…Badami and beyond

A lingum in its yoni
High st and low st

I can’t imagine four and a half hours on a bus, so I do what I always do, which is look at a map, calculate, estimate, guess and bluff my way through the route and timings. Badami doesn’t seem far, especially in the expanse of India, only a hundred kilometers. It can’t take that long, surely. But it does. The slowest part the last two kilometer crawl into town along a comedy road, no a rout, a ten percent built eighty per cent ruin of a road. The remainder is in the air, choking all who breathe.

Carved ceiling decoration
A jolly pair


Badami lake

Here in Badami are the remains of a fortress and temple complex dating back fifteen hundred years, to the reign of the Chalukyas. Four huge cave temples hewn out of the face of a sandstone cliff, others high up overlooking a lake and it’s perimeter of steps that was built at the same time.

Cave temple 1
Pillar carving
Beautiful columns in Cave temple 1
Boy overwhelmed
A view over Badami

We make our way through the old town, narrow streets with little, mostly single story dwellings, drains a foot deep and wide carrying waste and rubbish occasionally downhill, always with pigs in, wading, snuffling, munching their way along. What an incredible mix it is of white painted ancient houses with their small old beautifully battered carved doors and thresholds; children spic and span in their immaculate uniforms on the way to school, carrying bags they could comfortably fit in; and crap and rubbish and waste, gathered in knots and eddies by the endless flow of people, animals and things.

Typical door in the old town
Detail from ceiling
Approved by UNESCO

We come to a museum, no photography, at the foot of the cliffs, pay our fees and wander in to look at ancient exhibits, and what often seems even more ancient presentations. I feel surrounded by too many staff, too many uniforms; are we behaving correctly, are we following the rules? I have just enough space in the otherwise empty rooms to admire a large stone sculpture of a voluptuous other worldly mother bearing the fruit of a child from her loins. It does not look like something from the Ramayana.

This way
He didn’t see us pass
Mahakut tank

Outside we climb some massive steps, keen to see where they lead. After about a hundred metres they stop, not even halfway up the cliff. We clamber down to the clipped lawns that surround the museum – by now we recognise this as the uniform of World Heritage Status. A gateway offers another possible route to the cliff top temples, and this is confirmed by a man who we soon realise is our guide. At first I march on, doing something with my pride, until after fifty yards he suggests we take a little path on the left, it looked a definite dead end to me. As we squeezed our way up a cleft in the rock, and were shown a temple marooned on an outcrop of rock with a brilliant view of the town and plains beneath, I began to soften to him. His English was good, he knew his stuff, and he didn’t go on and on.

Around the tank

The next day we hired an auto (tuktuk) to take us on a round trip through the surrounding countryside to two or three sites that we had been recommended to see. I dismissed the indulgent and expensive option of a taxi, and had trimmed down the outing to half a day. What could go wrong?

Still much in use

Our driver was large and friendly. We squeezed in behind him. Pedestrians overtook us as he navigated through the maze of potholes and headed out of town. Either the suspension was retired or it was inexorably depressed, bumps were not ameliorated. I had a tiny bit of clearance between my head and the bars of the roof; I had a view angled down to the road. To mitigate the repeated blessings bestowed on my head by the roof, I slumped sideways and held on tight. I could now see perhaps a five metre radius around the auto. But the road wasn’t too bad.
We stopped at Mahakut. I didn’t know why; there seemed to be a dusty car park, a few massive baobob trees and some shops. Our driver showed us past a group of watching locals, past a few shrines with their gaudi pastings of colours, up a few steps and we came to a tank or pool filled with remarkably clean looking water. This was over fifteen hundred years old, and filled, as evidenced by the bubbles trickling up from the bottom, by a spring. A few men splashed about in the tank, diving under an outer wall to reach a hidden shrine. A collonade ran along two sides, and a couple of old but used temples with lingums freshly anointed completed tje scene. Our driver’s father-in-law appeared, a lovely garrulous slightly mad man, who pointed out that the shrine in the tank had one of only two five faced Shivas in the world.

It was a beautiful place, still very much used by the village, alive and full of life as much as the stories of the past.

A splendid Nandi

From here on the road ended. Our destination was Pattadakkal, a cluster of temples around a tiny wrecked village. Every kilometer of bone shaking, head banging, jolting, ‘this is an adventure’ jollity, we saw the promise of smooth new tarmac ahead. Each time it lasted for five hundred metres, before expiring into dust and potholes. Our driver said the contractors had completed their work. This went on for an hour – hopes raised, and dashed, raised and dashed. After Pattadakkal, on to Aihole, the third of this cluster of World Heritage Sights. More dreadful roads, more clipped lawns, more empty temples, more ruins.

Aihole temple
Jain cave temple

Our driver took us to a restaurant, an unexpectedly polished operation out in the middle of nowhere. They had cold beer. A small and precious mercy. I religiously checked the map, perhaps we might return via a different route, one with a functioning road. No. The return leg was two hours, our driver keen to show us a sixty foot high car, with stone wheels, that required one hundred people to pull it. We said no. Our capacities were spent. The final trundling approach to our hotel, here will do, here, here, all to no avail as he inched to within a metre of the front door. He looked as exhausted as us.