Nagamalai Fort- A Lesser Known Fort Near Krishnagiri, A Good Weekend Trek From Bengaluru

The Mighty Hill - Nagamalai 

Our search for the twelve forts constituting the “Baramahal” or “the twelve Palaces” this time lead us to Nagamangalam, situated in Krishnagiri. We had spotted a hill fort from Jagadevi fort during our visit to that place but we were unable to explore this fort.  Finally, this year, on a fine Sunday morning we decided to explore this hill. After having a good breakfast at one of the hotels in Krishnagiri and packing enough food to survive during the trek, we headed towards Nagamangalam. Reaching this fort was easy as were aware of the location. Confirming the route again to the hill base with the locals to ensure we were on the right track, we reached the base of the hill fort. The locals helped us find the start point of the trek.

Nagamalai Fort 
Not much of the history of this forts seems to be documented in the English literature. The only reference we were able to find was the “Madras District Gazetteer - Salem”.  It is mentioned in this that Nagamangalam was one among the twelve palaces constituting “the Baramahal”. This information was sufficient for us to explore the fort. The fort seems to have been built during the rule of Channarayapatna Palegar, Sri Jagadevaraya who also built the fort at Jagadevi. Although the fort of Nagamangalam has more resemblance to Thattakaldurgam in terms of its location and architecture, the absence of any temple here signifies that it was built during Sri Jagadevaraya's rule, similar to the Fort of Jagadevi.

The trek initially is through the forest path after which we had to cross a small hillock to reach the base of the main hill. Hereon, the trek turned more adventurous. We had to climb a 70-degree inclined slope and without any proper route nor support while ascending, it was quite a challenge to overcome this stretch until we reached the ramparts of the fort. Here we were welcomed by a small door, probably used for emergency escape during any contingencies. Moving further along the walking path lead us to a point which deviated into two routes, one leading downwards and another leading upwards. We decided to take the downward route first to explore the main portions of the fort.

The Young Trekker

The Wild Trek Route
A nicely laid staircase led us downwards to the main entrance of the fort. Half-way down the staircase, we spotted the living area of the fortress on the other side. However, we wanted to explore the gateway area first and come back to exploring this later. The gateway here is very beautiful with Lord Ganesha sculpted on its lintel. Lord Ganesha seems to be the istha devata of Sri Jagadevaraya, which is quite evident across the forts built during his period. This fort gateway is associated with a building probably one that served as a guard’s room for the soldiers to rest. The top portion of the gateway made of brick and mortar seems like a later addition. After exploring the gateway, we walked along the ramparts to reach the living area of the fort.
The Slope

Enter The Dragon Moment 

The Well Laid Steps

The Gateway 

We headed straight towards the structure that looked like the base of a Mahal/ royal palace/ residence of army chieftain. This beautiful structure is made of locally sourced stones. Besides this structure is a huge granary. Further ahead are 2 structures resembling an armoury, a place to store gun powder and other ammunitions. There is a big rain water harvesting pond which probably was the main source of drinking water. The water here was clean and clear except for the fallen leaves. There is a big bastion overlooking this living place, which served as the vantage point to keep an eye on the enemies. This single tiered hill fort probably served more like a military outpost to Jagadevi fort. The Bastion gave clear view of Jagadevi fort; any attack over there seemed to have alerted the army here. We now halted for some rest and food under a shade.

The Remains of Palace

The Structures inside the Fortress

The Major Water Source
We emptied our packed food in no time since we were dead hungry. After resting for a while, we headed towards exploring the upper part of the fort and started to back track. We came across a beautiful carving of Lord Anjaneya on a stone. As we get down from here, there are remains of the foundation of a structure resembling a mantapa, the foundation or the base platform was seen having some carvings of animals. Now, it was time for us to start our descent.  While descending the 70-degree slope, we were very cautious and carefully got down the slope. Rest of the descent was uneventful.

