Sakura blooms at Takashima Castle Park

Today Mani & I, go on a hunt for cherry blossoms in Japan. Sakura blooms in Japan represent a magnificent spectacle of nature’s artistry and hold deep cultural, historical, and spiritual significance. The ephemeral beauty of these delicate flowers serves as a reminder to cherish life’s fleeting moments.

Upon arriving in Osaka, we discovered that the Sakura blooming period in Kansai had already concluded. Unfazed by the disappointment and aided by our JR passes, we embarked on a search for regions further north where the Sakura blooms were still flourishing. Our quest ultimately led us to a little known: Takashima Castle ruins, nestled in the picturesque city of Suwa in Nagano. A quick search on Instagram confirmed that the park was still adorned with a breathtaking display of fully bloomed Sakura trees.

Next day, early in the morning, we took the Shinkansen from Kyoto Station to Nagoya. At Nagoya Station, we switched to the Shinano 19 Limited Express going to Shiojiri Station. From Shiojiri Station, we caught the Local Kami-Suwa to Kami-Suwa Station. The castle is located within walking distance of the Kami-Suwa Station. The total travel time was around 3 hours and we reached the castle park at noon.

A brief history of Takashima Castle

Takashima Castle stands as a testament to the rich history of the region. Even though the original castle does not exist, with its imposing presence and picturesque surroundings, this lovely castle park has captured the hearts of locals and tourists alike, offering a glimpse into Japan’s past.

Takashima Castle was built by Lord Hineno, a vassal of Hideyoshi Toyotomi in 1592 CE. The castle was initially built on a small island extending into Lake Suwa. Surrounded by several rivers emptying into Lake Suwa and marshes, the castle appeared to float and was nicknamed Suwa no Ukijiro (Floating Castle of Suwa). The lake doubled up as a natural moat on three sides of the castle.

Over time, urbanization took place around Lake Suwa and the lakeshore moved away from the castle. Meiji authorities tore down the castle structures in 1876. Several of them have been rebuilt, starting with the castle tower in 1970. Only the northern and eastern sides of the moat and the inner garden have been preserved in their authentic state.

One of the most striking features of Takashima Castle was its unique architectural design. It followed the traditional Japanese castle style known as “hirayama-kuruwa,” characterized by a multi-tiered structure with sloping roofs and intricate wooden detailing. The skilled craftsmanship exhibited in the castle’s construction reflects the precision and artistry of Japanese architecture during that era.

The replica of the castle stands as a symbol of resilience and endurance, having withstood the test of time and various tumultuous periods in Japanese history. It serves as a reminder of the profound historical legacy that continues to shape the identity of the Suwa region and the nation as a whole.

The main enclosure has three entrances. The Kabuki-mon Gate, which was rebuilt on the heavy stone walls at the northern side of the enclosure. It was also the front gate of the castle and only upper-class people were allowed to use the gate.

The castle had four enclosures in a line facing the lake. The castle is in a form called “renkakushiki” in which Kinotokaku, Sannomaru, Ninomaru, and Honmaru are lined up in a straight line from the north. Only one route was accessible to the enclosure at the edge of the castle. This design meant the castle could be very well protected.

Because the lake is nearby and the ground is soft. The main enclosure, surrounded by stone walls must have been very difficult to build on the lakeside. They were actually built on wooden rafts made from large trees in order to be stable on the soft ground. The stone walls were made of stones with only the ridges processed using a method called Nozurazumi.

Hanami at Takashima Castle Park

Upon entering the castle grounds, we were greeted by a gentle breeze carrying the delicate fragrance of cherry blossoms. The park becomes a tapestry of soft pastel hues as the cherry trees are adorned with clusters of pink and white petals. About 90 cherry trees, such as weeping cherry trees, higan cherry trees, and double cherry trees, are planted in the park.

Underneath the blossoming trees, the atmosphere is alive with a sense of joy and tranquility. People of all ages gather for hanami, the cherished tradition of flower viewing. They spread blankets and picnic mats, creating small pockets of laughter and conversation amidst nature’s grand spectacle. Friends, families, and even strangers come together, united in their appreciation for the ephemeral beauty of the Sakura.

Every spring, as winter gives way to warmer temperatures, Japan transforms into a mesmerizing spectacle of pink and white hues. The Sakura blooms adorn parks, streets, temples, and riversides, painting the landscape in a breathtaking display of natural beauty. The ephemeral nature of the Sakura blooms, which only last for a fleeting period of one to two weeks, adds to their allure, creating a sense of urgency and appreciation for the transient beauty of life.

The blooming of Sakura holds profound cultural and historical significance in Japan. For centuries, it has been celebrated as a time of joy, renewal, and contemplation. The tradition of hanami, which translates to “flower viewing,” brings people together to appreciate the Sakura blossoms in full bloom. Friends, families, and colleagues gather beneath the Sakura trees, spreading picnic blankets, and enjoying food, drinks, and lively conversations, all while marveling at the breathtaking beauty above them. This tradition fosters a sense of unity and harmony, as people connect with nature and with one another, celebrating the arrival of spring.

The Sakura blooms have inspired various art forms, literature, and poetry throughout Japan’s rich history. Renowned haiku poets and artists have sought to capture the essence of these delicate flowers, immortalizing their beauty in verse and brushstrokes. The ephemeral nature of the Sakura blossoms is often associated with the concept of mono no aware, a deep appreciation for the impermanence of things, and the profound emotions evoked by their fleeting existence.

Any Japanese park during Sakura bloom is not merely a visual feast but also a place of profound emotions. It is a space where one can reflect on the transient nature of life, where the ephemeral beauty of the Sakura becomes a poignant reminder to cherish each passing moment.

The Sakura season is eagerly anticipated by both locals and international visitors, with countless festivals and events dedicated to celebrating these delicate flowers. Locations like this become bustling hubs of activity, with crowds flocking to witness the enchanting beauty of the Sakura blooms.

Takashima Castle serves as a cultural and educational hub for the local community and beyond. It hosts regular events and exhibitions, showcasing traditional arts, performances, and historical reenactments. In the peaceful time during the Edo Period, a view of the castle with Suwa Lake became a popular attraction in the area. These activities not only preserve Japan’s rich heritage but also allow visitors to engage with and appreciate the vibrant culture that surrounds the castle.

The surrounding natural beauty, including the breathtaking views of Lake Suwa and the majestic Japanese Alps, further enhance the allure of this historical gem. The castle’s strategic location not only offered defensive advantages but also allowed for uninterrupted views of the stunning landscape, creating a sense of harmony between man-made structures and nature.

Takashima Castle is the highest elevation flatland castle ever constructed in Japan.

The Suwa clan had ruled the area around Lake Suwa in Shinano Province since ancient times. The clan was defeated by Takeda Shingen in 1542. The final Suwa ruler, Suwa Yorishige was forced to commit seppuku. The Takeda Clan was also defeated by Nobunaga Oda in 1582. However, confusion prevailed in the district when Nobunaga was killed in the same year. When Hideyoshi Toyotomi gained power at the end of the 16th Century, he sent his retainer, Takayoshi Hineno to Suwa District.

A three-story, three-storied watchtower was built in the main enclosure, but one of Takashima Castle’s major characteristics is that the roofs of the main buildings, including the keep, were not tiled but shingled.

Even though Hineno Takayoshi built Takashima Castle, in 1601, his son Hineno Yoshiaki, was demoted to Mibu Domain. In the same year, following several linked incidents, Suwa Yoritada’s son, Suwa Yorimizu, was allowed to reclaim his clan’s ancestral lands as daimyō of Suwa Domain. His descendants ruled for 270 years thereafter (clans both took their names from and gave their names to areas in feudal Japan).

Suwa Lake is now about 400m away from the park, so it is difficult to imagine “the floating castle”.

The rebuilt Main Tower is actually a modern building that looks similar to the original one. The building has copper plate roofing, not wooden strip roofing from the original, but they probably resemble each other. The inside of the tower is used as a historical museum and an observation platform.

Visitors are allowed to take very limited photos inside the castle.

Inside Takashima Castle, visitors can explore the various chambers that exhibit Naginata(a pole sword), lancers, and some Japanese armor among other artifacts. The preservation of original artifacts, such as armor, weapons, and historical documents, provides a glimpse into the lifestyle and traditions of the castle’s inhabitants.

The first floor provides some special exhibitions on Suwa’s traditional events and tourist information, and the materials related to Takashima Castle are displayed on the second floor. From the small observatory room on the third floor, you can see the snow-capped Japanese Alps, Suwa city and the peak of Mount Fuji on a clear day. You can in the photo below see a faint Mt. Fuji in the distance.

Mount Fuji has been at the center of Japanese spiritual practice for thousands of years with countless individuals summiting the volcano in pilgrimage. Although the volcano is now considered dormant, in the past it was both a site of reverence and a source of apprehension, much like the gods being worshipped in ancient times.

We spent a couple of hours at the castle park. It was a long way to go back to Kyoto so we decided not to stay any longer. I love capturing castles at sunset but grudgingly we had to leave for Kami-Suwa Station.

Takashima Castle embodies the essence of Japan’s historical and architectural grandeur. From its strategic hilltop location to its intricate design and cultural significance, the castle stands as a cherished jewel that invites visitors to immerse themselves in the captivating world of ancient Japan. Sure, it is not as grand as the castles in Osaka or Matsumoto (my favorite), and it is a reconstruction because it was destroyed long ago and rebuilt, but it is definitely worth seeing especially during the time of Sakura blooms.

Suwa Area of Nagano Prefecture is famous for its tourist spots like Suwa Lake and Suwa-taisha Shrine. A visit to Takashima Castle is not just a touristic experience but a profound journey through time, offering a deeper appreciation for the rich heritage that has shaped this remarkable country.

Originally built:

1592 CE

Opening Hours

9:00 – 17:30
(Closes at 16:30 between 1st October and 31st March)

Annual Close

12/26-12/31 and 2nd Thursday in November

Castle Admission Fee

310 yen for adults
150 yen for children
Admission to the park is free

Tsubosaka-dera Temple

Tsubosaka-dera Temple is a Buddhist temple located on the mountain of Tsubosaka, which overlooks Mt. Yoshino, one of the most popular cherry blossom viewing spots in Nara. It is considered to be one of the oldest and most historically significant temples in Japan, with a history that dates back more than 1,300 years.

According to the temple’s “Nanhokuji Koroden”, it was originally built in the late Taiho era in 703 CE. The temple is officially named Tsubosakayama Minami Hokkeji Temple, however over the years people have become used to calling it Tsubosakadera temple. In this article, we will explore the history and significance of Tsubosaka-dera Temple, its architectural features, and the best time to enjoy this hidden gem.

After a long gap of three years, Mani and I were back in Japan. Due to the stringent travel restrictions imposed during the COVID-19 pandemic, we missed out on two opportunities to visit this captivating island nation. Following a day of relaxation in Kyoto, we made the decision to venture into the outskirts of Nara. Although the cherry blossom season had recently concluded, a time renowned for its enchanting beauty, we remained thrilled about the prospect of exploring the splendid temple.

Starting from Kyoto Station, we embarked on the Kintetsu Limited Express bound for Kashiharajingu-Mae Station. Upon reaching Kashiharajingu-Mae Station, we made a transfer to the Local Yoshino train, which conveniently transported us to Tsubosakayama Station. The journey from Kyoto Station to Kashiharajingu-Mae Station typically lasts around an hour, whereas the Tsubosakayama Station is just a brief 10-minute ride away from Kashiharajingu-Mae Station.

From Tsubosakayama Station, you can either take a cab to the temple or wait for the local bus. The buses are at wide intervals, so we walked down to the local mall nearby. After a quick lunch from a sushi box, we walked back to the station to find the bus already waiting. Apart from us, there were hardly any passengers on the bus. Once we started from the station, it took us around 15 minutes to reach the temple parking lot.

A brief history of Tsubosaka-dera

Tsubosaka-dera Temple was founded in the early 8th century by the monk Benki Shonin, a monk of Gango-ji Temple, who is known for his role in spreading Buddhism throughout Japan during the Nara period.

The temple was originally named Tsubokokubun-ji and was dedicated to Yakushi Nyorai, the Buddha of healing. Over time, the temple became known as Tsubosaka-dera and became associated with Kannon, the bodhisattva of compassion, who is now enshrined there. It is also called Minami (south) Hokke-ji Temple, while Kiyomizu-dera Temple is known as Kita (north) Hokke-ji Temple. During the Heian period, it was listed as a fixed temple along with Hase-dera (847), and the Heian aristocrats often visited the temple.

Sadaijin Fujiwara no Michinaga (966 – January 3, 1028), whose son is credited with building Byodo-in Temple in 1052 stayed at this temple on his way to visit Yoshino in 1007 CE.

During the Heian period, Tsubosaka-dera Temple was an important center of Buddhist learning and scholarship. Many prominent scholars and monks studied and taught at the temple, and it was renowned for its extensive library and collection of Buddhist scriptures.

In the 12th century, Tsubosaka-dera Temple was severely damaged by fire and had to be rebuilt. Tsubosaka-ji Temple also declined with the downfall of the Ochi clan (12th – 14th centuries), which had been protected at that time, as it was involved in the upheavals of the Northern and Southern Courts and the Sengoku period. The temple was restored several times over the centuries, with major renovations taking place in the 17th and 19th centuries. Many roof tiles from the time of the Fujiwara Palace have been excavated from the precincts. At its height, there were thirty- six halls and sixty-odd temples on the mountain, but only a three-storied pagoda and a few temples remain in the precincts today.

Daikodo (Lecture Hall)

The lecture hall has traditionally been one of the seven structures on the grounds of Buddhist temples in Japan. It is one of the main structures on the compound of a Buddhist temple, in which sutras are read, Buddhist doctrines taught, and rituals performed.

The Hina dolls are not dolls people play with, but very elaborate, decorative dolls depicting members of ancient Japanese society. Hina dolls, also known as Hina-ningyo, are traditional Japanese dolls that hold great cultural significance. They are typically displayed during the annual festival called Hinamatsuri or Girls’ Day, which takes place on March 3rd.

Hina dolls represent the imperial court of the Heian period in Japan and are a symbol of good luck and protection for young girls. These dolls are beautifully crafted, usually made of wood, and dressed in elaborate silk costumes reminiscent of traditional court attire.

In the lecture Hall, you can also find several ancient pieces from India. Here we see two rock-cut heads of Budha. The left one is from the 5-6th century CE from the Gupta period. The one on the right is from Mathura dating from the 7-8th century.

