I had never heard of Badami before and had simply come here on rumours and a whim. It was apparently the capital of the Chalukyas who had ruled this part of India from around 543ad. I’d heard it had beautiful caves carved out of the red rock and had some of the earliest free standing temples in India. I’d though sounds like a place for me.
I’d got up early as I was eager to get out there. Had breakfast in the Hotel Sangams next door where I’d eaten last nigh whose raised open front faced out onto the red dirt street and bus station. It’s becoming a routine with me. If I’ve eaten somewhere and I’m still alive the next day, it’s safe, so stick to it. It also it looked quite appealing compared with the other places around, well ok it had silver and green shiny chairs that I’m sure caught the Europeans eyes it hinted at civilization, the other places in town seemed to be just benches and table tops, but as an Isreali girl called Nati had pointed out later.
“Just don’t look in the kitchen or your never gonna eat in India”
Wise words though once she’d said this I couldn’t help but glance across and I wished I hadn’t. I had 2 large Masala Dosas which filled a corner, it was a little oily but I’m here to tell the tale.
I’m not sure what I but what I expecting with Badami but what ever it was it wasn’t there, something else completely awesome and as is usual for me took a while for it to dawn on me just what I was seeing. I think some things are so amazing and old and need to be realized with that perspective that it just takes a while for it to dawn.
A sign at the ciosk shed said 5r Indians foreigners 100r and though I get it, it is an irritation. I paid up, boots off and up the great stone steps I went. The caves were absolutely remarkable. The pillars and friezes carved where they stood straight out of red rock, the word ‘cave’ really does it a disservice. I would describe them as temples inside the mountain, the figures and pillars shone as if polished in places because of the oils thousands of hands over a thousand years running across them had left behind. The statues shone in places with the oils bringing out the beautiful lines within the rock. Naked, men with, wide shoulders, strong thighs and the Chalukyas were fairly well endowed, apparently. There was also the first Buddha I have seen as so far it has all been the ancient Hindus gods. There are 5 temples on the south mountain and the earlier at the bottom getting more sophisticated and dated later the higher up the cliff you went .The Buddha was 4th up and beautifully done.
I walked up the enormous stone steps imagining what this place must have been like in its glory lit by torches carried and by apparently jeweled and painted people. I knew that India was old or course but when you’re in stood front of something that you had no idea existed before or a culture that you had no idea about, the head sort of does a wobble, well mine did.
I was a little low on energy today it could have been the sun that sapped me, it could have been I needed one more large coffee it could have been I was simply tired, it was probably all three and though the place was remarkable I just wasn’t in the mood for groups of badly behaved tourists.
Down below was the pure green Agastya lake apparently man made and framed on three sides by the rough red cliffs, with the castle forts on the north and south tips of the horse shoe and to the west, the town of Badami. The lakes edge had massive stone steps that ran the length down 2 sides. Now when I say the lake is green I’m not talking emerald shimmering waters, it was bright green with algae and startling against the red cliffs. I sat on a wall at the cliff edge and watched the monkeys trying to rob the tourists and the women, little colored dots down below washing their clothes at the lakes edge
The rock walls and stone steps acted as an amphitheatre which amplified any sound. So as the women stood thigh high in the green waters swinging their clothes smashing them down onto the steps the place echoed with boom boom boom all afternoon, all that energy in the baking heat. They make tough ladies here I tell you.
I decided I wanted to be down there amongst the ladies so I went down and I wandered along the tops and of course the kids spotted me
“Photograph photograpgh, pen pen, chocolate, 10r’s” I laughed it of as really they were just after attention which I gave them of course. The women working just below us looked up and smiled when they heard the kids laughing. It was more peaceful down there and maybe that’s what I needed . The lake was really strange close up it must have been fresh clean water at one time but the surface looked like soup. I popped into the museum about half way round but was really dropping by then so back outside I simply lay down on the stone steps in the shade and fell fast asleep.
Later on refreshed in a temple at the far end of the lake peaceful and just lost to my own silence a group of kids turned up and wanted their photo taken, they were as usual sweet and chatty. I was just about to leave when one of them said told me mischievously that ‘behind’ (with that wave of the hand) there was a special place, a secret temple. I was sure he was winding me up. I looked him dead square in the eye
“It’s true really” He said “Special Shiva temple, beautiful water, not green like here”
“Ok well how do I get to it from here” I said
“5 minutes, just follow the road, you come to it, very beautiful” so I chose to believe him, I wasn’t going to hammer myself again today but I fancied getting out to the wilderness , so I dropped over the wall and walked up a loose rock path, which is what he meant by road and began climbing. I’d been going about 10 minutes when I heard sounds behind me. I looked back and saw a couple of them following me.
