Monday, March 28, 2011

Tuesday 29th March 2011 – ‘off the beaten track in Karnataka’

Tuesday 29th March 2011 –  A sore bum, tired but very happy that I got to see another part of India.
It’s been a few days since I last tapped the keyboard but in that time we have travelled far and wide and shot up a storm, taking more than 32GB of Canon RAW images over a four day period and knocking together more than 20 presentations and layouts – it’s been a lot of fun with the students of NICC – now comes the hard part editing and review.
Thursday morning: Vino John and I packed up our cameras, laptops and clothes and caught the van ride out to the NICC campus at Heenur Gardens, Heenur Bande, on the outer suburbs of Bangalore.
After an interview session with the documentary video team from the college who were also travelling with us to cover the event as a project, we climbed aboard our bus and began the journey at around 3pm. The plan was for the 31 students and faculty to initially head westwards to the town of Shravana Belagola, located about 158kms from Bangalore, and climb the 641 rock-cut steps to visit the colossal statue of the Gomateshwara (Gommata) high atop a huge boulder-like hill of black granite and catch the sunset light there before heading further onwards to our destination for day one- Belur, another 70kms westwards.
But remember this is India and any journey undertaken here should always be viewed as a work in progress. We actually departed on time (the only time for the whole trip) but extensive road works all along the various highways we travelled soon threw a spanner in the time schedule and we eventually arrived in Shravana Belagola at almost 7pm, well after the 5.30pm closing time forced upon the locals at this popular tourist site by one of India’s ever present electrical brown outs.  
But the trip wasn’t wasted as the drive there had been amazing and very informative. I hung out the windows of the bus like an old dog in the back of a ute, trying to catch all the sights passing me by which started with the long slow process of navigating our way through the congested suburbs of the very wide and very dispersed city of Bangalore. Out on the highway west there was the changing scenery from urban city scape to rural landscapes, then one spotted the crazy drivers driving head on towards us on the wrong side of the highways, the roadside buildings torn in half by the highway construction (a sign of progress I guess) and the noise and commotion of the people congregating at the various market towns we transited through.
Then after a fuel stop we had to take a detour away from a large section of highway construction so the route took us down into the rural villages and there we were greeted with stunning golden hour light cascading through the trees onto the villagers and animals we passed, adding to the moment were images of the sun slowly setting through building dust and storm clouds out to the west. 
A little disappointed at arriving after dusk at Shravana Belagola, as I had prepared myself for the long climb up the side of the hill to catch what is billed in the tourist brochures as the world’s largest monolithic stone statue standing 17metres high.
Carved from the Black Granite around 980AD it is a statue of a naked Lord Bahubali and it stands upright and nude in the posture of meditation known as Kayotsraga. I’m sure it would have looked and photographed nicely but that wasn’t going to happen so I turned the time we had there into a lesson on long exposure and pan-action flash for the students. We all had a lot of fun and eventually re-boarded the bus to head to the township of Belur via the town of Hassan, finally arriving there at midnight, nearly four hours behind schedule, tired but greeted by a very modern and well-appointed hotel.
traffic in B
highway worker all manual

