Suramya's Blog : Welcome to my crazy life…

January 20, 2022

Impact of Google Hacking and Data Collection using Search Engines on CyberSecurity

Filed under: Computer Security,My Thoughts — Suramya @ 1:58 AM

The modern search engines scan most of the public sites on a regular basis and unlike the legacy search engines also have the capability of finding and indexing data or files that are not linked to from any other sources. This allows the search engine to index data/files that could have sensitive data or details on vulnerabilities. Using publicly available information attackers can perform searches for such information without touching the target system directly leaving little trace for the defenders to watch for to be alerted. Most organizations are not aware of the information being leaked by such means and how it is compromising their cyber security. The availability of the Google Hacking Database allows even minimally skilled attackers to search for information quickly and efficiently.
This poses a high risk to the organizations leaking sensitive data. There are no sure shot solutions to this problem and even the most careful organizations will expose data that when combined with other sources allow attackers a look at the organizations digital assets and systems.

The popular image of a hacker involves an attacker sitting in a dark room typing commands in a terminal to gain access and usually is completed in a very short period of time. In real life attackers spend a lot of time performing reconnaissance on the target before even engaging with the target system. One of the popular ways of performing reconnaissance is to use search engines like Google to find data, this technique is called Google Hacking and was introduced to public in 2004 by Johnny Long. He defined it as “the art of creating complex search engine queries in order to filter through large amounts of search results for information related to computer security” (Johnny, 2004). Attackers use Google Hacking to uncover sensitive information about a company or uncover potential security vulnerabilities.

The modern search engines scan most of the public sites on a regular basis and unlike the legacy search engines also have the capability of finding and indexing data or files that are not linked to from any other sources. This allows the search engine to index data/files that could have sensitive data or details on vulnerabilities.

The Google Hacking Database (GHDB) is a consolidated database of queries that have been collected over the years thanks to contributions by researchers, hackers and general public that can be used to find sensitive data on websites such as files containing passwords, configurations, sensitive data, financial information, error messages, firewall logs and other such data. (Google Hacking Database, 2021) The database is in an easy to consume format and allows users to search for queries that will return specific types of data.

This database gives attackers the queries to be used to specific types of data, leveraging the indexing powers of Google for finding information that should not have been exposed to the public.

How Google Hacking Works

Google allows a user to search for information using search keywords and a combination of search operators to limit the search results. With the information available in the Google Hacking Database an attacker can search for specific information and limit the search to a given target domain. There are multiple kinds of queries available that target specific kinds of information. Some of the categories of information available using this are:

  • Advisories and vulnerabilities: Queries that allow us to locate vulnerable servers based on product or version-specific setups with known vulnerabilities..
  • Sensitive directories: Allow us to find directories with files that contain sensitive information
  • Files containing passwords: Locate files containing passwords.
  • Pages containing login portals: Locate login pages for various services
  • Error messages: Find files with errors messages that may contain details about the system.

Below are examples of the various queries that are available and the kind of data they expose.

Searching for passwords stored in files

Users sometimes store passwords in plain text files or excel databases that are accidentally uploaded to a public site. These are then indexed by Google (or other search engines) and can be found using specific queries. For example:

allintext:"*.@gmail.com" OR "password" OR "username" filetype:xlsx

searches for all Excel files that have gmail.com in the text along with “password”. This will find all files containing any of the search terms provided. If required we can limit the search to a specific site using the “site:” search parameter.

Search for Log files

Log files contain a lot of sensitive information if exposed to public. Error logs, access logs can expose information such as PHP version you are running, CMS version details, Operating system details etc. If firewall logs or system logs are exposed it can reveal information such as usernames, firewall version and configuration details etc. Similarly SQL logs can expose sensitive data as well. This information combined with other information can give an attacker a foothold in the system. For example:

allintext:username filetype:log

This query will give results that include the text username inside all *.log files and the following query will return all directories where logfiles are publicly accessible:

intitle:"index of" errors.log

SSH private keys

SSH private keys are used to encrypt/decrypt data exchanged during SSH connections. They also allow users to authenticate to servers without the use of passwords. If they are exposed anyone can impersonate that user and if passwordless login’s are enabled the key will allow the attacker to login to the server without a password. The following query will return all directories with publicly accessible private key:

intitle:index.of id_rsa -id_rsa.pub

Login Portals

A lot of times organizations expose their development or staging systems to the internet for testing and depend on the obscurity of the system for protection. These systems are vulnerable because development systems often don’t have the same protections and controls applied on them as production systems do. In addition, there are often systems that were not meant to be pubic such as router login pages, CMS admin sections etc that increase the attack surface of the organization. A sample query to find login pages for CISCO email security appliance is listed below:

intitle:"Cisco Email Security Virtual Appliance" inurl:csrfkey=

SQL dumps

Sometimes sites require SQL datadumps to be made for backup or restoration purposes and these dumps often have a lot of sensitive data in them. Using a search query similar to the one listed below attackers can find these dumps and explore the data:

ext:sql | ext:txt intext:"-- phpMyAdmin SQL Dump --" + intext:"admin"

There are many more queries that are available in the database to search for specific data and more are added everyday.

Famous attacks that used Google Hacking/Google Dorks
Attacks using Google Hacking/Google Dorks are difficult to identify due to the passive nature of the attacks. However, even with that restriction there have been a few cases of note where the attacker’s used this technique to attack an organization’s system and some of them are listed below.

N.Y. Dam attack from Iran, 2013

Between 2011 and 2013, Hamid Firoozi from Iran gained access to the Bowman Avenue Dam in Rye Brook, New York by finding an unprotected computer that controlled the dam’s sluice gates using Google Searches. (Matthews, 2016). The issue is rampant enough that the Department of Homeland Security and FBI jointly released a warning about Google dorking. “By searching for specific file types and keywords, malicious cyber actors can locate information such as usernames and passwords, e-mail lists, sensitive documents, bank account details, and website vulnerabilities,” (FBI, 2014)

Detection of Google Hacking Attacks

Detection of these attacks is difficult due to the passive nature of the attack. However, one of the technique that is quite successful is to use a Honey Pot approach. Organizations can store files with fake information that looks authentic and important such as username and password combinations or SSH private keys that belong to non-existent accounts. Because these accounts do not exist no one should be attempting to log in to them for legitimate purposes so when a login attempt is made to these accounts or when the files are accessed we know that a Google Hacking attack is in progress and the IP address etc can be flagged for followup or blocking. We can also lure the system into a fake network which is monitored to identify what information they are looking for in the network.

Using that information, we can take further preventive measures to protect the system.

Prevention Techniques for Google Hacking attacks

There are a few steps that we can take to avoid leaking sensitive data to attackers using Google Dorks as listed below:

  • Protect sensitive data with authentication for private information
  • Don’t expose development systems to internet, if that is not possible restrict access using IP based restriction.
  • Run regular vulnerability scans on your website/domain. A lot of the scanners now incorporate checks for popular Google Dork queries
  • Run manual dork queries against your site to locate leaks before attackers do
  • Add checks to your servers to find sensitive files in public directories such as any file with an extension other than a php/asp/html. These can we potential leaks
  • If you find sensitive content exposed, you can request its removal by using the Google Search Console.

Conclusion

Google Hacking allows an attacker to perform reconnaissance against your organization in a passive way allowing them to collect information that can then be combined with other sources to give them a foot hold. Preventing such information leaks is a good way to protect the organizational systems and the techniques listed above can help with that. We can also subscribe to services that perform these checks on your behalf.

We covered some of the techniques available to detect and prevent Google Hacking attacks in the paper and while the techniques discussed will not protect against all attacks, they will reduce the attack surface and protect you against most attackers.


