Drive Through The Kempegowda Towers, Bengaluru


There are a lot of things that seem too big today. And there are things that are beyond our imagination at this point in time. But a few generations from now, our descendants might peep into our imagination and smile. Try to imagine the world as we inhabited it. And maybe, do a subtle comparison in their subconscious. This Sunday, I along with 3 co-explorers had a similar experience. We decided to do a trail around the four Kempegowda towers in the four corners of the erstwhile Bangalore. Erected by Kempegowdas of course, sometime in the mid-16th century when they founded the city of Bangalore.

Kempegowda Towers of Bengaluru

Kempegowdas of Magadi is said to have established their kingdom in the 13th century with Yelahanka as their capital. These Kempegowda towers in four directions were the limits to which the then kings thought that the Bengaluru city may extend. As you would see on the trail today, all four towers are very much in the core city. And most of us may be actually living way outside these expected limits of the city.

Plaque describing the watch towers marking the planned boundaries of Bengaluru
Plaque describing the watch towers marking the planned boundaries of Bengaluru

As a part of the CouchSurfing community, there are a few trails that we are trying to create that help us discover the city that we live in. This is the second trail that we did after the Old Bangalore heritage walk. Sandeep, as usual, did the research. And defined the path we need to take. Along with a readymade impromptu talk on the history of Kempegowda towers and their placement. Now, what was amazing was that at every tower we saw something more than just the tower. Each of the Kempegowda towers had a water body and a park close to it. Though we are not very sure if it was the way when they were erected or if they were added at later dates.

Each tower had the same stone stating exactly the same information about Kempegowda towers. Though the information is clearly visible only on the stone in the Ulsoor tower.

Drive through the heritage Kempegowda Towers of Bengaluru

We started at 6:30 AM in the morning and since most of us lived in the south of Bangalore, we decided to start from the south tower at Lalbagh.

South Tower at Lalbagh, Bengaluru

Early mornings in Lalbagh are always delightful, with fresh air, greenery, space, and silence. And a whole lot of people do morning walks, yoga, and exercises. There is a new gate being erected in Lalbagh in a Japanese / Chinese kind of architecture. As we walked along the pathways, we could hear some soothing music. And unknowingly we started walking towards the music. And this was the surprise discovery that there was live music being played at the Band Stand. There was a lady, I was told her name is Shashikala, who was singing with people sitting around her informally. It was a delight to listen to that music right in the morning. As I looked around at the faces of the people who were listening to her, it almost gave me a feeling of “moments to live for in life”.

Kempegowda Tower at south Lalbagh, Bengaluru
The south tower at Lalbagh, Bengaluru

This also happened to be the only tower whose location we knew absolutely. I had been to this tower many times. But this is the first time I went around it and looked at it more carefully. It is a structure with four pillars and a Gumbaj on top. On all four sides, there are figurines of deities symbolizing their directions. There was Shiva in the south, Ganesha in the east, Karthikeya in the North, and Vishnu in the west. There were two statues of each of these deities. The top one is in the sitting position and the bottom one is in the standing position.

This tower is mounted on a rock that is supposed to be one of the oldest rocks known in the world. It’s an easy climb and if the weather is good, it gives you a good view of the surroundings.

West Tower near Kempumbudhi Lake, Bengaluru

After the south tower, it was the actual beginning of our discovery of towers. We proceeded towards the west tower with maps in our hands. We reached Chamrajpet and which is an area that none of us had ever visited before. By this time, the city had started waking up a little bit. And I am sure this is the only time when we could drive almost without applying the brake. We had to ask a few times for Kempumbudhi Lake or Kere as it is known locally. This tower is slightly dicey to find, as it is hidden among the trees. And there are multiple structures around the lake that give you the impression of being the sought-after tower. There is a Kali temple at one end of the lake, KG tower is, on a rock behind the temple.

