On one of the regular birding drives to Kokkrebellur, a small village in sugarcane-rich Mandya district off the Bangalore/Mysore highway about 85 kms from Bangalore (Karnataka state, India), proved to be delightful; in the month of December 2019. A fantastic early morning birding session, a leisurely drive meandering through the vehicle-less village roads and the picturesque vistas of the rural landscape was all heady! The cherry on the cake was this discovery of a still in the process of excavation by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI), a site with Jain vestiges at Kanakagiri or the Chikka betta, as we drove right inside the heart of the villages.
The early morning birding session: A unique place that Kokkrebellur is, it is the chosen nesting place of the Spot-billed pelicans. A sought after place for birders, this place is home to these near-threatened species of pelicans. On either side of the road of the village, on the tamarind or peepul trees, every year the birds return to the nest and raise their chicks. Painted storks are another attraction in this part of the village.
After a rewarding time at Kokkrebellur, with the rest of the day at our disposal, it was time to take to the wheels. Well, heading back to Bangalore was the obvious thing to do but the curious mind and a wanderlust heart believes in the teachings of Siddhārtha Gautama when he says “If you do not change direction, you may end up where you are heading”. Change the direction, explore the surroundings and absorb the rural vistas and find out more about anything and everything that would catch our interest, spoke the inner voice!
A casual chat with the friendly villagers, we were tipped off about the Jain temples at a distance of about 5 kms further inside the village. Mandya and Maddur…and Jain basadi? That’s something we haven’t heard before. A quick visit should be exciting, was our thought.
Exploring the rural routes
A short drive with little enquiries en route and we landed at Artipura. A quaint village with 2 hills namely Shravanabetta and Chikkabetta/Kanakagiri to its credit, surely isn’t a much-known place.
An unassuming simple walkway inside this remote village leads us to this fenced and protected site of the ASI. A rocky outcrop looms right in front of us giving us an impression of a tough climb especially if the sun is slightly high in the sky already. Well, there is no turning back; we have come to explore and we will do exactly that – with that thought in mind, braving the slight heat hiked up the hillock. And to our surprise, this turned out to be an easy hike with the cool breeze all around making it a pleasant experience.
The present-day Arathipura also known as Aretippura or Tippura is considered to have been a prolific Jain centre. It was first explored by Dr. I. K. Sharma former director of ASI and his team in 1980. This entire area and the hillock of Shravana betta is now under the protective jurisdiction of Bangalore circle of the ASI and was declared in 1987 as a centrally protected monument of national importance under the AMASR Act. The Notification board in this excavated site focuses on some interesting details about this particular hillock. The site described as ‘exposed structural remains through scientific clearance’, mentions about identifying the site in 2014 & the subsequent excavation work undertaken from 2015-16 in Kanakagiri and having a wealth of temples and secular structures. The complete plan of the temple consisting of garbhagriha and pillared mantapas raised in two phases with bricks as well as stones was discovered.
A comfortable walk exploring the different levels of the hillock gives a bird’s eye view of the surrounding village and further leads to the discovered structures on the hillock. All the information available about this important site can be gathered from the notification boards displayed by the ASI in the premises. Also, a quick search on the net provides us with some interesting details about this site and the excavated temples and sculptures dating back to the period of Gangas (3rd Century to 9th Century) and Hoysala Kings.
Hiking up at a leisurely pace the first structure we stumbled upon was the temple. The sculpture of the yakshas, Yakshis and some stone pillars.
Further up the hillock under the vast sky, the view becomes much attractive. A lone tree raised platform and a life-size idol! A quick walk towards this site reveals one of the most beautiful idol of the Jain Tirthankara in meditation, flanked by stone pillars.
One can also view the other hillock Shravana betta, which houses the statue of Bahubali.
Explore the Sharavana Betta and Kankagiri through this short 5-minute video. This should heighten your desire to explore the lesser-known places.
A good two hours of walking and exploring the hillock was indeed enjoyable which introduced me to yet another little known place. One tends to always take the much-travelled routes and visit the regularly visited places of interest. But the real joy lies in finding pristine paths and less known places. This was one such drive which was delightful. The return drive also was equally beautiful and a treat to our eyes!
Places of interest nearby: A word of caution: Expect traffic snarls on the weekend. It is an extremely busy route during holidays and weekends. Bangalore Mysore highway has infinite drive options and places to visit.
- Ramnagaram, Srirangapatna, Mandya and Maddur have innumerable places of interest – Temples, historical monuments, waterfalls & lakes.
- Rangantittu Bird sanctuary, Venugopalaswamy temple, Sriranganatha temple, historical monuments, the famous tourist triangle Somanathpur, Talkad temples along with Shivanasamudra waterfall attracts the most number of visitors and these are only a few and most often visited places in the list.
- The offbeat routes off the highway on either side will only surprise with something less known or explored if one cares to take these less trodden paths.
Must eat and buy: There are innumerable options of eateries all along the highway but the same is not the case when one leaves the highway and takes the rural roads.
- Bidadi thatte idlis, masala vada with spicy chutney is something one must eat on this route.
- Masala dose, Rava idli, vada sambar are the regulars of course with a hot cup of filter coffee.
- Likewise, if you are travelling via Maddur, it only makes sense to eat the hot Maddur vadas and order some takeaways, lest you regret later that one didn’t have enough of them.
- Channapatna is another interesting town one drives across on the Bangalore/Mysore highway. The world-famous wooden toys would make for an interesting buy for souvenirs and gifts.
- Last but not the least, fresh seasonal veggies and fruits sold on either side of the highway is recommended if one can accommodate it