Muninagara Caves and 21st Century Hoysala Style Temple

September 18, 2007

It was mid June when we decided to inaugurate this year’s trek season by a mild day’s trek to Muninagara. As usual Naren and I were ready and we managed to pull in Ashok also. Muninagara is a tiny village situated at around 30km from Bangalore on the fringes of Bannerghatta National Park. The approach to the village is though from Kanakapura Road. Since we were a short group of just 3, we had decided to take our bikes. So on a cold Saturday morning, we were out on our bikes on Kanakapura Road. First thing on our mind was of course the breakfast. But it was too early in the day to find any hotels open. The couple of hotels which were open weren’t ready to serve anything. Finally we found a Darshini Hotel which served us hot Idlis with burning hot Sambar. We also picked up a few items from a bakery to energize ourselves during the trek.

To reach Muninagara, we have to proceed on Kanakapura Road until Kaggalipura where we need to take a left diversion towards Gulukamale. Once we reach Gulukamale, we need to take a right diversion, pass a couple of villages on the way before reaching Mukkodlu. From Mukkodlu, it is again around 2km to Muninagara.

Muninagara Lake and Hill
Muninagara lake and hill

Since we planned to enter the elephant habitat in Muninagara, we didn’t want to take chances without a proper guide. When we enquired for a guide at Mukkodlu, we were fortunate to find a right person for our job, Munimadayya, who knew everything about the caves and jungles of Muninagara. So with him we travelled further to reach our guide’s hut in Muninagara village. The hut is situated right next to the Muninagara lake. It should be easy to locate Munimadayya’s hut as it is the last hut in the village’s periphery. The lake area is huge but it wasn’t full. It would be a sight to see it filled to its brim. On one side of the lake is the village and on the other side is the forest area followed by a hill. The village is connected to the forest via a well built tank bund. So our first leg of the trek involved crossing the tank bund.

The Cave Entrance
Cave entrance

Munimadayya mentioned that the cultivated fields in the village frequently attract elephants from the Bannerghatta side. He even showed a paddy field which had been grazed to ground by elephants recently. So with an increased hope to spot elephants, we slowly entered the forests. For the starters, we were greeted by a herd of spotted deer. The forest was mainly bushy type without any long trees. After a 45min walk and a mild climb we finally reached the Muninagara Cave or the Siddharagavi. Our head lights were soon out and we entered the cave. The entrance takes us forward for around 10m after which there is a fork and the right fork seems to lead into the interiors of the cave. But we couldn’t get past this fork as there were too many bats. And being disturbed by our headlights, they were almost flying into our heads. We spent a few minutes there with the hope that we could get the bats to the other side so that we could explore the cave a bit more. But the bats stood their ground and we had to retreat.

From then on, we did an uphill walk for an hour to reach the top of the hill. This hill is like a mini table mountain with a large flat surface in the top. Entire Bannerghatta range is visible from this hill top. This hill is part of Bannerghatta National Park and here we were in the National Park without anybody knowing our presence! The place looked like an ideal camping ground for a night. But there is no water available in the top, which can be a problem. Apart from that one should be careful as this is an elephant territory. More than that, I think it is not advisable to spend a night in the Park without permission. After spending some time at the top, we started the descent. Munimadayya took us down from a different route.

From the top
From the top

The next place to visit was the Karadigavi or Bear’s Den which is around 2km from Muninagara situated close to a motorable road. It takes less than 50m of fairly steep ascent (with the last few meters on a rock face) to reach the Bear’s Den. Fortunately bears weren’t at home to welcome us. But there were all signs(like bear’s pug marks and fresh excreta) to show that this home was occupied. And I still think it would be a dangerous proposition to find a bear welcoming you when you have just completed a steep ascent and gasping for breath. The only escape route is to slide down the steep rock face and hope for the best ! So the bottom line is accompany a guide and allow him to reach the cave first.

Bear’s Den
Bear's den

It was around 12.30PM when we said goodbye to Munimadayya and left Muninagara. As we approached Sri Ravishankar’s Art of Living Ashram on Kanakapura Road, we decided to try our luck to get a meal and entered. Within no time we were at lunch hall. The way they provide the lunch and maintain the place is pretty impressive. We were dead hungry by this time and food tasted extremely good. But there was an immediate disappointment when I found my shoes missing from the place where we had left our footwear. I left the place by bidding farewell to my best companion on treks which had accompanied me on so many treks, but was
quite surprised and happy to find my shoes left in a corner. Apparently someone had tried to steal my shoes, probably unable to bear it’s pungent smell had left it behind ! (this is my theory)

This almost turned out to be my shoes’ last photograph!

We continued our ride on Kanakapura Road for a few kilometers and took a left diversion into Kumbalagod Main Road. A few kilometers further into this road is the Swanandashrama which boasts a 21st Century Hoysala style temple ! Yes, you read it right, a small temple has been built here in Hoysala style and this is the first time anybody has attempted this amazing feat in 750 years ! The sources say that this work took almost 4 years, thanks to the sculptors Suralu Venkataramana Bhat and his wife of Kadamba Shilpa Shale, Bangalore and his group of 12 sculptors. The temple needed 45 tonnes of soapstone in total. This is a must visit place for anybody interested in Indian temple architecture. It was interesting to see how different a soapstone temple looks when it is just built. Till now we had only seen the old seasoned temples built of soapstone in places like Belur.

Temple Views
Temple view1

Temple view2

Temple view3

We were forced to spend a few extra minutes in the temple by the rain after which time we proceeded towards Bangalore.

All photos are courtesy of Naren.