Thursday, November 25, 2010

Our Stay in Port Harcourt - Nigeria

There is an old saying– “If the king dislikes you and wants to covertly punish you – he gifts you an elephant”. In the navy, if they like you very much, they send you to Africa. So in December 1985, as a result of navy liking me very much and in recognition of my good performance, I was specially selected and sent on deputation, to serve as the ‘Chief Instructor’ (CI- being somewhat comparable to a principal of a collage ) in the Nigerian Naval college (NNC) – ‘Onura’, Port Harcourt. Five more officers and their families joined me on this deputation. From the Indian side I was designated as ‘Senior officer Indian Naval Training Team’. NNC Onura was commissioned on 25 Sep 81 for the training of naval cadets which entailed a two-year military and academic program. Seventh and last batch of cadets passed out from NNC Onura on 11 Aug 88. We were responsible for training cadets in1986 and 87.

Figure 1 Port Harcourt marked in red

A word about Port Harcourt - Capital of Rivers State and a port town in Southern Nigeria. It lies along the Bonny River (an Eastern distributary of the Niger), 41 miles (66 km) upstream from the Gulf of Guinea. Founded in 1912, in an area traditionally inhabited by the Ijaw people, it serves as a port, named after Lewis Harcourt - the British colonial secretary. Port Harcourt has long been an important merchant port and is today the centre of Nigeria’s oil industry. Its exports include petroleum, coal, tin, palm products, cocoa, and groundnuts. Among the industries of the area are timber processing, car manufacturing, food and tobacco processing, and the manufacture of rubber, glass, metal, paper products, cement, petroleum products, paint, enamelware, bicycles, furniture, and soap. Situated at 4 deg 40 min North, the weather is very similar to our coastal towns such as Kochi – hot and humid throughout the year with lots of rains and lightning.

The attraction of going to Nigeria was a very favorable pay packet and the idea of travelling abroad with your family. The whole family was excited with the thought of travelling and visiting new places. As a part of the Nigerian naval routine I was to join their Navy 10 days prior to our departure from India. Those 10 days we were put up in posh hotel in South Delhi. Staying in a star hotel was a very welcome change not only for us but also for all our kith and kin, who came visiting us. We entertained like there was no tomorrow, until one day a naval acquaintance who had been through the same routine earlier, told me “Pubs the Nigerian Navy (NN) does not foot the liquor bill which you have been merrily signing away”. Soon there was a temporary halt in my breathing system, followed by profuse sweating and loss of vision. The next evening when I was entertaining another friend (this time without any alcohol) I happened to narrate my predicament. The friend assured me that the hotel manager was a class mate of his and he would speak to him. The helpful manager was good enough to show the consumption as 'Compliments of the hotel'. A few days after we left the hotel, unfortunately, a devastating fire broke out in Siddharth Continental Hotel in January 1986 killing 41 people.

We flew JAL from New Delhi to Cairo. A good thing about NN is that, all officers of the rank of commander and above travel 1st class. The air hostess quickly changed the children into Kimonos as we relaxed with a single malt. Cairo airport was like a fish market and Egypt air was so scary the children mistook the hostesses for mummies and never asked for anything from them till we reached Lagos the Capital of Nigeria.

After a brief stay in Lagos, we landed in Port Harcourt airport. There was nobody to receive us and were left stranded in a new country - some 35 Km away from the city without any transport, telephone or any means of communication - hungry and restless children adding to the overall chaotic situation. This was the beginning of our ‘Nigeria Experience’. While patiently waiting for someone to come from the college, I noticed the marble plaque which loudly proclaimed “Port Harcourt International Airport, Inaugurated by his Excellency the Governor of Rivers State – Commander Suleiman Saidu on ………”.Prior to coming to Nigeria I attended the Defence Services Staff College at Wellington, Ooty in 1982. There I had met a NN officer who used to talk big and walk tall, he used to often say – “brother I wrote the constitution, inaugurated airports, built bridges” and what have you – his name was Suleiman Saidu.I was happy that his claims were true and was thrilled to see his name on the plaque. As I settled down in Port Harcourt I came to know he was now the Home Minister. I went and called on him at the ‘Dodan Barracks’ the seat of power of the military government ruled by President - Major General Ibrahim Babangida.

After a three hour wait Lieutenant Commander Gagariga the Training coordinator of NNC arrived with the transport to take us home. We were driven to Hotel President, as our houses were not ready. We stayed in the hotel for almost a month. It became increasingly difficult for the hotel cooks to cater vegetarian food to six members of my team. LOH gave a stern warning and told me that she could not survive any longer on boiled eggs, bread, butter, jam, cheese, milk, fruits and fresh vegetables. I ordered an emergency meeting to solve this life threatening problem. Cdr Ghanti Narayanan volunteered to liaise with the cooks and in no time we were served the much needed Rasam, Sambhar, Baigan ka Bharta, Okra curry and many more. He was an instant hit with the team, especially with children.

