What to see in Chikmagalur, the Coffee Cup of India? Details

The Hoysaleswara temple dedicated to Lord Shiva is the largest monument in Halebid. Photo: Manorama

Chikmagalur, a picturesque hill station that is abundantly blessed by Mother Nature, lures nature lovers as well as history enthusiasts throughout the year. Just four hours away from the bustling metro city of Bengaluru, Chikmagalur charms you with its misty mornings, cool breeze and serene nature. Interestingly, Chikmagalur, which is now part of the Kadur district in south-west Karnataka was once ruled by the famed Hoysala empire. You could even spot the remnants from history on the way to Chikmagalur.

The name Chikmagalur has been derived from the Kannada words chika, magal and uru which means ‘the town of the younger daughter’. It is believed that King Rugmangadan had gifted the town as a dowry to his youngest daughter. The hills as well as the plains grant a unique geographical identity to Chikmagalur. Moreover, you could enjoy the cool weather here even during the summer. Interestingly, Chikmagalur receives the highest rainfall in Karnataka. The never-ending drizzles make the atmosphere cool and pleasant. Meanwhile, the occasional breeze would surely soothe your mind and body. However, you must always carry an umbrella outside as the rains might get heavier at any moment.

It is believed that King Rugmangadan had gifted the town of Chikmagalur as a dowry to his youngest daughter. Photo: Sreeja Vinod

The land of coffee
You would see hundreds of boards welcoming you to the ‘land of coffee’ as soon as you enter Chikmagalur. It is said that the coffee beans were brought to Chikmagalur from Yemen by Baba Budan, a Sufi saint, in 1860. Moreover, it was in Chikmagalur that coffee was first planted in India. The verdant coffee estates that sprawl in acres of land on the hillside are just a few kilometres away from the city. Meanwhile, you could buy freshly ground coffee powder, both as wholesale and retail, from the shops in the city.

Moreover, many varieties of coffee powder with or without chicory are available in these shops. The customers could even customise the ratio of the ingredients that are added to the coffee powder to make it aromatic and delicious. Interestingly, vegetable farming is done on vast swathes of land on both sides of the road. Ginger, turmeric, cabbage and many kinds of grains too are cultivated here.

The mountain peak where the Sufi saint had meditated is known as Baba Budangiri. Now, it is a prominent tourist spot. Meanwhile, the beautiful Mulayanagari hills too are visited by hundreds of tourists. The picturesque ‘town of the younger daughter’ is nestled amidst these scintillating hills. Even though it is possible to scale the hills, it might be riskier during the monsoon season. Some parts of the road to the hills are in poor condition, filled with potholes. Besides, the huge trees on the trekking path sway in the heavy winds and may even get uprooted and block the road.

Ayyanakere Lake
The sparkling clear waters of Ayyanakare Lake reflect the clear blue sky while embracing the verdant hills of the Western Ghats. It is the largest lake in Chikmagalur and the second–largest in Karnataka making it a major water source of the city. There is an old bridge here that may inspire sweet feelings of nostalgia. You could walk on this bridge and enjoy the tranquil nature that surrounds the lake. This is one of the rarest views of mind-blowing natural beauty that must be enjoyed with your eyes rather than through a camera lens.

The Hoysala temple, which boasts of intricate stone works and mesmerizing architecture of the Hoysala empire, would surely take you back to the twelfth century. Photo: Sreeja Vinod

You could buy locally grown juicy guavas from the fruit sellers here. Meanwhile, the Bhadra Wildlife Sanctuary is just a few kilometres away from the lake. However, entry to the wildlife sanctuary is restricted after 5 pm. You could take a relaxing stroll through the rows of coffee plants or enjoy a cup of coffee at one of the many coffee shops here. Chikmagalur became a topic of national interest when former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi chose this scintillating little hill town to contest in the Lok Sabha polls.

A trip to the 20
Halebid could be reached in under forty minutes from Chikmagalur in a car. The iconic temple, built by the Hoysala king Vishnuvardhan is the most attractive spot here. The temple that boasts intricate stone works and mesmerizing architecture of the Hoysala empire would surely take you back to the twelfth century.

The cool and windy climate of Chikmagalur could be experienced here as well. The refreshing drizzle caresses the splendid greenery on the way to Halebid making it an unforgettable journey. You could walk on the small hillocks and the plains where cattle are seen grazing in herds. Meanwhile, the panoramic view of the agricultural lands that lay in steps, getting readied for cultivating potatoes, grains and corn would fill your hearts with pure joy.

The Hoysaleswara temple dedicated to Lord Shiva is the largest monument in Halebid. Photo: Sreeja Vinod

Be it the city or the rural areas, the roads in Halebid are in top condition. The wide roads are smooth and you would hardly see any potholes. The famous Belur Chennakeshava temple is on the way to Halebid. Meanwhile, Halebid looks nothing like a prominent tourist spot. Other than a few shops, the quaint town is generally empty and peaceful.

As soon as you park the vehicle at the Hoysala temple parking area, the car will be swarmed by Kannadiga women selling raw mangoes rubbed with salt and chilli powder, ripe jackfruit bulbs and delicious guavas. Besides, you would also see booksellers and people who rent umbrellas to tourists.

