Its one of the getaways one never tires of. Whenever the extended family gets together for a mini holiday in the hometown, there's usually a daylong trip rustled up at short notice. Someplace within the 50km. range. If its not peak summer, the choice is usually Kere Thonnur ( or Thondanoor Eri), a huge Fresh Water reservoir in Mandya District, about 45 Kms. from Mysore. The water in this lake is crystal clear and has given rise to a legend that a string of pearls worn by a visiting Sultan, accidently fell into the lake, but could be seen clearly , lying deep at the bottom ! Whereupon, it is believed, the Sultan named the place "Moti Talab". The unique feature of the lake is that it has never dried up fully even once , from the time it was built in the 12th Century.
The outflow from the reservoir is fashioned into an artificial waterfall, a sandy patch (beautified with a gazebo) serves as a Beach for picknicing and rides are offered in boats and country rafts (called Theppas) . But, the place is not crowded with tourists. So it is always a pleasant outing.
Thondanur is a place of great religious significance to Vaishnavas and has three important shrines of antiquity dedicated to Lord Vishnu in different modes. Historically, this is the place where King Bhitti Deva renounced Jainism to embrace the Vaishnava creed and become Vishnuvardhana, after the seer Ramanujacharya cured his daughter of an incurable malaise. The impressive, granite temples of Nambi Narayana and Parthasarathy , with huge idols presiding in the sanctum, are under the care of Archeological Survey of India. Photography is prohibited within the temples and the surrounding fences and lawns are reasonably well maintained . But we have often seen wedding parties making merry with feasts inside the spacious courtyard, showing scant respect for the carvings and inscriptions on the walls around!
A 30minute drive away from Thondanur is Melkote or Thirunarayanapuram, a pilgrimage centre that attracts great crowds during the famous Vairamudi ( Diamond Crown) Festival. The stone and stucco temple is located atop a rocky hill known as Yadavagiri, overlooking the Kaveri river valley, and is said to be older than 1000 years. The processional image , named Selvapillai or Sampath Kumara or Ramapriya, is believed to have been involved in many adventurous escapades - from being in the possession of Sri Rama's son Kusha, to becoming a toy to a Muslim Princess ( enshrined here as Bibi Nacchiyar) !
Another temple, dedicated to Yoga- Narasimha, is situated atop a summit and can be reached via a fleet of ancient stone steps, climbing which can be an exhilarating experience because of the beautiful vistas that open up at every stage. And also because of the squirrels, monkeys and birds that give company .
Other than the temples, the most arresting structure here is the Kalyani or temple pond . The many- pillared corridors running along its length and the stepped banks are very picturesque and have, inevitably, starred in many South Indian movies. Enchanting views of this Kalyani can also be had from Narasimha's hill.
A little way away from the main temple are two little ponds called Akka Thangi kola . Votary tanks for public use commissioned by two sisters, with a folk lore attached to them. Beyond these two tanks, on a higher plateau stands a structure that looks like the remnant of a fort. Huge walls with tall pillars supporting nothing ! This is the famous Raya Dwara , the impressive gateway to the fabled fortress city built here by Thimmanna Dhannayaka , a Vijayanagar Chieftain, in 1460 .
Among academicians, Melkote is known for its Sanskrit research Academy stocked with close to 30,000 valuable manuscripts (on paper and palm leaf) in Sanskrit, Kannada, Telugu, Tamil , dealing with a wide range of subjects. One of the earliest Sanskrit Colleges was established here in 1854. Visitors are allowed to look through these ancient bibliographic treasures, at certain fixed timings.
Melkote is surrounded by swathes of jungle land which sheltered a great variety of fauna and flora till urbanisation crept in, felling more and more woods year by year. The Indian Gray Wolf ( canis lupus pallipes ) is a major carnivore of the Karnataka plains. While in the whole of India there are less than 2500 of them, Karnataka is home to around 500. The population was drastically diminished because the Black Buck, its natural prey, dwindled in numbers at an alarming rate, thanks to loss of wood land. But the real slide started with the erstwhile British rulers classifying wolves as "vermin" and sanctioning indiscriminate slaughter. According to one estimate, 200,000 wolves were exterminated in a span of 50 years . This mindset carried into modern times too, with villagers getting rid of whole families of these animals in order to protect their sheep and children ( there is a superstition that wolves kidnap babies !)
It was with a view to conserve this native animal that in 1974, a 50sq.km. sanctuary was developed in Melkote . The Melkote Wolf Sanctuary is in two parts( the smaller Mudibetta and the larger Narayanadurga sections) and is composed of rocky, dry , scrublands . Besides the wolf, it shelters deer, wild boar, macaques , leopard , pangolin and varieties of birds. Only deer and peacocks are easy to spot. We have never seen a leopard or a wolf pack here !
Not very far from here is Kunthi Betta, the rocky hill earlier known as French Rocks ( or Dandu in kannada)because it had been the camping ground of the French Army corps that arrived to help Tipu Sultan in his battle against the British. Today, Kunthi Betta is favoured by rock climbers , rapellers, hiking enthusiasts and bird watchers. Also by the pious ,who climb up a steep stairway to worship at the antique Mallikarjuna temple .
Daybreak at Kere Thonnur , sunset at Kunthi Betta with Melkote in between can indeed be a sumptuous , refreshing " Short Break" !