It had been an early morning arrival, so I chose to sink into the soft mattress of the immaculately clean room for another two hours, barely comprehending much of the environment over the yawns. It must have been close to three hours, when I was jolted out of a dream with a loud horn and then beating drums just outside the window. I peeped out to see three men, colourfully dressed, holding the chantaki and shambal (local instruments), swaying in devotion. This is something I had to click. Camera in tow, I started my walk through the Shivavilas Palace, a brilliant secret just 40km from Hampi.
The walk started from the long driveway fringed by tall green trees and into the façade of the domed palace. The most interesting of many stories that converged at my royal immersion, was the one about the Ghorpades and Bhosles (Karna Singh, Shubha Krishnaji and Bhim Sinha), who took siege of the fort of by scaling the high ramparts of the fort with the help of tying ropes around the belly of monitor lizards (ghorpad in Marathi). The ghorpad symbol can be seen all over the palace – on pillars, on the emblem and books. This event took place in 1471 A.D and the Shivavilas Palace became home to the Ghorpades in a small settlement called Sandur in Karnataka. The palace has now been recently refurbished to house guests who would like to experience a slice of the royal living and visit the UNESCO world heritage site, Hampi, close by. Rooted to the essence of Sandur’s soil, the 12 suites and rooms of the palace transport you in the royal world where classic luxury amalgamates with contemporary amenities but this is really not what got my interest. It was the in-house temples, the vintage cars, the ancient Kumaraswamy temple, the proximity to Lambani nomadic tribes and Hampi that got me hooked to the property.
At the end of either sides of the entrance of the palace, lie temples of Lord Subramanya and Malahari Marthanda. The Karthik Poornima celebrations are of special scale in November. Idols of Shivaji, Parvati, Shiva and Hubli Baba have been installed here. Even more intriguing than the temples are the turbaned royal musicians who serenade the Gods twice a day.
If vintage wheels are of interest to you, then peep into the private collection of the King. A glistening Mercedes Benz S 230 (1965-66), 1943 Ford GPW Jeep, 1961 Willy’s Station Wagon and the 1932 Dodge Brothers with ‘Sandur 1’ on its number plate rank as one of the most intriguing part of the palace.
A short sinuous ride from Shivavilas Palace, through the curves of a red tinged, iron-rich mountain lies the 1200 years old ancient temple of Kumaraswamy (Lord Karthikeya). The drive to the temple on a smooth road flanked by corn and banana fields is as riveting as the temple itself. Once you reach the top, you can see that the weathered walls still tell lores of the dynasties that ruled the region. The temple was constructed by the Chalukyas and further reconstructed by the Rashtrakutas. There is also a Shiva and Parvati temple on each sides of the main temple. Earlier, women were not allowed in the temple, but the ban was lifted by Maharaja Murarirao Yeshwantrao Ghorpade, further propelling him to a place of great reverence amongst the locals.
To watch the Lambani women create magic with mirror pieces and colourful threads, there is no better place than the Sandur Kushala Kala Kendra, where local women are employed to make a range of bags, garments, home furnishings, jewellery and accessories.
Another reason to visit Shivavilas is to be proximate to Hampi, and yet away from the touristic vibe that it has acquired over the years. The one-hour drive lands you in the town that was once the seat of the power for the Vijayanagara Kingdom. An entire day is ample to see the trail of ruins that has been chalked out.
Getting there: The best way to get to Shivavilas Palace is by road or rail. The closest rail junctions are Hospet (32km), Hubli (171 km) and Toranagallu (21km). Overnight buses and trains are available from major South Indian cities, especially Bangalore. Pick up and drop can be arranged on prior request.
Facilities: The hotel is a great weekend getaway from Bangalore for those who want to see Hampi, Lambani craft and also relax by the pool, or plan a day at the spa.