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Ladakh - Planning The Trip

Over 2000 Km by road, in around 10 days. Stunning landscapes, wonderful people. That sums up our Ladakh trip. But how did it actually work? How did we make it happen? Read on to find out!  Leh, the capital of Ladakh , is accessible by air and road. Flying into Leh is the easiest, and time-saving option, while the road is the time consuming one, but with the added advantage of driving past some of the most beautiful landscapes in our country. Each option has much to recommend it, and we chose the road for just one reason – altitude sickness. Altitude sickness was one of my biggest concerns, since I suffer from motion-sickness. Yes, I do travel a lot, but that is despite my condition, and, over the years, have learnt how to handle it. I struggled with it when we visited Nathu-La in Sikkim, and wondered if I would be able to manage a week at the even higher altitudes that we would encounter in Ladakh. This was the reason we stuck to a basic plan, of only 9 days in Ladakh, though we

Mahakuta



Our driver dropped us off at the parking lot. “Go that way. The temple is right there”, he said. The parking lot was full, but the place was eerily empty and silent. A couple of drivers were taking a nap and a chap was selling lemonade. It looked nothing like any temple. There were no flower sellers, no one pestering us to buy puja items...... we wondered if we were in the right place after all. In my broken Kannada, I asked the lemonade man for the temple. He silently pointed ahead, and went back to his reverie. We walked on and soon came to an entrance, where a board assured me, that I was indeed at the place I wanted to be....




The temples of Mahakuta date back to the 6th and 7th centuries – when the Chalukyan kings ruled Badami. The temples belong to the same time period as those at Aihole and Pattadakal, and just like them, this is not just one single temple, but a temple complex. However, unlike Aihole and Pattadakal, these temples are still being used for worship, and thus have not completely fallen into ruins.



Having located the temple at last, I wondered at the silence... Was the temple closed? But no, I remembered our hotel manager telling us that it was open all day long. How then could it be so silent? A sudden peal of laughter startled us, and I realised that we were, after all, not all alone. But where was the sound coming from? Opposite us was a flight of steps leading into what appeared to be a garden, and on our right were two small doorways. The doorways looked too small to be the entrance of a temple complex, so we walked up the flight of stairs, crossing a narrow stream of water. A small locked gate at the end told us that we were on the wrong track, so we came back downstairs, and I finally decided to enter one of the doorways, as there was nothing else to be done.

I walked into what seemed like a different world altogether! The place was packed with people, and the decibel level was so high, I was surprised the outside was so quiet!!! I guess our ancient temple builders were experts at soundproofing too!



It took me a few moments to realise that the sound was not coming from the many temples within what seemed like a walled complex, but from a pond at the centre of the complex. A swimming / diving competition seemed to be in progress, and we had entered just at the time of the grand finale. A few more rousing cheers and the contest seemed to have ended. Men started pulling themselves out of the pond, and heading towards the gate, no doubt for some more celebrations and refreshments. At last, we had the place to ourselves – and I mean that literally, for there wasn’t a soul apart from us!

We had hoped to hire a guide, so that we could learn more about the place.... but that was not to be, since there wasn’t a guide in sight! All we could do was roam around and see what we could glean by ourselves!

As I mentioned earlier, the temple complex appeared to be walled in, and it seemed to be crammed full of temples around the small pond, which I learnt later, was the origin of a mountain stream. The pond is said to be always filled with water, the level neither increasing nor decreasing, since the excess flows out as a stream, and a canal utilises the water for irrigation.


The main temple here is of Mahakuteshwara ... a form of Shiva. You can read more about the architecture of the temples at Wikipedia, so let me just take you around through my lens...

A Nandi in a small shrine


For a comparatively small and walled in temple complex, it is surprisingly green (and also surprisingly quite clean!). Huge banyan trees tower over the ancient temples, and provide some much needed respite from the sun!







There are relics all over the place... lying by the side of the pond, propped up near shrines... Most of the names are written in Kannada, so we had no idea what they were...


This is obviously a version of the goddess Kali...

And these I think are the trinity.. Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva

And this is Lakulisha..
whom I had never heard of, till last year, and now I notice this figure at so many places!

The pond, or the ‘pushkarni’ as it is called, was, to me, the most interesting part of the temple. In the centre was a small shrine housing a Shiva Lingam with 4 human faces. 






The few people who remained seemed to give that one a whole lot of importance, making the effort to swim to the shrine to pay their respects. As I went on clicking, another group arrived, and I overheard their guide telling them that under the pond was another shrine.... to a submerged Shiva lingam! I couldn’t resist going over and asking the man more about it, and he pointed out a sign I had missed....



