The months of May, June and July are dry months, we are not just talking about Summer, we are talking about holiday drought during these months. Unfortunately, we are not kids anymore to get those long, happy Summer holidays and there is a magnetic force called Office that keeps pulling us, rain or shine ! In India, post April, there are absolutely no holidays/festivals for 3 months, so by the time August arrives people are like the parched Earth waiting for the first drop of rain. August marks the start of the next term of holidays, with National holidays, festivals and celebrations. It is also the time when Summer ends and the monsoons start in this part of the country, which means the best time to travel is back again !
During one such time in August, when our feet were itching for travel after 3 months off travel, came a good news that one of our friends was getting married, while the wedding itself was a news to celebrate, the news that the wedding was going to be at Warangal was even better and that it was going to be on a Sunday was the best of all !
Warangal, the ancient city of the great Kakatiya Dynasty, the city of temples, forts, lakes (and naxalites??), is 150 kms from Hyderabad and the most popular weekend getaway from the city. Warangal is also famous on the educational map with the NIT, Warangal. For History lovers, Warangal is a treat, it was the capital of the Kakatiya kings in the 12th Century AD and this 800 year old city is a treasure house of ancient temples and ruins.
A classic example of Hyderabad Standard Time !
So, on Saturday, 11th August 2012, two Figos and a Honda City started on a 2-day trip to Warangal, the friend’s wedding was on the 12th and why we were going there a day in advance was no secret 😉 As per the plan schedule, we were supposed to start by 9 AM, reach Warangal by lunch time, go sight-seeing for the rest of the day, attend the wedding the following day and return to Hyderabad by Sunday evening.
If you live in Hyderabad, time runs according to Hyderabad Standard Time, which for strange reasons is several hours behind IST, researchers are still to understand this phenomenon. While the Figo 1 and Honda City were ready by 9.30 AM, Figo 2 was still cooling its heels at home because one of its passengers followed the HST and decided to sleep till 9 AM ! Figo 1 and the Honda City waited for almost 30 minutes on the roadside at Uppal Crossroads from where the NH 202 to Warangal starts. Figo 2 gave a go ahead around 10.30 AM because it was still getting delayed and it was supposed to catch the rest somewhere near Ghatkesar on the highway.
Figo 1 and Honda City reached Ghatkesar, 23 kms from Hyderabad city around 11.30 AM and Figo 2 had just started from home. The two cars found a Petrol filling station which was closed that day because it didn’t have stock and waited in the hot sun for more than an hour during which time a lot of things of “national importance” were discussed and it was also found out that all the 8 people driving into the heart land of “beep” originated from “beep-beep”!! If only the “beep” activists had caught us !
Cruising on NH202
Figo 2 finally made its appearance at 12.45 PM and we started from Ghatkesar at exactly the time when we had planned to reach Warangal ! NH 202 connects Hyderabad and Bhoopalapatnam in Chattisgarh but it is mostly popular as the Warangal Highway. This road had been in bad condition over the last few years but the newly laid 4-way was good except for the traffic between Hyderabad-Warangal, the two important cities on this side of the state. The traffic also meant it took us 30 minutes to reach Bhongir (Bhuvanagiri) 25 kms away. Bhongir is an important railway halt and the ancient Bhuvanagiri Fort is a great place to trek.
Since it was already 1.30 PM, we decided to stop at Bhongir for lunch. We spotted a very good looking but crowded restaurant, while we waited to be seated, one of the waiters bypassed us and gave the seats meant for us to another family. Upset by this, some of us decided to give the waiters a hard time and ordered item after item and until the they were tired of serving us. Some kind of foodies are not to be messed with ! The guys had Meenakshi Pan from a pan shop outside the restaurant and certified it as the best pan they ever had.
Deciding not to stop anywhere else until we reached Warangal because of the delays (the HST guy got a good dose of “Late Bumps” as a compensation for waking up late) and a good road to give some respite, the cars cruised along. NH202 runs exactly parallel to rail route to Warangal, at some places the rail track is very close to the road, close enough to do an Aamir Khan and race the train or a Rajesh Khanna and sing “Mere sapno ki raani” !
