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.

There are so many places one can visit away from Bangalore on a day trip. Be it a bike ride or a car drive, you can forget about the traffic woos once you hit the highways and make an early start to the day. I had heard about the Dodda Allada Mara or the Big Banyan tree and never had a chance to visit it. So on this trip I combined this along with a visit to Mandargiri hills.

Ideally if you are on the way to Mysore, the Big Banyan tree is just a small deviation from Mysore road. The combination of my trip took me from Mysore road to Tumkur road which is not so ideal, but nevertheless I had no other agenda and had an entire day to spare.

Big Banyan Tree
Big Banyan tree Bangalore

From where I stay – JP Nagar, we followed the google maps to reach the Big Banyan tree. Our journey started around 8am in the morning and the distance was approximately 27kms which took us roughly around 50 minutes, given that we had to navigate through inside roads which were narrow. On reaching the place we realized there were not too many options for having breakfast, and landed up eating some dosa’s (very average taste and price) at a local eatery nearby. I would recommend you to eat before arriving at this place, due to lack of options.

Big Banyan Tree
Big Banyan Tree

The Big Banyan tree is truly magnificent to look at. It is approximately 400 years old and said to be amongst the 4 biggest banyan trees in India. (The other three are in Andhra Pradesh, Kolkata and Chennai.) The main tree’s circumference is around 250m and the highest branch rises to over 95 feet, with the aerial roots from branches spread across 3 acres. The main trunk of the Big Banyan Tree died due to some disease a couple of years back, and now lives on through the aerial roots and branches.

In India we revere this tree not just for the shade that it provides and longevity (Banyan trees are known for their long life) but also because people associate this with a happy marital life. You would get this symbolism by just taking a walk under the vast canopy of this tree. After having spent a few minutes here soaking in this atmosphere, we hopped back into the car for the next leg of our journey.

Mandagiri Hills
Statue of Chandranatha Tirthankara – Mandargiri hills

From the Big Banyan tree Mandargiri hills was at a distance of approx 60 kms away and took nearly an hour and half to reach. The travel took us through inside roads to exit the Kethohalli village, till we hit upto the Tumkur highway, which makes for a better and faster drive to reach this place. It was almost 11.30am when we parked our vehicle near the gates of the Jain temple.

Mandargiri hills
Peacock shrine – Mandargiri hills

It was the month of November and the sun didn’t really show respite to the oncoming winter months. After taking off our shoes at the entrance we entered this place which had the statue of Chandranatha Tirthankara, which was installed recently in 2011. After a quick walk around the statue, we visited the dome shaped peacock shrine, very unique and said to be the first of its kind in Jain history. This Guru mandir is dedicated to the Digambara Jain ascetic Sri Shantinsagarji Maharaj.

Jain temple Mandargiri hills
Jain temple-Mandargiri hills

Next to these temples is the Mandargiri hillock containing 4 ancient Jain temples dating to the 12th and 14th century. The climb up this hillock is about 450 steps easily accessible, and takes about 15-20 mins. to get to the top. We had to take the keys to the temple above by the gatekeeper at the base, since there is no active worship or temple guardians on the top. Armed with an umbrella to beat the mid-day heat, we reached the top to take in sights of the neighbouring villages below. The temple itself was fairly well maintained. We were the only visitors at that point and took our time to look inside and explore this place.  While 3 of the shrines had the marble statues of the Jain Tirthankaras inside them, the 4th shrine did not. We found a broken statue by the window of the 4th shrine. Vandalism perhaps?

Mandargiri hills
Outside the temple complex – Mandargiri hills

After locking up the temple complex we went around the back to find a beautiful lake below. We did not climb down, but explored the backyard for some time. If it wasn’t for the heat of the day, it would have made a good picnic spot.

Mandargiri hills
Walk towards the lake – Mandargiri hills

We left the place around 1.45pm, hungry and in search of food back on the Tumkur highway. We found a great Punjabi Dhaba beside the main road and immediately took to ordering some stuffed parathas and side dishes. After a scrumptious lunch we made our way back to the city and were home by 4.30pm.

Punjabi food on the highway
Punjabi food on the highway



  • Begin your journey early specially if you are visiting the Mandargiri hills, as it gets hot during the day.
  • Your socks will come to the rescue against the hot granite flooring, when you have to take off your shoes at the Jain mandir.
  • Carry an umbrella each and be armed with suntan lotion. Its easy to get tanned even in the November months when the temperature comes down.
  • Plan your meals either before or after visiting the temples on the highways itself. There are hardly any eateries surrounding the Mandargiri hills or the Big Banyan tree.
  • The key to the temples on the Mandargiri hillock has to be collected by the gatekeeper at the base. His name and phone number; Shivaraj – 8550036564.