Below them are two bas-reliefs of Shiva. The one on the left looks very much like Buddha and the right one is a depiction of Shiva with his consort Parvati.

From the lecture hall, we went up the hill toward the upper part of the temple grounds. The grounds are adorned with stone lanterns at several points. Stone lanterns, known as Ishidōrō in Japanese, hold a significant place in the aesthetics and symbolism of Japanese temples. They serve both practical and spiritual purposes, providing light to guide visitors during evening visits to the temple and symbolizing illumination of the spiritual path.

Even though we didn’t come expecting to see any cherry blossom, we were greeted by some Yae-Zakura. Yaezakura, which means “multi-layered cherry blossom,” is used to refer to all cherry blossoms with more than five petals. These flowers bloom a little late in mid-to-late April. The Yaezakura have petals that range from light to dark pink.

Because of the double layers of petals, they’re known as a symbol of strength in comparison to the delicate “Somei Yoshino”. The normal type of one-layer sakura tends to be fragile and easily blown away by strong wind or rain.

The mix of Japanese and Indian styles makes this temple unique. There are several Indian-style stone Buddhas and bas-relief carvings in white stone. These were presented by the Indian government as a gesture of thanks for the temple’s work to help leprosy sufferers.

To the left of the stone Buddha idol, you can find the Chōzu-ya. The Chōzu-ya is a water pavilion for ceremonial purification. It is a designated area within the temple grounds where visitors can perform the act of cleansing before entering the sacred spaces. The Chōzu-ya typically consists of a stone basin, known as a Tsukubai, filled with water. Visitors use a long-handled ladle to pour water over their hands and rinse their mouths as a symbolic act of purifying themselves before engaging in religious activities or paying respects to the deity.

This is an important place to purify one’s mind and body before approaching the main shrine and conversing with the gods to symbolize this people wash their hands and mouth in a small personal purification ritual before going further into the shrine. The act of purification is considered essential in Japanese religious and cultural practices, emphasizing the importance of physical and spiritual cleanliness. The Chōzu-ya serves as a peaceful and contemplative space for individuals to prepare themselves spiritually and mentally before entering the sacred precincts of the temple.

Taho-to Pagoda

We kept walking towards the left to reach the Tohoto Pagoda. Tsubosaka-dera Temple is known for its distinctive architectural style, which blends elements of both Japanese and Chinese Buddhist architecture. The temple complex consists of several buildings, including a main hall, a pagoda, a bell tower, and a number of smaller structures.

The Tahoto Pagoda is an exquisite example of Japanese architecture, featuring intricate wooden carvings, elaborate roof decorations, and ornate details. It is unique among pagodas because it has an even number of stories (two). Its name alludes to Tahō Nyorai, who appears seated in a many-jeweled pagoda in the eleventh chapter of the Lotus Sutra. With square lower and cylindrical upper parts, a mokoshi “skirt roof”, a pyramidal roof, and a finial. After the Heian period, the construction of pagodas in general declined, and new tahōtō became rare.

According to the Hoke-kyo (Lotus Sutra), when Shaka Buddha was preaching, the ground cracked open and a stupa appeared from below. From inside the stupa, a voice emanated saying “Wonderful, wonderful, Sakyamuni Buddha. Your sermon is the truth.” That was Taho Nyorai (the Buddha of the Past) proclaiming the truth of Shaka’s words. Hence, traditionally the temples which practice the chanting of the Lotus Sutra build Tahoto pagodas.

Kanjo-do Hall

Just beside the Tahoto Pagoda lies the Kanjo-do Hall. It is built in irimoya-zukuri style (a hip-and-gable roof construction, or a building with this roof construction) and hongawarabuki (tile roofing in which round and square tiles are laid down alternately). An irimoya style roof is composed of a kirizuma-zukuri style roof in its upper part (which inclines backward and forward when viewed from the longer side of the roof) and a yosemune-zukuri style roof in the lower part (which inclines in each of the four sides of a rectangular house). This roof style was introduced in medieval Japan from China at the same time as Buddhism in the mid-6th century.

There were some very ancient wooden idols inside the Kanjo-do Hall, but they were prohibited from photographing. Just beyond the hall, we found a huge stone idol of Kannon.

Couples Kannon

Juichimen Kannon (ekadaza mukha in Sanskrit) is one of the venerable entities of Bosatsu This is also a Kannon that was brought over from India to commemorate the 350th anniversary of the founding of Sawa City and the 50th anniversary of the establishment of a nursing home for the elderly. This stone idol was commenced in 2011.

In front of the Kannon lies a flat circular platform. Several visitors were standing on this power stone bare-naked foot and asking for Kannon’s power and blessing. The power stone contains green malachite, which is said to improve eyesight and ward off evil, and blue is lapis lazuli, which is said to improve health and improve brain clarity.

The pedestal for praying to this Kannon is made of power stone. If you look closely, you can see the seams. It is also called Daikofusho Kannon, and it is said that the 10 faces on the front, back, left, and right among the 11 faces on the head show Jicchi (ten stages) while the topmost Butsumen (the head of a Buddha) shows nirvana. It is said that this shows the pious act of cutting away 11 kinds of ignorance and the earthly desires of living things opening the path to nirvana.

Sanju-do Pagoda

The pagoda at Tsubosaka-dera Temple is also an impressive structure. It is a three-story tower with a hexagonal base and is said to be one of the oldest surviving pagodas in Japan. It was rebuilt in 1479 in the Muromachi period. It is designated as a “National Important Cultural Property”.

Hakkakuen-do (Octagonal Hall)

When most people think of Hakkakuen-do, they think of the Yumedono Hall of Horyu-ji Temple. Yumedono was built by a monk named Yukinobu in 739 CE. The octagonal hall of Horyu-ji Temple was the mausoleum of Prince Shotoku, and Yukinobu built Yumedono to comfort Prince Shotoku’s spirit. Benki, who is said to be the founder of Tsubosaka Temple, may have had the same motive as Yukinobu when he built the octagonal hall.

Another octagonal building that comes to mind is the North Round Hall of Kofuku-ji Temple, which was proposed by Emperor Gensho as a mausoleum for Fujiwara no Fuhito. There is no other way to think that the Octagonal Hall of Tsubosaka Temple was built by Benki to mourn for the spirit of Emperor Jito.

As you enter the hall, you will find hundreds of hina dolls lined up. Tsubosaka-dera holds an event called “Dai-hina Mandala” every year during the Hinamatsuri, in which many Hina dolls are displayed around the statue of Buddha.

A total of 3,500 Hina dolls are displayed on the temple grounds. Of these, the Raido, which is an important cultural property of Japan, has about 2,300 Hina dolls on the tiers surrounding the statue of Dainichi Nyorai.

The dolls depict the Emperor, Empress, court attendants, musicians, merchants, their wives, lords and ladies, wizards and wise teachers, girls and boys, men drinking sake in an izakaya, etc., all dressed in the traditional court dress of the Heian period. Tsubosaka Temple’s “Dai-hina Mandala” remains open to the public until the 18th of April.

These Hina dolls are handmade treasures, and people keep them for generations. Please note that these precious dolls are not on display all year round. They are shown only once or twice per year depending on the temple authorities.

When inside the Octagonal hall, remember to follow the guided path indicated by arrows. You’ll end up walking around the sacred statue 3 times (clockwise direction), the last round will see you out of the building to witness the beauty of the mountain.

Rei-do (worship hall)

The Reido Hall was built around 1103 CE and again rebuilt before the middle of the Muromachi period (1336 -1392). The main focal point of the temple is the eleven-faced Kannon Bosatsu Zazo, a seated statue of Kannon. This revered Gohonzon stands at an impressive height of 3 meters, making it quite imposing when viewed up close.

The statue portrays Kannon seated on a lotus throne with its forty hands gracefully extended. Originally constructed during the Muromachi period, the current idol replaced the previous Thousand-armed Kannon that resided there. Made with oak marquetry, this masterpiece holds significant cultural and historical value. The Kannon enshrined in this temple is widely worshipped as the “Buddha of the eyes.” It has garnered national treasure status in Japan, representing one of the finest examples of early Buddhist sculpture in the country. While rare, there are occasions when visitors are allowed to touch this revered statue.

According to legend, the temple was built on a sacred site. In ancient Japan, a monk was in the midst of prayer when he noticed a bluish light outside his room. Upon investigation, the light was emitting from the ground. He dug that location and uncovered a statue of Senju Kannon (Thousand Arm Avalokitesvara)

Many years later after the story of the Buddha statue and of monk Benki’s healing skills had spread and grown popular, he was summoned to the Imperial Palace by Emperor Gensho, who founded Heijo-kyo in Nara. The Empress was suffering from an eye disease. Benki cured the Empress of an eye ailment. She rewarded him by financially supporting him in building Tsubosaka Temple and also enshrining the Senju Kannon in the Hakkakuen-do in 717. Subsequently, this temple became renowned for curing eye ailments.

Within the room, you can find a number of additional idols. Behind a glass wall, a pair of bronze statues caught my attention, conveying a sense of antiquity and value. Positioned slightly behind the main Kannon, I observed a distinct variant of Kannon. While I am unsure of its specific narrative at the moment, I will make sure to provide an update to this post once I gather more information.

After capturing some shots of the main hall, we hiked up the hill towards the Grand Stone Statue of Avalokiteshvara brought from India. On the way, we noticed some devilish oni statues. One of them holding out 2 fingers in a sign of peace.

This majestic Kannon is the largest stone statue in the world, standing tranquilly on the mountaintop. The mudra or hand gesture in this image is known as Karana Mudra. It means subduing evil forces!

Placed before it you can also see the stone statue of Buddha in Nirvana, also brought from India. The garden area is paved with fine-grained gravel.

By the way, the size of the Great Buddha in Nara is 14.98m in height and the base is 3.05m, so the total is 18m. The Daikannon of Tsubosaka Temple is even bigger! The huge statues were created by thousands of Indian stonemasons, and sent to Japan in pieces. The pieces were then assembled on location at this mountain. Some of the stone used to create the Buddha statues dates back millions of years.

The statue of Shaka Nyorai Dainirvana is 8 meters long. it presents a beautiful view of the Yamato Basin making Tsubosaka a memorable and grand place to visit.

Did you know: The nighttime illumination of the Tenjikutorai Daikannon stone figure located on the temple grounds is fully using solar panels installed at the site.

Tsubosaka Temple is in the mountains, so it is rich in nature. You can enjoy all four seasons, with yamabuki and cherry blossoms in spring, lavender in summer, and autumn leaves in autumn. The mountain scenery is beautiful too.

Myths relating to Tsubosaka-dera

There is a Bunraku story called Tsubosaka Reigenki. According to this story, a blind man, Sawaichi, found out his wife, Osato, went to Tsubosaka-dera Temple every day to pray for a cure for his blindness. Sadly, Sawaichi suffered from depression and tried to commit suicide by throwing himself off the edge of the temple. His wife lept after him. However, the Kannon of Tsubosaka-dera Temple saved them and Sawaichi regained his sight.

There are no souvenir shops nearby, so maybe this is not a tourist spot, but it is certainly a big temple if you compare it to the other temples of the Saigoku Pilgrimage.

At Tsubosaka Temple, you can also enjoy viewing the cherry blossoms at night during this period.

The cherry blossoms that cover the temple grounds and large stone Buddha statues are lit up, creating a magical beauty that is different from the daytime.

How to get to Tsubosaka-dera Temple

From Shin-Osaka Station: take the subway to Tennoji Station (about 20 minutes), then walk to Kintetsu Osaka Abenobashi Station (just across the street from Tennoji) and take a limited express train to Tsubosakayama Station (about 40 minutes).

From Kintetsu Kyoto Station: take a limited express train to Kashiharajingu-mae Station, then change to Tsubosakayama Station (about 70 minutes).

Tsubosakadera Temple is 10 minutes by taxi from the Kintetsu Tsubosakayama Station.

Admission Timings:

Opening hours : 8:30 to 17:00

Admission Tickets:

Adults: ¥600
Children: ¥100
5 years and under: free

What is the best time to visit Tsubosaka-dera?

late March to early April

Annual Events:

18th of every month except for February and June: Kannon fair
August 18: Segaki-e (hungry ghosts’ feeding rites)

When is Tsubosaka-dera Illumination?

March 25th (Sat) to April 9th ​​(Sun), 2023
*Subject to change depending on the cherry blossom season

Viewing hours during illumination:
Gate opening time during the light-up period: 7:30-20:00
Lighting time during the light-up period) 18:00-20:00

The historic ramparts of Chitradurga Fort

Chitradurga Fort is an ancient fortress located in the Chitradurga district of Karnataka. This imposing structure, which covers an area of approximately 1,500 acres, is perched atop a hill surrounded by seven towering walls, making it one of the most impressive fortresses in South India. The city also takes pride in its historical ties to the Mahabharata legend and the mythological figure of Hidimba.

Located at a 3-hour drive from Bangalore, the fort is locally known as “Kallina Kote” or Stone Fortress, formed of two Kannadiga words “Kallina” which means stone and “Kote” which stands for fort. Because of its huge defensive fortification and tenacity to hold up against long aggressive raids, it is also referred to as Ukkina Kote or “Steel Fort”. Situated almost on the highway that connects Bengaluru to Hospet, this is a prominent point of interest in Chitradurga and was the center of Deccani politics for over three centuries.

We were lodged at the Hotel Mayura Durg. It offers excellent value for your money, and the standout feature is its prime location, just a brief 5-minute stroll from the Fort.

Admission tickets to enter the fort can only be purchased using UPI payment apps at the main gate. If you are not using any, you have to visit a website to use online banking to purchase the tickets. At the time I visited the fort, entry tickets for Indian nationals and visitors from SAARC countries were set at Rs. 20 per person, whereas for foreign visitors from other countries, the fee was Rs. 250 per person.


Chitradurga has a rich history of being ruled by many dynasties. Edicts of Emperor Ashoka from the 3rd century BCE were found near Molakalmuru, a taluk in the same district. To the west of Chitradurga, there was once an ancient city called Chandravalli, where excavations revealed the presence of a prehistoric city.

The fort rests on the seven hills of Chinmuladri range which are some of the oldest granite formations of the Indian subcontinent. As you enter through the Rangayyana gate, the first thing you see is a large water tank known as Kamana Bavi.

The fort’s history dates back to the 10th century when the region was under the control of the Rashtrakutas. Initially, it was mostly a mud fort surrounded by boulders. It was later taken over by the Chalukyas and then the Hoysalas, who added several temples to the fort’s architecture.

