Melkote is a small temple town, just over 150 km – two hours drive – from Bangalore. It is home to a couple of Narasimha temples, a large Iyengar community and lip-smacking puliyogare (tamarind rice, for you unenlightened souls, but calling it that really takes away from the drop-dead spicy yumminess of it).
We’d heard that the temple closes by 1 and planned to get there early in the day. Weekend mornings being what they are and Bangalore traffic being what it is, not to mention having to stop for thatte idli at Bidadi on the way, it is well past noon when we reach Melkote. The temple, it turns out, is open till 2.30 p.m. or even later.
And then a quick walk around town, a puliyogare pit-stop and some photographs later, we head towards the Narasimha temple on top of the hill. There are no large restaurants in the town (or I am told, places to stay), but there are several eateries known as “mess” which offer delicious local food. The steps to the temple begin from near the water tank, known locally as the kalyani.
The banks of the kalyani are abuzz with activity; bangle-sellers and coconut-vendors, pilgrims and locals, women carrying their clothes for washing at the tank, young children running up to the camera with a smile and a pose.
The friends we are with huff and puff their way up the 300 odd steps; V and I sit on the steps and watch people. There is a cool breeze and a great view from where we are sitting. The old man near where we sit clangs on his metal plate every so often to attract the attention of passersby; he is offended when a group of women ignore him and give alms to the women sitting next to him. The kid with the little shruti box is busy playing; his mother chides him from across the steps and he absent-mindedly chants govinda, govinda even as he is eying the frisky goat, his playing companion.
Fathers are carrying their small children on their shoulders, the mark of Vishnu bright and shiny on both foreheads; the mothers can barely carry themselves up the steep steps. There is a doli lying neglected on one corner, meant for people who are too old or infirm to walk up. Nobody is using it though – it is as if being carried up equals a serious loss of brownie points in the eyes of the god siting in the temple on top of the hill.
Our friends join us and we head to the kalyani for some much-needed rest (heh!). That is when we meet Arun; Puneet Rajkumar devotee, body building ustaad, aspiring superstar, eager model – all of 12 years. He poses, and poses, and poses – alone, with friends, smiling, frowning, jumping. His friends squirm with the awkwardness of that age; Arun takes of his shirt, flexes his (non-existent) biceps and says, take a photo of my body. After each shot, he looks into the LCD and proudly says, HERO.
It is time to leave then and we head back into town, to the place of the original puliyogare halt. More puliyogare is consumed, as is curd rice and sakkare pongal. The lady at the cart tells her friends in the neighboring stall, these girls came in the morning, they liked my food so much, they have come again with their friends. Indeed, aunty.
The drive on the Mysore road, the several pit-stops for fuel (of the food variety) and the friendly folks of Melkote – definitely worth another visit soon.