By the time you reach Hoysalewara Temple in Halebid, you’ve most likely already visited Chennakesava Temple of Belur, and thus you are a bonafide “expert” on Hoysala architecture. But if Halebid is first on your stops along the Hassan Hoysala Circuit of Karnataka, you’ll want the services of a guide to walk you through this stunning, dual sanctuary temple. Unfortunately they’re all in Belur waiting for you to arrive. Pick-up guides typically work with tourists in Belur and offer to hitch a ride to Halebid as part of their services. Unless you can find a guide waiting for a bus to take him back to Belur, the only guide you’ll have here is named Lonely Planet. A guide can also get you through the thick hoards of tourists and touts who can’t help but get bottlenecked near the temple entrance gates.
Halebid’s Hoysalewara Temple and Belur’s Chennakesava Temple are artistically similar in many fashions. Each of the Hindu temples is built on a star shaped platform with small shrines flanking steps toward temple doors; each temple is adorned by multiple layers of stone friezes depicting horses, lions, elephants, and garlands topped by larger panels of carved deities; and each temple has unique stone screen covered mandapas. What differs at Hoysalewara Temple (and again for those that start at this location before moving on to Belur you’ll want a guide to walk you through the intricacies of Hoysala craftsmanship) is the open space surrounding this complex. Where Chennakesava Temple is entirely engulfed within a massive wall and block courtyards, the Hoysala temple of Halebid is gorgeously set upon a grassy open field butting against a small lake, all under the shade of swaying palm trees and manicured foliage.
Eighty seven years in the making, construction is believed to have started around 1121, yet this awe inspiring temple devoted to Lord Shiva was never completed before the Hoysala Dynasty fell victim to invasion. Intricate carvings have somehow escaped centuries worth of sun, rain and pollution albeit much damage can be spotted.
An archaeological museum within the temple complex houses hundred of Hoysala stone carvings. An entry fee is required, however, unless you fancy yourself a historian, the bulk of what is to see can be viewed simply by walking toward the lake. Many of the artifacts are in plain view behind a ramshackle wire fence. Be careful with cameras as photography is said to be prohibited.
The only other reason to stop at the museum’s small ticket booth is to peruse a thin but rewarding collection of books for sale. Most are written in Kannada while a few titles can be found in English. Finding an attendant for purchases is an exercise in patience.
A statue of Nandi the Bull sits quietly at the end of a path near the lake’s edge. Tourist, tout and monkey free, this is a terrific spot for photos, prayer or lunch. Wash basins and toilets are located adjacent the museum.
Another extra-curricular activity after completing your sightseeing is stopping for a picnic lunch under any number of shade-rich trees near the temple. You’ll find several families with the same idea as it’s a great way to enjoy some time (especially with kids) before moving on.
Extra time should be factored into any itinerary to properly enjoy this temple. Depending on the time of day, late morning/early afternoon sun can be brutal during most seasons. Bring a brolly, hat, lots of sunscreen and bottled water for this tourist delight. Plan a minimum of 1 – 2 hours. If time permits do make a side trip to Kedareswara Temple just a few minutes away.
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