INDIA HERITAGE

The KAILASH TEMPLE +ELEPHANT SCULTURE ARCHITECTURE AT Ellora -- CHAND BAOLI,India's remarkable heritage --Deepesh Das retraces the epic journey made by Afanasy Nikitin five centuries ago--The journey that took Nikitin several years to complete can now be pulled off in less than two weeks. Nonetheless, the Deccan circuit remains a route less trodden with hidden gems--

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TEMPLE OF DOOM

The Kailash Temple at Ellora + Elephant Sculpture at Ellora

-are absolutely mind-blowing.U will be mesmerised by the sheer size of Cave no.16.Carved out of one huge rock-hill,the artistic and engineering aspects are just stupefying.U will have the privilege of staying at Ellora Hote,a stone's throw from the caves.The 1.5 km-long hillside has 34 caves in total,consisiting of Buddhist,Hindu and Jain temples.A great waterfall,called Sita Ki Nahani,flows by Cave no.29.It is truly magnificent.

THE HOLE TRUTH

Chand Baoli in Rajasthan is a relic from our glorious past ,well worth a leisurely visit.....

Long before the world ever heard of global warming ,water was already an essential commodity that was scarce in certain parts.It was fought for and cherished.It inspired poetry and assured trade.To top it all,it also ended up inspiring some great architecture.One stunning example is tucked away in a small village called Abhaneri in Rajasthan.

ON THE BAOLI TRAIL

Chand Baoli ,as the structure is called,is a stepped well,probably the finest water-linked monument in India,though some baolis in Gujarat might want to dispute that claim.Stepping into this ASI-managed complex,one feels awed.While the base pit of the well is like any other,it is the steps that lead up to the pit that make it unique.Built on a square plan,the stepped well comprises an incredible 3,500-plus symmetrically laid out steps going all the way down to the pit.The steps surround the well on three sides while the fourth side has a set of pavilions built one atop another.The overall visual effect is that of a cone-shaped Egytian pyramid,turned upside down !

PAST PRESENT

This amazing structure is believed to have been built during the 8th-9th centuries AD under the patronage of Chandra,a Nikhumba Rajput who ruled the area around what was then called Abha Nagari.The reason behind the building of such an elaborate baoli could also have served as a place where religious rituals were also conducted.What supports this theory is the presence of two carved niches containingrock-cut images of Goddess Durga and Lord Ganesha.Placed right at the bottom of the side that has the pavilions ,these niches occupy a central place within the well.

Whatever the purpose it served,the baoli is gradullay becoming a magnet for those visitors who care for the unusual and are bored with the regular tourist hubs of the golden triangle of Delhi,Jaipur and Agra.

VILLAGE VOICE

The location of the village also generates interest - it's isolated and the countryside is strewn with green fields.Most people coming here after a long drive usually expect a broken-down structure,and end up gaping drop-jawed at what they get to see.That is the magic of Abhaneri.The nameless workmen who built it are long gone,the patron kings have been dispersed and even Abha Nagari is now humble Abhaneri,but the baoli retains its full glory.Perhaps that was its purpose after all.

FACT FILE -

Getting there : Abhaneri lies in Rajasthan's Dausa district.It's easily accessible from Jaipur via NH 11.From Jaipur,you need to drive to Dausa(55kms)and continue on the highway till the Sikandra crossing (another 25 km).Turn off the highway at that point - Abhaneri is just 8 km away.

Staying there :The best option is to take in Abhaneri as a day trip from Jaipur.In case u want to take the heritage hotel route,the nearby town of Bhandarej is a good option.

Also Visit :Harshat Mata Temple ,which dates back to the same period as Chand Baoli,lies just opposite it.Bhandarej and Bhangarh,both in the same region,also hold interesting heritage sites in the form of another baoli and an abandoned town.