Fig 2 - Some of the children of the team. Vivek and Akhila are at extreme Left and Right

Figure 3 - Indian Training Team and families
Finally we moved into our own houses after weeks of stay in five star hotels. What a relief to be in your own home. The newly constructed NN Officers Quarters had 12 houses, officers’ mess, swimming pool, tennis court and hundreds of king size chameleons in every nook and corner including the garage.

The children enjoyed home food after a very long break and LOH along with the other ladies were busy preparing curd under the directions of Jyothi Hariram. For the uninitiated – drop a broken red chilly into a bowl of warm milk. Next day take a spoon of the half set curd and add to warm milk – continue the same process for a day or two and abracadabra you will end up with the best curd in town.
Miss Patience joined us as the domestic help. We gave her quarters to stay and she was available 24/7. A smart and hard working girl with an impeccable sense of hygiene. She spoke Nigerian Pidgin which is an English-based pidgin and a Creole language spoken as a lingua franca across Nigeria. It was difficult to follow her in the beginning but got used to her slowly. Have you had breakfast and she would say –‘I go no have breakfast’ ‘I go land you slap’ meaning I will slap you, and scare the children by saying ‘mamy water go come’ – mermaid will come and so on. One day I told her “go to Geetha’s house and get me a suit case as I am going to Lagos – do you follow me” and even after I had repeated it twice there was no response so I asked her if she understood, to my surprise she said “I no go follow you to Lagos masta (meaning master)”. She was very good with our children who were aged eight - son and six - daughter. She learnt Karnataka cooking very fast and would have our dishes piping hot when the children came home. One morning she told Jai that “curd go walka walka” meaning it had not set. Four years after returning to India and posted in Naval Head Quarters, New Delhi I received a letter which was addressed “To – Camder Pabakar, Navy, India”. A remarkable feat by Indian Post and Telegraph. She had written to Jai, saying she was unhappy that we left her behind; life was very bad in Nigeria etc.

Figure 4 - Patience with all of us

My children initially went to Port Harcourt Primary School and did very well in Bible Knowledge and came home every time ‘Mamy Water ‘visited their school. Later on they joined Indian Cultural Association School where Jai joined as a teacher along with Mitalesh and Geetha. All the children used to be driven 35 Km to the school by my driver ‘Friday’ in a ‘Peugeot Saloon’. My car used to log a whooping 200Km every day. They never cleaned the spark plugs – they just threw it out. I am told that an Indian collected all these old plugs, took them to Ghana and got it cleaned – repacked and sold them as new.

Figure 4 - Jai with Mrs. Aikhomo wife of Admiral Aikhomo Vice President of Nigeria in white dress

Figure 6 - Meeting some of the girl cadets

Life at NNC was like any other Indian naval establishment, except when the unexpected happened. Ekpo the logistics officer once misplaced his revolver and went to the local witch doctor to seek advice. Unfortunately for him the concoction he drank made his body fold up in complicated contortions and the allopathic doctor had a tough time disentangling him. Nelson was a very strict Gunnery officer. One day I suddenly heard a revolver fire in the office lobby and to my astonishment I found that he being unhappy with the condition of the cadet’s shoes, had fired a round in the proximity of the leg. Talk about jungle justice. The college doctor Surgeon Lieutenant Afaloyan once operated a sebaceous cyst on my back without any local anesthesia and when I was howling in pain, he said ‘ah I think there go be no pain’. Later I came to know that Africans have a very high pain threshold. Lightning is very common and frequent in equatorial Africa and we had got used to it. One night it struck our colony very badly and all of us were jolted out of our sleep – the air around us was totally ionized and glowing. The lightning struck our house and discharged through the geyser. It was compulsory to attend ‘Happy Hour’ (tradition from the US navy) every Friday afternoon in the Officers mess. The HH started exactly at 1230h with the introduction of visitors, followed by jokes and riddles, contribution of money into the magic tray, endless tankards of beer, snails and suya (kebab). Ghanti used to regale them with jokes and riddles borrowed from my son Vivek. If house A - dries clothes in 1h and 20 min and house B – in 80 min – which house dries clothes faster? “Ah no paper and pencil oh – you go be no fair”. The only thing I could not partake was bush meat eating – ant eaters, rodents, lizards, porcupine, rabbits and other animals from the bush.

