Lepakshi is a historical place situated in Ananthpur district of Andhra Pradesh,India. From Bangalore it's around 3 hours journey and about 130 km far. Most of our drive was on NH 44 (Srinagar-Kanyakumari Highway). I must say the road was in excellent condition so the drive was really cool. If you hire a cab and go without any halt, hopefully you may reach in 2 hrs 30 minutes. As this place is very near to the state borders most of your drive will be inside Karnataka.
From Bangalore (Balagere road, Varthur, where we stay) we started on a Sunday morning at 5.10 am with a full tank of diesel. The reason why we started early is to escape from the usual Bangalore traffic and to reach as early as possible. When you have kids it is the best time to kick-start as once it gets sunny, kids tend to become tired and throw tantrums. :) I want to add one more thing, this is a place where you can travel with aged people as well as kids. I am sure they are going to love this ancient spot.
Many times the road was quite foggy and it was indeed a pleasure to see all those vineyards and fields throughout the journey. Nandi hills is on the way so you may plan accordingly in case you want to cover both; the bliss of Nandi hills sunrise/sunset and the tranquillity of Lepakshi!
We could see very few good restaurants/cafés on NH 44, may be two or three. Even in Lepakshi there is only one average hotel which is near to the Nandi temple(APTDC Haritha vegetarian Hotel- stay is also available here. Online booking can be done). Toilets are hygienic.
The route goes like this:
Whitefield -> Kadugodi -> Huskur -> Devanahalli (take right turn from the junction) -> drive straight through NH 44(Srinagar-Kanyakumari Highway) -> Chikkaballapur -> Bageppalli Toll Plaza(90 Rs) -> After the toll you will see Karnataka check post and soon you will be in Andhra Pradesh -> in another 20 minutes near Kodikonda, you will be directed to take a left from NH 44 to Lepakshi road. The gateway arch is big enough to notice. Once you are on Lepakshi road, after a while the road splits in to two. Take the Chilamathur road itself which is a newly constructed road(just continue on the same road) -> Dhemakethepalli -> Lepakshi Nandi temple.
If you travel by train, get down at Hindupur railway station and its is just 13km far from the spot.
We reached Nandi temple at 8.30 am. It's a small village where there are few shops and a vegetable market on Sundays. At the APTDC Haritha Hotel near Nandi, we parked our car and had our breakfast. Do try their Masala dosa which was really yum. The other dishes were average. As it was early in the morning Nandi, the bull, the most beloved disciple of Lord Shiva seemed to be lonely. There was no rush and we could enjoy India's second largest monolithic sculpture without any disturbance(first place goes to Gomatheshwara in Shravanabelagola). The sculpture is made out of a single granite stone. It is 20 feet in height and 30 feet in length. One more speciality is, usually all the Nandi sculptures look happy but this one is an angry bull. Look at his ears, you will see the signs of anger!
Next to Nandi there is a beautiful lotus pond. There are benches made out of stones to sit and rest. The place is fenced and well maintained. A few people were having their home-made breakfast under the shades.
Opposite to Nandi, we saw the Jatayu(Garuda) sculpture on a huge rock. There are steps to go up. It is believed that while Ravana abducted Sita and rested here, Jatayu came to rescue her. But during the battle he lost his wings and fell on this rock. Later Rama arrived on this spot and blessed the bird saying, "Le Pakshi" which means "Rise bird".
We thought of visiting the Lord Veerabhadra temple next. The hotel guy told it is 200m from there, walkable distance. On the left side we could see the arch of the temple. Once we got in to the temple street, both the sides were filled with small shops where you can buy coconuts for Lord Veerabhadra and other fancy items. Each coconut costs 20/25 Rs. Once you climb the steps you can find the place to keep your shoes/chappals. No entrance fee. There are monkeys all the way around the temple, so mind your eatables if you have any.