He told me that the crevice led to a small sanctum under the main shrine, which could only be approached by swimming underwater, but that few people could hold their breath for so long, which was why people held contests to see who could hold their breath for long periods underwater. The pond, he said was extremely deep, and no one really knew its depth. Well, even taking his explanations with a pinch of salt, it served to explain what had been happening before I entered the complex!


I guess I was lucky to see this temple in this light. From what I heard (and read) later, the temple usually sees a lot more crowd, and during festival time, it is completely packed. Of course, with all that crowd comes the bane of our times – the mess we create in the name of prayer.  However, this is how I shall always remember this temple - as a calm and peaceful haven with fresh water flowing out of the bowels of the earth, of the sounds of laughter and encouragement, of people happily splashing in the water. Being in the vicinity of the divine is supposed to make us happy, isn’t it? And that is what I felt here – happiness!


Mahakuta  Quick Facts
Getting there:
Nearest Airport: Hubli (about  120 Km )
Nearest Railway Station: Badami (14 Km)
Mahakuta is well connected by road to Badami (14 Km)
Where to stay: The only accommodation at Mahakuta are those provided by the temple, but we weren't able to sample them. The best option is to stay at Badami, where the KSRTC Mayura Chalukya is the best. There are also other hotels and lodges in Badami. 


We visited Mahakuta in Jan 2011, doing a day trip from Badami, which included a visit to Mahakuta, Banashankari, Aihole and Pattadakal.

Comments

  1. It is indeed a green oasis and a contrast to its surroundings. You wait long enough and you can find the temple all yours, especially the second half of the day..

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    1. I heard about this temple only from your blog, Arun, so a big thank you!!

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  2. I am delighted to learn about this ancient temple complex. Particularly I am happy to know that unlike other temples of that period, the temple is live. The surroundings look so full of peace. January must be the time to appreciate the tranquility thereat.

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    1. thanks PNS... as Arun says, probably the temple is quite empty in the afternoons and evenings....jan wasnt particularly great for the weather.. it was really hot! but we had a great time then!

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  3. Nicely narrated experience. The beautiful temple has been well captured.

    www.rajniranjandas.blogspot.com

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  4. The starting of the post was so intriguing, I almost expected something sinister to unfold :) But it turned out to be a secret garden of happiness. It is wonderful to travel with you to unusual spots and enjoy the trip. :)

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    1. Thanks so much, Zephyr!!! this was a surprisingly beautiful place... surprising because i didnt really expect it to be so nice.. esp after finding it the way we did :D in fact, if i hadnt read about the temple on a fellow bloggers site, i wouldnt even have tried to go there!!!

      as to the sinister experience, well, i do have another story for that :D

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  5. Swimming/breath holding contests, frist being on the wrong track and then having a temple to yourself, what an incredible day Anu!

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    1. Its really interesting to know such an ancient temple is still used for worship and the pond surrounded by greenery would make anyone wish for a visit at least once in their life time. well narrated and pictures have come quite neat. Thanks a lot

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    2. It was indeed an incredible day, Mridula!! and an incredible place!

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  6. The pictures are showing a peaceful place.Nice to note that in Karnataka, many temples , in remote areas , are in use , for prayer,worship, and relaxation.

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    1. Thanks Vetrimagal!! not just Karnataka, there are many such places all over India.. we just need to go look for them :D

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  7. I remember being there. You got great captures.

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    1. Thanks Indrani!! I remember talking to you about this temple.. and thanks to you, we tried to cover all the temples in a single day!! and managed,, so thanks again!

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  8. The first time I heard of Lakulisha was when I visited the Elephanta Caves last March and then when I visited Pavagadh in September last year. It's amazing, isn't it when a name, character, or place you have just come across suddenly keeps popping up.

    Strange, I did not see Lakulisha when I visted Mahakuta in 2010. But I do remember the faceted Shivlinga and the most beautiful Ardhanarishwara I've ever seen.

    Thanks Anu, for taking me back to Mahakuta.

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    1. Thats so true, Sudha! we hear of something new and then see it all the time! its been true with lakulisha as well as gajasamharamurthy! i see these wherever i go these days.. and had no idea they existed, before!! and this one is hidden away in a corner in mahakuta... and i seem to have missed that ardhanareeshwara... my fav one was the one at badami.. and then of course, ellora!

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  9. Wonderful to be re-visit with you. Was there 3-4 years back and loved the quaint place.

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  10. Very extensively and beautifully covered.I have taken the liberty ( hope it is ok )of referring to your blog in my photo album,( link https://picasaweb.google.com/100798393236899222624/24ALBUMNOVEMBER2002TODECEMBER2002 just in case you want to have a look.) for such excellent coverage as I had taken hardly any photos ( those days digital cameras were not there & one roll of colour film with developing & printing put us back by almost 300 bucks

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  11. we thankful to u mem we so happy . urs beautiful pics of mahakuta. and ur feelings about mahakuta so nice .thank u come again

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