Need to break free from the monotony of curfews and work-from-home? I hear and feel you as well. Travel seems a thing of the past and the need to get outdoors is daunting. With the lockdown restrictions easing, it is the perfect time to venture out and that’s when day trips come to the rescue. So here is a rather unknown piece of heaven, a stone’s throw away from Bangalore, that I visited. Welcome to Mandaragiri Hills! Before I go further, here’s important information: There is no food or even water available here, so stock up on food but do not litter.
Excited to get out of the confines of home, we headed out early one Saturday morning to satiate our starvation for the outdoors. We drove to Mandaragiri Hills, locally known as Basadi Betta, just 70 kms from Bangalore and 10 kms before Tumkur. A peaceful two-hour drive landed us at this offbeat gem. It is a two-kilometer deviation from Hirehalli. This place can be reached by bike and using public transport as well. Hop onto a bus in Bangalore that goes to Tumkur and get down at the 'Basadi Betta Cross'. From there, hire an auto to take you around. Make sure you hang on to your ride otherwise getting back to the highway will be a challenge.
A splendid view of Mandaragiri Hills from the approach road
The alluring hills become visible 500 meters away from the foothills, creating a sense of anticipation. On reaching the foothills the "peacock dome" and a monolithic statue of Chandraprabhu, the 8th tirthankar in Jainism welcomes you. Not far away, atop the hills is the temple complex. Precisely, the reason why Mandaragiri is gaining popularity as a pilgrimage site for Jains.
A quick refresher from your childhood history classes. Jainism has two sects, the Digambaras meaning "sky-clad" (i.e. naked) and Svetambaras meaning "white-clad" (i.e. clothed in white). The Digambaras' tradition warrants them to dress in the most natural form, which explains their nakedness. The monks are generally seen carrying a pinchi which is a broom made of fallen peacock feathers used to remove any insects that might cross their path to avoid harming them. The monolithic statue of Bahubali, although has no story on why it was installed, reinstates strong Jain influence.
Bahubali statue and peacock feather temple; iconic landmarks in Mandaragiri Hills
The peacock feather temple known as the Gurumandir is a meditation dome. It is one of the most exquisite domes ever built and the first of its kind in Jainism. This 81-feet structure with its exotic colors in hues of teal and orange and glittering gold right at the top make it insta-famous! This Gurumandir is compared to the Matrimandir in Pondicherry as both are dome shaped and built for meditation. This Gurumandir was built in memory of Sri Shanthinsagarji. The inner walls are adorned with numerous paintings depicting the life of a Jain saint.
Gurumandir is a unique meditation dome in Mandaragiri
Peeling away from the peacock temple, we started climbing up the stairs, 300 of them towards the temple atop the hills. During our climb, we noticed something very interesting. There was a railing that ran along the center of the stairs from the bottom to the top. On looking closer we realized that it was a pipe of sorts. Any guesses as to its function, if any? Well, we were told by the monks who live here that it was a water pipe that transports water to the top of the hill! Jains are known to make optimum use of resources and finances and here was first hand proof. This water pipe served a dual purpose; to transport water and to lend support to visitors who climbed up to the top. Innovation and optimization at its best!
This is not merely a railing; it is also a water pipe transporting water to the top of the hill
The stairs lead to the front of the temple complex. Mandaragiri hills have evolved into a popular Jain heritage center with four small but ancient Digambar Jain temples built between 12th & 14th century. Before you race up the stairs or cautiously climb one step at a time (evidence of your physical fitness) to the top, be sure to collect the keys from the caretaker at the foothills.
A panoramic view of the lush paddy fields from Mandaragiri Hills
The view from the hill top is spectacular. But there is a view that's better....where, you ask? Walk through a narrow passage at the side of the temple to the back and Viola! You will be gobsmacked. The view of the Mydala Kere (lake) surrounded by lush green hills and unique rock formations is surreal. An interesting feature of the lake is that it is perennial, with water present throughout the year. It is also the primary source of water for the surrounding areas.
View from the top
We snapped out of the spell of the lake view only to be captivated by the interesting rock formations. Jains are artistic and the striking paintings on these rocks validated it. The paintings seem to narrate the story of their lifestyle which is them living in the forests. We roamed around absorbing the stories on the rocks and enjoying the tranquility of the place before heading back down the hill.
The rocks are decorated with colorful paintings believed to be the artwork of Jain monks
On reaching the foothills, we noticed a path that led to the Mydala Lake. We hopped into the car and drove down the rough terrain heading all the way around the back of the hills. One thing to keep in mind is that cars with good ground clearance are recommended while bikes work well in this terrain. After a short, adventurous "dirt track" experience we reached our destination and what a sight lay in front of us.
The dirt road leading to the Mydala Lake, tough terrain
The serene lake surrounded by greenery and rock formations was a picture perfect view. We strolled around the lake covering almost the entire periphery enjoying the numerous views that surrounded us. We visited during the monsoon which brought the entire landscape to life. The hills in the distance were decorated with tiny streams that trickled down adding to the mythical views.
Monsoon splendor around Mydala Lake is stunning
We noticed that there is an approach to the hilltop from here as well. The drive to the lake was at an elevation which meant that the distance to the top was not much. There are no stairs making it an exciting trek to the top for the adventurous. Since we had already visited the top before coming to the lake, we told ourselves this was a definite reason to come back to Mandaragiri Hills.
Mandaragiri Hills is gaining momentum as a tourist destination. With travel restrictions still cramping our wanderlust, it is the best time to explore our own backyards. We might chance upon many such hidden gems that will satiate our hunger for the beautiful outdoors. Although off beat, Mandaragiri Hills has great potential to be a very popular photostop in Karnataka!