South India's Karnataka has a charm and unique history all its own. However, the region is often overlooked in favour of the more popular regions like Goa, Kerala and Tamil Nadu. Those that do visit Karnataka's wonders are rewarded with a memorable mix of nature, history and beautiful beaches.
Ruins at Hampi
Hampi was once the mighty capital city of the Vijayanagar Empire, one of the greatest empires in India's long history, but today the city lies in ruins. This historical wonder is listed among UNESCO's World Heritage Sites in India and is observed as a religious holy place.
There visitors will find numerous palaces, temples and ancient monuments all ruined by the unstoppable forces of man and time. These ruins date back to the 14th century and span over 25 kilometres with more than 500 monuments squeezed in. The incredible energy of Hampi is more often than not simply captivating, making it one of India's top historical destinations.
While some buildings are little more than foundation on the ground, other sites are a little better preserved with only a few pock-marked walls. This allows for visitors to imagine the city in its heyday, with glittering palaces and mighty temples all made of wood and cut stone, decorated with rich tapestries and glittering precious gems.
While Hampi was the city that once reigned supreme in Karnataka, today Bangalore serves as the region's capital. While Hampi is ancient, Bangalore is an increasingly modern, prosperous and ever-growing city. Today, it is home to India's vast Information Technology industry, full of young professionals. Due to the city's youthful population, Bangalore has become a cosmopolitan hub practically overnight. It is full of eclectic cuisine and hosts a vibrant nightlife. Visitors to what has been named the "Garden City" will want to visit Bangalore Palace and Fort to learn about the region's history and see some of its perfectly preserved historical architecture or visit any number of the many religious sites within the city.
City life in India can be stressful with the endless crowds of people and non-stop noise. To get away from it all, tourists and locals alike all flock to Gokarna.
Gokarna is a small and remote holy town in northern Karnataka. While visitors go to get a taste of the small town life and visit any number of the beautiful Buddhist and Hindu temples in the area, this town has another draw. Gokarna is situated next to what is universally recognized as some of India's best beaches. This means that the city draws not just pious pilgrims, but also the hedonistic holiday makers with equal enthusiasm.
Although the area has the most beautiful beaches, visitors shouldn't expect to find any luxurious resorts around. Gokarna's residents have gone to great lengths to assure that their town and the beautiful beaches remain untouched by development, believing that natural beauty is the best kind of beauty. Due to their dedication to conservation, the area boasts open beaches, undiscovered coves and jagged cliffs overlooking the sea.
Nagarhole National Park
Nagarhole National Park is the best park in the Karnataka area and it gains its name from the snake-like river the winds across the park. It is there where visitors can find some of the most serene, untouched wilderness in India.
However, it is not the wilderness that draws visitors to the area - but rather the wildlife. Nagarhole is teeming with over 250 types of birds, elephants, sloth, bear, bison, tiger, leopards and wild boar. While visitors can simply trek the park by themselves, it is safer to take wildlife tours via Jeep or boat. While the opportunity to see a tiger is rare compared to some of the national parks in Northern India, this is one of the best places to see elephants in their natural habitat. They frequently stomp across trails or hang out by the river, spouting water from their long trunks.
Shravanabelagola is considered to be one of the most famous religious spots in Karnataka. As visitors climb the 600-odd steps up Vindhyagiri Hill, they get their first glimpse at Asia's tallest monolithic statue. The 15-metre statue of Lord Gommateshwara, or as he is more fondly known, Bahubali stands proud above the hill. It was said that after defeating his brother in battle for the kingdom, Bahubali was overcome by grief from seeing his brother lying defeated. He surrendered his kingdom in order to seek enlightenment. After taking control, Bahubali's brother Bharatha erected this statue in his honour, but it was eventually covered with ant hills. This massive stone behemoth weights 80 tonnes and was built in the 8th Century.
From this tall hill, visitors can not only marvel at Bahubali, but are also given sweeping views of the area. Shravanabelagola serves as a holy spot for Jainism. The surrounding buildings serve as home to Jain priests, or basadis, and this area is a vital stop for Jain pilgrims. Jain basadis of the past made it mandatory that the truly faithful must make a pilgrimage here every 12 years.
Pattadakal was once the destination of kings; it was there where kingdoms were bestowed upon heirs apparent. This served as the official coronation destination in Karnataka, which is apparent in its name, as it translates into coronation (pattada) stone (kal).
The area has a collection of temples that are an interesting mix of both north and south Indian styles of temple architecture. The area has the majority of its original buildings preserved as well as much of the sculpture and details intact. What has survived the testament of time now tells powerful tales about the area and the legends that were made there.
The Kodagu region, often referred to as Coorg (the English version of its name), is a slice of paradise. The region's friendly towns are nestled among the green hills in Southern Karnataka, but it not too far from Bangalore. It is famed for its sprawling coffee estates, which also mean that every town has a freshly brewed pot just waiting to be served. The area itself is beautiful and mountainous, but it is only complimented by the hospitality of the locals. Coorg is the last stronghold of the Kodava people who are believed to be the direct descendants of the Aryans that once lived in this land. The local villages are always ready to offer a warm reception to guests, but many guests may want to skip the towns and opt for exploring the vast landscape instead.
Mysore is the second largest city within Karnataka. This city has become fondly known as the 'City of Palaces,' making Mysore become a true reflection of the cultural heritage and traditional splendor of India's rich history. While Bangalore is interesting, it is in Mysore where tourists traditionally flock because of the royal Dravidian style architecture that is prominent in the older buildings and palaces around the city.
For those interested in India's religious sites, the Chamundeshwari Temple and Chamudi hills are popular pilgrimage destinations of Jainists. However, for those interested in learning more about India's rich oral history, they should visit the Folklore Museum while in the city. Karnataka, much like the rest of India, has so many diverse and vibrant stories about its past that it is hard to keep them straight. This Folklore Museum can help visitors understand a little better while helping them differentiate between what is a historical tale and what is embellished with fantasy.