As we sat on the masonry seats in the compound of Taylor Monzzil, watching the night lights of Surpur (Shorapur) far below, sipping rum and coke, we slowly felt the exhaustion of a hard day's travel and work slipping away. And with it, some of the frustration of what had turned out to be a very exasperating day...
We were on a whirlwind trip of several sites, starting with a trip to Mirjan Fort. The fort, which is close to Bhatkal, is under the protection of ASI (Archaeological Survey of India). Kailash was asked by the Superintending Archaeologist of ASI, Dharwad Circle to have a look at it and suggest conservation strategies for the fort. We had formed a team of 2 engineers (Raghuprem M. and Ramaswamy R. N.) and 2 architects (Kailash and myself) to visit the site and assess it.
The fort is an impressive laterite structure, very massive, and has been subjected to the ravages of time and neglect. Parts of it are being restored (though without a sound strategy, I should say) and Kailash has excitedly formed plans to restore the rest of it more scientifically and conscientiously. We spent most of the day going around the fort assessing damage and forming strategies to take up the work in a phased manner.
From Mirjan, Kailash and I moved on to Sirsi, while the others returned to Manipal. We stayed the night at Sirsi and visited Banvasi the next day. We spent the day at the Madukeshwara temple there and just moving about in the laid-back, sleepy little town and longing on the banks of the Varada river. We also examined the remains of the 30m wide brick and laterite fort walls that once encompassed the town. We also spent some time at the excavated site Gundnapur in the premises of the Veerabhadra temple.
From Sirsi, we moved to Gulbarga via Hubli. There we had the experience of the most frustrating kind ever. We were to inspect the recently excavated Adholoka Maha Chaitya - a Buddhist Stupa believed to have been built during 3rd century BC to 3rd century AD, at a place called Sanniti. The day started on a disatrous note. The ASI guy (name withheld!) who was to get us there was of the less competent variety, and callous and ignorant to boot. He could not even guide us properly to his own office. Then, after we had somehow reached the place, he made us wait a long period (while he had "tiffin" among other things...) , only to inform us grandly that since no vehicles were available because a jatra was going on, our trip could not happen. We departed in as best civil way we could and found a taxi after a long hunt.
The taxi driver was another poor communicator and between his unenthusiastic approach and the ASI goon's active misguidance, we found ourselves at Sanniti (actually Kanaganahalli) only by 8pm! It was the most frustrating experience going around in the ASI-goon-defined circles while the last of the daylight ebbed teasingly away. However, the guards appointed at the site, with their enthusiastic help more than made up for the by now lost reputation of the ASI with us!
By torch light we saw the very impressive remains of what must have been a most magnificent stupa in its time. The limestone panels depicting the Jataka tales, the life of Siddhartha and his transformation into the Buddha and even one of the Emperor Ashoka with his (female!) bodyguards are exquisite, though cracked and broken.
A panel showing Emperor Ashoka with his bodyguards at Sanniti
From Sanniti, we proceeded to the historic town of Surpur, where a historian friend of ours - Mr. Bhaskar Rao, arranged for us to stay at Taylor Monzzil. The location of the house of this famous British officer and novelist could not have been better. It is at the top of a hill overlooking the town. The large and well planned house built in the colonial style is now a PWD guest house. As we sat for a long while outside the house watching the lights of Surpur, all the tribulations of that frustrating day melted away.
Next morning was lovely, as we saw the sun rise over Surpur from Kudremukha - the lookout point at the top of the hill near the house. As we got ready for the next task on the trip, I silently thanked the man who built this lovely house while he was helping the young Raja of Surpur administer his domain and also reported many of the megaliths in this area for the first time.
We took a jeep to the village of Rajan Koluru, near Kodekal. After a brief search, we found what we were looking for - 50-odd dolmens on a flat piece of land near the canal that was built recently. We woked without lunch, surveying each of the 42 dolmens that are reasonably intact. we found that all of them were N-S oriented, a first in our studies. We found 4 more dolmens to the east of the main site, including one in which the port-hole was intact, lending credence to my hunch that these are basically S-facing dolmens.
After working till nearly 4pm, we hit the road again, making a beeline for the nearest watering hole, where we refreshed. A beautiful little place on the highway, marred only by the sight of little boys working as waiters. Our waiter, a boy called Sunil, said that he does not go to school. When we asked for snacks to go with our beer, he recommended "badang" fry. Disdainfully, he explained to us nitwits that, no, it is not mutton fry, but badang! It turned out to be a sort of fried bhel puri with lots and lots of gun powder in it!
Refreshed by several beers and badangs, we set off for Lingsugur, from where we began the return journey to Manipal, thus ending one more remarkable trip. I know that one needs to return... Lingsugur, Gajendragad, Maski... Several megalithic sites remain in this nucleus of megalithic culture. Dr. Sundara would know...