“Nann hesaru Basappa antha, illi thumba varushadindha iddinee (my name is Basappa, I’ve been here since many years)”, the Dasayya at the Kalyani (pond) in Melkote tells me, polishing his brass vessel with lemon.
Every morning, he comes to the Kalyani near the temple and performs religious tasks for devotees at a small fee. His day starts early… applying the Vishnu nama on his forehead, polishing his brass vessel and plate, cleaning the shanka (conch) and jagate (stick to hit the plate)… and then approaching devotees offering his service.
Living this way is the only thing he knows. Clearly, life for this Dasayya revolves around the temple. Before I could ask him more questions, ‘clients’ arrive and I thank him for his time and leave.
Melukote / Melkote
Like Basappa, almost everyone in the town is connected to the temple. Melkote is a temple-town, the 2 temples of Cheluva-Narayana Swamy below and Yoga-Narasimha Swamy at the top and the Kalyani (pond) being the epi-center of activity, mostly religious and as its offshoot.. commercial.
A town that literally falls asleep by 8pm, narrow streets that can accommodate no more than one vehicle at a time, people who have plenty of time to spend at the pond,…. Melkote is a laid back town. Life here is uncomplicated and strikingly simple to an outsider, esp to the pigeon-hole-dwellers, like me, from cities. But when it comes to heritage value and beauty, this place is a little dynamite, packing many interesting things into a smallish area.
Melkote is often treated as a day-trip from Bangalore. I beg to differ. I urge all the readers of this post to spend at least a night there and ‘experience‘ Melkote in its entirety! Please see below for accommodation options.
A journey, not just a destination
Melkote is not a destination that you should reach in 2 hours from Bangalore. It is a journey. There is so much on the way between Mandya and Melkote. Lush green paddy fields, village life in all its glory and beauty, lakes, channels and ponds on the way, richness of bird life… the route alone has a lot to offer. It would be such a pity if you zip past all these in an urge to see just Melkote. Slow-down, soak-in, let the place decide where you should stop, what you should do and how long you should linger on the way. Spend time on the route.
Bangalore to Melkote route:
Bangalore -> Mandya (~105km) -> Take right just after the huge “Thank you” board after leaving Mandya -> Jakanahalli cross -> Melkote (~145Km)
Going on a trip and looking for a wide angle lens? Visit www.Tapprs.com.
Once you reach Melkote, places to see are plenty. A few are listed below. At the same time, I would urge you to just go out and explore… perhaps you would come back more enchanted than me.
1. Yoga-narasimha Swamy temple
The temple at the top! The temple you see in most photos!
There are steps that lead to the top. Steep and quite a climb, but should not take too long. You should finish it under 30-40 minutes even if you are pretty unfit. Do take a torch with you, if in case, you plan to visit in the evening and spend more time at the top. When we started the descent, the power went off and it was pitch dark. Of course, I had a torch unlike the others who struggled at every step.
The view of the lowlands from the top is fantastic, esp at Sun rise and sunset. I wasn’t too lucky with clouds playing foul… the best I got is this.
2. Cheluva-narayana Swamy temple
3. Kalyani or Pushkarani
The beautiful pond near the Cheluva-narayana swamy temple. It has an unmatched charm to it. Early morning spent here can be very peaceful. The Kalyani is full of life with activity – dasayya getting ready, people performing ablutions, puja, meditating, etc. Also, you get a nice view of the hill temple from here.
4. Raya Gopura
Local folklore says that it was built in a night. Unfinished but interesting structure of large and heavy stone blocks. Local guy hanging out there mentioned a few movies shot in the area – Padayappa, Guru, Shivaji, etc. Ask anyone for directions. 5 min walk from the Cheluva-narayana temple.
The view from the top of the Gopura is interesting too.
5. Akka – thangi kola
Literally translates to elder and younger sister ponds. Located next to each other, just below the Raya Gopura. Their symmetrically built steps are brilliant… just like the Kalyani. Smaller in size compared to the Kalyani.
Any discussion on Melkote is incomplete without discussing Puliyogare (tamarind rice) and the delicious Sakkare pongal (sweet rice dish). My not-so-exhaustive research tells that Subbanna mess is the best place to eat both of them along with their special Mango chutney. Their timings are 8am to 4pm only. They also sell the puliyogare mix and gojju in packets. I can easily recommend them to anyone!
If you are late to the town and find Subbanna mess closed, perhaps, you can try the Ganapathi mess nearby. Beyond 7pm, your options are very few, the ordinary Sudarshan hotel being one of them. Rates are reasonable throughout the town.
Tricky question if you are a gang of bachelors. For families, the Sanskrit academy at the base of Raya Gopura has a few cottages that they rent out for the night at ~750INR (donation.. the receipt says). This, of course, if you look and behave like a gentleman in front of the officer there and if you have a bit of luck too. Each cottage has 2 bedrooms, a hall and a dining room. Each bedroom has 2 beds.
There is a yatri nivas too, which should provide accommodation to everyone. Apart from this, I doubt if there is any ‘regular’ accommodation. However, locals do provide accommodation to people as and when they feel like it.
And if you are left without options to stay.. pretty good actually. All you need is a sleeping bag to spread on the temple verandah and sleep. You will have company on busy days for sure.
Throughout the year, I should safely guess. But the festive period is either a no-no if you are *just* a traveler or a yes-yes if you are religious. Vairamudi festival is attended by almost half a million people and it can get really really really congested in the narrow lanes of the town.
A sample 2-day 1-night itinerary
- Start from Bangalore before noon
- Lunch at Kadambam / Maddur Tiffany’s / Kamat
- Reach Mandya by noon
- Stop at several places on the route from Mandya to Jakkanahalli to notice village life, esp the lush green paddy fields and the lakes, channels, etc
- Reach Melkote by 3.30pm and head to the Raya Gopura for evening photography
- Visit (climb) the hill temple in the evening
- Stay in Melkote (Sanskrit academy, Yatri nivas or simply in the temple verandah)
- Go for 8.00pm walk in the town to notice how the town is already asleep
- Wake up early at 5.00am and reach the hill temple (closed at this hour) before Sunrise. Soak in the beauty of the early morning sunrise.
- Visit the Kalyani
- Visit the Cheluva Narayana swamy temple
- Visit the Akka – Thangi kola near the Raya Gopura
- Have puliyogare and sakre pongal at Subbanna mess and perhaps buy packets of puliyogare and mango chutney
- Head to Dhanush koti if you have time. Or the Tannur / Tondlur lake.