Thursday, 28 February 2013

A museum with a difference

Museums always have a tale to tell and whichever museum it is, it has its won share of legends, myths and stories. Generally, museums are open to the public and there are not many restrictions regarding entry and viewing of exhibits.
However, there is a museum in Bangalore which houses one of the  richest collection of archives, documents and memorabilia of old Bangalore, particularly those relating to Cantonment and the British Indian Army of pre-colonial days.
The museum is a virtual storehouse of  military history of Bangalore and it details perhaps the most comprehensive tale of the British troops in Bangalore till 1947.
Unfortunately, this museum is generally out of bounds to the public and you have to take special permission from the Army authorities if you want to visit it.
This museum is therefore little known to the public though its nomenclature MEG or Madras Engineering Group is a household name in Bangalore.
Yes, this is the MEG museum in Ulsoor, a locality almost at the centre of Bangalore. The MEG is Indian Army's oldest unit of Engineers and its personnel are more popularly known as Madras Sappers and Miners.
The Madras Sappers Museum, located within the beautiful MEG campus, showcases Bangalore’s tryst with the military. Among its stunning exhibits are  a rare porcelain bowl, which was presented to the Indian Army by the Chinese defence forces. This is believed to be the only such piece of  porcelain in the world.
The museum still preserves uniform of the soldiers who sacrificed their lives during World War I and II and the gallantry awards given by British to the Indian soldiers.
The museum is more of an archive as artifacts from 1790s are still preserved and displayed.
Though the museum was inaugurated in January 1979 by Lieutenant General P R Puri, the then Colonel Commandant of the MEG, not many can claim to have seen it. The idea of such a museum was the  brainchild of Lieutenant General C A Barreto, the Commandant of the MEG and Centre.
The museum has three main sections-history, contemporary, and an outdoor display.
The history section details may developments, including the inception of MEG in 1780, its long link with Bangalore since then, its involvement in many wars, including the two World Wars, the artifacts and gifts it won during the wars and the weapons and mines that were used then.
It also includes some beautiful sketches by William Daniell (1769-1837-It is Daniell and not Daniels as he is commonly referred to). Daniell had accompanied the British army during its siege of Srirangapatna in 1799. An 1812 on-the-spot sketch of The Battle of Seringapatnam and Army on the March on the way to the Seringapatnam battle are some of his works, which along with the paintings of a 19th Century Egyptian soldier. Other paintings include The 1803 Maratha war and an 18th Century map of South India.
The museum shows the history of the Sappers or Thambis as the MEG personnel are called from 1780 onwards. One of the oldest regiments of the Indian Army, which is 223 years old, the origin of the unit is interesting.
In 1759, the British trained Indians set up temporary companies of Indian Pioneers to fight in the wars. But soon it was observed that their training was “inadequate” and the soldiers “ran away every time they heard a gun shot”. The British then decided to set up a new unit in 1780 and Lt. Moorhouse of The Madras Artillery laid down the rules for the soldiers, who were given a salary and a dress code. This incident is depicted at the museum here with pictures and paintings.
The battle section will hold a lot of interest to military historians and it has details about all major battles fought by the Madras Sappers.
The museum contains the many trophies of Madras Sappers during their wars. A replica of the sphinx, given to the Sappers during the 1801 war, an 1885 silver model of the Burmese pagoda,
The China Bell (1842), Peking Bronze Bell (1903), and the medals that were won by the Indian soldiers are displayed.  
The contemporary section has a fantastic record of  all major events, including recent happenings such as India-Pakistan war, MEG uniforms over the years and MEG help during natural calamities.
The outdoor section has a display of the missiles that were used in the various battles, and a mini train with an engine that was used to take the British women around the MEG premises.
The MEG also has a well-stocked library with several thousand books, many of them on Bangalore and its history. The library  stocks books of British origin, a record of all previous commandant's activities, the various wars it was involved in and even social work it has been involved with.
There is also a book in the MEG that has a record of the articles displayed and the achievements of the Thambis. The book is priced at Rs. 1,000.

Dynamiting Bangalore's highest peak

It is the highest point in Bangalore and all maps and geographical coordinates take it as the City’s tallest peak or elevation.
This is Doddabettahalli or Doddabetta near Yelahanka which for centuries has been recognized as Bangalore’s tallest natural coordinate. The Doddabetta has another twin, a smaller peak, called Chickabettahalli or Chickabetta.
Both Doddabetta and Chickabetta are small villages near Yelahanka on the Major Sandeep Unnikrishnan Road that connects Jalahalli and Yelahanka New Town.
Doddabetta was decades ago officially conferred the honor of being the highest elevated point of Bangalore city. It had a natural height of 962 metres and this rocky hill remained in the record books of  geographers, cartographers and surveyors.
The topology of Bangalore is flat except for a central ridge running NNE-SSW. The highest point was always Vidyaranyapura Doddabettahalli, (3,156 ft) and lies on this ridge.
Alas, a few years ago, both the peaks-Doddabetta and Chikabetta-fell prey to the quarry lobby and both disappeared from view. The peaks do not exists and their fame to elevation has been blasted and two ugly bowl like depressions exists at the place where the peaks once stood, oblivious to their record.       
Though the villages remain and the rocky plateau exist, the peaks have fallen prey to our greed for quarrying. Villagers say that the peaks were dynamited and the same rocks ground into jelly for the houses that have been constructed nearby.
The blasting has ensured that the once highest elevated peak of Bangalore is now lower than the spot behind the Kempegowda Tower at Mekhri Circle which is also among the highest points of Bangalore (not the highest though).
The defaced peaks of Doddabetta and Chickabetta will leave you scarred and if you want to visit this place, you can take Route 401 from Yelahanka or Yeshwantpur and get off at the Jelly Machine Bus Stop. Walk a little away from the bus stop and you will land up at the quarry.
All we can se today are holes in the ground, and even now a few lorries moving about carrying granite. But wait. All is not lost. The abandoned quarry at Chickabetta can still be put to use. If the local authorities and the Government so wants, they can include the huge quarry which is spread over more than 100 acres into a park.
As it is the Government has started dumping mud and debris at he corner of the quarry to fast forward a four-lane motorway to Airport.  
Now with the tallest peak gone, the question is which is the highest point of Bangalore. Look around and you can rate the Omkar Hills in Rajarajeshwarinagar as the tallest or highest point. The tallest peak near Bangalore-Nandi of course.   