The View From Big Bastion

Remains of Structure Probably Residence

The Other View of the Residence

Inside the Armoury 

The Ruins of Armoury

The Bastion 

The Mantapa

Kote Anjaneya Swamy
One of the interesting aspects of this place was finding a dolmen on the inclined slope. Although we did not sight or find any rock art or cave paintings apart from the dolmen, this place seemed perfect for prehistoric settlement owing to the presence of numerous caves and rock shelters. The Fort is well preserved naturally due to its location and not many people venturing here. The overall route is easy except for the slopy stretch, but is quite lengthy being about 8 km (to and fro).
Fort Gateway & The Trekker 
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Ramadevara Betta Kote, Fort Ramanagara

The Fort at Ramadevara Betta is a large one with 7 tiers. Much of the fortification still remains intact and one can get a clear picture of the mighty fort that once stood here. The lower fortification extended up till the river Arkavathi and had enclosed the erstwhile town of Ramagiri. However today, the town has disappeared, with a few mango groves and farms taking its place. The lower fortification on the river bank is still intact at a few places. Except for the fortification and temples around, most of the other structures are lost. There are at least 5 water ponds  present at various levels of fortification, apart from the river which has served as a source of drinking water.  

Rama Devara Betta
Old Steps With Fortification

From the entrance to the fort, a tier of fortification with old steps is visible to us. Currently, there are well laid steps leading us to the temple dedicated to Lord Pattabhirama.  There are two routes from the temple site, one towards the lower fortification which takes us through 3 tiers of fortification up till the river and the second takes us to the upper fortification. First time during our visit, we chose the route towards the river. At the 5th gateway near the temple is a beautiful carving of Lord Krishna accompanied by Lords Garuda and Anjaneya. Going further down the steps, we reached the spot of Kote Anjaneya Swamy which is believed to have been installed 700 years ago located close to the 4th gateway. While we offered our prayers to the lord here, we came to know from the priest about the presence of a carving of Lord Rama's feet further down for which we had to cross two more gateways to reach. 

Rama Devara Betta
Locally Known as 'Ramana Gundu'

Rama Devara Betta
Bird's Eye View From Top of Rama Devara Betta

On one of the rocks on our way down is a carving of Lord Ganesha and a little further lies a water pond. After exploring around, we walked further down to reach the spot of the carving of Lord Rama's Feet. We met an elderly person who upon inquiry went on to explain the story about Sri Kempegowda taking refuge near the place of the carving and also getting a dream of building a fort here. He also narrated that Sri Kempegowda found some treasure here from which he was able to build Bengaluru. There is a small temple built recently that houses a carving of Lord Anjaneya along with other sculptures. We were also informed that a walk of about 10 mins from will lead us to the first tier of fortification near the river. As we had other plans, we could not explore that side of the fortification and it was also too late to trek towards the upper fortification. 

Rama Devara Betta
5th Gateway of Ramagiridurgam

Rama Devara Betta
Lord Ganesha Carved On a Rock

During our next visit, we explored the upper fortification wherein the 6th and 7th gateways remain completely destroyed. The route towards the top is easy to climb except for the last stretch. This last stretch is known as the Honna Kumbhi Betta. A a security guard appointed by the forest department always remains stationed at this point to control the crowd movement. This place is so named since it is believed that Sri Kempegowda found a  treasure here, thus the name honna (gold) and the shape of the hill when seen from the Bengaluru side is conical and thus the name kumbhi. Right at the start of this stretch is the famed carving of the Vanara King Sugriva. A set of rock cut steep steps lead us to the top. The top most part of the fort is a big plateau region with one big water pond and ruins of fortification  spread here and there. The views from the top is simply astounding and mesmerizing. We spent some time here after which we got down to have the darshan of Lord Pattabhirama. Anna prasadam was also served at the temple (served on weekends and special days). 

Rama Devara Betta
Climb Up to Honna Kumbi Betta

Rama Devara Betta
Water Pond

 The Fort  is believed to have been built/strengthened by the Nadaprabhu Kempegowda's Family. Later, it was captured by the Mysore Wodeyars, after which it came under the control of Hyder Ali and  finally was captured in 1791 by the British under the captaincy of Welch. The people who lived here slowly moved out and settled in Closepet (erstwhile name of Ramanagara). Buchchanan says that "The place is dreadfully infested by tigers, especially the fort, which occupies a large rocky hill, capable of a very tedious defense, even without any assistance from art". During Buchanan's visit here, this place was inhabited by the Eriligaru/ Iruligas (a local hill tribe). 

