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Old 28th July 2014, 22:45   #1
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Default Hoysala ambition etched in soft stone - Halebidu and Belur (Karnataka)

Imagine being hit with an instant sense of awe and stupidity at the same time. Awe because of not having visited these places before, and stupidity because of not having visited these places sooner. Yes, Belur and Halebidu can have that effect on a traveler. On my travel radar since a long time, Chenna Keshava Temple (Belur) and Hoysaleshwara Temple (Halebidu) represent ancient marvels of architecture and structural engineering precision that existed in India during the 12th century AD. We were finally able to make this trip last week.

Nothing you've seen before can prepare you for the feast which awaits at these twin temples separated only by about 17kms and a joke of a road (yes, this coming from a Bangalorean), I kid you not. As soon as you enter the temple complex at both Halebidu and Belur, you're in front of row after row of ceaselessly-grand ornate carvings rising above the ground. Pro tip: stand back and watch other fellow travelers watch in absolute bewilderment the sheer possibility of such structures that are these temples.

Constructed almost a 1,000 years ago, the Shiva and Krishna temples have survived the test of time and elements, not to mention the raiding armies of Muslim rulers from the north (Alauddin Khilji and his successors) and eventually the ever-so-polite-and-courteous (cough... cough...) Victorian Britishers.

We always wanted to plan this visit as an over-nighter rather than covering it in the single day. While many cover these in a day trip, I am a firm believer in the fact that the journey is as much fun as the destination.

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A special shout-out for Mallige Residency Hassan. We couldn't find value-for-money accommodation in Chikmagulur, hence decided to put up the base in Hassan, and boy, what a little surprise winner for the night stop it turned out to be. Quick entry and exit to the main highway, we put up at Mallige Residency - my TripAdvisor review here -
You can read all about the accommodation there.

-> Started from Bengaluru at 5:30am with the idea of getting on to SH48 (Mangalore-Bengaluru highway) as soon as possible.

-> Breakfast stop at Swathi Delicacy (near Kunigal) on SH48 at 7:30am
Check-in at Mallige Residency Hassan at 10:30am. Though there are other options, stopping at Swathi has now become our own little travel tradition.

In my opinion, SH48 is probably the best highway to drive around in Karnataka (at least the stretch till Hassan). The weather played really nice - cloudy with nice breeze coming through. We spotted massive windmill farms in the stretch between Siddapura (after Kunigal) and Channarayapattana (could be slightly off with the exact details here).

-> Started for Halebidu via SH 21 at 11:30am. What started as a fun state highway ended up being an absolute chassis-breaker of a road. As far as I could tell, the first half of SH 21 from Hassan is in a fairly good condition. But as soon as you cross the half-way mark, the road just disappears from under you. We saw some road-making equipment by the side, hence assuming that they're in the process of laying tar. Pro tip: this road isn't meant for sedans or smaller cars.

Though my 2014 Honda City (SV CVT) negotiated the road ok, its best suited for cars with some off-roading capabilities (in its current state). The nightmare continues once you start from Halebidu towards Belur on SH234. Good news - unlike SH21, there is a road here. Bad news - it exists only on paper. Pro tip: plan for light meals before driving through these badlands.

Thankfully, once you're done with Belur, driving back to Hassan via SH57 was absolute delight. We had a hard time spotting any potholes throughout and after exiting Belur, we spotted this...

All in all, we took close to 4-5 hours to cover both the temples. There are guides available at both the places. They typically charge INR 200 for a group of 4-5 people, more if you have a larger group - the duration is about 30 minutes. Our experience while travelling suggests its always better to go for a guide. There are so many intricate details in the temple carvings that its easy to miss interesting tid-bits. Pro-tip for photographers: they don't allow tri-pod equipment in the main temple complex at both places, so plan accordingly. I had a tough time capturing pictures inside the cavernous garbha griha (sanctum) since I wanted as much natural light as possible and not use flash which tends to overexpose finer detailing.

