Travel Karnataka between Spirituality, Sea and Nature

We decided to travel to Karnataka in southern India, between rural landscapes and magical places where time seems to stand still. India is a land of contrasts and so is Karnataka. After a few hours drive from Bangalore, technology, and finance gives way to a mystical reality that rejects modernity. We smell the fragrance of sandalwood and jasmine that the sellers provide us with grace.

Our path winds through the little-visited places in Karnataka. We discover the splendor and sensuality of the Mysore palace. We admire the finely decorated temples of the Hoysala dynasty period in Halebid and Belur. We climb the plateau in the lost city of Hampi. We travel between the cave temples of Badami and Aihole and Pattadakal.

In the morning we depart to Gulbarga with a stop for a visit to Bidar. It was the capital of Bahmani Sultanate in 1424 until Ahmad shah's brother and successor Firuz Shah transferred the court, with the decline of the dynasty in the late fifteenth century. The region passed into the hands of Baridi. The strong Bidar Sultanate was created in 1428 by Ahmad Shah. It occupies a promontory defended by a double row of walls and a moat partly dug into the rock. Upon arrival in Gulbarga, we move to a hotel.

In the afternoon we visit Gulbarga. Known as Kalburgi, which means the stony district of the earth, Gulbarga is located in the northern part of Karnataka. It offers some of the oldest examples of Islamic architecture in Karnataka dating back to the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. The city flourished in as the capital of the Bahmani sultans, the first great kings to dominate the Deccan.

Next day after breakfast we drive to Bijapur. It is a fortified town, protected by massive ramparts, which still retain many of the original canons. Within the walls of the fort, there are beautiful palaces, mosques, and tombs, built by different rulers in its 300 years of a powerful capital. It is often cited as the southern Agra because it has some of the finest Islamic monuments in the region.

The most impressive building is the Golgumbaz, a real structural triumph of Islamic architecture in India. Nearby is the Jama Masjid that is capable of seating 2250 people. We also stop at the tomb of Sultan Ibrahim Rauza. It is a true example of the architecture of Adil Shahi.

Next day after breakfast we continue the journey to Badami, the ancient capital of the Chalukya. It was founded by Palukesin and today is little more than a village. It protects the vestiges of its glorious past. In between are the four Templars caves dug into the rock face, which are the most important caves of the Deccan. From the time of the first Chalukaya are the three Shivalaya temples. They are located on the hill north of the Fort. The temple of Bhutanatha is at the far side of the pond.

We then visit Badami. The city is located in a gorge between the hills of red sandstone. It is surmounted by two ancient fortified complexes. The afternoon is spent visiting the ancient Vatapi, the powerful capital of the Chalukya dynasty from 543-757 AD. We also explore the Hindu and Jain temples carved into the rock of the hills that surround it on a sacred basin. Inside the cave temples are beautiful sculptures of deities and elegant architectural surveys that complement this important period of Indian art.

Next morning we depart for Hospet. We stop to visit the archaeological park of Aihole, the first capital of the Chalukyas. It is the starting point of architectural experimentation of this dynasty of builders. The site is home to dozens of temples. It impresses for the constructive imagination, beauty of form, the variety of styles and achievements of sculpture in perfect harmony. The site, which developed between the sixth and eighth century, celebrates Vishnu and Shiva.

The route included a second stop in the village of Pattadkal, for visiting Chalukyan Virupaksha Temple, Kashi Vishwanath, and Ganganath. At the end of the visit, we continue the journey to Hospet.

We begin the next day with an excursion to the archaeological site of Hampi, a World Heritage Site. It has one of the richest monumental architecture in the history of South India. We visit the temples and palaces of what was once the capital of a great empire. They were scattered in an area of 23 square kilometers. The Vijayanagar empire was the bulwark that defended the Islamic invasion.

Since its inception, it gave a strong impetus to the artistic traditions that were handed down from the last Chalukaya from Kakatya and the Hoysala. It summed up the art of the past with elements after the fall to other cities, such as Tanjore and Madurai, where the dynasty moved after the debacle. Using the hard stone of the surrounding hills, it shows its greatness in the Cyclopean fortifications and its genius in Templar architecture.