Figure 7 - Training Team - Both IN and NN officers

Nigeria is a very rich country with lots of oil, minerals and wealth from forest, sea and Niger River. The nation is still experimenting with governance, alternating between civil and military regimes. Their wealth is yet to circulate and reach all citizens. It is very heavily dependent on imports. In spite of all these shortcomings, Nigerians are a set of happy go lucky and friendly people with no tomorrow. They take life easy and are not unduly worried if something goes wrong. They brush it aside by saying “ah no go worry yo”. They eat whenever they feel hungry, not like us, eating at designated times of the day. They love music and dancing and one can see small children spontaneously breaking into an extraordinary rhythmic dance in the market place. Along with Ghana this part of the world was called the ‘Slave Coast’- who later on became the forefathers of Jazz. We were blessed to attend the ‘Pan African Jazz Music’ festival in PH.Their markets are called Mile 1, Mile 2 market and so on. They also have a ‘Go Slow’ market wherein you sit in the car and do shopping as the traffic moves at snail’s pace. Talking about snails they go well with chilled beer. They love their beer and stout and order by the crate. Never go and order “Give me one beer” it means one crate of 12.Their eating habits is very similar to Kerala – yam, dried fish, prawns, plenty of boiled rice, tapioca, pineapple etc. They love cars and fast driving. Their roads were built by the Germans and cars came from oil money – together it’s a very explosive combination. They are very clean and tidy. One day in the month, the whole nation comes out and cleans their surroundings – akin to our Shramadhan. After their school and college everyone does two years of compulsory service in ‘Youth Corps’ – a large body of manpower used for nation building. One should by chary of travelling at night in their cities out of fear of being mugged by armed robbers – a legacy from the Biafran civil war of the seventies. My very dear friend MC came to Lagos from Bangalore in the late seventies and on the very first evening in the city, the armed robbers took away all his belongings and did a ‘Full Monty’ on him. (Read my earlier blog – MC with pigeons in -

Figure 8 - Jai in typical Nigerian dress with Captain Davis NN

Figure 9 - Typical party in my house - NN officers and a few NRI

There was a sizeable Indian NRI community living off the wealth of Nigeria – essentially involved in FMCG trading, small time industry, doctors and teachers. Very regrettably the majority were not interested in contributing or giving anything back to the country. A lot of them did not even mix or socialise with the locals. They called all the locals ‘kalus’ and were generally loud, selfish, ostentatious and bordering on the vulgar.

One fine morning we read in the news papers that the Naira had been devalued from Rs 14 to 3. As we were being paid in Naira, it became extremely difficult and untenable to continue with the deputation and GOI recalled us back to New Delhi.

So our stay ended in Nigeria and we returned home rich with experience, lots of friends and tons of Nigerian navy goodwill.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Bengaluru Days – Gadget is Guru

The other day the Lady of the House was on a war path with all household gadgets and their overall utility. She said “you are converting this house into an electronic graveyard” when you desperately need something it doesn’t work and what works is of absolutely no use to man or beast. I gathered courage and said “sweet heart the 15 Amp power point does not work with the backup inventor supply and you have to wait a little longer to press your clothes”. Not willing to wave the white flag as yet, she continued “I am sure life was never like this with people tied down to gadgets” with that, the argument was put to rest by the LOH.

Even though I did not openly admit the fact that some of us have become ‘Prisoners of Gadgets’, I inwardly agreed with her assessment. We have surrounded ourselves with all sorts of gadgets to make our lives easier, convenient, and entertaining and so on. Gadgets give you speed and efficiency. Be it pressing clothes, grinding for dosa or having a hot bath we are at the mercy of gadgets. Owning gadgets gives you a feeling of material satisfaction and a sense of superiority, especially if your friends do not own it. Till recently the pleasure was even more if the gadgets were foreign. On the negative side it can give you loads of headache, always worrying which gadget will go kaput next. What follows thereafter can be devastating to say the least. Life without the gadget, search for a good repair man (an oxymoron) and finally the bill. I remember life once without a microwave oven. It was a very trying period for me. All and sundry in the colony came to know about this well guarded kitchen secret. There was no peace with so many unsolicited telephone calls giving me advice not only on microwave but on all aspects of life. Finally after three attempts by different rocket scientists I got it going.

Fifty years back the story was entirely different and life was relatively gadget free. Waking up in the morning was bio triggered for my mother and she woke up the rest. To the best of my knowledge there was no alarm in the house. Just prior to the exams my grandfather used to call my name repeatedly like Vishnu Sahsranama till I woke up. A friend of mine, Seetaram had a fantastic counter measure. He would loudly recite Sanskrit shlokas while continuing to be horizontal and go back to sleep as soon as he realised that his grandfather had dropped his guard. Today I wake up for the first time at 0545h to music from cell phone belonging to the LOH. ‘You never know when these gadgets fail’ fear being uppermost she would have set an additional alarm on my cell phone for 0600. If it’s an extremely important day at the school then the land line telephone would also be activated. When we were posted in Nigeria, our unaccompanied baggage containing the alarm took some time to arrive. Our Nigerian domestic help Miss Patience used to stand outside our window and keep saying amma, amma, amma till LOH got up. That for you was the African alarm system.

While posted in Riga – Latvia an acquaintance - a Russian naval officer had a habit of frequently boasting about the engineering achievements of Communist Soviet Union – their KM 8 kitchen Mixers, Zenith Cameras, washing machines and the rest. One day he asked me “what do you have in India” to which I told him we have a very advanced machine which washes clothes – dishes – sweeps and swaps, a three in one, surprised he asked me “what is the name” and I replied “Ganga Bai”

There were no geysers to be switched on. The bathing systems consisted of a very large copper vessel (Hande) enclosed on all sides in bricks and cement in such a way only the mouth on top and the front of the vessel were left exposed. It was my father’s duty to put saw dust (Hottu) the previous night in the opening and light it. The shavings would burn slowly through the night and the water would be warm in the morning. Then my father would put four to five wooden sticks (Sowde) into the system which would make the water piping hot. My father on Sundays used to roast sweet potato and onions in the fire. I am sure you cannot achieve this feat in a geyser. Mistakenly a log of sandalwood once made its way into my grandparents place instead of normal firewood. Every morning my GF used to burn a few of these sticks and the entire house would smell of sandalwood. Those were the days before carbon footprint, Jairam Ramesh and Barkha Dutt. Since then we have become very modern and today we have solar heaters and the conventional geyser as back up.