In those times between the early 1300s to 1500s, regions like Chitradurga were mostly governed by local chieftains, and the land was largely dominated by Bedar (Valmiki) tribes. The Bedar tribes claim descent from Brahminic rishi Valmiki and trace their origins to southern Andhra Pradesh from where they had emigrated with their herds.

In Kannada language the term ‘Bedar’ means Adivasis or hilly people with mostly hunting as their occupation. The Bedar community is also called as ‘Valmiki’ tribe, ‘Balmiki’ tribe or ‘Beda’ tribe.

However, it was during the reign of the Nayakas in the 17th century that the fort was transformed into its current formidable form.

Timmana Nayaka who was a chieftain under the Vijayanagar empire was given the rank of governor of Chitradurga as a reward for his excellence in military achievements. The first instance of fortification at Chitradurga was by Kamageti Timmanna Nayaka by about 1562 CE. Obanna Nayaka, also known as Madakari Nayaka, declared his independence from the Vijayanagara Empire. In 1602 CE he was succeeded by Kasturirangappa Nayaka, Madakari Nayaka-II (1652 CE), Chikkanna Nayaka (1676 CE), Linganna Nayaka (Madakari III), Bharamappa Nayaka (1689-1721 CE), Hiri Madakari Nayaka, Kasturi Rangappa Nayaka II. The Nayakas of Chitradurga made significant additions to the fort, including the seven concentric walls, which are the hallmark of the fort today.

At its prime, the Chitradurga fort is said to have 19 impressive doors, 38 smaller doors, 4 secret entrances and about 2000 watchtowers.

The fort is structured into seven tiers. Three lower tiers are adjacent to the hill and four tiers are on the slopes of the hill. The first tier has four gates (called Bagilu in Kannada):

  • Rangayyana bagilu (Rangaiyya’s gate) on the east
  • Santhe bagilu (market gate) on the north
  • Seenirina hondada bagilu (sweet water pond gate) on the northwest and
  • Lal Kote bagilu (red fort gate) on the south

The entrance of the rocky gateway is adorned with engravings of Gods and a huge snake on the rock wall. These walls were constructed using massive granite blocks, some of which weigh as much as 50 tons, and are separated by moats, which are now mostly dry. Depending on the topography and the geological strata of the land, the fort walls were built with a height ranging from 5–13 meters. Initially, it was built in mud these walls were subsequently strengthened in stretches with granite stone slabs in the 18th century. The three outer walls of defense are provided with deep broad moats.

An outstanding feature noticed in these stretches of the fort walls is that no cementing material was used in joining the large granite cubes that have been neatly sized, cut, trimmed, and placed in position. The total length of the exterior fort walls is about 8 kilometers and covers an area of about 1,500 acres. The narrow winding path leads to Kamana Bagilu, the start of the second tier of the fort.

The Nayak Palegars built the fort as an impregnable fortification for defense purposes with 19 gateways with bent passageways, a palace, 18 temples, 38 posterior entrances, 4 secret entrances, and subsidiary structures like multiple reservoirs, granaries, oil pits, along with 2000 watch towers to guard and keep a strict vigil on the enemy incursions. The storage warehouses, pits, and reservoirs were primarily designed to ensure the food, water and military supplies required to endure a long siege. Underground tunnels were built that served as escape routes in case of an attack. The fort’s strategic importance increased during the Vijayanagara Empire, and it was used as a garrison to protect the empire from invading forces.

Beyond the kamana Bagilu, there is a wide open space. It is up to you to choose which area you would like to explore first. We decided to head straightaway to Maddu Besuva Kallu, an area where gunpowder was ground. This lies in a secluded area on the southern side of the fortress. Once you cross the Kamana Bagilu, turn left and walk about 200m.

Maddu Besuva Kallu which means “gunpowder grinder” contains four stones at four corners similar idea to what we used to have to grind grains to make flour. These were used to grind the gunpowder for the cannons. The stones were powered by the animals either elephants or bullocks, which would rotate them in a circular motion. The grinders have teeth to break the lumps in gunpowder to make it fine so it can be bunt more efficiently with less oxygen inside the cannon chamber. A gunpowder storage room is also located near this place.

From Maddu Beesuva Kallu, we walked to the Chitradurga Fort jail. These are located directly opposite to each other but we wanted to cover these areas before hiking up the hill toward the upper echelons of the fort

The fort is situated on massive rock foundations and the view from the fort features towering boulders. The structure has been built with seven concentric fortification walls each of which has narrow passageways and gates. Thus, it is also known as Yelu Suttine, meaning “fort of seven circles”.

Chitradurga Fort Jail

One of the notable features of the jail area is the presence of a massive cannon. This colossal cannon, with a length of 22 feet and a weight exceeding 50 tons, served as a formidable defender of the fort in times of conflict. Its immense size necessitated the efforts of more than 100 men for loading and firing, and it boasted an impressive firing range of over 2 kilometers. This location within the fort receives relatively fewer visitors.

This cannon, one of two 18-pounders abandoned at the Tipu Sultan Battery on the northeastern corner of the fort, was cast in 1792 at the Carron Works in Falkirk, Scotland.

From the jail area, we backtracked towards the Kamana Bagilu gate to explore the upper reaches of the fort.

This stupendous fort has witnessed some of South India’s bloodiest wars. The fort successfully repelled a near-constant stream of would-be invaders until 1779, when it fell to Hyder Ali of the Kingdom of Mysore. It was during the reign of Madakari Nayaka, the city of Chitradurga was besieged by the troops of Hyder Ali. A chance sighting of a woman entering the Chitradurga fort through a crack hole in the rocks led to a clever plan by Hyder Ali to send his soldiers through the crack hole.

Chitradurga was under siege for almost two years before Hyder Ali was able to capture if from Madakari Nayaka.

Twenty years later, the British forces defeated and killed Tipu Sultan in the Fourth Anglo-Mysore War of 1799 CE. Between 1799 and 1809 CE, Chitaldoorg, as the British pronounced it, was garrisoned by British troops as it was perceived to be a potentially useful base along Mysore’s northern line of defense. Later, the fort was handed back to the Mysore government.

Britishers who captured the fort from Tipu were not able to pronounce Chitradurga and called it Chittaldroog

Many of the fortification lines possess elaborate gateways. Among the elaborate gateways, this gateway to the east of the fort has architectural features typical of the Bahmani Sultanate in Northern Karnataka.

The stairs keep going up toward the upper part of the fort where we can find a number of temples in a cluster. There are 14 important temples in the fort. Among them, Hidimbeshwara, Ekanatheshwari, Sampige Siddeshwara, Gopalaswamy, and Phalguneshwara are the important ones.

The presiding family deity of the Nayakas of Chitradurga was Goddess Ekanatheswari, an incarnation of Adi Parashakti. Ekanatheswari’s footprints are sculpted into a block of stones at the entrance of the fort. Some of the well-known temples were the Hidimbeswara, Sampige Siddeshwara, Ekanathamma, Phalguneshwara, Gopala Krishna, Lord Hanuman, Subbaraya and Nandi. Some of the temples have shikharas in Chalukyan style. The Siddheshwara and the Hidimbeshwara have shikhara that resemble a festive chariot.

Shri Ekanatheshwari Devi Temple

The gateway leads to its south leads to Hidimbeswara temple, one of the oldest temples on the hill. This temple is dedicated to the goddess Ekana, Ekavati or Ekanatheshwari. In ancient times, devotees used to sacrifice male buffalo here.

From the Ekanatheshwari Devi Temple, there are two paths, one leads east towards a walled compound popularly called the Mint, and the other leads south, towards the Hidimseshwara Temple.

Tankasale – Mint

These remnants of stone-mud walled structures are believed to have functioned as the administrative hub of Chitradurga Fort during the Palegar rule. Within this administrative center were the Darbar Hall and the Treasury/Mint. These mud walls have endured for approximately half a millennium.

Embedded within these walls are wooden columns, likely supporting the building’s roof with wooden beams. Surprisingly, even the wood from that era has remarkably well-preserved itself. The soil used in these walls is meticulously chosen, likely sourced from a lake bed. The mud is meticulously dried, then finely ground and sifted to obtain a uniform powder. Afterward, it is blended with water and thoroughly mixed until the entire mixture achieves uniform consistency. This procedure demands significant labor and is meticulously overseen at every stage to ensure quality and security, guarding against potential sabotage.

A narrow path beside the Mint leads to a wide open area where we can find a bridge over the Akka and Tangi ponds. There are several other points of interest on this path. A road leads past the Mint to the main western gate, called Basavana Bagilu, and another line of fortifications, which protect the inner fort.

Akka and Tangi Honda

Akka Thangi Honda stands for two massive ponds named Akka Honda (elder sister pond) and Thangi Honda (younger sister pond). These are part of the Fort’s well-planned and sophisticated rainwater harvesting and water conservation system.

The excess water collected in Gopalaswamy Honda flows into Akka Honda and then gradually to Thangi Honda. The pond where 2 queens of Nayaka king drowned after Hyder Ali succeeded in his 3rd attempt to capture the fort. This was a ”jauhar” of its kind.

From here a long winding path toward Gopalaswamy Temple.

We stopped for a breather at this gate just before reaching Gopalaswamy Temple. Garuda and Aanjaneya are carved on either side of the entrance.

A few feet ahead, a freshwater channel flows all the way through the passage that leads to the entrance. A freshwater pond is seen to the left side as soon as we enter. The pond named after the temple – Goplaswamy Honda (pond) is a tank that gathers rainwater from the hilltop. The greenery surrounding the pond is like a mini-jungle amidst a rocky terrain. The Gopalswamy Honda in front of the temple was one of the main water sources for people residing inside the fort.

The vast open space between the palace complex and the Honda is known as Sringara tota referring to the beauty of the landscape. The honda was a part of the palace complex and probably meant for the exclusive use of the royal family. The corner is where palace attendants would draw up water since that’s the closest to the palace complex.

The Gopalaswamy Honda is the largest waterbody inside the fort. This manmade waterbody serves as a mini reservoir nestled in a valley. A 45-meter-long stone wall across the valley is the dam that blocks the flow of rainwater in the valley creating a reservoir that is 50m at its widest point and 140m at its longest point. As to the depth I was told it could be around 10 to 12 feet in the middle.

Gopalswamy Temple

One of the most impressive features of the fort is the steep climb to the top. There are over 2000 steps leading up to the peak of the fort, which can take anywhere from 2 to 4 hours to climb, depending on your fitness level.

This temple facing east is of Dravidian order with the usual garbhagriha, sukanasi, a six-pillared navaranga. a large four-pillard closed mukha mandapa with a closed passage around the garbhagriha for circumambulation. In the garbhagriha is an image of Gopalakrishna measuring 1.05 m in height from sometime in the early 14th century CE.

There is a reference to this temple in an inscription from 1338 CE. The figure of Gopalaswamy stands cross-legged, playing a flute. On either side of the image, you can see cattle listening to the flute. The sukanasi doorway is flanked by dwarpalas. In the navaranga images of Ganesha, Garuda, Brahma, and Vishvaksena adorn the walls. The ceiling has a large shallow dome fashioned into a lotus. The beam features more images of Indira, Krishna, and other deities.

The climb is challenging but rewarding, as it offers stunning views of the surrounding landscape and the fort’s architecture. While coming down from the Gopalswamy temple, we took a short detour to the Obavve onake.

Obavve onake

When the fort of Chitradurga was attacked by Hyder Ali, according to a legend there was a woman by the name of Obavva, the wife of a guard at the fort, who is said to have single-handily killed several of Hyder Ali’s men who were entering the fort through a small hole in between the rocks. She fought them off with a pestle (onake) and thus this legend is famously called the Obavve onake legend.

During that time, Hyder Ali attempted to capture the fort during the reign of Madakari Nayaka V, the last Nayaka ruler. The structure had a crevice that was discovered by Hyder Ali’s army. However, when Ali’s men attempted to squeeze through this crevice at night, a woman was guarding it on behalf of her husband.

When the brave woman noticed this, she killed the trespassers by hitting them with a pestle. When her husband returned, he discovered the bodies of dead soldiers in the fort’s crevice. He informed Madakari Nayaka and his soldiers about the invasion right away. Hyder Ali, however, was successful in invading and conquering the fort and the last Madakari Nayaka and his family was imprisoned at Srirangapatna.

Nonetheless, the brave woman’s story was not forgotten. History of the fort still remembers her courage and love for her land. Obavva’s courage has been memorialized in Chitradurga by setting up the Onake Obavva Stadium and a life-sized sculpture near the District Commissioner’s Office in Chitradurga.

From Obavve onake, we walked back to the Ekanatheshwari Devi Temple from where we hiked further south up to the Hidimbeshwara Temple.

Hidimbeswara temple

Hidimbeshwara Temple is dedicated to Lord Shiva and is believed to have been built during the 15th century. It is the oldest temple in the area, situated above a massive boulder crowned with a stone superstructure. Within this temple is a sanctum (garbhagriha) housing a linga. On the front side of the outer sabha mandapa, there is a small mukh mandapa (porch) with bench-like seating. The temple’s pillars exhibit diverse designs, featuring octagonal or hexagonal shafts with ornamental details near the top.

The sole captivating feature at this site is the standard representation of Virabhadra, positioned in the navaranga and affixed to a base adorned with a bas-relief displaying seven horses on the front, symbolizing the Sun god, Surya. At the top of this structure is the smallest chamber, crowned with a square stupi. An ancient stone inscription from 1286 CE, found in the outer navaranga, records the generous grants made by Perumale Bandanayaka to the temple.

Myths surrounding Hidimba

The Hidimbeswara temple houses the tooth of Hidimba, the formidable giant (Rakshasa in Sanskrit). The legend goes that Hidimba and his sister Hidimbi once resided on this hill. Hidimba was a source of great trouble for the local populace, and when the Pandavas arrived in the area, they too encountered his menacing presence.

According to the ancient tale, the hills surrounding the fort held great significance during the time of the Mahabharata. Hidimba, the fierce giant, was believed to have inhabited the Chitradurga hill and caused fear among the inhabitants. When Bhima was in exile, traveling with his Pandava brothers and mother Kunti thousands of years ago, he crossed paths with this demon.

There you can find a piece of bone much larger than that kept in the Hidimbeshvara temple, believed to be the tooth of Hidambasura.

Bhima was challenged to a duel by Hidimba, and in the ensuing battle, he defeated and vanquished Hidimba. The boulders in this area are also believed to have been utilized as weapons during their epic confrontation. Hidimbi, who fell in love with Bhima (the second of the Pandava brothers from the Mahabharata legend), went on to marry him, and together they had a child named Ghatotkacha.


