Tag: heritage travel

Discovering Chobimura

Coming home can be a somewhat divided experience. While the comfort of home envelops you, there’s a sense of familiarity that can lead to boredom. Having grown up here you feel there’s nothing new to discover. But when you look closely, you will find that a lot has changed. While the wheels of progress may have marred the tranquil childhood memories, new wonders have added to the allure of homecoming. Chobimura tucked on the western banks of Gomati river in South Tripura is one such wild and rocky abode that I will visit whenever I come to Agartala, my hometown. 

I first saw photographs of this unspoilt place in my cousin Sudip’s social media post who had visited Chobimura in December 2020. Looking at the pictures of him gliding through the deep and dark river flowing between the hills covered with lush green forest, beautiful sculptures carved on the rock, I thought he was out on a river safari somewhere. Though I grew up in Agartala and travelled across Tripura I have never heard of Chobimura before. These hills and sculptures of Goddess and Gods carved on the stone were hidden by the sharp curve of the Gomati river and was discovered only in early 2000. When I decided to come home, Chobimura was on the top of my to-visit list. 

On learning about my eagerness to go to Chobimura my brother-in-law Partho promptly organized the trip. We set out early morning (around 9 a.m.) from Agartala on an SUV, 6 of us with gas oven and some utensils in the dicky. Yes, for Partho insisted on a picnic or Choruibhati. We would cook our lunch on the banks of Gomti. My former classmate Biswabasu, who happens to be my brother-in-law’s friend, joined us with his family and took charge of the entire cooking.

After driving through Bisalgarh and Udaipur we went up the roads curving through green hills to Amarpur. Chobimura is another half an hour drive through the hills from Amarpur. The road up the hills, bordered by trees sometimes forest, with small cottages and mud houses scattered, is one of the most picturesque routes that I have driven through. My heart so yearned to knock on the door of one of the cottages and spend a few days with them in the peace and quiet of their little green village. 

Ten-handed Chakrakma

The roads are good, there wasn’t much traffic, and we reached the banks of Gomati in Chobimura in two and a half hours. As Biswabasu and his wife Moon started preparing lunch we hired a speed boat for Gomati ride and to get a closer view of the stone carvings. Owing to the various deities carved in the stone these hills are also called Devatamura, the hillock of Gods. The ten handed tribal Goddess Chakrakma is the main deity here. A huge idol of Devi carved 20 ft high, with snakes for her hair and Rudra Bahirabhi at her feet is awe-inspiring indeed. We stopped the speed boat and climbed up the stone stairs to the feet of the Goddess. It is a wonder to see Tulsi plants and red hibiscus (jaba) flowers growing on stones below the ten-handed Chakrakma, another form of Goddess Durga.

The hills also have images of other Hindu Gods like Shiva, Vishnu and Kartika. The carvings on the rock walls date back to the reign of King Chichingfa’s grandfather in the 15th century during, according to local lore. It is still a mystery how such exquisite carvings were carried out in such a remote location on straight rocky hills with hardly much foothold.

After a close view of these carving and leisurely enjoying the boat ride, surrounded by luxurious green forest on both sides, we turned back. The boatman stopped at the other bank so that we could visit a cave in the hills. Legend has it that King Chichingfa stashed all his wealth in this cave in a large wooden chest that was guarded by cobras. According to another lore, it was actually the cobras that scared away the Jamatias (indigenous tribal people) and the wilderness took over. The stone carvings, the unblemished natural beauty and the local lore’s made the ride absolutely memorable.

Freshly fried fish

While we were enjoying the boat ride Biswabasu and Moon were busy cooking – dal, fish fry, dry fish chutney, mutton curry and rice. We sat on the banks, relished the freshly cooked food, strolled around to take in every bit of the beautiful Gomati. On the way back, we stopped by the Amar dighi (lake) at Amarpur. On the banks of this huge lake temple of Goddess Mangal Chandi (another form of Durga) was built centuries back. The temple has stone images of the Goddess and her daughters Lakshmi and Saraswati. There’s a small temple for her consort Lord Shiva right at the entrance. After paying our respect to the Goddess we headed back to Agartala. We were back home by 7 p.m. after a wonderful day out!

Goddess Mangal Chandi

Hampi – My Story by Saptarshi Saha

A beatifully penned story of Hampi by Saptarshi, an IT professional and a traveller who loves to write.

Who discovered me? Who let me into the history books? It was Colonel Colin Mackenzie (1754-1821) a Scottish army officer who loved travelling and anything which was orient. He was in the British East India Company and later became the first Surveyor General of India. He was ordered to survey the Mysore region shortly after the British victory over Tipu Sultan in 1799. He produced my first maps along with illustrations of the landscape and notes on archaeological landmarks. However, what the history books do not mention, that it was only by sheer accident that he stumbled upon my many ruinous minarets. It all started on a stormy night when the colonel’s boat on the raging Tundra was thrown against the granite rocks. The colonel and his orderly barely managed to hold on to the timber and save themselves. They managed to swim ashore. Tired and beaten by the rain, both drifted away to sleep. And then… the rain stopped. The birds and the deers came out. The morning with its sun, revealed all my wonderful vistas to the boat wrecked colonel and his orderly. He could hardly take it all in, with his eyes. As the morning sun shone away the rain of yesterday, I presented my ethereal beauty in all its splendour. The liquid gold of the sun, the shine on the minarets made the colonel… my lover for life. 

