Thursday, 28 September 2017

In search of Kempegowda’s Koramangala

In search of Kempegowda’s Koramangala

My quest of knowing the history behind the legend of Lakshmamma took me to the small village of Avathi, where Kempegowda's forefathers settled. The area, earlier known as Morasa Nadu, was founded and ruled by Ranabhairegowda in the 14th century. His great grandson Jaya Gowda, who later went on to become Kempegowda-1, was born in Yelahanka and he was the founder of modern Bengluru. He built the Pete and the Bangalore Fort in the 15th century.
One of the legends around the Fort is that the southern gate of the fort would collapse immediately after completion and to successfully build it, a human sacrifice was needed. Kempegowda's daughter-in-law Lakshmamma realized this pain and sacrificed her life at the southern gate.
It is said that Kempegowda built a memorial for Lakshmamma's sacrifice at Koramangala. As per records, this legend is linked to South Bangalore's Koramangala where Lakshmidevi's memorial has been built in 2003 and a fully renovated Lakshmi Devi temple, attributed to Kempegowda's daughter-in-law, stands a few metres from the memorial.
But lack of sufficient evidence made me travel to Kempegowda's ancestral place Avathi near Devanahalli. On some enquiry, a villager explained me that the name Avathi has been derived from 'Aahuti' meaning 'Sacrifice'. But he was not sure if this can be linked to Lakshmamma's sacrifice. Another link can be traced to a village named 'Koramangala', around 3 kms from Avathi. I could see a 'mantapa' typical of Kempegowda's structures in the village square. Further enquiries in the village led to my assumption that the mantapa was built by Kempegowda. But unfortunately, there are no inscriptions to support this.
Koramangala is also a pre-historic site with dolmens discovered from 1500 BC as per ASI. However, I could not find any dolmen.

Is it really possible that Kempegowda, overwhelmed by Lakshmamma's sacrifice, named his ancestral village as Avathi and built a memorial in Koramangala? Point to ponder.

