Madhya Pradesh Travel itinerary

Below is the map depicting our Madhya Pradesh trip, mostly we followed this trail exactly, spending 2 nights at each Major stop. Total 6 days trip.

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( Gwalior – Day 1 & 2 detail post here)


Day 1

2:00 p.m. Reached Gwalior by train / by flight via Mumbai
Checked in to Neemrana Deo Bagh [Rs.5000/- per night for double room, complimentary breakfast, Free WiFi everywhere in campus – booked via Booking.com]
3:30 – 7:00 p.m. Hired auto to roam around town, places covered were –
Jai Vilas Palace museum, Tansen Tomb, Sun Temple, Moti Mahal, Chowpaty, Bahadura Sweets at Naya Bazaar and several other landmarks of significance in Gwalior. Sampled chaats and savouries (tip: don’t try it at chowpaty, it is better in rest of town market stalls)
8:00 p.m. Dinner at hotel

Day 2
Breakfast at hotel. Hired taxi with historian/guide with help of INTACH Gwalior
9:00 – 11:00 a.m. Gwalior Fort tour (entry Rs.15/-), Fort backyard palaces tour (Entry Rs.25/-)
11:00 a.m.Packed Poha for lunch, headed to Morena to see Mitawali | Padhawali | Bateshwar (40 kms/1 hour drive)
On way detour to Shani Dev mandir
Recommend to cover Mitawali first, as it has a slight trek to top, then head to Padhawali & later retire and relax at Bateswar temple complex. We had the packed lunch in the taxi here itself.
4:00 p.m. reached Gwalior
Evening spent at hotel, exploring ruins inside hotel campus

(Orachha – Day 3&4 detail post here)


Day 3

Breakfast at hotel, pack lunch for Poha+Jalebi from roadside vendor
3:00 p.m. headed to Jhansi in hired taxi (4-5 hour drive) Rs.3500/- for drop only
5:00 p.m. Requested taxi to stop at Datia Palace a bit before Chhatarpur (60 kms before Jhansi)
6:30 p.m. reached Jhansi, hired Auto to reach Orachha (25 kms/1 hour ride) Rs. 300/- for the ride
8:00 p.m. Checked into Orachha Resort tent stay [Rs. 2500/- per night for double bed luxury tent, complimentary breakfast, WiFi only in Reception lobby – booked via Airbnb]
Dinner at resort.

Day 4
9 a.m. Breakfast at resort
Walk to Orachha Palace/Fort (entry Rs.10/- valid for entire Oraccha), hired the guide who often hang around the entrance. There is fixed Guide fees as displayed on boards, Rs.470/- for small group.
9:30 – 11:00 a.m. Covered Jahangir Palace (Orachha Fort) & Chaturbhuj temple on foot.
11:00 – 12:00 Due to heat and high temperature we hired a auto (Rs.100/-)to reach Laxmi temple and the Cenotaphs complex
1:00 p.m. lunch at a restaurant on the fort entrance
went back to resort, sun was too hot to stay out.
5:00 p.m. went back to market area to catch some hot tea and samosa.
5:30 p.m. walked to the other side of Betwa River, to catch a cool spot and dip our feet in. With lot of difficulty and search found a clean spot, stayed there till 6:30, until a family barged in and their little one took a piss in the water close to us 😦
7:30 p.m. walked to Raja Ram Temple to witness the daily Aarti (can be missed, nothing spectacular, unless you want to see the ancient Ram idol, long lines and waiting time of about 30 mins)
Dinner at the market, and headed back to resort.

(Khajuraho – Day 5&6 detail post here)


Day 5

Breakfast at resort
9:00 a.m. Hired taxi for Khajuraho (4-5 hrs drive) Rs.2500/- for drop only
On way, taxi driver showed us Chhatrasal Fort ruins near Chhatarpur
1:00 p.m. reached Khajuraho, check into Hotel Harmony [Rs.1500/- per night for double room, no breakfast, WiFi at Rs.100/- in lobby and rooms – booked via Booking.com]
5:30 p.m. walked to Western temple complex, it closes at 6:00 p.m. (entry Rs. 30/-)
6:30 p.m. English Sound & Light show at the Western temple complex
(English one suits foreigners more, sounds quite unauthentic even with voice over by Amitabh Bacchan himself, Hindi show is better, at 7:30 p.m. Entry Rs. 200/- for Indians)
7:30 p.m. Dinner at Raja Cafe beside the complex.

Day 6
Original plan was to head for Panna National Park in the 6 a.m. safari, but unfortunately our hotel did not get us the tickets in time. The morning safari is always better and longer than the 3 p.m. one, but we had to take the afternoon one.
9:00 a.m. we had breakfast at Raja Cafe
10:00 a.m. bought another ticket to western group of temples, as we hadn’t checked them out well last evening in hurry.
11:00 a.m. Hired taxi to visit southern and eastern temples (Rs. 1500/- to cover all temples at Khajuraho and get dropped and picked at Panna NP for safari)
1:30 p.m. headed to drive to Panna National Park to buy 3 pm safari tickets. (this is a huge waste of time, better make sure your hotel books a ticket online for you a day before – we missed it) This is a huge con being run by M.P. Forest Department, the online tickets can be booked a day before only before 5 p.m (basically you can’t find this info online and can’t be booked without an agent). Every ticket costs Rs.1500/- + Guide fees another Rs.400/- + Safari jeep which is mandatory costs Rs. 2500/- (jeep cost is not mentioned officially anywhere) >> all of this amount can easily be split among 4 people, as the jeep has seats for 4. BUT no one will let you do that, they send separate jeeps for each group out there.
3:00 – 6:00 p.m. Safari ride around Madla & Nekatrana region in Panna NP.
7:00 p.m. Back to Khajuraho, freshened up at hotel and headed for dinner at Raja Cafe.

Day 7
Flight back to Bangalore from Khajuraho (via Delhi/Mumbai)
7:00 a.m. I took taxi back to Jhansi from Khajuraho to catch a train from Jhansi.
On way checked out Baruasagar Fort & Chhatrasal Fort ruins in Chhatarpur.
11:00 a.m. at Jhansi railway station to head back.

Overall  budget of the trip was on higher side, as there are limited means of public transport, and lot of time constraints. Did not face any safety issues traveling solo or as group of women, taxi guys and hotel staff were friendly throughout.
You can read about details of this trip for Gwalior, Oraccha & Khajuraho.

