Initially, when a friend mentioned the destination for an impromptu drive on a Saturday morning, I hoped to correct him by telling it was ‘Biligiri Ranganathaswamy Betta’. “No, it is Bili-Kal’, he specified. ‘Bili’ translates to ‘white’ in Kannada. ‘Giri’ means ‘hill’. ‘Kallu’ means ’stone/ rock’. In this context, we were both talking about two different destinations. Although the presiding deity at the temples located atop both these hills are common, Biligiri is more popular than its counterpart at Bilikal. While Biligiri forms the core of Biligiri Ranganathaswamy Temple (BRT) tiger reserve, Bilikal is in the heart of a reserve forest that comes under Kodihalli wildlife division of Bannerghatta National Park. So, this time, we were heading to ‘Bilikal Ranganathaswamy Betta’, the closest of the two to Bangalore city limits, reachable through Kanakapura road.
We stopped by Halagur town for breakfast which has several old and popular eateries that serve unique types and authentic recipes of idlis for breakfast. (Comment below if you need hotel recommendations). Post this break, we followed google maps to reach our destination.
There is a forest check post enroute where one needs to make an entry to continue the journey ahead. The temple hill can be summited via two routes, one is a trek route with stairs, and another is through an unpaved road that is clearly marked till the end. Although four-wheel drive is not mandatory for those opting to drive up, it is recommended to have a vehicle with good ground clearance.
Upon reaching the peak, it was a large open area which came as quite a surprise. While one side of the hill had the temple pond dug into the edge of the rocky hill, the main temple of Ranganathaswamy is located on another side of the hill, overseeing a magnificent view of the surrounding hills. The main deity is carved out of a large monolithic rocky outcrop on the hill, which makes this place unique among all that I had visited thus far. There is a small sculpture on this rock which we were told is the original figurine of worship until it was damaged many years ago. Since then, an alternate idol has been carved out of the larger rock and a simple temple has been built outside leading into the prayer chamber within the monolithic rock.
Next to the temple rock, is another old and small room like stone structure. A few localites who were present there told us that it was the house of an old lady Kamalamma, who lived there and had dedicated her life in the service of Lord Ranganatha. Amid the wilderness of the thick jungle, she lived all alone in the belief that Ranga was her caretaker. She was accompanied by a few cattle that lived there whose milk was used to distribute buttermilk to pilgrims who arrived there every Saturday after a tiring ascent by foot (before the drivable route was laid out). She is no more, and her tomb is now housed inside the structure where she lived.
A short climb from this structure is another viewpoint, where one can sit on the rocky outcrop under the shade of the surrounding trees and take in some good views of the valley around. We returned after spending some time there. Overall, this was a pleasant and an offbeat outing from the city.
Things to note:
- The temple and the forest check-post are open for public access only on Saturdays. Only one Pooja is offered to the deity, once per week.
- The annual temple fair is held here in January when a wooden temple car is assembled and taken around the rock-temple.
- All along our way, we observed a lot of fresh elephant dung. Hence, we are certain that the trail is frequented by elephants and other wild animals at all times of the day. As both the routes pass through dense forest, it is recommended to comply with all guidelines laid by the forest department.
Other nearby places that you can combine your visit with:
- Shri Govinakallu Anjaneya swami temple (an offroad drive in the same forest limits)
- Mekedaatu and Sangama
- Muthathi riverbank
- Galibore fishing camp
- Bheemeshwari adventure and nature camp