Day 17: Hassan to Chikmagalur : 78km and 600m of climbing.

We left the Amber Castle Hotel before breakfast made an appearance. An attempt to obtain an early breakfast failed but it did not sound too good in any event.

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Then we cycled the 30km of ups and downs to our first place of interest, Halebidu. Here there is a stunning Hoysala Temple (no longer in use) which was commenced in about 1121 but never finally completed. It was a series of carved temple structures on plinths, with masterful carvings across the whole face of the temples. There were 2 massive bulls in the adjacent structures and numerous carvings of deities, animals, figures and depictions of life of the Hoysala rulers. It was a quiet and peaceful location at 9am with few visitors at that early hour, and thus a total joy to visit.

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We then had breakfast at the adjoining “hotel” which served omelettes and black tea. Just what the doctor ordered.   The climb out of Halebidu took us from 870m to 1020m over a series of hills. The most significant event was a bus which overtook us just before a sharp bend, and then nearly toppled over as it took the bend far, far too fast. It got up onto 2 wheels but just righted itself before careering on up the hill. Someone had too many (of the Indian equivalent of) weetabix for breakfast!

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15km from Helbidu was the town of Belur where the other (and larger) Hoysala Channakeshava Temple was located. It had the same structure of stone carvings covering ever inch of the outside of the temple, but this was a working temple.

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Whilst we were there we saw filming taking place in one of the sections of the temple. I have no idea who the male “star” was but we were alone in our ignorance.

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The centre of attention – any ideas, please tell us

Hundreds of star stuck children surrounded him when he did the obligatory crowd photocall. Interestingly all the boys were surrounding him and all the girls looked on from slightly further away – divisions in expectations arise at that early stage. Anyway I suspect this gave them far more to tell their parents in the evening that just visiting a temple.

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There were a variety of approaches to the temple. We wandered around for 40 minutes or so, taking in the ambiance, looking carefully at the carvings and watching people. We declined the chance of a guide as that would have taken hours as every aspect of the history would have been explained. We still find it difficult to understand some Indian English, although our ears are better attuned to the accents, so a guide explaining things we strained to understand for several hours (as the sun got hotter) did not appeal.

There were priests inside the temple handing out blessings (for a fee) and maintaining the holy of holies. We were rightly not allowed to photograph them but their facial expressions showed that this was a business – with those attending being provided with marks to the forehead in a fairly off-hand manner. That may well belie an underlying level of devotion, but no one could keep up a totally priestly manner all day!

Some other visitors ambled around and appeared more concerned in taking selfies than anything else. In contrast 2 elderly French ladies had a thick guide book which no doubt explained every carving, and discussed façade after façade in minute detail. Each to his own – we found the place inspiring even if the diversion of the film (or TV) star placed a different emphasis on the whole experience.

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We left the temple, collected our shoes (and thanked the shoe man for watching the bikes) and cycled off towards an early lunch. We feasted on bananas, oranges and cashew nuts in the shade of coconut trees, in the quiet of a grove 400 yards off the main road. It was so peaceful.

Then we had just 25km of up and down to go to reach the town of Chikmagalur where we had booked a hotel room for the night (for less than £10). The traffic built up about 3km outside the town and, by the time we got to the centre, it was manic. Triple parking made traffic flow difficult, with motor bikes and tuktuks coming from all angles. We picked our way carefully through the town and found our basic but clean hotel.

Although we had only done 79km, a strong wind was against us for the last 25km and so we were pretty tired. On the good side, we arrived at 2.30pm and so had time for a sleep and then an explore of the town.

There is not a great deal to say about Chikmalgur and the Guide Books say nothing whatsoever about it. It can be a base for trekking and our hotel manager was a little taken aback that we did not want to do any trekking – what none at all! This was “sugar in the tea” all over again – no we are cycling and don’t need a trekking guide or even a cycling guide – honestly we don’t; we really don’t despite being westerners.

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In the late afternoon we went out and I bought a new pair of shorts and I had my hair cut. That was quite an experience as the barber had great pride in his work and never seemed to feel that he had taken quite enough off. He was like a gardener who prunes, then prunes again and then prunes for one last time just to make sure… It is now VERY short, but that should be good in this heat. We also had fantastic lemon chicken, which was specifically “not spicy” but had enough tang to make our lips quiver. Goodness knows what the standard version would do.

 

Then an amble back to the hotel to pick up breakfast through this busy, bustling but good natured feeling town.

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