Sunday, July 31, 2011

Destination Hampi - III

Musical Pillars

For reading the previous parts - Hampi I, Hampi II

Next day, we woke up with all the pains of yesterday's cycling. As there was little time to waste, we took another cycle and opened our day from Virupaksha Temple. Next destination was Vittala Temple - you can reach Vittala temple by taking a left from the other end of Hampi Bazaar. A group of monkeys will welcome you on the banks of Tungabhadra river.

They charged me for taking their photos, in the form of a Mirinda bottle. Our problem was about the possibility of riding a cycle along the banks of the river. I checked with some local people, one said yes and another said no - and we took yes as answer.

As it was not possible to ride cycle for next 50 meters, we were force to carry it in hand, a small compromise for making our later journey smoother. Other than some couples here and there, the path was almost empty. Finally we saw a group of foreigners heading towards a small road - towards Achutaraya Temple and Ganika Bazaar. And we reached Ganika Bazaar, a long bazaar with stone rooms on either sides. One of the curious thing related to Ganika Bazaar was, its located in front of Achutaraya Temple!!!

Musical Pillars another view
After spending some time on Ganika Bazaar, we went back to the banks of Tungabhadra river. Slowly a small mandapa became visible in the far end but close to river. After some time we reached Purandaradasa Mantapa - famous Carnatic composer Purandaradasa composed and sang most of his compositions here. I went in, slowly walked towards the river and touched the water. From this point you can see the temples on the other side of the river.

The famous Anjaneya Temple, Mathunga hills and Kishkinda of Ramayana are located on other side of the river. As we were running out of time, we dropped the plan to cross the river and continued our journey towards Vittala temple. King's Balance was the first to came in the way. Here king's of Vijayanagara used to weight himself and donated precious stones and gold to priests. You can see this type of balance, in many temples, where people used to weight themselves in the balance - using various fruits,coconuts, precisous stones, silver and even gold. Later they will submit this equivalent weight to the idol.

Stone Chariot from the front
We continued further and reached the entrance of Vittala Temple. According to Archaeological Survey of India's (ASI) information board in front of the temple, this is one of the largest temple of the period, built under the patronage of Devaraya II. Later substantial portions of the temple were added during Krishnadevaraya's regime. Hundred pillar mandapa (pavilion) to the south west of main temple and the eastern and northern gateways carved with depictions of Vishnu and his other forms are attributed to Krishnadevaraya and his queens.

From ASI counter in front of the temple we bought tickets (10Rs), you can use the same ticket in other places like Archaeological museum, Zanana enclosure etc so keep it with you. After entering the temple the first thing you will see is a chariot made of stone - reproduction of a processional wooden chariot - pulled by two stone elephants and houses a statue of Garuda. Earlier it was pulled by a pair of stone horses - still you can see the tail of those horses in the chariot.

In front of stone chariot you can see the famous musical pillars. The composite pillars of the Sabha Mantapa (congregation hall) are massive, hewn out of single granite blocks, which are designed as clusters of slender pillars. Some of these, when tapped gently produce musical notes. How they build these structure, which produce musical notes? Anyway now you can’t try on these pillars as uncontrolled trials forced ASI to stop the practice.

Stone chariot from the sides
To the northern side of the Sabha Mandapa is Narasimha Mandapa, where the pillar has a sculpture of a Yogavarada Narasimha and various other forms. Apart from this you can see Kalyana Mandapa (Marriage Hall), Utsava Mandapa (Festival Hall), and Devi shrines here. Finally I went inside, just in front of sanctum sanctorium steps are going in to the left and right. You can go through one and come out of the second one. But inside it was very dark harly you can saw anything. After coming out from the other side, i went inside the sanctum sanctorium. Just like other places here too idols were removed.

After seeing the temple, stone chariot, musical pillars etc one would not like to leave the place so soon. But what we can do, sun was moving fast in towards western seas. Finally we decided to go and reached the bazaar in front of the temple complex. Once visited by traders from all over the world, is now an abandoned site. From here more than four kilometers to museum and seven kilometers to Zanana enclosure. The portion was not so easy to ride, under hot July sun we searched for drops of water. The famous Talarigata Gate is on the way, you can see Ragavendra temple, Jain's temple and Bhima's gate in the sides of the roads. Some are easily visible, but for others you have to go inside.