Hampi – Photo courtesy Wikipedia

Let me not bore you anymore with the colonel. Hampi is my name now, but I was always known as Pampa-kshetra, Kishkindha-kshetra or Bhaskara-kshetra — derived from Pampa, which is the old name of the Tungabhadra River. The name “Hampi” is an anglicized version of the Kannada Hampe (derived from Pampa). Over the years, I have also been referred to as Vijayanagara and Virupakshapura (from Virupaksha, the patron deity of the Vijayanagara rulers). I was chosen because of my strategic location, bounded by the torrential Tungabhadra river on one side and surrounded by granite ridges on the other three sides. My story starts with this popular folklore, which I want you to believe. Two local chieftains, Hakka & Bukka, large in girth and big in courage reports to their guru an unusual sight they saw during a hunting expedition. A hare chased by their hound suddenly turns courageous and start chasing back the hound. Vidyaranya, the guru, tells them that the place is so special and asks them to establish their capital at this place. The seed of my first empire was sown. And over the next 200 plus years (1336 AD – 1565 AD) four dynasties started their rule on me. 

Hampi – Melody in rocks
Photo courtesy New Indian Express

My glory years have been a saga of resistance against the northern Sultanates as well as building of some of my most spectacular monuments. Domingo Paes, a Portuguese horse trader, who visited me during my heydays wrote in a letter, “The size of this city I do not write here, because it cannot all be seen from any one spot, but I climbed a hill whence I could see a great part of it. I could not see it all because it lies between several ranges of hills. What I saw from thence seemed to me as large as Rome, and very beautiful to the sight; there are many groves of trees within it, in the gardens of the houses, and many conduits of water which flow into the midst of it, and in places there are lakes and the king has close to his palace a palm-grove and other rich-bearing fruit-trees…and so on.” Does not matter, I still did not like Domingo as he had many skeletons to hide in his cupboard. The books do not tell you that. But I could see everything and remember. 

 So what, if I am aged! But I am still charismatic enough to attract tens of thousands of visitors through the year, especially during the annual festival held in December. Since my discovery in the new world and after my UNESCO heritage branding in 1986, I have been a delight for backpackers and pilgrims alike. The temples, palaces, aquatic structures, markets and many such ancient remains are the ways I have ingrained myself into your mind and pages of history. The wonderful kings of Vijayanagara dynasty were popular for their encouragement to the fine arts and creation of temples. No wonder that you find parts of temples like that of Virupaksha dating back to the 11th century, a time even before the kingdom was established. In fact, I also feature in the tale of Ramayana as Kishkinda – a fact that is recorded in the carvings at the Ramaswami temple.

Sureal Hampi – Photo courtesy Malayala Manorama

As happy as I always try to be, sometimes I too feely lonely. Just like you, human beings crave for lost time, I too get lost in the years that I have left behind. I am someone to whom time has not been always kind. But there are places scattered across me, given up by man which have still stood their ground. Forsaken and abandoned though I feel during a typical hot May summer day, I quench my thirst by clinging on to my past and draw in newcomers to lose themselves in my beauty, mystery and charm. The Vithala Temple Complex images the true story behind the empire’s encouragement for art and music. This splendid structure, though ruined by the later Mughal invaders, has 56 musical pillars, a stone chariot with revolving stone wheels and several monolith pillars. The House of Victory, built after King Krishnadevaraya won the battle at Orissa, is popular for the elegant carvings on plinth mouldings. The Lotus Mahal with the geometrical accuracy to ensure a perfect climate inside the queens’ quarters all year round, elephant stables, Pushkarini, the Mahanavami Dibba and Nobleman’s Palace are just a few of the hundreds of structures that I adorn history with.

Most of the structures lie along the route between Kamalapura and me. One such place is the Dravidian-styled Malyavanta Raghunathaswamy temple that has marine monsters carved on its outer walls. The 6.7-meter tall monolith of Ugra Narasimha depicts King Krishnadevaraya’s love for architectural splendours. In fact, the Bazaar that been photographed and reproduced in zillion features reflects truly my eclectic mixture of the ancient and the modern. In my heydays, you could actually buy diamonds and rubies as big as your fist in this very place. And on and on I can go talking about all my attractions. Lord Rama and his brother had visited me, while looking for Rama’s wife, Sita. It was Vali and Sugriv, the brave monkey kings who helped him to raise his army. I get all misty eyed to think about such memories. The Hazra Rama Temple complex known for its frescoes from the Hindu religion. It has over a thousand carvings and inscriptions depicting the story of Ramayana. Did you also know that Vijayanagara’s main coin mint was located here? The coinage was astonishing with gold, silver and copper coins with pictures of Gods, animals, birds, etc. The ruins of the mint can be seen inside the walled enclosure at the west of the royal enclosure. These are only a few interesting facts about me. There’s much more and beyond about me and my monuments. And you ought to visit me to learn and see.  

Without sounding vain, I am possibly one of the most beautiful places on earth. Even if you are cynical and experienced, you will admit as much. Your camera and words will fail. I am surreal beyond the realms of what you can dream. The fields so green and the sky so azure with stones in burnt amber. I will forgive you if you would come back again dumbstruck and cry aloud… ‘Yes, this is where the trinity played lego with the granite stones. This is where the Apsaras had their Disneyland’. I will encourage you to strike a conversation with the locals to know me well! 

I with all my ruins and monuments am spread over an area of 26 square kilometres, and can easily be reached by road, rail and air through Hospet. You can also come by regular buses plying towards me from all nearby towns and cities. Hospet, which is 13 km away, has a railway station and several road transport facilities that can help you reach me easily.