In front of the Hidimbeshwara temple, on a lower level is a three-storied stone tower (Mahadwara) with pillared verandas on the sides. It appears to have been built in 1411 CE by Mallana Odeyar, a relative of Devaraya of Vijayanagara.

Sampige Siddeshwara Temple

A monolithic pillar and two swing frames lie between the entrance to this gateway and the Sampige Siddheshvara temple, which rests at the foot of the hill in the left background. This temple was built by Thimanna Nayak in 1568.

The Gaalimandapa which is the Mahadwara of the Siddheshwara temple is more elaborately designed with a series of pillars in the facade of the second storey on all sides. The mandapa was constructed in 1355 CE while the torana was made in 1411 CE by Mallana Odeyar.

The prominent among them is the Sampige Siddeshwara Temple. The temple of Siddeshwara is a cave temple associated with a hillock named Mukthi Shivalaya Shikhara (abode of Shiva-pinnacle). Located on the southern side, the temple gets its name Sampige Siddeshwara because of the Michelia Champaca, the magnolia flowers, called Sampige in the Kannada language.

This Temple is named after the Sampige tree, which was planted by the Madakari nayaka’s ancestors. It is said to be named after the Sampige tree which was supposedly planted by the ancestors of Chitradurga ruler Madakari Nayaka. This temple is situated at the base of a massive rock formation. Atop the rock formation is the Kavalu Battery

The temple comprises a mukha mandapa, sambhamandapa, sukanasi, and a garbha griha, all axially located. We took a short stroll through the temple to explore the sanctum, vestibule, and hall. Inside the sanctum, you’ll find a daily worshiped Shiva Linga known as Sidhanta, which gives the temple its name, Siddheshwar. The veneration of this deity is linked to Veerashaiva Saints such as Revannasiddha (Sri Revana Siddeshwara Swamy is considered one of the eminent Saints of the Shaiva Sect within Sanatan Dharma).

In the sukanasi you can find images of Nandi and Parvati. It leads to an enshrined linga, better known as Siddheswara Linga. On the south wall is a niche containing a relief group in which two chieftains are depicted with daggers a their girdle in ceremonial attire, holding a linga each in one hand and a pike in the other.

The hall has sculptures of Allama Prabhu, Ganesha, Shula, Brahma, Nandi, Bhairava and several Naga stones. At one corner there is an impressive statue of Veerabhadra.

In the courtyard, there is a huge squarish platform where the palegars and chiefs of Chitradurga Fort were crowned once. In its heyday this place must have seen a lot of ceremonial activities, now it is bare and mute.

Murugharajendra Matha

Murugha Matha was built during the reign of Bharamanna Nayaka (1689 – 1721 CE). Bharamanna Nayak made many additions to the fort and built the Murugha Rajendra Matha, which since then has been the residence of a well-known guru of the Lingayats. The Matha is a spacious and impressive two-storied stone structure, with a pillared hall and a gateway known as Ane bagilu (elephant gate)

Archeological findings at the Chitradurga

Through excavations and investigations in the vicinity of the town of Chandravalli, a recurring sequence of two distinct cultures has been unveiled. This sequence begins with the Neolithic culture, followed by the Iron Age Megalithic culture, and subsequently transitions into the Early Historic period, notably the reign of the Satavahanas.

Several Satavahana coins were unearthed at the outset of the last century. Evidence of the Neolithic culture, such as pottery, has also been discovered in the area. The presence of cupules and engravings of human and horse footprints is discernible within the fort, and intriguingly, cupules have been identified on the dressed stone blocks comprising the fortification wall.

Rainwater-harvesting structures were built in a cascade development, which ensured large storage of water in interconnected reservoirs. It is said that the fort precincts never faced any water shortage.

Historical linkage has been established by an archeological inscription dated 1284 CE found in the Panchalinga (Five Lingas) cave in the Ankhi Matha area, to the west of Chitradurga. The inscription attributes the establishment of the Five Lingas (aniconic symbols of Lord Shiva) to the Pandavas. At Ankhi Matha, approached by stone steps, a series of ancient subterranean chambers cut out at different levels are seen, in addition to several places of worship and platforms

Carvings of the edicts of Ashoka dating to the 3rd century BCE have been found at the fort, and a legendary duel described in the Mahabharata between the hero Bhima and the demon Hidimbasura is said to have taken place on its grounds.

Chitradurga Fort is a magnificent piece of ancient architecture and human skill. Its imposing walls and intricate architecture serve as an important reminder of the rich history of Karnataka, and its conservation and preservation are crucial to ensure that it remains a part of our heritage.

Despite its age and the wear and tear of time, the fort remains an impressive sight, and its architecture has stood the test of time. Visiting the Chitradurga Fort was an unforgettable experience. The fort’s imposing walls, steep climb, and stunning views make it a must-visit destination for anyone interested in history, architecture, or nature. The magnificent fort is now maintained by the Archaeological Survey of India. Though signs of deterioration are visible in the fort today, its sheer size, complexity, and detailed design, and the valor of those who gave their lives to protect it, speak volumes of its glorious past.


What kind of weather should I expect at Chitradurga?

Summers can be extremely hot and not advisable for the huge area that requires you to climb several stairs.

When is the rainy season in Chitradurga?

June – September

What are the languages spoken and understood at the site?

English, Hindi & Kannada

Is the fort accessible?

The fort is not disabled-friendly

What are the rules with regard to the usage of Tripods?

Tripods are not allowed inside the fort premises. If you are carrying a tripod, you will have to keep it at the front office at your own risk.

What is the cost of admission tickets??

Tickets must be bought at the front gates, and entrance fees are ₹20 for Indian citizens and ₹250 for foreign nationals.

Hoysaleshwara Temple

After a beautiful evening at the Mullayangiri peak, we were headed back to Bangalore. On the way, we decided to stop over at one of the prominent temples built by the Hoyasalas in Halebidu. Halebidu, previously known as Dwarasamudra, served as the ancient capital of the Hoysalas during the 12th century. The town is home to several scattered monuments recognized by historians as exemplifying Hoysala architecture.

After an hour’s drive, we reached Halebeedu at 7:30 am. We were a bit early and the temple gates hadn’t opened yet. As we parked the car on the roadside, some of the hawkers were already getting ready with their wares before the Sunday crowd could gather. The tea vendor stall was surrounded by people, sharing jokes and sipping on some local concoction of masala tea. A few faithful believers clad in dhoti were engaged in animated conversation also waiting for the temple gates to open. Under the warm embrace of the sun, we savored the simple joy of sipping a refreshing tender coconut water.

As the temple gates opened, we were the first ones inside. From the gate, a long narrow path leads to the remarkable construction that truly deserves its place as “Sacred Ensembles of the Hoysalas” in the UNESCO list of World Heritage sites.

Hoysala dynasty

The Hoysala dynasty reigned over a significant portion of Southern India for nearly two centuries, and left an indelible mark with the construction of remarkable temples, encompassing both Hindu and Jain architectural marvels. No matter what some might say, the Hindus were pretty much welcoming of Buddhism, and apart from some scattered incidents, Buddhist and Jain temples have existed together alongside Hindu temples in several places. One of the most prominent examples is the Cave temples in Badami which hosts a mesmerizing temple devoted to Mahavira and Buddha accompanying several other Hindu gods.

The empire of the Hoysalas extended in Southern India from Mamallapuram and Kanchipuram in the east to the present State of Kerala in the west. Their rule spread to most of the current day Karnataka and also several parts of Northern Tamil Nadu in the Kaveri river belt between the 10th & 14th centuries CE.

The Hoysala dynasty is said to have comprised 14 kings. They were known for their patronage of art and architecture, which forms a crucial part of their legacy. The most popular of the Hoysala kings was Vishnuvardhana, a Jain who converted to Sanatan Dharma and worshipped the Hindu God Vishnu. It was during his rule that the Hoysalas really flourished. After his rule ended, the empire started disintegrating and in 1336 CE. Muhammad Bin Tughlaq (a Muslim ruler from Northern India) attacked the Hoysalas, ending their reign.

Hoysaleshwara Temple

The Hoysaleshwara Temple on the banks of Dorasamudra tank is a masterpiece of architecture and sculpture. The temple is built in a star pattern with 64 corners to accommodate hundreds of deities and other decorative carvings. It was built during the 12th century during the reign of King Vishnuvardhana and is dedicated to Lord Shiva.

As we walked towards the main temple, there were two structures placed tangent to the path. One of them is a weathered carving of a boy fighting a tiger. This is an emblem of the Hoysala dynasty characterized by a majestic and intricately carved sculpture of a mythical lion, often depicted standing on its hind legs. This symbol is prominently featured in many Hoysala temples.

The origin of the name “Hoysala” traces back to the legendary encounter of the dynasty’s founder, Sala, who was the tribal leader of a village known as Angadi (currently within the Chikkamagalur district in Karnataka State) with a tiger. According to popular folklore, Sala valiantly defeated a ferocious tiger, and in commemoration of this brave feat, the dynasty adopted the name “Hoysala,” with “Hoy” meaning “strike” or “kill” in Kannada.

Exactly opposite to the Hoysala emblem, lies a rock-cut statue of Ganesha. It seems to be in a much better state than the emblem. The intricate work on this piece of rock was simply astounding.

As I explore more and more of southern India, it just amazes me as I stand in the presence of these ancient rocks unfolding their silent tales. The Hoysaleshwara temple was earlier also known as ‘Srimad Vishnuvardhana Poysalesvara’ after its patron and was built in 1121 AD. Later epigraphical records recognize it as “Hoysaleswara Panchikeswara” constructed by Ketamalla Dandanayaka, a prominent merchant and other wealthy citizens and merchants of Dorasamudra, in honor of the ruling king Vishnuvardhana and his principal queen Shantaladevi, according to an inscription found in Ghattadahalli, five kilometers east of Halebidu.

According to historical records, it took about 39 years to construct the Hoysaleshwara Temple in Halebidu, yet it remains incomplete in some places.

The temple has four entrances. The one normally used by visitors as main entry nowadays is the northern entrance closest to the parking lot. There is one entry on the south side and two on the east side, facing two large detached open pavilions whose ceiling is supported by lathe-turned pillars.

This view shows two exuberantly decorated dvarapalas, or temple guardians, outside the main doorway approached by a flight of steps. The upper sections are decked with floral and creeper designs. Spread over 7 hectares, the temple complex with deities and pillars are predominantly carved in Steatite (talc-chlorite schist with occasional magnesite and opaque) procured from Turuvekere and Hassan.

The temple was made in star pointed base, further layered with stone carvings systematically. Hoysala temples are not very tall. They are mostly situated on a platform which is 3-5 feet in height. The temple from the base to the crown is approximately 36.6 feet in height. The shikhara or temple towers are absent at Hoysalesvara Temple at Halebidu. There is no clear evidence of its existence in any epigraphical collection.

Dvarapalas at Halebidu are more elaborate than those at most temples. They are about seven feet in height and fierce in appearance like the nio-guardians in Japan. They wear skull-studded crowns endowed with four arms in which they typically hold Shaivite attributes.

Before exploring the outer walls of the temple we went inside the mandap. The temple is a dwikuta- vimana which means a temple with two shrines on the same platform, both dedicated to Shiva. They are two separate shrines with a cruciform platform resting on cruciform-shaped plinths. Both of the temples are preceded by a Nandi pavilion containing ornamented but realistic Nandi bulls. They are respectively called “Hoysaleshwara” And “Shantaleshwara. Hoysaleswara is dedicated to ‘Hoysaleswara’ Shiva (the king) and the other one is dedicated to ‘Shantaleswara’ Shiva (the queen, Shantala). Neither of the shrines have sikharas.

The mandapa (central hall) is held up by pillars. It leads worshippers to the garbhagriha. The spaces between the peripheral columns have been closed off with stone slabs. There are 10 internal pillars around the four much larger ones at the center.

Designed with precision, the temple orchestrates a spectacle known as the ‘Surya Mandala,’ whence the sun’s rays delicately caress the main deity during specific hours. Beyond this celestial alignment, the temple also features many other architectural innovations, such as the use of different types of stones to create various effects, and the use of intricate geometric patterns in its architecture.

In the central navaranga of the shrine, each of the four pillars featured four standing madanakai figures in their pillar brackets for a total of 16 standing figures per temple. These intricately carved damsels, typically depicting a female form, adds visual interest to an otherwise simple pillar. They gaze down upon the devotees below, adding to the beauty of the pillars. Not all the madanakai are in their positions. Of the 32 figures on the central pillars of the two shrines, a total of 11 remain. Only 6 damaged ones have survived in the north temple and 5 in the south temple.

The interiors showcase finely carved, highly polished pillars in myriad profiles, along with exquisite racket figures of dancers and musicians, their sensuality and dynamism expertly rendered in stone. Similarly, ceilings featuring corbelled domes, are adorned with figurative sculptures and with floral, geometric and botanical motifs, the stone resembling wood in its ornateness.

The sanctum walls are plain, avoiding distraction to the devotee and focussing the attention of the visitor at the spiritual symbol. The ceilings of the temple are supported by 12 feet tall pillars chiseled with fascinating grooves, with amazing perfection. Bulbous pillars are found inside the temple, which have carvings that are so precise, that they might have been constructed using some kind of machine.

After paying respects at the temple we came around to examine the intricate carvings on the outer walls depicting scenes from Hindu mythology, such as the stories of Ramayana, Mahabharata, and the Bhagavad Gita. Some of the panels also depict everyday life during the Hoysala period, including dances, music, and games.

The external nandi mandapas (pillared halls built to enshrine the sacred bulls) have been reconstructed in the past, however, they do not affect the authenticity of the architectural form of the temple. Nandi, the sacred bull and vehicle of Lord Shiva, is often depicted in a monolithic form, carved from a single piece of rock. The Nandi monolith at Hoysaleshwara is characterized by its impressive size and detailed craftsmanship. Carved with precision, these sculptures exhibit the strength and majesty associated with the divine bull. The position of Nandi, typically facing the main sanctum of the temple, symbolizes devotion and readiness to carry out Lord Shiva’s will.

The symbolism of the seated Nandi facing towards the sanctum in Shiva temples represents the soul and the message that the soul should always be focused on the Parameshwara (Shiva), the absolute.