Talarigata Gate
I can't end this stretch of description with out narrating an incident. We asked the path to museum to a person sitting on the side of the road. He told us that, if you continue your journey, you will see a circle which have a statue in the middle. Just follow the direction pointed by the hands of the statue. Ok...after some time we indeed saw the statue - Ambedkar holding a book in one hand and the other hand point towards the sky!!! Anyway road signs are always there to help you to reach various land marks and finally we reached the museum - thirsty, exhausted etc.


Check out the photos -  Hampi

For reading other parts - Hampi IHampi IIHampi IV

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Destination Hampi - II

Virupaksha Temple tower, Hampi
For reading first part visit Hampi-I

Finally we were at the gates of the Hampi, one of the majestic cities in medieval India. According to History Malik-kafur - in 1309 - was the first foreigner to attack South India. He sacked the capital of Hoysalas and it didn't take much time for Warangal to end up with the same fate. Later it was Muhammed Bin Tughluk's turn. Around this time (1336) Harihara I and Bhukka Raya I of Anegudi (Elephant Hole) Kingdom started the creation of what later become Vijayanagara Empire. Within a short time span Vijayanagar rose in to prominence and ruled almost all of South India.

Stepped tank of Hampi
Overseas trade and efficient administration bought wealth and new technologies to the empire. They also patronized fine arts; literature; Kannada, Telugu, Tamil, Sanskrit languages; Carnatic music etc. Purandaradasa, the founder and one of the most important composers of Carnatic music was a contemporary of Krishnadevaraya. You can still see Purundaradasa mandapa in the sides of Tungabhadra river - he composed and sang many of his famous compositions in this mandapa.

According to History, Vijayanagar had a robust trading relationship with then major countries, starting from China in the east to Venice in the West. Their goods were also sold at Aden and many red sea ports too.

But the sudden capture and killing of "Aliya" Rama Raya (Son in law of Krishna Deva Raya) in Talikota Battle against the combined force of Deccan Sultanates changed the seemingly easy victory for Vijayanagar to a decisive lose, from which they never able to come back. Capital - Hampi - was plundered to such an extent that it never reoccupied. But the sultanates too didn't able to consolidate their power as they soon started fighting against each other. Later Aurangzeb came and tried to annex these areas to Mughal empire, which never happened and resulted in considerable financial strains on Mughal treasury- marked the beginning of the end of Mughal Empire.

Various figures on the temple wall
We can see the remains of empire in both sides of the road. Hampi is located in one side of Tungabhadra river, the other side is widely believed as the famous Kishkinda of Ramayana. Mathunga hills - where Bali can't enter because of the curse from saint Matunga - and Anjaneya temple also located in this side of the river.

By the time our bus reached Hampi stand, dozens of people approached us; some want to sell their map, some want to take us in their auto and show all the places. After hearing no they warned us that "It is 24 kilometers and you can’t visit all the places on your own". As we already decided to try on our own we firmly said no and started searching for a room. But, if you want to buy a map this is the good place.

Finally we got a normal room for 200Rs/day. After unpacking, resting for some time, we took a cycle for rent (40/head -Unfortunately geared cycle was not there) and started our exploration. Its almost one year since I last touched my cycle. Suddenly we were in Hampi Bazaar, one end of the Bazaar is a small hill and other side ends in front of Virupaksha temple - one of the few monuments escaped from the systematic destruction.

Virupaksha temple precedes Vijayanagar Empire and worshipped continuously for the past 1400 years. According to the story, during the period of systematic destruction of Hampi in 1565 looters didn't enter in to the temple because of the statue of a huge boar (Varaha - Krishna Deva Raya's logo) in the temple arch. Invaders mistook the boar for pig and refused to enter!!! Just imagine if the symbol was there in the entrance of all the buildings in least we may be able to see the city properly!!!

Entrance of Queen's Bath
In the other end of Hampi Bazaar, you can see the statue of a Monolithic Bull. We climbed the small hill near to it and reached the other side.Here the remains of an old temple -Achutaraya Temple- will welcome you. Thanks to Archaeological Survey of India (ASI); they reconstructed the portions of old temple and added protective coverings. In Hampi most of the temples are abandoned and without idols. ASI did a good job in protecting these historical monuments; you will be more appreciative of their work after seeing the before and after exploration photos of Hampi in Kamalapura  archaeological museum.