Now, let's quickly go through the history. This temple is a beautiful example of Vijayanagara architecture of 16th century. It is built by the brothers Viranna and Virupanna, the artisans of Vijayanagara empire during 1336-1646. Lepakshi temple is situated on a tortoise shaped rocky hill which is known as 'Kumarashaila'. 'Le Pakshi' means “Rise bird” said by Rama to Jatayu. On the main entrance pillar you can see a beautiful carving of a three-headed bull with single body. Also next to the flag post on top, you can find a small opening in square shape. At times the Sun's rays passing through this hole create a ravishing sight. Luckily we got a click of the same! Perfect timing!
The magnificent verandahs enhance the beauty of the courtyards with numerous pillars.
Once you enter the main shrine, you can find the mysterious hanging pillar which is another attraction. This pillar doesn't rest on the ground hence known as hanging pillar! We had brought a thin duppatta to try out the same. It was exciting to see the duppatta sliding under one side of the pillar to the other side with ease. You can also try the same with a thin paper. Let me tell you an interesting story about this pillar. Once a British engineer tried to correct this pillar and what happened next was unbelievable! The whole temple alignment started shaking and soon he realized that any changes made to this pillar will result in the destruction of the temple. He was shell-shocked by this incident and ran away from there. This clearly depicts the unimaginable talents of Vijayanagara architects.
There is also a Natyamandapa(also known as Raga Mandapa) which consists of 100 pillars with mind blowing carvings. This was the place where the Gods tuned in their musical skills. The mural paintings on the roof and walls are made of natural pigments and it is exemplary. Sad that most of them are faded.There is Ardhamandapa and Garbha Griha which are the other main parts of the temple. The main deity is Lord Veerabhadra.
You can also see Sita's footprint which is always wet and the cave where saint Agastya stayed. It is believed that while Ravana abducted Sita, they rested here for a while and that is how the footprint appeared. Have you noticed? wherever you see the footprints of Gods or Goddesses they appear to be huge. Old people say that, in the ancieant era the people were really huge. Each generation passed, and we became tiny!
You can take a pradakshina inside and can see the Nagalinga(very unique, hooded with multiple faced serpent), Ganesh Linga near the inner enclosure. This is the largest Nagalinga in India. It is believed that this sculpture was made in a very short duration. While the mother of one of the artisans went to cook lunch for them, they built this rock-cut sculpture!
In this mobile era, how can people leave this place without taking snaps. The incomplete Kalyana Mandapa was occupied with people taking photos. There is a legend behind this incomplete construction as well. The King's accountant/treasurer Virupanna allocated funds to build this mandapa while the King was on a trip. Once he came back, he was furious to see the construction happening without his permission and questioned Virupanna for spending unnecessarily without his permission. He ordered to stop the construction. Later as punishment he popped out Virupanna's eyes. I heard another version in which it is said that, unable to bear the accusation by his King he blinded himself and threw his eyes on the pillar. You can find a red mark on one of these pillars which resembles to an eye! The word 'Lepakshi' has another meaning too. 'Lepa-akshi' means 'Blinded eye'!
There are two trees inside the temple, one with no leaves. It is believed that, this tree is standing there for ages. Here, each and every thing has a story to tell. I was lucky to hear many! The legends which I could listen, I am sharing with you here.
It may take 2-3 hours to see in and around. If you really want to explore in detail may be 4 hours. Guides are available here. They will explain you all kinds of stories related to each and everything here. We did not take any help as we googled much information and also read about this place. Before you go anywhere, do some homework so that the place would be more enjoyable and you can relate to many things which you have read. Am sure you will notice the difference!
We came out by 12.30 PM. As we were walking towards the hotel where we parked our car, I found a lady with her small shop of glass bangles. I must say it was irresistible to pass without buying a set. The colours were very rare. So, I ended up buying 8 varieties. Prize ranges from Rs.30 to Rs.60 for a dozen according to the types and colours.
It was lunch time so we thought of having food from the same hotel because the next restaurant was way too far.