Hutchins and Hesarghatta

Bangalore is fortunate in the sense that many of the roads and localities still bear the name of persons who lived and worked for the development of the city and its surroundings.
Many of then are either are British or of British origin and a fee like Krumbeigal are German. One such person is Hutchins in whose honor a road is named in Bangalore,
The Hutchins road is perpendicular to Pottery road and is in Banaswadi. This road was in honor of the person who was responsible for the construction of the Hesarghatta lake in Bangalore more than a hundred years ago.
The Hesarghatta lake is a manmade reservoir located 18 km to the north-west of Bangalore city. The lake was created by Hutchins in 1894 across the Arkavathy river to meet the drinking water needs of the city.
It was the then Dewan of Mysore, Sir K. Seshadri Iyer, who conceived the idea of providing the growing city of Bangalore with a  permanent source of drinking water.
The then chief engineer of Mysore State was M. C. Hutchins. Both Iyer and Hutchins planned the Chamarajendra Water Works as a reservoir to store three-years' water supply to Bangalore.
This is how Hesarghatta lake was born and it catered to the needs of the people till the mid 1900s.
Hutchins chose Hesarghatta after surveying several places in and around Bangalore, he zeroed in on Hesarghatta because it was ideally located.
Hesarghatta was located on the banks of the Arkavati, whose origin is in Nandi Hills and joins the Cauvery at Sangam near Mekudatu.
The lake comprises a dam which is an earthen bund, 40.55 metres in height and with a storage capacity of 997 mcft. The project cost:  Rs 20,78,641: incredible is it not.
A brick aqueduct brought water from the Hesarghatta to Turabanahalli. The water here was filtered and chlorinated. It was then sent to Soladevanahalli reservoir from where steam pumps were pumped water to Chimney Hills.
Water from the Chimney Hills flowed  to the Jewel Filters at Malleswaram and was then distributed to the entire city.
Water from Hesarghatta was pumped into homes in both City and Civil and Military Station (Cantonment) in mid 1896. Until the Tippagondanahalli (TG Halli) tank was constructed in 1933, Hesarghatta continued to be the main source.
The reservoir and dam supplied 36 million litres of water every day to the then Bangalore city.
Even today, we can find Hume pipes on the road to Hesarghatta. The pumping station at Soledevanahalli too is still standing, a mute testimony to the engineering skills of a bygone era.
Until the first Cauvery water supply project was commissioned in 1974, Hesarghatta reservoir and Tippagondanahalli dam (TG Halli dam) were the main source of water for Bangalore.
The water supply scheme worked perfectly from 1894 to 1933. Then the problems began. The water levels began steadily dipping and the catchment area decreased and in 1986, the Bangalore Water Supply and Sewerage Board stopped using water from the Hesarghatta reservoir to meet demands of the city.
Today, the reservoir is bone dry and residents of villages around the lake have to rely on water supplied by tankers. What an irony.
Experts say that Bangalore would have been spared its water woes  had the catchment area been kept alive.
Today, the channels leading to the lake and even the catchment area has been encroached. Apart from Hesarghatta, more than one hundred smaller tanks on the course of Arkavathy have run dry.  Bangalore now depends only on Cauvery and TG Halli for its water needs.
However, the vast grasslands of the lake and its tank bed are him to nearly 150 species of birds and small animals.
Today, the residents of  Bangalore have forgotten both the Hessarghatta tank and the man behind its construction. The road too is known by the name and very few people are aware of the Hutchins who designed Bangalore’s first modern water supply system.    
Hutchins Road today lies  east of city centre and it still possesses a few quaint British style bungalows. It is also one of the major roads of Cooke Town.
The last I read of this road was really ironical. More than 50 houses on this road were left with no water supply for more than an year. This was unbelievable but true. Imagine, residents of the area after whom Bangalore’s first water works were named had to suffer such a shortage.
The funny thing is that all the fifty houses were being regularly sent water bills though there was no water supply. This is the best example of shining India.