Best Place to Visit around Bengaluru
Ramadevara Betta Viewed From Arkavathi River Bank

Sri Kalleshwara Temple, Bethuru, Davanagere

Sri Kalleshwara Swamy Temple, Bethuru, Davanagere
Sri Kalleshwara Swamy Temple, Bethuru
Having read about a beautiful Kalleshwara temple probably built by the Cholas in the district of Davanagere, it was always in the back of our minds to visit this interesting temple. There are quite a few temples in this region and Northern Karnataka built by the Cholas in the post Badami Chalukyan era. Earlier this year, we got a chance to visit Sri Basaveshwara temple at Hallur of Bagalkot district, also built by the Cholas around 8th century. Thus, it was quite intriguing to explore more Chola temples in the heartland of Karnataka, which otherwise is dominated by the Art and Architecture of the Hoysalas and Chalukyas. Bethuru is a small village lost in oblivion, and the was evident as many of my local friends were totally ignorant and uninformed of its location and whereabouts. Though this village popped up on the google map, we were surprised that the locals were unaware of its existence owing to its close proximity to Davanagere.
Places to visit near to Davangere
Sri Kalleshwara Swamy Temple
Places to visit around Davanagere
Chola temple, Davanagere
Front View of the Temple

We reached the village of Bethuru which is located at a distance of about 4 km without much difficulty and found the temple quite easily. However, we were displeased to witness such a beautiful temple in a sheer state of neglect, without any care or maintenance. While we were moving around, a person came by and introduced himself as the caretaker of Sri Kalleshwara temple, though an unofficial one. He visits the temple daily to do the necessary cleaning of the temple and decks up the god here with the flowers he collects. Though there are no daily pujas/rituals being performed here, he tries his best to keep the temple alive by lighting deepas (lamps) everyday. He shares his personal experience about how doctors gave up hope on his survival due to his chronic diabetic condition and that he would survive only for a few days. But ever since he started visiting this temple daily, he has only felt better, without facing any major health issues. He went on to explain that nobody in the village is interested in the upbringing of the temple and its maintenance, and whatever little money was raised to restore the temple was taken off by a few greedy people who ran away from the village and never returned. A lot of snakes happen to visit this temple regularly and embrace the Shiva Linga here, with one such incident having occurred recently during the Dasara festival. He showed us the remains of the shed skin of a snake inside the temple as a proof. He has carefully preserved it and shows it off to visitors with pride.
Snake Skin
Lord Kalleshwara
Murti of Goddess Saraswathi
Goddess Saraswathi

This temple was built either by Rashtrakutas or Nolambas between the 8th and 9th centuries. Later between 11th -13th  century, this temple under went a few additions/renovation under the Kalyana Chalukyas/ Uchangi Pandyas/ Hoysalas. Many hero-stones found here which are now kept near the temple belong to these dynasties. The most pleasing sight here is that of a beautiful carving on the ceiling panel of 'Gajasura Samara/ Gajasurasamhara' (depiction of Lord Shiva slaying the elephant demon Gajasura) in the central portion, surrounded by the Ashtadikapalas. The temple is dedicated to Lord Shiva in the form of a Linga, with murtis of goddesses Saraswathi and Sapthamatrikas and Lord Subramanya kept in the Navaranga of the temple. The Shikara of the temple is a perfect example of early Cholan architecture. This temple definitely needs and deserves more care and maintenance in order to be preserved for future generations.
Lord Gajasurasamhara Murti
Lord Gajasurasamhara Murti
Guardian of Directions - Asthadikpalas
 Lord Ishana and Parvathi Riding on Bull  (the Guardian of the North East Direction)
Veeragallus
Hero-Stones
The Typical Rashtrakuta Shikara
How to reach Bethuru: From Davanagere, take the road to Jagalur and travel for about 4 km to reach Bethuru.
Accommodation: Owing to its close proximity to Davanagere, accommodation is not very difficult, with one having a wide range of options suiting all budgets. Our preferred place for stay here was Hotel Anand Residency, situated besides the KSRTC bus stand.
Places to visit nearby: Anekonda, Harihara, Bagali, Unchangidurga, Unchangipura, Kanakuppa, Bankapura, Haveri, Ranebennur and many such.

