2018 India – Belur, Halebid and Bahubali

In spite of the initial delay at departure we arrived timely in Mysore. There I got a 30Rp. Ticket (40 euro cent) for the 3 hour onward journey to Hassan. A journey without reserved seats. When the train arrived at the platform and I saw how crowded it was I changed my plan and took a taxi to Hassan. Much more expensive but at least I had a comfortable seat for my own and did not have to worry about anything at all.

My hotel was in one word perfect, the room was immaculate, everything spotlessly clean and in working order. If only their wifi would have been to the same standard… I enjoyed lunch at the restaurant and went for a short walk after. But as I was already warned this sprawling, congested transport had minimal appeal other than as a base to visit nearby Belur, Halebid and Bahubali, and that was exactly the reason why I was here…

Although I had slept well during my train journey I had no problems falling asleep for a relaxing afternoon nap. In the evening I went back to the restaurant and although I was really keen on meat I was restricted as it was a pure veg restaurant (which, for whatever reason also meant no beer). Food was good though so I should not complain.

Next morning after breakfast I grabbed a Tuk Tuk on the street and asked for a trip to the famous temples at Belur and Halebid. Initially my driver did not understand what I wanted but soon he returned and confirmed he could bring me there. According to customs I bargained on the price after which we were on the go. First I needed to go to an ATM as I was running dangerously low on cash. That seemed to be easier said than done as either the ATM’s were out of cash, they were out of service, or closed for whatever reason. I could not find a working ATM in Hassan and after my sixth attempt I gave up and asked my driver to start our tour.

Our first destination for the day was Halebid, about 33 kilometers away from Hassan. I enjoyed the trip, especially after we left the city and drove through a more rural area and small villages. It was warm that day but with the wind blowing in my face it was an extremely pleasant ride. I was glad I had opted for a Tuk Tuk instead of a regular car, it was so much more fun after all.

At first sight the temple at Halebid did not look like much, but that was only a deception. Even after having been in India for over two months my jaw dropped as I saw the exquisite carvings. They were so fine in detail and so well kept over the years I could hardly believe my eyes. The eye for detail, not a single piece seemed to be uncovered by some of the most beautiful carvings.

Construction of the Hoysaleswara Temple began around AD 1121 and went on for more than 80 years. It was never completed, but nonetheless stands today as a masterpiece of Hoysala architecture. The interior of its inner sanctum, chiseled out of black stone, was marvellous. On the outside, the temple’s richly sculpted walls were covered with a flurry of Hindu deities, sages, stylized animals and friezes depicting the life of the Hoysala rulers.

When I returned at my Tuk Tuk I was still overwhelmed by what I had seen but I was not allowed to think long about it as we continued our journey to Belur, which was only 15 kilometer further and the pretty landscape was grabbing my full attention.

Belur was a town of more significance than Halebid and there was a lot of activity going on. Everything was built around the temple complex, which was commissioned in 1116 AD to commemorate the Hoysalas’ victory over the neighboring Cholas and took more than a century to build. It is currently the only one among the three major Hoysala sites still in daily use. Some parts of the temple, such as the exterior lower friezes, were not sculpted to completion and thus less elaborate.

I entered through a gate that is so typical for South Indian Hindhu temples and arrived at a large square around which the several temples were located. There was a lot of activity going on and my attention was grabbed by a group of people who were singing so I headed over there. I witnessed priests were performing a ritual whilst the devoted worshippers were chanting along.

And then suddenly more music and excitement filled the square as a group of musicians and men were carrying a large statue towards the main temple.

I decided to let them go and look at the temples on the outer parts of the square first before heading over to the main temple. The decorations were stunning, however not as outrageous as in Halebid. In some of the temples simple ceremonies were held whilst others just stood to be admired in their beauty.

As usual I had to leave my slippers behind and walked barefoot through the complex. With the sun being strong the tiles were warmed up tremendously and at times I felt like burning my feet. However, it was all worth it.

I finally made it to the main temple and discovered a lot of activity was going on. People were queueing to worship the deity that was carefully protected by some priests. All of them were given a spoonful of holy water to cover their heads with as well as the traditional tika. This time I was allowed just to witness the ceremony and was not invited to take part in it.

Another group of priests was gathered around a fire and performing some sort of ritual but I could not really get a grip of what was going on. Overall it was once again an impressive atmosphere within the prayer hall but slowly I felt it was time to return.

By now I might have forgotten about visiting an ATM visit but my driver had not. This time I was successful and when I returned with a big smile on my face my driver was already waiting for me with a bottle of mango juice in his hand. What a nice gesture…

It took about an hour to return to my hotel where I had lunch and enjoyed a short afternoon nap. After that I returned to the restaurant for a lemon soda and to update my journal. Dinner was great and somehow my waiter was extremely keen to give me good service but I simply could not finish all the food that was offered to me. Back at my room I listened to some music before the lights went out. Another great day had come to an end.

Next morning, after breakfast I checked out and waited for my taxi that I had booked the day before. Unfortunately something had gone wrong and I was told my cab was not confirmed, they could still book it for me but at a higher price… Now I do accept things go wrong but this looked like a cheap trick to make some extra money. So I stayed firm, repeated our conversation from yesterday including my agreement on the deal and asked the lady who I spoke to the day before where things went wrong, only getting an empty look in return. I insisted on my cab for the agreed price and guess what… Fifteen minutes later I was on my way.

Instead of driving directly to Mysore I had requested a stop at be of central Karnataka’s other highlights that was to be seen in the pilgrimage town of Sravanabelagola. Atop the bare rocky summit of Vindhyagiri Hill, the 17.5m-high naked statue of the Jain deity Gomateshvara (Bahubali) was another sight not to be missed when in Karnataka. Commissioned by a military commander in the service of the Ganga king Rachamalla and carved out of a single piece of granite by the sculptor Aristenemi in AD 98, it is said to be the world’s tallest monolithic statue.

It was a steep climb up the 614 steps to the top of Vindhyagiri Hill. I could have opted for one of the man carried chairs which would certainly have made my trip easier but on the end I decided to do what most pilgrims did, climb the steps, barefoot of course.

And it was worth it. As recently a big festival had taken place big scaffoldings had been constructed around the statue giving the thousands of worshippers who attended the festival an opportunity for a closer look.

There were still some small ceremonies gong on and worshippers poured water over the head of the statue, something only possible with the scaffolding currently in place.

The views over the town were amazing and fortunately the way down there was so much easier than climbing up. It took me a while to find my driver again but not much later we were on our way to Mysore.

We continued our journey over narrow roads and I saw farmers everywhere preparing their land for a new crop. Small villages with improvised market stalls beside the street with locals hoping to at least sell one of their goods that were displayed for sale.

By the time we came closer to Mysore it became much busier. My driver, as expected, had to ask a couple of times for directions to my hotel but in the end it was not to difficult to find.

Continue to the Mysore Experience