Wednesday, 27 February 2013

Learning from stamps

Museums generally rarely interest the young, more so children. Unless, it is an aquarium or a wildlife museum, children by and large dislike museums.
Children consider museums to be big bores and their attention span is so short that it is difficult to see all the exhibits in a museum.   
There are only a handful of museums that interest both the young and the old and of them there could be only one or where the children will stop and stare and also look and fell interested. Of course this interest passes on to the old too and Bangalore is really fortunate in having one such museum.
This museum is easily approachable and the Bus stop is right opposite it. Apart from buses, there are plenty of autos available and you can even come here on your own vehicle but parking your four wheeler might cause some problems.
This is the philately museum in Bangalore and it is located right within the premises of the General Post Office (GPO) on Ambedkar Veedhi.
The GPO is centrally located and it is almost opposite the Vidhana Soudha and Raj Bhavan. It is adjacent to the High Court and, therefore, there is no problem of connectivity. Moreover, the GPO is in Cubbon Park and you can walk along the park and enjoy its beauty after your visit to this museum.
Coming back to the museum, it is within the GPO and the GPO building itself is recognized as one of the most beautiful post offices in the world. The entry to the GPO is from both the Ambdekar Veedhi and the Raj Bhavan road.
The museum is on the first floor of the building. The ground floor has postal counters that sell stamps, covers, post cards and other postal paraphernalia.
The museum is very well maintained and it has hundreds of stamps of different countries, denominations. There are stamps of all sizes and shapes and of different periods.
Both the types of stamps printed- the limited Commemorative stamps and Definitive stamps are exhibited. Almost all the stamps printed in India from 1947 are displayed.
There are also a number of stamps printed before Independence.
Called the Modern Philatelic Bureau and Museum, the stamps have been arranged aesthetically and apart from the stamps, adequate philatelic material is available except for a few items.
Another excellent feature is the round study table around which are almirahs housing nearly 600 books and magazines, many of them devoted to philately. In case you need to read, sign the register and sit on the round table and go into the history of stamps.
Many of the books are donated by Y. R. Shah, a renowned philatelist of Bangalore.
By the way, entry to the Museum is from Philatelic Bureau only. This is the only such museum in Bangalore and you can find people of all ages, including children, coming here and spending time.
Another interesting aspect of the museum is that you can shell out just Rs 200 at the philately bureau and become a member of the bureau by opening a Philatelic Deposit Account (PDA).
Becoming a member is easy. Fill up the order form and remitting Rs.200 (minimum deposit) at any of the nearest Post Office or the GPO. The stamps will be sent to the account holder by Registered Post every month. Money can also be paid by cheque (local only), demand draft, money order or Indian Postal order favouring the Postmaster of the Bureau concerned.
There are 1,28,042 such philately deposit accounts with the GPO of which, about 5000 accounts are running accounts that register regular transactions.
India issues about 75 to 85 stamps every year (the Postal Authority of India issues these stamps) and some of them commemorate events such as Aero India and persons such as Dr. Raj Kumar. The most popular Indian stamp of all times has been of Mahatma Gandhi and no less than 166 countries have issued stamps in his honor.   
The Philatelic Bureau and counters offer a host of philatelic materials like First Day Cover, Collector’s Pack (a pack of all the stamps released in one year) and miniature souvenir sheets that are issued only occasionally.
The philatelic Bureau section at the GPO opened in 1957. They host a meeting every first Sunday of the month for Karnataka Philatelic Society members. However, the philately museum is a recent addition.
Though children enjoy stamps, I know of only two schools in Bangalore that have philately clubs and bureaus-Vijaya High School and college near South End on RV Road and Poorna Pragnya School in Sadashivanagar.  
Stamps can be the ideal vehicle for teaching children and even adults about persons, events, incidents and countries. Along with books, it is the most inexpensive tool of education. Stamps are also inexpensive to collect and you can tap your friends and relatives for use stamps. You can also prepare your own stamp album and also wrote a brief note on each of the stamp.

The enchanting gallery of Bangalore

This is one of the lesser known and even lesser visited spots of Bangalore. Though it is part of the national collection, it has fewer visitors. However, once a Bangalorean steps into it, it is more than likely that he will come back here again.
The very ambience, the setting, the surroundings give this museum an aura that is hard to come by. The museum is located in a building which itself has historic value and the structure itself is regal.
If the heritage structure fails to satisfy your sense of aesthetics, then the surroundings are no less beautiful and they will definitely appeal to you. Trees, which are hundreds of years old, and a beautifully manicured lawn, chirping of birds will leave you stumped for words.
Mind you, all of this and more in the heart of Bangalore and amid the rude hustle and bustle of  maddening traffic. This is the National Gallery of Modern Art (NGMA) of Bangalore.
The gallery is located in the Manikyavelu mansion, a heritage structure going back to nearly 100 years, and surrounded by a beautiful garden spread over three and half acres.
The artistically designed galleries houses paintings, sculptures, prints and drawings from the late 18th century. It also displays works by famous Indian artists like Raja Ravi Varma, Amrita Shergill, Ravindranath Tagore, Nandalal Bose, Jamini Roy and  other international artists
The gallery has a display space of 1551 sq. m and there is also a newly constructed Gallery Block, which adds another display  space of 1260 sq. m. The NGMA is also equipped with a refurbished auditorium, a reference library, cafeteria, and a museum shop cum facilitations block.
The Manikyavelu Mansion, located on the busy Palace Road I n Vasanthnagar, was once the property of the Mysore royal family. The mansion later was owned by Raja Manikayavalu Mudaliar, a mine owner. It was taken over by the State Government in the late sixties, which then offered it to the Ministry of Culture in July 1989 for setting up of a modern art museum.
The foundation stone for the museum was laid by the Centre in 2001 and since then the Central; Ministry of Culture is running the museum.
Since its launch in 2009, the NGMA has been home to several  exhibitions and film screenings. The majestic Manikyavelu Mansion is in itself a work of art and it continues to draw artists.
This is the third of the three NGMA in India.
The art works at the gallery are well organised and there are paintings, sculptures and prints to look at and admire.
An exclusive wing houses the modern art movements, represented by the works of artists such as M F Hussain, S G Vasudev, S H Raza, Krishen Khanna, Arpita Singh, Raghu Rai, Nalini Malini and Yussuf Arrakal.
What sets out this gallery from others is that it is interactive and it organizes exhibitions, workshops, seminars, talks and film screenings, dance and music performances.
NGMA is open on all days except Monday. There are charges for entry. Check out the Vidhana Soudha, Race Course, Nehru Planetarium, Indira Gandhi Fountain Park and Bangalore Palace which are all nearby.
The best landmark is Chalukya Hotel. Get to the Palace road from here. The address is National Gallery of Modern Art
Manekyavelu Mansion, 49, Palace Road, Bengaluru – 560 052
Tel: 91-080-2234 2338: Tele Fax: 91-080-22201027