We wanted something more on this trip so post lunch we decided to explore nearby places. So we headed to Penukonda. We all know about Hampi, the capital city of Vijayanagara empire. But many are unaware about the summer capital of Vijayanagara empire, that is 'Penukonda'. Penukonda means Big Hill. It is also known as 'Temple City' as there are quite a lot of temples here. Most of them are ruined. When you take your ride back from Lepakshi, once you enter NH 44 instead of taking Bangalore road(right turn) take a left turn and travel to the opposite side and within an hour you will reach near another arch with a heading as “Penukonda Fort”. We always like to visit less known places so this was a go.
Once you enter this road and drive slowly, you will see some shops. On the right side there is a small board which is not much seen. Yes, you should take a left from there.
We followed Google maps because many times we couldn't understand the local language. Most of the time we were puzzled and had to take some really narrow roads. We first thought of visiting the fort but due to confusion among crowded roads, we ended up at Gagan Mahal first. Ask for Gagan Mahal and locals will guide you. It was also built by Vijayanagara kings. It is also known as 'Summer Palace'. There was no crowd at all. The gate was locked and we called out for the security. A boy who looked like a local came. He opened the gate and asked to pay Rs.5 per person(not for kids). Though it didn't look like a proper thing, we did not want to argue so gave it off. This palace is the only monument here which is protected by the Archaeology Department.
This is a very different architecture goes well with it's name. The entrance gives you a cool welcome. There are all open rooms and corridors which makes it much an airy one. No doubt why this is called as 'Summer Palace'.
The huge portrait of the King Krishnadevaraya welcomes you on the right side of the entrance.
We could find some secret stairs to go to the upstairs balcony.
First floor balcony is an open one so that the kings and queens could enjoy the starlit nights with a moonlight dinner:) Most of the windows are built with seats where one could enjoy the outside view of Penukonda hill and palace garden.
In the outside garden there are of small ancient sculptures especially hero stones. Hero stones are the ones which are depicted Sun as well as Moon on them. Unfortunately, most of them are ruined.
Opposite to this palace walking towards the left side you can see a small mud road. Just enjoy the short walk and you can explore Thimmarusu Jail, an old water tank, and parts of a broken temple. That was something like a surprise candy for us.
There is a devastating story behind this jail. Saluva Thimmarusu was the prime minister of Krishnadevaraya. He considered Thimmarusu as a fatherly figure. The King always saluted him as 'Appaji' out of respect. Thimmarusu guided him and played an important role in making his empire a great one. But, unfortunately Krishnadevaraya's son got killed by traitors and Thimmarusu became the suspect. The king lost his consciousness out of anger, ordered to blind Thimmarusu and imprison his family. Later, he realized his mistake when Thimmarusu was proved innocent. He couldn't bear the pain of misunderstanding his 'Appaji'. Out of grief, he fell sick and soon passed away!
Later we went back in car and found a closed Jain temple on the way.
The road leading to Penukonda Fort was filled with Sunday market sellers. It was little risky to take the road keeping in mind that we have kids with us. So this place returned to our bucket list. We have kept this in mind and next time will try to come on a Saturday without kids hoping the road would be empty. Note the point!
By 4.30 PM we began our journey home. Reached back by 7.30 PM. It was an unplanned trip with unexpected twists! We will be back soon here to explore the Penukonda Fort and other historical points nearby. I am pretty sure that, these medieval period architectural works will amaze all the history lovers.
P.S: Do not forget to carry your water bottles, hats/caps and snacks for children if you have any. Photography is prohibited inside the main sanctum (Garbha Griha) where pujas done for the deity.
Temple Timings : 6.30 am to 6 pm.
Cost : Fuel filling, breakfast and Rs 90 on Bageppalli toll plaza, Rs 5 per person at Gagan Mahal.
Best season and time to visit : October - February, preferably in the morning.
Have a safe journey!