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Madhya Pradesh Part 2- Oraccha

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My friend from the group joined me in Gwalior, we hired a taxi to get dropped at Jhansi, we continued to Oraccha in an auto (costs about Rs.300/-). We reached Oraccha by evening, with detour to a place called Datia on the way.

The reason we chose a taxi instead of a train to Oraccha was my greediness to check out some more historical locations on the way to Jhansi. Before Oraccha, I will tell you about Datia.
I hadn’t come across Datia Palace and Fort during my research for the trip, but only heard about it my INTACH Gwalior facilitator. At Gwalior Fort museum I saw pictures of Datia Fort and Palace, and I knew they were too precious to be missed.
I was so right. The small town is spectacular and full of old rustic buildings.
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The Palace was built by the Bir Singh of Orachha as a guest house, he never stayed here, as he would live in his Palace in Oraccha. But this Palace is so beautiful, some paintings inside are still intact. Thankfully a caretaker was available who took us for a tour of the Palace. We climbed upto 5th floor for breath taking views inside as well as outside the Palace, it has more 2 floors which are closed. The pictures I’m posting do not do justice to the magnificence of this place, so I just stopped clicking and soaked in whatever I could in my memories. Unfortunately this town is not under M.P. ASI’s or Tourism Department radar, and hence not at all being maintained. But if your taxi guy or any guide tries to divert you from this place as missable, or because no tourists visit it, please insist, and go there. Make this place famous!

From the Palace you can see the Datia Fort on a small hill in farsight. Due to disinterest of my friend and also the unwillingness of our driver, we did not go to the Datia Fort. I wish I could. I definitely will do it someday! It has a nice museum as told to me.

The other building you see in foreground, it was supposed to be the Jail building.
The other palace campus you can see from the Bir Singh Palace, is the actual residence of the King of Datia. It is off-limits for tourists as the the descendant family still stays there, probably only one person (as told to me by Mr. Vikas of INTACH), they are not in a very good state and looking to convert the property into a heritage hotel.
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Now about Oraccha.
Since we reached in the evening, and our resort staff wasn’t very helpful in giving directions, we did not pay much attention to the town, also none of the beautiful buildings were visible in the dark.
The next morning was much more interesting, as our tents at Oraccha Resort were located right beside the Cenotaphs.
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Oraccha is full of historical buildings and temples. The Palace was built by the King of Oraccha, Bir Singh Deo, it is called Jahangir Mahal because he gifted it to Jahangir (Salim), son of Shahjahan, in order to provide him safe house while he was in danger of being assassinated. But the story is that people of Oraccha never considered any King for themselves other than Lord Ram Chandra himself. Bir Singh Deo’s son, Madhukar Shah was the one who built the Raja Ram Mandir as part of a bet he held with his wife. You will hear that story few times on the trip so I shall spare the narration here.

The 3 major monuments in Oraccha are the Jahangir Palace, Chaturbhuj Temple & the Laxmi temple. Raja Ram mandir is a renovated version which is more of a pilgrimage location.

Jahangir Mahal: It is quite huge with about 7 stories, narrow passages and stairs that take you up to different floors. All across the buildings are mesmerising paintings, some of which are still intact. The Govt. hasn’t yet woken up to restoring these beautiful pieces of art, and our great indian tourists have made every typical ugly-fying act to spoil them as usual. The Campus has 2 parts, the Jahangir Mahal & the King’s Mahal, where the King resided probably. The main entrance is actually beautiful and sort of hidden unless someone leads you there, the back entrance is being used for entering the campus. There is a vast expanse beyond this entrance, one must take a walk and explore.

Chaturbhuj Temple: The temple was originally built to seat the Lord Rama, whose idol Madhukar Shah’s wife was to bring from Varanasi. As per the story, some twists of tale happened and Lord Ram was never enshrined in the actual temple built for him. Instead, the current Raja Ram Mandir was supposedly Royal womens’ quarters where the Queen placed the idol in the kitchen assuming it to be a temporary location until the real Temple building reached completion. But as the story narrates, Lord Ram never left or allowed to displace from the first spot itself. Its a lovely story, narrated by a local would sound more interesting.
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Laxmi Temple: This is the most unsuspecting place. While going to it, no one would warn you about the beauty you are about to witness (If you are an admirer of art!). This place is full of amazing artwork. I had to take videos of the artwork as it was just not getting better documented using photographs. Video either isn’t doing much justice.

There are several other places I read about like the Raj Mahal, which is now a heritage hotel resort in Orccha. Other is Rai Parveen Mahal, which to my surprise the guides conveniently missed on mentioning. It is in front of the main entrance of Jahangir Mahal (that I have mentioned earlier). I kind of felt it was unfair to not let me walk in the field in front of the main entrance, I saw it from the top floor, it looked so enticing, but due to lack of time probably I did not insist.
img_1897Thankfully I did find it in my photographs, the building you see in the Rai Parveen Mahal, it is completely ignored for now, and has some wall paintings still intact. We can only pray that they don’t get spoilt as the palace remains completely unattended at all times. It apparently has  a main entrance too and a grand campus, partially visible in this image. I wish someone took possession of this place and restored it, I wish I could do that.

I may have mentioned earlier, photos cannot do justice to the places you visit in M.P. This happened to me both in Datia and Oraccha, I just had to put my camera down as nothing came out well in the picture with the same magnificence I was witnessing with my naked eye.

How to reach:
From Gwalior to Oraccha trains are available, you can book anytime, most of trains have seats available.
To reach Oraccha from anywhere else you have to either take a train to Jhansi, or take a Flight to Gwalior via Delhi/Mumbai. (Air India Flights only, which are highly unreliable, get cancelled anytime)
We took taxi, From Gwalior taxi was for the price of Rs.3500/- to get dropped at Jhansi. For a drop till Oraccha the taxi was asking for Rs.4500/- which was clearly too high given the distance between Jhansi and Oraccha is a mere 25 kms. Later we figured this was a very expensive deal, from a Taxi guy in Oraccha, whose services we continued to use because of his reasonable charges and good nature until the end of our trip. (You can reach Bir Singh Yadav at +919109773211 for trips all across M.P. and even U.P. or Uttarakhand)

From Orchha we headed to Khajuraho. You also can read about Gwalior, and our detailed itinerary.

