A curious tourist to India needs to do adequate research before starting out. This is not to set expectations but more importantly to know what to expect. It is to set the context so that he can look in the right direction for things that matter. He can understand what he sees and interpret it as proper. Unlike travelling in advanced countries, India is not yet tourist friendly.
When I arrived at Talakad, I knew little about it except that it had some temples which have become places of pilgrimage. I knew nothing of its history. No one in Talakad will tell it to you the way it is. Legends mar the truth of history. You have to hire a guide but they are not easy to find since Talakad is away from the beaten path of tourists. You won’t find free pamplets, maps or information boards.
The first surprise for me was the presence of sand. Lots of it. On my way to the temples I had seen confiscated boats in front of Talakad Police Station. The river Cauvery flows by this town but I did not expect large dunes of sand spread across a wide area. Only later, after some online research, I found out that the river changed its course sharply, perhaps due to geological events in this area. Combined with a strong wind, sand dunes have been formed.
The more astonishing fact is that due to this accumulation of sand, ancient temples from the time of the Western Gangas (4th – 10th centuries) were buried 10-15 feet below the level of the dunes. Today five key temples dedicated to Lord Shiva are uncovered. Among them, the Vaidyeshwara temple is the biggest with good sculptures. More recently, the Kirthinarayana temple dedicated to Lord Vishnu has been uncovered. They say many more temples are buried under the sand.
From the paths of the surrounding dunes planted with eucalyptus trees to reduce further sand movement, one can get an excellent view of the Kirthinarayana temple. It is as if one has suddenly stumbled by chance on this set of temples, long lost to our immediate ancestors but today seeing the light of day once more. One can feel the touch of history in an instant. History comes poignant with its preserve of ancient culture, art and architecture.
Talakad is more than just a special place of sand and ancient history. I walked to the temples passing the village en route. I took note of the village architecture. The roofs are tiled in different ways. Many houses have a verandah or an open porch where the roof is held by smooth wooden pillars with scroll capitals. Doors are as old as any you will find. Some doors are a series of hinged wooden planks bolted together by a long iron rod. Such architecture used to be common once in cities but today we will find them only in villages. It is in Indian villages that we find our cultural heritage, still alive and thriving. We don’t need to fall back on museums, ancient records or books.
The day’s scene that remains with me is a simple one as I waited at Somnathpur for my bus to Talakad – three carts loaded with hay, each driven by a pair of bullocks approaching along the narrow country road. Their riders sat on the stacks of hay, occasionally whipping and commanding the cattle to maintain pace. They stopped near the junction where I sat and ordered slices of watermelon. A little banter followed but the vendor would not give it for less than two rupees a piece. Once they had quenched their thirst, the thick skins were fed to the cattle. The party moved on. I searched for my bus beyond the moving haystacks.
Talakad is a little difficult to get to. From Somnathpur I took a bus to T. Narsipur where I caught a KSRTC bus to Talakad. For the return, I had to wait for a 90 minutes. I took a bus to Malavalli where I boarded another bus back to Bangalore via Kanakapura.
At the circle where buses stop, there are many shops. I bought some biscuits, bananas and water. There was no clean restaurant where I could eat with confidence.