Not many people know that Karnataka has two UNESCO world heritage sites. Hampi & Pattadakal – both located in North Karnataka. We had visited Hampi a few years back and have since long been wanting to visit the heritage sites of Badami, Aihole & Pattadakal – which we finally did recently.
Our History books are filled with content of N India from the Indus Valley Civilisations, Buddhism , Jainism, Mauryas, Guptas, Harsha and then the Turks, Mongols, Rajputs, Marathas and Mughals and finally the British. Very little is mentioned of S Indian history. Karnataka alone is home to 5 great dynasties that ruled from as early as 450 AD. The Chalukyas (Head quartered in Badami – Then Vatapi), Rashtrakutas, Vijaynagaram Empire, Hoysalas and The Wodeyars/ Tipu. Outside of Karnataka you have the Pallavas, Cholas, Cheras, Pandya’s , Kakatiyas and some more.
Here is an update from our 2 day trip recently to this amazing place. Thankfully its not one of those busy tourist circuits and we could admire the beauty of 1500 year old architecture in relative peace and calm with no major queues and crowds.
The Chalukya empire ruled from Aihole, Badamai and Pattadakal and you can see an architectural marvel in Red sandstone. The beginning of temple architecture in India may well have started from here. Aihole was the 1st capital of the Chalukyas who ruled almost 3/4 of India under the famous Pulakesin – II. The empire had its golden era from around 500 AD to 750 AD. The temples and structures we see in Aihole , Badami and Pattadakal would be amongst the oldest structure (in good shape) in India.
The initial set of temples were constructed in Aihole, the 1st capital – 125 of them , most have been excavated and are in decent shape. The structures are simple with limited sculptures and architectural beauty. Aihole is about 30 Km from Badami and a 45 – 60 min drive along reasonable good village tarred roads with lovely green fields on both sides. Most of the temples in Aihole are dedicated to Vishnu – but later the Chalukya’s became Shaivites and in Badami and Pattadakal we see mainly Shiva Temples.
According to mythology Aihole is the place where Parashurama washed his axe after killing the Kshatriyas. Aihole has historical significance and is called as cradle of Hindu rock architecture.
Aihole also has some rock cut caves – but these are basic and the outstanding ones with elaborate sculpture work is seen at Badami
From Aihole we travelled to Pattadakal – a 20 min drive on the way back to Badami. Pattadakal is the UNESCO world heritage site. This has some amazing temples in a large compound. You can see temples of different designs – Nagara style (Like the one you see in Lingaraja Temple Bhubaneswar) , Pallava Style (Like the Shore temple), Traditional S indian, N Indian and the Chalukya style . Of the 3 sites – Pattadakal has the most evolved design and architecture and its interesting to see the development in Temple design from Aihole – Badami – Pattadakal in less than 300 years. The temple site is located on the banks of the Malaprabha river – one of the few rivers in India that flows from South to North. You can easily cover Aihole & Pattadakal in 5 hrs (Aihole has multiple sites to visit and Pattadakal one main complex)
Badami was the new capital post Aihole. Its earlier name was Vatapi. Its called Badami because of the red colour of the sand stone used in construction – which looks very much like that of Almonds (Badam).
There are 4 important things to see in Badami – Rock Cut Caves, The Bhootnath Temple and the massive lake adjacent to it, The fort and the Museum. All 4 are very close to each other.
The Rock Cut caves – are amazing. Its created by scooping out rocks from the gut of the mountain and then finishing them aesthetically with intricate sculpture. There are 4 sets of caves – some dedicated to Vishnu, others to Shiva and the last one to the Jain Guru’s
You climb 250 steps to see all the 4 sets of caves and the view from the top is beautiful. You can get a wonderful panoramic view of the lake and the Bhootnath temple below. The temple is peaceful and serene – and without a priest and the crowd you can sense the divinity in the old ruins.
The fort is again a climb up a hill – not very step but has about 500 steps ( 25 min climb) – not much of the fort left – a few cannons perched on the walls , a few sentry posts and a temple on the top of the hill. Its a nice trek and the kids loved the climb. Lots of monkeys enroute – so look out for them . Right below the fort is the Lake , the Bhootnath Temple and a small but very well maintained museum – which has one of the oldest statue of Lajja Gauri the ancient fertility goddess.
Some more useful Information
Badami can be reached from Bangalore by Train – The Gol Gumbaz Express from Mysore to Sholapur leaves Bangalore at 6.40 PM and reaches Badami at 7.00 AM. Its a slow train with multiple stops (thats why it does 590 Kms in 12 hrs). The train has 1st AC , 2nd AC , 3 Tier AC. Pack your dinner from home – there is no pantry car. The return journey starts at Badami at 7.30 PM and reaches Bangalore at 8 AM. (there are other trains also)
There are very few decent hotels in Badami (and none in Aihole / Pattadakal) – we stayed at The Heritage – a 5 min 2Km drive from the station. Two other hotels that looked decent are Krishna Heritage and the Badami Court. All hotels have rooms at 3 – 4 K/ Night. The Heritage took good care of us – rooms were nice, service was good and they had organised an Innova to pick us up, stay with us for two days and then drop us back at Badami station. Food @ Heritage was homely and simple (Only Veg) the other two hotels serve Non Veg. Rooms are neat, clean efficient and Basic (AC , Hot water , TV , comfortable beds, balcony) – food is cheap – a good healthy nourishing S Indian Thali is only Rs 90/- and an A La Carte meal for 3 will not exceed Rs 500/-
Not much of shopping/markets in Badami – its a 1 street town. Mainly agrarian – and we drove with lovely fields on both sides growing Jowar, Bajra, Cotton, Sunflowers, paddy, Maize. Its black soil and very fertile.
Telephone connectivity is good – 3G works all thru the town, even in Aihole & Pattadakal.
The largest city in the vicinity is Hubli – which is about 100 Km before Badami. Hubli is Karnataka’s 2nd largest city (Yes – bigger than Mangalore & Mysore). Further ahead from Badami is Bijapur ( ~ 100 Km) and its a 2 hr drive. This place again has a lot to see including the famous Gol Gumbaz – its Sultanate territory. Hampi is not far away – though Hospet is a different train route. So if you have more time – you can easily do a 5 – 6 day trip to Hampi, Badami & Bijapur.
You are in the heart of Deccan – summers can be very hot. Even mid Aug it was 30 Degrees +. Best time to travel is in Winter – Oct to Feb. Thats when the foreigners come here in hordes and with the limited room supply you need to book in advance.
Overall a great trip – amazing architecture, lots of History, not crowded, neat and clean, easy on the pocket and convenient connection to Bangalore. The person at heritage Hotel who helped put this together for me was Mahantesh – those interested you can connect to him on +91 93 53 023006 (email – firstname.lastname@example.org)
So when you get your next long weekend plan a trip to Badami – I am sure you will enjoy as much as we did.