Madhya Pradesh Part 1-Gwalior

After Rajasthan, M.P. has always allured me for the variety of heritage treasures it possesses. Oraccha & Khajuraho being on my radar for a long time, while planning and realising the proximity I decided to add Gwalior into my plan.
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How to reach:
From Bangalore flying into Gwalior has to be meticulously planned, as there are no direct flights. If you find the right flights at the right time, you will be in Gwalior within half a day. Unfortunately only Air India operates to Gwalior from Delhi & Mumbai, which is always uncertain and prone to being cancelled anytime. My friends couldn’t make it due to last minute cancellation, and so I’m doing this city – solo.
Another alternative could be to fly to Delhi, and then take any superfast train to Gwalior (many options!)which is a mere 4-5 hour journey. Given the comfort and ease of booking trains in 2016, I would definitely go for this option. AC coaches have become really luxurious now..wow!
I however reached here by train from Nagpur, which is another headache. Its a good 12 hour journey, and all trains either required boarding or alighting in the middle of night. So I decided to board after midnight from my familiar station, rather reaching at odd hours in an unfamiliar city. To my horror the entire 2AC bogey was empty, I walked to adjoining bogies to find a seat near some people (which wasn’t more than 2-3). In general it was empty, and till the next day upto Gwalior it remained so. I kind of enjoyed the peace and quiet. The train staff whoever passed offered all the courtesy and help to make the single woman traveling feel comfortable. Thankfully.

Within India atleast, it is very true that you will find the best guides to a place at the railway station, NOT at the Airport or the Hotel. Coming out of the station, I got the first auto guy who asked for a reasonable price to drop at my hotel, and eventually on asking he was to be my chauffeur for rest of the day 😛 It cost me 500/- for a couple of hours.

Day 1:After checking into Neemrana’s Deo Bagh property in Gwalior, I asked the auto guy to pick me up for the city tour. I was really interested in staying at a heritage accommodation, even though it burnt a hole in my pockets, but its worth a shot once in life – afteral I work my ass off to earn that money. The place is rustic, quiet and serene, amidst vast expanse of ruins from 17th century.
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I freshened up and left on my auto to explore the city. There are too many old ruins from centuries ago that are inhabited by people, mostly encroached upon and abused. Most of the times, you can spot the Gwalior fort while driving around the city.

My 1st stop was Jai Vilas Palace Museum– a privately maintained museum owned by the Scindia Family (of political fame). I was told the place has been recently renovated to match world standards. I was pleasantly amused at the standards, it was very close to what you will come across in museums in foreign countries. The Scindia style pagdi is something of uniqueness to their family, as shown in the picture. Apart from that they had various party and dining halls adorned with chandeliers and expensive decor.
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Although personally I felt the stuff in the museum wasn’t that great if you start comparing Royal museums in rest of world, because most of it was foreign valuables owned by the Scindias over the last century, plus lot of traditional woodwork furniture. There is also a vehicle section, where you’d find a Reva size BMW along with other carriages.

I utilised rest of the evening checking out other tourist attractions, and sampling chats and savouries across town.
The Sun temple is clearly missable, it was built by the Birlas as a tribute of some form in 1980s. I was told several times while interacting with the people through my trip, according to local people, the Sun temple ever since built has not been a good omen for Gwalior’s economy.
Moti Mahal is sitting in ignorance, with filth and almost dying water body around this beautiful site. Govt. offices have rented most of the heritage buildings in this location for a mere fees of Rs.1/- per month, which were formerly resided by the Scindias. Govt. is definitely not doing much to maintain the heritage structures. You can see them in shambles. Scindias now officially reside in part of Jai Vilas Palace.
Teli ka Mandir is an old structure of historical significance but empty with no shrine inside.
Saas-Bahu temple, got its name from the fact that the Royal family mother-in-law & Daughter-in-law visited this temple respectively assigning themselves 1 of 2 temples constructed on the hill near by to the Fort. I think before this the temples were named Sahastrabuddha temple, not sure.
Daata Bandhi Chhod Gurudwara is an important pilgrimage spot for the Sikhs, as their Guru here has a significant contribution to the history of Gwalior, where the Royal Kings of this region were confined by the cruel Aurangzeb in the 17th Century.
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Food:
You must try the traditional Poha and jalebi breakfast, I missed the jalebi as it is only available till 9 am, post that all stocks will get over all-over the town. Bahadura sweets motichoor laddoos were a hit, just melt in your mouth!.
My breakfast spread at Neemrana’s was definitely amazing, loved it.

