Thursday, December 31, 2009

Baise, Araga Gate and a dog named Gunda!

A motley crew at Baise!

I'm back from another field trip. The ending of the field trip, otherwise fulfilling, was on a tragic note - I came to know that S. A. Hussain - my close friend and mentor, had passed away in the early hours of December 31, 2009. I will post a separate entry on Hussain Sa'ab after this.

This trip was to photograph the winter solstice sunset at Baise - after last winter's spectacular pictures at Nilaskal, I wanted to repeat the feat at Baise. These sites contain 'menhirs' - free standing single stones, that were thus far assumed to be erected in no particular pattern. Early on, I had a hunch that they were arranged in a particular pattern and after a survey of the site at Baise (there are fewer stones there and so, easier to survey!) and the photograph of winter solstice sunset at Nilaskal, I wanted to furnish photographic proof of the alignments I had predicted at Baise.

I went with some goodies for my team of young surveyors at Baise - Santosh, Nagesh, Subrahmanya and Sudhakara - the kids who had helped me last year as well as provided a wonderful environment with their constant enthusiastic chatter. They were thrilled to see me and I was pleasantly surprised to see that even Gunda - their ferocious dog, gave me a warm welcome. In fact, when I sat down to take off my shoes, Gunda ran up to me and licked my face! The kids also took me to Bhootada Gadde - one of their 'secret places' near a stream and a waterfall. It was lovely - the place, the camaraderie and the company of the little ones.

Gunda is made to pose for a pic!

My young friends at the stream

The sad part was that the sunset was clouded out - the best I could get was a shot of the sun several degrees above the horizon near the alignment that I was planning to shoot - between the largest menhir under a tree that the locals worship as bhootaraya and the prominent stone no. 1 in my survey. I spent some time teaching the little ones to take readings on my prismatic compass.

The sun sets behind Bhootaraya

Little Nagesha tries his hand at surveying!

I spent the night at a lodge at Hosanagara and woke up at 4am to catch sunrise at Nilaskal. More disppointment was in store for me - it was misty and cloudy and there was no hint of the sun's presence anywhere in the sky even by 9am. I consoled myself by taking a few bearings of some of the alleged sight-lines and then headed back.

Sharpie - one of the menhirs of Nilaskal against the cloudy sky

On the way back, I remembered that on one of the crazy wanderings with Kailash, we had met an old man (Dharmanna of Hosuru, near Agumbe) who talked about what could only be menhirs at a place called Araga Gate. Since my route was through Araga, I decided to enquire around - but nobody there knew anything about "old stones". By that time I had got word about S. A. Hussain's passing away and I was feeling very upset. So when I saw a promising stone in a plantation off the highway, I didn't stop the car. But when I spied a flash of black granite deeper in the plantation, I got excited. Afer all, Hussain Sa'ab would've wanted me to finsih whatever I'd started. Upon inspection, there were 8 stones inside the plantation in a similar pattern to Baise and Nilaskal.

The largest menhir of the site at Araga Gate

One of the menhirs of the Araga Gate site, showing clear N_S orientation

This region is richer in prehistoric remains than anyone had ever suspected. There is plenty more to seek, plenty more to explore. Already, plans for the next trip are taking shape - Dharmanna had talked about what could only be prehistoric rock art at Hosuru...

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