Meeting a troupe of romantics

Qawwali performance by Ustad Ateeq Hussain Khan Bandanawazi and his troupe, Bandanawazi Qawwal

On the evening of November 17th, stories of Laila-Majnu, and the words of Kabir and Amir Khusrow came out to play at the auditorium in IIMB campus on Bannerghatta Road through a Qawwali performance by Ustad Ateeq Hussain Khan Bandanawazi and his troupe, Bandanawazi Qawwal.

The troupe, having previously performed at events like the Delhi Commonwealth Games and the International Sufi Festival at Turkey, took the audience through a two-hour long carnival of emotions with their music- frivolous one moment, and sombre the next. Of course, while the music may have been enjoyable in its own right, the conversational tones it took on so often, coupled with the wit and humour of their lyrics made one realise just how much beauty words can create if you just string them in the right order- much like pearls fit for a queen.

The couplets – designed to delight – were mainly in Hindi and Urdu, with a little bit of Persian. As each rhyme neared its end, you would wait for the punch line, because you knew that it was coming and that it was going to be good. The singers also doled out bits of information every now and then about Sufi culture in general, enabling one to appreciate the art all the more. Another interesting fact about this troupe was that while Sufism might be Islamic in its origins, they also sang songs of Krishna, lending a rather secular image to the group.

The singer and his troupe of wise romantics, as I like to call them, seemed to have created their own world and were letting us, the audience, into it for one elusive evening. As he sang, he was in turn a devotee, a preacher, a romantic, a wise guy and a broken heart. And while they may have been sitting on the floor, they sang with their whole bodies; if their words were saying something, their hands, tablas and harmoniums were echoing the very same message.

That passion, perhaps, was what was most prominent that evening. Music may be described in several ways- but if I had to pick, instead of referring to intricacy or finesse, I would call the performance one of raw emotion. And as a member of the audience, their energy, their fun and their state of ecstasy was absolutely contagious; even if you were sitting still to begin with, you were inevitably moving to the patterns, rhythms and repetitions by the end. It was as if a game was being played between the singers and their audience, each one passing the baton to the other with their responses. Every time the music was accentuated by a jubilant exclamation or a carefree laugh, the audience rejoiced alongside and every time their voices soared towards the end of a couplet, you felt your spirits soar with them.

The ensemble was rather minimalistic in terms of instruments, with the harmoniums and tablas being their only accompaniments. However, coupled with the consistent clapping by the performers and audience alike, it was the perfect complement to the chorus of voices, while the weight of the performance was borne in essence, by the words and their content.

The tabla had its moment of glory towards the end of the performance when all other voices and instruments went silent to let its commanding beats echo off the walls of the auditorium. The troupe performed several crowd favourites as well, including lines from Chaap Tilak (of Coke Studio fame) and Mast Qalandar. Even Bollywood found a place for itself that evening in the form of an authentic Qawwali rendition of Khwaja Mere Khwaja.

All the revelations about life and love that emerged that evening made the whole affair feel like a light-hearted conversation about weightier issues over a steaming cup of Suleimani chai. And while their words and expressions may have made the troupe seem like observers of and commentators on life, it felt as if ultimately, all they were trying to say was, don’t take life too seriously; make music of it instead.

A weekend in Mysore

By Nirupama Rajan

Whether you call it Mysore or Mysuru, the city is next only to Namma Bengaluru in terms of its popularity in Karnataka. The stories of Tipu Sultan in our history books as we grew up, the extensive coverage of the place every Dussehra and the far-reaching fame of the Mysore Zoo are only a few of the many things that have ensured that practically every Indian would know something or the other about this clean, green and rather quiet city. But while you may have basked in the grandeur of the Mysore Palace or driven up the Chamundi Hill as part of some long-forgotten school excursion or family pilgrimage, Mysore is certainly much more than what meets the eye. So here are a few things apart from the giraffes and tigers at the zoo that you should check out if you make it to Mysore on a weekend.

If you can, ride or drive down yourself to enjoy the scenic route from Bangalore to Mysore- although I must say that the views from the huge windows of the Shatabdi Express do offer tough competition!