Through the fun, gossip and music, we reached Warangal city by 4 PM. Our long plans of sight seeing slightly hampered, we wanted to make the best of the available time and decided to visit the Ramappa Temple, 60 kms from Warangal city while there was still some light. Ramappa Temple is open till 6 PM and we had to race against time to reach there within an hour so that we could get to spend some time there. Thankfully, the road between Warangal and Ramappa Temple, was in good condition and we reached there by 5 PM.
Anybody who studied Telugu atleast till Class 5 in the late 1980s would have studied a lesson on Warangal. It was in the form of a letter written by a child to his friend describing his trip to Warangal. The lesson had a lasting impression on this writer’s mind and having read about the grandeur of the Ramappa Temple in History lessons throughout the student life, visiting the Ramappa temple was a long cherished dream. Inspite of living in Hyderabad for 10 years before this trip and a few visits to Hyderabad before that, a visit to Ramappa Temple, somehow never materialised. Not surprising because as we discovered, the temple is located in a remote village called Palampet, completely cut off from the main route. In 1991, when this writer visited Warangal as a kid, there was no proper route to Ramappa Temple and the road was considered unsafe due to naxal activities.
The Ramappa Temple stands quietly at the edge of Palampet village, bent down by the ravages of time.
The temple was built around 1213 AD and was named after Ramappa, the chief architect of the temple. The temple is dedicated to Lord Ramalingeshwara and is described as one of the finest examples of the temple building prowess of ancient India. We’ve read this time and again and when we stepped inside the temple, we realised why this temple is considered an architectural jewel.
These ancient temples have some indescribable wonder to them, what is it that leaves one spellbound? Is it the sculpture, the grandeur, the antiquity or the kings’ and sculptors’ passion and their relentless commitment to excellence? These are beauties that live beyond time.
We hired a guide to take us through the temple because we felt we needed to know more about this temple that we couldn’t know by just reading about it in a History lesson or the internet. Starting from the sanctum sanctorum, the guide explained the sculptural wonder of the temple. Like every ancient temple, the inside of the temple is a pillared structure with exquisite carvings.
Outside the sanctum sanctorum, an entire panel of sculpture is dedicated to Perini Shivathandavam, a popular dance form of the time. Below this panel is a sculpture of ladies dancing beside a tree, with Lord Krishna playing a flute on the tree top, the trunk of this tree when tapped produces a metallic sound though it is carved out of solid rock ! How the ancient sculptors managed it, is a wonder. It seems since Lord Krishna was playing the flute, the tree trunk was made to produce a musical sound, what a thought !
There are pillars all around with miniature sculptures. This one had 13 very minute holes between each carving, these holes cannot be seen normally but one can pass a thin thread through them.
The 13 holes represent the Pradosham or the 13th day of Lunar Calendar (Triodasi) which is believed to be auspicious time for Lord Shiva’s worship ! Who in today’s world has this kind of patience and attention to detail?
There is another interesting one. On all the pillars inside the temple, there are carvings on all four sides, except this particular pillar:
One side of the pillar is left empty with a slight dent, this was to ward off evil eyes ! Yes, very thoughtful of the sculptor, even 800 years later, hundreds of people continue to cast their evil eyes on this beauty !
Towards the exit of the main shrine, there is an upheaval on the floor.
This was the result of a major earthquake in the 17th Century AD which damaged the temple to a great extent. The earthquake caused one of the pillars in the background to break and it sunk into the floor, the force of which pushed this part of the floor up !
Whichever side you turn, the pillars, the ceilings, the walls, everywhere there are miniature sculptures telling tales from the Puranas, there is a line of elephants with their faces to the entrance and another line facing the exit, it was to serve as entry and exit directions, simple lessons in creativity !
We stepped outside to explore the outer part of the temple. There is a richly decorated Nandi inside a Nandi mandap opposite to the Shiva Linga.
We were told all Nandis of the Kakatiya temples had a specific style. Unlike the usual Nandis, these Nandis do not face the Shiva Linga, the right ear is turned towards the Shiva Linga and the fore leg is always lifted up. The idea behind this posture was that the Nandi was always alert to hear an order from Lord Shiva and every ready to get up and get going. Through this, the sculptors were trying to showcase the valour of the Kakatiyas, ever alert and enthusiastic in war !
The temple is built in a style that was unique to the 11th-12th centuries , one can find similar styles in Belur-Halebid temples and Kakatiya Temples.
