both the Forts, because it is lonely on the top out there. One should start hiking with water, glucose, salt and food supplements along with basic first aid kit.

Pavgadacan be reached through NH4 or through NH7 route via Penukonda. If one wants to make a circuitious trip of forts one can try Madhugiri Fort, Pavgada Fort, Madaksira Fort and then Penukonda fort which will be absolute trekking adventure all the way. Friends obviously all the good photographs have been screened for my personal collection and future usage. I am sure with your photo skills and better fitness you all will be able scale bigger heights because 3 of the destinations we were not able to conquer for lack of proper training, maybe next time around we will be better equipped to reach the peak.

Recharge your Batteries

Nandi hills is an ideal one day trip spot, where there is not much of a crowd during the weekdays. Ideal for honeymooners and lovers on weekdays. On weekends obviously depending on the intervening holidays there is bound to be crowd. One has to travel on NH 7 which is in various phases of construction and reach on the outskirts of the Devanhalli town and deviate into Nandi hills a distance of 63 kms from Bangalore. Ideal months to visit Nandi hills are during the rainy season. There is a nice Mayura restaurant perched on the hilltop giving you the fabulous viewpoint.

The road is winding towards the top, a pure ghat section around 9 kms, so please check you brakes before ascending. The scenic beauty may be distraction for a driver so it is better to drive slow, so that you are safe from incoming speeding vehicle downwards. There are number of accident spots, and we witnessed one of the sad accident just by chance and helped the youngsters to tide over their crisis. None of the onlookers really had the intention of helping them. One villager joined in to treat the badly bleeding youngsters. Accidents are inevitable enroute, so when you are drunk please avoid driving or make sure u don’t travel more than 30 km speed for god sake. I witnessed 3 IT ians meeting with accident, because road is slippery due to faulty construction. Govt would do good if high quality concrete roads are designed and constructed.

Nandi hills is credited to have been built by Tipu Sultan, which is unlikely as per my judgement, because there is no muslim edifice on the hill. It is mostly the palegars from Vijaynagar empire who have initiated the construction and later abandoned the place. However the entire beautification of the place was undertaken by the British. Mark cubbon who fell in love with the environs built a guest house for himself and other high ranking officers. It was an ideal orgy getaway for the British. To substantiate the fact there is a tourist guest house which can be booked from Lalbagh, Bangalore during summer months.

There is a old Yoganarasimha temple, KSTDC Mayura hotel, Ranjitha restaurant and the botanical gardens providing the ideal picnic spot. Tourists are advised not to litter the place. Please carry back the litter so that clean environ can be maintained.

On the other side of Nandi hills on the return one can come across the Nandi temple after which the hills are named. It is an old temple subject to mindless modernization. This temple belongs to the chola period, the architecture and sculpture has to be seen to believed. The busty apsaras and menakas, and various episodes from the epics are beautifully etched on the facade of the temple. The lawn is beautifully landscaped without many visitors. I only hope ASI has not blundered by allowing pooja in the temple and thereby providing a scope for vandalism of the temple. It is better to provide security 24 hours to protect the heritage. Enroute to Chickballapur one comes across cemetery of the British soldiers and their family buried.

The ultimate surprise present for heritage hunters in the form of old Veerabhadra temple, along with Shiva and Parvathi temple. The architecture is astounding. The premise seems to have been a flourishing bazaar outside the temple, many of the artifacts seems to have been stolen by the British. One should not miss this temple enroute to Chickaballapur, which can lead back to NH 7.

Couples who want privacy would be advised to spend time on Nandi Hills without any fear of persecution. Overall a trip to Nandi hills recharges ones batteries fully.

Beware of Monkey Menace : Ladies have to careful with regard to their PURSE and Handbag