Nandi Betta or Nandi Hills, 60 kilometres from Bangalore, is a favourite and convenient picnic spot for all kinds of Bangaloreans – young or old, with or without families, with girlfriends or grandmothers. ‘Nandi nodade iddavaru handi ginta kade’ (Those who haven’t seen nandi are worse off than a pig) is a popular old village saying. But try to avoid the trip on a public holiday since there are more footfalls here than in your nearest mall.
If you do visit on a weekend or a holiday, reach the hills in the early hours. Walking across the fort and in the gardens in the early morning mist is an experience that cannot be described. It also provides ample scope for photographing the landscape as nature is at its best around this time. For the adventure-seekers, try climbing the 1000-odd steps to reach the hilltop.
I’ve been to Nandi hills many times – during school and college trips – and every time I was awed by the majestic hill range standing high against the plains below, dotted by tiny villages. However, all the trips I’d made were long back, in a rickety red bus, on a one-lane road, with trees on either side creating a green canopy. The airport was non-existent then and frequency of buses was very low. Now, thanks to the BIAL, the drive on NH7 (Bellary Road) is very smooth. The road, especially, after the airport, is so smooth that you could be driving in any city in the West.
Drive to the Hills
I was curious to find out if the hill-station still retains its charm and also experience a drive on the much-touted six-lane Bellary road. So when my cousins and my family decided to visit Nandi Hills on a holiday recently, I was delighted. Above all, I wanted to show my toddler the famous Nandi statue which lends its name to the hill range. We drove on the fantastic Bellary road, rather late in the day. The sun was behind us and hence it was a pleasant drive. The left turn from main road takes you to a single-lane road, with villages and cultivation on either side. It does not take long to get out of Bangalore to a rural life that is atleast a decade behind this hi-tech city. However urbanisation is fast catching up; acres of land were walled on either side by makeshift boards displaying Prestige’s Falcon symbol. The boards declared a township with a superb golf course, was under construction. Eleven kilometres down this road, you reach the Nandi cross. The road starts uphill from here. The other route is via Doddaballapur road which I haven’t tried. KSRTC buses ply on both the roads and hence the road is quite motor-able. If you drive up in your own vehicle, then please be careful at the curves; some of the turns are very sharp. Keep the headlights on if you are driving through the fog on misty mornings.
The view of the surrounding region as you drive up the hills is breathtaking. Eucalyptus trees stood tall on the other side, one behind the other, as if marching up the hill. Unfortunately my enthusiasm was somewhat dampened by the loud booze-swigging group who overtook our car on the way up. I guess the nearness of the hill-station to the city invites all kinds.
Atop the hill
At the entrance, tickets have to be purchased – Rs. 3 per head to walk up to the top or Rs. 60 per car to drive up to the summit. We chose to drive as it is impossible to handle a very active baby while walking by the fort wall. As we took a turn towards the road leading up to the summit, I spotted a small kalyani (tank) not very well-maintained. This hill is said to be the source for many rivers, the main ones are Arkavathi, Pennar and Palar.
Atop the hill is a small roundabout where two hotels face each other. The Hotel Mayura with its wonderful location and view was disappointing for our mainly vegetarian group. Run by KSTDC, it is a bar and restaurant that serves mainly drinks and non-vegetarian dishes. For the vegetarian fare try Hotel Ranjitha. The coffee they served here was excellent. Somehow the prospect of having a bisi bisi coffee on a hill-top is always enchanting for me. You can also try Maggi Noodles here.
If you climb up the steps from this circle or just drive ahead, you reach the pretty gardens surrounding the imposing Cubbon house, now Nehru Nilaya. The garden is very pretty, with many potted and earthed flowering plants and an occasional pine tree and a Nehru statue with his trademark button rose. There are signboards warning the visitors not to pluck the flowers. There’s a beautiful poem by Kuvempu that gives out the same message. You cannot enter the Nehru Nilaya as it is a government-run lodge now.