Kempegowda Tower at Kempumbudhi Lake the west one in Bengaluru
Tower at Kempumbudhi Lake the west one in Bengaluru

This was the worst-maintained tower of all. There is a stairway to climb up to the tower. But you get good views of the city if you jump around on the rocks beside the tower. You get to see the topology of the city and see the houses on hillocks around that area. On this tower, there were altars for all four sides of the Gumbaj for the deities. But there were no idols. Probably they have either been taken away or have withered away with time. As you get down from the tower, you would notice two more ancient structures similar to the towers, but without any Gumbaj. We tried to figure out what they could be. But all that we could make out was they were in alignment with the KG tower. And we’re probably used to reaching the tower at some point in time.

Both these structures have a huge stone in the middle with a hole in it. The hole was smooth enough and gave the impression of being a millstone.

Kempumbudhi Lake

Kempumbudhi lake is a huge lake but is in very bad shape. Ironically there is a decent pathway that surrounds the lake and leads to the West KG tower. On the other side of the lake is a BWSSB facility that also houses a nice park with a toy train with an engine that looks like a steam engine. This was the surprise discovery around this tower. We understand there is a deer park also close to this tower. But we did not venture out to find that out.

North Tower near Mekhri Circle, Bengaluru

The third tower in the North is near Mekhri circle, on C V Raman road, and in a park called KG Tower Park. This should not be very difficult to locate, but we did go around a bit before we reached this tower. The tower stands in the middle of a well-maintained garden. And is the best-maintained tower. The upper part of the tower appears restored. This tower is mounted on a tiered platform. The carvings on this tower are a little more intricate than the other towers. Unlike other towers, this tower does not seem to be at an explicit elevation. But then the topology of the surroundings may have undergone a change over the centuries. The park timings are 5:00 – 9:00 AM and 4:00 – 8:00 PM.

Kempegowda Tower the North one near Mekhri circle, Bengaluru
The north tower near Mekhri circle, Bengaluru

We reached around 10:00 AM and we thought we will have to view this tower from outside the boundary wall of the park, which was quite high for my height. But then we discovered a way to sneak into the park through a gate that was not so high.

Ramana Maharishi Shrine

On our way back from the tower we discovered the Ramanna Maharishi shrine in one corner of the park, which was open. And you can use the entrance of the shrine to enter the park if you happen to reach here when it is not open. The shrine has a golden statue of Ramanna Maharishi in a big hall with an interestingly done roof. It was a quiet place and there was just one Pujari there and no one else. Probably you can sit inside this shrine and meditate after a good morning walk in the park. This was the unexpected discovery at this tower.

Between the third and fourth towers, we had to stop and respond to our hunger pangs. We stopped at the Jayamahal palace hotel for a breakfast, which was almost as serene as the KG Park from the north tower. The breakfast was ok. But we had a chance to read the morning paper and chat a bit. As of now we were all deciphering the maps and trying to match them with the known one-way to reach from one tower to another.

East Tower

Fourth or the east tower is also easy to reach as it is at one end of the Ulsoor lake. You have to go towards the Old Madras road after crossing the Ulsoor Gurudwara. This lake is owned by Madras Sappers, a division of the Indian Army. And hence it is usually inaccessible to the general public. But it seems the luck was in our favor this Sunday. There was a national rowing competition going on, and we could enter and climb up to the tower without any hassles.

Kempegowda Tower the east one near Ulsoor Lake, Bengaluru
The east tower near Ulsoor Lake, Bengaluru

Like the south and the west tower, this tower is also on top of a rock. And gives a panoramic view of the lake. Like the west tower, this tower also had empty altars. We got to see the national junior rowing championship, which reminded me of my long-forgotten sports days and participation in such competitions.

Joy of Discovery

We finished around 12:00 Noon and it felt like having lived through a period. There was a joy of discovery when we saw the west tower. There was the thrill when we managed to enter the park from the north tower, there was serenity in listening to music right in the morning and there was a feeling of serendipity when we saw the Madras Sappers gate open for East tower. And there was a sense of satisfaction completing this trail that we had been planning to do for some time now.

If you take a comfortable pace, with a breakfast break, this Kempegowda Towers trail should take 4-5 hours, provided you take the non-traffic hours.



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