Day 2: I started my morning with Gwalior Fort, as the previous day I was too late. It closes by 5:30 p.m. daily, and Light & Sound show happens around 6:30 p.m. or so. The Fort was built in 16-17th century by the King. It is built on Gopachal Parvat, which was surrounded by a river in previous centuries, now it is dead, and has concrete area built on it for people to sit out. The fort is a beauty and full of ancient wisdom showcased in the architecture and design of the structure. Outside has natural colours used which have survived till now, used with glass tiles and limestone. It is said the tombs were initially painted with real gold paint, which has wore down now. It has 7 floors in total, out of which you go up to -3 underground. The light and wind have been beautifully brought into all floors using intelligent techniques like mirrors and narrow cavities in the walls.
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Do take a guide to take you around the fort, there is something about the narration that will make you understand the space better, other wise you might not even notice how architecture and design allowed the place to function so well.
As told, the King had 9 wives. The 9th wife however was a peasant’s daughter, unlike other ones who were of royal lineage. The King met his 9th wife, named ‘Mrignaini’ by him later, on one of his hunting trips to jungle where he found her fighting with a wild bull. Mesmerised by her beauty and courage, he decided to marry her. The Gujari Mahal was built specially for her, it sits at the foot of the hill, having a secret passage from the main fort through the hill to this palace (passage closed now).
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The Gopachal parvat is home to a more ancient site, the Jain caves and larger than life carvings on the stones on the way to Gwalior Fort. They belong to the 600th Century. If you haven’t researched much, you probably may not even notice them, no guide really talks about it or draws attention to it. It is a pilgrimage location for Jainism. The 52 ft Bahubali statue will amaze you, and feel amused how you did not notice it without being pointed at.
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Rest of the day I had hired a cab with help of INTACH Gwalior Chapter facilitator Mr.Vikas, a Professor practising in Gwalior. A historian accompanied me through the day. It was an expensive affair, but as I was visiting Gwalior alone, I wanted to make sure I visit all places with an informed person, instead of struggling alone and scraping for good guides (based on my last trip experiences). After Gwalior Fort, we headed to the outskirts to visit less-known locations in and around Morena.
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We travelled about 40 kms from Gwalior to Morena, to visit temples of Mitawali, Padhawali & Bateshwara (sequence in image left to right). We briefly stopped at Shanidev Mandir, believed to be the only temple shrine dedicated to Shani Dev in whole of India – the original one.
Mitawali: famously known as the original inspiration for the design of Lutyen’s Parliament Building in New Delhi, only inverted. This place was a delight to be at, peaceful, thankfully no tourists, nice breeze blowing and practically endless walk around the circular shape among the columns. I walked around twice, and I just could not figure when I reached the only door in the circular campus, the circle was being itself – endless. There is a functioning Shiva temple at the centre, I offered some fruits and relaxed in the empty temple.
Padhawali: The collapsed main temple, still has its entrance building intact, which is so beautifully carved, it leaves you scraping your imagination how would the main building look like. Named after the village it falls in, the place was used as a mandappa for important events by the kings. The temple entrance has intricate carvings about Ram Sita swayamvar, and the 9 avatars of Vishnu. My guide believed the last Avatar ‘Kalki’ is yet to incarnate into this world, as we have not reached Kalyuga yet. According to him, Kalyuga would be when no one cares about no one, for now we still do care about each other. He said the location of birth of ‘Kalki’ has been defined to be in Delhi, which is a written prediction in the books. Amusing.
Standing at Padhawali, you can easily spot Mitawali on the next hill slightly in farsight. We next headed to Bateshwar, the place I was pining to be at ever since!
Bateshwara: This place has all its credits to the ASI, The Archeological Survey of India interestingly is responsible for revival of this beautiful location. As every Govt. body, every region has a independently functioning body, in M.P. it is attributed to the dedicated officials like Mr.Muhammed and his subordinates. Probably may not be true in other regions of India, the more ignorance you see, blame it on the careless officials that region has unfortunately. In Bateshwara however, even though the funding has been stopped since a year, the ASI workers continue to maintain the place out of sheer dedication on a bare minimum wage. I was told by the caretaker the Funding is on its way and work should resume post Diwali. The place was dug out from a mound of mud-hill, put together like pieces of puzzle since 2005. If you walk around, you will still see carved temple blocks stuck in the muddy hill around the complex.

Overall the 2 day stay in Gwalior  was pleasant and fruitful.
From here I headed to Oraccha & Khajuraho. Our detailed itinerary.

Lepakshi

Here is where the famous symbol of a Nandi is really situated. The giant monolith of Nandi. Lepakshi is also famous for its miraculous hanging pillar.
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It is a heritage site thankfully being preserved and maintained by Archeological Survey of India. Its a nice one day drive for Bangaloreans. A mere 125 kms. For those who use public transport, you may find this post more useful.
From Bangalore it requires you to take any (KSRTC or Private service) bus that is headed towards Hindupur or Anantapur in Andhra Pradesh, other route is to head towards Chikkaballapura(it may be easier to return from this route). You can board these buses without any prior booking from either Majestic bus station or Hebbal (opp Esteem mall) costs 80/- per head. It takes about 2-3 hours to reach Hindupur, take a drop and then look for a bus or local transport till Lepakshi. A bus or auto ride shouldn’t cost more than 20/- as per local rates, but since we looked to be from Bangalore, we paid almost 100/- for the ride. After about 1 hour the bus drops you right in front of temple, in the Lepakshi village.

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People tend to spend atleast 2 hours in this temple campus, as this campus holds quite intriguing pieces of art, and is a very relaxing place. Advise you to hire a guide who explain you many nuances of the campus, as most of them are very humble and you don’t need to haggle at all. Only thing disappointing was the haphazard town that has grown around and between this temple campus and the huge Nandi monolith – they are supposed to be a combined experience, the village around completely hampers this. It is sad, there was no one monitoring whenever this urbanisation took place.

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At the temple the stories and meanings behind all carvings and paintings will amaze you. All paintings being on the ceiling, have managed to still be visible, but this place needs some serious frescos done – well most heritage sites in India are subjected to ignorance. The famous hanging pillar is found here. The temple structure is supported by 80 pillars, however with certain dynamics of the architecture, the single hanging pillar holds the weight of rest 79 pillars. In the past whenever an architect or even British officers tried to bring support to the hanging pillar, there were cracks and crevices created into rest of the structure, deeming it to crumble soon. So it has remained hanging ever since. Every temple has a surrounding campus, with the main temple at the centre. A huge monolith of Nandi was placed to face the main temple at about 500 mts, however a disconnect has been created between the structures by the town – as I mentioned earlier.
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You can return by taking a bus either towards Hindupur or Chikkaballapura, or a local auto to the NH 7 highway junction (the locals will easily guide you), where you will find buses going towards Bangalore every 15 mins. In 2-3 hours you will be back in Bangalore.

Best time to visit this region is in the winters Nov- Jan.

Rann of Kachchh

IMG_0171Frankly, Rann of Kachchh somehow did not fascinate me before in my life, I perceived and assumed it will be an arid place with hot winds, without putting much thought into why do people even get so excited to visit it. Very ignorant of me, or so I chose to be for unknown reasons. It all started with a bunch of people in my group planning a trip to this place in the Republic day long weekend. It was then that while putting up the event for them on our group website and page, I came across beautiful images and ofcourse some information about the weather there. So it was going to be chilly, and colourful…to my surprise (ya I know how ignorant I am!!). The photographer in me literally wanted to run to the Rann..to capture all it had to offer.
Our group however this time did not follow a single common plan, We were 8 people traveling to Gujarat, but we got divided into 4 groups due to different choice of number of days, things to do, accommodation and also budget. I have tried to trace all of our itineraries into a single map, and the days spent vary from 6 – 3. Some added 2 more days to the long weekend, while some just opted to spend only the weekend.
Guj trip Map