After spending some time in the temple we went back to Hampi Bazaar. This old structure now hosts numerous homes, Police Station, Canara bank etc!!! From here we went to Hemakunda Hills which is located in the sides of Virupaksha temple. There are so many temples in this hill along with two big Ganesh idols - first one is Kadlekalu (Bengal Gram) Ganesha and the second one is Sasivekalu (Mustard Seed) Ganesha. This idol has a female figure in the back - mother Parvathi holding son Ganesha. After viewing the sunset point we headed towards Krishna Temple.

This temple was constructed after Krishnadevaraya's successful Odisha (earlier known Orissa) campaign. In the end of his campaigns Krishna Deva Raya married Jaganmohini - daughter of famous Gajapati ruler Prataparudra Deva. This bring peace between two powerful empires. Krishna Bazaar is located in front of Krishna Temple. Now abandoned bazaar was once an epicentre of trade, people from very distant places came here to sell their items and buy something else. You can see one pushkarini and an old water tank near to the temple.

We followed the road and reached the temples of Ugra Narasimha and Shiva. Ugra Narasimha temple was originally called Lakshmi Narasimha - Lakshmi was sitting in the lap of Narasimha. After the destruction of Lakshmi‘s figure the idol came to known as UgraNarasimha. You can also see a Shiva temple next to Lakshmi Narasimha.

We continued our cycling from here and visited some old temples along the road. Cycling was one of my favorite hobby. Apart from some steep up and downs here and there you can easily use cycle in other places. After some time we saw the sister stones of Hampi, now a portion of of it detached from the mother stone came down to earth. As we went on more and more old structures came in to vicinity. Our next stop was at Queens’s bath. The holes in the supporting stones of Queen's bath were designed to act like showers, unfortunately I came to knew about the existence of holes only after reaching Bangalore. Next destination was Dannayaka's Enclosure.

Inside Queen's Bath
A raised platform will welcome you after entering to this area. This platform, known as Mahanavami Dibba (Hill) was used by King and his family used to view the Mahanavami celebrations. You can climb and reach the top of Mahanavami Dibba, from here you can saw the whole area - Royal mint, Commander in Chief's home, various other palaces (all are destroyed after the war and ASI reconstructed the foundations). One thing I forget to say was about the wind, when you reach the top of Mahanavami Dibba, close your eyes and forget about everything, just think you are standing at the same place were kings of Vijayanagar once stood. Now, only thing you can hear is the sound of wind, a wonderful experience.

After getting down from here we reached the famous stepped tank of Hampi. This is one of the beautiful structures located in this area. Water channels are there to bring water from the river to fill this tank. When ASI first explored the site they saw the water channels only, they followed on that lead and uncovered the stepped tank. All the stones used in the construction of stepped tank is numbered, this will enable you to disassemble the whole tank and assemble it somewhere else.  Here we met the ASI guard Uttham Kumar; when we asked about the area he was so interested and exited about the whole exploration and started explaining it. According to him this one of the biggest stepped wells in India, second only to the one in Rajastan. After saying good bye to him we continued our journey towards public bath - a large pool like area probably used for bath.

Hampi Bazaar one end
Underground Secret Chamber was the another interesting construction here. You have to go down through steps to reach the bottom, we hesitated in the beginning and then decided to go, after some steps it was completely dark. This pillars and walls may witnessed so many secret and important decisions in the first hand. After spending some moments here we went in to Hazararama Temple. Walls of Hazararama temple is beautifully decorated with characters from Ramayana, you can recognize various incidents and Lava-Kusha stories in these walls. We went inside, here too you can saw the decorated pillars. Carvings in the temple walls are so vivd that it effectively conveys the story of Ramayana.

It was slowly becoming dark and we started our return journey to Hampi Bazaar. Went to room, took a bath and reached Virupaksha Temple. This is a working temple so you have to remove your shoes before It was our good luck to reach there before closing. After praying in front of Virupaksha (Shiva) we moved towards other idols. According to the legend, the name Hampi came from Pampa Devi (Parvathi). In the temple complex there is a temple for Pampa Devi too. we simply sat there in front of the temple, few metres away - but inside - from the famous temple tower of Virupaksha.

