The Amphibian Church @ Shettihalli

Prior to every weekend is this bout of hectic activity - searching and finding another place to visit over the two days. Though weekend trips are a regular affair in my life now, laziness does not permit to research and keep an inventory of such places handy. It all has to start around Wednesday, when even the calendar finally says WTF. And invariably there will be some catalyst for this increased activity, like a call from a friend who has nothing better to do than suffering my company. It wasn't any different with this trip to the Gothic church at Shettihalli. Sunil cancelled his weekend trip home and called in to say that he is available to go 'anywhere'. About Sunil, he is never worried about the place, as long we are traveling and not rusting our asses in the city. He is a rare breed who rates the journey a few notches above the destination.

It was a few months back that I accidentally came across a picture of this Gothic beauty on Flicker, and this trip had indeed been finalized that very moment. There was something attractive about the picture of a dilapidated church, half submerged in a water body. I could not find much information about the place in my subsequent research, but whatever little I got was fascinating enough to look forward to the trip. I wanted to time the trip properly to see the church in all its splendor, as 70% of it goes under water after the rains. After seeing the picture Sunil also agreed to go find this place, and we started as usual on that Saturday morning. We did not have a clear idea of the route, except that we have to take a detour near Hassan from the Bangalore-Hassan road to reach the village of Shettihalli. And then somewhere close to Channarayapattana we saw a signboard saying 'Shettihalli 3 kilometers', with an arrow mark pointing left.

We knew it is too early to take the deviation, but decided to go along the side road and see what lies ahead. After driving a kilometer or so through beautiful coconut groves, we saw a huge expanse of water at a distance. We could see water lilies floating in one corner while herons and egrets were flying all along the shore; it sure looked interesting. We thought this should be the place and we would have gotten the instructions all wrong from the internet. We drove for another kilometer, entered a small village and the road hit a dead end. There we met Devarajan. He must be the village drunkard. It was hardly afternoon and yet he was already filled up to his throat with some kind of country liquor (going by the smell) He came towards us in an MJ-Moonwalk style and introduced himself. We asked him about the church and when the fourth time he said "My name is Devarajan, Glad to meet you", we decided to go look for it elsewhere :)
The actual deviation to THE Shettihalli village is at some 2 kilometers on the Haasan bye-pass road, the third left turn after Rajeev Institute of Technology to be precise. A shopkeeper assured us that we are on the right track and the church is another 12 kilometers from the bye-pass road. Though the instructions were clear we started getting doubts after some 10 odd kilometers. Fortunately we met another gentleman on the road who knew the exact spot and even some history of the place. And as we traveled another kilometer or so we saw glimpses of the church off the road; the water level had receded much beyond the church and the dam looked more like a pond in somebody's backyard.

The Holy Rosary Church at Shettihalli was built by French missionaries in 1860 for British estate owners around Sakleshpur. The church was reportedly built with mortar and bricks and a mixture of jaggery and eggs - the secret sauce that helped it withstand the elements for almost 150 years. It was submerged during the construction of the Reservoir across Hemavathy river at Gorur, to irrigate lands in Hassan, Tumkur and Mandya districts. It stays submerged in water half the year and lives above it during the other half! It is difficult to believe that there was once a thriving population around the church. When the reservoir was built, the villagers were rehabilitated to Channarayapatna and Arkalgud and the whole place has a deserted look now.

The church is an absolute architectural beauty even in its old age. Built in typical Gothic style, it has got pointed arches and ribbed vaults. The height of the structure, judging by what remains, is considerably more than its width - another standard feature of the Gothic style. It is built in the Latin cross plan, with a long nave making the body of the church towards the western facade, and two transverse arms (Transepts) to its either side. The nave and the transepts are adorned with long pointed arches in cluster of three. There is a partly destroyed tower behind the alter, which probably had a huge bell hanging on the top. I can only imagine the majesty of this structure in its hey days, with possibly stained glass covering those big arches and windows! The atmosphere was so mesmerizing, especially with the setting sun adding its own beauty to the mix.

We brought the laptop from the car and played  Mozart's Symphony No.40 and sat there listening till the sun went down well beyond the horizon. Apart from some Painted Storks, Greater Egrets and an occasional Brahmini Kite, the place was thankfully deserted. I think the music brought life back to the stone walls that I could almost hear them communicating with us, telling stories of a glorious past abruptly cut short. The structure had an impact on the music as well I think, never have I enjoyed the piece like I did that day. Before we knew it was dark, and frogs were out in plenty adding vocals to the symphony. It was time to get back to Haassan and find a place to crash.. had an overdose of beauty for one day.