Group 1 itinerary: (Red dot)
21st morning – Land in Ahmedabad, hire taxi -> Adalaj -> Modhera -> Rani ka Vav in Patan -> Haveli in Sidhpur -> Halt for the night at Toran Resort
22nd – Dholavira ruins & Little Rann
23rd Check into Dhordo Tent City -> inclusive packages for Bhuj sightseeing, Prag Mahal, Aina Mahal, Cenotauphs -> Night walk at Rann (full moon)
24th Tent City Package activities -> Kalo Dungar
25th hire taxi to Mandvi -> Vijay Vilas Palace -> Mandvi Beach -> night train to Ahmedabad
26th spend day in Ahmedabad, food and shopping -> evening fly back to Bangalore
Cost of 2-3 nights at Tent City – INR 13,000
Per head Approx total cost of trip – INR 35,000-40,000

Group 2 itinerary: (Brown dot)
21st morning – Land in Ahmedabad, public transport -> Ahmedabad city -> Adalaj -> night train to Bhuj
22nd Check in to hotel Oasis in Bhuj -> local bus to Mandvi -> Vijay Vilas Palace -> Mandvi Beach -> back to Bhuj in bus -> night stay in Bhuj
23rd pick up bus to Dhordo Tent City from Bhuj -> Prag Mahal, Aina Mahal, Cenotauphs in Bhuj as part of package -> check in to Tent city -> Sunset & Night walk at Rann (full moon)
24th Tent City Package activities -> Kalo Dungar
25th back to Bhuj -> Kutch Museum, Ramkund -> shopping in Bhuj -> night train to Ahmedabad
26th spend day in Ahmedabad, food and shopping -> evening fly back to Bangalore
Cost of 2 nights at Tent City – INR 13,000
Per head Approx total cost of trip – INR 25,000-30,000

Group 3 itinerary: (Green dot)
23rd land in Bhuj -> pick up bus to Dhordo Tent City from Bhuj -> Prag Mahal, Aina Mahal, Cenotauphs in Bhuj as part of package -> check in to Tent city -> Sunset & Night walk at Rann (full moon)
24th Check out Tent City -> Bhujodi village for craft shopping -> Kalo Dungar -> taxi to Nakhatrana (J.P. Resort) for night stay
25th taxi to Lakhpat Fort -> Narayan Sarovar -> Koteshwar Temple -> Nakhatrana -> Bhuj -> Vijay Vilas Palace in Mandvi -> Bhuj -> evening flight back to Bangalore
Cost of 1 night at Tent City – INR 6,500
Per head Approx total cost of trip – INR 25,000 – 30,000

Group 4 itinerary: (Blue dot) this one is mine, so I can give more detailed costs
22nd land in Bhuj in evening -> Check in to hotel Raj Mahal in Bhuj -> dinner -> night stay in Bhuj
23rd walk to Prag Mahal, Aina Mahal -> Sharad Baug -> check out of hotel -> hire taxi to Hodka village -> Bhujodi Village for shopping -> check in at resort Mehfeel-e-Rann -> Kalo Dungar -> Night walk at Rann (full moon)
24th taxi to Kutch Fossil Park -> Lakhpat Fort -> Sunset at Rann, Moonrise at Rann -> evening at Rann Utsav shopping campus
25th taxi back to Bhuj -> check in to Divya Jyot Hotel -> Ramkund step well(missed Kutch Museum due to steep timings) -> taxi to Mandvi, Vijay Vilas Palace -> Ship building yard -> Mandvi Beach
26th check out from Bhuj -> morning fly back to Bangalore
Per head Cost of 2 nights at Hodka – INR 4,000 | Cost of stay in Bhuj – INR 1,200
Per head Flight BLR – BHUJ – INR 12,000 – 18,000
Per head Taxi fare for 3 days – INR 3,900
Per head Approx total cost of trip – INR 25,000 – 35,000

FOOD:

idli

Cocktail idli

Bhuj is famous for Dabeli, but finding a good Dabeli in Bhuj was not in my fate this time. Having a non-foodie companion does not help either. Our Taxi driver was also the most clueless guy and had basically no idea about a good Dabeli. We tried some in Mandvi at ‘Joshi dabeli’ thela which was again a wrong place. Group 2 apparently liked the Dabeli at Mandvi beach. I had a good enough one at Rann Utsav food stalls.
Farsani Duniya is a must visit in Bhuj, ask anyone for directions. Try to buy most of farsan items, all are equally good.
Green Rock gujarati thali is overrated, costs as much as it would in Bangalore, minus the good location or seating whatsoever.
Restaurant at Hotel Oasis is amazing with its south indian specialities, trust me when I say that as you won’t find those food items anywhere in South India itself. Cocktail idli-a truly amusing combination of spices I could not figure out, Chettinad masala idli to name some.
Meals served at Hodka/Mehfeel-e-Rann were awesome, Bajra Roti with Ghee and jaggery…yummy. Sabji was mostly undercooked, hence untouched by me.
Vegetarian food only, at best you might spot eggs through your trip.

STAY OPTIONS:

rann stay
As all of us took up quite different stay options depending on availability and affordability of the accommodation, here are some insights about them:
Rann Utsav Dhordo Tent City Accommodation – Costs about INR 13,000 per night for a twin sharing tent, one bed extra costs a bit more.
http://www.rannutsav.net/accommodation/
In all it is not a bad deal, unlike the reviews you will read on trip advisor. The cost includes scrumptious and freshly prepared meals, coordinated trips to most of important places of attraction, pickup and drop facility from Airports/Stations, with many other amenities within Tent campus.
Hodka Village, Mehfeel-e-Rann – This place offers an authentic mud hut stay, decorated Kachchhi style, neat and clean, well-maintained and extremely cordial service with absolutely no flaws. Costs about INR 2,000 per night including all 3 meals in a day. They accommodate your taxi driver without any questions (I think they have tie-ups), food for driver will also be provided without any extra costs. Tea is really nicely done, if you are a fan of perfectly prepared Chai. The hut facility in all is very scenic and comfortable.
hodka
Nakhatrana, JP Resort – According to Group 3, this was an excellent location to be in, as most attractions are merely at 1 hour distance from here. Lakhpat, Narayan Sarovar or Bhuj or Mandvi. They basically were able to cover all these 3 locations while their 1 night stay (2 half days).
Bhuj, Raj Mahal Hotel – A not so good looking or neat place, but as we got it for a good discount, costed INR 800 for a twin sharing room for 1 night. Worked. Walkable from Bhuj Bus station. All tourist atttractions mentioned in this post are at walkable 10 min radius from this Hotel. Reaching here from Airport or Railway Station may cost between INR 100-120.
Bhuj, Hotel Oasis – This is located slightly away from the central area of Bhuj, but you can manage to walk into most of town from here. Costed between INR 800-1,000 for 1 night. They have a good restaurant I already mentioned.
Bhuj, Hotel Divya Jyot – This facility is horrible for the price, worse than a hostel, rooms are almost without much privacy, you can hear the reception area all the time, with screaming guests. Its location is very near to the Airport though just 2 kms, auto will cost about INR 60. Costed INR 1,400 for a night (supposedly discounted)

