Karnataka, the state located in south-west India with Arabian Sea coastlines, is host to some of India’s largest and most powerful dynasties. The state has across the centuries carried a legacy of art and culture. Blessed with a diverse makeup conforming to all the romance of quintessential India, Karnataka delivers the best – the regal splendor of Mysore, the tranquil of Hampi with psychedelic sunsets, the ancient strewn ruins of the Vijayanagara Empire, the coffee plantations, the jungles teeming with monkeys, tigers, and Asia’s biggest population of elephants, or the blissful beaches of Gokarna.
Mysore, the cultural capital of Karnataka, is known for its glittering royal heritage and magnificent monuments and buildings. The Mysore Palace, seat of the former Wodeyar dynasty, is what brings most travelers here, but Mysore is also a thriving center for the production of premium silk and sandalwood. For a visitor of this city, Devaraja Market is an apt place to get a flavor of the local people’s. With more than 100 years of history, this market is well knitted into the heritage of Mysore. If you are new to the bazaars of India in general, do not miss Devaraja Market. Mysore’s ten-day Dussehra festival during September/October is still celebrated with medieval pageantry.
The legend and romance of Kabini plays out in a theatre called Nagarhole and revolves around a pristine river called Kabini (originally Kapila), which snakes its way through the Nagarhole National Park in Karnataka and forms an aqueous boundary with the Bandipur National Park. Together, this area constitutes the largest contiguous forest cover in this part of the world and is a part of the Nilgiri biosphere, the largest in Asia, and home to the largest concentration of herbivores in Asia. And herbivores don’t get larger than the Asiatic elephants, whose favorite playground is this. At Nagarhole, one can witness the largest congregation of Asiatic elephants in the world, and these majestic mammals rule the roost here. Forest department operates the Jeep Safari early morning and late afternoon into the jungle. Private resorts also offer boat safaris in the Kabini River.
Belur & Halebid
Close to the town of Hassan, there are two famous Hoysala temples at Belur and Halebid. The temple in Belur is dedicated to Lord Chennakesava, whose construction commenced in 1116 AD and took 103 years to complete. Halebid literally means ruined city, because it was ruined twice by the Bahmani Sultanate. Halebidu was previously called Dwarasamudra, and it was the regal capital of the Hoysala Empire in the 12th century. Halebidu is home to one of the best examples of Hoysala architecture.
Chikmagalur has played a host to an event, thanks to which, countless Indians wake up to brighter mornings. Centuries ago, when the Sufi mystic Baba Budan smuggled seven coffee beans from Yemen into India, he probably didn’t bargain for millions of coffee junkies unwittingly blessing his soul every day, with every sip of their coffee. Chikmagalur, whose hills nurtured the coffee culture at its bosom, is a green slice of heaven on a permanent coffee high. Rambling hills, pristine pools, fascinating nooks and crannies with a shrine, intriguing caves, lush mists, and dreamy woods make the geography of Chikmagalur.
A sleepy Brahmin town, lodged somewhere between a conservative society and a faithful hippy fan following, Gokarna is a dream destination for so many different reasons. Its refusal to fall into a certain type-casted slot is just one of them. Open beaches, undiscovered coves, epiphanic sunsets, jagged cliffs, quaint temples, and an evasive culture make Gokarna whatever you want it to be. Sun, sand, and surf is what you go to Gokarna for, and the solitude it offers is like a bonus track on a great music album. The Om Beach, with its Om-shaped shoreline, is a scramble down a rocky cliff – just like every other beach in Gokarna. Cliffs separate each of Gokarana’s five beaches from the other and offer spectacular views far out into the Arabian Sea. You can either take a boat ride to other beaches or walk it down. But either way, the Kudle Beach, the Paradise Beach, the Half-moon Beach, and the Gokarna Beach are worth a visit.
Hampi has challenged time, survived the centuries, and lived to tell the tale.