Note: This was originally written as a paper for one of my classes at EC-Council University in Q2 2021, which is why the tone is a lot more formal than my regular posts.

January 19, 2022

Have been rewatching Xena and I love it

Filed under: My Thoughts — Suramya @ 11:35 PM

A few weeks ago I suddenly had the urge to (re)watch Xena: Warrior Princess after reading a bunch of tweets by Lucy Lawless who is an awesome person BTW. I had watched a few episodes of it over the years but never watched the full series, So I started watching the series and I love it. There is so much camp in the episodes and a lot of them are riffing off other series like the one episode “Scrolls of Xena” that is a parody of Indiana Jones. But the episode are mindless fun with a few moral lessons thrown in at times which makes them fun to watch without being grim. This is a trend I really dislike where everything needs to be make (or remade) into a grim/gritty version of itself.

As I was watching the series, I was reminded of this novel called ‘The Warslayer‘ by Rosemary Edghill where an actor who plays a character similar to Xena called ‘Vixen’ gets transported to a world where magic is real and she is expected to defeat the greatest evil to rise since she is ‘Vixen’ the scourge of evil everywhere. The novel has hat tips to Xena, Galaxy Quest amongst others and was a novels that I really liked when I last read it about a decade or so ago. I ended up re-reading the book and it was as good as I remembered. So, if you are looking for a good read check it out.

I still have another 90 or so episodes left so I know I will be watching the series for a while before I am done, especially since I am only watching a couple of episodes at a time as and when I get some free time or want a break from studies. If you haven’t seen the series, I highly recommend it.

Once I am done I think I might watch Hercules as well but with the actor who played Hercules acting like a bigoted/anti-science ass most of the time online I am not sure if I would be able to watch it without constantly getting reminded of all the nonsense he keeps posting. Let’s see, I still have a lot of time before I have to decide so will not break my head on this right now.

Well this is all for now. Will post more later.

– Suramya

September 19, 2021

Trip to Historic Hampi – Part 2: Visiting a 3000 year old Megalithic site

Filed under: My Thoughts,Travel/Trips — Suramya @ 11:05 PM

This is a continuation of my previous post about my trip to Historic Hampi. After spending a few days in Hampi, we had visited most of the famous places and were ready to head back when we got into a conversation with Mr Sarath Champati, who is the Associate Director for Conservation and Experiences at Evolve Back Resorts. During the conversation he mentioned that they were in the process of preparing a new trail and had just come back from a walk through of the trail the day before. This was an place called ‘HireBenakal’ which hardly anyone knows about which has Dolmen’s dating back almost 3000 years, making it a megalithic site. Since both of us are quite interested in history we requested that we be allowed to accompany them on the trail and after reminding us that this trail was still under development and involved a lot of hiking they agreed to take us up to the site the next day. We immediately extended the stay by another day and crashed early since we had to wake up early morning to reach the place.



Ombatthugudda, Start of trail to site

The next day we started early (around 6am) and reached the starting point of the trail by 7:30am. If you don’t already know about it, it is hard to find this place as there are almost no signs or directions. I bookmarked the location on Google Maps, so if you are planning to go you can use this to navigate: Ombatthugudda, Start of trail to site. There is single guard over there who is basically there to prevent folks from trying to dig up the Dolmens. A few weeks before we visited some folks from the nearby villages damaged 3-4 of the structures while trying to dig under them because they thought that there would be buried treasure under them. That is not the case but still the damage was done and some priceless artifacts damaged by morons.


Overview of the Hirebenakal Prehistoric site and the trail

The trail up from the starting point is a wonderful trek, you get to see a lot of flora and fauna. Plus since not a lot of people come this way there is a high chance of spotting wild animals on the way. While we were walking up our guide suddenly asked us to stop and talk loudly. After a min or so he showed us a pile of fresh shit on the trail and explained that it was from a Sloth bear which we had interrupted in the middle of taking a dump. They have very bad eyesight but have excellent hearing so if you are walking along quietly and stumble on them they might attack as they wouldn’t see you from a distance. If you keep making noise while walking then they hear you and leave so as not to have an encounter. Which is what had happened in this case. He then told us that the bear had been feasting on Mango and other fruits down at the village and he tried showing us the remains in the poop. But I took him on his word and didn’t try to verify what he was saying.


Fantastic view on the way

About a third of the way up we took a short detour (5 min hike off the main trail) and came to some really cool Rock Art which were dated to be more than 2000 years old. It is not clear why the paintings were done at these rocks but a popular theory is that they had something to do with religious ceremonies. There are about 10 rock shelters in the area which have these paintings.


Over 2000 year old Rock Paintings


Some more rock paintings

At first it was hard to see the paintings as they look like rust or regular mud but when you get closer they suddenly take shape and you can see people, animals and other day to day activities painted on the rock. As this is not a often visited site there were no barriers stopping us from getting close to the paintings so with extreme care to avoid touching/damaging the paintings we got as close as we could (a few inches away at times) to check out the paintings. The paintings are done with natural paint called Red Ochre made by mixing powdered haematite (an iron ore) with water.


Mr. Vinay showing us the paintings


Some more paintings

Since the paintings are exposed to nature a lot of them have been erased by erosion over time. The only way to preserve them is to cover them with something that prevents natural elements from touching the paintings. Unfortunately that would be a massive undertaking and not something that can be done easily or cheaply. Which is why we need to put pressure on the government and the Archeological Society to take steps to preserve these artifacts for future generations.

After spending a little while admiring the paintings we started back up the trail and noticed a massive boulder on the way which looked like it was cut in half by a giant knife. One theory is that this rock acted as a waymarker and guide for the folks coming to visit the Dolmen’s, another is that it was used to warn people about attacks or to notify them about the start of important ceremonies etc. It was carved by hand without any power tools and I can only imagine the time and effort required to cut the rock in half so precisely using only stoneage tools.


Stone kettledrum on the way to the site

Shortly after you see the rock signpost the trail flattens out and is a pleasant walk between trees and shrubs. Soon thereafter we started seeing Dolmens all around us. They started off as small structures about a foot in height and as you near the center they are massive structures over 10 feet high. One theory is that the central dolmens were for the chief’s or other important people in the tribe and the further you came out from the center the lesser the status of the people making the structures which translated into smaller structures that would be cheaper/easier to make. But again there is no way to know for sure why these were built or if any of the theories we are putting forward have any merit.


Tiny Dolmen’s near the outskirts of the site


Slightly larger Dolmen found as we get closer to the center


Dolmen’s getting larger as we get to the center

Dolmen’s are basically stone structures usually consisting of two or more vertical megaliths supporting a large flat horizontal capstone or “table”. They are found all over the world and are thought to be tombs or prayer places for ancestor worship. But no bodies have been found at any of the Dolmen’s around the world possibly because of the age and the fact that it looks like the bodies were left in the open inside them which would allow wild animals access to the bodies and over the years all evidence of them would be erased by time. One of the most famous examples of Dolmen is the Stonehenge in the UK but there are multiple sites in India with these structures as well.


Gigantic Dolmens at the center of the site

This particular site started off with over 490 when it was first discovered by local herdsmen but due to damage and time only ~200 are still left standing. There are multiple kinds of Dolmen’s here starting with 3-sided chambers with a large capstone on the top allowing them to balance on each other. These are massive stone structures with each slab weighing several tons. It is hard to imagine the effort required to cut the slabs and then lift them up over 10-15 feet in the air while ensuring the ‘walls’ are stable and don’t collapse. Some of these structures have a porthole carved into one of the walls and they are perfectly circular. Imagine carving a hole in a 6-8 inch thick slab of rock while ensuring the hole is perfectly circular. It would be difficult to do so with modern power tools but these folks did it with hand tools.