Drop by the lakes

As far as cities go, Mysore is one that is abundant in natural settings. The city is surrounded by forests, hills, and lakes that attract several species of birds, animals and critters. Two very popular lakes are the Kukkarahalli Lake and the Karanji Lake. Kukkarahalli is a very popular jogging spot and Mysoreans claim that almost every resident in the city would have, at some point, visited this scenic ‘kere’ for a peaceful walk by the water. The sunset views at Kukkarahalli are also something you shouldn’t miss. Karanji Lake, on the other hand, was once more popular for the non-human species that it would attract; it is definitely still an ecologically rich spot that is home to several species of birds and endangered butterflies. Information boards in the area will tell you more about these, but let’s hope that restoration brings this lake back to its former glory.

Pedal boating is also an option in Karanji if that is something that interests you.

Hike up unexplored paths on Betta

The Chamundi Hill, fondly referred to as “betta” by the locals, may be famous the country over for its temple and gigantic Nandi statue visited by hundreds of pilgrims every day, but away from the sacred bells and the tourist buses, there are some serene, largely unexplored paths for the hiker in you to explore. One in particular, lying just off the Nanjangud route, leads to an abandoned watch tower; if you are able to muster the courage to ignore the creaky steps, the suspicious holes left behind by the planks of wood that have fallen from the platform and go all the way to the top, you would find yourself witness to a spectacular visual treat- a bird’s eye view of almost the entire city, the surrounding hills, lakes and even the tracks – thin as strands of hair from up here – left behind by other cyclists and hikers. So take some time out and make sure you explore the roads not taken on betta!

Chamundi Hill temple

Go on a two-wheeled adventure

Cycling is a Mysore favourite. The Mysore Cycling Club, in association with Cyclopedia – a store for all your cycling needs – conducts cycling expeditions almost every weekend along routes in and around Mysore. The forest route on betta is a regular, although you could choose to cycle up the normal betta route as well. However, they conduct more intensive 50-100 km long expeditions to locations outside Mysore too. You can always rent a bicycle suited to these trips from the Cyclopedia store.

While on the subject, ‘Trin Trin’ is now a popular system in Mysore that allows tourists and locals alike to pick up cycles from one of their many stations in the city and drop them off at any other station by means of a smart card, for a pretty small fee. So even if you’re just going around the popular tourist spots, you can do that on two wheels!

Grab a bite the Mysore way

No list of popular restaurants in Mysore can be complete without mentioning Mylari- the original one. Mylari is a seemingly nondescript little restaurant that offers some of the best dosas to have ever existed on the face of this planet. Space inside is tiny and crammed with small tables that are almost always full; a board duly informs you that this is the only Mylari there is and that they have no branches anywhere else in Karnataka- so don’t be fooled by others trying to mooch off of Mylari’s fame.

For all the vegetarians, vegans and health-enthusiasts out there, Dhaatu is a must try for both their local favourites as well as their more innovative creations, offering several millet-based and gluten-free options. Café Maya is also very popular among tourists – especially those from across borders – in particular for their pizzas. Also, drop by Pataka in the evening for some tastebud-tingling chaat and rabri, and for dinner afterward, head to Barge, Mysore’s first microbrewery currently offering four great home brewed beers guaranteed to give you that end-of-trip happy buzz!

Make some healthy choices

Something that gets overshadowed by the fame of the palace and the zoo is the city’s affinity for yoga and healthy lifestyle choices. However, while Mysore can offer you the best of yogic training, its very popularity has led to mass commercialization of yoga in the city and a significant decline in its spiritual value in several cases. So sure, go spend at least a few weeks in Mysore to immerse yourself in spirituality and healthy living, but make sure you seek out authentic guides and not somebody who is just doing it for the money.

Mrinali, Aayana Yoga
Photo Credits: Mrinali, Aayana Yoga

Also, drop by the stores at Dhaatu and Café Maya to choose from their wide range of organic and sustainable products so you can bring about some environmentally responsible changes in your life.