If the water finished, one went to the well to replenish. Most of the houses in Shankarpuram had wells. Drawing water was a strenuous exercise if one was talking in terms of 20 buckets from a well fifty feet deep. Today I do not even switch on the pump as it has been fitted with an auto starter. Well well.

In the absence of an Iron my father used to nicely fold his washed shirts and trousers and keep them below the bed. Abracadabra – next day they came out nicely pressed. Vacuum cleaner has entered the house but fortunately the broom stick continues to rule.

The kitchen had no gadgets. No conventional ovens, microwave, mixer, food processor, toaster, gas, hobs, Faber fans, refrigerator and pressure cookers. Yet the best of food came out from the olden day kitchens. Today everybody has every gadget but no time to cook or on diet. Eventually my mother became a victim of gadgetitis which started attacking all middle class housewives in the late sixties. Gas, pressure cooker and mixer walked in. During the 1971 Indo Pak war I was on the Eastern Seaboard. I was continuously at sea and did not step ashore for four months and eventually came on leave with all my pay intact. I decided to present my mother with a fridge. After much discussion and debate we finally bought an Alwyin - 95 litres fridge for Rs 710. In an instant my mother was a celebrity in the area and the children started calling her ‘Ice Lalithamma’ as she used to dispense ice water to many children returning thirsty from games. After 30 years I got it overhauled and gifted it to an NGO ‘Ananya’ for their children. Soon thereafter, our opposite neighbour, not to be left behind went and bought a fridge.One morning she came running to our house panting and told my mother "Lalithamma whenever I open the fridge door a light comes on".

How can anyone forget the all important Usha sewing machine – the queen of all gadgets. Owning an Usha was a sure way of attracting neighbours envy especially if it was leg operated and came with an electric motor.

Once upon a time Bengaluru had lots of lakes, trees, gardens and sparrows. The weather was excellent round the year and there were no fans. Come 1982 we had ceiling fans fixed in all the rooms.2005 was the year of air conditioning.

Electronic gadgets deserve a special mention. Arrival of our first radio was an event comparable to home coming of a new born. Bangalore Press almanac was consulted to determine the time of its entry and switching on. We were prepared for its arrival for almost a month. Where should be the location of the Murphy, which table it should rest on, where the aerial will be fixed and so on. Mother dear had already decided on the menu for the big event. In addition to the usual fare, bisibele hulianna, puri sagu and sandige were included. I was told repeatedly by father that I should not touch the radio at any cost. The instructions were crystal clear – stand clear and just listen. Along the way the poor radio lost its position of pre eminence. It had to share berth with the transistor, two in one, record players, walkman, cell phones, I pods, TV and computer.

Today, gadgets are so easily available owning them is no longer the privilege of the few. My cook bought a cell phone earlier than me. I have also become a victim of gadgetitis. In the last one year, I have acquired a tandoor oven, bread maker and an ice cream machine. Recently, I mentioned the need to buy an Electronic Kitchen Weighing Machine and the LOH categorically stated “either you stay in the house or the EKWM, once and for all decide for yourself “.
Next time you feel like buying a new gadget ask yourself “do I really need this” before your LOH gives you an option.

My sister in law once remarked that in order of imporatance of gadgets in the house - fridge takes the first place, followed by cooking gas and the poor husband stands third.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

We visited - Hampi, Badami, Aihole and Pattadakal

The coffee decoction friends had been planning to visit Hampi, Badami, Aihole and Pattadakal for quite some time. The Deepavali holidays in November (4th to 7th) gave all of us an excellent opportunity to go on a trip. We started planning in early October. One thing about travel is good planning. It always helps to sort out the ‘where’ and ‘when’ part of the visit as early as possible and to tell all your friends about it. This way, they also get adequate time to plan their itinerary. Once the ‘who’ part was sorted out, we went ahead and booked accommodation at the KSTDC hotels in Hampi and Badami. The booking for KSTDC hotels is done by their authorized agents such as ‘Padaki Travels’. I found the ‘on line’ process to be easy and reliable.

