The abiding tragedy of my life is and will always be the reluctance of Shilpa Shetty to marry me. She can find no better husband - charming, witty, not averse to polygamy - but somehow she hasn't cottoned on to the idea. I therefore decided to go with the Hoysala temples (You may recall my assertion that I would prefer seeing the Hoysala temples of Belur and Halebeedu to marrying Ms. Shetty. What prompted that statement was that she wasn't really planning to marry me any way. Alright, alright, I'll get to the story)
We set out on the assurance that the roads were "okay" and took a short cut through a place called Bikkodu. It was a beautiful, rustic drive. I wondered, as I often do, why the hell I live in Bombay when there are places like this in India. On either side of the road were forests alternating with coffee estates, resplendent in various shades of green. Every now and then we would come across a house with a garden that would be bursting with flowers of almost every conceivable color. The people on the roads were simple peasants with a serene look on their faces (except one whom I splattered by driving full speed over a nice, fresh cow pat. He lost his serene look for a while, I guess. Not my fault, I had no idea these things were so sprayable.)
Anyway, we landed up in Belur for our first look at the Hoysala temples. These temples date back to the eleventh and twelfth centuries. Since I wasn't around at the time (I really regret that. Life was such a party, going by the erotic sculpture panels.) I thought it might be a smart idea to engage a guide. The guide turned out to be a motivated and serious historian who spoke excellent, if slightly accented, English. I really don't recall all the details (except the erotic sculpture panels, about which I could give a lecture series) but the intricacy of the sculpture was mind boggling.
"The stone is known as soap-stone. It is soft when quarried and hardens as it is exposed to the atmosphere. This made it possible for the sculptors to achieve this level of intricacy" said our guide, as if that made it a piece of cake. The temple was made in segments and joined with dove-tail joints and the like, as if it were wood. This makes it an achievement in engineering because the builders would have to estimate loads and design it well, lest it collapse like a pack of cards. Since that hasn't happened in the last 900 years, it would appear that they passed their engineering degree with honors. It did rather make one suck one's breath in.
We headed on to Halebeedu which is about a half hours drive from Belur through some fine and picturesque farmland. En route we were stopped by a posse of policemen standing next to a trademark rattletrap police jeep that couldn't overtake a toddler's tricycle, if the toddler's tricycle didn't want to be overtaken. I got out of the car (I was driving) and interpreted the head cop's guttural comments as a desire to see some papers. I gave him a wide choice. There were registration papers, insurance papers, papers pertaining to the first service of the vehicle, somebody's horoscope, and a blood test report. He took a hard look at them all and asked for my license. As he subjected it to his regular scrutiny, I realized he was holding it upside down. He returned all this stuff to me and decided not to press charges. Duh!
Relieved, I resumed the journey and presently we rolled into the erstwhile capital of the Hoysala kingdom. This temple was bigger - two temples adjacent, in fact - but was vandalized by the general Malik Kafur, who had sauntered into town with his army, looking for a bit of cash. This is a recurrent theme in the history of India, the Muslim conquerors' penchant for defacing fine sculpture and painting. They would come, plunder, slaughter some of the citizenry and as a parting shot, defile any decent statues they could find. The caves at Ellora will bring tears to your eyes when you see what Aurangzeb and his friends did, in the course of a weekend, to centuries of labor of the highest artistic merit and historical importance. More recently his descendants, the Taliban in Afghanistan, bombed a couple of enormous and completely harmless Buddha statues out of existence in a place called Bamiyan. And so it goes on. But let me not dwell on topics that are none of my concern, especially topics that can bring a fatwa upon my head. A fine head, if I may say so, and one that I am keenly interested in continuing the ownership of.
Coming back to my fine little travelogue, by the time we were done with Halebeedu, everyone was hungry. We decided to look around for lunch. Halebeedu, for a tourist destination, seemed strangely bereft of establishments that would sell food for money. We went to a government hotel set in a large ground. The major domo gave us the once-over and announced that all he could spare, at the moment, was rice and curd. We were really hungry and I was willing to eat even that, but the kids kicked at the prospect. Soon, their mom joined the agitation and I was overpowered and forced to look for another place. There was a bar and restaurant down the road, stocking, presumably, Dr. Mallya's finest. This was turned down on the flimsy grounds that it is not good to have so much beer. The rightful leftover, so to speak, turned out to be an establishment called Shri Krishna Veg Restaurant which did a set meal for Rs. 12 per head, consisting of cardboard cleverly disguised as food. I washed down as much of it as possible with America's contribution to the world of fine beverages, namely Coke.
"Time to head back", I told the lads and got a glazed look in reply. These guys had pigged out on the Shri Krishna Veg Restaurant gourmet cardboard-a-la-king! They had actually enjoyed this, these same ingrates who turn up their nose when I cook them an omelet. Not tasty enough for them, my omelets aren't! Well, I have a lot to say along these lines but somehow, I don't think you're dying to hear about it. So I'll conclude my concise and informative - well written, in fact - travelogue by telling you all that if you haven't seen the Hoysala Temples, you haven't lived. And for those of you who want the letters PhD after your name, there is a wonderful thesis waiting to be written on "The nutritional value of commercial cardboard" in the Shri Krishna Veg Restaurant. Maybe the way to end world hunger is to increase cardboard production.