There are walkways around the Cubbon house lined by tall trees and fenced by well-maintained shrubs. Small gazebos and stone seats are present around the garden overlooking mesmerizing views. Be careful while having a snack in the garden as there are a lot of monkeys around the area. But on this trip it was the monkeys of the Homo sapiens kind that angered me. A group of boys teased a huge monkey that got angry and nearly hit a little kid while scampering away towards the trees. There was no local official to keep tabs on such groups. In fact I witnessed poor management everywhere.
The garden, though very beautiful, reeked with pungent smell of food that visitors had brought with them. Groups of people were squatting all over the garden and having lunch. Plastics and glass bottles could be spotted everywhere, maybe due to lack of dustbins. My cousin spotted a gas-cylinder brought by one large family. The danger of using a gas cylinder on the lush lawn, in a huge garden with many visitors walking by, must have never struck this group or the local management here.
The only saving grace that day was, in spite of such huge crowd, the toilets were kept clean and provided running water. I’ve read many articles on ‘Clean Nandi hills’ campaigns held by many nature-loving public groups. But unless the local authorities enforce rules on plastic, designate proper camping area, and keep tabs on visitors who abuse the place, this lovely hill-station will lose its charm and its tourists will dwindle.
Beyond the Cubbon House is the centuries old Yoga Nandeeshwara temple. This was built by the Cholas and later expanded by Vijayanagar rulers. The carvings on the roof and the doorway are beautiful. Fortunately, it still retains its old-world look; many other old temples I’ve visited have been ‘modernised’ by construction of gaudy-coloured gopurams which irrevocably alters the temple’s architectural charm. The lady who guards the footwear was doing brisk business that day. She remarked that the tourists come mainly on weekends or publi
Behind the temple is the famous Tipu’s drop. Beyond this point, which is somewhat guarded, on the other side the rocks are smooth and plain and lead to a steep precipice. I am always amazed at the devil-may-care attitude of the people who sit at the very edge of the rocks. If they happen to fall and miraculously survive with just broken bones, there still is no doctor on call or any medical facilities nearby. We sat at a safer distance and watched the sun dancing with the clouds. Some rain-bearing clouds had gathered, but the sun shone hard too and the result – a beautiful rainbow after a slight drizzle.
As the rain-making clouds sailed further away, I had a window-seat in God’s living room to witness the rain in one part of the plains and the warm weather on the other. The clouds sailed further, took the rain with them to the sunnier sections and left behind a drenched plain to dry in the sun’s warmth. After a fantastic sport of rain and warmth, the sun said adieu and started to sink in a crimson setting. We too decided to head back to the city.
We couldn’t visit the Gandhi Nilaya, further down or the Bhoganandeeshwara temple at the foothills in this trip. That gives me an excuse to make another trip here, but in the early hours and never on a public holiday.
Nandi Hills or Nandi Betta is a hill-station 60 km away from Bangalore. It is a hill 1479m above mean sea level and enjoys pleasant weather – 25 to 28 degree centigrade in summer, 8 to 10 degree centigrade in winter. The entrance to the Hills is permitted from 6am to 10pm
You can reach the Hills by two routes.
- Drive on the NH7 towards Chikkaballapur. After passing the Airport and the Devanahalli town, spot a signboard on the left indicating you to the hills. The turn takes you on a single-lane road. Eleven kilometres down the road you will reach Nandi Cross. Another 3 kilometres ahead will take you to the foothill.
- Drive on the Doddaballapur Road; turn right to reach the road leading to Nandi Cross.
Places of Interest
- Yoganandeeshwara temple
- Gavi Veerabhadraswamy temple
- Tipu’s Fort and Summer Palace
- Tipu’s Drop
- Cubbon House(Nehru Nilaya) and its garden
- Gandhi Nilaya
- Amruth Sarovar
- Amusement Park for Children
Around Nandi hills
- Bhoganandeeshwara temple
- Anjaneya temple
- Muddena Halli (birthplace of Sir M Viswewaraya)