Saturday, 10 November 2012

The Church at Shettihalli



“How about the church at Shettihalli?” my husband pinged me. I pondered over this a bit. “Are you sure? I thought you didn’t care much for churches.” “Well, this one looks different. Take a look.” He sent across a link. A church? What made my husband think of visiting one? I thought while waiting for the page to load.  A few seconds later I found myself looking at a half-submerged church, or rather, the ruins of it. I confess at that moment I was not too impressed. “Umm, ok” I typed back to my husband. Nothing much to lose, I told myself secretly.

We were planning a getaway for my birthday and since the baby was still too young to travel very long distances, I had picked Belur and Halebidu, some 220 km from Bangalore.  The husband had sullenly agreed to it. Historical monuments and sites were not exactly his cup of tea. But he couldn’t have refused my birthday wish, could he? So an itinerary was drawn up where we decided to visit Gorur Dam and the church at Shettihalli in Hassan, besides the temples at Belur and Halebidu. The draft of the temple visits is still lying unfinished, but I promise I shall put up a post on them soon. 

So, there we were, on a fine day on 14th September’12, driving through Hassan where we had booked our hotel. Our first stop was Gorur Dam, which we managed to locate after some hiccups. In fact, we had expected to locate the dam without much trouble. I mean, how could you not find a dam, of all things! This experience made us jittery about the prospect of finding the church. After all, it is supposed to be half-submerged in water, a bit difficult than trying to locate a huge dam. Also, I remembered reading in a few blogs that some people had a tough time looking for the church. Well, nothing much to lose, I reminded myself. 

 Gorur Dam


We had looked up the way to the church on Google Map and decided to follow the route given there, although Google Map has ditched us quite a few times. Just to double check, the husband kept on asking people about the church. Since neither of us knew the local language, we would just ask “Church?” and we would be shown the way readily. Insecurity crept in about the easy manner the people were guiding us. “Are you sure they are talking about our church, and not their own? I mean, there could be numerous churches, for all we know.” I was starting to question our decision to visit the church. But there was no dissuading the husband. And so onward we went.

After sometime, we came across a little kachha (unpaved) road, veering to the left from the main road. There were tall bushes on each side of that narrow road. According to Google Map, this was where we were supposed to venture. We were debating on whether to trust the map when a few local people emerged from that road. “Church?” we hopefully queried and were relieved to see their nod. “Boat? You want?” one of them asked. We took a look at the fast approaching dusk and decided not to take a boat. Oh, but it did create a flutter of excitement in us!

Anyhow, we took the narrow road and were absolutely unprepared for the sight that awaited us at the end of it. At least not me. What lay in front of us took our breath away. We had seen a number of pictures of the church, from various angles, in and out. And yet the magnitude of seeing the real thing was immeasurable. Perhaps the dusk played some tricks on our minds. 

 The Rosary Church



The church was a big one. The pictures we had found on the internet did not do justice to its size. Its Gothic architecture was clearly visible of what remained above the water.  One could easily imagine the regal stature of the church in its functional days. Some online research on its antecedents revealed that it was known as the Rosary Church. It was built in 1860 by French missionaries for the erstwhile British estate owners residing in neighbouring Sakleshpur. The construction of the reservoir across the Hemavathi river at Gorur to irrigate the lands in Hassan, Tumkur and Mandya districts led the church to remain submerged in water half the year and emerge above it during the other half. The area was also known for its thriving bird life during summer. 

 Dusk

The bridge over the reservoir

There were coracles tied to the banks of the reservoir but we kept the ride to our next visit. We stood and marveled the structure and its resistance against the forces of nature, almost defying them as if to say “You cannot take me.” The last rays of the sun, falling on the behemoth skeletal edifice, created a mystical atmosphere about it. We resolved to return another day, (“There are birds here,” the husband happily chimed) and got back to our car. We had seen a beautiful bridge over the reservoir and decided to take a little drive over it. The sight of the church kept us company all the way to the bridge. Suddenly my heart felt heavy over the present fate of the church. In the engulfing darkness, it seemed so lonely and yet raising its head proudly. A quiet dignity surrounded the church. “Stay there,” I sent a silent prayer “We will be back to admire your strength and beauty.” That’s a promise.

 View of the church from the bridge

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