We hired a 12 seater ac Tempo Traveler for our trip. The TT is quite comfortable as long as the roads are good. The TT reported to Sunder and Saroja at Jalvayu Towers at 0430 on 5th Nov 2010. Nair and Sudhi joined them. Prassu and Preet were next, followed by Jai and me and thereafter we went to White House in RT Nagar to pick up Dore and Lalithamma. Talking about White House, earlier on there was a rumor that Obama was also likely to visit Hampi and we were scared that it would interfere with our trip. I just realized that Obama gets underlined in red and one of the synonyms suggested by Microsoft is ‘Osama’. I hope Bill Gates has not done this on purpose. Finally we left the Hebbal flyover complex around 0545.
The drive from Bangalore to Chitradurga on NH4 was excellent as it is part of the Golden Quadrilateral - a highway network in India connecting Delhi, Mumbai,kolkata,and Chennai, thus forming a quadrilateral of sorts. This highway project was initiated by Atal bihari Vajpayee –Ex Prime Minister of India and consists of building 5,846 km (3,633 mi) of four/six lane express highways during the first phase. There after we took NH13 to Hampi. The decision to take NH13 was a grave error on our part. The roads are terrible and at places they do not exist at all – courtesy the mining lobby which transports iron ore via this highway. Unfortunately there are no official websites which provide a daily status on the condition of national and state highways. Also there are not many public sites which offer accurate information on the condition of roads. Unlike here, it’s extremely easy to obtain accurate information on condition of roads in USA and Europe. Our authorities at the national and state level need to provide this facility to the road user. It’s so much better to travel on a good road even if it means a few kilometers more.

We finally reached our hotel ‘Mayura Bhuvaneshwari’ at Kamalapura - Hampi around 1400 hours- a good nine and half hours in the TT. Looking back we should have done a little more home work. Prassu has suggested that for the next trip, “We meet at the RSI and discuss the details over a good Gin and Tonic, which is very good in agitating the brain cells – we could have several pre trip meetings to sort out route selection, places to visit, what small eats to carry, how much liquor is required, food and so on,” – the more the merrier.

Apart from the roads, the journey was very interesting. I enjoy travelling and love organizing trips, picnics and activities which take you away from the ordinary day to day existence. Over a period of time I have noticed that there are some inherent irritants in taking the lead. Automatically you become responsible for all aspects of the travel, be it the transport, food, accommodation, quality of roads, acts of God such rain, storm, oppressive heat, the health of those travelling and much more. As the journey progresses, you become the butt of all jokes, cribs and complaints. To obviate such an eventuality I decided to publish a ‘Disclaimer’ to all my fellow travellers – “This is to inform all fellow travelers (FT), that as the organiser of the trip I Captain MV Prabhakar IN (Retd) am not responsible for the performance of the Tempo Traveler, behavior of the TT driver, including his personal hygiene and bathing habits, roads of Karnataka, performance of BJP government, state of KSTDC Hotels, ruins of Hampi and such other issues. I am also not responsible for any delays and changes in programme due to rain, strikes and any other acts of God. Any dissatisfaction with the above mentioned services may be referred to the correct authorities. In order to help my fellow travellers, I have published below sample FAQ showing the correct way to ask a ‘Q’
Pubs, ‘Why is the driver driving so fast?’ - Wrong
Driver – you bloody fool! Why are you driving so fast? - Correct

Pubs, ‘The damn roads in Karnataka are bloody useless!’ - Wrong
When I go back I must write to the Chief Minister Mr Yediyurappa about bad roads in Karnataka - Correct

Pubs, ‘What have you gone and done? The rooms are bad and smelling!?!’ - Wrong
Are you the manager of this dump? by the time we get back I want the place all cleaned up or else I will give you one solid kick up your backside - Correct

Pubs, why are the roads blocked? - Wrong
Let me get down and find out why they are blocking the road … Correct

Believe me the disclaimer had an extremely sobering and salutary effect on all my friends and the entire trip was free of any innuendos and obliquely aimed questions. The TT suddenly stopped on NH 13 and we saw a number of people blocking the road. To my utter surprise and satisfaction all the FTs got down and went to investigate. What a relief!!!!

I. Figure 1 Farmers on Rasta Roko on NH 13

Travelling with senior citizens is great fun :) All of us have retired, brimming with experience, full of ideas and opinions about anything and everything around us. One cannot make a statement and get away with it. All utterances are discussed threadbare and different opinions offered on the subject. Somebody says “Gaultheria oil is good for joint pains”- is sufficient to start a debate of gigantic proportions. A volley of views is suddenly thrown at you. The cause of joint pains, Gaultheria oil is a hoax, proportion of Gaultheria oil with coconut oil, why Zulu tribesmen do not get joint pain, Vajpayee and knee replacement, Dr Ranawat’s life history, malayali massage cures everything and finally the tech savvy traveler reads out the details of Gaultheria oil from his Blackberry connection.

After a chaotic lunch we started our first round of Hampi darshan. Details of Hampi, the Vijayanagara Kingdom and the reign of Krishna Deva Raya are all very well documented and I shall keep these aspects to the minimum. Hampi belongs to Hospet taluk of Bellary district situated at a distance of 350 Km from Bangalore. We hired a local English speaking guide Mr Sreenivasa Char who was knowledgeable and did a reasonably good job. It is very useful to hire a guide in these historical places and they make the tour interesting. The readers have to bear with me as I have a placed a very large number of photographs on this blog, I could not help it, as the trip to Hampi and other places is all about photography and capturing their story told in stone for posterity. As you walk around the ruins it becomes evident that the city was rich and thriving and built around a proper plan.

