Monday, March 16, 2009

It Was All Quiet At Melkote

Now it’s a quirk that I seem to have acquired over the years. Being the only child, I have always gone to places alone. Back at uni, every once in a while I would get very claustrophobic and take off to a nearby place for a day. I would walk around, be silent, even switch off my phone and just be.

For the first time in almost three years, I did that again this Sunday. There is this lovely place called Melkote, about 140 kms from Bangalore. Now this place used to most well known for its Sanskrit village, everyone spoke that beautiful ancient language that I tried so hard to learn but had to give up for lack of a teacher.

Early Sunday morning, I took multiple buses to reach this place. There is a direct bus from Bangalore, I was told. But being horrible at rising early, I conveniently missed it and spent some four hours trying to get to the place. Driving should take just about three hours; the roads are good till Mandya and fairly ok for the next 35 kms till Melkote.

What most strikes you the moment you leave a city is how cheap everything gets all of a sudden. I hate the way the city makes you think about money all the time. Once I’m out, everything is quarter the price. The bus ticket itself is cheap, just Rs 18 from Mandya, a bit steep after that for a ride on a funny looking, longish autorickshaw.

I sleep most of the way; ma is always envious of the way I can sleep just about anywhere. The ride till Mandya is noisy, the bus crowded and smelly. I conveniently miss the bus to Melkote again and end up waiting some more. There is a bus I find finally and the ride, for the part that I am awake, is good. There are miles and miles of green meadows, so lush, just what my weary eyes need.

There are the usual village scenes then, all along the way—women in very bright, very colourful sarees balancing kids on their waist and water pots on their heads, sashaying down the road, a bullock cart, the oxen horns painted blue and red, old wrinkled men smoking away, naked kids playing marbles, surprisingly, a huge charaka from decades ago, clothes hung out to dry, bright houses, sometimes a tractor, stacks of hay, winding roads, men and women bent over double at paddy fields, an old woman selling cow dung cakes for fuel, lots of growling monkeys, I could just be anywhere in my country; the very same scenes would roll over the miles.

Melkote is not much different from what I remember of it from a visit very long ago. It is still a village, like the thousands of others that break the monotony of highways and long roads everywhere. It has though, again like several beloved places, become quite tourist savvy, one of the prices of that thing called “development”. The moment I get down, there are those longish autorickshaws all over the place, the drivers offering a trip halfway to the top for a ridiculous Rs 30 (which I made the mistake of taking and promptly regretting). They asked me if I wanted to see “local”, meaning the other sights. I didn’t bother finding out how must I would need to shell out for that. The trip though was rather nice, took me through winding lanes of some beautiful old houses.

Half way to the top, I stopped for a cool cucumber, cut open with a flourish and garnished with a pinch of chilly powder and salt, all for Rs 3! Melkote is a steep climb up, lined on both sides with beggars of all ages. Every few feet there is welcome relief too, people selling refreshing masala buttermilk for Rs 3 a glass, ‘prasada’, flowers, tender coconuts.

I pull myself up to the top. The temple of Cheluva Narayana Swamy is dark, not too well maintained. But the view from the top is great, the lovely town of Melkote on one side, plain brown fields and tall trees on the other. The breeze is cool and I so needed that then. The place is rather crowded, people very loud but still better than the truly touristy places.

I walk down the longer route down, the houses lovely, quiet, beautifully painted. Several pictures later, there is the ‘kalyani’ to go to, a huge tank where people take holy dips. I make friends with a lady who is selling the famous Melkote ‘puliogere’, curd rice. She has a daughter doing her diploma and asks me whether a job in the city would be easy to get. Its quiet; the water not too clean. But its quiet, that is all I need.

The water reflects the structures around the kalyani. A boy dives from atop and makes a splash. The water is disturbed, but it’s quiet again very soon. There are couples holding hands coyly, young boys, a marriage party, quietness. And then it begins to rain. There was the Sanskrit research centre, the other temple, the gurukula and other roads left to explore.

For another day, another visit. For this time, there was quiet. Resolutions. And a peace. A lovely journey back. More than I could ask for.


shishir said...

so comprehendly explained, just feel like visiting this place

Maddy said...

Nice write-up. Its a place I have visited many times. Just one correction in your article though. The deity at the temple on the hill is Yoga Narasimha and not CheluvaNarayana Swamy(in the town)

Anand said...

Very nice write up.Your writings reflected my experience as it was just the similar.

I just continue to have this experience once in 6 months atleast :)

Arti Agarwal said...

Very nice writeup...I am trying to plan a trip soon quite a free-willy myself..though not a single child, I still do suffer from wanderlust and travel alone :)
Your article gave me the little pep talk I needed to get going !! :)