Circular hole carved in solid rock without power tools.

In addition to the 3 sided chambers, the site also has several buried and semi-buried dolmens called cists and dolmenoid cists along with irregular polygonal and rock shelter chambers. All of these were carved manually over the years. Near the center there is a massive water reservoir which is where archeologists think the tribes created the Red Ochre paint and one can see portions of the rock that are still colored red from the years of paint mixing.


Photo with the dolmens in the background


Shot of some of the Dolmens still standing after ~3000 years

As per the excavation and study done there, it doesn’t seem that people stayed here full time but rather came up from nearby villages to work on the structures. This supports the theory that the site had religious significance but as I said before it is almost impossible to confirm these theories since there is hardly any remains here. Which is one of the reasons idiots around the world dismiss the possibility that they were created by ancient humans. A popular theory is that Aliens came to earth and built these structures because humans couldn’t have done it. These theories are mostly sprouted by western ‘experts’ who can’t believe that indigenous people did what Europeans could not and thus try to discredit their work. Shows like Ancient Aliens and like don’t help either as they spread this racist theory that without ‘white man’ the natives couldn’t have created such works. These programs ignore the massive amount of supporting evidence that it is in-fact possible to create these structures with only muscle power and time. Similar theories abound about the pyramids and other ancient structures and all I can say to them is that, just because you couldn’t do it doesn’t mean that other cultures were not advanced enough and skillful enough to do it. Looking at what they did with stone-age tools it is humbling to imagine what they could have achieved if they had access to modern tools and resources.

Hirebenkal is one of the very few Indian megalithic sites found with associated habitations. In the nearby village archaeologists have unearthed rich cultural material, including pre-megalithic implements, iron slag, pottery of Neolithic, megalithic and early historic period. So it is sad to find it so neglected and poorly protected. There is ongoing effort to get the site classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Hopefully it will happen soon and this amazing site will be preserved for future generations to admire.

After a couple of hours around the site, we started back and the trip down was a lot easier but a lot hotter (as it was quite sunny). We reached the start of the trek and had a quick breakfast there from the packed food that we had brought along. Once done with the food we headed back to the resort, where we relaxed for the rest of the day.

The next day, we had breakfast and started the drive back to Bangalore with a determination to try visit more such historical sites in India and spread awareness about them and our rich cultural history.

– Suramya

August 20, 2021

Human Upgrade 2.0: Patch 2/2 (Vaccine Dose 2) Applied Successfully

Filed under: My Life,My Thoughts — Suramya @ 12:26 AM

Finally got the second dose of the Covid vaccine earlier this week. As compared to the first dose this was a super efficient and fast process. We reached Manipal around 1pm and within 20 mins we were done with the vaccination and back on the way home. The staff ensured that there was enough social distancing and the shots were given very quickly.

I am someone who is scared of needles but even then I took the shot. This is because I rather get a quick and painless shot than end up in the hospital and get pumped up with drugs and lots of needles. It is a lot more painful (and scary) to be intubated than it is to get an injection. I know the shot doesn’t give you 100% immunity and there is still a possibility that you can get Covid even after getting vaccinated but in those cases Covid is not as severe and there is a higher probability that you will recover on your own without ending up in the ICU.

I did get a bad headache for a few days after the vaccine (I got it even from the first dose). Basically, my sinusitis got triggered by the shot and it takes a few days for my immune system to adjust to the new information given via the shot. Post that all is well. I know a few others who were sick for a week after the shot but that is still better than the sickness you might get if you get a severe case of Covid.

If you are eligible then you better get the vaccine as early as possible, to protect yourself and others around you.

– Suramya

PS: Am upset that I am still don’t get a better 5G signal!

August 7, 2021

Bypass of Facial Recognition made possible by creating Master faces that impersonate 40% of population

Filed under: Computer Security,Emerging Tech,My Thoughts,Techie Stuff — Suramya @ 9:00 PM

Over the years, there has been a lot of push for Image recognition systems and more and more companies are entering the field each with their own claims of supernatural accuracy. Plus, with all the amazing ‘tech’ being showcased in the movies and on TV people are primed to expect that level of accuracy. Unfortunately, reality is a lot more weird and based on research its pretty simple to fool image recognition systems. In the past people have tricked systems to misidentifying a banana as a toaster by modifying parts of the image. There was another recent event where the Tesla self navigation system kept thinking the moon was a Yellow light and insisted on slowing down. There are so many of these ‘edge’ cases that it is not even funny.

A specific use case for image recognition is Facial recognition and that is a similar mess. I have personally used a photo of an authorized user to get a recognition system to unlock a door during testing. We have cases where wearing glasses confuses the system that it locks you out. Now according to research conducted by the Blavatnik School of Computer Science and the school of Electrical Engineering it is possible to create a ‘master’ face that can be used to impersonate multiple ID’s. In their study they found that the 9 faces created by the StyleGAN Generative Adversarial Network (GAN) could impersonate 40% of the population. Testing against the University of Massachusetts’ Labeled Faces in the Wild (LFW) open source database they were able to impersonate 20% of the identities in the database with a single photo.

Basically, they are exploiting the fact that most facial recognition systems use broad sets of markers to identify specific individuals and StyleGAN creates a template containing multiple such markers which can then be used to fool the recognition systems.

Abstract: A master face is a face image that passes face-based identity-authentication for a large portion of the population. These faces can be used to impersonate, with a high probability of success, any user, without having access to any user-information. We optimize these faces, by using an evolutionary algorithm in the latent embedding space of the StyleGAN face generator. Multiple evolutionary strategies are compared, and we propose a novel approach that employs a neural network in order to direct the search in the direction of promising samples, without adding fitness evaluations. The results we present demonstrate that it is possible to obtain a high coverage of the population (over 40%) with less than 10 master faces, for three leading deep face recognition systems.

Their paper has been published and is available for download here: Generating Master Faces for Dictionary Attacks with a Network-Assisted Latent Space Evolution.

With more and more companies pushing for AI based recognition systems as fool proof systems (looking at you Apple, with your latest nonsense about protecting kids by scanning personal photos) it is imperative that more such research is conducted before these systems are pushed into production based on the claims in their marketing brochures.

Thanks to Schneier on Security: Using “Master Faces” to Bypass Face-Recognition Authenticating Systems

– Suramya

August 6, 2021

Trip to Historic Hampi – Part 1

Filed under: My Thoughts,Travel/Trips — Suramya @ 2:45 AM

Early last month I made my second trip to Hampi with the goal of actually exploring the city this time. My 1st trip was focused primarily on Wine tasting as there are some pretty cool Vineyards around Hampi. I am going to break this writeup into two parts, in the first part I am going to talk about all the regular Hampi monuments that everyone explores. In Part 2 I am going to talk about a historic site that hardly anyone knows about which is about 3000-4000 years old approximately and is similar to Stonehenge. (More details in the next post 🙂 )

Hampi is one of the lesser known historic sites in India and it is better known in the south than in the north. It’s name is derived from Pampa which is another name of the goddess Parvati. I first heard about it when I moved to Bangalore in 2010. It was a popular destination with a certain group of people because of the Hippie island and the easy availability of drugs etc. With the administration looking for better crowd of travelers and less drugs etc along with the desire to remove the encroachment into forest lands, the island was cleared, and a lot of work is being done to restore/maintain the historical monuments.