Saint Vidyaranya established the seat of Vijayanagara Empire in 1336 A.D, with the help of his devotee disciples Hakka and Bukka. Hampi strewn over 26 square Km area was the capital of the Vijayanagara, for over 200 years during the period 1336 AD – 1565 AD, during this period four dynasties – Sangama, Saluva, Tuluva and Aravidu ruled Vijayanagara. The capital was once a major trading center. Anything from horses to gems was traded in Hampi. Art and architecture found its special place in Hampi. The rulers were great patrons of art and religion. King Krishna Deva Raya (1509-1529 AD) of the Tuluva Dynasty stands tall among the rest. During his regime the empire saw its peak. Hampi was finally laid siege to by the Deccan Muslim Confederacy. The Bahamani Sultans, who were the traditional enemies of Vijayanagar, were waiting for an opportunity to attack. When they saw that there was no strong ruler, they attacked and defeated the Vijayanagar army in the Battle of Talikota in 1565. Thus the invaders - the Bahamani Sultans - conquered Vijayanagar and burnt, looted and plundered its beautiful sculptures and buildings. 250 years of a glorious empire came to an end and passed on into history. Hampi was deserted by its people and it lay in ruins unknown to the outside world. Excavations by Archeological survey of India began in 1975 and continue even to this day. Hampi was declared ‘World Heritage Centre “by UNESCO on 5-December-1986. As explained by our guide, Hampi was chosen as the capital of the Empire, because of its strategic location, bounded by the torrential Tungabhadra River on one side and surrounded by defensible hills on the other three sides. In addition the soil around Hampi is excellent for cultivation.

Figure 2 - Map not to scale - 1. Both Calicut and Sri Lanka were tributaries of Vijayanagara Empire - 2. Considerable portion of The Gajapati Kingdom of Orissa was tributary to Vijayanagara Empire - Net

Figure 3 - Hills around Hampi as natural barrier

Figure 4- Hills and river Tungabhadra

Figure 5 - Old road with stones on the left
The BBMP has a lot to learn from the city planners of Hampi. 400 years back Hampi had broad roads for horse drawn traffic better than many of our present day narrow roads.

Figure 6 - All of us at Pushkarni

Figure 7 - Ruins of the shops with stone pillars

We visited the Pushkarni - the temple pond located at the entrance to the Hampi main bazar. The main bazar extends the entire length from Pushkarni to the Vitthala temple. Even by today’s standards the bazar is huge with its continuous row of shops.

Figure 8 - Entrance to the Vitthala temple

The Vitthala temple represents the highest watermark of the Vijayanagara style of art and architecture. Vitthala is the Krishna aspect of Lord Vishnu. It is one of the largest temples of the period, built under the patronage of King Devaraya II (1422 – 46) AD..... ASI

Figure 9 - Stone chariot inside the temple courtyard – perhaps the most stunning achievement, the wheels actually revolve - …ASI

Figure 10 - Sabha Mantapa

The composite pillars of the Sabha mantapa (congregation hall), are massive, hewn out of single granite block, which are designed as clusters of slender pillars. Some of them when tapped gently produce musical notes….ASI

Figure 11 - Kalyana Mantapa - Marriage Hall - Who does not want to get married in a place like this - Samundarbaba

Figure 12 - Utsava Mantapa - Festival Hall for musical concerts and dance programs

Figure 13 - Southern view of the temple – entrance at the far end

Figure 14 - Jai enjoying a coracle ride in Tungabhadra River

Figure 15 - Saroja, Nair and Sudhi in the Coracle

We then proceeded to the Zanana enclosure with high walls on all the four sides as it housed the queens’ residence. It also has a tank, treasury, elephant stable and Lotus Mahal which is shaped like a lotus flower from top; this two-story structure has beautiful arc ways set in geometric regularity. It was an air-cooled summer palace of the queen.

Figure 16 - Lotus Mahal

Elephant Stables: This huge stable, a beautiful example of Hindu-Muslim style of architecture, housed about 11 elephants in separate compartments.

Figure 17 - Elephant Stables

Figure 18 - Treasury

Figure 19 - Sun sets over Hampi

That was end of our day one at Hampi. We then proceeded to our hotel. Mr Deshmukh the manager of the hotel was there to welcome us to make up for the horrendous lunch he had served in the afternoon. After a hot bath, we all gathered to discuss the proceedings of the day. A soothing drink thereafter greatly helped us to appreciate Hampi even better. Conversation flowed freely like the Tungabhadra River – sometimes calm and steady and on occasions turbulent and tumultuous – but always remaining on course. The unfortunate NH13, recent utterances of Arundathi Roy, Adarsh and Kapil Sibals Right to Education act were some of the topics which kept us company, till Venkatesh announced dinner.