The story of a memorial rock

Almost all Bangaloreans are aware of the National War Memorial  that is coming up at the Indira Gandhi Park in Central Bangalore. The memorial has been a subject matter of  a prolonged dispute between environmentalists on one hand and the Government and military on the other.
The matter even reached the courts and the project for constructing Bangalore’s first national memorial took off only after the Supreme Court okayed the project.
The project includes the installation of a 87-foot high single stone which will be the centerpiece of the memorial. But did you know that the stone is being mined near Bangalore and that the State Government issued the permit for mining such a huge slab near the reservoir of Tippegondanahalli (TG Halli), near Bangalore.
The single rock at the memorial comprises a 750-ton block of granite and the State Government issued necessary permits to mine this stone at a quarry site near the TG Halli reservoir in 2009.
The stone, 87-foot-high, will be a fitting memorial to those bravehearts who fought in the Kargil War.  The rock is being mined from the quarry of a farmer called Munne Gowda and it is called Veeragallu (The Kannada meaning of a brave heart-Veera means brave and Kallu means stone).
The stone from which the Veeragallu is being carved is not found anywhere else in Karnataka but in Koyira village near TG Halli. This type of rock is locally known as Kajjikayalu.
The State Government records itself show that this type of  rock is not found anywhere except here in Karnataka. It also shows that the BDA was permitted to mine the area near the TG Halli reservoir for extracting the stone.
Do you know the cost for quarrying, extracting, transporting and installing the rock at the memorial site. It is Rs.28,408,903. And what are the consequences of transporting a huge boulder of this size.
The Government itself says it would be required to demolish some bridges and buildings to ensure smooth movement of the vehicle carrying such a statue from TG Halli to central Bangalore. The cost?  Your guess is as good as mine.
When completed, the rock will be 75 feet in height and it will weigh about 700 tons. As many as 20 sculptors are giving it finishing touches. The memorial will also have the tallest flag mast in India at 65 metres (around 213 feet). The flag mast will adorn the country's largest national flag measuring 48 x 78 feet.

Tuesday, 26 February 2013

Footprints of Bheema near Bangalore

There are plenty of places in India where people from Ramayana and Mahabharata period stayed. There are scores of places associated with their birth and death and also their heroic deeds. Many people have expressed regret that these heroes never set foot in or around Bangalore.  They say they have to travel to Kolar and Chikaballapur districts to identify themselves with the heroes of Ramayana and Mahabharata. They cite the example of Kaivara in Chikaballapur district and Arani in Kolar which are popularly associated with the Mahabharata and Ramayana respectively.
Well, well, well. How wrong are my friends. Bangalore too has witnessed the travel of the Pandavas and there is enough evidence of that in the form of  inscriptions and carvings. Unfortunately, not nay people are aware of it.
The hustle and bustle of daily life and the growing urbanization of the City has ensured that it has lost touch with history. The growth of Bangalore has been eating away the historical belly of the city. Gone are the iconic buildings, parks and playgrounds which once had a tryst with history. Areas that once boasted of their hoary past have been left far behind in the maddening race towards modernisation.
Two such areas that are almost lost to the modern world is the small village of  Aigandapura and another hamlet that is called Makali. Aigandapura is just 30 kms from Bangalore and in a few years it will become a part of  Namma Bangalore.
On first sight, there is nothing much to write about this village. But what if I told you that it has a few links that still show off its ties with the Mahabharata.
A few centuries ago, Aigandapura was a celebrated Agrahara under the Cholas. A remnant of that era is the Karaga festival that is still celebrated here.
Legends state that the Pandavas spent part of their Vanavasa at this place. Apart from this village the Pandavas also visited Makali near by where Bheema consecrated a shrine for Shiva. It still exists today. It is known as the Bheemeshwara temple.
There is also a huge footprint on the rock at a village nearby called Makali and this believed to be that of Bheema. The footprint is huge and it will give you an idea of how tall and might Bheema was. This is even today known s Bheemana Hejje.
There are also some small cup like depression on the rock and these are supposed to have been made by Bheema when he played dice with his brothers. This is really interesting as it shows that though the Pandavas lost their kingdom due to a game of dice, they did not take things lying down and that they did not blame the game for their temporal downfall. They were sportive and they continued playing the game of dice.
Coming back to Aigandapura, there are two important temples here. The temple of  Dharmeshwara and Gopalakrishna. There are many small shrines within the Dharmeshwara temple. They are  dedicated to Nakuleshwara, Sahadeshwara, Arjuneshwara and Kuntigudi.
The Bheemeshwara temple is spread out across the road and is on slightly higher plane that the other two temples. It is located on the banks of the Arkavathi river.
Aigandapura is on the Bangalore-Tumkur road. Travel on the Tumkur road and when you see a sign pointing to Hesarghata, turn right towards Hesaraghatta TB cross and again right towards Horticultural farm. Continue till Shivakote and travel on the same road till you reach Aigandapura.
Bheemana Hejje is approximate 18km from here. Take the Nelamangala road and after the toll gate, get onto the service road to reach Makali.
At Makali, turn right and get on to Alur road. Watch out for a school about 500 metres along the route on the left. At the school turn right on to a mud road. This road leads to Bheemeshwara temple.