References:
1. Puratattva

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1. Top 100 Lesser Known Temples of Karnataka
2. Chola Temples of Vagata
3. Chola Temples of Binnamangala

Shree Ramagiri Kshetra, Ramadevara Betta, Ramanagara

Having visited here a few years back, we wished to re-visit this time around with our two young travel partners Adhi and Diya, hoping it would not be too crowded owing to the current COVID situation. But surprisingly, this place was crowded as usual portraying one of the normal days. We were now in two minds whether to continue as per our plan or change the location since the parking itself seemed over crowded. As the kids were all excited to explore this place after seeing the pictures of vulture on the sign boards along the way,  they wished to spot one and hence we moved ahead as per plan! They were all the more excited thinking they would get to spot  'Jatayu and Sampati', the vulture siblings born to Lord Garuda (King of Birds) and his consort Unnati.

Egyptian Vulture Couple
Egyptian Vulture Couple

'Ramanagara' is one of the few vulture sanctuaries across India and Asia. We are fortunate enough to have visited the other two vulture sanctuaries across India - Orchha (Madhya Pradesh) and Anjaneri (Maharashtra). Out of the 9 species of vultures found in India, Ramanagara district is home to 3 of them, namely the Long billed vulture, the Egyptian vulture and the White backed Vulture. Although we have spotted Egyptian vultures during our journeys across Ramanagara district over the last few years,  we always wished we could spot one on the Ramadevara Betta. This time, we were in for a surprise! We spotted a  Long billed Vulture and this made our kids very happy. 

Egyptian Vulture Parched on a Hill, Ramanagar

Long Billed Vulture Couple, Ramadevara Betta
Long Billed Vulture
Ramadevara Betta with its  many neighboring hills is closely  related to Lord Rama. There are many stories of Lord Rama associated with Ramadevara Betta, as the name itself suggests. Lord Rama during his 14 years of exile is believed to have stayed and spent some time here. In all likelihood, Lord Rama would have stayed here while proceeding to Lanka to kill Asuraraja Ravana and free Sita Matha. Although most of the stories narrated by the priests here suggest otherwise, that Lord Rama stayed here accompanied by Sita Matha and Lord Lakshmana. This is debatable since the widely accepted place of Sita-haran (kidnapping) is Panchavati which is located in Nashik on the banks of  the river Godavari and Hanuman-milan (Rama meeting Hanuman) is Kishkinda, the environs of Hampi and the capital of Vanara Raja Sugriva, both of them situated towards the north of Ramanagara. Lord Rama's journey during his exile was mostly southward and having spent most of the time during exile in "Dandakaranya", which is believed to be somewhere around Chitrakoot in Chhattisgarh (Central India), it is unlikely that Lord Rama visited this place along with Sita Matha. 

Lord Rama's Journey during Exile
Lord Rama's Journey During Exile

Undoubtedly, there is enough proof to believe that Lord Rama stayed in Ramadevara Betta. However, the time of his stay could be post Hanuman-milan, during the Lord's journey towards Lanka with Vanara Sainya (army of vanaras). One of the most interesting stories associated with this place is Lord Rama's killing of Kakasura (the crow demon, who is also the son of Lord Indra) with an arrow made of a blade of grass (dharbhe hullu), when it was troubling Sita Matha. Finally, Kakasura seeked refuge and pleaded for forgiveness from Lord Rama when the other gods declined any help. As Lord Rama relieved him from being a crow which was the demon's cursed form, it is said that no crows have ever been sighted in and around this place. This story finds its mention in the Ramayana, when Lord Hanuman meets Sita Matha for the first time in Ashoka Vatika of Lanka. It is when Lord Hanuman requests Sita Matha for giving a proof of meeting her so he can show the same to Lord Rama, that Sita Matha narrates this story to him which only Lord Rama was aware of. Along with the narration of this story, she also handed him her bridal jewellery Chudamani as proof. The episode of Kakasura is believed to have taken place somewhere around Dandakaranya (near Chitrakoot ) on a river bank. Therefore, the occurrence of this incident  in Ramadevara Betta is clearly debatable

