Karnataka – Places to Visit
Aihole is, along with Pattadakal and Badami, known for a collection of well-preserved temples of the early Chalukya dynasty (6th – 9th century). The archaic shrines are located in the center of the village, in the surrounding fields and on the flat plateau of a steep hill at the southeastern side of the village. Some temples had, long ago and over the course of years, become fully integrated into the structure of the village and were only rediscovered a few years ago. The differently designed Jain cult caves and Hindu temples testify to an impressive level of architectural experimentation. The great Durga temple, dated to the 7th – 8th century, is a particularly beautiful masterpiece and impresses with its unusual shape.
Situated beside an artificial lake between red sandstone rocks, the town of Badami was the capital of the Chalukya dynasty from the 6th to the 8th century. At the southern end, beneath a fortification, are several cave temples which are connected by stairways and lead up to 15 m into the rock. The entrance to the first cave, dedicated to Lord Shiva, is adorned with an exquisite picture of an 18-armed dancing Nataraja. The second, slightly more elevated cave, is a place for worship of the world preserver Vishnu. The mythological motifs show him in several different incarnations. Further steps lead past the ascent towards the fort to the third and largest cave. This cave is considered the most ornate, as it is abundantly decorated with magnificent motifs from Vishnu mythology. Towards the east is a remarkable Jain place of worship that aptly emphasizes the tradition of Jainism with an atmosphere of internalization and asceticism.
With its rich contrasts, wide streets and western-style consumer choices, the capital of the state of Karnataka is one of the most modern cities of South India. It is the internationally recognized center of a highly successful software industry. It is also a center for silk products and sandalwood carvings. It mixes old traditions, commercial glitter, spacious parks, peaceful suburbs, bustling bazaars and western-style shopping centers into an unusual and exotic whole. One of the tourist attractions is Lal Bagh Park, located south of the city center. It was created in 1740 and is home to a variety of tropical and subtropical plants. Other places worth a visit are the Vidhana Soudha (Parliament), the High Court and a number of temples, the largest one being the ISCON Krishna temple. In 2006, the Government of Karnataka changed the anglicized name of the city back to the Kannada language name, Bengaluru.
From the 11th to the 13th century, Belur was an important center of the Hoysala dynasty. Erected on a jagged base, the Chennakeshwara Temple, which is still being used for religious purposes today, is dedicated to the God Vishnu in the form of Keshvara (“the one with the beautiful curls”). Surrounded by smaller shrines and walkways with stone columns, it stands in the middle of a wide courtyard surrounded by a wall. Construction of the temple went on for 103 years. The admirable sculptures are of an exquisitely delicate nature and deserve proper attention. The geometrically designed cross-shaped ground plan, the buoyant sculptures of the Gods, the wide conversion zone, the high base and surrounding friezes with mythological motifs are some of the elements typical of Hoysala architecture.
According to legend, the Sufi Saint Baba Budan introduced coffee cultivation in Chikmagalur in the 17th century. Today, the district is an important center of coffee cultivation and enthralls with its snow-white coffee blossoms, picturesque valleys, secluded mountain trails, species-rich nature reserves and romantic waterways. All the way up to its wide hilly plateau in the eastern part, Chikmagalur presents itself as a mountainous area in the Western Ghats. Looming to the north of the town is the Baba Budan Giri Range, jutting into the Deccan plateau. The Mullayanagiri is located here, the highest peak in Karnataka at 1930 meters.
The charming, pleasant climate of the province of Coorg stretches along the Western Ghats at an altitude of 900-1750 m. This landscape, dominated by coffee cultivation, presents a particularly picturesque side of Karnataka. The sprawling plantations are shaded by more than 270 different native tree species. During flowering time in March and April, the air is filled with the sweet fragrance of white coffee blossom. Also cultivated are spices like pepper, cardamom and vanilla. The diverse fauna of the region includes elephants, leopards, wild buffalo, wild boar, and several deer species. Nature reserves with large populations of wild animals are the Brahmagiri Wildlife Sanctuary, the Talakaveri Wildlife Sanctuary, the Pushpagiri Wildlife Sanctuary and the Nagarhole National Park, also known as the Rajiv Gandhi National Park. Nestled between coffee and spice plantations near the provincial capital of Madikeri are the Abbey Falls, which are a special tourist attraction in the region.
Situated on the picturesque west coast, the temple town of Gokarna is the place where the Hindu God Shiva is said to have emerged from the ear of a mythological cow. There are several Hindu legends associated with this famous pilgrimage site. Gokarna is popular for a series of particularly beautiful sandy beaches that are separated by a charming hill range running along the town and to the south of it. The main beaches are Gokarna Beach, Kudle, Om, Half Moon and Paradise Beach. Some beaches can only be reached on foot or by boat. All of the beaches are wonderful places for relaxation, especially for those looking for remote, paradise-like surroundings.
From the 12th to the 14th century, Halebidu was – under the name Dorasamudra – the capital of the Hoysala dynasty, during which fascinating shrines were built in a picturesque landscape. The Hoysaleshwara Temple is a double shrine dedicated to Shiva. The two units each stand on a cross-shaped ground plan and are connected by a hall. Inside the sanctuary, hand-turned stone columns support the roof. Wall elements of perforated stone filter the incident rays of light, creating a pleasant atmosphere. The design of the exterior walls is characterized by grandiose mythological motifs, presenting the entire Hindu pantheon. Overlapping friezes show elephants, lions, plant ornaments and episodes from the Indian epics. With their buoyant shapes, the sculptures represent, among other things, Brahma riding on the wild goose Hamsa, Krishna sheltering his people under the Govardhana hill, and Vishnu, measuring the universe with three steps. The wide conversion zone and the high base are some of the elements typical of Hoysala architecture. Other objects of interest are the smaller Kedareshvara Temple and two Jain shrines.