A huge gateway and a few stone steps are what welcome you to this wonderland of history. The Hoysaleswara temple dedicated to Lord Shiva is the largest monument in Halebid. It invites you to explore the unique art, culture and architecture of the twelfth century. The regal charm of the temple complex built by Hoysala King Vishnuvardhan is truly captivating. The verdant meadows on the surrounding landscape and the stone walkways perfectly complement the megastructure of the ancient temple. The magnificent stone sculptures at the temple make you wonder in awe about the impeccable talent of the master craftsmen.

Historical wonderland
The idol of Lord Vinayaka on the left side of the stone steps that lead to the temple is unmissable. Meanwhile, on the right side, is an ancient stone platform that is in a dilapidated state. The stone steps lead to a long corridor lined with stone pillars that don beautiful carvings. On the left side is a huge ‘linga’ statue of Lord Hoysaleswara, facing east. A few feet in front of it is another stone platform where the idol of Nandikeshwara faces west as if he is gazing in awe at his Lord. You cannot help but be mesmerized by these idols when you realise that they have been masterfully crafted in giant single stones. Meanwhile, your eyes would be drawn to the spectacular stone carvings on the ceiling too. There is another Shiv ling called ‘Shantaleshwara’ a few feet ahead. Interestingly, another stone idol of Nadikeshwara is placed on a platform here too. However, Shantaleshwara and the Nandi idol are not as huge as the Hoysaleshwara idol and his Nandi.

The regal charm of the temple complex built by Hoysala King Vishnuvardhan is truly captivating. Photo: Sreeja Vinod

It is believed that these similar-looking idols are of different sizes, as Hoysaleswara was the King’s idol while the Queen worshipped Shantaleshwara. The bigger idols were for the King and the Queen offered prayers to the smaller idols. There are guides here to explain the fabulous history of these idols, the temple and the Hoysala empire. It is said that the Queen danced on the stone platform in front of her favourite idols. Hoysala Queen Shantala Devi was an intelligent and pious woman who often helped her husband in administrative matters. Moreover, she was also a talented Bharatnatyam dancer who mesmerised the audience with her graceful movements. That must be the reason why it is assumed that the fabulous dancing figurines crafted in stone at the temple must be of the Queen and her companions. It is also believed that Queen Shantala was an excellent singer.

Monolithic soapstones have been mostly used to build this temple. Many stories from Hindu mythology, birds, animals and dancing figurines have been carved with perfection on stone here. These intricate carvings are so unique and mesmerizing that you would wonder how the talented artisans may have done it in ancient times without the aid of technology. The beautiful stone sculptures at the temple indicate that it was a golden era of splendid art and culture.

The temple in Halebid which has been included in UNESCO’s list of heritage sites, is in Hassan district. Historical documents say that the temple was built by Kethumallan, the chief of staff, in honour of King Vishnuvardhan and Queen Shantala in 1121 AD. It took one hundred and five years to complete the construction of the temple. Dwarasamudra which was the capital of the Hoysala dynasty was later known as Halebid.

The region came to be known as Halebid or the ruined city after the siege of Dwarasamudra by the Mughals in the 14th century. The temple has been preserved beautifully, probably because it is a UNESCO World Heritage site. Entry to the temple is free. Besides, the remnants of a few historical artefacts and buildings that were destroyed in the war too could be seen here.

The cuisine
‘Sappadu’ is the traditional Kannadiga-style tali meal which is served on fresh plantain leaves. You could try the sappadu at the Mango Tree restaurant near the temple where authentic Kannadiga cuisine is served. The restaurant, designed like a naalukettu, has a central courtyard with an open ceiling for receiving the cool rain showers. Obattu or a sweet flatbread was the first item to be served on the plantain leaf. Fresh ghee too is sprinkled on obattu to make it extra soft and delicious. Here, the good old vegetable curry is called sagu. Delicious tomato rice, spinach curry, sambar, rasam, sabudana papad, roti, naan, rice and many more items are served in the elaborate tali meals. No meal is perfect without a sweet treat, and the sappadu too ended on a sweet note with a delicious payasam. The payasam isn’t too sweet and has been made with sabudana or sago pearls. The food is served hot which makes you feel warm in the cold and rainy weather.

Chennakesava temple
The Chennakeshava temple at Belur, Somnathpura is just a few kilometres away on the Bengaluru – Chikmagalur route. This temple too was built in the twelfth century by the Hoysalas. It is also called Vijayanarayana temple. The legend says that the spectacular stone sculptures in the temple were created by master craftsman Dasoja and his son Chavana. Lord Vishu is the main deity here. The 3.7-metre-tall idol of Lord Vishnu is carved in black stone.

Monolithic soapstones have been mostly used to build this temple. Photo: Sreeja Vinod

The main gateway of the temple leads to a circular structure with stone-paved walkways. Here, small shrines dedicated to Goddesses Andal and Soumyanayaki could be seen. You need to climb a few steps to reach the sanctum sanctorum. Figurines of elephants and horses are carved on the stone hand railings of this staircase. Elephants were considered the symbol of courage and horses symbolised speed. There are rows of stone pillars in front of the main idol. Interestingly, each pillar is so unique and special. You could rotate the ‘Narasimha’ pillar while the ‘Mohini’ pillar is the most beautiful one. You will notice that a part of this pillar has been left vacant. It is said that it has been left so for the talented artisans of the future to complete.

A day isn’t enough to walk around the vast temple and enjoy the amazing stonework. The intricate designs carved on stone indicate the exemplary talent, patience, hard work and perseverance of the artisans. As you leave Chikmagalur, the verdant coffee estates, scintillating nature, beautiful lake and the historical temple complexes will surely be etched in your hearts. 

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