From the Nandi shrine, we went on a peripheral walk examining the beautiful carvings on the outer walls of the temple. The Hoysala architectural style has indigenous structural patterns in the form of staggered, star-shaped shrines, positioned on a raised platform with a wide pathway for circumambulation. Hoysaleshwara exemplifies the schema of the tier designs completely on the outer wall of the temple. There are layers of animals and designs, each representing a certain aspect of the Hoysala kingdom. The bottom, the elephants, shows strength, the next layer, lions, shows bravery, the third from the bottom- the symbolic view of flowers- shows beauty, the fourth- cavalry, and then another layer of flowers, to again bring in the idea of artistic beauty.

The layer after that is comprised of soldiers or scenes from Hindu mythology. The third from the top is a layer of makaras (semi-aquatic mythical sea monsters) followed by a layer of peacocks. The topmost layer consists of flowers again to add aesthetics. Above these panels, follows a continuous parade of large-sized depictions of Hindu gods and goddesses, each one incomparable in beauty.

There are more than 240 wall sculptures that run all along the outer wall of the Hoysaleshwara Temple

I have tried to add some of the interesting carvings here. The next capture tells the story of Arjuna shooting the eye of a fish during Draupadi’s swayamvara unfolds in this captivating stone relief.

Skillfully carved, the depiction captures the essence of the archery contest that determined Arjuna as Draupadi’s groom. Arjuna stands poised, his bow drawn with precision, aiming at the revolving fish’s eye. The stone relief immortalizes this pivotal event from the Mahabharata, where Arjuna’s unparalleled archery skills won him the hand of Draupadi, marking a significant turning point in the epic narrative.

This is a figure of a dancing Ganesha with ornately detailed jewelry. The mesmerizing craftsmanship captures the essence of one of the most beloved Hindu deities. Carved with intricate precision, Lord Ganesha is depicted in a seated posture, radiating a sense of divine tranquility and benevolence.

The detailing in the sculpture extends to the symbolic attributes of Ganesha, such as the elephant head, potbelly, and the iconic broken tusk. The sculptor’s skill truly breathes life into the portrayal. The right part of the external wall of the temple starts with an image of a dancing Ganesha, there are almost 240 images of Ganesha in different poses.

Next, we see the Ugranarashima, the fourth avatar of Lord Vishnu. The depiction captures the intense and awe-inspiring moment from Hindu mythology when Lord Narasimha, emerges in his fierce form to vanquish the demon Hiranyakashipu.

The intricately carved details convey the ferocity of Ugra Narasimha, with a lion’s head and a formidable posture. The sculpture skillfully renders the tension and drama of the narrative, showcasing the divine wrath and power encapsulated in stone. The facial expressions, sinuous mane, and the portrayal of the defeated demon beneath the lord’s formidable figure evoke a sense of reverence and awe.

The legend of Jakanacharya

A fascinating legend surrounding the Halebid temples revolves around Jakanacharya, the skilled sculptor credited with their construction. Hailing from Kridapura village in Tumkur, Karnataka, Jakanacharya’s devotion to his craft overshadowed everything, even his familial ties. Entrusted with building the Belur and Halebid temples, he poured his heart and soul into the intricate sculptures.

Unknown to Jakanacharya, his wife gave birth to their son, Dankanacharya, who also later became a renowned sculptor. At Belur, he found a job as a sculptor and noticed a flaw in a figure sculpted by the great Jakanacharya himself. A furious Jakanacharya challenged him, vowing to sever his right arm if proven correct. To everyone’s surprise, Dankanacharya proved his assertion, unaware of his familial connection. In keeping with the challenge, Jakanacharya kept his promise and cut off his right hand even though Dankanacharya insisted not to do so.

Subsequently, Jakanacharya purportedly had a vision where Lord Vishnu instructed him to return to his village, Kridapura, and construct what we now know as the Chennakeshava temple. Following divine guidance, Jakanacharya built the temple, and as the legend goes, Lord Vishnu restored his right hand. Stories of miracles like this should be taken lightly but it is interesting nonetheless. In honor of this skilled sculptor, the Karnataka government annually confers the Jakanacharya Award upon exceptional sculptors and craftsmen.

Back to the continuation of the intricate reliefs. Here we have a relief of Vishnu in the avatar of Trivikrama. Carved with meticulous artistry, it captures the cosmic dance of Lord Vishnu in his Trivikrama form, spanning the heavens, Earth, and the netherworld.

The majestic figure of Trivikrama, with one foot elegantly raised and the other firmly planted, symbolizes the divine conquest of the three realms.

Here we have a panel depicting the Hindu god Vishnu & his consort Lakshmi. The stone carving depicts the goddess Lakshmi gracefully seated on the lap of Lord Vishnu. In this intricate sculpture, both deities are portrayed with exquisite detail, capturing the divine essence of their eternal bond. Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth and prosperity, emanates a sense of grace and abundance. She is adorned with symbolic ornaments and holds attributes that signify prosperity and auspiciousness. The intricate details breathe life into the sculpture, capturing the divine grace and serenity that characterizes the celestial couple.

Lord Vishnu, the preserver in the Hindu trinity, cradles Lakshmi in a posture that reflects harmony and cosmic balance. The sculptor skillfully captures the expressions of devotion and tranquility, emphasizing the divine connection between the two deities.

The outer wall paint is creamy brown, and the tallest outer wall reliefs are found in Hoysaleshwara. Among these, one also finds a relief of goddess Kali in the temple which is surprising to most since it is dedicated to Lord Shiva.

Descending to Earth, Krishna astride his divine steed holds the Parijata tree, embodying the essence of cosmic battles. Shri Hari’s countenance reflects his preparedness for the impending conflict, accompanied by the mighty Garuda poised to unleash formidable weaponry. Atop Airavata, Indra and Indrani follow suit, wielding the powerful Vajra. In the culmination, Indra succumbs, and the Parijata finds its eternal abode on Earth.

Horses and cavalry are a prominent feature in the friezes displayed. The cavalry frieze in Hoysala temples showcases depictions of mounted warriors or cavalry, adding a dynamic and lively element to the temple architecture.

Makaras are also extensively used in reliefs. Lions and Makaras are more ornamented than horses and elephants. Reliefs in the temple feature a variety of animals, including bulls, buffalos, monkeys, and peacocks.

Makaras are mythological creatures that are a combination of both land and sea creatures. There are many variations in their form. Makaras designed during the Hoysala period were a combination of crocodiles, pigs, elephants, and peacocks. They were considered sacred and were the vehicle of Lord Varuna. They can be spotted in basement cornices, doorways, ceilings, and various other locations within the temple.

The Hoysaleshwara temple has no less than 1200 carved elephants. They always appear like a disciplined herd, and their positions are related to battle. They are all ridden by warriors or mahouts and are not decked with houdas. There are more than 1400 lions carved in the temple. Almost all of them have raised their tail coiled in identical fashions.

The Hoysaleshwara shows the epics Ramayana and Mahabharata in detail and was one of the first Hoysala structures to do so, similar to the Hazari Rama temple in Hampi. The narrative of the ocean churning is illustrated in a band stretching six feet. Bhima’s confrontation with Bhagadutta extends for about seven feet. The clash between Karna and Arjuna is also depicted, spanning approximately 10 feet.

Ruins of the Hoysala Empire

In the 14th century, the Hoysalas faced defeat at the hands of Alauddin Khilji and Muhammad Tughlak, leading to the plundering of their empire and a significant loss of wealth. This once-thriving city, now bearing the name Halebidu, meaning “old house/old ruins,” never fully recovered and gradually succumbed to neglect. Despite the widespread destruction, a few temples, Halebidu among them, remarkably withstood the ravages of time. When you gaze upon these structures today, the intricate stone carvings will undoubtedly enthrall you, displaying some of the most remarkable expressions in the art of stone craftsmanship.

The temple walls are richly covered with intricately carved sculptures with themes of different forms of the Hindu gods and goddesses, along with stylized animal figures and exquisitely decorative patterns of flora and fauna.

The Hoysala aesthetic emphasized intricacy and hyperreal detail across all levels of sculpture, whether it is pillars, ceilings or wall sculptures. The carvings display a high relief technique, featuring profound undercutting, where artists meticulously indulge in intricacies, capturing every bead, fingernail, or leaf blade with meticulous attention. This lavish ornamentation and unwavering dedication to detail were facilitated by a thorough exploration and utilization of the qualities inherent in Schist, a metamorphic rock. The sculptors deliberately selected this fine-grained, relatively soft mineral for their temples, enabling the manifestation of elaborate and finely detailed sculptures.

Schist is easier to handle, relatively softer and allows for delicate carvings, while granite is harder and one can’t manage the immense beauty achieved in schist. Hoysala-style temples in Halebidu are fine examples of schist sculptures, while the Pallava style in Tamil Nadu is largely defined by the use of granite.

Temples, beyond serving as religious symbols, were the focal point of societal activity. They radiated positive and spiritual energy, becoming hubs for various aspects of life. The temples acted as catalysts for the flourishing of arts, livelihoods, and businesses in their proximity.

Dance and music found encouragement within the temple premises, while vendors and traders established their shops outside, drawing crowds to the vicinity. As a result, temples became convergence points for diverse societal elements, encompassing the political, social, economic, and culture.

Honestly, the visually stunning masterpieces created by Hoysala sculptors on the exterior walls were more interesting than the inside. The extensive sculptures of deities depicting mythological stories foster a much stronger connection with the divine as we walked along the circumambulation path surrounding the temple.

The Hoysalas sculptors are an embodiment of craftsmanship not just from the point of architecture, but also their skills in precision engineering, symmetry, and minor nuances in the sculpturing. Whilst the first look at the architecture awestruck everyone with its intricate carvings; swiftly, it immerses one in the profound thoughts at the engineering abilities of Hoysalas.

The town has many other protected and unprotected temples, archaeological ruins and mounds including multiple Jain temples. There are also some remnants of the fort and gateways that once protected the town.

The Hoysaleshwara temple is considered as one of the most intact and well-preserved examples of Hoysala architecture, and it continues to attract visitors from all over the world. The chisel craftsmanship of artisans from that period infuses vitality into their extraordinary stonework that has captivated visitors for centuries. It is a “must-visit” destination for anyone interested in Indian history, culture, and art.

My heartfelt gratitude to each one of you who took the time to read through my journal. Your engagement and interest mean the world to me. If you liked it, please leave me a comment. If there are areas where you think I can enhance the storytelling, I would greatly appreciate your feedback.

When was the Hoysaleswara Temple built?

The Hoysaleswara Temple was built during the 12th century, between 1121 and 1160 CE.

Who founded Hoysala?

Sala, the tribal head from the village called Angadi, located in what is now Chikkamagalur district in Karnataka, is considered to be the founder of the Hoysala dynasty. He laid the foundation for a dynasty that would rule over a significant part of South India for nearly two centuries. Renowned for his legendary courage, Sala is said to have once confronted a tiger barehanded during his childhood and emerged unscathed. You can find a depiction of this event carved in stone at all of the Hoysala temples.

During what timeframe did the Hoysala dynasty rise to prominence?

Hoysala dynasty ruled southern Deccan from about 1006 to about 1346 CE.

What was the capital city of Hoysalas?

The capital of the Hoysalas was initially located at Belur but was later moved to Halebidu, also known as Dwarasamudra.

What are the visiting hours for Hoysaleswara Temple?

Halebeedu Temple complex is open from 6.30 AM till 9 PM.

An evening at Mullayangiri

Mullayangiri is a part of the Baba Budangiri Range, known for its rich biodiversity and geological significance. With an altitude of 6,330 feet, it is the highest peak in the state and among the highest peaks in South India.

Over the years, Mullayangiri has attracted trekkers, nature lovers, and adventure seekers. I have trekked these ranges before and was excited to be back here. The challenging trek to the summit offers breathtaking views of the surrounding landscape. This time, however, we had planned a leisure trip and decided to just hire a car to take us up straight to the peak.

After a five-hour journey, we arrived in Chikmagalur at around 3 pm. The road trip from Bangalore to Chikmagalur is a picturesque route, offering a delightful voyage through the scenic landscapes of Karnataka. Although we have traversed the NH75 on several occasions, this time we opted for a different route. Departing from Bengaluru, we followed the NH48 to Tumkur. From there, our route continued until Sira, where we took a left turn onto NH69. Passing through Kadur, we transitioned to NH173, ultimately reaching our destination.

The distance between Bangalore and Chikmagalur spans approximately 280 kilometers. The road conditions are generally favorable, especially on NH48, ensuring a smooth and well-maintained highway. However, it’s worth noting that some sections of NH69 may have occasional potholes, so a cautious approach to driving is recommended.

Just before entering Chikmagalur, we stopped at this veg restaurant called Aramane Veg Restaurant. My crusty dosa was served with an array of chutneys and the quintessential sambar.

From the moment you take your first bite of a crispy dosa or savor the aroma of sambar wafting through the air, you embark on a culinary adventure that captures the essence of South India.


Chikmagalur is a charming hill station nestled in the Western Ghats of Karnataka. As we approached the town, we were surrounded by the lush greenery of the Western Ghats. The landscapes, dotted with hills, valleys, and waterfalls, attract nature lovers and photographers. The hill station enjoys a pleasant climate throughout the year, making it an attractive getaway for those seeking a break from the hustle and bustle of city life.

After checking in at the Robusta Inn, we booked a cab with a little help from the hotel desk.

Ratnagiri Bore

The mountain is located in the Chikmagalur district, about 19 km from the town of Chikmagalur. The driver on his own took us first to a small resort-like place called Mahatma Gandhi Park, a beautifully maintained garden that is placed on the backdrop of the Mullayangiri.

Mahatma Gandhi Park or Ratnagiri Bore which is located on the northern part of Chikmagalur is a beautifully maintained garden and is placed on the backdrop of the Mullayangiri. The park is quite big with a musical fountain and a train ride.

This beautifully maintained garden is spread across many acres. The site has a small hillock surrounded by well-laid-out gardens, fountains, well-designed pathways and green lawns. The place looks very scenic, with the hills at the backdrop and full of ornamental plants and vibrant flowers. There are also several vendors selling local produce of coffee and pickles.

From the Ratnagiri Bore, we drove on towards Mullayangiri Peak. There are several sharp curves as we enter into the mountainous territory. The driver stopped for a moment at a beautiful viewpoint along the road.

The driver dropped us off near the parking lot from where there are about 500 steps to the peak.

The summit of Mullayangiri offers panoramic views of the surrounding Western Ghats and the Arabian Sea, which is visible on a clear day. Mullayangiri is also known for its rich biodiversity, and hikers can spot a variety of birds and animals along the way, including the endangered Lion-tailed Macaque and the Great Indian Hornbill but not on this route. To get that experience you have to trek through the wild.