The Jallianwala Bagh of the South

Ninty four years after the Jallianwala Bagh massacre in Amritsar, David Cameron, the British Prime Minister, visited the site and expressed his sorrow. The massacre, perhaps the most horrific in British India, drew worldwide revulsion.
The massacre took place in the a public garden called Jallianwalla Bagh on April 13, 1919. The shooting, which the British themselves claimed led to 379 deaths and 1100 injured, was ordered by Brigadier-General Reginald E H Dyer.
The then Indian National Congress claimed that the massacre left more than 1,500 dead with approximately 1,000 dead and 1,500 injured.
What people do not know is that there was another incident of a similar kind in Karnataka and it took place nineteen years after the Jallianwala Bagh tragedy. This is popularly called the south Jallianwala Bagh and more than 32 persons, all of them from Karnataka, lost their lives in the firing by ordered by the British.
This deeply despicable incident occurred in the small village of 
Viduraswatha, six kms from Gauribidanur of Chikaballapur district.
This is how the horrifying incident happened.
The Congress had called for the hoisting of the Indian national flag on April 25, 1938. A large number of  people had gathered at the sprawling open grounds near the Ashwatha tree in Viduraswatha. Though the British had imposed prohibitory orders, people had gathered at the grounds.
The police opened fire on the unsuspecting crowd killing 32 people and leaving scores injured. Only ten bodies could be recovered and identified. Of them one was of a woman who had nothing to do with the protest. She had just come to the Naga temple and the Ashwatha Katte to pray. Her name Gowramma.
The names of Gowramma and nine others are on a plaque at the site of the brutal massacre. The others who died are: Bhajantri Bheemappa, Naama Ashwathanarayana Sreshti, Narasappa, G T Hanumantappa, Venkatagiriappa, Sulagitti Narasappa, Gacchannagaru Narasappa, Naagam and Mallaiah.
Even today, s handful of people in their 80s and 90s still can recall the incident. Almost all of them say that the firing was unprovoked and it began when they started shouting Vande Mataram.       
As news of the massacre filtered out, it shocked the nation. A deeply grieving Sardar Patel and Acharya Kriplani visited the place on the advice of Mahatma Gandhi.
Today, a plaque marks the spot of the massacre. There is not mush written material about the event. This is really unfortunate.
Apart from this gory incident, Vidurashwata is known for the Ashwatha tree planted by Vidura during the Mahabharata period. The Naga shrine nearby too is supposed to be as old as the tree.
Vidurashwata is just a few kms within the Andhra border and Hindupur is nearby amd it is 18 kms away. The name Vidurashwatha is derived from a big Ashwatha (Ficus religiosa) tree located in this village.
In 2001, this tree fell to the ground and there is only an offshoot of the original tree.
There is a Raghavendra Swamy temple nearby.
Bangalore is just 100 kms from Vidurashwatha. The Lepakshi temple is 30 kms from Vidurashwatha. This place can be easily reached by bus or train.

Friday, 22 February 2013

The twin peaks of Chikaballapur

Trekking and Weekend Getaways

If there is one hill or rather twin hills that is so near Bangalore and yet so virgin and so isolated this has to be it. It is just 75 kilometres away from Bangalore and yet it has largely remained away from public eye.
The name of the two hills too are rather unusual. There is not much wildlife here but there are plenty of birds to be seen. The climb to the hills too is rather not that steep and the trek up to the top can be a pleasant experience.
However, once you reach the top, you will be buffeted by strong winds and when you look around, you see the outlines of several other hills.
The hills are named after the Pandavas and the Kauravas and they are near Chikaballpur in Chikaballapur district. Both the hills are easily approachable from a village called Hariharapura (There is another Hariharapura near Sringeri which is a pilgrim centre on the banks of Tungabhadra ).
Hariharapura is a small hamlet in Chikaballapur village and it is known for these two twin peaks. The peaks are about 75 kms from Bangalore and about four kms from Chikaballapur.
The grassy hilltop of Kaurava Hill or Kaurava Kunda rises to nearly 250 meters and a flight of steps lead to the top. There is a Shiva temple here.
Nearby the hills are the Jarmagadu water falls. There is no water here during summer but you can have a good time exploring the rocks.
The hills are a little more than two hours drive by road from Bangalore. Kaurava Kunda is well-known for night trekking. Since the trek is moderately difficult, many people, including amateur trekkers, prefer this peak.
If you are lucky, you can make out several species of birds and butterflies. During monsoon, the trek can get tricky as the boulders become slippery and the trail soggy.       
Chikabalapur is 56 km north of  Bangalore and it is located in the center of the Nandi Hills region. It is often called Panchagiri as the town is surrounded by five picturesque hills, including Nandi.
The other hills are  Chandra Giri, Skandagiri, Brahma Giri, and Hema Giri. Chikabalapur is well-connected by road.

Thursday, 21 February 2013

The heritage cemetery

This is certainly one structure that you would rarely visit. You would have seen it scores of time when you passed by it but you would have barely given it a second glance.
Though it has a close bond with the British, you would not be mistaken for giving it a go by for this is cemetery and it connects with Bangalore’s past.
This cemetery is called the Agaram Protestant Cemetery and it is located between the ASC Centre and the KSRP parade grounds. It is more than 200 years old and there are more than 84 graves of British soldiers and civilians here.
Better known as the Agaram cemetery, it has graves dating back to 1808. It lies on the Defence land and civilians are generally not allowed inside. However, years of neglect has taken its toll and the cemetery is in need of  renovation.
The ASC, MEG and former Chief of  Navy, India,  O. S. Dawson, have been in the forefront of the restoration project.
The cemetery was in use till 1870 after which it was stopped. It was finally abandoned in 1920. The graves here reflect many styles and designs and we can find the names of S Mullenex and Nelson, the undertakers, who built them.
Most of the graves are constructed with large granite slabs and each grave has its own tale to tell. The oldest grave is of 1808 and belongs to Sgt. Major Kelly, HM 59th Regiment of Foot.    
There are two huge columns at the entrance of the cemetery. Each of the “Ionic columns” stand on a square base, about 40 feet in height. The column nearest the gate has four slabs with inscriptions and the other slab facing North has an inscription.
Some of the gravestones were used to construct a dividing line between the KSRP parade ground and the cemetery. This cemetery thus tells a tale of Bangalore’s history. This is thus a heritage cemetery which need caring from Bangaloreans.