Step into the house of a legend

Another rather less-known fact is that Mysore is lucky enough to call itself the home of legendary Indian writer R K Narayan, the creator of our beloved Malgudi. He is said to have lived in his Mysore house for over four decades, and it has now been converted into a two-storey museum showcasing several photographs, portraits and personal memorabilia that will take you back in time and leave you feeling nostalgic as you remember and miss the well-loved author responsible for some of our most memorable childhood moments spent in the pages of his books.

weekend in mysore rk narayan museum

So there you have it! Mysore is just a stone’s throw away from here and there is no dearth of transport to get you there. So take a break from Namma Bengaluru this weekend and go uncover the secrets of Mysore- you never know what you might find!

Please leave a comment if you have any queries or mail us at contact@simplyguest.com

Solo Trip to Hampi

By Nirupama Rajan

One of the dreams of almost every young Bangalorean is to travel solo to at least a few of the places that Karnataka is famous for attracting tourists to. While choosing one option from this seemingly unending list of places is no small feat, if you have managed to narrow it down to Hampi, here are a few pointers that I hope will make your trip an even better one.

Solo Trip to Hampi

Whether you are a history buff looking for answers in the intricate stone carvings of this rocky wonderland, a writer hoping to find your voice in the stories that have unfolded here or merely someone looking to experience solo travel and see what all the fuss is about, everyone who visits Hampi is sure to find something very valuable to take back with them. While it is humanly impossible to detail all the places to visit and things to do while you’re there in one article, here’s my pick of the lot. Remember always when traveling, that it is never about how many boxes you check off of your ‘list of attractions’, but about what you take back from the ones you do experience, even if they are just one or two.

Getting there

The easiest option by far is to take a bus from Bangalore to Hospet. Both KSRTC and private companies offer plenty of these in sleeper, seater, AC and non-AC versions that cover the approximately 350 kms in 7-8 hours. Alternatively, you could take one of the several trains running from Bangalore to Hospet Junction. Hospet to Hampi is a distance of less than 15 kilometres and there are several government buses, private operators and autos that will help you cover this last bit of your journey there. You could also make a road trip of it and drive there in about 8 hours from Bangalore.

Accomodation

If comfort is a priority, I’d recommend staying in Hospet and making the trip from there to Hampi every day. I, for instance, stayed at Hotel Malligi in Hospet and I couldn’t have asked for a better experience. They have great rooms, several culinary options for vegetarians and non-vegetarians and a great spa to top it off. If you are looking for something a little more rustic or if you’re on a tight budget, Hampi itself offers several quirky albeit simplistic hotels near the main temple and on Hampi island (known as Viruppapura Gaddi locally, it is accessible by a quick boat ride across the Tungabhadra river). A favourite among many travellers is the Mango Tree hotel near the main Virupaksha Temple.

Travel while there

In getting to Hampi and traveling while there, I used almost every conceivable form of transport- government buses, private buses, taxis, private autos, share autos, scooters, mopeds, motor boats, coracles, bicycles and even one of those golf cart-like battery cars! Autos will always be around and I can’t stress this enough. Hospet to Hampi can cost you between 200-300 rupees by auto depending on the time of the day, and travelling from one spot to another inside Hampi will cost you roughly the same. For about 700-800 rupees, autos will drive you to several prime locations one after the other. You could also rent bicycles for as little as 150 rupees a day- this I figured is most efficient as it is inexpensive and also lets you navigate the many narrow mud roads. While on Hampi island, you can rent scooters and mopeds for about 200-300 rupees a day to cover the large distances from one spot to another; keep in mind though that you won’t be allowed to take these across the river. The river can easily be crossed using the ferry service or on coracles- an experience you definitely shouldn’t miss while there.

However, even with all these options, I would personally recommend walking as much as possible. Walking elevates your travel experience to a whole new level and nothing – no, not even cycling – can give you that feeling. Hampi is the kind of place where you can look closely at a random rock lying at the side of the path and chances are, you’ll find a centuries-old carving on it; there’s just so much you miss out on when you’re not walking. Moreover, walking encourages you to veer off the beaten path, once again leading to several wonderful discoveries on the way. With every step you take, Hampi tempts you into taking one more, drawing you further into its intricate web of ancient stories.