Bird's Eye View of Dhanushkodi and Sri Rameshwara Temple
Sugreeva's Carving, Ramadevara Betta
Vanara Raja Sugriva's Carving on one of Rock
The other story linked with this place is about the Vanara Raja Sugriva after the coronation of Lord Rama. King Sugriva wished to possess a murti of Lord Rama in the form of a king so he could worship the Lord back home at Kishkinda. He therefore got a murti of Lord Pattabhirama carved and got it blessed by the Lord himself. While returning on his way back to Kishkinda, he heard an 'Akashavani' (a voice from the sky), asking him to stop there and kill the demon Handigundi or Sukhasura, who was troubling the maharishis in meditation (tapas) at Ramadevarabetta. Therefore, King Sugriva placed the murti there, fought the demon Sukhasura fiercely and killed him. The demon after his death is believed to have turned into a hill, which is locally known as Handigundi. Handigundi is located about 4 km from the Ramadevara Betta. A few years back we had the opportunity of trekking this hill too. Post the killing of Sukhasura, Sugriva came back to the place where he had kept the murti of Lord Rama but was unable to move it. While doing so, he heard another Akashavani which ordered him to leave the murti there since the Lord wished to remain there only. Thus Sugriva installed the murti and returned to Kishkinda. An interesting fact related to this story is the rare finding of the carving of Lord Sugriva on this hill. Later, Sri Kempegowda renovated this temple sometime during the 16th century and much of the current structure of the temple is attributed to him. In the 1990's, the temple underwent another renovation. The murti of Lord Pattabhirama here is very divine, where the Lord is seen seated on his throne with Sita Matha on his lap accompanied by his brother Lord Lakshmana and his ardent devotee Lord Anjaneya.

Sri Pattabhirama Swamy Temple, Ramadevara Betta
Sri Pattabhirama Swamy Temple

Lord Pattabhirama Murti, Rama Devara Betta
Lord Pattabhirama Murti
Lord Rama during his visit to this place installed a Linga known as Sri Rameshwara to offer daily worship to Lord Shiva. This temple too was renovated during Sri Kempegowda's rule in the sixteen century. The Rama tirtha/ Dhanushkodi / Nydile tirtha is a beautiful ದೊಣೆ (spring water pond) between the two temples. This tirtha/ doNe/ honda is believed to be the creation of Lord Rama when he shot an arrow there in order to get drinking water. The depth of this tirtha however is not known. An elderly person we met here shared many interesting stories about this tirtha (will be shared in a separate post). In 2014, when we visited here in April, this tirtha was full with clear water. The water from this tirtha is used for the Lord's abhishekam (bathing of the deity) and in the preparation of Naivaidya (offering of food to god). The water is also believed to have many medicinal properties having the powers to heal many incurable diseases. 
Sri Rameshwara temple, Shiva linga Installed by Lord Rama
Sri Rameshwara Temple

Nydile Tirtha

Wherever there is a kote/fort, there is our Lord Anjaneya! There are 5 murtis of Lord Anjaneya in total on the Ramadevara Betta. However, none of them here is seen carved with either his 'gada' (mace) or him carrying  'Dronagiri' parvatha (hill). All the carvings depict the Lord in 'Abhaya Hastha' (blessing hand) posture. As per the archakaru, this posture also means the Lord declaring that he is here to protect his devotees. The carvings are believed to be a swayambhu or self manifested. Except for the one at the entrance of the Ramadevara hill, the rest of the murtis are depicted with sowgandhika puspha (flower) in one hand, similar to the ones across this region especially in places associated with the Kempegowda and family. We happened to visit 4 of the 5 murtis here during our visit. 

Kote Anjaneya Swamy, Ramadevara Betta
Kote Anjaneya Swamy

To be continued....