First Day

Our trip started on 6th July, just after the Evolve Back, Hampi resort reopened their doors to visitors when the Karnataka lockdown rules were eased. We had originally planned to travel on the 29th June but due to the lockdown had to push the trip out by a week. As always, we started early in the morning around 6:30am so as to avoid the Bangalore traffic which has been slowly going back to the pre-lockdown levels. The drive to Hampi was fantastic and the roads are amazing. I had to consciously remind myself to slow down as it was quite easy to go super-fast without realizing it. The highway system in India has really improved in the last few years. We reached the Evolve Back campus without any issues except for a minor funny incident right at the end. When we were less than 1 km from the resort, our GPS told us to turn into a complex which it claimed was the resort, but it turned out to be the Forest Department’s office. When we asked them where the resort was, they looked at us like we were crazy, and the guy told us “This is not the resort”. When we told them that we knew this wasn’t the resort and asked for directions they told us to drive on for another 600-800mtrs and the resort was there on the left side. I think that the issue happened due to the GPS losing satellite signal and thus lost an accurate reading of where we were. In any case we reached the venue and checked in without any further confusion.

This was our third stay at the Evolve Back properties, and I have to say that they outdid themselves with the service they provided. This is from the check-in staff to the waiters, manager, trail guides to everyone. To give an idea of the service level and the personalized service we got here are a few small examples. Jani always takes hot water when we go out and I take ice-cold water, we told the serving staff this during our first meal there. After that they ensured we got a glass of hot water and a glass of cold water every single time without asking. They also remembered that we both liked our food to be spicy so all our meals were custom made to be spicier than the usual. In fact the chef actually came and chatted with us multiple times to ensure that the food was made as per our requirements. Even the room we were allocated was selected to give us great views of the sunrise (which we missed because we were sleeping) and the sunset (which we missed because we were on the trails). But it is the thought that counts. Every single person there was always smiling and working to ensure we had a great visit. I am bad with remembering names and since Jani already did a post detailing our stay and how all of the staff made this a fantastic stay, I am not going to duplicate the work here. You can read her writeup of our trip here, on her blog.


The Room we stayed in at Evolve Back, Hampi


The Room we stayed in at Evolve Back, Hampi


View from the Balcony


Night View from our Balcony


Night View from our Balcony

Since, I had a hectic few days before we started the trip and had gotten up early, we decided to take it easy on the first day and just relaxed. The architecture of the property in Hampi is based on the royal palace in Hampi including the open area in the middle with a water source to help cool the place. As we were planning to stay 3 nights we had 2 full days (and 2 half days) to explore Hampi, which was perfect because they have 4 trails for guests (Raya Trail, Vithalapura Walk, Tungabhadra Trek & Virupaksha Trail) which you can choose to go on. We decided to all 4 of them, doing one trail in the morning and another in the evening.

Second Day

We started off with the Vithalapura Walk, which is a walk through the ancient market and the temples of Vithalapura – a Hampi suburb known for the famous Vijaya Vithala temple that houses the renowned Stone Chariot and musical pillared mantapa. Our trip started early morning post breakfast to avoid the heat, the drive to the Vijaya Vithala temple was short and interesting because Santhosh who was our guide kept us entertained with stories about the historical city. We parked the car at the entrance and then walked to the temple. If we had come a little later, there are electric golf carts that will take you there but as we wanted to stretch our legs we walked the ~1kms distance and I am glad we did that because it gave us the chance to explore the area in more detail rather than watching it from the cart.

The first structure that catches your eye as you are walking is the ‘Kuduregombe Mandapa‘ (Horse riders Pavilion). It is named so because it has sculptures of horses with riders mounting them at its entrance and the word Kuduregombe translates to Horse Riders in the local language. This is a temple for one of the Hindu Gods and was built over 500 years ago. Unfortunately, over the years the idol was removed and much of the temple is in ruins so we don’t know for sure which of the Gods the temple was built to worship. Another theory is that it was used as a prayer place by the horse riders during the annual chariot festival.


Kuduregombe Mandapa (Horse riders Pavilion)

Across from the Mantapa there is the remains of the temple pond which supplied the water to be used for the temple and for the drinking/cooking of the staff and visitors. The pond has steps going down to the water and when we went it was in poor shape as the water had stagnated and a lot of plant growth was there. There is a small structure in the middle of the pond where it is assumed an idol was carried out and prayers were done there before taking it back to the temple. Restoration work is going on in the rest of the compound, but they haven’t gotten around to here yet as there is a lot of work remaining. My sister has been working with various folks to map, photograph and look at rejuvenating step-wells around India as they are a sustainable way of water storage and distribution. (More on water distribution later).


Remains of the temple pond, that supplied water to the Kuduregombe Mandapa

As you are walking down the road you will notice these stone pillars parallel to the road placed about 5-6 feet apart in rows. These are the remains of the market stalls that were placed for the vendors to sell their goods. Only the support structures remain as part the structure was made from wood and has decomposed over the years. The market at its peak was almost 1 kilometers long and had shops on both sides of the road. The market was host to merchants from all over the world, including Rome, Persia etc. At its peak the Vijayanagara empire was compared to the Roman empire by the traders and scholars who visited. It was rich enough that diamonds were used as decorations on the horse’s saddles and reins/bridle. In fact legend has it that Diamonds and other precious stones were actually sold by weight instead of per piece in this market because they were so common. There have been writings about this market (and others in the empire) by famous visitors from across the world. But hardly anyone knows about it.


Remains of the Market stalls

During the walk we also spotted some brightly colored lizards (Agama’s) and other wildlife and plants that Jani found to be a lot more interesting than I did. Still they all looked very pretty 🙂

Another few mins of walk brought us to the entrance of the Vitthala temple and even in it’s current state the word that came to mind when I saw it for the first time was “Impressive”. The Vitthala temple was initially built in 1422AD and expanded between 1509-1529AD out of solid granite rock. The temple is dedicated to Lord Vitthala, who is an incarnation of Lord Vishnu.


Entrance to the Vitthala temple

The temple complex is huge and a lot of restoration work is going on as parts of the temple is in ruins due to the age. Some of you might ask (as I did) why folks are not allowed to drive up to the temple and park right in front as there is enough space available there. This is not allowed because of the fear that the vibrations from the vehicles would damage the structure. Then Santhosh pointed out an ingenious method that is being used to monitor the cracks to ensure they are not expanding. In other countries, I have seen sensors being placed all over such structures to monitor the cracks, here they have taken a very thin strip of glass and stuck it over the crack. If there is any activity or increase in the crack dimension it will break the glass notifying the ASI staff that they need to check for damage. It is cheap, simple and very effective.


Cheap ‘sensor’ to monitor cracks on the structure

Once you enter the complex, the famous The Stone Chariot (Ratha) is right in front of you in the temple courtyard. The Chariot is a shrine to Garuda who is the vehicle mount (vahana) of Lord Vishnu. Garuda is also a dharma-protector and Astasena in Buddhism, and the Yaksha of the Jain Tirthankara Shantinatha. It is one of the three most famous chariots in India with the other two located in Konark and Mahabalipuram. The chariot was built by King Krishnadevaraya of the Vijayanagara Empire during the 16th century. It was created to showcase the beauty and artistic perfection of the Vijayanagara empire. The chariot is made of multiple slabs of granite but due to the skill of the craftsmen it looks like it is made from a single stone. A small example of the skill of the craftsmen is that even though the wheels of the chariot are made out of stone they were crafted in a way that they could rotate freely. (Now the wheels have been fixed in place to protect against damage). Originally the chariot had stone horses pulling it but the statues were damaged and have been replaced with elephants taken from another location.