Mahanavami Dibba
Finally We call it as a day and went for dinner and then to sleep, dreaming about Vijayanagara at its peak. How magnificent it was!!!


Checkout the Photos of Hampi

For reading other parts - Hampi IHampi IIIHampi IV

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Destination Hampi - I

KSRTC Busstand Majestic, Bangalore
There may not be much people in India, who didn't hear about the famous Krishna Deva Raya - Tennali Raman stories. Just like Akbar - Birbal stories these stories were also famous for humour and moral lessons.

Tennali Raman's country - Vijayanagar Empire - and her capital Hampi too were unparalleled in History. Considered as the richest capital of its time Hampi was compared to Rome itself. Just like in the rise, Hampi was unique in its fall too. Not many capitals suffered the same fate of Hampi. Victors of the decisive Talikota war took six full months to completely erase the memories of Hampi from the pages of history. The destruction was so complete that the city never populated again, from the world of splendor and magnificence it ended up as a spot in the map.

I was thinking of visiting Hampi for quite some time. It was a Mathrubhumi article, which introduced the city to me in the school days. More than anything it was the description about the destruction which touched my heart. So, when the journey was about to begin it was like an old dream come true. We - me and Milon (my friend and room mate) - planned a two days journey to this majestic capital city of Vijayanagara during one of our weekend. How to go was never a tough question for me, if you want to experience the real world you have to select the popular transportation modes. So first we tried our luck in train, there was two trains going to Hampi - Hampi Express and a passenger train. The first one was already full and the second one (passenger train) was too slow to use. So we settled for state run KSRTC bus - 'Sarige Express' in the end. But who know what is waiting for in the future?
TungaBhadra Dam

On that eventful Friday we reached majestic well before the time - one hour ahead of the scheduled time. After walking here and there for sometime we went in to the bus stand and located our platform - its 3rd. So far good, but how to know in which bus we have to travel? In fact we had a reservation ticket - which is at least 15 times bigger than a normal bus ticket and contained more numbers than a bank pass book.  Unfortunately it did't give any indication about the bus we have to go. We were told that our bus will come to the platform after 9 pm (Scheduled time was 9.31pm) but its already 9.15 and a lot of buses are coming in and going out of 3rd platform - all are bound to Hospet. Clock turns 9.30, and then slowly the minute hand touched 7 but there was little improvement in our position.

Within this short period of time I talked unsuccessfully to as many conductors and drivers, probably more than last 10 years combined. The problem was with KSRTC, many people, even the ones working for KSRTC don't know about the facility of reserving tickets in normal buses. For many - including KSRTC officials - reservation means Rajahamsa. Another problem was with the ticket itself, it may have all the details, but little information about the bus in which we have to travel. Why don't they put the bus number in tickets - just like railways are printing the train number?
TungaBhadra Dam and KC canal from the front
I can't say all of them are not helpful - in fact many of earlier journeys in KSRTC created a good impression about them in my mind, but this time its difficult to get exact information. Even after consulting with a two dozen drivers and conductors including the traffic controller himself we got little information about the bus we have to go. Everyone was saying the same thing, Hospet bus will come in 3rd platform, but the question is which bus? Slowly the clock ticked 9.40, still we were searching...!!! Finally we approached another driver and showed the ticket - explaining the situation by inserting as much local sounds I know, he asked me to check with conductor and finally we are in!!! Even now I am not sure whether we traveled in the right bus or not!!! When the bus finally started moving, people were frantically coming in like bees are coming to hive.

We saw the next sunrise in Hospet. Just like sun rays are slowly creeping in to the bus we are slowly creeping in to the sleepy Hospet town. The multipurpose Tungabhadra dam is just kilometers away from Hospet bus stand. Without seeing Tungabhadra in her magnanimous style Hampi journey is incomplete. Even though state run buses are available in the dam route the frequency is low. Its better to use autos (10 Rs per head), don't worry we are around 350 km from Bangalore. After wasting 30 minutes, waiting for a state run bus, we finally went in a Tata Magic - this crowded vehicle also give us more than enough exercise in the morning. They drop us in front of dam's gate.
Reservoir, Tungabadra Project 

TungaBhadra Dam have an attached garden, musical fountain and according descriptions a deer park too. As we didn't have enough time we dropped musical fountain and deer park from the list. Unfortunately security officials didn't allow us to walk across the dam. May be its a regular policy or the after effects of Mumbai triple blasts. But the reservoir didn't disappoint us even though we were not able to watch it from the middle. Water body is so big that with naked eye one can hardly see the other end. TB dam, as it is popularly known here is the mother of famous KC Canal.