The politics over a clock

A clock shows us time and the reason why we look at clocks is to ensure that we do not miss appointments or are not delayed. But or politicians are such a breed of people that they rarely go by clock and the word clock wise precision is missing in them.
This was ample demonstrated last Saturday when a host of politicians, including a Deputy Chief Minister, descended on South End in Jayanagar to inaugurate a clock. And ironically, they came one and half hours late and the audience was treated to a full dose of  political talk with a BJP MP even claiming credit for the clock and claiming that it showed development oriented policies of the BJP.
The clock, which the Bruhat Bangalore Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) constructed, was installed at South End in a mini park.
The clock tower is the biggest such structure in Bangalore and it towers over a height of  61 foot. It costed a whooping Rs 90 lakh and the towers is equipped with lights to radiate a different colour each day corresponding to the astrology chart.
Thus, on Monday, it will display white lights; red on Tuesday, green on Wednesday, yellow on Thursday, blue on Friday, dark blue on Saturday and pink on Sunday.
The tower chime, expected to be heard in a two to three km radius, will ring from 6 am to 11 pm. The chime starts with the blowing of a conch shell and is followed by a long and sonorous ring corresponding to the hour.
The BJP MP from Bangalore south, said the clock symbolised the development mantra of the BJP government in Karnataka. Deputy Chief Minister R Ashoka  said the clock tower would become a new landmark of Bangalore South.
The local corporator, Ramesh, declared the clock to be a monument. He claimed that the Information Department had already declared it so. I always though it was the job of the ASI to declare a structure as a monument of importance. Of course, the State Government has the power to preserve and protect a monument but to declare a clock as a monument?   
The Hindu, Bangalore, reported that residents living near South End Circle need not check the clock to read the time. They just have to be all ears and listen to the chimes from the 61-foot clock tower Ambara Chumbana. Well, well, wee. What a goof up. How can I look at a clock to find out the time. I look at a wrist watch and mot a clock. Perhaps the reporter was in a hurry to file the copy and did not understand the difference between a clock and a watch.    
Coming back to the clock tower, it is solar powered and it has three legs and is made of green granite. It also has three faces, each around 8 feet in length. The clock, which has Roman, Arabic and Kannada numerals, chimes for 20 seconds every hour between 6 a.m. and 10 a.m.
A retired general manager of  HMT, Anjanappa, has designed the clock.
He has also designed several other clocks in Bangalore, including the India population clock near Majestic which gives us biological information or rather population status of India. It also gives us the time. The only other similar clock is in Delhi
The floral clock in Lalbagh does not qualify as a clock tower but it is described best by a visitor as a sleeping floral beauty.
There is s clock tower at the BBMP head office on NR Square, the KR market, VV towers and at Raj Bhavan. The solar clock near the GPO wad removed due to ongoing metro work
By the way, there is a small clock tower in Cubbon Park near the Children’s play area. This is a simple clock and it stands on four pillars.  However, Bangalore has always had a tryst with clocks.
Bangalore’s biggest and by far most famous clock came up a few years ago at Omkar Hills in Raja Rajeshwarinagar off Mysore road.
This clock is supposed to bigger than Big Ben of London. Called Bangalore’s Ben, it is a horological wonder and a statistician's delight. It took three years and Rs.20 lakh to build.
It was built by HMT Bangalore and  it has a diameter of 24 ft - a full foot more than Big Ben - and the numerals are 2.5 feet tall. The hour and minute hands of this clock weigh 40 kg each.
The clock tower used up 20 tons of steel with 200 cubic metres of concrete. When the bell strikes every hour, you could be three kilometres away and still hear the sound of a conch followed by a reverberating Om.
The clock was installed to mark the 54th birthday of Shivapuri Swamiji of the Omkar Ashram Mahasamthana.
Some other clock towers in Bangalore are at SJP polytechnic on KR Circle and railway station.   
Amazingly, the resident associations of Jayanagar were not invited to the function. What else can this be called but the politics of a clock sans proper timing.
By the way, this is not the first time that politicians are hogging the limelight for a clock.
Years earlier, a clock tower in Bellary was demolished overnight.
The tower was popularly known as Gadagi Chennappa Clock Tower and it had been built by the Allum family.  
The Allum family has constructed the clock in 1964 in memory of Gadgi Chennappa. It was demolished on June 21, 2008 at the behest of a powerful politician hailing from Bellary.
The clock tower in Bidar is a Bahamani monument and the municipality went ahead and installed the clocks in the monument. It is called Chowbara. They were removed briefly but reappeared. Nobody knows who gave them permission to install a clock in a protected monument.
Mysore has two clock towers-Dodda Gadiyara and Chicka Gadiyara and both are maintained well.
Madikeri fort has a clock tower too and this is a British addition.
Mangalore once had a small but beautiful clock tower. It was pulled down by the municipality 17 years ago. Even today, the area where it once stood is still called Clock Tower. Funnily, the corporation seems to have realised that it was a mistake to pull down the tower and now it wants a clock tower in Gandhi Park. But wait, there is a catch. The corporation wants a drab clock as it does not want the tower to outshine Gandhi. Ha.    

The hill with three shrines

Trekking and Weekend Getaways

This is one of the few hills that is as isolated as they come. Though it is near Bangalore it is deserted most of the times. This is good place for trekking and spending a quite weekend with family and friends.
Since it is near another hill which is more famous, trekkers and visitors give this hill a go by. This is the hill of Hemagiri near Huliyurdurga in Kunigal taluk of Tumkur district.
The Hemagiri hill comes after Huliyurdurga and it is one the  Kunigal- Kollegal- Maddur road. This perhaps is the only hill which has three important shrines.   
This hill, which rises to a height of more than 2000 feet, is much less known that Huliyurdurga but it is perhaps more isolated and sparsely populated. The climb too is equally steep.
This towering hill can easily be accessed from the north-west through a stone arch, beyond a stretch of cultivated land. Visitors can ascend the hill easily as the paths are marked by electric poles. There are numerous water bodies along the hill top.
This is the Hemagiri betta or hill and it is a place of pilgrimage for locals. It has temples of Mallikarjuna and Varadaraja Swamy. If you are lucky, you can see  bears near the Bhairava Cave temple.
The hill is 3800 feet in height and is one of the many hills dotting Kunigal taluk.
The Varadaraja temple is very famous and it attracts a large number of people from nearby villages and Kunigal and Tumkur. It is popularly called Hemagiri Varadarajaswamy Temple. The idol of Varadarajaswamy is worshiped in the form of a Saligrama.
Varadaraja Swamy is also called Hemagiriappa. The idol is a round stone on the floor, signifying its origin as an Udbhava murti. A large footprint of the deity is seen outside the temple. A wooden chariot is another unique feature of the temple.
A grand fair is held during Shankranti, which attracts a large number of devotees.
The climb from the Varadaraja Swamy temple to the top is not all that steep. When you reach the top, you will find two mantapas and a small pool with clean water. The temple at the top is dedicated to  Mallikarjuna. There is a small Nandi and pond in the front. Pooje is done only on Mondays and on Shivaratri in February. The temple generally remains closed on other days.
The view from the top of Hemagiri hill is enchanting and you can make out Huliyurdurga in the distance.
The best route from Bangalore is to go upto Nelamangala and head towards Kunigal. When you reach Kunigal, look out for the road pointing to Huliyurdurga and take the road. The moment you reach Huliyurdurga, you can spot the Hemagiri Betta which looks bigger  and taller than Huliyurdurga.
The Hemagiri Betta is 2 kms from Huliyurdurga. It can be accessed from Bangalore through Magadi (50 km) and Huliyurdurga (30 km).
When you approach this hill from Huliyurdurga side, you come across a temple dedicated to Baireshwara. The idol here is in a cave and it is believed to be a Udhbava murti. Look out for bears here.
The pooje for the deity is performed only on Sundays.
Near Hemagiri is another hill called Kumbhi. This has the ruins of a fort built by Kempe Gowda. This hill too is a good place to spend your weekend.  Hemagiri is about 80 kms from Bangalore.  
Six kilometres from Hemagiri is the village Ujjini which is well-known for the temple of Chowdeshwari.
The temple jatra, held after Ugadi, is famous and it goes on for five days. The jatra includes the ritual of walking on fire (agnikonda) with the utsava murti of Nidsale Chowdeshwari and Ujjini Chowdeshwari and the karga. This ritual is a sight to see and is once in an year ritual. Chennapatna is 21 kms from here.