Dore and I believe that tipping should be done, like in the ‘Pre Paid’ billing concept. Especially in hotels, if you are staying for long, it is better to announce and display your intention of generosity and appreciation of hard work in advance. Dore called Venkatesh aside and tipped him in advance. The effect was immediate and the service thereafter become more prompt and personalized. This method works well in hotels, but for other jobs one has to exercise utmost caution.

After a very refreshing sleep and sumptuous breakfast, we set forth for the second leg of Hampi Darshan on 6th November. We have to thank ‘Cyclone Jal” for bringing rains to this area also. Hampi otherwise happens to be in the rain shadow zone. Throughout our stay the weather was very kind to us and making the trip very comfortable. Our first visit was to the Virupaksha temple. This temple is in ruins, but devotees still worship Lord Shiva. The temple has a 50 m tall, elaborately carved gateway and renovated in 1510 by Krishnadevaraya. The approach to the temple is lined with an array of shops catering to the foreign tourists.

Figure 20 - Is it hello “excuse me” or exclusive wrongly spelt. Whatever, I found it funny

Figure 21 - Virupaksha Temple

Figure 22 - Local musician blowing his skills

We were lucky to be in the temple courtyard when the temple elephant was brought in by the mahout. The elephant is extremely well trained and accepts bananas and cash. Depending upon the value of the gift, the elephant responds accordingly. It may be an ordinary wave of the trunk to the ultimate gesture of placing its trunk on one’s head. In my case, more than cash, it was recognition of another member of the same species.

Figure 23 - God be with you Brother

We then went to Lakshmi Narashima temple, the fourth incarnation of Lord Vishnu. The 6.7 meters monolithic idol is one of the finest examples of Vijayanagara sculpture. The statue was consecrated in 1528 AD….ASI

Figure 24 - Unfortunately this lovely and exquisite idol is badly damaged by the marauding forces

Our next place of visit was Badavilinga Temple which contains a 3 meter high monolithic Shiva Linga

Figure 25 - The Linga

We then proceeded to Prasanna Virupaksha (Underground Shiva) 14th century temple.

Figure 26 - Prasanna Virupaksha, the Sanctum Sanctorum is below the ground level and so named underground temple

Next was the Royal Enclosure, which is undoubtedly the jewel in the crown of Vijayanagara Empire Architecture. At one time it housed as many as 46 buildings such as the Main hall where the king held his court, water tank, underground secret rooms, Mahanavami Dibba and many more, occupying an incredible 59,400 square meters.

Figure 27 - Mahanavami Dibba

Mahanavami Dibba is a spectacular raised platform, 80 sq feet in area and 22m ft in height built by Krishnadevaraya to commemorate his conquest of Orissa. This is the tallest structure in this area and hence the first thing you would notice as you enter the Royal Enclosure. The Dibba provides a panoramic view of the entire Royal Enclosure. Standing on this elevated place and viewing the ruins, takes you back in time and it lets you feel like an emperor for the fleeting moment. An extraordinary place. The original Dibba had a sandalwood carved roof to protect the royalty from the elements. The king used this platform to watch the army march-pasts, war games, aquatic sports, shows of the royal animals, musical performances and also the most important Navratri celebrations, the nine day-nine night state festival. And this was the annual occasion the governors of various provinces under the king visited the capital to pledge their loyalty to the king’s dominion. For the king, it was an event to demonstrate the imperial pomp and power at his disposal.

Figure 28 - View from the Dibba. Notice the squares, which once supported the sandalwood columns of the roof

Inside the Royal Enclosure, not far from Mahanavami Dibba, is a beautiful and ornate water tank. The tank was not excavated until the 1980s. It is a square tank, measuring 22m x 22m. It is 7 meters deep. The water to the tank comes from a long aqua duct which can be seen in the photo below.

Figure 29 - The water tank

Figure 30 - Water from Tungabhadra supplied through an incredible 9 Km long aqua duct to the royal tanks and bath houses, a symbol of amazing engineering feat.

Figure 31 - The magnificent assembly hall of the king. The squares once housed sandalwood pillars of the enclosure.

Figure 32 - Secret Chambers

Figure 33 - The famous stone doors of the Royal Enclosure

Figure 34 - Queen's Bath House

Queen's Bath, located in Royal Enclosure, is a rectangular building with the long veranda inside approaching a square tank of 6 feet depth from all sides. This is considered as the Royal bath, where the king and his wives had their baths. It's believed that water in the tank was filled with perfumes and fragrance flowers for the royal family. It housed a change room on the first floor. Water was supplied through an aqua duct and drained out through a different duct.

Figure 35 - The Bath House

Figure 36 - Duct for used water

With this, our trip to Hampi came to an end. The numerous monuments of Hampi tell a story carved in stone, a story of a great empire ruled by grand kings and queens of four dynasties and their people, their lives, devotion to gods, victories, achievements and aspirations. Hampi undoubtedly was a fascinating capital of a flourishing empire. Hampi must have been a maximum city, attracting hordes of people from within the country and foreign nations. A very prosperous and busy city with broad roads, shopping malls and gardens. Destiny had its way and the city was plundered and relegated to the dustbin of history until the excavations unearthed this glorious city to be seen and appreciated by us and future generations. We left Hampi feeling proud of our ancestors and the heritage they have left behind.