the red clay dust of inner India
load them up and they still go

the highway just needs half your house

an old bus left to die on the roadside

Shravana Belagola,
Shravana Belagola,

Shravana Belagola,

village life in the late afternoon sun

village life in the late afternoon sun

buses everywhere full to the max and going faster than us
Friday morning:  The plan was to rise each morning at 5am and head off to the sites by 6am to capture the sunrises falling on the various temples or palaces we planned to visit. But as I said before treat every journey here as a work in progress – timings change rapidly as it soon became clear that the same certain students, who will remain nameless -M and S and others, took the opportunity whenever we stopped to wander off doing their own things and forcing us all to wait in the hot stuffy bus for them to return, allowing the time schedule Jeevan Pathare, the Associate HOD Photo at NICC, and his team had planned to slip greatly.
But surprisingly this morning the weather at Belur was not hot and sticky like Bangalore but refreshingly cool and a bit windy which blew the haze away as we all wandered half asleep along the road leading to the really amazing Chennakeshava Temple only to discover it didn’t open until 7.30am.
Chennakeshava Temple was built in 1116AD and was said to have been constructed by South Indian artisans employed by the Hoysalas to celebrate the victory of King Vishnuvardhana over the Talakadu, others say it was built to mark the adoption of Vishnavism by the king, but anyway is a wonderful statement for Hoysalas design and architecture that is preserved for us to marvel at and photograph and yet it isn’t all that well known outside of the state or country. The Hoysalas were a prominent South Indian Kannadiga empire that ruled most of the modern day state of Karnataka between the 10th and the 14th centuries and were committed to developing fine arts during their time in power. The capital of the Hoysalas was initially located at Belur but was later moved to Halebidu our next stop of our journey ‘off the beaten track in Karnataka’.
When the massive wooden gates were finally opened and our shoes deposited in the space nearby, I entered the realm of the Hoysalas only to be struck with a sudden sense of deja vu for a brief moment. Standing there in the main entrance of the star shaped temple, marvelling at the intricate bas reliefs carved in the massive soapstone walls surrounding me I had a mental flashback to another great temple complex I had visited recently, the Ankor Wat site in Siem Reap, Cambodia. The temple complex there at Angkor, was built for the king Suryavarman II in the early 12th century and was based on the same early South Indian Hindu architecture, it served as his state temple and capital city and has remained a significant religious centre since its foundation – first worshiping Hinduism, dedicated to the god Vishnu and then Buddhism.
Now I know why King Suryavarman II wanted these talented South Indian artisans to build his temple complex for him – the work on display here is just exquisite and yet westerners know nothing of the site in Belur against its more famous and less preserved sister site in Ankor Wat.
The carvings here are all very well preserved and in fact I would say in much better condition and carved in a more intricate style than those found in Ankor Wat. The detail is astounding, there are elephants and battles histories, lifestyle tableaus with images dancers and other artistic renditions all carved into the soap stone walls, we also discovered at our next site in Halebidu that there are also a number of intimate images usually associated with another of India’s more well-known exports, the Karma Sutra, carved into the frescos.  One could go crazy and wild here trying to photograph the hundreds of photo ops in this place.
It’s not a big site, and it took 103 years to build but Chennakesava literally means "handsome Kesava" and is revered as a form of the Hindu God Vishnu, but you can easily spend an enjoyable couple of hours there wandering around with your camera. It very well maintained and well worth the visit but only in the golden hours of dawn and dusk, the rest of the time i.e.: after about 10am it is too hot and too contrasty for good pictures.
We finally rounded up all the usual suspects and headed back to the hotel for breakfast and to check out of our nice hotel which is at 12am in most Indian hotels. Again we had to wait as once again the usual suspects took the opportunity to wander off to look at something and kept us all waiting in the rapidly climbing heat of midday summer India.
The next leg of our journey took us 16km up the road to another temple site at nearby Halebidu, another favoured tourist destination in Karnataka. Both these temple complexes are being listed as UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
The temple site, billed as an outstanding example of Indian architecture, is a bit different here as there are no big imposing walls around this site but it does mirror the Belur version in terms of bucket loads of intricately carved details.
Halebidu (was previously called Dwarasamudra) was the regal capital of the Hoysala Empire in the 12th century. It is home to one of the best examples of Hoysala architecture in the ornate Hoysaleswara and Kedareswara temples but Halebidu literally means ruined city as it was sacked by the armies of Malik Kafur in the early 14th century, after which it fell into a state of disrepair and neglect. Unlike Belur the Hoysaleswara temple which dates from the 1121AD is astounding for its wealth of sculptural details. The walls of the temple are covered with an endless variety of depictions from Hindu mythology, animals, birds and Shilabalikas or dancing figures and yet no two sculptures of the temple are the same. This magnificent temple is guarded by a Nandi Bull and was never completed, despite 86 years of labour.
With the midday sun blasting down on us, we changed our approach on how to shoot this temple, instead of wandering around the outside we were allowed to shoot inside and the stone floors, worn smooth by thousands of feet over the last millennium were cool to touch so all the students and I took the opportunity to have another long exposure lesson inside. 
The final leg of the day was a long haul back up country to our base for the next two nights, Mysore.
It may seem like it was far away when I say it took us nearly five hours of driving to reach there, again well after dark, but it was only about 175kms in total. What took so long was a long meal break in a rather dingy and dirty restaurant in a bigger town called Hassan (not a nice place) where the grumpy waiters gave us menus with everything listed on it and then told us nothing but rice or dhosa was available. Then it rained. Now for me rain is nothing but cold and wet but for many of the Indian students it meant the opportunity to stand out in it and revel in this rare moment presented on an otherwise hot dusty and dry day.
I just laughed and celebrated with them shooting droplets on the buses windscreen while once again being pestered by the ever present beggars and touts.
Time to leave again and we headed off, out again through the hot and dry rural landscape in the surrounding  areas, leaving behind the rain clouds as we motored on towards Mysore – India’s second cleanest city and the extension of Bangalore’s technology hub.
Gradually the scenery changed from dry stone filled scrubby fields and paddocks of dust to green rice paddies and even though the roads were relatively empty one could always be assured of passing a ‘Auto’ crammed full of people, kids and animals every couple of kilometres or so. How they all fit in there I don’t know but it was fun when you sneak up behind them and with a blast of the buses air horn announced our intention to pass them and then watch with interest the reactions from the passengers when they look back and see a huge bus right there with a grinning Kiwi bloke hanging out a window snapping pictures of them. Most smiled back, a few didn’t, but what the heck it was fun for me.
Anyway about 9pm we eventually found our way into the bustling city of Mysore and arrived at our hotel for the night, an older hotel which looked like it needed a coat of paint or two, all while a thunderstorm played out above us filling the night sky with flashes of brilliant lightening and the strong taste of rain hung in the air. Its gloominess mirrored the discovery of very substandard dorm rooms for the students. No fans working, no power points working, horrible tiered beds or just urine stained mattresses on the floors and cockroaches galore in the Womens dorm room, so a powwow ensured and the students moved next door to our block and booked rooms with 3 beds in them. Myself - I was hard at work arranging mock layouts to try and demonstrate how the images they had been shooting should be used, and then I spent an hour helping Sam and Meg to download and edit their images.
Chennakeshava Temple
Chennakeshava Temple