Us at the entrance of the Temple complex with the stone chariot right behind us


The famous stone chariot

The Maha Mantapa (Great hall) of the temple is behind the Stone Chariot in the in inner courtyard. The hall is built on top of a ornately carved platform from solid granite. The whole platform is covered with images from Mythology, flowers and other designs. The Mantapa was under repair when we visited and still was one of the most impressive structures that I have seen. The hall has 16 musical pillars that have been carved from a single piece of rock, each pillar has multiple smaller pillar carved in it. The carving is done in a way that when you tap on the pillar it creates a musical sound. Each pillar produces a different musical note and there is a carving on each pillar that denotes what sound will be produced when the pillar is tapped. Imagine the skill required to carve these pillars flawlessly. During festivals and events musicians would play music for the dancers by tapping on the pillars with short sticks. The pillars in the hall are curtailed from access to prevent folks from playing music on them to protect them from further damage as they are pretty old.


Maha Mantapa, Vitthala temple


Maha Mantapa, Vitthala temple


Sounds produced by Playing the Musical Pillars

The skill of the carvers is evident from the intricately carved water channels in the platform that are part of the design (see photo below).


Carved water channel to safely channel water from rains into drainage.

Other pillars in the hall are covered with carvings that tell the story of Narasimha and parts of the structure tell the story of Hanuman’s visit to Lanka and Lanka Dahan (The burning of Lanka). What I found very interesting was the carving of the king riding a mythical creature with the parts of various animals each symbolizing a different virtue. Unfortunately I forget what each animal was supposed to represent and I will update the post once I find the details.


Carvings on the temple pillars


Carvings on the temple pillars


Carvings on the temple pillars

Another cool aspect that Santhosh pointed out was something that had never occurred to me even though I was aware of the components. He basically told us that the various avatars of Lord Vishnu tell us that our ancestors were aware of the theory of evolution and his avatars evolved over the ages to show how life evolved from marine life to the current form. Evolution teaches us that we went through the following stages of evolution and each avatar corresponds to that stage:

Marine life -> Matsa (Fish) avatar)
Amphibious Life -> Kurma (turtle avatar)
Simple Animals -> Varaha (boar avatar)
Early humans (like Australopithecus Afarensis) -> Narasimha (man-lion)
Tool Users/Farming (like Homo Habilis) -> Vamana (dwarf-god)
Warriors -> Parashurama (Brahman warrior)
Civilized Man -> Rama/Krishna


Pillar carving showing Hanuman’s Lanka Dahan

Each of the other smaller halls are also covered with carvings and paintings. If I wanted to detail each aspect of the carving this post would end up becoming a book so I am not going to do that as there are others with more knowledge who have written about the temple and what all the carvings mean. By the time we finished the complex, it was starting to get a little hot so we rested for a while next to the 100 year old Temple Flower tree and then headed back.


Ancient Temple Tree

After reaching the resort we rested for a bit. As we had to head out again (and since we were hungry from our outing) we took an early lunch and were ready for our next Trail called the “Raya Trail. This trail started with a visit to the Queen’s Bath. The Queen’s Bath was created by Achyuta Raya over 500 years ago for use by the Royal Women. It is an interesting structure surrounded by a moat on all sides which served the dual purpose of preventing any strangers from entering the building while it was in use and secondly to help cool the building during the summer days by evaporation. The building is designed in an Indo-Islamic style as during the time it was built, there was a lot of cultural exchange happening between the Vijayanagara empire and the Muslim kings (Moguls and their followers).


Carved windows in the Queen’s Bath

The center part of the structure is currently open to the air but it is believed there was a wooden canopy over the structure when it was in use. The halls around the bath have beautifully carved pillars and balconies and it is easy to imagine the splendor of the bath in it’s prime. The bath was supplied with water via ingeniously designed aqueducts and some of that original network is still in service and used to supply water to parts of the city and fields.


Ornate windows overlooking the bath at Queen’s Bath

After the bath we visited the Zanana Enclosure (Women’s Enclosure) which contained the residences of the Queen and her ladies. The enclosure is surrounded by a massive wall built to protect the women against attack while the men were away for war. Due to ravages of time only the foundations and the base of the buildings are left in the enclosure as the buildings are said to have been built using wood which decomposed over the years. The most famous structure in the enclosure is the ‘Lotus Mahal’ which was the primary residence and contains lots of geometric windows and ingeniously designed cooling pipes to reduce the temperature during the summer months.


Lotus Mahal


Carved designs around the cooling piles (that spray water)

Our next stop after the Enclosure was the ‘Elephant’s Stable’, where the king housed his famous elephants. The stable was built in the 15th century and is a massive domed structure. Each dome is a different type such as circular, octagonal or fluted. The structure was covered with plaster and Stucoo ornamentation and the remains of the same can be seen in both the exterior and interior of the stable. The mahout’s (Elephant rider/trainer) residence is right next to the stable so that they could care of the elephants.


Elephant’s Stable

After the stable, we visited the Madhava (Ranga) Temple which is famous for the Hanuman statue inside it which is over 3 meters high. The pillars in the temple are carved with depictions of Garuda, Vitthala, Hanuman and depictions of other Gods & Goddesses.


Hanuman statue inside the Madhava (Ranga) Temple

The final stop of the day was the ‘Royal Enclosure’ which was the core of the capital city of Vijayanagara. It housed over 43 buildings for the civil servants that managed the day to day running of the empire. The main entrance to the enclosure was guarded by a pair of massive gates which admitted visitors to a zig-zag area that took the visitors to the ‘Mahanavami Dibba’ platform. This platform was where the king accepted vows of fealty from his subordinates, showcased their military might and performed prayers for victory before any military campaign. Each layer of the platform is decorated with carvings showcasing the military might of the empire, their cultural achievements, representation of visitors from other nations and the tribute they offered (that included, exotic animals, dancers etc). You can see depictions of merchants and ambassadors from the Chinese, Mesopotamian, Persian and other major empires in the world.


Massive Stone Gate protecting the entrance of the Royal Enclosure


The ‘Mahanavami Dibba’ platform


Ornate carvings on the side of the ‘Mahanavami Dibba’ platform


Carving showing some of the visitors to the empire from around the world with the gifts they brought


View from the top of the Platform

Some of the other structures in the enclosure include grain storage area’s and water storage wells. Interestingly, each block of stone used to build these structures has a maker’s mark on it along with marks that tell the mason where exactly this stone was meant to be placed. In case of damage they would carve a replacement and replace that stone without having to measure the original again.


The main water storage for the Enclosure


Maker’s mark on the stone used to build the structures

The enclosure also had provision for soldiers to camp and right next to the aquaduct supplying water there is provision for the soldiers to have their meals in massive stone plates. (I am trying to convince dad to get some stone plates for home).


Massive stone plates for soldiers to have their meals on

The last stop of the day was the ‘Hazararama Temple’ that is the only temple located in the core zone of the royal Enclosure between the residential and ceremonial enclosures. The temple is dedicated to Lord Rama and is a great example of the Dravida Vimana Temple style. The temple is famous for the carvings and sculptures telling the story of Ramayana in three tiers.


The ‘Hazararama’ Temple


Carved pillars at The ‘Hazararama’ Temple

With is visit, we concluded the first day of our trails and headed back to the resort where after freshening up we rested for a little while enjoying the cool breeze and then had our dinner in the Specialty restaurant called Bahmani. Continuing with the theme of giving us a really VIP treatment the staff seated us next to a lotus pond near the window where we got to enjoy the nice breeze and watch the rain while staying dry. The food was again fantastic and we really liked the meal and the service.


