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Mysteries Hidden in the Sand: the Talkad
When people think about India, they think about the Taj Mahal, the
palaces of Rajasthan and its numerous temples. But everybody misses the diamond in the dust. Hidden in the sands is one India's most mysterious cities of the past. Talkad is a little more than a village today; at the most a small town. After I visited Talkad I realized that India's culture was truly embedded in the little places full of history and surrounded by a vast collection of the inexplicable and much more.
Talkad is located in Karnataka, Southern India. It is about 185km away from Bangalore which is the state's capital and is the modern software-outsourcing center. I journeyed to Talkad about one and a half years ago with my family. My mom, my brother, and I stayed the night at my aunt's house in India. We woke up very early as the trip takes about four hours and we wanted to get plenty of time to explore. I could not wait to embark on this journey. It was my first trip outside of big cities and I thought it would most interesting to see Indian villages for the first time. We set of at about 5:45 a.m. Once we left Bangalore and the highway, the roads there were bumpy and very uncomfortable. We drove in the hot sun for two hours. I looked out the window and saw an old and not very large temple dedicated to the snake god Naga. Everyone got of and we paid our respects to the deity. The temple was old and withered but the interior was amazing. There was an enormous statue of the snake god carved out of black rock. It was about twenty feet high! The head was painted with blue, green, and red. This humungous statue was suspended between four pillars. I had seen many temples before but this one was the oldest I had seen so far and definitely the most gigantic statue I have seen.
I climbed back into the van followed by everyone else. I sat in the back of the van with my friend. We were both vibrating from the bumpy road. I felt like every bone in my body rattled and I was pretty sure they would be misplaced soon. Sitting at the back of the van did not help. I wondered if the old van had any suspensions at all. The road was really hard, yellow dirt going on for miles and miles. My mother said to sit back and enjoy real India. We passed through many villages with fields of sugarcane. Newly planted crops as far as eye could see. The monsoons were good that year and everything was lush green on both sides of the dirt road. On the way we passed the largest banyan tree in the world! Just when I thought we would never get there I heard my brother hollering 'WE'RE HERE!!'
I looked out of the window enthusiastically. Out side was a nice beach and water. It was most inviting. I dragged my achy bones out of the bus and I ran into the water which was calling to me. We had a ton of fun swimming in the water. My mother told me that it was the river Kaveri the most important river in Karnataka. The water was nice and warm and just the right relief after that bumpy ride. We then went for a boat ride in the river. Now don't go imagining a nice boat like you would see on Charles river or on the ocean off the Long wharf. It was nothing but a huge basket the outside of which was wrapped with plastic sheets to make it waterproof. My mom told me it was called a coracle by the British who ruled over India till 1947. Each coracle held about eight people and the boatman who steered with a long pole. My brother was terrified but everybody assured us that it was safe. It was crazy fun. There were times when the boatman spun us around in circles and we thought we would tip over any minute. But we managed to make it to shore safely after about 30 minutes; the only upset being a short burst of a monsoon storm. Drenched to the skin we all got off grinning and my brother saying he wanted to go for a ride again.
We had an excellent picnic lunch and then decided to go and explore historic Talkad. We walked across the beach and then trudged on for what seemed like ever in the now burning hot sun. It was actually only about thirty minutes which dried us completely. Then I saw something I will never forget.
About maybe one mile or a mile and a half from the banks of the river Kaveri laythese massive sand dunes. Each one was about 50 feet high or even more. Tall trees covered these dunes. It was not as if we were wandering around in a desert where sand dunes are natural in the vistas. I slid down the one we were standing on. When I reached the bottom I saw an old temple. It was intact but most of the bottom of the temple was barely visible. The temple was in a vale like thing completely surrounded by sand hills. We were able to get into the temple through a small path gorged through the sand. With our flash light we saw some of the oldest statues all made of dark stone. I asked my mom why there was a temple in such an isolated place. She then said it was not always an isolated place. It was the capital of the Ganga dynasty ruling over that part of the state in the 11th and 12th centuries A.D. There were many other dynasties like the Cholas and Hoysalas who ruled after them. We did not need a guide as my mother is a history graduate and had in fact studied this quite extensively. My mother explained that like all other ancient towns Talkkad was also a temple city. We walked out of this dune as it were and walked a little way to see more and more dunes. All of us kids had great fun rolling down the dunes.
The fiery sun did not bother us all that much as we found it exciting to discover new temples in the middle of each dune. Five such temples had been excavated and the sixth one was in the process of being excavated. Each of the temples was unique in shape, size and carvings. My mother told me that the whole ancient town was quite large in areaand only 10% of it had been excavated so far. When I was walking over these dunes it struck me that I was tramping over an entire town, an entire life style from 100s of years ago. 'So mom, how come the whole town is covered by such huge quantities of sand?' I said.
'Now that is a great story,' said my mom. Then she wove a tale of curses and
tragedy. As she related the story I saw in my mind a young woman fleeing on horseback. An angry and worried look was displayed on her face. Then she screams with menace in her voice, ' I curse this land and let it be buried in sand and may the next ruling family have no children to inherit the throne.' The person saying this was the queen Alamelamma. There had been a battle for Talkad in the 16th century. In the war the Queen's husband had died an honorable death in battle. The next king who belonged to the Wodeyar dynasty unfortunately wanted the queen to be his wife. So she fled and gave the a land a curse as a price for what they had unjustly done to her. I was left mind blown at the story. I just could not believe it. A whole city submerged in sand because of a curse. It also could have been something as mundane as the change in the flow of the river and the sand was a part of the old river bed. But I like to think of it as the curse's power instead. We got back on the bus soon after sun set. My head lolled onto my chest and I dreamt of the meandering Kaveri, the queen fleeing on horseback and huge sand dunes pouring over the once important temple city. I will never forget my trip to Talkad.
If you happen to be in Bangalore and you want a quick one day trip then Talkad is definitely a diamond in the dust or in this case a jewel in the sands.