Chennakeshava Temple

Chennakeshava Temple

Chennakeshava Temple

Chennakeshava Temple gates

Chennakeshava Temple

Chennakeshava Temple

an auto driver in belur

inside the Hoysaleswara temple

Vino John inside the Hoysaleswara temple

what happens when a lens fails on u

inside the Hoysaleswara temple
Chennakeshava Temple
Chennakeshava Temple
north Indian visitors to inside the Hoysaleswara temple
granite boulderts as big as houses

Saturday morning:  Rising early once again – no in fact I slept in and so did Vino John which is very unusual for him, he later admitted he had been chatting till 4am and so needed to rest.
Once again time slipped by as Jeevan and I cajoled and pushed the very tired students into action and decided to change the route in light of the very humid and low cloud conditions prevailing after the heavy rains last night. We decided to remain in the city today and just shoot the Chamundi Hills and Mysore zoo instead. I showed off my latest magazine creations to them and it was good to see in a few of them the realisation of why we were here.  Suddenly you could see the light go off in their brains and I had requests from everyone for it to be magazine layouts rather than slide shows for their work.
The Chamundi Hills are close by to the palace city of Mysore and stand about 1,000 meters above sea level. Up on top of the hills are a few popular tourist attractions along with a reportedly great view of the city and surrounding areas which was hidden thanks to the clouds today. In what was only a short ride up a 2 km long access road to the top of the hill to find the colourful Mahishasura Statue, the very spectacular Chamundeswari Temple, and some other smaller temples all grouped nearby.
Mysore is 2500ft ASL so the temples on top of the hills are another 500 vertical ft. above that. According to legend, the demon Mahishasura, king of the area that is now known as Mysore, was killed by the Goddess Chamundeswari (also Chamundi) after a fierce battle. The hills are named after the goddess, and a temple complex there honours her.
It was a nice place full of the usual tourist touts and attachments although most left us alone, there were a lot of crowds too and the usual ban on cameras inside the temples forced us to look outside for ideas. I conducted a lesson on the five elements of seeing – 1: lines, 2: circles, 3: patterns: which are created by 4: Light leading us to 5: Colour. It was well received by the students working with me and Jeevan and we had a lot of fun with it around some really big religious carriages. Sadly the humid conditions cost us any really good sky photos and so we concentrated on details instead.
Surprisingly everyone returned to the bus without too much hassle and we headed off back down the hills to our next destination the famous Mysore Zoo.
Take what you want from these kinds of operations but the 250 acre Mysore Zoo was okay in terms of space and facilities for the animals caged inside them, it’s the animals roaming around outside yelling, whistling, throwing stones that cause you to wonder why they were there. Despite large signs requesting visitors not to do the aforementioned acts most seem to think it doesn’t apply to them and so made the whole experience rather tacky and tasteless.
Faced with the problem of a sever lack of long lenses I got the students to group together and share what 300mm lenses we had amongst themselves and so off we went on the very long and slow journey around the 6.9km walking route in the very hot and humid conditions.
Hours later exhausted and very thirsty with batteries spent and cards full we returned to the bus where the usual suspects once again kept us waiting for another hour, actually this time their tardiness cost the other photographers a second assignment so we elected to return to the hotel to download and edit the layouts they all wanted to do.
From then on my work really started as the students were queuing for my attentions, Vino John already tired from the previous night, simply went to sleep and we worked on around him.
By midnight it was time to say stop and I crashed out tired but glad the students had achieved their goals and most had captured some really interesting images.