Below are some select shots taken from the trip with some context around the picture.

The Hoysala kings, who ruled much of today's Karnataka between 11th and 14th century, must've been serial temple-builders. During their rule, they're supposed to have commissioned over 3,000 temples, few of which survive today. The Hoysaleshwara Temple at Halebid is a signature master-piece of the Hoysala style of architecture. As you enter, the first thing to strike you is the magnificent rows and columns of elaborate bas-reliefs surrounding the main temple.
Hoysala ambition etched in soft stone - Halebidu and Belur (Karnataka)-1909515_10154383881625534_4251604884545540404_o.jpg

A squirrel too was there to pay its obeisance to Lord Shiva
Hoysala ambition etched in soft stone - Halebidu and Belur (Karnataka)-10259173_10154386627130534_7564934386765496538_o.jpg

The dwarapalaks of Lord Shiva. 2 of them guard the temple doors at the north entrance. Stunning life-like masonry is what Halebidu and Belur are known for. Notice the aggressive eye-brow expressions, classic Indian bent of the waistline and those elegant anklets. One consistent sighting we saw everywhere was this strange animal called the "Makara" - a cross between an elephant, a peacock, a lion, a pig and a crocodile.
Hoysala ambition etched in soft stone - Halebidu and Belur (Karnataka)-10368345_10154386567455534_7779586058991129196_o.jpg

One can see the visual artistry in full bloom once inside the garbha griha at Chenna Keshava temple. Of all the 48 ornate pillars supporting the sanctum, no 2 are identical. They've put a big focus light at the center of the main hall to highlight each and every corner that is generally hidden due to absence of light.
Hoysala ambition etched in soft stone - Halebidu and Belur (Karnataka)-10443003_10154387138110534_7399146122130895017_o.jpg

View of sanctum sanctorum at the Chenna Keshava (handsome Krishna) temple in Belur. Among all the temples constructed by the Hoysala kings, this one, finished in 1117 AD, holds the unique distinction of being commissioned by King Vishnuvardhana (as opposed to others commissioned by other imminent courtiers. While Hoysaleshwara Temple (Halebidu) is known for its exterior bas-reliefs, Chenna Keshava's claim to fame are its ornate pillars in the garbha griha.
Hoysala ambition etched in soft stone - Halebidu and Belur (Karnataka)-10505003_10154387092135534_7939223169990893042_o.jpg

Vandalizing armies of Alauddin Khilji beheaded most of the sculptures. Notice the scene here: a depiction of the samudra-manthan episode from the Mahabharat.
Hoysala ambition etched in soft stone - Halebidu and Belur (Karnataka)-10505092_10154383973510534_7815401525984144643_o.jpg

Loved the mudra (pose) of an aggressive Lord Shiva in this carving. Notice the skull in the left hand? They say you can pass a string through both its eye sockets, just to emphasize attention to details.
Hoysala ambition etched in soft stone - Halebidu and Belur (Karnataka)-10514275_10154384026445534_640532807112752334_o.jpg

A closer look at the pillars inside the Chenna Keshava temple. Each of the 48 pillars is made out of 5 different sections, weighing in total of 4,000 to 5,000 kgs. Narasimha pillar, the one in the middle, is an architectural wonder in miniature designs. It is said that this pillar houses carvings from the entire temple (exterior and interior) in miniature versions.
Hoysala ambition etched in soft stone - Halebidu and Belur (Karnataka)-10551484_10154387201940534_3362854694852945389_o.jpg
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Old 29th July 2014, 07:28   #2
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Default Re: Hoysala ambition etched in soft stone - Halebidu and Belur (Karnataka)

Nice Travelogue. I just loved the photo of squirrel. Which camera do you use?
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Old 30th July 2014, 14:28   #3
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Default Re: Hoysala ambition etched in soft stone - Halebidu and Belur (Karnataka)

Wow, you have captured the marvellous carvings and architecture of the temple very well. Do post photographs in colour as well, it will increase the visual appeal of the pictures.
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