Koramangala village


Devi temple

Village square

Thursday, 21 September 2017

Valley Of Flowers – The Himalayan Treasure

This is a guest post from my friend Smita Shanbhag, a traveller who likes exploring new places and go on adventure trips.
12th August – 20th August 2017
Nestled in the beautiful Himalayas is a beautiful valley called Valley Of Flowers.
Once hidden from the outside world, the valley was believed to be a playground of the Gods and fairies. The valley was accidentally discovered by Frank Smith a mountaineer and botanist. He was so mesmerized by the beauty of the valley that he went on to write a book about it! The valley indeed looks beautiful with over 300 different varieties of flowers spread over miles in the valley. I had a pleasure to visit this valley this august.
Let me take you on this memorable journey and give you a glimpse of valley through my eyes.
We were a group of 16 ladies from different parts of India who met at Dehradun Airport for this trek infact tour package which covered Haridwar, Rudraprayag, Govindghat, Ghangria (our base camp and we go to valley of flowers and Hemkund Saheb from here) and back to Dehradun in the same way covering all the places in reverse order.
Day 1: Dehradun – Haridwar (53 Km) Drive time 2-3 hours
We arrived in Dehradun from our respective cities. Dehradun Airport also known as Jolly Grant Airport is the smallest airport I have ever seen till date, 
We began our journey towards Haridwar after having Lunch at Padmini Palace. Later in the Evening around 05:45 Pm we drove to Har ki Pauri for the famous Ganga Aarti. Aarti in Haridwar is a spectacle with hundreds of pilgrims chanting and praying together. It was really nice to be a part of this mesmerizing experience with a huge crowd offering prayers in the setting sun. Located at the point where the Ganges emerges from the Himalaya, Haridwar (also called Hardwar) is Uttarakhand’s holiest city, and pilgrims arrive here in droves to bathe in the fast-flowing Ganges.
Day 2: Haridwar – Rudraprayag (165 Km) Drive time: 6-7 hours
After an early breakfast, we started our journey to Rudraprayag. Haridwar to Rudraprayag is a scenic drive along the Ganges up to Devprayag and along Alaknanda up to Rudraprayag.
Named after Lord Shiva, Rudraprayag is one of the Panch Prayag of Alaknanda River.
We got lucky to see all the panch prayag’s during our trip –
•    Devprayag -> where river Alaknanda meet river Bhagirathi
•    Rudraprayag -> where river Alaknanda meet river Mandakini
•    Karnaprayag -> where river Alaknanda meet river Pinder
•    Nandprayag: -> where river Alaknanda meet river Nandakini
•    Vishnuprayag -> where river Alaknanda meet river Dhauli Ganga
We reached Rudraprayag late in the evening. Our stay for the night was arranged at Monal Resort which was situated in a beautiful location and offers wonderful view of river Alaknanda flowing ferociously at the backside. We were super excited seeing the river that we directly headed towards it. 
This hotel is named after Monal Bird which is the state bird of Uttarakhand.
Day 3: Rudraprayag – Govindghat (135 Km) Drive time: 5-6 hours
We did an early start today to Govindghat from Rudraprayag.
We had a surprise element enroute by our tourist guide which is Badrinath temple(this was not part of our package tour). The roads were blocked due to landslide until few days before we arrived. We were lucky that these blockers were cleared and we could visit the temple.
We reached Badrinath Temple by noon. This is one of the most visited pilgrimage centers of India and one of the four char dham’s. The image of the presiding deity worshipped in the temple is a 1 m (3.3 ft) tall, black stone statue of Vishnu in the form of Badrinarayan. We got to see the Tapt Kund which is a hot water pond. Water in this pond is hot throughout the year and many pilgrims consider it a requirement to bathe in the springs before visiting the temple. 
After visit at Badrinath temple, we went to Mana Pass. Mana Pass is a mountain pass in the Himalayas on the border between India and Tibet. It appears to now be one of the highest vehicle-accessible pass in the world, containing a road constructed in the 2005-2010 period for the Indian military by the Border Roads Organization. We started our trek to the road from Mana Village which is the last India village situated at Indo-China border. It was a steep climb uphill to reach the Indio-Tibet road. Enroute climbing this hill, we saw Vyas Gufa. Vyas Cave is an ancient cave located on the banks of Saraswati River at Mana village in the Chamoli district of Uttarakhand. Vyas Gufa is believed to be the place where sage Vyas composed the Mahabharata epic with the help of Lord Ganesha. A distinct feature of the temple is the roof which resembles the pages from the collection of his holy scripts.
Ganesha cave is also located in nearby area below the Vyas cave. Near this temple, is a natural rock that rests over the river known as Bhim pul
There is also an interesting story related to the place that explains the broken tusk of Lord Ganesh. When Vyas was composing Mahabharata, he needed someone to take down his dictation and asked the learned Ganesha for the same. Ganesh agreed but he had a condition - that Vyas would not stop even for a moment or else he would stop writing and leave. Vyas dictating as fast as he could and Ganesh bent down over the script pages. Finally, his reed pen broke. To which, he broke off a part of his tusk to be used as a pen thereon.
Finally we could make it on top and landed right on the Indo- china road.
We started walking on the road and at one point noticed river Saraswati flowing ferociously. Mana Pass is the source of the Saraswati River, the longest stem of one of the longest Ganges tributaries, the Alaknanda River. Mythical Saraswati River flows in to the big orifice in the ground before it disappears.Enroute we crossed Joshimath - the winter home of Lord Badrinarayan, when the temple at Badrinath closes. It is considered to be one of the most sacred places by Hindus who believe that Badrinath (The God Vishnu) resides here in winter.
Finally we reached Govindghat late evening which is located in the Chamoli district of Uttarakhand and is beautifully situated at the convergence of the Rivers Alaknanda and Lakshman Ganga. We stayed at Bhagat Hotel for overnight and view from the hotel was awesome.
Day 4: Govindghat – Ghangaria (Trek - 9kms/ 6hrs approx.)
We started early morning on our trek to Ghangaria(9 kms) from Govindghat. Ghangaria is also the base camp for the treks to Valley of Flowers. It is situated at the confluence of the rivers Bhyundar Ganga and Pushpawati, which forms Lakshman Ganga. It is the last human habitation in the Bhyundar valley. This place is usually used by travelers as a base camp to visit Hemkund Sahib and Valley of flowers. It is only open from May till September. The rest of the year, the valley is covered under snow.
We started walking down from the hotel to the base point where we can take a sharing jeep and go to the starting point of the trek. Enroute we took nice pictures of the surrounding valley in Govindghat. 
The good bit on this trek is that there are markers. That means you know you have walked 2 kilometers and you need to walk 7 more. The path winds around the River Lakshman Ganga for most of the way. 
It is a good trek as it does not go uphill all the way. There are short sections that are flat and some even downhill. Most of the way is uphill but gradually uphill. Lot of Poni’s(Mules) carrying people and our baggages ply on the way who act as our speed breakers. Also there are some tea shops after some kilometers for you to take refreshments, regain energy and start again. You get to meet a mixed crowd enroute this trek where a lot of people are pilgrims to Hemkunt Sahib rather than trekkers and it makes for an interesting mix. Finally we made it to our Ghangaria tents in the evening at 5 PM. 
We stayed overnight at our camps in Ghangaria village.