looking outside the Mysore Palace

kids at Mysore zoo

Tigers behind bars at Mysore zoo

a lonely and depressed chimp victim of lots of abuse form visitors

they still sell film here

the very spectacular Chamundeswari Temple

the very spectacular Chamundeswari Temple
the colourful Mahishasura Statue

Sunday Morning dawned too soon and I stumbled out of bed to another overcast humid Mysore day. The rest of the mob also rose slowly and after packing up we headed out on the long road back to Bangalore.
The first stop was to down to Srirangapatna,  a nearby (14kms) historic township that we had intended to visit the day before but- ah well you know the story by now- anyway the sun was shining brightly giving us brief glimpses of blue skies.
Srirangapatnam was the capital of the Mysore State under Tippu Sultan. As a result there are a number of historical monuments related to the life and times of him but after the death of Tippu Sultan in 1799 the British shifted the capital back to Mysore. We were there to visit the tombs of Tippu Sultan, his father Hyder Ali and mother Fathima Begum which are laid out in the Gumbaz. a major tourist attraction because of its architecture and craftsmanship. It has enormous ebony door inlaid with ivory. Think of it as Southern India’s Taj Mahal as it really is quite nice and well maintained, clean and green but again no cameras inside the main tomb area. Wandering around the buildings there was plenty to shoot and see but after four temples in three days we were pushing it a bit and the humidity was stretching everyone’s endurance. So we mounted everyone up and headed down the road a wee bit looking for paddy fields to photograph. And we found almost what I was looking for at the turn off to the famous Ranganathittu Bird Sanctuary just a few k’s outside of Srirangapatna. I had spotted a family bathing and doing their laundry in the river and Jeevan had spied the paddy fields nearby so we all leapt out of the bus and raced around in the stifling humidity for the next hour and a bit shooting the locals washing clothes, bathing, washing their cows and marvelling at the greenness of the paddy fields nearby.
Tired and shattered because of the humidity we motored on eastwards towards Bangalore. About an hour later Jeevan wakes me and suggests we stop at a McDonalds for lunch – I laughed out loud as I hadn’t seen a Mc D in days and we were out in the middle of nowhere but five minutes later we stopped and there it was - a McDonalds sitting in a way station in the middle of nowhere-  so I had to go over and see what it offered – a big Mac or as it is known here a Chicken Maharaja Mac with chips and sprite please  - but sadly it wasn’t that nice – in fact other than the poorly disguised Chinese noodles I had suffered through in Hassan earlier in the trip this was one of the least palatable meals I had eaten in India to date.
But on with the trip and as the hours passed on the highway the scenery changed from fields of vegetables and crops to bigger and bigger townships backed up against tall outcrops of Black Granite boulders to eventually we hit the outskirts of Bangalore’s urban wasteland. With the increase in traffic also came the amount of rubbish lying on the side of the road. I had gotten used to seeing rivers free of garbage but now I was back in Bangalore’s grip and there once again were rubbish and the polluted rivers choked with filth and plastic cast offs.
But enough of the sermonising about the environment the students were all tired but happy to be home on time and so was I. The trip had been a success and it was time to review the work and plan the next big event: the Momentum show on the 8/9th of April – mind you I have to remember my dad’s birthday and my own daughters one also coming up in a couple of days’ time.

the tombs of Tippu Sultan, his father Hyder Ali and mother Fathima Begum which are laid out in the Gumbaz.

Mysore Palace

the tombs of Tippu Sultan at Gumbaz.

the crew

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