ATTRACTIONS:

rann sun moon
Rann of Kachchh – Undoubtedly the most special thing of this trip. First tip is to carefully find a taxi guy who is really knowledgeable about which spot to take you to. Mostly you will find them along with Tent City packages, or if you are lucky to find one in Bhuj. Our taxi guy was clueless and repeatedly took us to all the most touristy spots only, heavily crowded, even at the Rann. Little Rann of Kachchh is way better to be at so I heard, try go there instead. The Moonrise is one of the most beautiful sights you’ll come across, plan for a full-moon night.
chi lamps
Luckily on our first visit to the Rann a night before full moon, we had a wonderful surprise – a group of people lighting and sailing off Chinese lamps into the sky. I tried very hard to capture on my cameras..but in vain (I just don’t know how to get my cam settings for the night!). What a beautiful sight was it, I wish it went on..they were apparently having a photoshoot going on there.
chi lamp 2
A night before full moon, the moon is almost full and rises early for you to be able to capture its image, so it was a good time anyway.

kalodungar sun moon
Kalo Dungar – Don’t  know why it is named as a ‘Black mountain’, it hardly appears so, but being the highest point in Rann, is definitely a breathtaking sight from here. Evening is a good time to visit this place, as you see the misty vast expanse of Rann of Kutch Lake that blends into the horizon. You can only wish that such a sight is of the Arabian sea from here..its not, its the lake enclosing Dholavira site. Life like installations of animals found in the area are displayed at Kalo Dungar.
kalo dungar

Prag Mahal & Aina Mahal – Located in the same campus, Prag Mahal & Aina Mahal are opposites that are evidence of contrasting cultures which colonialism brought into India. Aina Mahal is built inside a small portion of the dilapidated state of a Queen’s Residence, which follows traditional architecture and is ofcourse left alone to perish with time. On the other hand, Prag Mahal the completely out of place and the only European style building in the old city of Bhuj, is completely renovated and far better maintained than its Indian neighbour. They keep a bold sign board stating that the Queen’s Residence suffered due to 2001 earthquakes, but is that an excuse or a memorial for the earthquake itself? we’ll never get the logic.
Prag Aina 1

aina1

Few paintings of Mastani, the famous dancer-lover from Peshwa Bajirao’s court are displayed here. Wiki says she was exiled or prisoned somewhere at this site until she died.

Ramkund – A very small step well, almost unimportant. There may be stories about it, required to find someone who can tell you. From this place you can see the Prag Mahal across the Bhuj Lake, where is sits like a stranger in the otherwise traditionally build town of Bhuj.

Sharad Baug Palace – The Palace was damaged in 2001 earthquake, and as you will get used to listening to this excuse for most of heritage sights in this region, you will know how you are slowly being pushed to lose interest in these places. Don’t know why the authorities don’t get this, no tourist – no revenue. The belongings of the Haveli are being showcased in the outhouse of this Haveli, which is the usual aristocratic stuff like china ware, silver ware and dead stuffed wild animals owned by the Maharaja.
IMG_0078

Bhujodi Village – You will read a lot of about this place as one of tourist spots. Turns out our taxi driver did not have much idea and he left us somewhere at the beginning of the village, which had pretty okay sort of stuff to buy, and not such reasonable prices. The real village with all craftsmen is much inside, so please find out and go.
bhujodi

Kutch Fossil Park – This place is much less known, and clearly our taxi guy had never heard about it. Thankfully some road signs helped us reach the location, because when in Kachchh you just cannot rely on the phone network. Airtel stays perennially down. The Fossil collection is amazing, and thankfully a very well informed guide available at your service to explain everything to you.
fossil park

Lakhpat Fort – This place is probably the closest you can get to the Border area, its arid and dry, but offers a beautiful view nonetheless – a vast expanse of sand and sea which turns into nothing with shortcomings of human vision. Definitely a very important place from historical point of view.
lakhpat

Mata na Madh – A typical temple shrine dedicated to a diety/goddess. I was told that its a very holy shrine, where people from Mumbai side walk on foot to reach here during Navratri. I’m not so religious so hardly ever visit such places, because they are so damn commercialised, and lose their real structure or old architecture to cater to large volumes of devotees. Our Taxi driver was hell-bent on taking us there, and he did. Disappointment and nothing else. overcrowded and nothing too beautiful to marvel at. Only devotees know what it means, not me.

Vijay Vilas Palace – A beautiful palace, having featured in many films by now, is being badly maintained by the Govt. and why not, they barely charge a INR 5,000 per hour for holding family functions. That’s it? no wonder they can’t gather funds to maintain this place. When we went there, a tamboo-tent was being set up for some marriage function. Shame. Would have loved to walk to the little hilly side of estate around this property facing the sea, it would have given a nice view of the place. But my companion wasn’t keen as usual in doing anything out of tourist-list. We enjoyed the wind on Palace’s top floor for a while, thank god for that.
vijay vilas

Mandvi Beach – A relatively less crowded beach, you can sight this beach from top of Vijay Vilas Palace. You can see the windmills installed on this beach, which are out of use and in ignored condition. You can try the Dabeli here, please do not litter on the beach.

Mandvi Ship building Yard – If you happen to pass this place, you can view huge ships being built on the side of a very dirty stream of a river, clogged with human waste and neglect.

Dholavira Archeological site – Only one of our groups had been here, and as told it is definitely an important site from historical perspective, being the only place as old as Mohenjo-Daro-Harappa. Try to do it.