Day 5: Ghangaria – Valley Of Flowers (Trek 3 + 3km’s to the entry point)
Ghangaria to the Valley Of Flowers entry point is gradual uphill which is 3 km and scenic trek that greets you with cool breeze and breathtaking views. The entry gate to the park is close from Ghangaria however we need to walk 3km moderately uphill to reach the Valley. After the entry point, you are free to move around at your own pace to enjoy the scenic views of the valley. 
The Valley Of Flowers is a UNESCO world heritage site. The flora includes orchids, poppies, primulas, calendulas, daisies and anemones, and also rare species like the Brahmakamal, the Blue Poppy and the Cobra Lily.
We did have a botanist with us who was explaining each and every flower. But I don’t think anybody is going to remember the names?. Hence while existing the park, I took a picture of the list of each flower in valley. 
A stone path meanders among the flowers and across streams. This stony terrain into the valley is little tough to climb so watch out your feet and thanks to our guide who asked us to carry two trekking poles for support. The flowers are so beautiful that leaving the path is difficult. Few visitors return after reaching the center of valley but we continued beyond the first one or two kilometres inside the Valley. I was quite excited to see these rare flowers and went on clicking pictures of flowers and also drank from a mountain spring.
Day 6: Ghangaria – Hemkund Sahib (Trek – 6+6kms/ 4 hrs each way approx.)
We started on our trek early in the morning to Hemkund Sahib. This is a moderate trek, 6 km each way and usually takes about 4 hours each way. The climb to Hemkund Sahib is pretty steep as it is the world’s highest Gurudwara and is located near a beautiful glacial lake surrounded by mountains. It is a pilgrimage place for both Hindus and Sikhs. The name Hemkund Sahib denotes the presence of a tank of snow. On a clear day one can catch a beautiful reflection of the Gurudwara in the lake.
The trail is wide and very well maintained. We saw lot of crowd on this path some known faces whom we met on VOF and rest were pilgrims. And ofcourse our closest companions – Poni’s ?. Trek uphill is really beautiful and scenic.
Initial early morning trek was good but after around 4 hours it started taking a toll on me. I had two friends who were slow walkers like me and we maintained the same pace on first two days. Hence we 3 were walking partners. It so happened that when we stopped at 11 for tea, people from our tent who had started 2 hours later than us crossed us?. So we knew we had to gear up now. Then somewhere far from Gurudwara we heard the bhajans and that really motivated us to walk ahead. Finally after 7 hours we made it to Gurudwara on top. Our guide first asked us to go near the lake, wash our legs and took a pic of the Gurudwara. 
The lake also has a small temple devoted to Lord Lakshman. People say this is the only Lakshman temple in India. 
Whatever time I was there, the lake was surrounded by mist and a little later it almost completely vanished from the view. We visited both the temple and the gurudwara. A little later we ate khichdi and had tea from the langar. Then it was time to head back.
Now it was time to climb down the same distance again but in a slower place though ?. We spotted the famous flower Brahmakamal. Brahma Kamal is another exotic flower that is not found in the VOF but enroute Hemkund Sahib.   Walking down our guide took us through a short cut which was all steps climbing down. We took lot of breaks climbing down since major milestones of the trip were achiever. Finally reached Ghangria village and hogged nice Maggie and tea.  Now all we were looking forward was going back to Govindghat from Ghangria camp the next day.
We trek back to the Ghangaria camps for the night.