Tuesday, 19 February 2013

The hillfort in a forest

Trekking and Weekend Getaways

Well, Summer is just around the corner and with summer comes vacations for schools and colleges. I am sure many families would have already been planning a vacation and they would even have zeroed in on a destination.
Some of my friends and relatives asked me for a spot where they could spend some time, at least a day or two, in the tranquility of  a secluded spot.
I suggested the small village of  Bandalli  located 25 kilometres from Kollegal in Chamarajanagar district. Bandalli is approachable either from Mysore and Bangalore and makes for a perfect family outing.
Bandalli has a lot to offer. IT is located 4700 feet above sea level. A perfect green spot, lost of birds, herds of elephants, a ruined fort, hill and a few scattered temples and of course Veerappan’s domain, Bandalli was all of this and much more.  
The fort here is ancient and none seem to know its origin or history.  The village is like a film set with rolling green fields of paddy, thorny buses and a steep path which leads to the hill and the fort above.
The hill is a bird watchers’s haven. There are so many species of birds, many of them native to the forests of Chamarajnagar, that you will quickly lose count of them. I could make out Hoope, Woodpeckers, Jungle fowl, Bushchats, Wagtails, Barbets. As far as elephants are concerned, you can hear them trumpeting. If you are lucky, you can even see them pass close by.
However, the trek to the hill fort can be quite exhaustive. It takes more than three hours to reach the hill top and once you reach the summit, the vast greenery stretching for mile around will immediately soothe your frayed nerves and act as a balm for your aching limbs.
The fort is approachable from two sides and it is protected by three walls. There are several structures such as mantapas on the hilltop. The fort will give you a commanding view as it is built at a height of more than 1300 feet.
Bandalli Hill is one of the highest in the area and you can see several villages from the top. The north and eastern side of the hill are very tough to limb and you need to be an adventurer or trekker to get to the top from these sides.
The hill top can be accessed only through a huge boulder which is slanted downwards. When enemies attacked the fort,  this boulder was smeared with oil and grease and when the enemies attempted to scale it, they slipped and fell to their death below to a well dug for that purpose. The well still exists and the macabre story about it put me off it.   
However, the well even today has water that is cool during summers. It is so hidden amid the surrounding vegetation that you have to search for it.
Once you clamber over this rock to the top, you will be welcomes with stunning views of  Male Mahadeshwara Betta, Biligiri Rangana Betta,  and several other peaks. All these peaks are surrounded by virgin forests and they once formed part of the area in which Veerappan operated.
Wait atop the fort for sunset. You wait will be worth its while. The stunning sunset will leave you captivated and hunting for words. Then comes the descent which is no less thrilling but beware of steep slopes at some places. The descent is not for children and people with no experience in climbing. At several places you find yourself almost vertical to the hill.  
A forest path from the hill fort is a temple dedicated to the local deity Bettanayya, The temple is nothing but a structure constructed between two overhanging boulders. There is a big Nandi stationed in front of the deity.  
The path is full of thorns and bushes and it is a little more than a kilometer to the temple. Neaby is a water hole where several animals come to drink water. Elephants have been frequently sighted at the water hole and beware of then.
The elephants come here from the Chikkayalur forest which is just around the corner. Do not venture deep into the forest without the help of a villager. Also try to come back to the village by sunset or if  you are planning to stay back, take the permission of the Forest Department and engage a villager as a guide.
Bandalli is easily approachable from Hanur. Ask for direction at the forest check post in Hanur and you will be on your way. If you are planning a trip from Bangalore, take the Kanakapura road and travel to Kanakapura.
Take the road to Malavalli from Kanakapura and travel further to Kollegal which is 35 kms away. Kollegal to Hanur  is 25 kms and from thgere tale the road to MM Hills. The village of Bandalli is nine kms away and fort is a further eight kms from here.                 