Pond side seating at Bahmani for dinner

Third Day

The third day of the trip started with a heavy breakfast followed by us heading out to the ‘Virupaksha Trail’. We drove to the beginning of the trail and started with a visit to the ‘Saisivekalu Ganesha’. This is a 2.4 mtrs high statue carved from a single rock which was built around 1506 AD, as per an engraving on the rock next to the pavilion. The statue is in an open pillared pavilion that has been standing for centuries without any mortar/cement being used in it’s construction. The whole thing is balanced to an inch and even falling rocks have not damaged the structure.


the ‘Saisivekalu Ganesha’

Next to the pavilion, there are a lot of rocks which were prepared for construction and here is where I found out how the ancients broke these gigantic rocks into smaller pieces or slabs without using any kind of power tools. First they locate the fault line in the rock and carve rectangular holes in the stone using chisel & hammers. These holes are then filled with hot water and left for a bit, then they immediately fill it with cold water. They repeat this for about 10-15 days to allow the hot & cold water to expand & contract the rock to start expanding the fault line. At times, they also insert wooden pegs in the holes that are wett’ed with water which forces the wood to expand forcing the cracks to widen. Once they judge enough time has passed and the stone is ready, they use a hammer and chisel to strike hard blows at key points on the rock and it everything was done correctly the rock splits apart easily. The process was then repeated if smaller pieces of the rock were required.


Square holes in the rock made to cut the rock


Massive rock cut in half using the method above

The walk from the Ganesha statue to the Virupaksha temple is quite nice and you can see how the temples evolved over the years. In the beginning there Shiva linga is carved into the rock right in the open, then a few years/decades later the first structure is built around the idol/Shiva linga which is a simple room, with rudimentary carvings on the temple. Carvings are not very detailed because the rock is extremely hard and difficult to carve. Then the later temples built a room around the central room with additional carvings and more idols. Around this time other stones were used in the construction along with Granite so the carvings start becoming more detailed as well.


Shiva linga’s carved in the rock in the open


Single room temple


View of the Virupaksha temple from a distance

A short walk down the hill brought us to the entrance of the famous Virupaksha Temple. The Virupaksha Temple is dedicated to Lord Shiva and has existed since at least the 7th century as there are records of the temple from the 7th century onwards. The temple was built by Lakkan Dandesha, under the ruler Deva Raya II of the Vijayanagara Empire. It started off as a simple shrine and over the years was built into a a huge complex during the Vijayanagara rule. The carvings of the temple are phenomenal and cover almost all the pillars and roof. The temple base is made from rock with the top portion made from brick. This allowed the architects to create very intricate carvings on the temple as brick is easy to carve and shape as compared to granite.


Inner Courtyard of the Temple complex

The temple has a lot of repeated patterns in it’s design and if you look carefully you can see the patterns demonstrate the concept of fractals. The patterns divide and repeat themselves as they become smaller and smaller. The roof of the temple is covered in beautiful paintings with some of the original colors still visible.


Carvings showing scenes from the Ramayana in original color


Roof Paintings inside the temple complex


Carved pillars in the temple.

One aspect of the temple, which is not known to many people is that it is designed in a way there is a small pinhole camera that shows us the top of the temple as an inverted image within the main temple in a small room off to one side of the main shrine. Things like this were what made it worth going on the trail with the staff from Evolve Back as they show you stuff that you would have missed otherwise.


Pinhole camera showing the top of the temple next to the shrine

The complex had a lot more decorative structures in and around it which were destroyed by the Muslim invaders in the 16th century. Which is extremely depressing when you think about it. How much of India’s culture and history was demolished by these invaders?

While walking around the complex we walked over to see the step well that functioned as the water storage area for the temple use. The structure is still in use and had fishes in it that you can feed. We didn’t but others were feeding them as we watched.

Post that we walked over to the ‘Kadalekalu Ganesha‘ statue, which is the largest Ganesha statue in South India. It towers over you at a height of 4.6 mtrs and is known as Kadalekalu Ganesha because its belly was carved in the shape of a Bengal Gram (Kadalekalu in the local language). The statue sits in a temple hall that is decorated with tall and slender granite pillars carved with various mythological characters and themes. We spent a few minutes resting in the shade here and then started the drive back to the resort.


The ‘Kadalekalu Ganesha‘ statue

On the way we stopped at the Lakshmi Narasimha Statue which is another major tourist attraction in Hampi. It is also known as the Ugra Narasimha or Angry Narasimha. It was built in 1528 AD and is dedicated to Lord Narasimha (an avatar of Lord Vishnu), and Goddess Lakshmi. The statue of Lord Narasimha is sitting sitting cross-legged position on the coil of a giant seven-headed snake Adishesha and originally had a small figure of Goddess Lakshmi sitting in his lap to keep him calm. The statue was vandalized by the Mugals during their attack and the limbs of the statue were broken along with the Lakshmi statue. The damaged Lakshmi statue is now kept in the Archaeological Museum in Kamalapura for safekeeping.


Lakshmi Narasimha / Ugra Narasimha Statue

Right next to the statue is another famous temple dedicated to Lord Shiva called Badavilinga Temple. Badavilinga is a combination of two words – Badva (Poor) and Linga (Shiva) in the local language. It is called so because legend has it that the Shivaling inside the temple was commissioned by a poor farmer lady. In her honor the temple is known as the Badavilinga Temple. The Linga in the temple is surrounded with water to keep Lord Shiva calm and control his destructive dance.


The Badavilinga Temple

Awed by this grand tour we drove back to the resort where we rested for a while before heading out for lunch. Lunch was great as usual and after a short rest we were ready to tackle the next (and the last official) Trail of the resort, the “Tungabhadra Trek“. While we were waiting to head out, Joydeep who is the General Manager for the Hampi property stopped by to check on if we were enjoying the stay. During the conversion he mentioned that they had just completed the recce for another Trail that they were planning on starting in the future which was something that most people didn’t know about. This was to a site (Hire Benakal) that contains structures between 3000 to 4000 years old with rock paintings from the same time. Since both of us love history and wanted to ensure we visited this place, we asked them if they could organize a trip for us to this place (More details in the next post). They agreed to take us out to visit the Hire Benakal but only if we extended our stay by a day because it was a half day trip to visit the location. We immediately asked the staff to extend our stay by a day and then started off for the Tungabhadra Trail.


Nandi Statue at the start of the Tungabhadra Trail

We were joined by Mr Sarath, who is the Associate Director of Conservation and Experiences on this trail along with Santhosh. We then drove over to the start of the trail which has a giant statue of Nandi at its beginning. The statue is looking towards the Vittala Temple and overlooks the entrance. This trail is a little more hiking than the other trails we did till then at Hampi but was a fairly easy climb. Due to the monsoon season starting the whole climb was through some amazing greenery and we could hear a lot of wildlife such as birds and other small animals. The area is wild enough that there have been sightings of panthers and bears at times. Near the trail there was another trail that takes you to a cave that is said to be the location where Sugriva hid from Bali during their fight and his exile. We didn’t have time to visit it, but are planning to do so during our next visit.


View of the Vittala Temple from the trail


Carved image of Vishnu (I think) on the way to the Achyutaraya Temple

A short hike brought us to the Achyutaraya Temple, which looks like the temple from the Jungle Book which is the home of King Louie. As per Santhosh this temple was the inspiration for the ruined temple in the movie. The complex is huge and mostly abandoned with hardly any visitors. There is a way to come to the temple via the river which is where the main entrance used to be. The entrance we came through was the side entrance only used when the river entrance was flooded and couldn’t be used. The complex is covered with beautiful carvings which tell the story of Ramayana. It was built in 1534 AD and is dedicated to Lord Tiruvengalanatha (a form of Vishnu). The main entrance has the remains of a massive market in front of it and traders from all over the world came there to trade.


Achyutaraya Temple, hidden in the forest


Selfie overlooking the Market at the Temple entrance.


Us overlooking the Market at the Temple entrance.


