It’s never too easy to get bored in a city like Bengaluru. Come weekend, and the travel bug within me wanted to get away and explore someplace I had never been to. The craving for a long drive, the urge to explore ancient temples and a dose of nature was want I was seeking for and found it on the map, 133 kms away from Bengaluru – in a place called Melukote. This lesser-known historical place is nestled on the hilly region called Yadugiri, surrounded by a verdant valley that offers spectacular views of the greenery around.

The long corridors of Melukote Cheluvanarayana Swamy Temple

This small town offers a perfect backdrop to see history, culture and tradition intertwined with its old temples, people and way of life. Alongside the temples, there are several maths (monasteries), choultries, colleges and schools for teaching Sanskrit. The town is occupied by Vaishnavas, (those who follow Lord Vishnu), particularly the Madyam Iyengars and is also an important place of pilgrimage for followers of Sri Ramanujacharya. You wouldn’t want to miss out on the food here, which is very distinctive of the Iyengar community, comprising of puliyogare and sweet pongal. It’s a great place to spend an entire day basking in the charm of this town, that still retains its timeless character.

Traditional houses in Melukote marked with Vishnu symbol

We started from Bengaluru at 7am in the morning, following the location on google map, that took us through the Nelamangala route. Our breakfast stop was at the Shark hotel where the idlis served with chutney are quite a treat.

On the way to Melukote

The route further deviates from the highway passing through small villages and fields and as we get closer to the destination, we come across small patches of land where Marigold flowers are cultivated. We reach Melukote at 11am and head straight to the famed Cheluvanarayana Swamy Temple where the presiding deity is Lord Vishnu in the form of Cheluvanarayana.

Temple corridors of Cheluvanarayana Swamy Temple

This ancient temple constructed during the Hoysala period (10th – 14th century) has received the patronage from Vijayanagar kings and the Wodeyars of Mysore, who have contributed to the temples wealth in the form of jewellery and crown. The possession of these is in government’s custody and is brought out during the famous Vairmudi festival to adorn the idols during the month of March-April.

Broken sculptures on the parapet of the temple wall

Besides the main deity being worshipped there, the Hindu spiritual leader Sri Ramanujacharya is also revered here and is said to have spent 14 years during the 12th century. The temple idol is believed to be established by him and this has attracted the Iyengar community to settle down in Melukote. Hence besides the deity of Lord Vishnu, people also come to offer their prayers to this holy saint.

One of the pillars depicting scenes from Ramayana inside the temple premises

We proceeded to the main sanctum of the temple to seek blessings, where the priests were busy offering special pooja to the main deity. The temple interiors have beautifully carved pillars and stories of Indian epics like Ramayana come alive on it. You can easily spend some time just walking through the corridors and gazing at the beautifully sculpted stones. This is just what we did before proceeding to see other sites of interest outside of the temple.

Inside the temple corridors

A little away from the temple we come across twin step-wells called the Akka Thangi Kolaga, Akka meaning elder sister and Thangi meaning younger sister. I’m guessing there should be a story to this name something that the local folks would probably be happy to share. Given the heat of the day, a lady sat on the steps with her umbrella, while her children stood near the water gazing at it, out of curiosity.

Akka-Thangi kalyani

Walking away from this we see a grand entrance way of a temple, left unfinished looming across us. Called the Rayagopuram, this was constructed during the Hoysala period, built with huge granite slabs with carvings on it. If you have watched the Hindi movie Guru or Rowdy Rathore, you will recollect that a dance sequence was shot at this very location. Not surprisingly a couple dressed in traditional attire, were getting their pre-wedding photo shoot done here, while a lot of other tourists were wandering about, some climbing atop the stone steps to get a better view of the place.

Unfinished entrance-way at Rayagopuram

Further away from this attraction is where you can get a good view of Melukote’s surroundings, called the Danushkoti. History has it that this was the place where Lord Rama shot an arrow to the ground, after which water came oozing out to quench Sita’s thirst, when they were wandering around in the forest. The water supposedly doesn’t dry up at all, and a small shrine of Lord Rama can be found here, with his feet carved out on the granite surface. Soaking in the views of the greenery below, we head back to the main temple area, in search of food.