We left for Badami the same evening taking a route recommended by the hotel manager, which kept us away from the dreaded NH13.It was Hospet – Koppal – Yellburga - Badami. Roads have a knack of deteriorating within days and it is advisable to seek information and advice in advance from responsible locals. We reached KSTDC Hotel Chalukya Badami by about 1830 hrs.The hotel, manager, staff, rooms and almost everything around there is so depressing, one gets a feeling that they are in competition with the ruins. We started our second leg of our trip on 7th with Pattadakallu meaning 'Stone for the throne' in Kannada. We were lucky to find yet another knowledgeable English speaking guide with a very unusual name 'Mr Benne Shetty' meaning butter shetty. Thank god the weather was very pleasant or we would have seen Mr Shetty melting.

The town lies on the banks of the Malaprabha River in Bagalkot District of North karnataka region. It is 22 km from Badami and about 10 km from Aihole. The group of 8th century CE monuments in Pattadakal are the culmination of the earliest experiments in the Vesara style of Hindu temple architecture. They were designated a World Heritage Site in 1987. The town displays both Dravidian (Southern) and the Nagar (Northern, Indo-Aryan) styles of temple architecture. I like the way Mr Butter put it across, if Aihole is primary school of sculpture, Pattadakallu is high school and Belur Halebid is college. Pattadakallu uses red stone, unlike Hampi where granite is used. One can visualize the difficulty in carving stones here when compared with the soft soap stone which is used in Belur Halebid.

Figure 37 - Pattadakallu Temples from a distance

Figure 38 - Kashivishwanatha Temple

Figure 39 - Virupaksha

Figure 40 - Sangamaheshwara Temple

Figure 41 - Mr Butter earning his bread

Figure 42 - The Gang

Figure 43 - Virupaksha Temple Complex - Bull pavilion - Monolithic Nandi mantapa - 8th century

Figure 44 - Vishnu measuring three steps

Figure 45 - Kadasideshwara with curved tower - dedicated to Shiva - 8th Century

Figure 46 - Another view of the temple complex

We then proceeded to Aihole, which was once the capital of the early Chalukyan dynasty. Aihole is a picturesque village situated on the banks of the Malaprabha river. There are about 125 temples in Aihole that are divided into 22 groups and scattered all over the village and the fields. About 30 temples in a single enclosure are surrounded by the walls. Most of the temples were built between the sixth and eighth centuries and represent early Hindu temple architecture. Various temples are being excavated here that reflects about the vigorous experimentation done in temple architecture about fourteen centuries ago under the Chalukyas. Aihole is the cradle of the stone temple architecture of the southern Dravidian school.

Figure 47 - Durga or Fort temple vaguely resembling our parliament house
We then went to Badami which is a visual treat of different sorts. The Badami cave temples are composed of four caves all carved out of the soft Badami sandstone on a hill cliff in the late 6th to 7th centuries. The town is named after the colour of the stone which resembles the outer skin colour of dry fruit ‘Badam’ or Almond. Incidentally my mother’s sister and father’s sister are married to Badamis who once hailed from this city. Cave 1 is dedicated to Lord Shiva and the first to be excavated by Chalukya craftsmen in 550 AD.

The rich past of Badami is closely linked with the ancient Kingdom of Chalukyas which dates back to 600 and 700 AD. Chalukyas built number of temples, and other monuments that marked the beginning of the Hindu style of architecture

Figure 48 – Caves as seen from below

Figure 49 - Closer view of the cave

Figure 49 - The second level cave. Notice the fort and two cannon post erected by Tippu Sultan on top of cave

Figure 50 - Third level cave

Figure 51 - Fascinating view of Vishnu and the pillar carving inside the cave

Figure 52 - Yet another example of the cave carvings - Lord Vishnu

Figure 53 - Nataraja with 18 arms

Figure 54 - All ears to Mr Butter
Figure 55 - Monkey view of the lake from the cave

With this we ended our trip to Badami. After a well deserved lunch at Badami Court we went back to Hampi to spend the night. In retrospect it was a very good decision to halt at Hampi, which in turn reduced our overall travelling time. Next morning, 8th November we left Hampi at 0930 hrs and reached Bangalore Jalvayu Towers, our final destination at around 1800 hrs. From Hospet we came via Bellary bypass on NH 63 and took SH 19 to Challekere – Erabahalli and on to good old NH 4. The roads are in very good condition and we had a very comfortable journey back to Bangalore. Post event wisdom dictates that we should have taken this very route while going to Hospet.

I look back at Hampi, Badami, Aihole and Pattadakallu in awe and feel proud that our ancestors created this architectural wonder in stone, hundreds of years back. Someone in the group remarked that the people of these places had nothing else to do but sculpt stones. May be its true – but see what they left behind for us. Take a minute to ponder and tell me what are the architectural wonders Karnataka has created since then. In 500 years all that I can think of is – Mysore Maharajas Palace and Vidhana Soudha building.