The air is redolent with the fragrance of the forest as we thread our way into the dense jungle, punctuated in places with gurgling streams of water. The mellow rays of an early morning sun gently ignite the treetops into a burst of green as we follow a muddy trail to reach the legendary rock formations of Yana. The place is tranquil except for the ambient sounds of nature, melodious and rhythmic in a matchless symphony.
This is the first place on our itinerary during our trip from Bengaluru to Sirsi, a city of spices. Tucked away in the heart of the lush Western Ghats, at an elevation of 1,936 feet, Sirsi is home to the unique Sahasralinga, and the craggy pinnacles of Yana, before which we now stand, our mouths agape.
Upwards & unusual
A mellow sun gently casts his rays on the horizon as we pull up our car in an empty parking lot. We walk past a couple of small shops selling handicrafts made from coconut shells, before coming upon the long trail leading to the two gigantic protrusions of Yana. Streaks of sunlight penetrate the dense canopies of the forest trees as we make our way on the muddy path which is well over a kilometre, to the ambient sounds of chirping birds, crickets, and gurgling streams. As we approach the mammoth structures, the sharp-edged cliffs of black crystalline rock come into view. They are overwhelmingly huge and in tints that starkly contrast the evergreen Sahyadri Hill. A flight of 200+ steps brings us to the foot of the gargantuan structures, surrounded by boulders that give form to the cavernous structures where bats fly in gay abandon, and bees swarm in perfect harmony with the environs.
Yana is located deep inside the jungles of the Western Ghats between Kumta and Sirsi. It is a biodiversity hotspot in the Sahyadri range, and home to a cluster of about 61 rock pinnacles of different shapes and sizes, spread over an area of 3 sq km. The limestone rocks, formed millions of years ago, attired in various shades of black, acquired the hue on account of the interaction between weather phenomena, and the iron, manganese and silica present in the rocks. Most prominent among the formations are the twin peaks of Bhairaveshwara and Mohini that soar 390 feet and 300 feet high, respectively.
The needle-sharp monolithic rocks look majestic and mystical as they rise abruptly from the midst of dense jungles, piercing a clear blue sky. The lower reaches of their shorter counterparts are ridden with graffiti, needless to say, by visitors to the place. Their nooks and crannies which shelter honeycombs, we learn, are integral to the tranquility and sanctity of the caves. For, the buzzing creatures are veritable guardians of the caves and the surroundings.
A 10-foot opening in the rock face of Bhairaveshwara, the first of the towering goliaths, leads to a cave temple. Yards from its entrance, we stop to re-energise ourselves with a steaming cup of masala chai, before beginning our explorative sojourn of the area.
We ease ourselves out of our footwear, a mandatory move before entering the temple which contains a bronze idol of Durga as Chandika, and a self-manifested linga over which spring water trickles from the roof of the tunnel overhead. We are told that the water is from the emerging Chandihole, a small stream that eventually merges with the Aghanashini river at Uppinapattana. Further, the locals believe the river to be Gangodbhava, or the emerging Ganges. An idol of Goddess Parvati adorns the base of the second giant, the Mohini Shikhara.
After paying due obsequies to the deities, we gingerly climb down a flight of uneven steps to enter the cave. A steady flow of devotees and tourists joins us as we hop, skip and jump boulders to snake our way through a labyrinthine trail. The cavern also serves as a circumambulatory pathway to the temple below. Bats are about everywhere in the interior of the grotto, which is illuminated in places by streaks of sunlight that filter in through little and large crevices. We do a careful balancing act as we negotiate the bends and dips in the cave, a beautifully twisted ravine through rock masses. The experience is akin to a mini-trek on stony hills — through narrow, steep, and often slippery inclines. Some of the rock formations are mesmerising as much as they are tantalisingly intimidating.
As myths say...
Indian mythology associates Yana with the demon king Bhasmasura who obtained a boon from Lord Shiva that allowed him to reduce anyone to ashes by simply placing his palm on their head. Bhasmasura decided to test the boon on Shiva himself. Threatened, Shiva hid in the dark nooks of these rocks at Yana. Vishnu, in the guise of the beautiful damsel Mohini, enticed Bhasmasura and challenged him to a dance competition in order to rescue Shiva from his plight. In the process, Vishnu tricked the demon into placing his palm on his own head. Bhasmasura instantly turned to ash. According to local belief, the intense fire that emerged from this blackened and resulted in Yana’s limestone formations. The tallest of these projections came to be named Bhairaveswara and Mohini after Shiva and Vishnu. Guides point out to the loose black soil scattered around the monoliths, testifying to the authenticity of the legend.
Mahashivaratri, celebrated with great fervour, is a 10-day event here. While Yana is a caving, trekking and rock-climbing paradise for adventure seekers, religious beliefs prohibit any such climbing activity on the Mohini and Bhairaveshwara rocks.