Day 7: Ghangaria - Govindghat (Trek - 9km’s/6hrs) – Rudraprayag (135 Km) Drive time: 5-6 hours
We started our return journey today with a trek down to Govindghat early in the morning at 7 since later in the day sun would be too strong.
While some of us decided to trek back, some decided to go on Poni’s and other preferred to take helicopter to enjoy the scenic view from top. I decided to take Poni for a change but descending downhill on a Poni was a completely different experience altogether. This time we got to enjoy the scenic view better since there was not target to be reached and clicked some nice pictures on the way back. On arriving at Govindghat, we went to Yogadhyan Badri Temple which is located at Pandukeshwar near Govind Ghat. When the temple of Badrinath is closed during the winter, Yogdhyan Badri serves as the abode for the Utsav-murti or festival-image of Lord Badrinath. Hence, it is religiously ordinated that a pilgrimage will not be complete without offering prayers at Yogadhyan Badri. 
We came back to Govindghat hotel and started our journey to Rudraprayag. Stayed overnight at the same Monal Resort.
But the best part was the evening view of Alaknanda River which we had seen while onward journey. It was covered fully by mist.
Day 8: Rudraprayag –Rishikesh - Haridwar (163 Km) Drive time: 5 - 6 hours
We started our journey to from Rudraprayag to Rishikesh.
Rishikesh also known as “Gateway to the Garhwal Himalayas” and “Yoga Capital of the World”. There are lot of yoga centers that attract tourist.
It is also a popular spot for adventure sports. We saw lot of signboards of bungee jumping, hiking, kayaking, mountain biking, rock climbing, rappelling, and zip lining. Rishikesh is becoming a popular spot for white water rafting enthusiasts, both from India and abroad, as the Ganges offers medium to rough rapids
We had lunch in an Italian Restaurant since we were bored eating dal, roti and aloo gobi all the days. After lunch we started to head towards Lakshman Jhoola. This is an iron suspension bridge across the river ganges. The bridge connects the two villages; Tapovan in Tehri Garhwal district to Jonk in Pauri Garhwal district crossing the river from west to east. 
We crossed the bridge amidst animals, motorists and human beings and reached the other side. Quickly checked out some shops but did not find any stuffs worth taking home. Came back to our coaches and started our journey back to Haridwar.
Day 9: Haridwar– Dedradun (53 Km) Drive time: 2 - 3 hours
Last day of our trip, after breakfast started to Dehradun airport to catch our return flights to respective cities carrying a baggage full of wonderful memories.

Wednesday, 13 September 2017

Kotagiri: Nilgiris’ hidden terrain

Overview: Tucked in the eastern end of the Nilgiris is the taluk of Kotagiri. The more popular ones among the tourists are Ooty and Coonoor. We started early morning from Bengaluru, and headed towards Mysore road. Avoiding all the traffic, we reached the TN border at Mudumalai forests at around 8am. We stopped at Pykara lake for a break and for some boating experience at the placid lake. The view was spectacular with the forests surrounding the lake from all sides. The boat ride took around 1 hour and we were back on the road.
Crossing the crowded town of Ooty, we reached Vanamala farms at Kotagiri. The farmstay is around 1o kms away from the Kotagiri town, and is completely isolated. One can hear just chirping of birds and feel lost in the midst of nature. The hospitality was not too great, and there was some confusion of our arrival time, but the staff managed to arrange dinner on time for us. Bonfire was also arranged post dinner. Next to the homestay is a small abandoned house which is used in severl Tamil movies, and has a vintage look to it. We managed to spot a few birds like Kingfisher and Woodpeckers and Hummingbirds. Around 14 kms from Vanamala farmstay is the Kodanad view point, which offers panoramic views of the needle hill, and is popular among people visiting this place.
We were at Kotagiri for just one night, so could manage to see only a few places. On the way back, we took the Mettupalayam, Bhavani route towards Bengaluru.
How to reach: Take the SH to Mysore, and take the Ooty route via Bandipur and Masinagudi. Kotagiri is around 30kms east of Ooty. No direct buses from Bangalore, however, transportation is available from Ooty and Coonoor and also buses ply from Metupalayam to Kotagiri.
Food/Accommodation: Being taluk headquarters, there should be no problem in getting accommodation, and also there are a few homestays and resorts within 15kms radius of Kotagiri town. Food is not a problem in the entire town. But if reaching in the evening, its better to inform the homestay beforehand on the food requirements. Avoid driving at night as the roads are narrow from Kotagiri towards Kodanad and have several hairpin bends.

