Our five-day, six-night holiday arranged by Agora Voyages Private Ltd., began on 26th January when we, four friends, landed at Hubballi. The agency had arranged a minibus to pick us up from the airport to our first halt at Badami. Our driver, Raghu, turned out to be not only skilful at driving but also very informative and bent on giving us a great time. On the way, we came across sunflower fields. Seeing us revelling at the wondrous sight of hundreds of sunflowers swaying in the cool breeze, Raghu stopped the bus so we could click pictures.
Badami Court, where we spent two comfortable nights, turned out to be a decent hotel with tasty food and a courteous staff. The next morning, we left for Aihole, the capital of the Chalukyan kings and the cradle of Hindu rock architecture. Thanks to Agora, we were provided with helpful and enthusiastic guides, who doubled up as excellent photographers and gave us interesting and informative titbits. Kotresh, our guide in Aihole, Pattadakal and Badami, told us how Aihole got its name. The legend goes that after avenging the death of his father, Parasuram came down to the Malaprabha River to wash his blood-stained hands and battle axe. The river turned a bloody red. A woman seeing this, screamed, ‘Ayyo Hole!’ (meaning ‘Oh, no, blood!’ in Kannada). Since then the place came to be known as Ayyhole (Aihole).
Kotresh also told us how the various temples got their names. For example, the Durga temple did not get its name from the goddess but because of its proximity to durg, meaning ‘fort’--- temples were part of fortification those days.
Another 5th century temple dedicated to Lord Shiva was called the Lad Khan temple as Shree Lad Khan, a general of Adil Shahi had camped there during his military campaigns in the region. Until the Archeological department took possession of the area, local people lived in the temples. Kotresh showed us the holes, women used to pound masalas and grind rice, etc. We even saw children’s board games etched on to the stony floor.
After feasting our eyes on the marvellous rock-cut shrines at Aihole, we drove to Pattadakal, meaning ‘coronation stone’. The exquisite temples here were built for commemoration and coronation. Later, Kotresh took us to a restaurant to relish the delicious local cuisine. Our stomachs full, we headed for Badami, to the spectacular rock cut cave temples located in a ravine, at the foot of two sandstone hills surrounding Lake Agastya. The place abounds in langurs and though Kotresh warned us to take care of our belongings, one little monkey succeeded in snatching a water bottle.
The following day at Gadag, we were joined by Mr. Nagaraj, who was our guide for the remainder of our trip. Witty and articulate, he surprised us with his knowledge of Russian and French. He took us around the medieval Hindu and Jain temples and told us how the Veeranarayana temple, Trikuteshwara temple and the Jumma Masjid have a common Trust for administration and organization purposes. Jain temples and step wells were the highlights of Lakkundi.
The annual Hampi Festival was on when we reached Hampi, so to avoid the large crowds, Nagaraj suggested that we leave around six in the morning for sightseeing. A wise decision, as we got to see the glorious sunrise from Matanga Hill, the place where Rama met Hanuman and Sugriva, the monkey king of Kishkinda.
A UNESCO World heritage site like Pattadakal and Badami, Hampi is virtually an open air museum, with over 500 monuments of the Vijayanagara era. The Virupaksha temple with its musical pillars, now out of bounds for visitors, competed with temples like the Vittala temple in magnificence.
The following morning we took a ride in a coracle. Our boat-man took us through rock caves and treated us to the sight of a swift which had brought food for its mate as she sat patiently guarding their nest on a rock.
In the afternoon we visited the Daroji Sloth Bear Sanctuary. Spread over an area of over 82 kilometres, it is the first sloth bear sanctuary in Asia. Seated inside a cage we watched two adult bears come down a rocky cliff, stopping to lick the large boulders on which the forest officials had smeared honey.
En route, as we passed by the Tungabhadra canal, Jiggar, the naturalist from our resort pointed out at otters scampering playfully on the rocky bank and at an Indian eagle owl, which on seeing us, spread out its feathers and flew away, but not before letting us see how huge it was.
Before we realized it, our holiday had come to an end, and we were at Hubballi airport, to catch the flight back to Mumbai. Thanks to Agora, we had one of the most memorable glimpses of a bygone era.