“This way Michael” they called I honestly had begun to think it was wind the tourist up. So I called back. “Ok now leave me be, off you go back” They looked disappointed but turned back. I walked back to where they had been looked up and there in the rocks above was a square shrine. If you didn’t know you’d walk straight under it which I had done. So up I went. It was an easy climb and within a few minutes I came out on a small but wide ledge with a natural hollow in the cliff, it had 30 beautifully carved figures in the red rock I’m not sure who the gods were but I found out later it was a shrine to Vishnu called Arali Thitha shrine. It was really exciting to me, ancient and had obviously been a special place for meditation isolated and away from everything else. There was a pool of fresh water, but when I looked I was genuinely shocked at all the junk that had been dumped into it. I just don’t get it. Where is the reverence for these places? It was so obviously a holy place, why had they contaminated the water. I leaned over the edge of the pool and pulled a few plastic bags out but some floated out of reach. It really upset me. I thought I would sit there and let the wind ruffle my hair and meditate so I sat down with against the rock and started the breathing but I felt real anger rising in me. It was a desecration and I was sure from where I was sat in my little body that the enormous Gods and the ancestors would not have been pleased. I couldn’t settle. There was only one thing for it. Get in the pool and clean it out. So I did.
I stripped of and climbed tentatively into the water and though it was a little murky it was really refreshing. I crawled under the ledge where the carvings were and gathered up all the mud covered plastic bags and floating plastic cups then saw there was a tunnel that led into the cliff so I slowly very slowly made my way along the narrow Passage pulling up all the plastic I could find as I went as far as I actually dared I could have climbed into the very back but there was a possibility I could have got stuck I wasn’t sure what creatures my be hiding in there. I did what I could. Then made my way back into the main pool reaching down pulling up bags and garbage, I disturbed a few frogs that lived in there and in the end I collected two carrier bags full of plastic, I felt a whole lot better and a whole lot brighter that I had done it. I was and still am angry about it. There whole cliff side was strewn with rubbish and I just don’t get it and wanted to crack heads together. But I’m just a visitor right.
Feeling vital again I made my way up onto the top and realized that this whole mountain was an ancient explosion of mud. The top of it was covered in huge fossilized mud cones that had bubbled up millions of years ago. I’d learnt a lot from Jim Tuma a dinosaur fossil collector up in Montana and Alex the geologist at Ghost Ranch in the US. In fact this area really reminded me of New Mexico, the heat, the color of the rocks, cactus and the general atmosphere, I was loving it and starting to enjoy myself again. I looked out from the far eastern end of the ravine it was an amazing view, the women still washing and booming below at the green lake edge, the forts, the lush sprinkler fed grass round the Butanatha temple and a little village tucked into the shadow of the northern fort. I chatted to Dad and Phil again as the sun was beat down on me. I’d left my shirt off so the wind took the opportunity to kiss and caress me and gently run through my hair. It wasn’t a meditation but it was a beautiful moment.
I’d made my way reluctantly down as I thought as I was here I’d best get up to see the northern castle. I brought all the rubbish down with me and was trying to find a bin. I’d been so upset I thought I’d pass on a little irritation to who ever couldn’t tell me where a bin was. Remarkably there was one hidden and unused behind a fence where nobody could see it. I insisted that a guy open a gate so I could actually put it in a bin. He thought I was nuts, I thought he was lazy.
On the way up into the hill fort I passed a glum looking white guy who I’d seen sat up in the rocks earlier at the southern caves, we passed by and said nothing. I also passed a curly haired young white woman with a guide who peered at me inquisitively.
The castle was a fantastic place built to be impregnable with deep ravines with walls and dead ends built across them far below. I made my way to the summit feeling strong and happy. Hopping up the hundreds of stone steps with ease, I’d been practicing for years on the escalators in the London underground so it was no problem, I am really enjoying being fit. The top was flat and deserted except for a mysterious looking temple with flags flying and walls of pastel green under an enormous tree. A troop of about 20 monkeys were engrossed picking every last crumb of sugar sweets somebody had thrown down they looked around as I stepped through the little doorway into the court yard, but then ignored me. It was just me and them as the sun began to set and by the time I got back down making my way slowly though the narrow streets and alley ways it was dark. The kids shouted
And I shouted back “hello”
It really is remarkable how cheering this is just a few smiles at people it becomes infectious. Everyone is getting Mick at full beam and its coming back at me 10 fold.
I was so tired that night but I’d gone to sit in the back yard in the open air at the back of the hotel to do my meditation. It was all going quite well until a big black pig came snorting through back yard, it was such a remarkable sight and so matter of fact as he grunted and snorted by. As I’d gone back to bed the receptionist who slept on the floor out by the front desk asked me in sign if I’d shut the gate properly, I said I had but don’t think I’d made it secure as about 10 minutes later there were blood curdling screeches and screams and running foot steps that sounded right outside my door on the first floor then there was a dog snarling and more screaming and pig screeches. I think the pig had got into the hotel corridors and didn’t sound like he wanted to leave. I went to bed laughing and don’t think I moved all night.
I am sleeping well here.