A daytrip to the town of Melukote

It had been on my mind for a long time, I wanted to visit Melukote. I have a kind of fascination towards old towns, especially the religious centers, perhaps because they are some of the best preserved glimpses into the past. Melukote is one such town in the Mandya district of Karnataka. It has been a religious and learning center for centuries with the temples of Vishnu in the forms of Cheluvanarayana Swamy and Yoganarasimha Swamy. Although the origins of the town are lost to history, it rose to prominence during the 12th century when Ramanujacharya came and stayed here for over a decade spreading the Srivaishnava tradition. It is believed that many of the Mandyam Iyengars (who had migrated to Mandya from a place near Tirupathi earlier) followed Ramanuja to Melukote and many of them settled here.

I was in Mysore that weekend and decided to visit Melukote on a Sunday. It is just 50 km north of Mysore and for a change, I did not ride there. I comfortably sat beside my grandmother while dad drove us slowly on his first drive outside Mysore on his first car! As we neared the town, the temple on the hill was clearly visible from the road.

Melukote ( Melu = High, Kote = Fort ) sits on an elevated area formed by some of the oldest rocks. There are two main temples in the town both of Vishnu. The temple of Cheluvanarayana Swamy is at the heart of the town, while the Yoganarasimha Swamy temple is perched on top of a rocky hill. The town has a lot of old stone buildings, small ruined temples and ponds/kalyanis. Most of the houses prominently display the ‘Shanka’ and ‘Chakra’, the emblems of Lord Vishnu and the ‘Naama’, that probably represents the Lord himself.

A typical house in Melukote with the Shanka, Chakra and the Naama

A typical house in Melukote with the Shanka, Chakra and the Naama

We visited the Cheluvanarayana Swamy temple first. The temple has several shrines and many beautifully carved pillars line the mantapas.

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This was the most intricate of all the pillars.

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After the pooja there, we walked out and soon found our way to the base of the hill and the start of the steps to the second temple. The path starts with a big kalyani or a pond. It is surrounded by mantapas that were built as resting areas for the visitors and pilgrims.

The kalyani and the temple on top of the hill

The kalyani and the temple on top of the hill

Even though the sun was reaching its highest by now, almost the entire way up was under the shade of the trees. While my parents and granny were a bit slow, I took the time to take a few pictures of the temple and the surrounding areas.

The gopura seen while climbing up the hill

The gopura seen while climbing up the hill

There are many old crumbling structures by the steps that are proof of how old the place really is, but they add to the allure of the place.

Luckily the temple wasn’t crowded and we quickly finished our darshana and pooja, and went behind the temple to take a look. The view from behind the temple is great as it overlooks the surrounding green fields.

A panoramic view of the surrounding fields

A panoramic view of the surrounding fields

It was just about time for lunch when we reached the base of the hill again. But I made my folks wait for a while there as I took a quick walk half way around the hill to checkout the other side. There is a fort like wall that goes around the hill and a rear entry with a tiny pond and a mantapa.

A panoramic view of the hill showing the fort like wall

A panoramic view of the hill showing the fort like wall

The rear entry with a small pond and a resting area

The rear entry with a small pond and a resting area

The Iyengars, among many other things, are know for their incredibly tasty food. And with almost a town full of Iyengars it wasn’t hard to find a place for a delicious and filling lunch. One such and the most popular of places is the ‘Subbanna mess’. They serve great food at a house. I had the puliyoggare (tamarind rice) and sweet pongal, both the variations, sugar and jaggery.

From there we made our way to one of the popular spots in Melukote. It is an unfinished structure that looks like the base of a huge gopuram. It goes by the name of ‘Rayagopura’. It has tall pillars carved all the way to the top.

The four pillars of the Rayagopura

The four pillars of the Rayagopura

The doorway decorated with carvings typical of temple entrances

The doorway decorated with carvings typical of temple entrances

By now we were all quite tired and looking forward to the ride back. I took the last few pictures and we were on the highway.

An old abandoned building, one of the few that we spotted

An old abandoned building, one of the few that we spotted

A seemingly abandoned kalyani

A seemingly abandoned kalyani

On our way back, we (pre-planned by dad) stopped by an ‘aale-mane’, the place where sugarcane juice is turned into jaggery. The people working there were kind enough to let us in and show us around. We even bought a couple of blocks of jaggery before we left.

Boiling sugarcane juice

Boiling sugarcane juice

Thick juice poured in to casts to make solid jaggery

Thick juice poured in to casts to make solid jaggery

It was a calm drive back home to Mysore. We had missed visiting a lake on the way, the ‘Tonnur Kere’ due to lack of time, and I hope to ride around there soon.

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Riding through the garden of Tamil Nadu!

I was on my way to Nagapattinam from Thanjavur the previous night and had to stop at Thiruvarur owing to some intermittent heavy showers and the fact that it was dark. (Read post here). Today would be the last day of the ride and I had to get back to Bangalore by night. But I wasn’t sure if I should ride to the coast (just 25 km to Nagapattinam on the coast!), ride north and possibly touching Pondicherry, then turn back home or, just take the shortest (well not really) route to Bangalore.