After spending some time by looking in to the magnanimous water body we retraced our steps and reached Hampi bus stand. Finished the breakfast and sat in a state run bus to reach Hampi, which according to the Italian visitor Nicolo Conti,
"The great city of Bizenegalia is situated near very steep mountains. The circumference of the city is sixty miles; its walls are carried up to the mountains and enclose the valleys at their foot, so that its extent is thereby increased. In this city there are estimated to be ninety thousand men fit to bear arms."

Checkout the photos of Tungabhadra Dam

For reading other parts - Hampi II, Hampi III, Hampi IV

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Mumbai - Time for strengthening intelligence operations

Photos from Mumbai - After the blasts

The new series of bomb blasts - two in South Mumbai and one in central Mumbai - is going to open all the wounds again. First blast took place at the crowded Zaveri Bazaar, within short time blasts rocked Opera House and Dadar too. The point to be noted here is, these blasts took place just two days after the fifth anniversary of 2006 serial train blasts in Mumbai. Although authorities didn't confirm any links between them.

This is not the first time terrorists are targeting India's financial capital. Mumbai was the target of multiple bomb blasts in the past too. Targeting a major Indian metro will provide several incentives to the terrorists - it will help them to stamp the city as unsafe for business, more attraction in local and international media, creating confusion and panic among the citizens. Not only that, these events will create confusion among government circles too as they will be forced to act quickly and decisively; after all people are expecting their government to do something.

This moment calls for national unity and remember us about the necessity to be on alert around the clock. What happened to our coordinated anti-terrorist strategy? Tragedies like this reveals the importance of various government agencies to coordinate with each other, share information and come up with a joint strategy to face the threat. Remember that after 9/11, terrorists are yet to strike US mainland, after 7/7 London too didn't face any similar situation. Close calls were there, but authorities were able to act in time and fail those attempts.

It is true that in India situation is entirely different, we are close to the base of many terror networks. Over and above Indians and Indian cities are always hit list of various terror groups. In a country of 120 crore people it is difficult to track down various terror elements operating against the nation, but it is precisely the task awaiting for intelligence agencies. They have to penetrate these networks and foil the plots in the beginning itself. To achieve this we have to redefine the role of intelligence agencies, it should have the capability and access to all the modern equipments. Along with this government have to form small groups capable of executing covert operations in land, sea and air.

The spirit of India will never be down and Mumbai will be back in business with in no time.


Photo Courtesy - Reuters

Monday, July 11, 2011

Glimpses of Modern India's economic engagement with reviving Africa

Images are considered as powerful expressions of life, this is especially true in the case of Africa - Kevin Carter's photo of a vulture patiently watching a starving Sudanese child to die shocked soul of humanity. Over time stories of poverty and war brought much help to Africa; unfortunately it didn’t prove enough to guarantee peace and economic progress. Many countries fell in to the trap of never ending war and ethnic cleansing. Without enough foreign troops it was difficult to control the fighting war lords. Slowly but steadily Africa, rich in minerals and oils, become synonym for poverty, war crimes, refuge crisis, inter/intra religious conflicts, child soldiers, anarchy (in Somalia and some other countries), oil curse, blood diamonds, terrorism, horrible rape stories (from Congo) etc

However some good news are also coming out of the continent - like the economic growth of South Africa, return of elected leader in Ivory Coast, democratic elections in Nigeria, awareness about environmental protection in Tanzania, birth of a new nation - South Sudan, improvements in reducing the growth rate of AIDS etc.

