I got up at six thirty to get ready for my tour. I'm taking a bus tour out to the temple complexes at Sravanabelagola, Halebid, and Belur. It was far from cold, but cool enough for me to be happy about having hot water. The start of the tour was fairly typical - i.e. slow. After picking everyone up the guide collected the tour vouchers and we then had to drive around to everyplace that had sold the tour and collect the money. Then stop at the gas station to fill up. Then lastly at a drive up temple where the guide paid to have himself and the bus blessed (he got a dot, the car got a yellow and vermilion Omm drawn on the windshield). I like the group of people I'm with - I'm the only non-Indian so there's a lot of curiosity. I think I've decided the reason I don't mind tours in India is because they're still a cultural experience for me. In most countries if you get on a tour you are only with other foreigners, why bother to be in the country at all? Here in India the others are almost invariably mostly from other parts of India - so I get a chance to learn about what the tour is showing, plus about the people of India.
We drove for about and hour and a half the stopped for an hour for breakfast (I had a dosai and poori with the usual dahl and coconut chutney - it was very good). From the restaurant it was only a half hour drive to Sravanabelagola. Sravanabelagola is a small town with two out of place hills in the middle. There are temple complexes on top of each of the rocky hills. We hiked up the taller of the two hills (Vindhyagiri) to the giant statue of Gommateshwara (the Jain saint - a contemporary of the Buddha). It was a long hike up 700+ steps carved into the rock. In my rush this morning I'd forgotten to heed the guidebooks advice and didn't bring socks. Since the hike has to be done barefoot that could have been a very painful experience, luckily we were early enough that the rock wasn't blistering hot yet. At the very top of the hill is a large (~50 foot) monolithic statue. It's a bit strangely proportioned but conveys a great sense of peace. The standing figure is nude (Jains are absolute minimalists) with finely carved stone vines running up its legs. It was all pretty impressive, but from talking to other travelers I'd heard it compared to Petra as one of the great sights of the planet, and it's really just another large Buddha type statue. We got to spend an hour in Sravanabelagola then it was back on the bus for the two hour drive to Halebid.
In Halebid we went to the Hoysalesvara Temple. The twelfth century temple is very impressive - exquisite carvings cover every surface inside and outside. Besides the main temple there are two columned platforms each with a large statues of a bull flanking it. The carvings really are amazing. the entire temple is banded with six rows of carvings - starting at the base with a row of elephants (more than 1,000 of them and each one different), followed by a row of lions, a row of horsemen doing battle, flowers, then a row of friezes depicting incidents from the epics (mostly the Ramayana - though there were also my favorite showing positions from the Karma Sutra!). I definitely felt rushed at this stop - we were told we had an hour, but after fifty minutes I was almost forcibly dragged back to the bus - two hours would have been better.
Another two hour drive got us to Belur. We stopped and hour for lunch which was ok, but I was starting to get annoyed that they were allotting more time for eating than at the temples. We visited Chennakesava Temple, another twelfth century temple. It also is covered with incredible carvings - almost as good Hoysalesvara. In fact it was never looted so there is less damage to some of the carvings. It's built on a star shaped platform which houses several small shrines. The temple is smaller than the last one (there are "only" 650 elephants on the base row - again all different). Here we were only given forty minutes - only enough time to walk around and through the structure once - not even enough time to even glance at the carvings on the courtyard walls (they looked good from a distance). Then it was a very long drive home.
The drive was made much longer by the guide and driver picking up and dropping off passengers off for extra cash. I think one of the reasons we were rushed through the temples is so that they would have more time to make some extra money. After a hellish nearly five hour trip I was dropped off at my hotel. The three temples I saw were fantastic, but I was disappointed with the tour - it was 13 hours long and less than three of those were spent at the sites! Two were spent eating, and more than eight driving! Plus the roads were very bad and the driver worse - it was scary even by Indian bus standards. Back at the hotel I went out for a walk. I figured out that if I was going to call home it was a little cheaper to by a GSM phone card for my mobile - and I get the benefit of having a number they can call me on. My phone number for the next few days is +91-98452-98415 - they told me that it would continue to work into Goa so it might be good for the next couple weeks, but I'm doubtful that it will work outside of Karnataka. I had a light diner at the hotel restaurant. More dosai and dahl - good, but I'm starting to crave some western food - I might stop in Bangalore just so I can go to Pizza Hut! I finished off the day with a call home - the first time in three months.