The sculptors filled the entire outer wall with sculpture to their heart’s content. The borders are filled with hundreds of elephants. Each elephant is different from the other, no two elephants are the same, there is atleast a small difference in their decorations, looks like the sculptors just let their creativity run wild !
Similarly, there is another row of beautifully bedecked ladies and no two ladies have similar earring styles. In addition to valour and prosperity, vanity too seems to have been at its peak under the Kakatiyas !
The outer ceiling is adorned with statues of beautiful maidens called “Madanikas” on 12 sides of the temple. Each of these ladies is in a different pose – dancing, admiring, thoughtful, shy, there is also Naga maiden and her skin has scales. This Madanika seemed to give some serious competition to the Madanikas of the 20th Century, here is why:
Look at those platform shoes ! All the girls out there, stop showing off, platform shoes aren’t the latest fashion, this lady beat you to it, 800 years ago !
Here is another masterpiece:
If one observes closely, the hanging necklace worn by this Madanika seems to cast a shadow on her body, it is actually not a shadow but special effect given on the stone to look like a reflection, the statue has been carved to give a shadow effect. Plain genius !
There are smaller shrines around the main temple, most of them are ruined now. A rock edict talks about the commissioning of the temple and its patrons.
One of the shrines has completely collapsed and is being restored. In the restoration process it was discovered that the Ramappa Temple and the other shrines were built on a 15 feet deep foundation filled with sand. The leveling was done using elephants. These ancient builders never cease to astonish us, they did not have modern equipment but seem to have gone way ahead of us in innovation.
Adjacent to the main Ramappa temple, there is a smaller temple that looks exactly the same as the main temple.
It seems it was a prototype that was developed before the main temple was built. The seeds of project management were sown 800 years before people of our times even learnt the P of project management ! It is absolutely fitting that the temple be named after this amazing genius of an architect !
It was 6 PM by the time we finished the tour of the temple and the security guard was almost chasing us out.
The ITC Kakatiya Sheraton is one of Hyderabad’s first and finest hotels, it was earlier called the Grand Kakatiya as a tribute to the Kakatiya grandeur. As we walked back from the Ramappa Temple, mesmerised beyond words by the creative brilliance of Ramappa Temple, our silence was the only tribute we could pay to the Grandest Kakatiya !
Just half a kilometer from the temple is the Ramappa Lake, a man-made lake during the Kakatiya rule. The Kakatiya’s dug up lakes throughout their empire to store rain water and used it for irrigation, these lakes were their primary source of irrigation for agriculture. AP Tourism has built a resort on the banks of the lake. We gave it a miss because we wanted to try and check out the Laknavaram Lake, another of the Kakatiya’s lakes which was 24 kms from Ramappa Temple, before light faded.
It was almost 6.45 PM when we reached the lake and was past closing time. It was dark everywhere because there was no lighting there. The main attraction of this lake was a suspension bridge built by AP Tourism to walk over the lake to a mini island in the middle of the lake. There was hardly anybody to guard the place and someone told us though it was closed, we could still walk on the bridge. Hugely disappointed that we could not see the lake during the day, we nevertheless went on to the bridge.
Imagine walking on a bridge that you know not where it would lead to, surrounded by darkness through which you could only make out the outlines of hills, water underneath the bridge lit up by the moonlight and complete stillness and silence all around except for the sound of your footsteps and the creaking of the wooden, shaky bridge – two words to describe it – eerie, spooky ! We tried to click pictures with all kinds of settings on our camera but nothing worked out, we could manage to capture just one picture of the nearby hill and its reflection on the lake thanks to the night mode on the camera. It gave more light to the picture than what was actually visible to the eye.
Disappointing, no doubt, especially because one of the big interests behind this trip was to visit this lake after reading all about it on the internet and we were really looking forward to it. We consoled ourselves that Warangal was not too far off and we could make another trip only for the lake. Despite all that, it certainly was thrilling to venture there in the dark and the lake was eerily beautiful.
We drove back and reached Warangal city by 9 PM and headed straight to the Hotel Geetha Bhavan where our accommodation was booked for the night. A nice dinner at Hotel Ashoka was followed up with another round of Meenakshi Pan. Everybody wanted “Meenakshi”, it sounded hilarious to the rest of us who did not eat pan usually !
We walked back to Geetha Bhavan and dozed off, leaving the remaining part of the trip plan for the next day.