The impressive ruins of Vijayanagara, located around the small village of Hampi, are a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The radiant metropolis of Vijayanagara was once the capital of a great Hindu kingdom of the same name (1343 – 1565), which developed into a cultural stronghold. Its forces were able to successfully defend the south of India for a long time against ever invading Muslim legions from the north. The ruins of the majestic city, situated in the middle of a picturesque rocky landscape on the Tungabhadra River, spread over an area of 26 km². A tour of the Royal Palace area and the Virupaksha temple with its 52 meter high temple towers is quite an unforgettable experience. The area around Hampi is associated with many legends from Indian mythology and with well-known episodes of the Ramayana epic. A hike to a nearby hill temple, considered the birthplace of the Monkey God Hanuman, offers breathtaking views over the unique rock formations.
Karwar, situated just south of Goa, is a quiet port town at the estuary of the Kalinadi River. The region, an important trade center in older times, is known for its large mangrove forests and some of the most beautiful beaches in South India. Places worth visiting here are the historic Sadashivgad fort and the Durga Devi Temple dating from 1665.
The area surrounding the major port city of Mangalore, also called Mangaluru in Karnataka’s local language, has many beautiful beaches and charming landscapes on offer. Attractions in the area include the St. Aloysius Chapel, the Mangala Devi Temple and Ullal Beach. There are interesting places in the area nearby that are worth visiting, such as Katil, Moodabidri, Karkala, Udupi and Malpe Beach.
Built on rolling hills, the ancient temple town of Melkote is situated in an idyllic setting. It is considered one of the holiest sites in Karnataka and is a worthwhile destination for a day trip from Mysore or Bangalore. As the Hindu saint and philosopher Ramanuja lived here for several years in the beginning of the 12th century, this place of pilgrimage is of great spiritual significance for followers of Vishnu. The peaceful atmosphere, which seems unaffected by the passage of time, is impressive. The spacious main sanctuary is the Cheluvanarayana Swamy temple, which is dedicated to Vishnu, the preserver of the world. Another attraction is the hilltop temple dedicated to Lord Yoga Narasimha, in which a half-man/half-lion incarnation of Vishnu is worshiped.
The tradition-imbued, colorful provincial city of Mysore with its princely charm and wide, tree-lined streets is considered one of the most attractive cities of South India. The absolute highlight is the Maharaja’s Palace. Built in Indo-Saracenic style, it has formed the center of the city since its completion in 1912. The magnificent building came into existence after the old wooden palace of the ruling family was completely destroyed by a fire in 1897. Other attractions include the Chamundi Hills with the Durga Temple and the largest monolithic Nandi (Shiva’s bull) statue in South India, Tipu Sultan’s fortress and the Summer Palace of Srirangapatna. Mysore is also known for its silk fabrics, incense, flower essences and sandalwood and rosewood carvings.
The small village of Pattadakal on the banks of the Malaprabha River was the holy place where the rulers of the Chalukya dynasty were crowned, from the 7th to the 9th century. They celebrated their great victories in stone here. The temples were built both in the North and South Indian style and are among the most important early stone temples in India. Most monuments are located in well-kept areas. The most famous temple is the Virupaksha temple, whose sculptures depict scenes from the Indian epics Ramayana and Mahabharata. Pattadakal is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Shravanabelagola has one of the oldest and most significant centers of the Jain religion, which has a spiritual tradition that emphasizes the aspects of nonviolence, internalization and asceticism. At the top of the Indragiri hill stands the famous 17 meter high monolithic statue of Lord Gomateshwara (also known as Bahubali), which represents a complete immersion into the eternal. Tendrils wrap themselves around the legs of the saint and his expression reflects a deep inner peace. The sanctuary was built in the 10th century. Every 12 years, an elaborate ceremony takes place in Shravanabelagola in which the statue is showered with milk, yogurt, buffalo fat, saffron and gold coins. Other Jain temples from the 9th – 12th century are located on the adjacent Chandragiri Hill.
The Keshava temple of Somanathapura, located 35 km east of Mysore, is considered a particularly great and well-preserved architectural masterpiece of the Hoysala dynasty. The complex was built in 1268 by Somnatha, a general in the army of Hoysala ruler Narasimha III. The three shrines, dedicated to different aspects of the Hindu God Vishnu, are situated in a rectangular courtyard and designed in a star-shaped layout, with friezes that have exquisite ornamental decorations and scenes from the Indian epics. All the sculpturing work is of outstanding quality. The most famous sculptures depict Lakshmi and Vishnu on Garuda, Sachi and Indra on an elephant and a dancing Ganesha.
Sringeri is located in Mangalore’s hinterland and is a worthwhile destination for a day trip. The great Vidyashankara Temple in Sringeri combines the architectural features of the Hoysala dynasty with those of Dravidian temple architecture. The main shrine has 12 pillars representing the 12 signs of the zodiac. They are aligned in such a way that, with the changing position of the sun, the light always falls on the corresponding pillar. In front of the temple are stone lions carrying stone balls in their mouths which can be rotated. The river near the temple complex has carp that can be fed by hand.