Jayamamangali Blackbuck Sanctuary

Curiosity is a necessary evil. It makes you ask questions, visit places and interact with almost everyone you meet. It was one such bout of curiosity attack that prompted Sunil and myself to visit the Jayamamangali Blackbuck Sanctuary (JBS). With a weekend ahead of us, we were looking for a destination and some random article on the internet caught our attention. JBS neighbours Maidenahalli, a small village in Madhugiri Taluk, at the north-eastern tip of Tumkur district of Karnataka state. This area is a part of the plains of Deccan plateau and borders Anantpur District of Andhra Pradesh. An 800 acre patch of grassland, home to the second largest population of Blackbucks (Antelope cervicepra) in Karnataka, after Ranibennur.

There are places you visit because of their popularity, already teeming with tourists; and then there are lesser known places which still maintain their serenity and tranquility owing to their relative obscurity. JBS is one such place you like not just for its beauty, but for its exclusivity as well. Though just about 150 kilometers from Bangalore, it is a difficult place to locate. It took us a while to figure out the route, even getting lost a few times. But there are quite a few attractions on the way, like the mountain fort at Madhugiri. Here is a quick summary of the route.

- From Bangalore take the Tumkur road.
- Before entering Tumkur town take a diversion (right) towards Madhugiri.
- From Madhugiri take the Hindupura road. About 1.5 km from Madhugiri town the road splits into Hindupur Road on the left  and Chikballapur/Gowridbidanur road that goes straight. Even if you miss the left turn and go straight along the Chikaballapur road, you can take the 'Nitrahalli Cross' and get back at the Hindupura road. (You might have already guessed what happened to us!)
b- 11 km from Madhugiri town just before the bridge over Jayamangali River, you will reach Puruvara village. (Yes, we did cross the bridge and had to backtrack, no points for guessing that!)
- From Puruvara village you have to take another deviation towards ID Halli. After the villages of Badakanahalli and Giregoudana halli, the habitat abruptly changes into open plains. Travel this road a good 8 kilometers or so, till you find the Blackbuck Reserve's board on your right, with a dirt road leading into the vast plains. Keep your eyes open, you miss the board if you blink!

The mountain fort at Madhugiri set atop one of the largest monoliths of Asia, is a nice pitstop on the way. A fort built by a local chief named Raja Hire Gauda and later improved by Hyder Ali, it is quite an imposing structure that is visible from a distance. A flight of steps take you to the top where there are two temples and a few other structures. We did not have enough time to climb up the rock and left it for another day and drove on.

There is a Forest Department office and a watchtower at JBS and apart from the two there wasn't anyone or anything in sight initially. There were grasslands all around, the dried golden grass giving a nice contrast to the bright blue skies above. Apart from the vast plains of Deccan Plateau you can also see the Closepete granite hill chain that runs from Bellary to Ramanagaram. I had never seen such vibrant skies anywhere else, with prominent and well defined clouds hanging down from the blueness, almost touching the land at a distance. As we drove close to the gate we stopped to take some pictures and suddenly a pair of horns appeared along the horizon. As we watched in anticipation a lone male Blackbuck walked into view, proudly displaying his twisted horns and well tanned body. We were happy that we got to see a Blackbuck but the joy was shortlived as he sprinted out of sight in no time.

At JBS you can park your vehicle at the watch tower and walk around the area or drive along the many paths that exist here. We took the second option, unaware of the dimensions of the park, and the mud roads looked inviting as well. It didn't take us much to encounter the first herd of bucks. There were at least 30 of them with 3 males leading from the front. We stopped the car and watched the group from close quarters as the bucks too obliged by hanging around for quite a while. This was just the beginning and we spotted many more herds as we sat down to have our packed lunch of tasty parottas. The whole experience was like the African safaris you see in the Tele, with vast grass lands and these exciting animals all around us. We ran around from tree to tree to get a closer picture without disturbing their grazing. We walked around the place quite a bit as well spotting some Painted Sandgrouse (Pterocles indicus) and other common birds.

It was fun.. like going back to those hunter-gatherer days of humankind... running around like kids, after a herd of antelopes. The monsoon clouds were thickening along the horizon and the sky turned dark, giving the planes and water bodies an interesting hue. We sat there watching the rain pouring down at a distance, and finally drove back to Bangalore before heavy rains hit the plains.

The Deutsche Philharmonie Merck

Another item ticked off my Bucket List. Watched a symphony live - The Deutsche Philharmonie Merck - at Chowdaiah Hall. 60 minutes of sheer musical brilliance!
Though I hadn't even heard before any of the pieces except two, they were all quite enthralling. Of the two I recognized, one was Brahms' Hungarian dance while I couldn't quite place the other one. The revelation of the day was "Leonore Overture No 3" by Beethoven. (I found out this later from the press release). Was quite an evening and the hall was crowded with people standing on either sides and even sitting in the aisle. Good that we got the passes (thanks to Sunil) and managed to reach the venue quite early to grab some seats!
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