It is every inch the capital city of a golden empire. Hampi was the seat of the famed Viyayanagara, the largest empire in post-mogul India, covering several states. The empire reigned supreme under Krishnadevaraya, the emperor. The Vijayanagara Empire stretched over at least three states – Karnataka, Maharashtra, and Andhra Pradesh. The destruction of Vijayanagar by marauding Moghul invaders was sudden, shocking, and absolute. They reduced the city to ruins amid scenes of savage massacre and horrifying beggaring description. The ruins of Hampi of the 14th century lie scattered in about 26 sq. km area, amidst giant boulders and vegetation. The splendid remains of palaces and gateways of the broken city tells a tale of man’s infinite talent and power of creativity together with his capacity for senseless destruction. Every bend in the road is punctuated by a 14th century, if not older, temple Perched on nearly every hillock is a four-pillared canopy-like monument and its entire horizon, pixilated by huge gestalt-ish boulders. The regal nine-storey tall Gopura of the Virupaksha Temple, where Siva is believed to have married Parvati, watches over the city like a specially appointed god – its memory of magnificence and grandeur forever etched in stone.
Though what lies before are but the bones of an enchantress, who once had the whole world in her sway. Hampi is far from what one would call ruins. Once visited by the Portuguese, Arabs, Persians, and Orientals, the capital city of Vijayanagara has only grown in popularity across the centuries. And no surprise that although in ruins today, this capital city once boasted riches known far beyond the shores of India.
Hampi gives an impression of preserving itself for the past to resume. The wedding ceremony of Shiva and Parvati is celebrated every year at the Virupaksha Temple, as it has been for centuries. The long bazaar avenues stand in expectant silence, as if awaiting that kind of commerce to resume, where diamonds and precious stones were used as currency. In the evenings, like a zillions dusks before, the dying rays of the sun turn the entire Vijaya Vittala Temple to gold, a sight which is as much a wonder as the temple’s 56 musical pillars that produce the sounds of 56 different musical instruments. The Royal Enclosure waits in readiness for its sandalwood halls to be returned, the massive elephant stables, the Lotus Mahal – shaped like a lotus blossoming in the sun, the Hazararama Palace temple with intricate stories carved over its every side, and the Mahanavmi Dibba or the Victory Platform still majestic and proud await to fall back into the routine. The sheer detail of the carvings and the number of sculptures speak of a race of artisans that weren’t quite done in their business of outdoing each other in craftsmanship. Monolithic structures carved out of a single rock – the imposing Lakshmi Narasimha, the majestic Stone Chariot, the massive Ganesha statues, the Badavilinga are proof of the brilliance that was once envied. Cross the Tungabadra River over to the ancient capital of Anegundi, and find leisurely roads to traverse, myths to chase, and boulders to scale and dive off, into the waiting arms of the Sanapur Lake.
And, they say, if you listen carefully enough, you might learn a thing or two on how to do the same.
The journey to Badami-Aihole-Pattadakal in the northern Karnataka is a painting in the primary colors. Badami, with its famous cave temples, made up of two giant sandstone hills, Aihole has to be god’s collection of temple prototypes. Believed to be the cradle of Dravidian temple architecture, Aihole’s temple compendium spans styles and centuries, some as early as the 5th century, and some, like the Durga Temple is built on design that is seen nowhere else in the country. The Badami Chalukyas first had their capital at Aihole before they moved to Badami, and it’s justified in resting on its ancient laurels, for Aihole has a lot of ancient laurels. Pattadakal, similarly, has a finger lodged in the book of time – when it was the place where kings were coronated. A little away from Aihole, Pattadakal stands like an island of majesty – just like its name suggests: “pattada kallu” translating into coronation stone. A complex of eight temples, each one commemorates a landmark event in the history of the Chalukyas, which in turn was one of South India’s most vibrant dynasties. The Malaprabha River flows by both Aihole and Pattadakal, a silent witness now as it was then.