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Old 19th November 2012, 16:48   #1
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Default Trip to Vijayanagar & Aihole...going back 1500 years in history!

A Trip to Vijaya Nagar and Aihole going back 1500 years in history
By: Shivalik Prasad; 18th Nov 2012
For the last month, my wife and I had been thinking what to do over the Diwali weekend, which is the most festive time in India. There are two things in life I really like, Cars and Travel and the best mix of these is driving. It was decided we will go on a road trip, but the location was un-decided. I was looking for a place which was different than the normal resorts or touristy place and some place where my kids could learn some history and culture about India outside of the normal bubble world of Cartoons and iPads.
We decided on going to Karnataka, a south Indian state rich in culture, which has the Jog Falls (one of the highest falls in India), Hampi (of the famous Vijaynagar Empire) and Aihole/Badami (of the Chalukya Empire around 500 AD). I have never been to these places but have heard and read about then from various travel guides and magazines. Hampi is interesting in essence, these ruins are from 1500 AD and people live amongst the ruins, the town of Hampi spread over 350 sq KM.

So on Saturday morning 10th Nov, 2012, we loaded up the car, I had ensured my MapmyIndia navigation system had the latest maps, got a MapmyIndia tracking system fitted to ensure I could log my drive and keep a safety / security check on the vehicle and we prepared ourselves for the 1000 KM drive. It is one thing driving alone, but another with small kids and wife. We left early Sat morning and drove off towards Hubli around 600 KM from Mumbai. Indian highways are not like those in Europe or USA, where there are well defined rest stops and clean restrooms, these are far and few in India. The highways outside the main cities are of high quality but then lane guidance is not something adhered to, there are bullock carts, motor cycles, bicycles, small / big trucks all vying for space on the roads and all trying to over-take each other. Driving on Indian highways at 60-70 miles per hour is not something for the faint hearted.
We tugged along the road and the goal was to reach Kolhapur, which is a city in the state of Maharashtra before crossing over into the state of Karnataka. The main idea was to get a restroom break at the last McDonalds and get some standardized food and it also helps that my kids love McDonalds. After a quick break at McDonalds, we drove off towards Hubli, which is known as Hubli Dharwad (Dharwad being the twin city of Hubli). The road after crossing into Karnataka was spectacular as good as any road in Texas, USA or likewise, high quality surface with side roads for local traffic and well defined lane markings etc. All these roads are part of the GQ (Golden Quadrilateral – connecting Delhi – Mumbai – Bangalore – Chennai – Kolkatta – Delhi); it forms the back bone highway network of India. We reached Hubli at Clark’s Inn hotel around 5.30 PM after driving for around 10 hours. The kids were thoroughly bored, we had counted most of the cows by the side of the highways, the various truck registration plates, and toll crossing etc and now they wanted to play outside of the car.

Sunday morning 11th Nov 2012, we left for Jog Falls from where we planned to go to Shimoga, a quaint upcoming town on the western part of Karnataka. The drive from Hubli to Jog was interesting because we were off the main highway after leaving the main NH-63 (National Highway 63) and were averaging 40 Km/Hr. The roads were narrow but the scenery was beautiful with little or no traffic and the air was crisp (well anything is nice after living in congested and polluted Mumbai). On the way to Jog falls, we crossed Sirsi, where one has to drive through town. Here the GPS was very handy as I don’t speak the local language and without navigation it would have been impossible to drive across the small town. On crossing Sirsi, we reached the main highway that connects Jog falls to NH-17 on one side (Goa) and Shimoga on the other side. Since the monsoons season has ended the waterfall was not in its true splendor, but it was still worth a sight. There were lots of monkeys scurrying around looking for food etc. We had a good south Indian lunch at the local restaurant and then moved onto Shimoga. At Shimoga we stayed at the Royal Orchid and I was pleasantly surprised of coming into a decent quality of hotel in a place un-expected (which by the way was quite full). We did not really check out Shimoga as a town as we were quite tired from the entire day of travelling.

Monday morning, 12th Nov 2012, we left for Hospet, which is the neighboring town of Hampi. This was one hell of a ride!! After driving some few kilometers, we reached a point where the road just disappeared. Luckily for me, I was driving an SUV if not I am sure my vehicle would have broken down. It was not a very comfortable situation as I had not been in this situation before, middle of nowhere in a forest reserve, on a road that was non-existent and travelling with wife and small kids. I thought I took a wrong road, but then realized that this is the only road to Chittradurga. So slowly at the speed of 15-20 Km/Hr we trudged along towards the next major highway. The bad road ended after around 25 odd KM. From here on we moved to Chittradurga and then came the next interesting piece of highway, which I shall call the truck highway. Hospet area is the Iron Ore capital of India and forms a major export out of the India. The road from Chittradurga to Hospet carries a fair amount of truck traffic (it reminded me of I-75 of Detroit), but outside of traffic, the farms on both sides of the highway were full of Sunflowers. It seems Sunflowers, Sugar cane and Corn are the 3 main crops grown in this area, and this was the season of sunflowers, it was a pretty sight and for my kids this was something completely new and beautiful. We reached Hospet around 2PM, took some rest and then drove to Hampi around 4 PM. Hospet to Hampi is around 12 KM and takes around 20 odd minutes by car. Hampi is a world heritage site and something worth seeing. It is very different from all the ruins I have seen around the world. The over-all area is around 350 sq Km, which is huge, but the main core area is around 25 odd Sq Km and around 10,000 people live in this gated ancient city amongst the ruins.
We took a guide, who was local to the area and has been giving tour guides for the last 35 years. He took us to the Vithal temple, the Virupaksha Temple, Hazare Rama Temple complex, the Queens Bath etc. The kids found the bath interesting because around the Queens bath was a moat that had crocodiles living in it as a security feature. On finishing the visit to the temple complex and Hampi overall (we would have liked to spend more time but the kids were having more than their fair share of history lessons), so we bid adieu to the guide and started driving back to Hospet.