View from Dhanushkote

Given that Melkote is mostly occupied by the Iyengar community, the food here is pretty much a specialty prepared by the locals. There are several small eateries called the’ mess’, all catering to more or less the same food but the popular one goes by the name Subbana Mess. Lunch consisted of a fixed menu comprising of Puliyogre (spiced tamarind rice) and Sweet Pongal (rice sweetened with jaggery) which is a delicacy, followed by other items like chapati, rice, vegetables etc.

Traditional meals served on a leaf

With our stomachs full, we proceeded to see another important temple called the Yoga Narasimha Temple, situated on the hill and overlooking the town. We got the timing wrong for this, as it was closed and should have visited this earlier in the day. This didn’t deter us from making a small climb to the top, after covering much of the distance in the car as far as we could. The climb from the base is about 300 steps and definitely breaks a sweat, but not for the temple priest who carries a vessel full of water from the base to the top, hardly spilling a drop. We are told this is part of his daily routine!

Priest carrying water to the temple top

On the way up, you will see vendors seated on the steps, selling spiced buttermilk, alongside some basket weavers, making their colourful creations. I couldn’t resist a purchase and picked up a small flower basket for my mother.

Colourful baskets made by the locals

The very name Melukote meaning ‘High fort’ is derived from this temple, which surrounds it and from the top you will get spectacular views of the town below. Even though the temple was closed, the gatekeeper allowed us a small peak into the shrine that houses the deity Narashima, one of the forms of Lord Vishnu, in a yoga posture and hence the name Yoga Narasimha.

View from Yoga Narasimha temple

From the top you can also see a very large and beautiful Kalyani (different from the Akka-Thangi stepwell), surrounded by corridors held up by stone pillars. This is where we rested after climbing down the steps. There were few families, where the men and children after having their head shaved were dipping themselves in the water, regarded to be holy. A man blowing his trumpet was offering the service of drawing Lord Vishnu’s religious symbol on the forehead, for a small fee. It was evening already and we decided to make one final stop to a lake nearby for sunset before heading back to Bangalore.

Summer tank at the base of Yoga Narasimha temple

About 30 mins drive away from Melukote town is Thonnur lake. A fairly large lake that serves water for irrigation purpose for the town. It is said to have been developed centuries ago and also has the statue of Sri Ramanujacharya in the surrounding area. We had carried a small picnic basket with some sandwiches and coffee. Although we couldn’t get to spend much time here, we watched the sun go down, and then made our way back to the city. It was pretty late but we didn’t mind the drive back after dark.

Sunset at Thonnur lake

Melukote made a perfect day trip, full of adventure and a longing to go back again.

Route from Bangalore

Bangalore to Melukote via the Mysore road: Bangalore –> Nice road –> Maddur –> Mandya –> Beechanahalli –> Melukote

Bangalore to Melukote via Mangalore road: Bangalore –> Nelamangala –> Kunigal –> Yadiyur –> Nelligere –> Nagamangala –> Melukote

Some handy tips for visiting Melukote

  • Plan to leave early if you are travelling from Bengaluru. The distance from Mysuru is only about 50kms.
  • The temples have timings. Its best to visit them first and then head to the rest of the other attractions.
  • Out of the two routes, I would recommend taking the one through Nelamangala. Mysore road is presently undergoing expansion and traffic can stall you here for a long time.
  • Don’t expect fancy restaurants in this place. The eateries serve good local food and are hygenic. If you have specific preferences, its best to take packed lunch.
  • Summers can be very hot. Carry sunscreen, sunglasses, hats and stay hydrated.
  • Having your own vehicle is advantageous if you plan to visit the many attractions here. It saves time.

Bangalore’s own little hill-station

Nandi hills needs no introduction to a lot of people from Bangalore. Ask any Bangalorean a quick getaway location away from the city for a day trip and viola, ‘Nandi hills’ is the place most suggested.

To a lot of people it is just a small little hillock best enjoyed for its cool weather along with beautiful sunrise/sunset, having the remains of the fort built by the 18th century ruler Tippu Sultan. There is a certain truth to that statement, but there is more to it than that.

Quite recently I decided to explore this place. We were 3 of us who set off at 7am in the morning from South Bangalore, covering a distance of approx. 70kms in 2.5hrs. This included a quick breakfast stop in between, in a place called Sri Krishna Garden, where some idli, vada, kara bath and puri did the job of filling us up with carbs for what was to come ahead.