Carved Pillars inside the Achyutaraya Temple


Walking through the Market Stalls at the Temple entrance.

We walked through the complex, and over to the Kodanda Rama Temple on the banks of the Tungabhadra river. The temple overlooks the Chakratirtha, which is is considered to be one of the holiest places in Hampi. Legend says that this is the place where Lord Shiva gave the Chakra Lord Vishnu which is his most powerful weapon. While we were there some shooting was going on for some documentary and due to this we got a highly decorated Coracle instead of a plain looking one. Initially I wasn’t too interested in a coracle ride but then was convinced to go for it as it was the only way to see the ruined temple and the shiva lingas.


Overlooking the Chakratirtha


Coracle ride to the ruined temple

The coracle took us to remains of temples on the bank of the Tungabhadra river and these really detailed carvings of Gods & Goddesses done on the rock itself. A short climb brings you to the highlight of the trek which is a collection of 100 Shiva Lingas in the rock with another set of 1000 Shiva Lingas in the background. Imagine the effort and skill required to carve these without a single mistake on a surface as hard as Granite. After looking at all the amazing carvings we climbed back to the coracle and came back to the Chakratirtha from where we took another trail to the car.


Remains of the temple carvings in the rocks


100 Shiva Lingas carved in stone


1000 Shiva Lingas carved in stone

On the way back to the resort we stopped at another structure that not many people know about, this was the Akhada (a place of exercise/martial practice with facilities for boarding, lodging and training) used by the king’s soldiers and visitors who wanted to compete and show off their skills for hiring. The walls are covered with carvings showing various forms of exercise and fighting forms. Even though the place is a little overgrown it is still impressive.


Tea break at the Royal Akhada

We had a small tea break at the place before we headed back to the resort. By this time the team had confirmed our extension of stay even though we didn’t get the same room we were still glad that we got to stay another day. After a short rest, we went for dinner. Since we had liked the specialty restaurant a lot on the previous day the team again booked us for the specialty restaurant with the same seating location as the previous day. By this time a lot more people had checked in to the resort so the place was full but since we were off in our own alcove we were able to ignore the crowd and felt that we were the only people there for dinner.

Finishing dinner, we headed back to the room and crashed for the night as we had an early start the next day. This completes Part 1 of the write up of my Hampi visit. Part II focuses on the visit to Hire Benakal and will be published shortly.

Well this is all for now. Will write more later.

– Suramya

PS: At ~5900 words and 59 pages long with 67 photos this is officially my longest Blog post till date.

July 5, 2021

Trek to Huliyurdurga

Filed under: Travel/Trips — Suramya @ 7:34 PM

Thanks to Covid we have been unable to go for trekking since March 2020. To give some context we normally went for a trek every month, sometimes multiple times in a month depending on how we felt. So it was quite understandable that both Jani and me were eagerly looking for going on a Trek. With the latest lockdown opening up a little, we started looking for options for a day trek. Spoke to Ayush, Akanksha and Shashank to decide a place and when they didn’t have a strong preference I selected Huliyurdurga which is a fort hill and part of the Navadurgas (9 forts) near Bangalore which are said to be erected by Kempe Gowda to protect Bangalore.

The destination is not very popular for the normal tourist crowd but is apparently quite popular with the trekking crowd. The palace is approximately 100 kms from Bangalore which made it a comfortable 2 hour drive. We started from home about 6:45am on Friday (since the weekend was still under curfew). Akankasha, Jani and me were in our car while Ayush and Shashank were on their respective bikes. I personally am not a bike fan but Shashank’s new bike looked impressive and this was a great way to inaugurate the bike.


Pic on the way just after a toll when we were waiting for the bikes to catch up

The drive was uneventful and we made good time. In the past 5-6 years I have seen the quality of roads all over India (including Karnataka) improve quite a lot so I was able to maintain a good speed.

If you are driving to the venue, I suggest that you enter the Haliyurdurga Police station as the destination since the trail is right next to the station. Once you are nearing the end of the route keep an eye on the right side of the road, as you will see the station on the right side of the road even though the map will still insist that you have another 500 mtrs or so to drive. Another landmark is the Haliyurdurga Bus station which is about 100 mtrs from the station. Just before the station on your right you will see a small concrete road take that turn. Google Maps doesn’t show that particular road as connected to the main road you are on, but you can ignore that. As soon as you turn on the road, you will see a cemetery on the right side of the road. Keep driving till you come to a fork on the road. You will need to take the right side road that appears to go through some houses. After about 500 – 1000 meters the road ends and you will see stairs going up the hill. Park your vehicle near the steps and you have reached the start of the trail.

We started climbing immediately as we were eager to start and the steps are a bit steep initially. We made good time and reached the Temple on the end of the steps quite soon. After that the hike becomes a bit more challenging. The best way to climb up is to take a left turn from the temple (there is a faded blue arrow pointing the way). If I hadn’t read about the trek before we started, we would have been sure that we were going the wrong way as the trail is quite narrow and goes through some boulders and you need to squeeze your way through. Since no one had come trekking on this trail since March 2021 due to the lockdown in Karnataka the trail was quite overgrown with a lot of thorny plants taking over the trail.


The overgrown trail


Interesting Fauna we saw on the way

After braving a lot of thorns we reached a point where it looked like we would have to hack through the overgrowth if we wanted to cross without becoming a pin-cushion. By this time all of us have had enough of the thorns and since the only knives we had were a butter knife and my credit-card knife we had to turn back. I was disappointed that we didn’t get to climb all the way to the top as the view is said to be spectacular.

Once we reached the temple, I remembered reading that there was another trail going towards the right of the temple that was supposed to take you to a nandi statue and a small pond, so we decided to take the trail on the right side. The trail was a bit less overgrown and the view on our right was quite phenomenal. After a bit of walking we reached a point where we would have to bend over in half to continue due to overgrowth and I was willing to do so but the rest of the group chickened out and so we stopped. Just before that section, there was a rock overseeing the view that looked very inviting so we took a break over there before starting back.


View from our break point


Jani Relaxing mid trail

Once we got back to the temple we started looking for somewhere we could setup our picnic and grab a bit to eat. Halfway down the stairs we found a flat section on our left side and when we explored the place we found another Temple which was in the process of being renovated. Just outside the temple there was a nice shaded area so we retrieved our picnic bag from the car and had a lovely picnic.


Selfie in front of the temple


Picnic on the rocks

The entire climb and picnic took us about an hour but with the sun right overhead it was getting to be too hot to stay. The only person comfortable with the temperature was Jani but she was overruled by the rest of us and we started back soon after we finished eating. The drive back was again quite uneventful and we made good time till we entered Bangalore city limits after which we got to enjoy the Bangalore traffic. That is one part that I hadn’t really missed during the last year and half.

Some general notes: The trail can be overgrown if not under use and I would suggest going with someone who is ok to hack and slash through the vegetation if required and in which case you would need the proper tools for the job. I would also recommend that you wear clothing that allows you to cover your body/arms even though that might be hot. This is because of the thorns on the trail, having thorns stuck in your bare skin is painful (obviously) so anything you can do to avoid it is good.

After having traveled a grand total of 24 kms during the March, April and May it was great to go on a long drive. Even though we were unable to climb to the summit it was fun enough that we are planning to visit the other 8 forts over the next few months as day trips. Since we were the only people on the entire hill and didn’t see anyone else during the entire trek we were comfortable in planning the next outing.

Jani also did a writeup of the trek that you can read here.

Well this is all for now. Will post more later.

– Suramya

July 1, 2021

Never used foo/bar/baz as variable names, can I still call myself a programmer?

