Shravanbelagola is a mere 160km from Bangalore. It’s a lovely drive to a place that is reeling with history. Not just the fact that it boasts off 58 feet high stone statue of Gomateshwara – so sacred to Jainism; it also is supposedly the burial place of the first great Maurya King – Chandragupta Maurya. The two hills of Vindhagiri and Chandragiri provide excellent views with the small town of Shravanbelagola along with its cute little lake in between them.
Setting of around 7am on a Saturday, we went for a breakfast stop pretty quickly, even before we touched the Mangalore highway. With a decent intake of “poori saagu” and filter coffee, we resumed on the beautiful highway that is such a pleasure to drive nowadays. The roads become increasingly sparse with traffic and more and more scenic as you start approaching Hasan. By a lazy 10:30am or so, we were in the temple town.
It’s quick and easy to park, get tickets, stow away footwear and then embark on climbing up the hill. The 600 odd steps up to the hill and the temple are a test of patience and stamina. When you reach the first set of temples and feel that you have made it, disappointment will greet you like a goat and show you that the steepest steps are still ahead. After all, God doesn’t descend down to its believers so easily.
The views from the top are ecstatic. The temple is squeaky clean, with character and architecture in every corner. The view of the gigantic statue contrasted with the small bronze statue in between its feet is so wonderful. You could soak in as much time as you wish, and if you have the energy, you can get down and climb the other hill to go see the burial place of Chandragupta. We just took an aerial picture of that place rather than considering the climb.
One could have gone back and reached Bangalore by 4pm. However, if you get to know that the rich temples of Belur and Halebid are a mere 80km away, you would most probably head that way; we did just that.
Afternoon sun kills a lot of touristy zeal in South India and as we were approaching Halebid, it was around 1:30pm and we thought of getting to the cooler locale of Chikamagalur first (it’s a mere 30 km from Halebid). The drive into Chikamagalur is one of the most beautiful drives I have ever done in my life. We decided to take on a homestay for the night and return to Belur next morning.
The town of Chikamagalur may not hold much charm, but the district boasts off an amazing amount of coffee estates and lush green hills. The weather is very salubrious and food excellent. The place is full of excellent homestays as it suits your pocket. With a bit of google search and a phone call, we rolled on towards our homestay for the night. With rolled down windows, light music from the car stereo and amazing green vistas both sides of the road, we reached the fag end of the road which leads to Muthodi Tiger Reserve. There, at the edge, on the left side was our sprawling coffee estate with an 80 year old estate bungalow.
Excellent home cooked food (and meat if you wish), clean rooms and hygienic bathrooms, walks in their coffee estates, bonfire at night, served with homemade wines, each and every homestay in Chikamagalur would be a traveler’s delight. And while you make long lasting friends with the homestay owners, you will realize that this option is extremely pocket friendly.
We hurried onto the Muthodi Jungle Office early next morning for their Tiger safari. While the tiger was elusive, the forest was immensely beautiful, with huge oak trees and their gigantic leaves leading to an interplay of light and shadow which steals your heart.
Safari done, huge breakfast gulped, washed and scrubbed, we drove out for our promised date with Belur and Halebid. Again, the afternoon sun dampened our spirits as we left Chikamagalur. With dark thoughts around unfinished homework for my son and maids and cook to serve and clean for the day, we rather made a dash to Bangalore, promising Halebid that we will meet when the time is right.
Quick lunch at a Kamat after Kunigal, we were home by 5pm. The weekend just went by in a breeze, and we were all refreshed and energized to take on the World which stares at us starting Monday.
Go for it!