The Indian Robin Hood and his fort

Trekking and Weekend Getaways

Situated less tan a hundred kilometers from Bangalore, this fort is more known for its water harvesting techniques than its history. The fort was built by a local Palegar who is popularly known as the Robin Hood of India.
This Robin Hood robbed the rich to help the poor and his generosity was legendary. Though he ruled for a very short time, he is credited with having built the fort and also a tank. He also contributed to the water harvesting techniques and mind you this was way back in the 16th century.
The Robin Hood became so notorious over a period of time that he came to be known among the rich as “Havali” or menace. Today, the fort and the town stand a mute witness to the bygone era when the fort as a citadel of  impregnable symbol.
If the fort has such an interesting history, the town too has an equally interesting story. It gets its name from a cave temple hewn out a huge rock. The rock in Kannada is called Bande and the temple is known as Gudi. Combine both the word and you get the fort town of Gudibande.
The fort and the town of Gudibande is in Chikaballapur district and it is just 92 kms from Bangalore. This town has everything you could wish for. It is hikers paradise and a trekker’s challenge. It has a fort and temples apart from caves. What is more it would interest an engineer on how men four hundred years ago designed water harvesting structures.        
The fort was built by Byre Gowda, the Robin Hood of Gudibande. The fort lies on a conical hill which rises to more than 1100 feet  and there is huge lake below which looks like a map of India when seen from above. There are temples carved from rocks and boulders.
Byre Gowda ruled over Gudibande and surrounding areas for three years from 1645 AD to 1648 AD but he left his mark behind. He became such a terror to the rich that they called him “Havali”  Byre Gowda.  
Gudibande is famous not only for the fort but also several boulders and rocks. There is a cave temple within one such boulder and this has given the town its name of Gudibande. The cave is atop the Narasimhaswamy Temple. Move a little away from the cave and you come to the hill with the fort.
The big granite hill is steep and its slopes are slippery. The steps to the hill are wide and well cut in the beginning but they narrow down as you go up and become very shallow.
The imposing fort which is more than 400 years old blends with the hill and appears massive. When constructed the fort had seven gates but today most of them are missing or in ruins. The first gate that you see was originally the fourth. This gate leads to a small field with a ruined hall-like structure. The is entrance leads to a small field with a dilapidated mantap. The second gate is star-shaped and it has openings for guns on  its walls. There is a cave formed between two massive boulders.
There fort is full of natural ponds and water bodies. There is an escape route for the Palegar and soldiers to take in case of enemy attack. The route s through boulders and rough paths.
The next gate leads to rooms which at one time were occupied by guards. The penultimate gate leads to a large area with bastions at its corners. Beware, this is the favourite haut of monkeys Steer clear of them.
A trail between two colossal rocks leads to the top. There is a  large rectangular mantapa here which is where prisoners were kept. The temple dedicated to Shiva here is one of the 108 Jyotirlingas. This temple has been recently renovated. This is also called the Rameshwara temple, Nearby is the temple of Parvati Devi.
A majority of the visitors to the temple are from Gudibande as it is not known to outsiders.
Look around you and you can see the Byrasagara lake at the base of the hill. This was built by Byre Gowda and from the hill top it looks like the map of India. The water body is also called Amani Byrasagara. 
However, the water channel system devised by Byre Gowda and his successors was unique. It linking nineteen water bodies and tanks called dhones and they could in all hold nearly 3 lakhs litres of rain water.
Unfortunately, many of the channels and ponds have eroded over time. An NGO, Vivekananda Yuvaka Sangha, has taken up a project to restore the system.
The historic Surasadmagiri hill is situated nearby. Gudibande has two temples built by the Cholas. One is the temple of  Lakshmi Venkataramana Swamy and another is of Adinarayanaswamy.  The Gayatri Mandira here is said t be the first ever established. Gayatri is the second wife of Brahma.
The hills near Ellodu village in Gudibande taluk is famous for its “Queen Rose” granite rocks which is mined by the State Government.
Gudibande is so well-known I do not think it is necessary to give directions.

Once upon a time..........Agaram

The name Agaram today is associated with a lake, British era cemeteries and nothing more. It is today a part of the Shantinagar constituency in Bangalore.
But did you know that several decades ago, Shantinagar did not exists and that Agaram was the hub of  the British presence in India.
Look up Agaram on the city map and you will be mostly directed to the lake or to the cemeteries which house several graves dating back to 200 years or more.
The cemetery here , which is now closed, was used by Protestants till 1870. Agaram was also a part of the earliest Cantonment base in the city.
While today’s Cantonment came up in 1809, Agaram too developed along the same lines a little later. It was ringed at one place by Bellandur lake where the seafaring Catalina planes would land during the period of the second World War. These planes would then be towed to the nearby HAL Airport where they would be kept under warps in hangers.
The original Agaram was a vast and extensive ground to the South-East which was accessible only by a single road passing through the Military establishments.
The plains were used in the 1920s as a practice ground for the Royal Artillery of the British Indian Army. A little further down was the Military Grass Farm. The farm exists even today as Military farm but it is being closed along with the farm at Hebbal.
A portion of the plain was used as an aerodrome for aeroplanes that frequently visited the Air Station. In the 1920s the Dutch fliers who came down to Bangalore gave the residents an air ride in return for small change.
The aerodrome was used till a decade back for motor sports and cars and two-wheelers went around the temporary circuit of the runaway. This was, however, discontinued.
Today all that remains of this exciting time is the road  which leads to several high rise apartments. The water that flows into the nearby Agaram lake is filthy with chemicals and biomedical waste.
Another feather in Agaram’s cap was that as early as in 1803, the British laid out a horse track for conducting racing in Bangalore. This track was on what is Hosur Road today.
The horse races continued here till 1863 when the land was exchanged for the present place on Race Course Road. The original race course on Hosur Road was then quickly handed over to the Military and to this day it remains with them.
The establishment of the Cantonment and Agaram led to the death of India sports and pastimes and at the same time popularised sports such golf, polo, cricket, horse riding. Indian sports such as Vajra Musti, Malla Yudha went into steady decline.    
The polo and golf clubs were started in 1855 and 1876.  respectively. In fact, the Bangalore Golf Club is the second oldest in India after the one at Kolkata. The Race Course too is one of the oldest as is the Race Club.
Racing, however, remained an aristocratic sport till the 1870s. The advent of  Book Mayer and Pari Mutual brought in the common man in droves.
Today, all that remains of Agaram are the cemeteries, military establishments and a lake and of course the postal address with the name of a road.