At present, as the developed economies are experiencing slow down and the requirement for the resources are rising in the emerging markets, the pattern of foreign involvement in Africa also changed. Emerging markets are eager to associate themselves with Africa - to utilize the drops of oil and minerals coming from continent. As usual China wasted no time in establishing themselves in the continent. Chinese firms - backed by government - already made considerable inroads. Their 'no string attached' aid find much more favour among the rulers, as compared to the western aid which usually come with strict conditions. After all there is no need for improving administration as a pre-requirement for the majority of the Chinese aid.

Now India is also back in Africa after a long sleep. Its like the story of Rip Van Winkle, in which he is going back to home after a long sleep of 20 years only to find out that his town no longer looks the same. The difference between this story and that of India's one is, we slept for a longer time. When woke up we were as surprised as Charles Dodgson's Alice in the Wonderland. Almost all of the African countries got rid of their colonial rulers, but the irony is independence didn't results in democracy or peace. Now the Arab spring -  which already pulled down two regimes - offering some hope to the rest of the continent. However it is yet to see how far this will inspire the people from other parts of continent. Only time can tell.

It is in this situation we have to look in to the second India-Africa forum summit held in Addis Ababa. In which New Delhi promised,

$5bn line of credit for developmental projects over next three years,
$700mn for new institutions and training programs,
$300mn for a new rail line,
22,000 total scholarships for next three years,
India- Africa virtual university with 10,000 new scholarships,
900 training slots under IETC,
$2mn for African Union mission in Somalia,
Food processing cluster and integrated textiles cluster,
India - Africa University for life and earth sciences,
Centre for medium range whether forecasting.

Here the amount allocated to education required special attention. Education is the key for growth in any society. This will not only enable Africa to achieve progress in the future but also tighten the ties with India. We have to make sure that the students coming to India through scholarships will be able to lead their respective nations towards progress, democracy etc and will serve as a cultural bridge between Africa and India.

Both India and China are investing heavily in African mines, oil fields, infrastructure, power generation etc. This will certainly bring the much needed capital to African nations. But the question is what will happen to this capital? Will it simply end up - as another form of oil curse - filling the coffers of war lords? It is important for Africans to make sure that, they will not end up as a proof for Samuel Huntington's 'Clash of civilizations' theorem. At the same time both India and China have the duty to help them to form a new economy, not propping up another oligarchy.

Whatever be our commitment, it should improve the living conditions of common people in the continent. Africa saw more than enough dictatorships, colonial rulers, rising oil prices, draughts, severe famines etc. We should not fall in to the trap of propping up or supporting some dictatorships which Africans themselves don't like to have. Today or tomorrow, when Africans think about the powers who contributed to their uplift and progress, we have to make sure that our nation stands top in the list.


Sunday, July 10, 2011

Do we really need a separate Rail Ministry?

The long railway tracks criss-crossing the entire nation from north to south, east to west are considered as the nerves of the country. Still it remains as the most popular mass transport mechanism for long distance journeys - a place which even the budget airlines are unable to achieve. At the same time as one writer pointed out  - it also remain as the biggest drainage channel in India.

But the question here is about the significance of a separate Railway Ministry. Do we need to continue the preparation and presentation of a separate Rail Budget every year, a ritual which started from the days of the Raj? Do we need a separate minister to read out the names and routes of new trains in the Parliament, which will any way ends up in accusations and counter accusations of favouritism. Will it make any difference if this news is published as an ad in the paper? Do we have to allow the pressure game to continue, where various groups putting pressure on the ministry to get new trains and (or) routes, so that the representatives can add something to their achievement sheet, even if their option is not a viable or profitable one. Isn't better to change the department to an independent entity where it can decide the priorities based on necessities rather than the whims and fancies? Still government can provide a framework and guidance for it to work.

Already the department is running with out a full time minister. At the time of Mamta - more occupied by the day-to-day affairs of West Bengal to achieve her dream  of sitting in Writer's Building - Rail Bhavan seldom saw their boss; after West Bengal elections Manmohan Singh government is yet to find a replacement. And now for the department running under the existing bureaucratic system.

The time already came for as to think about the use of a separate Railway Ministry with a separate Budget. Can't we merge it with Surface transport ministry and save the rail minister from reading out the number, name of new trains in the parliament?

PS: Now-a-days rail accidents are increasing, but people (including opposition) don't know whom to blame - an empty chair in the Rail Bhavan?