Filed under: Humor,My Thoughts,Techie Stuff — Suramya @ 4:14 PM

Just realized today that in my 24+ years of programming I have never named a variable foo, bar or baz. These are the goto names for placeholders in code & metaphysical variables and have decades of history behind them. Most programmers use them for temporary variables or place holders. Since I have never used them, can I still call myself a programmer? 😀

Jokes aside, you should use good variable names in your code that are meaningful, easy to read and concise. Some guidelines on how to do that are below:

Also, another point to keep in mind is to avoid acronyms that can have a different meaning in a different language or resemble rude words etc. See the screenshot below for an example of a ‘bad’ variable name:

Example of a bad variable name
Example of a bad variable name

Well this is all for now. Will post more later.

– Suramya

June 30, 2021

Why Inclusion of all genders, races and people in books is important

Filed under: My Thoughts — Suramya @ 10:20 PM

There are a ton of articles and op-eds out there which talk about how important inclusion in books and media is for people to understand the other point of view and today I just wanted to talk a bit about my personal experience with this. Showcasing other points of view or identities in books is very important. I have a few examples to show how it changed the way I thought (for the better) and made me understand stuff that I was confused about earlier by making me see their point of view.

I went to US for studies when I was 18, and till then I didn’t have much exposure to gays or even knew someone who was gay. Folks in the US at that time were very concerned about gay rights and being called out as gay was a major issue. Some of the things that were normal in India such as friends (of the same gender) holding hands were problematic whereas things which were frowned upon such as friends of opposite gender holding hands were fine. Initially I was very uncomfortable with the idea of people being gay as that was something which was new for me, and I wasn’t 100% comfortable when interacting with Gay folks. Then, I was reading a book by my favorite author Mercedes Lackey called Owlsight and I saw the first reference to a gay couple (or syach as they call it in the book) and I was shocked. I went back to reread the para since I thought I must have misread the gender of both parties. That wasn’t the case and after a bit of time I continued reading the book and their sexual preference was treated as normal throughout the book and in all subsequent books in the series that I read. This got me used to the concept and by the time I finished the series I was quite ok with the concept. It also helped me get over the shock and treat the gay relationships just the way I would treat a heterosexual relationship. The problem is that there is a lot of misinformation out there about how gay people behave and there is no normalization of the fact that there are gay people in the world and that there is nothing wrong with it. When you see a gay couple in a book or a movie having a normal relationship (including fights etc) it removes the stigma of the unknown from the relationship and that is what will make the world a more accepting place. Obviously, you need to have an open mind about things and look at things from the other perspective. There are folks who claim that these books are the devil’s work and are corrupting people. If corrupting people makes the world a more accepting and happier place then so be it.

For me the three books in the ‘Last Herald Mage’ trilogy [Last Herald Mage 01] Magic’s Pawn, [Last Herald Mage 02] Magic’s Promise and [Last Herald Mage 03] Magic’s Price by Mercedes lackey (part of the series I was talking about earlier) were the most useful in understanding the issues folks went through when they had to hide a core part of who they were and when people tried to change them. The protagonist in the trilogy is a boy named Vanyel who is gay but his father is a macho man who fears and hates gay people so he asks his arms master to beat the gay out of the boy. Throughout the first book Vanyel is trying to understand why he is different and trying to please his dad unsuccessfully. Then he meets another boy and is attracted to him which is something he was taught was wrong, so he is obviously torn and has a lot of soul searching to do with a ton of self hatred and anger. Finally he is told by others that this is a normal behavior and not something to be ashamed about. Lackey does an amazing job of showcasing and highlighting the harm we do to people who are struggling with their sexual identity by forcing them to conform to a ‘normal’ behavior. I would recommend everyone read this series at least once so you know how much harm you can cause to someone when you reject who they are. These books along with others helped me quite a lot in opening my mind.

Since then I have grown quite a bit and then a new set of genders came into play and I really didn’t understand what they were. One of the examples of a gender I didn’t understand was when someone was ‘Gender-Fluid’. This was in spite of reading the definitions and articles that people wrote about it, I still didn’t understand it so I ignored it. Then I was reading [Gods of Asgard 02] The Hammer of Thor by Rick Riordan and in the book there is a character called Alex who is gender fluid and while reading the book I finally understood what it meant to be gender fluid.

I feel that I am a better person after reading these books because they made me uncomfortable and forced me to think about my preconceptions and other things. Similarly, after reading books where the primary character is a waiter or a shopaholic or a ditzy blond made these people real to me. Earlier they were people that I interacted with without thinking about them too deeply and these books made them real to me opening my mind to more possibilities and to be honest made me a better person.

There are a ton of other examples where the book is from the view point of a Person of Color or other marginalized folk and it is important that these stories are given voice and we look at stories other than from the ‘White Man’ savior perspective. There is a lot to learn when we look at those other viewpoints. Plus it lets them also know that they can be anything they want to be, they don’t have to conform to the limitations that society puts on them.

If you are interested in reading more books where the characters are realistic and natural then I suggest you check out books by Mercedes Lackey, Rick Riordan, Jim C Hines and John Scalzi (Amongst a ton of other authors). I found their books to be quite useful and fun at the same time.

Well this is all for now. Will write more later.

– Suramya

June 17, 2021

Please don’t propose by putting rings in Golgappa / other food items

Filed under: My Thoughts — Suramya @ 8:08 PM

Hiding the engagement ring in food for the other person to find is a weird custom that has been made popular by the media as apparently this is supposed to be romantic. I have always found it to be extremely risky and silly. If someone decided to put an engagement ring in something I was eating there is a very high probability that I would end up eating it. I don’t think a run to the emergency room when your partner is choking is very romantic, neither is waiting for the ring to pass through the digestive system, which can take a couple of days. Once it is out it would need to be cleaned and polished again since the stomach acids would have corroded the metal. Plus I don’t think I would ever want to wear a ring that was literally shit out.

Historically, we have seen rings put in desserts, cakes, even pies. Now, in a new idiotic trend (I can’t think of any other word for this) there are people who are putting the ring in Golgappa’s. For those who don’t know what they are, they are basically a round or ball-shaped, hollow puri (a deep-fried crisp flatbread), filled with a tasty mixture of liquids (sweet/tangy), chilli power, potato, onions and chickpeas. Traditionally they are served live with someone stuffing it with the filling and the water which is then handed to you. You put the whole thing in your mouth immediately because the longer you wait the higher the probability is that the whole thing will disintegrate making a mess. WikiHow has a step by step instruction on how to eat Golgappa’s that you can check out.


Proposing with ring hidden in Golgappa

As you can see, once you get it in your hand there is very limited time to see if something else is there in it. You get it and put it in your mouth immediately after which you chew a little and swallow. If you are really lucky you will bite on the ring before you swallow but the chances of that happening are quite low. Most likely the person will end up swallowing it and there goes your whole ‘romantic’ gesture. Personally I don’t see anything romantic about getting a ring that I have to clean and wash before I can put it on. The only way this makes sense is if the ring is part of the cutlery or hidden in the napkin so that it is easily found and not a potential accident waiting to happen.

Choking on the ring is not romantic and it is not something that we should be encouraging. If you are planning to propose please skip putting the ring in food and just hand it to them when you ask them to marry you. Or like in my case propose and then go buy a ring. (Yes, I did not have a ring when I proposed. It was a very casual question and response for us). Buying a ring before hand does not make sense unless you are already talking about marriage else there is a probability that the other person will say no in which case you have a very expensive ring that needs to be returned.

There are multiple articles, and posts, and death’s that remind you how dangerous it is to put a ring in your food. So, please for everyone’s sake please stop imitating movies/TV and find ways to propose without risking a trip to the ER.

– Suramya

Older Posts »

Powered by WordPress