Next day after breakfast the journey continues in the direction of Hassan. En route we stop at Chitradurga. This fort gained momentum as Vijaynagar outpost. Later, in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, it was the seat of local leaders known as Beda. In 1799 it was occupied by Haider Ali, a Sultan, and later by the British.
After visiting the sights, we continue the journey to Hassan.

Next day after breakfast we drive to Mysore, with a stop at the famous temples of Belur and Halebid. The Temple of Channekeshava in Belur was built in 1116. It is still considered a sacred place. Subsequently, in Halebid, we visit the Temple of Hoysaleswara, dating back to 1121. It is one of the most extraordinary examples of Hoysala, erected from the homonymous dynasty that ruled between XI and XIII centuries.

The Hoysalas was originally Jains, who converted to Hinduism in the eleventh century, which explains why in their temples are the gods of both religions. The third stop was the Temple of Sravanbelgola, a Jain place of pilgrimage. It is famous for the monolithic statue of Gommateshwara. This town was one of the first centers that spread the Jain religion in South India. The village is dominated by two hills, one of which is a temple of pilgrimage from all over India. To reach the temple you have to climb 620 steps leading to the top, of course barefoot, because all the land around the temple is considered sacred.

After the visit, we continue the journey to Mysore. Mysore is also called the city of the incense. It is one of the most important centers in the world in the production of the fragrant essence of Agarbathi of Sandalwood.
We begin our tour of the city with gardens and palaces.

The chief among them was the opulent palace of the Maharaja. It was an amazing synthesis of Indo-Saracenic architecture that houses a golden throne with a mass of 280 kg. In the morning we do an excursion on Chamundi Hill, whose summit (1000 m) culminates with a temple dedicated to Goddess Chamundi, the favored goddess of the Raja of Mysore.

We then stop at the Devaraja market for a walk to the famous fruit and vegetable market. The stalls abound with products derived from the processing of sandalwood, perfumes, and essences. In the afternoon we do an excursion to Somnatpur for visiting the Prasanna Cheennakesava temple. Dating back to 1268, it is a beautiful example of Hoysala architecture. The beautiful friezes illustrate the epic stories of Vishnu.

Next day morning after breakfast we depart to Bangalore. We a stop at Srirangapatnam. It is built on the island in the Kaveri River which is home to an imposing temple dedicated to Vishnu. We also visit the palace of Sultan Hyder Ali, made entirely of wood.

We continue to the Coorg region. It is known for the spices and coffee plantations on its heights. Along the way, we stop to visit the Tibetan community in Bylakuppe. Bylakuppe is home to a large monastery where young people study from various parts of the Buddhist world.

At the end, we depart to Gokarna. Gokarna is a sacred city devoted to Shiva and is inhabited mostly by priests and intellectuals. Also known as Temple Town, the village is a very popular destination for the Hindu pilgrims. At Gokarna, in fact, I arrived very quietly, after a stop of a night in the city of Hubli.

From Hubli later I leave for a trip of 5 hours by bus. The bus for hours went through a long and immense forest, surrounded by greenery and a great stillness. It was broken only by the rumbling noise of the bus engine and its horn. Even the arrival in Gokarna was just as calm and quiet. I have neither found a rickshaw driver wrestling to carry me nor young people ready to offer me a cheap hotel room.

We meet priests at the entrance of the temples or on the verandas, wrapped in a white cloth, out of respect to the gods. With shaved heads, they perform ceremonies in many temples. Mahabaleshwar is the ancient sanctuary which houses the lingam of Shiva. The lingam is the stone phallus, which is a symbol of fertility. According to local mythology, Shiva dropped it as he flew from the Himalayas to Sri Lanka.

In Gokarna, Shivaratri is held every year with a religious procession with floats, fireworks, and elephants. The priests are vegetarians and in the city is not found even an egg. Gokarna is the latest destination for travelers, who want to flee from mass tourism and globalization. Here has migrated the old and new hippies of the nearby super commercialized Goa.