Trekking path Nandi Hills

Most people drive up to the hills. But our plan was to trek up using the old stairway, used during Tippus time. So instead of taking the left turn on the Nandi hills road, we took a right and headed to Sultanpet for the starting point of this trek. Google map shows this as ‘Nandi hills trek starting point’ but we took the help of locals in finding the direction the old – fashioned way.

Trekking path – Nandi hills

On reaching the foothills of the trek point at 9.30am, we set off on foot climbing the stairs which is relatively easy but takes around an hour to reach one of the fort entrances. The trek itself was a pleasant one, where we pass through few resting points along the way made of granite stones which look old. The path is well shaded with a lot of trees and pleasant breeze to counter our sweat, and beautiful view points along the way to treat our eyes.

Old stone steps – Nandi Hills

On entering the fort walls we first pass through a small Shiva temple called Sri Gavi Veerabadhra Swamy temple which is inside of a small cave formation. The priest told us that the temple is an old one dating to more than 500 years back. Continuing further we come across Tippu’s rest house which is a two – storey red building, which the Sultan used often during his glory days.

Tippu’s Guest House

Further up we came across the Amrutha Sarovara, a step well reservoir built in 1928 and if you spend some time here looking at the water you can see big orange fish jump out of the water, which is quite fascinating. It is also a great spot for taking pictures, and the reason why a couple were dressed elaborately for what seemed to be a pre-wedding photoshoot accompanied by their photographer.

Amrutha Sarovara

While trying to get around the step-well we discovered a spot right behind it, which often misses the visitor’s eye. The entrance to this was quite tricky, and we really had to break a few rules to get across the fence to this place, and boy was it worth it! It looked like a place out of a fairy tale, where a small path, above which there was tree branches hovering over, led to a small statue of a Nandi and an even smaller one beside it, looking over at the Amrutha Sarovara.

Hidden pathway

Soaking in the vibes of this magical place we walked further up the hills and made a climb towards Tippus drop point and although we did not go all the way towards it, the views from here are quite nice. On a summer day this would be very hot place, being a barren rock with no trees in sight. Walking up, this boulder formation gives way to old stone steps that goes up to the Yoganandeeshwara temple. This is an old Shiva temple dating back to 1000 years, which represents his final renunciation stage (his childhood, youth and married stage is depicted in the beautiful Bhooganandishwara temple at the base of Nandi hills). We spent a bit of time here looking around the temple, where you can see carvings on the granite flooring, inscriptions on the entrance wall and even a small step well inside the temple premises.

View from the top

A glass bridge near Hotel Mayuri, is where you can see lot of tourists hovering over for the view point. There are quite a few monkeys in this area too, and we spotted one on this bridge, eating away some ice-cream reluctantly given away by a tourist, who anticipated some trouble if he hadn’t. Hotel Mayuri located besides the bridge is the only proper sit down restaurant on the top where you can grab some lunch, and although the food isn’t so great, the view from here, certainly is! There are a few smaller tea/coffee shops that serve some quick fast food and snack items.

Monkeys on tree-top

After lunch we took the small pathway towards the fort walls and walked around a little getting lost, but finally reached the point which happened to be the source of the river Palar. Right around the same area is also a small shrine of Nandi which is referred to as the Nellakai Nandi (Nellakai meaning gooseberry) whose tree is outside of the shrine.

It was time to head back early, since we also had a descent to make through the same stone steps we took up. On the way back we made a last stop to have a look at The Cubbon House, which was built in the mid 1800’s as a summer retreat for Mark Cubbon (the British commissioner after whom Cubbon park has been named). This was undergoing renovation, but you could still see some old chandeliers and wood work from that period.

Trekking to Nandi Hills

The descent takes about the same time as getting on top, which is about an hour, although I took a few minutes longer due to my bad knees. It was 3.30pm at the base of the Nandi hills, and getting back to Bangalore city wasn’t too much of a problem leaving the part near the Hebbal flyover (there is always such slow-moving traffic here) We made it just before the peak hour traffic could begin.

A nice cup of coffee back home was what made the perfect end to this day’s adventure 🙂