Halebeedu & Belur are homes to some gorgeous south-Indian temples, owing to the fact that both towns were once the capital of the Hoysala empire. I first heard of them in 2011, when I was pursuing a post-graduate diploma in Bangalore, which is over 200 kms from the towns.
We picked a Friday to visit, in hopes that there will be very few tourists. The plan was simple – we do a road trip from Bangalore & if there are too many visitors, we take a U-turn & keep it to being just a road trip. No temple run.
Fortunately, there were only a handful of people at our first stop – the gorgeously carved Hoysaleswara temple in Halebeedu. Despite being plundered by the Delhi sultanate, a lot of the intricate stone carvings have managed to survive unscathed.
The temple is dedicated to the Hindu God Shiva and has several scenes from the epic Mahabharatha carved outside, so you’ll see a lot of warriors. There is no entry free, although visitors aren’t allowed to go in with their footwear, the staff charges a nominal fee to store your shoes. The museum adjoining the temple is closed on Fridays, so we didn’t get to see it and were fine by that. The premises is very well maintained and clean.
Just 800 metres away is another Jain temple called ‘Basadi Halli’ which is not as beautiful and can be skipped if you are short on time. We went to see it anyway and there were close to no visitors there. Another 13th century temple called Kedareswar temple was just 450 metres away from the Basadi Halli shrine. While much smaller in size and less ornate, it had detailed carvings on its outside and is worth a look. If you don’t mind walking, you can just walk to both these tourist points from Hoyalesawara. Although, despite being the winter season, it was quite hot.
We then headed to Belur to see the famed Chennakesava temple, another architectural marvel of the 12th century. The gopuram at the entrance has been given a modern court of yellow paint, which takes away the ancient rustic charm off it. There is no entry fee here either, but you have to leave your footwear outside for a minimal charge. As soon as you enter, the spacious courtyard takes you by surprise. There is an ancient well in the middle that makes for an intriguing sight. While there wasn’t much of a crowd, there were more people than Halebeedu, maybe a little more than a dozen, which is absolutely scant footfall for a famous Hindu destination.
The premises has one large temple and several smaller shrines flanking it. The stonework on the main monument is stunning. On the upper corners were gorgeous dancers, leaning down, as if they were holding the roof. It took me while to look at each of them and marvel at the art-work. We did not go inside the inner sanctum because it was slightly packed and given it’s still Covid19 times, we didn’t want to take any risks, even though we had masks on.
There are a few more smaller temples in Belur, but after visiting four, didn’t want to see any more. We chose to drive to the Yagachi dam and have lunch at the water-front. There is a small park by the dam with a nice view, the public is not allowed to go over the dam. The park is a nice picnic spot, the view is not breathtaking or anything. We spotted a bunch of super-cute puppies though. There is a well maintained government restaurant right opposite the park, which was very clean and had usable washrooms. We had packed lunch, so we didn’t eat there, so I can’t vouch for the food. But you can use it for a washroom break.
And well, that’s it. We had late lunch and drove back to Bangalore, which was a 4.5 hour long drive, since 15 kms on the highway was about 15 minutes ETA, but 15 kms inside the city took an hour. To those living close by or even planning to visit Karnataka, Belur-Halebidu is worth putting on your plan for a day, or even half a day. If you are on a tight schedule – just go to the main temples. The Hoysaleswara shrine was the prettiest of them all.
Wrapping it up with the image of those aww-dorable stray puppies we spotted at the park.