Off To Nandidurga
Images: T. R. Raghunandan, Ishaan Raghunandan & Harish Kukreja
The first of January 2022 was, predictably, a quiet morning.
I do not party on New Year’s Eve; all the better for a classic car drive to herald in the New Year.
The Austin Seven was fettled the previous evening; the water and oil checked, the tool roll chucked beneath the rear seat and extra cans of water, engine oil and petrol wedged behind the driver’s seat.
The car sprang to life, eager to face the New Year. We were off to Nandidurga.
What makes Nandi hills a favourite destination for Bangalore classic car enthusiasts? Put it down to our childhood memories. Whenever the urge to picnic hit the cantonment types in North Bangalore, it was the Nandi hills that beckoned. Bangalore was infused with the allure of the hill. In the heart of the city, there once stood a Nundydroog hotel, named after the hill. And further on, was Nandidurg road, now a congested residential area.
Nandi comprises of a cluster of granite hills, with the main one being a loaf-shaped monolith that dominates the skyline. On a clear day, one can see the hill, fifty-odd kilometers away, from any skyscraper in Bangalore. Historically, the hill has been strategically important. Kings and local Chieftains alike fought for its control, and the tiny fort on the summit has seen many a battle and a siege. A guest house built by the Maharaja of Mysore at the summit once played host to Mahatma Gandhi too, while on a visit to the old Princely State of Mysore.
For the Bangalore-based classic car and bike enthusiast, Nandi offers an ideal day-long outing. I have often exercised my cars there; the Austin, Morris and MG. Long gone is the rain tree and banyan framed strip of a road leading away from Bangalore, the approach is now along the busy road to the International Airport. However, once one turns away from the main road, the stretch to the base of the hill is about the same as it was decades back.
The Austin made good time, drawing curious looks in the dawn as others who forsook their new year celebrations sped off to the airport to take their first flights of the year. Once we were off the main road, the steady beat of the side valve echoed from the spreading, leafy canopy above.
Our first port of call was the Nandi Railway Station. A century back, the Maharaja of Mysore’s Mysore State Railway laid down a picturesque narrow gauge line that meandered north from Yelahanka, near Bangalore, through Kolar district, to terminate at Bangarpet, the rail head for the Kolar Gold Fields on the Bangalore-Madras line. The railway station at Nandi was built in the steep gabled style of all MSR Stations and has survived probably because the line is rarely in use now.
The station building is occupied by the family of the watchman. His curious daughters surrounded the Austin. ‘Can we take photos?’ they asked. ‘Yes, of course’, I answered.
Monkeys. They are all around at the Station, and the hill. If you drive a roadster, you can be sure that they will raid your car fearlessly and make away with fruit and biscuits. Just consider yourself lucky that they do not snatch handbags.
Earlier, the hill road was open to motorists. The Nandi hill climb was a popular event organized by the Karnataka Motor Sports Club in the past. Harish Kukreja, a dear friend, was a winner in such events. Driving a souped up and stripped down Maruti 800, he burnt rubber and drifted through the hairpin bends. ‘The fastest 800 ever’, he said. However, motorists are no longer allowed on the hill; there are too many accidents, as inexperienced motorists lose control on it. That leaves scope only for a Parikrama—a circumnavigation—of the hill.
In the quiet of the morning, I went around, marveling at the play of the rising sun on the bald rock. Nandi village has some fascinating spots to visit. There is the ancient temple complex of Bhoganandeeshwara and Arunachaleswara, twin temples originally built in the Ninth and Tenth Centuries AD, by the Nolambas, and later enlarged by the Gangas, the Hoysalas and the Vijayanagara kings, each adding their distinctive style to it.
If approached, the authorities may generously open the gate to the large garden surrounding the temple so that one’s classics have protected parking. Sultanpalya, nearby, was the garrison of Tipu Sultan. In a siege lasting several months during the Second Mysore War, the British took control of the fort. One can see a few graves of the British, in a tiny cemetery that is now preserved.
Close to Nandi is Muddenahalli, the ancestral home of Sir M. Visveswaraiah, one of the architects of modern Karnataka State. His home has been converted into a Museum dedicated to his life. It again is a favourite getaway for Bangalore’s Vintage and Classic car lovers.
As I drove the Austin back in the sunshine to the city, dodging the heavy traffic, I reflected on how important these beautiful, proximate destinations are, to keep the classic motoring hobby alive. While collectors of historic vehicles abound, those who drive are a shrinking group. Places such as Nandi are magnets for those who wish to exercise their cars and bikes in stress-free conditions. I am sure other cities have similar destinations—some popular, others still unknown. May we enjoy them to the fullest!
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