There is a small curved pole meant to be the starting point of the climb. You can get some beverages or drinks here. Unfortunately, this is also the reason for the accumulation of plastic garbage around the area. Why cannot people be a little responsible towards nature?

Narrow steps take you up to the peak towards Mullappa Swami Temple.

The Mullayangiri Peak has religious significance as well, with a temple dedicated to Lord Shiva located at the summit. It is believed that Lord Shiva himself had meditated here, and the peak is considered to be sacred by the local people.

Mullayyana giri Nandi Mantapa

To the south of the temple lies a small bare-bones structure with a small statue of Nandi bull.

We sat there on a boulder near the Nandi enjoying the gentle breeze. It had been a tiring ride and it felt very relaxing.

The sun was almost about to set so, we started walking downhill.

After reaching the Hotel, we went out on the street hunting for a nice place to dine. Mani found this place called: Khansamaa Restaurant (non-veg) which was just a couple of minutes away from our hotel. It had good ratings and the food didn’t disappoint. If you are in Chikmagalur, do visit this restaurant. After a wonderful meal, we loitered around the place. This place is the center of the town and hosts several eateries and cafes.

MahaNakhon SkyWalk

Today we visited the MahaNakhon Observatory and skywalk. The imposing 14-meter MahaNakhon Tower dominates Bangkok’s skyline. The MahaNakhon SkyWalk on the 78th floor of this imposing building is a state-of-the art observation deck boasting the city’s most epic views at a height of 314 meters. If you have the right view, you can see it from most hotels in the city.

This was our first trip to the capital of Thailand. While many tourists arrive in the country looking to explore its exquisite temples and dream beaches with turquoise-blue water, Bangkok is a city of contrasts with its own unique draw that sets it apart from other skyscraper cities in the world.

The MahaNakhon skyscraper is located in the heart of Bangkok. Standing at 314 meters (1,031 feet) tall, it was the tallest building in Thailand till 2018 and the ninth tallest building in the world. The building was designed by German architect Ole Scheeren and was completed in 2016.

Even as you enter the building you can sense a place where luxury meets privilege. Inside the lobby you can find the ticket counter for MahaNakhon SkyWalk. Apart from premium shopping areas, the 78-story building is home to the Ritz-Carlton Residences, one of the most sought after residences in all of Bangkok.

Tripods are not allowed inside the MahaNakhon Observatory

We were asked to leave the tripod behind on the ground floor. Lockers are provided to store your tripods safely. I am sure many visitors end up here not knowing that tripods are not allowed at the skywalk and the locker is a big benefit for them.

Video-themed elevators

After securing the tripod, we proceeded to the elevator boarding area passing through a Bangkok-themed digital corridor.

Just prior to catching the lift, we passed a section where they were shooting pictures of visitors on a green screen. You can buy a printed set of these photos when you leave.

The lift was already full and we were the last ones to get on. I believe it can hold around 15 people at a time. As the lift started a fly-through video started on the walls of the lift. It was fun to watch.

You can also buy MahaNakhon skywalk tickets from beforehand on their official website.

Facts about MahaNakhon Tower

Mahanakhon is a mixed-use building, with retail and dining outlets occupying the lower levels, while the upper levels are home to luxury residential apartments and the MahaNakhon SkyWalk. The building’s name, “MahaNakhon,” is derived from the Thai word for “great metropolis,” a fitting name for a building that dominates the skyline of one of Southeast Asia’s most vibrant cities.

The tower was opened to public in August 2016 following an eight-year planning and construction phase. The total project value of the construction is near to 21 billion baht (US$620 million).

The tower defies the typical podium typology, creating a skyscraper that has been carved to introduce a three-dimensional ribbon of architectural pixels that coil up the tower’s full height. The distinctive cut that snakes around the building gives it an unfinished appearance from a distance.

In a play of one-upmanship by a competing development the MahaNakhon tower lost the title of tallest building in Bangkok in 2018, when the Magnolias Waterfront Residences Tower 1 was completed with 315m, just one more than the MahaNakhon.

MahaNakhon SkyWalk Indoor Observatory

The lift brought us up directly to the Observatory on the 74th Floor. It says in the booklet that it takes just 50 seconds to travel the 74 floors. The observatory and the Sky Bar occupy floors 74th to 77th.

The 74th floor offers a unique 360 degrees view over the city of Bangkok while educating the viewer on the city’s heritage and history through inscriptions and city maps engraved on the floor, while the two top floors are outdoor spaces occupied by the Sky Bar and Skytray and are meant for leisure and amusement of visitors.

All the sides have continuous glass walls from which you can see the stunning Bangkok skyline. On the observatory floor, you can also find a miniature model of the MahaNakhon building.

The top of the tower houses a three-floor Sky Bar and restaurant with double-height spaces and an outdoor rooftop bar with 360º views, floating 310 meters above the city.

This Post Box is a replica of the very first mailbox of Thailand.

From the observatory you will need to go up an escalator to the 75th floor. From here a spiral staircase leads up to the terrace. Alternatively, you can also use an elevator to go up to the terrace.

You will be provided a shoe cover here for going on to the glass tray

The staff here might tell you that you cannot come down to the observatory once you go to the terrace but you very much can. You have to use the stairs beside the circular stairs on the 75th floor to go down.

Even though it was November, you could feel the stifling heat as you come out onto the open terrace. Bangkok is more near to home than I could have imagined.

As we walked toward the edge of the terrace, we could see the city emerging.

Glass tray at MahaNakhon

The glass trays are at a height of 300 meters. It is is cantilevered out from the building to give visitors views directly down to the ground below. It was the main attraction for us: to stand on this glass tray with a bird eye’s view of the beautiful skyline below. Visitors are required to cover their shoes with the disposable shoe cover provided on the 75th floor.

This attraction is known as the Skytray, a walkable glass platform of 4.5×17.5 meters that is not only sure to attract thousands of visitors every year but also ensure that these visitors post breathtaking photos of them walking on the glass platform on their social media.

Please note that visitors are not allowed to take any loose items including mobile phones, camera, selfie sticks and other items to the glass tray.

The glass floor, constructed and laminated by Sedak, is fabricated from six multi-layered panels, each measuring 4.14 x 2.69 m. Each panel comprises seven pieces of 12 mm heat strengthened low-iron glass alternated with 1.52 mm SentryGlas®, creating a 13-ply glass/interlayer construction, which still offers excellent clarity. For those feeling unsure on getting on to the glass tray, SentryGlas® ionoplast interlayer is tougher and 100 times stiffer then the older PVB interlayers.

Photography of the glass tray is only permitted from a photo taking area outside of the glass tray.

If you do not have anybody to take your photo while you walk on the glass tray, the staff will help you.

Thailand’s highest rooftop bar with signature drinks and cocktails.

Gazing at the unobstructed view of the city we enjoyed some chicken pie from the Skybar.
Note: The snacks are a bit on the expensive side.

The MahaNakhon Terrace

MahaNakhon was recognized as Thailand’s Tallest Building (2016 – 2018), certified by the Council of Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat in April 2016. Its luxury ‘mixed-use’ development is specifically designed to complement the city’s existing skyline and gives Bangkok an iconic architectural landmark.

Sunset from MahaNakhon

As we approached the Golden hour, the cityscape turned into a glowing orange with light that is soft, warm, and golden.

The Bangkok skyline at sunset is a breathtaking sight to behold. The city is known for its towering skyscrapers, which seem to rise up from the ground and stretch towards the sky. As the sun begins to set, the city is bathed in a warm, golden light that gives the skyscrapers a beautiful, glowing appearance.

The towering skyscrapers seem to glow with an otherworldly radiance, and the city’s many temples and shrines are lit up in a way that is both beautiful and serene. It is a truly breathtaking sight to see, and one that is sure to leave a lasting impression on anyone who witnesses it. Night falls gently in Bangkok and lights come on across the city.

My Nikon 810 was struggling to capture this beautiful cityscape so I switch to my Sony AS3 in hope more than anything that maybe it can do better.

The beautifully lit building in the above photo is that of ICON SIAM. I haven’t been there yet. Hope to go therein the future as it looks pretty appealing.

Along the ICON SIAM, you can see the Chao Phraya River. The river is an important source of food for the people of Thailand, and it is also home to many floating markets where people buy and sell goods from boats. It is a popular tourist destination, with numerous boat tours and cruises available for visitors to experience the sights and sounds of the river. The Chao Phraya River is home to several important temples and landmarks, including the Wat Arun temple and the Grand Palace in Bangkok.

On the way out we grabbed the set of printed photos, photoshopped to look as if taken from the terrace.

Since its completion, MahaNakhon has become a popular tourist destination in Bangkok. In addition to the observation deck, the building also features a rooftop bar and restaurants. It is a popular spot for both locals and tourists to take in the breathtaking views of the city and enjoy a meal or drink at one of the many dining and entertainment options.

King Power MahaNakhon building was conceived to reflect the ambition and excitement of one of the world’s most dynamic cities. It is a showcase of one of the most significant examples of contemporary architecture and urban design in all of Thailand. Designed by an award-winning architect, Ole Scheeren, the MahaNakhon Building spirals up through the urban jungle of Bangkok, representing this vibrant city. Bangkok, with its contrasting mix of traditional temples and modern skyscrapers, has developed an eclectic skyline and the MahaNakhon Building fits right in.

From the summit of MahaNakhon, the panorama unfolds into a mesmerizing tapestry of urban brilliance. Perched above the bustling city, the view encapsulates the vibrant energy of Thailand’s capital. Gazing out, one witnesses the convergence of modernity and tradition, as gleaming high-rises stand in juxtaposition with historic landmarks. The Chao Phraya River meanders through the urban sprawl, reflecting the glimmering lights of the cityscape. At night, the skyline transforms into a dazzling display of colors, and the bustling streets below come alive.

Thanks for reading! I hope you like my story. Please leave a comment if you have any questions.

Visitor Information

What are the open hours for MahaNakhon?

Daily from 10.00-19.00 hrs. (last admission 18.30 hrs.)

How do I reach MahaNaknon using Skytrain?

BTS Skytrain via Chong Nonsi Station, exit 3

What is the price of admission tickets to MahaNakhon Skywalk?

Adults: ฿880.00
Kids: ฿250.00
Seniors (Age 60+) : ฿250.00

Visitors can also avail some package options that come with complimentary drink and food coupons. Various offers are also available during festival times when they offer discounts on the price of the tickets.

The Dazzling White Temple: Wat Rong Khun

Nestled in the serene landscape of Chiang Rai, Thailand, Wat Rong Khun, commonly known as the White Temple, is a contemporary Buddhist temple. The temple’s design is unique and striking, featuring an intricate structure covered in white plaster and adorned with pieces of mirrored glass. This reflects the sun’s rays, creating a dazzling effect that symbolizes the purity and wisdom of Buddha.

The temple was designed and built under the visionary guidance of renowned Thai artist and architect Chalermchai Kositpipat and is proof of his artistic brilliance. Chalermchai’s vision has not merely bestowed upon the local residents a place of worship but has also transformed it into a sought-after tourist destination.

The white temple had been on my radar since the time a fellow photographer posted some pictures on 500px several years ago. When my dream of visiting Thailand was finally becoming a reality, there was no way I would miss this opportunity to visit one of the most iconic complex in all of Thailand.

Wat Rong Khun is not just a religious site but a masterpiece that has captivated the hearts of visitors worldwide. Chalermchai has been successful in creating a temple that not only serves as a place of worship but also as a work of art that transcends cultural and religious boundaries. Tourism in Thailand is seen as a way to increase the country’s reputation in the world. as a source of national pride and a modern symbol of the nation, the temple has now become an iconic landmark within the province and, to a significant extent, across the entire country.

The temple opens to the public after 8 am but since it is not hidden behind any enclosure, if you wish to observe the temple sans the crowds, you can come anytime in the early morning. There is a small shopping arcade nearby where you can wait for the temple to open over a fresh glass of fruit juice. The outer premises of the temple is decorated with statues of demons and other supernatural beings, manga characters, as well as depictions of several action heroes like Venom and Predator.

Even common signages like a No-smoking sign have been tackled in a creative way making them part of the architectural design of the temple.

Brief history of White Temple

Before we go into the intricacies of the temple it is important to know the name behind this masterpiece. Chalermchai Kositpipat was born in Chiang Rai. He is a renowned contemporary Thai artist and the visionary behind the iconic Wat Rong Khun, or the White Temple. His artistic journey has left an indelible mark on the cultural landscape of Thailand, blending traditional Thai artistry with modern expressions.

Built in the 1950s, Wat Rong Khun initially stood as one among numerous small village temples in Thailand. By the 1990s, this four-decades-old temple required extensive repairs. The dining hall and grand gate underwent reconstruction, supervised by Phra Khru Chakhriyanuyut, who also introduced a herbal sauna for the rehabilitation of drug addicts. Nevertheless, the main structure, known as the bot or ubosot, also demanded restoration, as it had become unsuitable for religious worship.

In 1996, the decision was made to demolish the old bot or ubosot to pave the way for a new hall. Regrettably, a year later, the financial crisis of 1997 gripped the entirety of Thailand. Faced with economic hardships, the villagers lacked the resources to contribute to the reconstruction efforts, resulting in the abandonment of the project and leaving them without a bot. Given that Rong Khun is his hometown, Chalermchai, determined to lend a helping hand, took charge of the situation.

In the late 1990s, he embarked on the ambitious project of transforming the decaying Wat Rong Khun into a masterpiece that stands as a symbol of Thai culture and spirituality. Wat Rong Khun is not only a place of worship, but also a symbol of Ajarn Chalermchai’s vision of a “new art form” in which traditional Buddhist teachings are blended with modern ideas and images.

The construction of the new temple was undeniably a monumental undertaking, unparalleled in scale across Thailand. The initial temple occupied 4 rai, equivalent to 6400 m2, a typical size for a village temple. However, Chalermchai’s expansive vision surpassed this modest scale, necessitating additional space. To accommodate his grand design, surrounding rice paddies were procured and integrated into the temple grounds. Consequently, the temple now spans 10 rai and 100 square wa, equivalent to 16400 m2, making it notably larger in comparison to other village temples in Thailand.

The construction of Wat Rong Khun began in 1997 and most of it was ready by 2008 when it was opened to the public. The temple is a testament to his artistic genius, featuring intricate handcrafted details, stunning architecture, and a fusion of Buddhist symbolism with contemporary themes. Kositpipat, however, has an even mega plan for the site. Once finished, the complex of the White Temple will comprise nine structures, incorporating the current ubosot, a relics hall, a meditation hall, an art gallery, and residential spaces for monks. By the time of writing this article, the project has cost him more than $30 million of his own money. If all goes well, the temple should be finished by 2070.