                 TRAILING A RUSSIAN MERCHANT

The map in my hand says theres a route across the river. Common sense indicates it must be a bridge. And though my vision still isnt playing tricks on me after our grueling 2700km road trip under a scorching Deccan sun, I can say with conviction that there isnt so much as a slab of concrete anywhere along the course of the Vashishthi. I have a feeling weve strayed off track. But then, thats how all expeditions go, dont they? 

       So, while the two Scorpios were traveling in now stand by the river cooling their engines, I sit with the sea breeze on my face, pondering over the incredible historical journey that has just passed us by. We are now in Dabhol, a tiny fishing hamlet on the Maharashtrian coast, made famous in the past by a scam called Enron. Mumbai, from where we had set out 10 days ago, is about 150km away – on the other side of the river.

                                CAVE TEMPLES IN BADAMI

Given its present character, its difficult to visualize Dabhol as the bustling port it was, when Russian traveler Afanasy Nikitin came visiting India 500 years ago. A merchant by occupation, he traveled through the Deccan, spending four years documenting a foreign country, before setting off for his homeland in 1473. Dabhol is where he boarded a ship that was to take him back to Russia.

       In the glove compartment of our car was a copy of the notes Nikitin had maintained during his journey. It was, in fact, the very document that had scripted our trip. In the 60th year of Indo-Russian diplomatic relations, we – a team of seven people from different walks of life – had come together to embark on an expedition that was unique, to say the least. Led by adventure Phalguni Matilal and historian Hari Vasudevan, our sojourn that began on March 24 attempted to retrace the epic journey made by the Russian traveler centuries ago.

                    THE GOL GUMBAZ- major tourist attraction

We had our first brush with Deccans history – and Nikitins legacy – in Bidar. The first major pit stop on our itinerary, this was the former capital of the Bahamani kingdom. B. R. Konda, retired professor of the B. V. B. College, had read about the expedition in the papers, and humbly offered to show us around town.

       For all the years gone by, Bidar had remembered Nikitin well, Konda informed us as he took us through the Bidar Fort and the remains of the spectacular Gawan Madarsa, built by Mahmood Gawan in the 1470s.Nikitin lived in Bidar for many months,” he mused.

       We bade Konda farewell the next morning and set out for Gulbarga. The Jama Masjid, built in the 15th century by a Moorish architect on the lines of Hispanic architecture was sublimely beautiful.Its a masterpiece,” exclaimed historian and fellow traveler Shireen Masud.

       Gulbarga was logged in a days time, Bijapur came next. In the process, we had moved out of the Bahamani kingdom.Bijapur happens to be erstwhile Adil Shahi territory,” Vasudevan informed us under the shadow of the colossal Gol Gumbaz.

       After waiting for a full hour, we give up all hopes of crossing the river and decide to backtrack all the way to Chiplun.But just think of the kind of inconvenience Nikitin might have had to bear with during his trip,” says Matilal. Our leader has a point. We sit up with renewed vigour as the cars crawl ahead on the last leg of the journey.

Badami, about two hours’ drive from Bijapur, was the ancient capital of the Chalukya dynasty. There are cliffs to the east of the settlement that had been chipped away by master artisans to build four magnificent cave temples between the sixth and eighth centuries. Walking up the stone stairs leading to the caves, we could hear the naïve strains of a folk song that had broken out on the other side of the placid Agastya Lake.

       Having touched base at Badami, we had only one major destination to cover before we were to head back, via Goa, to Mumbai. Located on the banks of the Tungabhadra River, the unreal city of Hampi was where the Rayas of Vijayanagar had their administrative capital.

       The city was razed to the ground following a Muslim conquest in 1565, but the charm of the place still exudes from the plethora of ruins that lie there till date, collectively protected as a Unesco World Heritage Site.

       Nikitin had probably never visited Vijayanagar, but he made notes about the kingdom in his diary, which had prompted us to come here. In the space of a single day that followed, we had taken in as much of Hampi as we could, replete with a jaunt on hired bicycles and a boat ride along the Tungabhadra. We left Hampi the following down. In a couple of days time, we would be back in the commotion of Mumbai, and Nikitin would recede into the realm of distant memories.

