No-brainer destinations: Lepakshi

The courtyard surrounding the Virabhadraswamy Temple.

Sunday dawned bright and sky-blue, and decided that she wanted to whisk me away into the pages of history. There are untold cultural riches, she whispered, stories in stone that you’ve never seen before, and a way of life that’s long forgotten.

And so I found myself on the way to Lepakshi – a small temple town on the border of Andhra Pradesh. Craggy mountains abound on the way, and a massive arched entrance welcomes people to the place that’s home to a gorgeous, albeit fast-crumbling, 15th century Virabhadraswamy temple.

View through the doorway.
View through the doorway.

Stepping through the looming doorway, I was instantly enveloped by the ghosts of a historic period that must have been aesthetically rich – typical carvings of lions, horses, and apsaras are given more depth and character through the masonry that created them. The temple stands proud at the center of the stone-walled compound, with a row of Hampi gold-market-like structures running along it. I decided to explore the outside area before venturing in, and found myself fascinated by the uniqueness of the carvings. They’re nothing like the stone carvings I have seen in temples and caves across any of the other historic sites I have visited.

A section of the kalyana mantapa behind the temple.
A section of the kalyana mantapa behind the temple.

Walking around the back of the temple, I came upon a kalyana mantapa – a space allotted for marriage ceremonies. Despite its dilapidated state, the mantapa is the most impressive part of the temple; stone pillars ornately carved with gods and goddesses surround the central area of the mantapa, simulating the feeling of a marriage ‘blessed by the gods themselves’. A little distance away, a gigantic carving of serpent heads awaits the descent of Lord Vishnu. The contrast of the aged stones against a clear-blue sky dotted with cotton-candy clouds was visually unparalleled.

Murals on the ceiling of the temple's inner sanctum.
Murals on the ceiling of the temple’s inner sanctum.

Inside the temple itself, the visual display is quite the opposite – the ceilings are full of fairly well-preserved murals depicting scenes of hunting, weddings, and visits to the king. Again, the style here was vastly different from any mural paintings I have ever seen. The hall before the deity of the temple is the natya mandira – the space for performance arts. The pillars in the space display careful craftsmanship in the forms of dancers and musicians.

I'm not sure what to make of this lady's pose, but it feels like an 'Oops' moment to me.
I’m not sure what to make of this lady’s pose, but it feels like an ‘Oops’ moment to me, like she’s just lost her balance and is about to fall. Incidentally, this is the first carving I have seen with what resembles slippers on the carving’s feet.

The temple itself is a sanctuary from the outside world, breathing in the surrounding noise and breathing out a comfortable silence. The cool stone slabs offer the perfect reprieve from a burning afternoon sun.

The Nandi in Lepakshi, a little distance away from the temple, faces the temple's entrance and is the only other tourist attraction in the area.
The Nandi in Lepakshi, a little distance away from the temple, faces the temple’s entrance and is the only other tourist attraction in the area.

As I sat in the temple and looked around, Sunday evening glided up to me, whispering that it was time to get back to reality. Reluctantly, I big goodbye to the temple priest whom I was just beginning to be friends with and walked away, mentally bookmarking this particular page so I could get back to it whenever I wanted to.

The Frangipani that got away from the tree for some quiet time.

Getting there: Lepakshi is 125 kilometres from Bangalore and easily accessible by road. We went on bikes, but it’s a smooth drive by car as well. The roads are wide and the route, picturesque.

Go if: You don’t have enough time for a weekend getaway, want to explore places around Bangalore, like historic places, temples and stories.

No-brainer destinations: Nandi Hills

Nandi Hills at 6:45 a.m, surrendering to the invasive power of the mist and clouds.

As a young adult, one sees Nandi Hills as a place not just covered in mist, but also in a fog of secret meetings and clandestine one-on-ones with the opposite sex. You’ll find young couples dotting the low walls, reclining against random trees, holding hands and walking around and sometimes even sitting close together on benches that offer a million-dollar view of a valley surrounded by hills.

A private, and romantic?, moment.

As one grows older, things change somewhat. Nandi Hills becomes the default destination for when you want to go out of town but not really. It’s a quasi feeling of leaving Bangalore and going someplace else. It is to us locals what the Louvre is for Parisians. Government officials take advantage of weekends to park themselves in the guest houses on the peak; families pack endless baskets with food for themselves and the monkeys and spend the day picnicking; and newly married couples come to spend time away from the prying eyes and perky ears of in-laws and family members.

The Huddlers and The Tease. I can’t believe the monkey in the corner’s sticking its tongue out at someone!

I’ve been to Nandi Hills twice in my adult years. Once to watch the sunrise, which of course we missed because we started late and it was a foggy day on the hills. The second time, to celebrate a friend’s birthday at midnight, standing at the doorstep of the mid-20s to welcome her. I saw a different side to the place on both occasions – bright, quiet and scenic by day, and hiding dark, brooding shadows in its cloak by night.

The night we drove down to Nandi Hills for a friend’s birthday, it poured cats and dogs. Worried about the zero visibility, we had to take shelter under the roof of twin shops in the middle of nowhere. The only light came from the headlights of the car – everything else was steeped in darkness. There was a lot of lightning as well. This picture was taken when i was trying to shoot the car’s headlamp against the darkness around it and lightning struck just then. This is how much it lit up the entire surroundings. Freaky!

Regardless, the drive to the destination is scenic and peaceful. On the way, you may want to stop on the roadside to inspect the crop of grapes and taste the juice of the just-ripening green fruit, take a little detour and explore fields of string beans and cabbage, or even stop by for a photo shoot amongst rows and rows of roses in shades of the setting sun.

Vine-ding roads towards Nandi Hills.

To prolong the feeling of a lazy day ‘out of town’, you could do a brunch at Royal Orchid, Yelahanka. Stretch, yawn, put your feet up, order something cold to drink and something warm to eat, and enjoy the music (if you’re lucky, it won’t be the kind that plays in elevators).

Sunset by the roses.

Do not make the mistake of heading back to the city during peak hour. It’s absolute chaos. Whatever peace you will have assimilated through the day, you’ll lose while waiting for the traffic to inch ahead. But that’s okay, because that means you can always head back to Nandi Hills and maybe catch a moon beam or two.

You’ll find lots of lone cyclists like this one on the way up to Nandi Hills.

Go if: You need a day away from the city, want to see nothing but greenery around you, enjoy feeling like dating teens or a newly married couple and want to take stunning pictures of the vista.

Getting there: Nandi Hills is a two-hour drive from Bangalore. Hire a cab, drive down or take a local bus up to Chikkaballapur and a cab from there.