I have to admit, this trip was a fail for me as I did not plan it well enough to fulfil my photography endeavours at all. I learnt to follow one thumb rule this time – always try look for a photographer’s company, who will understand the importance of stopping in middle of nowhere just to click a perfect shot. Unfortunately this time even though the planned group comprised of so many photographers, I happened to choose a different itinerary than them. My bad. It was partially due to lack of time, and money as well. As always, even though I hate it, I end up following a tourist trail like crazy..because people often want to “Cover” all places they heard or read about. Its hilarious how I never end up traveling like I want to 🙂 just to please everyone around me.
Full moon light shining on the white ground was definitely a sight I will cherish forever.

1000 km long weekend

IMG_9957
It was long weekend in the offing, and as no surprise – everything and anything within 500 Km radius of Bangalore will not remain available. And we just hate booking off place well in advance – a week or 2 before the date arrives..works fine for us. We started by browsing the map for leads to places that could be seen in a window of a day or 2 if not for the complete 4 days of long weekend. There was no chance of settling for a homestay somewhere in typical picturesque options like Chikmagalur/ Shimoga/ Sakleshpur, first because Bangaloreans won’t leave out anything unbooked! second because we usually aren’t the relaxing kind and would ultimately not use most amenities at the stupid homestays.. we just won’t stay in the homestay.
wkend map
Hassan seemed like a very good option, as it seemed to be a centre from all places of visit like the heritage sites of Halebidu-Belur-Belavadi circuit, or the coffee plantation trails of Sakleshpur and the historical Manjrabad Fort, and bang next to the spooky(and so photogenic) ruins of Shettihalli Church. To add, accommodations are always available at Hassan, simply because most of tourist-type Bangalore doesn’t consider Hassan (just yet)
IMG_9727
We headed early morning from Bangalore on the NH48 to Hassan. We decided to check out Shravanbelagola on our way, which was a slight off from the highway we were taking. At Shravanbelagola, you need to trek the rocky hill with bare foot, no shoes, since it is a religious landmark. No wonder not many people do it. The scorching heat made the rock floor unbearable, wouldn’t dare to try. The hill isn’t small one either. We gazed at it from far and left the zone. Having breakfast and butt-breaks along some A2B’s & Adigas & CCDs we reached Hassan at about 2:30 pm. We checked in, and relaxed planning for our next jaunts. Free Wi-Fi does work sometimes.

Next morning after our complimentary breakfast we headed straight towards Sakleshpur, in about an hour we were there. A mere 45-50 kms. We reached Manjrabad Fort. Its a nice place, but full of plastic filth dumped there by the tourists. There is not even a single dustbin installed in that entire area of the fort, I’m sure there can be a job created for a care-taker & some management, IF locals are willing to do it sincerely.
manjrabad
We spent a good hour meandering its octagonal outline and clicking pics, and by 12 we were out driving by coffee estates on outskirts of Sakleshpur. On the way we spotted almost all the homestays we had checked out online while considering staying plan a week ago. They didn’t seem half as good a idea compared with what we were doing currently (and paying currently). While having lunch at a recommended joint in Sakleshpur, we decided to head for Belur-Halebidu-Belavadi in the next half. Watching sunset at Shettihalli was high on list but there was too much time on hand till then. So we moved on post lunch to Belur, and we were done by all 3 by 4 pm. We decided to head back to Hassan and sip some chai before we can move to Shettihalli, which was about 20 kms down from Hassan. It was almost 5 pm by the time we reached Hassan and sun was already on its way down once we finished tea. Considering Shettihalli Church being at a secluded zone and almost unknown to crowds, we decided it will be better to do it early in the morning.

At Hassan you can dine away your hearts full at Ramaa Hotel’s Swaad restaurant. The food was amazing and has some very good Icecream Sundae options. The place is quite a hit will locals it seems and also people from near by villages. It was packed on all days.

Next morning we started to see the ruins of Shettihalli Church. The sight is no doubt breathtaking, and thankfully still not thronged with people. May be because there isn’t much to do there, and the vendors have decided to spare this place as a potential customer base. It remains quiet and secluded for a equally quiet picnic spot, with birds enjoying the waters of the Gorur-Hemavathi Reservoir, also a few boatman.
shettihalli

Our stay at Hassan was getting over and we headed next towards the district of Coorg – to Madikeri. I don’t have much to talk about Madikeri, as it was quite ugly as expected. A hill-station but ofcourse ruined by now with the advent of tourist culture and ‘Traffic’ created by tourist vehicles. We generally just walked around, missing out every tourist-spot mentioned in the book. Weather was too warm for October with slight mist forming on our bike seats and helmets – thats about it.
windmill scene
The route while driving to Madikeri & back was more scenic than the place itself. Homestays ofcourse make more sense if you want to experience a hill-station. Unfortunately, all the famous restaurants that serve Coorg curries and appams were for some reason not working. ‘Taste of Coorg’ had a very bad stink inside its serving area …for which I will probably never enter it again in this life. ‘Raintree’ was only serving Chinese that day. These are the top Tripadvisor recommendations! I was able to find the coorg chicken curry at Hill View hotel, which was lipsmacking! Once I’ve had my fill of coorgi food, I was ready to go back to the hustle-bustle of Bangalore. The bike meter displayed about a 936 Kms covered on this trip.

Hassan – Hotel Mayura International – Rs.1600/- per night (includes Breakfast, Free Wi-Fi, TV, neat and clean rooms, Parking)
Swaad Restaurant at Hotel Ramaa – Meal for 2 (Rs.250-400/-)
Hotel Mythri, Sakleshpur – Meal for 2 (Rs.250/-)
Madikeri – Hotel Hill View – Rs.1500/- per night (Wi-Fi, TV, parking)
Raintree Restaurant – Meal for 2 (Rs.300/-)

Monsoon at Gersoppa (Jog Falls & Around)

Yamini, an ardent traveler-mom from our group has been part of our most memorable group trips, she is also a travel writer for several Malayalam Magazines, and is very good at chalking out a unique itinerary for her fellow travelers (though, as a USP of our travel-motto, she goes with the flow and does not plan much) which is why I requested her to write for us, and enlighten us with the amazing trip she and the girls had exploring western ghat side of Karnataka over a weekend.