Just before veering off the last bend on the hill road that takes us back into the Western Ghats, I look out of the window to catch one last glimpse of Dabhol. Thats when I spot the ferry across the Vashishthi.So thats the route across the river,” I exclaim. But realizing that its now too late to exercise the ferry option, we move ahead. Give or take a few hours, well be in Mumbai soon.Beer or champagne”? Someone in the car mutters.Vodka,” I reply, in what I think is a Russian accent.

Road rules

The best way to travel in the Deccan is by hitting the road. Super-smooth highways link all of northern Karnataka, and its possible to clock 300-odd km every day without much sweat. Hiring a vehicle from Mumbai or Pune is a wise option, since traveling by public transport severely restrains one from freely exploring the region.

In season: The best time to travel in the Deccan is during winter, when the mercury dips down considerably.

Asking the way: Language is no barrier here – a greater part of the population here speaks English or Hindi.

Grub guide: For food, nothing beats the ubiquitous vegetarian Udipi thali, often served with jowar rotis, available wherever one goes.

Overnight digs: Guesthouses operated by Karnataka Tourism can be found in all major towns one travels to. Accommodation in these inns is basic, but in some places the only option.

Travel trivia: The Malik-e-Maidan in Bijapur is the largest medieval cannon in the world. The 4m long cannon weighs 55 tons and has a nozzle designed in the shape of a lions head with open jaws in which an elephant is being crushed. The cannon remains cool even in summer and if tapped, tinkles like a bell.

                               

                                 DECCAN DIARY

 

TRAVEL 360: The journey that took Nikitin several years to complete can now be pulled off in less than two weeks. Nonetheless, the Deccan circuit remains a route less trodden with hidden gems.

Bidar: Once the stronghold of the mighty Bahamani and Barid Shahi dynasties, Bidar is now an open-air museum that bears testimony to the Deccans glorious past. The Bidar fort is a sight by itself, as are the ruins of the Mahmood Gawan Madarsa, which used to be a center of academic excellence in the 15th and 16th centuries. Visiting the mausoleums of the Barid Shahi kings on the outskirts of Bidar town can be an interesting excursion.

THE HUFT GUMBAD COMPLEX WHERE SEVEN BRAHMANI  KINGS ARE INTERRED-major tourist attraction in Gulbarga                 

Gulbarga: The town was chosen by Hasan Gangu, the founder of the Bahamani dynasty, to be his capital in the 1340s. After the fall of the Bahamanis, Gulbarga as a territory was shared by independent sultanates of Bidar and Bijapur. The dilapidated Gulbarga fort houses the spectacular Jama Masjid, built over the turn of the 14th century be a Moorish architect. Other places to check out in the town are the Khwaja Bande Nawaz Dargah and the Haft Gumbad complex, where seven Bahamani kings are interred.

                                   The IBRAHIM ROUZA

Bijapur: This town was put on the Indian tourist map by the majestic Gol Gumbaz, the mausoleum of Mohammed Adil Shahi of the Adil Shahi dynasty and the largest dome in India. The tomb of Ibrahim Adil Shahi, known as Ibrahim Rouza, and the Jama Masjid are other structure in the town that appeal to visitors.

AGASTYAL LAKE IN BADAMI is surrounded by temples

Badami: Known for its rock-cut caves temples; Badami – or Vatapi – was the capital of the Early Chalukyas and was founded by emperor Pulakesin I in the sixth century. The cave temples, which took 28 years to be built, and the Bhootanathan Temple by the Agastya Lake are imposing structures, and a museum maintained here by the Archaeological Survey of India displays ancient finds in the region, dating back from the Stone Age.

                          UNESCO WORLD HERITAGE SITE                 

Hampi: This quaint Kannada village was once the capital of the mighty Vijayanagar kingdom, which thrived between the 14th and 16th centuries. The ruins of Hampi, scattered across a boulder-strewn area of 26sq km, are now collectively classified as a Unesco World Heritage Site.

 

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