White Temple

The temple ground is rectangular, with a walkway as its main east-west axis. The ground is then divided into three sections, two on the southern side of the walkway and one on its northern side. The temple currently has nine main buildings, three in each section and some other minor ones. These three main sections are the Karawat, the Sanghawat and the Buddhawat. The Karawat is the section for the laity, with a shop, a bathroom and a preaching hall. The Sanghawat, the section for the monks, has the crematorium, the kuti or the residence for the monks, and a hall of contemplation. The Buddhawat is the section for the Buddha, where we find the bot, the pavilion of relics and the pavilion of images.


The Buddhawat occupies the entire northern expanse of the temple, separated from the Karawat and the Shangawat by a white picket fence. Within this section, three principal structures – the bot, the pavilion of relics, and the pavilion of images are aligned in a straight formation, with two bridges interspersed between them. This arrangement is complemented by various auxiliary constructions, forming an intricate and ornamentally adorned ensemble. The Buddhawat features an array of embellishments, including fountains, water pools, freestanding statues, meticulously tended trees, and bridges one situated in front of the bot and another linking the pavilion of images and the pavilion of relics along with other decorative elements.

The bridge of “the cycle of rebirth”

Once we crossed the gate into the Buddhawat, we were directed towards a path leading to the “bridge of rebirth.” It is the most iconic feature of Wat Rong Khun, which leads to the main temple. The “Bridge of the Cycle of Rebirth,” is a long, white, and narrow bridge that stretches over a small pond. It is covered in intricate designs and symbols, including depictions of demons and other figures from Buddhist and Hindu mythology.

Before reaching the bridge, however, the visitors need to walk over Mara’s mouth, in which you can find hundreds of hands as well as a few feet and faces of people damned to hell. These hands and feet are close to the visitors, making this a physical and graphic journey through hell. This section of the temple attracts a lot of attention.

The bridge represents the journey from the cycle of birth and death to the path of enlightenment. The hands reaching up from the depths of hell symbolize the struggle to overcome worldly desires, while the heavenly figures on the other side signify the attainment of spiritual liberation. The bridge serves as a symbol of the journey from the material world to the spiritual world, and the process of attaining enlightenment.

The demons are meant to represent the obstacles one must overcome in order to attain enlightenment. The white color of the temple symbolizes the purity of the Buddha and the glass and mirror decorations are meant to represent the Buddha’s wisdom and the reflections of the visitors.

After traversing the representation of hell, visitors encounter two stylized demons, positioned on either side of the Bridge of Rebirth. While statues of demons are commonly seen in Thai temples, the ones at Wat Rong Khun differ significantly from the more conventional depictions typically found in expansive, traditional Thai temple grounds. The demons here at Wat Rong Khun bear a closer resemblance to characters found in graphic novels rather than adhering to the conventional styles of traditional Thai art.

Visitors must cross the Sukhawadee Bridge to enter the temple, representing the transition from the material world to the spiritual world. As they walk on the bridge, they pass by the statue of demons and other figures, which serves as a reminder of the negative qualities and obstacles that one must overcome in order to achieve enlightenment.

Gate of Heaven

Upon crossing the bridge, visitors reach the “gate of heaven,” protected by two creatures symbolizing Death and Rahu, determining the fate of the deceased. In front of the ubosot, numerous meditative Buddha images are displayed.

Below the gate, you can find a cute little pond with Koi fishes swimming in the clear transparent waters.

A statue of a Kinnaree is located just before the main hall of the temple. The statue is depicted with a serene expression and is holding a lotus flower, which is a symbol of spiritual purity and enlightenment. This statue serves as a reminder of the beauty and grace that can be attained through spiritual practice.

A Kinnaree is a mythical creature that is typically depicted as a half-human, half-bird being. In Thai Buddhism, the Kinnaree is associated with beauty, grace, and spiritual purity. The Kinnaree is often depicted in art and architecture, particularly in temples, as a symbol of the spiritual journey and the attainment of enlightenment.

In addition to the statues, the Kinnaree is also depicted in various other forms of art and decoration throughout the temple, such as in the murals and frescoes. This serves as a reminder of the importance of art and culture in Buddhism, and how it can be used to convey spiritual messages.


As I followed the only path available, I crossed the enchanting Bridge of Rebirth, finding myself standing in awe before the most captivating structure on the temple grounds – the Ubosot (main hall). The leaf-like patterns at the top of the bridge unfolded a story of Mount Meru, while the fountain-like structures beneath, nestled in the pool, mirrored the embracing mountain range.

My eyes were drawn to the four flame-like structures at the corners of the bot, each adorned with small human figures symbolizing the Buddha’s early disciples. As I gazed up at the pinnacle of the bot, the roof finials took on the shapes of stylized animals, gracefully representing the four elements: fire, water, air, and earth. The intricate details painted a vivid narrative, making my journey through Wat Rong Khun an immersive and personal experience.

The temple is also adorned with pieces of glass and mirrors, which reflect the sunlight and give the temple a shimmering appearance. The main hall of the temple, known as the “Ubosot,” features a statue of the Buddha made of black glass and gold leaf.

The Ubosot is a large, all-white building that serves as the center of the temple complex. It is the place where the main altar is located and where ceremonies and rituals are held. The Ubosot is adorned with intricate details and symbols, including depictions of demons and other figures from Buddhist and Hindu mythology. You will have to carry your shoes in your hand while entering the Ubosot.

The main attraction of the Ubosot is the statue of the Buddha made of black glass and gold leaf. The statue sits in the center of the hall and is surrounded by other statues and sculptures. Photography is not allowed inside. The statue is a representation of the Buddha’s teachings and serves as a reminder of the path to enlightenment.

A large mural in front of the statue depicts the struggle between Buddha and the demon Mara. It represents the final conflict of Lord Buddha’s own demon before he attained enlightenment. The eyes of the demon have George Bush and Bin Laden painted in the pupil area. When asked about these depiction, Ajarn Chalermchai had responded that it was to caution both as violence hurts entire humanity.

The Ubosot also features several other statues and sculptures, including statues of the Hindu god Ganesha and the bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara. These statues serve as a reminder of the universality of spiritual teachings and the importance of transcending cultural boundaries in the pursuit of enlightenment.

Once you come out of the Ubosot, you can find a small enclosure that seats about three people at a time. Here you can get back into your shoes.

From here you can continue on the circumambulatory passage going around the temple hall. On both sides of the main hall, there are beautiful depictions of Buddha sitting inside a lotus.

Just behind the main hall lies the Buddha Relics Tower. But it was closed at the time of my visit

In addition to the demon head and multi-armed statue, the Wat Rong Khun also features other monster idols such as a giant serpent and a demon emerging from the ground. These statues serve as a reminder of the dangers and obstacles that can arise on the path to enlightenment, and that one must always be vigilant in order to overcome them.

To come out of the temple you have to come out through this southern gate.

The exit gate features two of the most beautifully designed dragons.

Coming out of the main temple you will find yourself in front of another beautifully designed golden building. It is a restroom. Of course, when everything else is following the same pattern why not the restroom as well?

Just beside the restroom, there is an intricately decorated walkway that leads to the farther areas of the temple.

As we walked through the walkway, on the right we could see certain areas of the temple that were undergoing renovation.

When this area is finished, it will lead the visitors directly to the Buddhist Tower connected by a small bridge known as the Sukhawadee Bridge.

Buddhist Tower

Belfry at Wat Rong Khun

Dhamma Garden

Ganesha Temple

One of the most prominent symbols is the statue of Ganesha, the Hindu god of wisdom, knowledge and new beginnings.

Ganesha is often depicted as a figure with an elephant head and a human body. He is known for his intelligence and his ability to remove obstacles, making him a popular figure in Hinduism and Buddhism. Ganesha is often invoked at the beginning of any new venture or undertaking as a symbol of good luck and success.

At the Wat Rong Khun, the statue of Ganesha is placed prominently at the entrance of the temple. It serves as a reminder to visitors to approach their spiritual journey with wisdom and knowledge and to be open to new beginnings. The statue also serves as a reminder that obstacles may arise on the path to enlightenment, but with the guidance of Ganesha, one can overcome them.

The statue of Ganesha at Wat Rong Khun is also unique in its design as it is fused with traditional Thai art and culture. It showcases the blending of different cultures and religions, and how they can coexist in harmony. The statue symbolizes the universality of spiritual teachings and the importance of transcending cultural boundaries in the pursuit of enlightenment.

Wat Rong Khun has become a major tourist attraction, drawing visitors from around the globe to Chiang Rai. The unique blend of traditional Thai spirituality and contemporary artistry has created a cultural landmark that transcends the boundaries of religious affiliations. The temple has not only contributed to the local economy but has also elevated Chiang Rai’s status as a must-visit destination in Thailand.

The temple’s popularity has led to increased tourism, benefiting local businesses and creating employment opportunities. Additionally, the revenue generated from entrance fees and donations is often reinvested into the maintenance and restoration of the temple, ensuring its continued splendor for future generations.

However, Wat Rong Khun has also been the subject of controversy and criticism. Some have criticized the temple for its commercialization and the inclusion of non-Buddhist elements in its design. Others have raised concerns about the temple’s environmental impact, as it was built on a rice field and required the excavation of a large area of land. Some also criticized the temple for its lack of religious significance, as it is primarily used as an art exhibit.

Despite the criticism, Wat Rong Khun continues to be a major tourist attraction and a symbol of Ajarn Chalermchai’s unique vision. The temple’s intricate and striking design, combined with its message of peace and unity, make it a worthwhile destination for those interested in Buddhism, art, and architecture. The temple is a reflection of the artist’s creativity, originality, and his passion for conveying the Buddhist teachings in a modern way. Wat Rong Khun is a thought-provoking and inspiring place that challenges traditional notions of Buddhism and art.

After thoroughly explorig the Wat Rong Khun, we walked into the Karawat gift shop. Unlike the usual gift shops associated with temples, especially those attracting tourists, Karawat breaks away from the norm. Instead of the typical religious-themed merchandise like amulets, Buddha statues, or Buddhism-related literature, this gift shop stands out by offering printed reproductions of the artist’s paintings, multiple biographies about him, as well as t-shirts and postcards featuring images of the temple itself.

What caught my attention was the absence of conventional Buddhist teachings and religious paraphernalia that are commonly found in gift shops at other temples. Positioned between a museum gift shop, showcasing art reproductions and coffee table books, and a typical tourist attraction gift shop with various t-shirts, caps, keychains, and trinkets, Wat Rong Khun’s gift shop is truly distinctive. It provides a unique opportunity to purchase printed copies of Chalermchai’s original works, adding an artistic flair to the temple visit. I myself purchased a canvas painting for my study room.

My heartfelt gratitude to each one of you who took the time to read through my article. If you liked it, please leave me a comment. If there are areas where you think I can enhance the storytelling, I would greatly appreciate your feedback.

Apricot blooms in Ladakh

Ladakh is a magical place known for its gorgeous mountains, crystal-clear lakes, and rich cultural traditions. This is my second visit to the land of passes. This time Mani and I came a month early to capture the Apricot Blossom Festival in Ladakh that celebrates the region’s natural beauty and cultural heritage. The festival takes place in April when the trees start blooming, covering the hills and valleys in a blanket of pink and white.

Very less people know that they also host the Apricot Blossom Festival. You might have heard of Japan’s Cherry Blossom Festival, but what about the apricot one in Ladakh? Apricot was first introduced when Ladakh was a famous Silk route and this event was organized to celebrate such exclusive beauty of nature. Organized across various places in Ladakh, the festival is held in collaboration with the local communities to make tourism more eco-friendly and to find ways for local people to benefit from the event.

Apricot blooms refer to the beautiful and delicate flowers that blossom on apricot trees during the spring season. These blooms are known for their pale pink to white petals and are a stunning sight when they blanket apricot orchards in a sea of soft colors. Apricot trees typically produce these blossoms before they bear fruit, making them a welcome sign of the changing seasons and the promise of a fruitful harvest to come. Enjoying apricot blooms in Ladakh is a delightful experience, as the region’s landscape is transformed into a sea of pink and white during the blooming season.

Apricots, called “Chuli/Halmann” in Ladakhi, were brought to the dry area of Ladakh by Chinese traders who passed through the area along the Silk Road more than a hundred years ago. Now, in the 21st century, the fruit is an integral part of Ladakh’s culture, history, and economy. Due to its cold climate, Ladakh is a great place to grow apricots and apples.

Apricot trees thrive in cooler climates, with an average maximum temperature of 18-19 degrees Celsius during the crop-growing season. These trees go dormant during severe winters and bloom in the spring. Another vital climatic factor is aridity, as drier conditions lead to higher-quality apricots.

It usually takes five to six years for the fruiting of the apricot plant. Typically, the fruit ripens in Ladakh in July, August and September. The productive life of an apricot tree is 80-100 years. So, while it takes five years for the fruit to come, you will get quality fruits on an apricot tree for a long time. On average, a tree produces about 30-50 kg of apricots every year.

The flowering of apricot trees is not only visually pleasing but also plays a crucial role in the pollination process, as it attracts bees and other pollinators, ensuring the development of apricot fruit. Apricot blooms are celebrated in various cultures and have even inspired festivals in regions where apricot cultivation is prominent.

The event celebrates the delicate pink flowers which come into full bloom throughout Ladakh’s two districts – Leh and Kargil. The flowers, just like the Japanese Sakura, do not last long and thus attract huge numbers of tourists when they bloom.

Vibrant cultural programmes, local handicraft stalls and Ladakhi food are generally part of this festival. Visitors are also able to enjoy locally produced items such as apricot jam, dried apricots, apricot wine, and other products made using the fruit.

This year’s festival, the theme of which is Chuli Mentok 2023, offers visitors the chance to stock up on locally made goods, including apricot jellies, dried fruit, juices, and even wine. The festival includes various activities, such as traditional music and dance performances, local food and craft exhibitions, and guided tours of the apricot orchards. The festival is also a great place to buy handicrafts made in the area, which is always a fun part of the Apricot Blossom Festival.

Researchers have also found that the sweetness of apricots increases with the rise in altitude.

If you are fond of apricot you might also know about apricot blossom flower from which blooms the apricot. The season for apricot blossom flower in Ladakh is from the beginning of April till May. Apricot blossom has the charisma to catch the attention of your eyes.