Gokarna has become one of the beach destinations with the most intact environment and lower costs in Asia. Its way of temples emerges on a seven-kilometer long beach, animated by the work of fishermen. The long sandy plateau to the north is deserted, lined with very basic guesthouses that are camouflaged in the bush. Going up the hill to the south we see the temple of Rama.

It reaches a plateau populated by monkeys with the cave that gives its name to Gokarna. The day after I arrived, I immediately decided to go to the discovery of all four beaches. Kudle Beach is famous for its beautiful sunsets. It is the first of four beaches that follow each other. They can easily be reached by a walk of about 15-20 minutes between the beaches.

I crossed the center of the village. I continued to be left in peace. Then just as quietly I started down the path that leads to the beaches, after a 15-minute walk up a hill, I come to the white sand crescent Kudle Beach.

From here in half an hour we get to Om Beach. It is so named because of its strips of sand in the sea resembles the shape of OM symbol. Following a path through forests and cliffs, are the coves of Half Moon and Paradise. The azure sea is little frequented. The private beach is the perfect place to completely relax, practice yoga and detox from the stress accumulated during the year. Until a few years ago, there was no electricity. The spartan huts were built on the rocks of bamboo, which were the only findable accommodation.

Paradise Beach, unlike the name that has been given, does not have really anything heavenly, only populated by hippies, absorbed in their alternate, meditative and contemplative world. The beach is small with old decadent stone structures that breathed a really strange, unreal air, that is thousand light-years distant from the spirit and the life of this country, inhabited only by some strangers.

Gokarna is much less touristy and less popular than the whole of Goa region, but it is a very quiet place where we enjoy in peace a little healthy solitude and where we find very few people, so much so that even after 10 minutes I was on the beach and tried to find a guest house, no one tried to cross my paths.

I then ventured a bit inland, behind the few guest houses and still open restaurants that are located right on the beach. I had the feeling to find myself in the Amazon rainforest and arrived in one of the beach properties. I was happy to have joined the owner's, first of all, because it was a whole new dimension for me, and because they were very simple people, but despite everything, they would smile at me and tell me even a simple hello whenever they saw me, unlike those in Hampi.

Here, from then, in this small and quiet hinterland of Kudle Beach, I managed to find again just what I wanted, away from guest houses and huts in more popular and populous beaches, frequented by hippies and smoking stuff of all kinds. Kudle Beach was a really nice place, ideal for a little relaxation and rest away from the busy Indian towns, where we could live in a really isolated place, away from normal life and at the end it was different from those beaches, where tourists would spend their time relaxing, drinking, smoking, sunbathing.

After few days of stay with the natives and Kudle Beach, I travel for one day in the village of Gokarna, before leaving for Kerala. So, I leave behind me an unreal and strange atmosphere of the beach. I finally found a small village lost among coconut trees and banana plants. And on that day and a half, I spent I breathed for the first time a pleasant religious atmosphere, a healthy spirituality, and devotion that reigns strong in the air, around the famous sacred temples of the village.

The village of Gokarna was really nice with small stone houses with wooden roofs and small brown tiles. They were sometimes covered with thin sheets of iron for rain. Coconut and banana trees that dominated the center of the village gave the feeling of being in the forest. Men and children wandered around the center with women preparing small baskets with offerings by hand for their God, with bananas, coconuts or flowers.

Not far from Gokarna, extend the famous beaches that attract young tourists and backpackers. On the one hand are the mountains of the Western Ghats and the Arabian Sea on the other. And with this, I left Gokarna, after attending a small religious ceremony that I found extremely fascinating. Again, it was difficult to leave this land so rich in beauty, spirituality, humility, and courtesy.



Karnataka Travel Tips


From Mumbai, you can reach Gokarna via Goa on the train to Mangalore. Otherwise, you can fly to Goa. Gokarna is three hours drive from Goa airport. Behind Om Beach, 5 km from the city, you can also find luxury resort villas.

Karnataka is best known for Bangalore, the hi-tech and outsourcing capital, and the computing centers of Microsoft, Motorola, Texas Instruments, Oracle, Airbus and an infinite number of banks, insurance companies and airlines.