India - hard core travel in Northern Karnataka: Badami, Aihole, Pattadakal, Bijapur
We had chosen to come to the region of Badami after our time in Hampi because we thought that on this off the beaten track destination we will not have to struggle with accomodation. How wrong we were. It took us ages to find accomodation here. Badami was fully booked. Both, Aihole and Pattadakal are little villages that do not offer accomodation. Finally we found a place in Bagalkot which is another hour away from Badami (even Bagalkot was nearly fully booked). OK, we were right: it is off the beaten track hence we did not meet westerners. But for indians, it seemed like all inhabitants from Bangalore, Pune, Mumbai, Chennai and Mysore together were on the move in this region including hordes of school classes.
The trip from Hampi to Bagalkot was pretty easy. We took a bus to Hospet, changed for a bus to Ilcal and then another local bus to Bagalkot. It took us 4 hours. We did not have a map of Bagalkot and not the slightest idea what this city was like. We just had the address of our guesthouse. It turned out that this guesthouse was in the suburbs of Bagalkot (a nice residential area). We took a rickshaw and arrived there safely. And then the shock: we had booked in (and payed already - it was the only possibility to get a room) a shit hole! The rooms were really old, only superficially cleaned (surprisingly, the bedsheets and towels smelled and looked freshly washed) and the bathroom was filthy. The door did not even have a locker. We complaint because of the locker and got a different room which was slightly better. But there were spiderwebs hanging around the cupboards and on the walls - awful. OK, for this night, we had no other possibility - we had checked everything. If we wanted to see the temples of Aihole and Pattadakal again - we had no other possibility. OK, somehow we managed to calm our mind, just take it like it is for 2 nights.
After leaving our things in the guesthouse, we tried to find a place where we could relax over a cup of tea and later have dinner. We ended up in one of the best hotels in Bagalkot, the Shiva Shangam Hotel. It was not a cozy place, but enough to hang around a bit and have a decent dinner. After a night in safe sleeping bags (we always carry our sleeping bags for beds like this), we got up really early and took the bus to Badami and further on to Aihole. The temple in this little village (oh yes, this area is the true rural part of Karnataka) is extremely beautiful. As we reached it quite early, the grounds were empty and peaceful. Visiting the impressive Durga Temple we agreed that it was worth staying in our filthy place to come here. Later we took a local bus back to Pattadakal. Pattadakal is known for its groups of temples which are collectively a World Heritage Site. The main Virupaksha Temple shows on its columns episodes from the Ramayana and the Mahabharata. Also these temples were amazing and really beautiful although in the meantime, the hordes of indians and school groups had arrived. But we took our time and enjoyed the scenery. To go back to Badami, we squeezed into a completely overloaded minibus which was speeding from one village to another for 1 hour before reaching Badami (the trip was accompanied by VERY loud music). It was fun and the locals on the bus seemed to see white people for the first time in their lifes. We felt like aliens....;-).
In Badami we made a little lunch break and went for a nice Thali to the Mayura Hotel before we took a horse-drawn carriage to reach the Badami Caves. The caves and the views from the caves were really beautiful. But it was so packed with people, we could hardly talk to each other because we could not understand our own words. The many school groups were incredably loud and all wanted to take pictures with us. It was fun but after a while, this is really making you tired and we just tried to escape the situation. Finally we took back the bus to Bagalkot and went to the hotel for dinner before it was back to the awful room for another short night.
The next morning we took the first bus at 6 am to Bijapur. It was again a 4 hour ride with a local bus. By reaching Bijapur we were shocked. We have never seen such a dirty city in our lives before. There was rubbish all around, it was very dusty and men and women alike were spitting wherever they were standing. But by reaching our next homestay we were very relieved. We stayed in the Sabala Heritage Home . We had a nice, clean and quiet room with a big bathroom with hot water and a balcony (with a view over the fields around Bijapur). OK, maybe the city was not our favourite one, the homestay was nice, people really friendly and the food was excellent. On the grounds of the homestay there was also a NGO. Local women who lost their husbands are given work by producing local handicrafts. The handicrafts are sold in different shops around India. It is a great project and it was very interesting to see the work.
One afternoon we went for a walk around Bijapur town. Our first impression was right: this town consists of dust and rubbish. One can see beautiful islamic architecture all around the city - but the buildings, mosques and houses just stand there and are left for decaying. No-one is interested in them, the locals do not even know the names of the buildings. Often, we have seen signs in front of a building saying that this is a historically protected building and underneath the sign there is a huge pile of garbage. We were really shocked. The next morning before sunrise we took a motorbike (renting the bike was cheaper than taking a rickshaw and it was a lot of fun) to visit the famous Golgumbaz. The Golgumbaz is a mausoleum dating back to 1659. The towers are capped by an enormous dome. It is said to be the largest dome in the world after St. Peter's Basilica in Rome. One can reach the dome of the Golgumbaz by climbing up steep, narrow stairs in one of the towers. Indeed, it was impressive! In the afternoon we visited the second famous sight of Bijapur, the Ibrahim Rouza. It is another really beautiful islamic monument. On our way back to town we visited some decaying mosques, the citadel and the central market. But soon we went back to our homestay. On our last day, we were just hanging around in our homestay. In the afternoon we left Bijapur by train to Solapur from where we had to change for a night bus. Some more chaotic travelling was ahead of us.
We had a difficult time with a lot of struggles in this Northern part of Karnataka and we were really sick of travelling by local transports around this part of India. It is stressful, it is packed with people and all people are touching us, starring at us. No-one speaks english and we could not read signs on the buses. More than ones we were really lost. This does not make travelling any easier. We were hoping for some nicer areas to continue our travels. Anyway, the tempels and the 2 major sights in Bijapur were really impressive. For the first time we understood people who were really fed up with travelling in India........ It was taking out all our energy.....