I had good distance to cover in little time, so I hesitantly decided that riding to the coast wouldn’t be worth it and it deserved an entire ride or two to explore. I started early in the morning, just before sunrise. I looked up the maps and plotted a route to Bangalore. I avoided going through Salem as I didn’t want to ride the shade free highways afternoon. So, I rode north parallel to the coast as long as I could and then turned towards Bangalore at Thiruvannamalai.

So, you must be wondering, “Garden of Tamil Nadu”!? Most of us have a picture of Tamil Nadu as the land where the sun shines unusually bright and the land is scorched by its heat. That may be true in the central part of the state, but the coastal plains south of Pondicherry and Chidambaram are as lush and green as you can imagine. Water is aplenty here, owing to the Kaveri river system and the double monsoon it gets. The Kaveri river splits in two to form the island of Srirangam and then fans out into multiple streams to form a delta system that is known as the Garden of Tamil Nadu. Although each of these streams get their own name, they are all distributaries of the Kaveri. A Cholan King, Karikala Chola, build a dam after the island of Srirangam to control the flow of water through these streams. That is considered as one of the oldest dams/water diversion systems in the world!

This was the route I took for the day. Look how green that corner on the left-bottom is! Zoom in and take a closer look.

It was cloudy and had rained all over the region the previous night.  The road from Thiruvarur to Kumbakonam is never straight for more than half a kilometer and the curves were smooth to ride on. It was the perfect setting and I’d count this as one of the best rides I have done recently.

Nothing beats a good empty road with so much greenery around! #travel #ride #exploremore #rideoften

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Paddy and sugarcane fields are a common sight. It was so wet that there were ducks being reared on what looked like paddy fields!

Paddy fields on the wet east coast plains, somewhere after Kumbakonam. #travel #roadtrip #tamilnadu #green

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Sort of a northern border to the garden is the Kollidam river, a branch off from the Kaveri, but bigger than the other stream which continues to carry the original name. I am yet to wrap my head around it and I consider all of the branches in this delta as the Kaveri herself. The river is now very near to the end of its journey across the Deccan plateau. It has carried a lot of sand and dumped it on the banks. The river is barely flowing and the sand banks are together with the river a kilometer across!

The view from a long bridge just north of Kumbakonam.

The greenery faded only a little before coming back to its lushness as I neared two more rivers, the Vellar and the Manimuthar.

Further, the roads are good, with only patches of gravel, still the greenery is good enough to make the ride pleasant. It was almost mid-day when I reached Thiruvannamalai and took a break for brunch at a nice looking restaurant that caught my eye. Lots of foreigners were hanging around and I overheard them talking about a certain “Ashram”.

Misery strikes after Thiruvannamalai! Turns out, the road is under construction all the way from there to Krishnagiri. I did not know this before and kept wishing for the agony to end soon. At many places I couldn’t even tell if I was still on the road or drifted away! The sun and the dust made it worse. After a couple hours of endurance came Krishnagiri and a smooth ride back home.

To my surprise I had reached a couple hours earlier than expected as I hadn’t taken many breaks. That made me think if I could have touched the coast and then returned. :)


 

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Ride to the huge temples of Srirangam and Thanjavur

This was part of a three day ride in Tamil Nadu during the Independence day weekend this year. This post is about the second day, so please give the previous post a quick read.

Early morning ride down the Kolli hills:

Riding down Kolli Hills. #travel #nature

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I rode down the Kolli hills where I stayed the previous night, and faced the decision of either riding on further or riding home to Mysore. I feared the intense heat that was to surely follow soon. The bit of rationality in the decision was that I was close enough to the other places I wanted to go and didn’t want to let this opportunity go unused. Of course, I decided to ride on.

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Riding the Kolli Hills!

What better way to spend the Independence day (and the following weekend) than riding solo wherever I want to! At least I couldn’t think of anything else and went riding away from Bangalore into the neighboring state of Tamil Nadu! I had heard about a hill near Namakkal with a lot of hairpin curves and decided to ride there. I did not plan the next two days in detail, but I wanted to visit the temples of Srirangam and Tanjavur/Tanjore, continue towards the coast and ride along the coast till Pondicherry and return back to Bangalore. Pretty audacious.

I started a bit late than planned, I stayed up late the night before to finish this lettering piece :D

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Riding in Northern Kerala and Coorg – Days 2 and 3

Read about day 1 of the ride.

The morning in Vythiri was cold and misty and I couldn’t resist taking a walk around the home stay even before splashing water on my eyes. Since riding in the mist is even better I quickly got ready to leave and of course not without a cup of hot tea :) The sun was just up as I made my way out of the town and down the Vythiri ghats. The view was quite nice and part of the valley was still under the shadows of the adjacent hills.

Descending the ghats after #vythiri #Kerala #travel

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I had been dreaming about riding along the Kerala coast and reaching Mangalore by the end of the day, and ride back home to Mysore the next day. But as it often happens, it was going to turn out differently and I would end up in Virajpet.

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