Food
Beware of the monkeys
Beware of the monkeys

Now this is a tad problematic. While you’ll find bananas and tender coconuts all over, finding actual, reassuring food in Hampi can be a little challenging. Of course, there are several restaurants both on Hampi island and near the Virupaksha temple, and while locals are highly likely to offer to share their food once you befriend them, if you are a fussy eater, it’s highly advisable to carry fruit or packed food with you. Beware of the monkeys though, they’re everywhere and will do anything for a few morsels!

Major historical sites


Where does this one begin and where does it end? Suffice it to say there are well over a hundred historical landmarks in Hampi and even if you stayed for a month, you wouldn’t be able to spend as much time as you’d want to in each of them. The most prominent one would be the Virupaksha temple, originally built well before the Vijayanagara Empire that brought Hampi its fame. It’s a great idea to start exploring Hampi outwards from this focal point. Around this temple, you’ll find the Jain Hemakuta temples and the Ganesha temples, as well as the Krishna Temple and Krishna Bazaar. A long walk along the river from the Virupaksha temple will take you to the Vitthala temples, which is also the site of the famous stone chariot, hall of musical pillars, king’s balance etc. A little distance away is Kamalapura, and in and around this area, you will stumble upon the Zenana Enclosure, the Lotus Mahal, Elephant Stables, the Queen’s Bath, the underground Shiva temple and so on. The Hazara Rama Temple is also a short walk from here. There are information boards at almost every site, but carrying a book along won’t hurt. You could also cross the river and visit the temples on Hampi island (note that the distances here are fairly large, so it’s a good idea to rent two-wheelers). All of these only form the tip of the iceberg that is Hampi; there are many sites that you will discover only once you go there and several others still being excavated and explored. Anyone can find something new and valuable in Hampi!

Other things to do

My favourite things to do in Hampi by far were to just keep walking or riding and stumbling upon great views unexpectedly in places that are completely off the tourist path. Mathanga hill near the Virupaksha temple and Anjanadri Hill (supposedly the site of Kishkinda, the monkey kingdom in the Ramayana) on the island provide unbelievable views of the sunrise and sunset and people flock to these points at these times. The museum at Kamalapura is full of artefacts and information boards- this one is a must for history buffs. There are several, chilled out restaurants with a shack-like feel on the Hampi island that you could unwind in towards the evening. Also visit the Daroji Bear Sanctuary and the Tungabhadra dam if you have any time left. Talk to locals, and they’ll probably give you ten more things to do and if you have an extra day, take a cab and visit Badami, Pattadakal and Aihole- these sites are several hundred years older than Hampi and offer a whole new perspective of history.

Other things to keep in mind

Fending off guides and autos will probably be your biggest challenge, especially if you want to explore all by yourself- remember that it’s perfectly okay to do so, even if the guides insist that you won’t understand anything without their guidance. Talk to locals wherever possible without intruding upon their privacy- they will let you in on so much more information than you would get otherwise. Make sure you have one of those guide books, maps or postcard packs; it makes navigating and asking for information much easier. Wear comfortable shoes to make walking easy. There aren’t many places where you’d have to take them off anyway. Visiting Hampi during the off-season is just as much fun as the December-January period. Consider the rain and the heat though- the heat in Hampi can be really taxing. The sunrise and sunset views may also be elusive during the monsoons. Remember to carry water and food, but beware of monkeys. Most importantly, lose the phone and the headphones- it’s the only way you can truly lose yourself here.

Solo travel is what you make of it. It goes beyond the place you visit or your form of transport; no amount of reading up will prepare you for the actual experience; so sure, read up on all the articles you can find, or read none- the important step is to actually take that leap. Solo travel gives you the freedom to discover things on your own terms- that is the most enriching bit, so gift yourself the courage to do that.

Feel free to email me at contact@simplyguest.com if you have any queries regarding solo travel to Hampi, especially as a woman.

Solo travel to Hampi