By the month of July – September they start producing yellow, orange rounded or oval-shaped apricot fruits. The oil extracted from the Raktsey Karpo seed is used for edible purposes either in pure form or mixed with walnut oil. A spoonful of oil is mixed with finely ground roasted barley flour, salted tea, and sugar to prepare a local dish called Phemar which is served during festive occasions.

There are varieties of apricots grown in Ladakh that differ from one another in taste (sweet, bitter and sour) and that also differ in size. The varieties include Halman, Laktse-Karpo, Safaida and Khanteh etc. Halman and Laktse-Karpo are the most preferred ones for commercial purposes. Apricot products such as apricot juice, apricot jam, apricot etc. are made. The apricots are even exported in the international market as well as within India.

Both the fruit and kernel of apricot are believed to be highly nutritive and consumed as either fresh or dried. It has become an essential part of the traditional culture of people in Ladakh. Local people serve dry or fresh apricots as dessert. It also has health benefits.

Rakstep Karpo is a unique variant of Apricot that consuming only in Ladakh. That is why locals celebrate the day as Apricot Blossom Festival. The Ladakhi apricot Raktsey Karpo received its first-ever Geographical Indication (GI) in 2022. This highly sought-after GI tag accreditation is granted for 20 years. Along with nine other items, Raktsey Karpo Apricot has recently been registered in the GI tag lists. Despite growing more than thirty different varieties of apricots, the Raktsey Karpo variety is exclusive to the Ladakh region. This unique apricot type from Ladakh is unparalleled in flavour and vibrant with white Kernel. Raktsey Karpo variety is primarily concentrated in and around Sham, Leh, Nubra and Kargil.

We did not visit Nubra this time but I hear it is renowned for its apricot orchards. The entire valley is a sight to behold during the blooming season. Consider staying in a local homestay in a village like Diskit or Hunder. This not only provides an authentic experience but also allows you to be closer to the orchards.

Raktsey Karpo is also rich in sorbitol – a natural glucose substitute that can be consumed by diabetics. And that’s not all. The oil from its seed is known to relieve back aches and joint pain!

Ladakh is one of the most popular places for tourist destinations and tourists can also celebrate the festivals of Apricot blossom. As a part of the festival, visitors can enjoy the local cultural programs, and different exhibitions and experience apricot trees blossoming. Moreover, they can purchase the products of apricots as a souvenir.

Remember that Ladakh is a high-altitude region, so it’s important to acclimatize properly, stay hydrated, and take precautions for altitude sickness.

Thanks for reading. Please leave your comments if you enjoyed my story or follow me on my journey as we visit the Kargil War Memorial to pay respect at the memorial dedicated to the martyred soldiers.

What is the best time to see the Apricot Blossom Festival?

When: April 4 to 17, 2023
Where: Lhardo (April 4), Saspol (April 5), Udmaroo (April 10), Garkone (April 8), Sumoor (April 11), Hardass/Shilichiy (April 16), Karkitchoo/Chanigound (April 17)

Stok Palace

Nestled in the picturesque landscape of Ladakh, the Stok Palace & Monastery stands as a profound reflection of the rich cultural heritage of this remote Himalayan region. Located approximately 15 kilometers from the bustling town of Leh, Stok Palace serves as the residential palace of the royal family of King Sengge Namgyal. Today, we will explore the fascinating history, architecture, and cultural significance of this magnificent palace and the adjacent monastery.

We had booked a cab for the entirety of the trip that would pick us up every day in the morning, right from our hotel. It was a great help as it helped us save time looking for rides on a daily basis. From Leh, Stok Palace can also be reached by local jeeps or through shared taxis. However, please note that you should make sure that you have some method of transportation to get back as well. It will be very difficult to get one-way transport back to Leh from Stok.

Brief History of Stok Palace

Commissioned in 1820 CE by King Tsepal Tondup Namgyal (1790-1841), the Stok Palace is situated opposite Leh on the other side of the river Indus. Tsepal Namgyal, the last independent Gyalpo (King) of Ladakh, inherited the throne when his elder brother died without any children. Tsepal was in every way opposite in character to his brother. He loved an easy life and was lazy in every respect. Despite his nuances, Ladakh flourished during his time, and the people enjoyed peace and happiness. He never went to battle throughout his reign until the Dogra army threatened the very existence of the Ladakhi way of life.

During his reign, the royal treasury had increased so much that the king decided to use it for building a new palace at Stok, also pronounced as “Stog” by locals. Stok, as people would describe was always a “dress colder” than Leh. While Leh Palace was the main seat of power, Stok Palace was built as a retreat for the ruling family. It was ironic that when the Dogra army arrived, led by Zorawar Singh around 1834, the king escaped and took shelter in this very palace he had commissioned.

Historically, Ladakh was an independent kingdom from about 950 CE until 1834, when Dogras from Jammu invaded it. The wool trade has held a significant position in the political history of Ladakh as was the primary interest of the Dogras. Although Ladakh was conquered by the Dogras in 1834, the state was not annexed until 1842. On his first assault on Leh, Zorawar Singh stayed in Leh for four months at the end of which he restored the kingdom of Ladakh back to Tsepal with an agreement that the kingdom would henceforth become a vassal state of the Dogra kingdom of Jammu.

But it was not long before Tsepal revolted against Zorawar. When the gyalpo learned of Zorawar Singh’s quick arrival at Chumri it was too late for him to do anything about it and he thought it wiser to receive the Dogra General outside Leh in all humility, expressing regret at what had happened. Besides extracting the installments of the war indemnity from Tsepal, he deposed him and installed Morupa Tadzi, the minister of Leh, as the gyalpo of Ladakh. Tsepal Namgyal, however, was allowed the village of Stok in Jagir. Tsepal Namgyal was the last independent king of Ladakh and remains much admired in the memories of the people of Leh.

The palace still serves as a summer home for the royalty of Ladakh from the Namgyal Dynasty. It is the only inhabited palace with more than 80 rooms, of which 5 are open to the public. The other two – Leh and Shey Palace are not liveable. While Leh Palace has been converted into a museum, the Shey Palace is in ruins.

A part of the building has been renovated and restored and turned into a heritage hotel. It offers discerning visitors a selection of four suites, a royal suite, and the queen’s bed­room. This magnificent four-story structure sits atop a vast hill surrounded by pebbles that descend from the peak. The palace seamlessly combines elements of both ancient and contemporary architectural styles, set amidst enchanting gardens and breathtaking panoramic vistas. The rooms are decorated in red, creme, and lapis lazuli blue adorned with Ladakhi motifs, rugs, and woodcarvings, with balconies overlooking the beautiful Indus Valley.

The central courtyard is dominated by an open space with a huge tarchen (flagpole). A staircase brings us to a smaller inner courtyard with a smaller tarchen, rooms on different sides, and a smaller staircase leading off to the vari­ous wings of the palace.

The Royal Palace comprises a four-story structure with a fine blend of architecture. The royal family is limited to top floors.

Guests staying at the Stok Palace Heritage Hotel have privileged access to the museum.

Although it is not as imposing as other palaces I have witnessed in India, it does command respect when compared to other surrounding structures. The site is famous for its well-laid gardens and visitors can also enjoy the amazing views of sunrise and sunset.

The palace organizes an annual festival of dance-mask (Cham) that enjoys huge participation by the locals. Visitors can also get to see some of the unique collection of crowns, royal attires, and other significant materials inside the palace. These lower floors were used as stables.

The mask dance known as Cham is a Buddhist dance performed by monks on the rythm of the dungchen(longhorn), gyaling(oboes), ngai(drums) and dung(conch shells), while wearing masks, some of which are fearsome while others are benign. The dance is religious in nature and it symbolizes the destruction of evil spirits.

Stok Palace also houses a must-see museum that has a collection of artifacts and relics related to Ladakh’s old monarchy. It offers a stunning collection of royal outfits, the crown, and other royal articles. One can see ancient coins, royal seals & costumes, jewelry, and photographs along with the royal family’s collection of thangkas, some of which are over 400 years old.

Royal Museum of Stok

Some of the major highlights of the Stok Palace museum are the Queen’s ancient yub-jhur or perak, which is a headpiece encrusted with 401 lumps of uncut turquoise, coral, gold nuggets and other precious stones; a 1,000 years old crown, and an actual knotted sword. The palace also has a temple where the guests are welcome to pay a visit. There are gold and silver teapots; and 35 ancient thangkas telling the Buddha’s story. Visitors can also see wooden blocks used to print prayer flags, and drums and trumpets made of human bone for use in tantric rituals. In one of the rooms is a sword whose blade has been twisted into a knot.

After grabbing some photos, we proceeded towards the Stok monastery, situated atop the hill about 2 kilometers away from the palace.

Hike to Stok Buddha

As we hiked towards the monastery, we could see dozens of chortens scattered all along the mountains. Among the most iconic and spiritually significant architectural elements in Ladakh are the white chortens, also known as stupas. Chortens are powerful symbols of the Buddhist faith. These distinctive structures are not only remarkable for their aesthetic beauty but also for their deep religious and cultural significance in the lives of the Ladakhi people.

Chortens have a long and storied history in Buddhism, dating back to the time of Siddhartha Gautama, the Buddha himself. They were originally built to house sacred relics and scriptures and to commemorate important events and figures in Buddhist history.

Over time, chortens spread across Buddhist regions, each incorporating unique local styles and traditions. In Ladakh, these chortens evolved into the beautiful white structures that grace the landscape today.

On the way, you can also catch this beautiful view of the Stok Palace standing mesmerizingly amidst the serene and awe-inspiring backdrop of the Stok Range of Mountains.

Stok Buddha

The history of Stok Monastery dates back to the 14th century CE when it was founded by Lama Lhawang Lotus. This historical connection adds an air of regal grandeur to the monastery, making it a site of cultural significance. The gompa is affiliated with Gelugpa or the Yellow Hat sect of Buddhism. One of the major attractions of the monastery is its impressive library which has 108 volumes of Buddha’s own discourses known as Kangyur.

The most striking feature of Stok Monastery is its architecture. Like most monasteries in Ladakh, Stok follows the traditional Tibetan architectural style. The main assembly hall or prayer hall, known as the Dukhang, is adorned with colorful murals, intricate woodwork, and statues of Buddhist deities. These artistic embellishments not only showcase the skill of local artisans but also provide visitors with a vivid glimpse into the world of Tibetan Buddhism.

It has various deities that are pictured inside along with 2 thrones that are for the Dalai Lama and his Lama. The central image that is seen here is of Avalokitesvara who has 11 heads and some 1,000 arms.

One of the highlights of the Stok Monastery is its impressive collection of Thangkas. Thangkas are intricately painted scrolls that depict various aspects of Tibetan Buddhist philosophy, cosmology, and religious figures. These Thangkas, some of which are centuries old, are a testament to the monastery’s commitment to preserving its cultural heritage.

The monastery serves as a center for religious rituals, festivals, and meditation practices. Monks residing at Stok Monastery follow the Gelugpa sect of Tibetan Buddhism, and their daily routines include prayers, chanting, and studying Buddhist scriptures. The monastery also plays a pivotal role in the cultural life of the region by hosting annual festivals, including the Stok Guru Tsechu, which draws crowds of devotees and tourists alike.

Beyond its religious and cultural significance, Stok Monastery offers visitors a serene escape from the chaos of modern life. Surrounded by breathtaking Himalayan vistas, the monastery exudes an aura of peace and serenity that makes it an ideal place for meditation and introspection. The tranquil environment, coupled with the spiritual ambiance, attracts travelers seeking solace and a deeper connection with themselves.

The history of the Golden Buddha Statue at Stok is deeply intertwined with the history of the Namgyal dynasty, the royal family of Ladakh. The Stok Monastery, where the statue resides, was founded in the 14th century and has been the residence of the Namgyal dynasty ever since. The statue itself, also known as the Sakyamuni Buddha or Shakyamuni Buddha, is believed to have been consecrated by King Sengge Namgyal in the 16th century, making it an invaluable relic that connects the royalty of Ladakh with their spiritual heritage.

The most striking aspect of the Golden Buddha Statue is, of course, its striking appearance. This statue which was started in 2012 and finished in 2015 was dedicated on August 8, 2016, by Tenzin Gyatso, who is the 14th Dalai Lama. Standing at an impressive height, the statue is crafted from gilded copper and is adorned with intricate ornamentation, jewels, and an aura of serenity that immediately captures the attention of anyone who beholds it. The golden hue of the statue not only represents the richness of the Buddhist faith but also symbolizes the illumination and enlightenment sought by Buddhist practitioners.

The craftsmanship and attention to detail displayed in the Golden Buddha Statue are nothing short of breathtaking. The statue’s facial features are finely chiseled, radiating compassion and wisdom. Its serene countenance, framed by an elaborate headdress, is a testament to the skill and dedication of the artisans who created it. The intricate designs adorning the statue’s robe and the precious jewels set into it add to its splendor, making it a true masterpiece of Tibetan Buddhist art.

Beyond its physical beauty, the Golden Buddha Statue holds profound spiritual significance. It is an embodiment of the historical Buddha, Siddhartha Gautama, who attained enlightenment under the Bodhi tree and dedicated his life to teaching the path to liberation from suffering. The statue’s presence in Stok Monastery serves as a constant reminder of the Buddha’s teachings and the path towards spiritual awakening.

For devotees and pilgrims who visit Stok Monastery, the Golden Buddha Statue is not just a work of art; it is a source of inspiration and a focal point for meditation and prayer. The statue’s serene expression and the aura of tranquility that surrounds it create an environment conducive to inner reflection and spiritual growth. Pilgrims often offer butter lamps, flowers, and prayers to the statue, seeking blessings, guidance, and inner peace.

A day trip from Leh is good enough to explore Stok Palace and the monastery. If you wish for a special experience you can also try to stay at the palace for a night. Spend the day soaking in the tranquility of the place – stroll around the palace, listening to the soothing sound of monks deep in prayers. Later you can enjoy the family museum with jewels, armor, and ‘thangka‘ collection of painted, embroidered ceremonial scrolls found in Buddhist monasteries.

Best Time to Visit Stok Monastery

The ideal months to visit the Stok is between May to October. However, if you wish to witness the local festivals you can try visiting in February.

Stok Guru Tsechu, the festival of Stok Monastery held in February/March, is a major crowd-puller. It is held on the 9th and 10th days of the first month of the Tibetan calendar.

Thanks for reading. Please leave your comments if you enjoyed my story or follow me on my journey as we drive to Kargil with Apricot blooms along the way.