After an eye opening train ride we landed in Hassan – a city people seemed confused as to why we’d go there. For us it was the perfect pivot point place to be able to hit three ancient sites we wanted to tackle: Halebid, Belur, and Shravanabelagola. We were up sold on the renting a taxi for the day which, after the train, was a welcome change from the public transport options we were otherwise considering. It made the excursion much more convenient, however as you will read, quite a tiring day!
We began in Belur, site of Chennakesave Temple complex. We were all blown away by the intricate detail in the stone carvings. What wasn’t as impressive was how hot the stones were on our bare feet. You have to go to the shoe-check before entering any temple (not allowed to carry your shoes or even have them in your bag…should only be a couple rupees, but sometimes you’ll be told the tourist price of 10 or more as they claim the freshly painted signs are the old prices). The temperature of the stones would have been avoidable by darting from inside the temples along the shady regions, but alas we were bombarded by photo requests and stood shuffling uncomfortably from foot to foot as we posed, smiled, and shook hands. It is quite amazing just how many photos one group will take after politely asking for “just one photo.” While the scene was quite impressive, Matt couldn’t help leave slightly disappointed as the statues depicting poses a la Karma Sutra that the guide booked promised were nowhere to be found.
Next was nearby Halebid, smaller complex but even more intricate stone work. The detail was absolutely incredible. As we walked up to the temple complex, the Indian salesmen in the street tried very hard to sell us all kinds of wares including a small Karma Sutra picture book. With this, Matt’s spirits were lifted as he concluded that the guide book had just misprinted which temple had the ancient erotic artwork. Unfortunately he left this temple disappointed seeing no statues that would require anything above a PG rating…
En route to Shravanabelagola, we paused for a delicious buffet lunch at Hoysala Village. Large wooden gates were opened for us and we were ushered into a lush paradise and devoured the tastiest buffet in India to date. I loved every dish, and not that Matt and Cam didn’t, but the highlight for them was the large bottles of King Fisher beer they were able to enjoy while feeling like a real colonial king. And even though this royal feast cost more than our entire day’s tour, we all left as happy as could be!
Eventually, a mere half hour before closing time, we made it to the place de resistance. After quickly climbing 700 unevenly stone carved stairs barefoot we were rewarded with a spectacular view. Inside the main temple – one of the most important for Jains in India – stood an impressive statue of Gommateshvara Bahubali at 57 feet tall. It was this statue that inspired our journey here. We’d read about the statue in one our travel books and it looked so cool we nicknamed him Mr Manhattan (cause he was blue in the book, a la Watchmen) and were on a hunt to find him. Unfortunately the picture of the statue with the blue colour and head gear that our guidebook showed us was from a once in every 15 year “head anointing” ceremony, and while we considered it, I was unwilling to wait here for 2 more years to see the spectacle (though promise were made to return in 2017)!