Write-up by Yamini Vasudevan

“Not all those who wander are lost”

JRR Tolkein was completely wrong that day. We, a group of five – Mini, Nivedita, Karthi, Me and my son Shashank will wholeheartedly agree that. We were on a trail to Gerusoppa Jain Temple, located 34 kilometres from Honnavar near Shimoga. The expedition was part of a weekend trip to Jog Falls and some places in and around Shimoga.
We were strongly believing in Tolkein.
jog fall trip collage copy
“We’ve lost our way, said Nivedita.
Mini was confident that we’ll find the way. So was Karthi.
“I remember a hanging bridge landmark somewhere,” exclaimed Karthi.
Shashank was excited to be inside the forest with no idea where to go.
I told you, Tolkein was wrong.
As we stood on the banks of Sharavathi river, waiting for the boat to take us to the other side,first drop fell on my brand new phone, up from the sky. Rain has this magic. Sometimes, as a silhouette, sometimes pitter patter, or sometimes downpour. I have enjoyed everything all this while. But on the phone… Erghhh!
But this time it was a joy-killer. As we got engrossed in the various imageries that we saw about this Jain temple in blogs, our boat came right infront of us. It was just  less than a kilometre to the other side. But boats are the only mode of transport that takes you to the other side.
Giving  five rupees per person as boat charge, we reached the other part of Gerusoppa.
The place was extremely untouched that we ourselves felt dumbstruck.
One or two autos were waiting, but we decided to trek.
The three-kilometre trek was not so easy. Initial one kilometre was through tarred roads. Mini and Shashank were cruising along way ahead of us. We, the-supposed-to-be-young three were trailing behind. Yes… the lagging was only physical. Mentally we five were just excited about the awaiting wonder.
We walked on and on…
There began the trail through muddy tracks and unrepaired roads. For most of the parts, there were barely any roads. But still, we trudged along with no one soul to ask the way to ‘Chathurmukha Basdi Jain Temple’. We decided to move ahead. We spotted a few buffaloes and asked them if they can help us. The paths were getting murkier with occasional rains.
The road was ending there. We realised that we have reached the other side of the bank of Sharavathi river. Sharavathi is a 128 kilometre long river that flows entirely through Karnataka.
We were wandering and were lost too.
Mini and Karthi intervened and did some vague attempts to find the way. At the end of this road, where we were standing clueless, there was a road that traverse through dense forests. We took a diversion through this road but to no avail. The wanderers in us didn’t want to return.
It was then we realised that the only landmark that we can think of is a hanging bridge that we read in one of the blog posts. While we took our steps back we noticed a wooden bridge ( where we earlier spotted buffaloes) The wooden bridge was actually covered by the dense flaura and fauna and hence we missed it.
If you thought wooden bridge itself is tough to climb, then you should wait for some more minutes. The wooden bridge then gave way to a hanging bridge which lays across Netrani river.
And what a sight that was. Made of iron cables and wooden planks, the hanging bridge is adventure, fun and excitement combined. Mini led us while Nivedita and Karthi clicked every other frame from top. I don’t remember what I and Shashank did. Maybe standing still on the bridge and looking around, savouring the ambience.
We were just more than happy for getting back to the correct route. The bridge is around half a kilometre long and one person width. After more than 15 to 20 minutes photo session and zigzagging throughout the bridge, we almost reached the destination.
The density of the forest was just banging all around us. It was almost noon, but darkness set a veil around us. We traversed through the muddy track and finally there was light.
Every temple or Basadi there had something to offer.
Our first pitstop was Sri Parshwanatha Temple along with Jwalamalini Temple. This is supposedly the only temple where pooja is performed. As we entered the temple premises, a set of dogs barked upon us. The bravest among the five – Shashank and his mother – found a safe shelter somewhere. It was later known that those dogs are the temple priest’s companion and a
By that time rain thickened. We sat on the concrete bench and chatted with the priest. He said that Jwalamalini was the chief Goddess of Narasimharajapura. History suggests that there were more than 100 jain basadis in and around Gerusoppa. The area flourishned from 13th to 16th century. Besides, it was also the capital Saluva kings. But the time period of Rani Chennabyradevi is supposed to be the golden age of Gerusoppa. And due to such heritage connections,Gerusoppa was also called the Harappa of Jains.
True to its name, covered with greenery and without any human soul ( barring the priest and his helper, who was our guide as well) Gerusoppa Jain Temple will never find its name in any tourist’s itinerary.
Opposite to Parshwanatha temple was a small basadi which was dysfunctional.
The dog was accompanying us most of the time as if he owns the place. Yes… he too owns a big place in this world.
The sanctum sanctorum was almost nil except a stone structure. Outside this, we saw a few stone inscriptions,  There were some Jain statues, idols of some Thirthankaras and a few other inscriptions. Opposite to this on a higher platform are Mahavira Basadi and Neminatha Basadi, both practically not functioning and in dismay.
The main attraction of Gerusoppa Jain temple , Chaturmukha Basadi is around 400 metres further up. When we reached there, a group of labourers were beautifying the surroundings of the Basadi. I was literally happy to see the authorities taking time to preserve this ASI structure.
As the name indicates, Chathurmukha Basadi is a four-faced structure, the names being Ajitha natha, Sambhunatha, Abhinandana & Vimalnatha. Built with granite on an elevated star-shaped platform, the temple is very much constructed in Hoysala architecture style. But we didn’t get any official confirmation on this.
The temple is very much like how we see in blogs and travelogues. A beautiful lawn, that is well-preserved, adds charm to the temple. Cleanliness is maintained all over. We doubted if the cleanliness may be because it is still an untouched treasure.
Very less people take the pain to reach here. Maybe that’s why the priest, the helper and even the dogs were surprised on seeing four women and a boy coming here. But trust me, the three souls that we met there were very helpful and did no harm. They even took the pain to bid us goodbye by calling a boat for our return journey. As we boarded from another bank and as we were the only travellers, we had to pay 250 bucks. The guy, in a jiffy, took us to the other side of Sharavathi river where our car was parked.
We once again chanted what JRR Tolkein said long back: “Not all those who wander are lost.”
The end.

Update: Google maps just recently furnished the Digambar Jain ruins at the Gerosoppa Reservoir map. Screenshot for reference :
Screen Shot 2017-10-26 at 1.59.14 PM

You can also read another post about this same trip by Nivedita Datta, who is also part of our group – http://words-of-the-fallen-angel.blogspot.in/2015/08/juggling-jog-falls-and-other-places.html