Monday, 4 September 2017

Ancient Stepped Ponds (Kalyanis) of Bengaluru region

Overview: Stepped Wells have been a part of Indian civilizations from the ancient past. Stepped wells were built for multiple purposes, be it for drinking or storage purposes, or as a bath. Several stepped wells with interesting architecture can be seen all over India, from Kashmir to Southernmost parts of India. Stepped Ponds are a smaller version of stepped wells, with mostly square or rectangular dimension. These stepped ponds are seen mainly near temples, and are used mainly for temple usage.
Bengaluru also has a few interesting stepped ponds, almost all of them in a state of neglect, and some of them over 1000 years old. Inscriptions on some temples mention about grants offered by the rulers and local chieftains to build these wells.
The tanks are referred to as 'Vav' in western part of India and 'Baoli in the regions of Rajasthan and Sindh. But why were the kalyanis built is an important. One of the main purpose of installing a temple pond has been rain water harvesting. The water collected in the tanks are the direct source of ground water recharge. Sadly, over a period of time, for the greed of money and the wish for finding buried coins underneath a kalyani has put these tanks in a state of neglect. Of all the Kalyanis in Bangalore region, only a handful are still in usable form. One such kalyani is in the Subramanyaswamy temple premises in Halasuru, which is popular among people performing religious ceremonies under the peepal tree. The temple itself dates back to the Vijayanagara period. Not far from this place is a kalyani excavated near Someshwara temple, which was built probably during the Kempegowda’s period in the 15th century.
Subramanyaswamy temple Halasuru

Another small kalyani in the city is the Prasanna Krishnaswamy temple at Tulasi Thota, Chikkalalbagh. The tank is now sealed due to space crunch and encroachments. This temple was founded by Nalwadi Sri Krishnaraja Wodeyar in the 18th century, though the outer structure was built much later.
Prasanna Krishnaswamy temple
A huge Kalyani can be seen near the Anjaneyaswamy temple at Gottigere on Bannerghatta. Efforts are being put by the residents to save this kalyani, which once was the source of water for travellers and the local villagers. This kalyani is believed to have existed on the trade route between Bengaluru and Tamil Nadu.
One live kalyani can be seen at Ghati Subramanya temple near Doddaballapura. The water from this kalyani is pumped out for watering the plants in the surrounding areas.
Several legends are told around the Kalyani inside Chikkajala fort. The kalyani stands next to a temple and a badly ruined residential complex, dating back to pre-Kempegowda era.
A beautiful Kalyani can be seen at the Kashi Vishwanatha temple at Sondekoppa, around 36 kms from the city centre. This is another live kalyani, which is revived during the monsoons.
Perched in a silent surrounding, amidst farmlands, is a small kalyani at Sorahunase in East Bengaluru near Varthur. The tank is now renovated with concrete, but the principle of water conservation is still retained. A few hero stones from the past can also be seen near the pond. This is one of the best examples of how a kalyani can be revived and also made to use in today’s world.

Suvarnamukhi near Bannerghatta is another kalyani which is considered sacred. People throng to this place to have a dip in the holy waters.
In the north eastern corner of the city lies the quaint village of Kondrahalli, where a huge kalyani can be seen next to the 11th century Dharmeshwara temple, dating back to the Cholas. Also as per a legend, the Yaksha Kaanda from the Mahabharata is believed to have happened at the site where the pond can be seen now.
A beautiful kalyani can be seen on the Vasanthapura main road, near the Vallabharaya swamy temple in South Bengaluru. The once beautiful tank, developed by the Maratha ruler Shahaji Raje Bhonsle in the 17th century, around the same time when the Bhavani Shankar temple was built in Vasanthapura. This tank is in a sorry state today, with the area being awarded to a builder for construction purposes.
Several other Kalyanis can be seen in dilipidated condition, like the one in Kalkere (north Bengaluru), Kashi Bhavi at Bidrahalli which is waiting to be encroached, Anekal (60% already encroached), Kashi Vishwanatha temple at Bettadasanapura, Kalyani at Manne, and several other tanks and ponds which are lying neglected or have been already buried under some building. There is a need to preserve such heritage, and even better, if they are revived so that they act as mini reservoirs in crises situations.
Kashi Bhavi Bidrahalli