It’s a potent and diverse combination that has made Karnataka an irresistible and popular state even as it maintains an understated aspect that is extremely attractive. Ancient heritage sites, ethereal temples, scenic mountain ranges and ill stations, dense jungles teeming with wildlife, pristine beaches—all of these and much more have contributed to its consistent ranking among the top five most-visited states in India. And frequent visitors will tell you it’s the sheer variety that keeps drawing them back and keeping them enthralled.
HAMPI – Nothing in the world can compare with Hampi, the magnificent ruins of South India’s greatest kingdom, the 15th-century Vijayanagara empire. Situated on the banks of the Tungabhadra river, it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Krishnadevaraya is held to be the most important and progressive king of the dynasty to have ruled the region. Spread over an estimated 40 sq km, this is considered the world’s largest outdoor museum.
It comprises royal buildings, temples, fortifications, baths, stables, public places, markets, pavilions and thousands of elegantly carved pillars, each of which tells a story of its own. Even a week in Hampi is considered inadequate to see the ruins properly, but the most breathtaking landmarks are the king’s palace, Mahanavami Dibba, Lotus Mahal, the elegant Queen’s Bath, elephant stables, Virupaksha Temple, Vithala Temple, Hazara Rama Temple, and the images of Narasimha and Ganesha. Also worth a visit is Anegundi, which predates the Vijayanagara kingdom and is believed to be the mythical Kishkindapuri, the abode of Sugriva in the Ramayana.
BELUR-HALEBID – Often clubbed together, the two 12th-century temples at Belur and Halebidu, separated by about 15 km, are classic examples of the exquisite temple architecture of the Hoysalas. Especially noteworthy are certain pathbreaking advances in temple architecture such as use of lathes to create beautifully carved pillars and the use of the dynamic square to obtain the star structure. The Channakeshava Temple at Belur is a living temple and is characterised by its star shape, magnificent friezes on the outside, bearing stories from the Puranas, mythology and folklore. The most famous of the sculptures are the shilabalikes or celestial nymphs. The Hoysaleshwara and Kedareshwara Temples at Halebidu are in ruins and the central deity is missing, but the structures are still beautiful.
GOL GUMBAZ – The influence of the Adil Shahi kings is a strong presence in Bijapur. But amidst the many palaces, forts and mausoleums, the massive Gol Gumbaz, the mausoleum of Mohammad Adil Shah, dominates the town’s urbanscape. The structure is awe-inspiring for its sheer size and symmetrical beauty. Built in the mid-17th century, the Gol Gumbaz is considered the second largest dome in the world and is renowned not just for its architectural brilliance but acoustics as well. A mere whisper or a soft clap resonates 11 times all over the inside of the dome. The octagonal spires on four sides and cornices are also worthy of note.
SRIRANGAPATNA – This 18th-century island fortress was the stronghold of Tipu Sultan. The ruined fortress stands in mute testimony to passing time, but there are remnants that speak of the era of the Tiger of Mysore. These include the Dariya Daulat, the Gumbaz where Tipu, his father, Hyder Ali, and other royalty are buried, the Jama Masjid, the Ranganathaswamy Temple, the obelisk, and the Wellesley Bridge.