From Hospet, we drove up the highway to Hungund, Karnataka. This is a new highway being built by GMR Infrastructure and it was just superb. I think this is the best road in India that I have driven upon. NHAI / GMR, is doing really good work to make such amazing roads. These roads are as good as any in the world. I only wish Mumbai can get some roads (any roads). We went via Hungund to Aihole, which was the capital of the Chalukyas. The temples are from the 5th and 6th AD, and are some of the oldest monuments that I have ever seen. Aihole is not the most touristy town and it was nice to be able to visit these temples in solitude with no one around. I took the help of a local boy who became my guide and took me around the ruins of the city. After spending a few hours at Aihole, I drove on to Pattadakal. These are also from the Chalukya period, but we did not stop here as I was feeling a bit tired and wanted to get to my hotel. Onwards we pushed towards Badami, the roads were not that great but the good part was there was little or no traffic, it being a Diwali day. We reached Badami around 3 PM and checked into the Badami Court Hotel (my trusted old MapmyIndia navigator worked to get me to Badami). Had a quick lunch and then we moved onto Badami caves.
These are rock cut caves similar to those found in Elephanta caves, near Mumbai and are also from the Chalukya period. Most of the folks staying at the hotel were Europeans with a few Indians mingling around. We spend our 2012 Diwali at Badami far from home but in the midst of fire crackers and enjoyment at the hotel. It had been a long day and was time to retire for bed.

Tuesday 13th November, 2012, we drove from Badami to go back to Mumbai. It was a 600 KM drive but around 150 KM of this drive was on the back roads of Karnataka. After having an early breakfast, we started our journey, only to be stopped a few kilometers out at a train crossing. My daughter was fascinated by the concept of a train crossing and was extremely curious of the mechanism by which the rail guards are brought up and down. After seeing a freight train and a slow passenger train pass by, we started moving forward. It was a nice drive with almost no traffic, sun flower fields on both sides and good music in the car. What more can a driver ask for? We covered good ground till we reached Lokpur. We were travelling on state highway 40. The road forked and the traffic was going right but my navigator was pointing me along the State Highway and there were huge signs for a JK White, Cement plant, so I went along the state highway. We were doing good speed but at a point, the road suddenly disappeared, it became mud with pot holes as deep at 2 feet. So slowly I navigated around the bumps and kept pushing to make progress. I was glad I was driving a SUV else, any other normal sedan would have broken its axle on that road. There were many other large industries on the road and I would it odd, as to why they did not get this particular stretch of 10 KM road fixed.
Anyways, we managed to get through the road and kept on driving forward to join the NH 4 (GQ highway). From here we moved onto to Kolhapur and took a break at McDonalds. On the way we passed Gokak Falls, but having already seen Jog Falls, we decided to give Gokak a miss. We drove non-stop from Kolhapur to Mumbai and made it home by around 5is in the evening. It being the day after Diwali, the traffic was sparse and fluid.

Summary: It was a good drive both for me and the family as we were able to see rich Indian history and culture and drive to places we had never been to before. I highly recommend folks visit Hampi as it is one of a kind cultural wonder.
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Old 19th November 2012, 20:14   #2
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Default Re: Trip to Vijayanagar & Aihole...going back 1500 years in history!

A concise travelogue with crisp narration. Thanks for sharing. Would have been better with a couple of photographs of your drive. Which SUV ?

Originally Posted by shiva338 View Post
we would have liked to spend more time but the kids were having more than their fair share of history lessons), so we bid adieu to the guide and started driving back to Hospet.
Yes, a 4 hour Hampi tour leaves much to be desired Hampi exploration at leisure takes 3 to 4 days! Did you find any difficulty in engaging a English / Hindi speaking guide ? What were his charges for a shortened show around ?

Originally Posted by shiva338 View Post
From Hospet, we drove up the highway to Hungund, Karnataka. This is a new highway being built by GMR Infrastructure and it was just superb. I think this is the best road in India that I have driven upon.
Has toll collection started on Hospet - Hungund stretch ?

Looking forward to more of your drives and experiences. Thanks again.
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Old 20th November 2012, 15:20   #3
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Default Re: Trip to Vijayanagar & Aihole...going back 1500 years in history!

Nice write up Shiva but it feels incomplete without pictures. Please post some pictures ASAP
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Old 22nd November 2012, 09:21   #4
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Default Re: Trip to Vijayanagar & Aihole...going back 1500 years in history!

Originally Posted by roamingrao View Post
Has toll collection started on Hospet - Hungund stretch ?
I did a trip to the same areas around the same time. Toll collection has not yet started on Hospet - Hungund stretch but looks like it will start soon. I was impressed by the trial routines - they were diligently doing it (keying in on their computers) and then waving you on with a smile saying "no need to pay".
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