Are you planning a trip to Karnataka? Southern India is a beautiful place to visit. Not only is it incredibly scenic, but it is also rich in history and culture. You may be wondering where to stop in Karnataka, considering you may only be able to stay for a few days. We recently traveled on a luxury train expedition to Southern India and were lucky enough to experience many of these amazing sites in person.
You will want to be able to make the most out of your trip. Some of the places listed below are well known, while others are unappreciated. Don’t be afraid to venture off the beaten path to truly find the perfect oasis in Karnataka.
Mysuru, formerly Mysore, is home to rich Indian history and is the third largest city in Karnataka, India. It is nestled in the foothills of Chamundi Hills. It is known for it’s lavish buildings and monuments, but also its unique markets. The Mysuru Palace is located here. It’s exquisite architecture was completed in 1912 by Henry Irwin. It features amazing stained glass ceilings, mirrors, and carved wooden doors. This city is also home to Keshava Temple. It was originally built in 1268 AD. The Temple is complete with stone sculptures depicting different historical scenes from various kings. But, a trip to Mysuru would not be complete without seeing the Brindavan Gardens. This picturesque place is sure to transport you to another world. These ornamental gardens also host fountains, which are illuminated in the evening.
Hassan was named after the Goddess: Haasanamba, which is the goddess over the district. This district’s rich history dates back to when the two most powerful dynasties ruled: the Western Ganga Dynasty of Talkad and the Hoysala Empire. During the Hoysala Empire, the district was erected with numerous monuments and their influence can be seen depicted in art across the district. If you are a temple lover, then Hassan is perfect for you. Elaborate temples and historical monuments dot all throughout Hassan. The Lakshmidevi Temple is located here, which was built by the Hoysala Empire.
Badami is known for being the kingdom of Chalukyas. The Chalukya dynasty reigned from the sixth century into the twelfth century. Badami is home to one of the most temples in the world. The Badami Cave Temples are cut out of sandstone around the Agastya Lake. There are four cave temples in all and a flight of stairs connects them to each other. Three of the temples are dedicated to Hinduism and one is dedicated to Jainism. However, there are other points of historical interest in Badami. Agastya Lake is extremely beautiful. Not only are the Badami Cave Temples around Agastya, but facing this lake is Bhootnath Temple. It was built sometime during the fifth century. The Bhootnath Temple is also home to shrines.
Talakadu is a desert like town in Karnataka. It was once home to over thirty different temples. The town was covered in sand in the sixteenth century by what locals claim to be a curse. It was once ruled by the Wodeyars of Mysuru. Afterwards, the city befell to Srirangaraya, who shortly after passed away. The temple and all the temple jewels then were in the custody of his wife, Alamelamma. The Maharaja of Mysuru sent men to retrieve these precious jewels. Alamelamma held all the jewels with her as she plunged into the nearby river, drowning herself. But, before she did, she whispered a curse to blanket Talakadu in sand. Talakadu is a popular pilgrimage spot for Hindus and Shiva is worshipped here. Although several of the temples are covered in sand, many are still accessible.
5. Mahakuta Temples
Mahakuta translates to: great group. It is given this name because there is a large number of Lord Shiva temples around the same vicinity. They were built sometime around the sixth and eighth century. Inscriptions can be found throughout the temples and surrounding areas which tell of the history and religion. Mahakuta is known primarily by historians for two different inscriptions. One is the Pillar Inscriptions. It describes about the Chalukaya’s military advancements and other achievements. The second one is the Porch Inscription. This is inscripted on the porch of the temple and tells a tale about rubies being given to the lord. The main temple has a natural water spring tank inside of it, which is absolutely remarkable and a must see if you visit the grounds. Altogether, there are more than two dozen Shiva temples in the Mahakuta Temples.
Belur was the very early capital of the Hoysala Empire. One of the finest workmanships of the Hoysala Empire is the Chennakeshava Temple. Belur was considered incredibly holy by the Hoysala Empire, as they recruited many workers to construct it. According to inscriptions, it took over one-hundred and ninety years to complete. The temple here is dedicated to Vishnu and is an active Hindu temple. It was built over the course of three generations. What makes this temple so unique to see, is that is was repeatedly damaged by wars. But, it was always rebuilt. It took one-hundred and three years to build. The artwork inside this temple is truly one of a kind. If you are interested in twelfth century life, the artwork in this temple depicts it beautifully. You will find paintings and sculptures narrating texts of Hinduism and representations of Jainism.
Melukote is considered one of the most sacred places in southern India. It is built on several rocky hills and overlooks the Cauvery valley. Crowns and jewels are brought to one of the temples located here as part of an annual celebration. At the very top of the hill in this town is the temple of Yoganarashimha. There are other shrines and temples located throughout the town, some of Ramanuja. Not only is it sacred, home to a nearby wildlife sanctuary, and have an amazing landscape; Melukote is also very focused on education. They are home to the Academy of Sanskrit Research. This Academy has helped preserve thousands of manuscripts. There is also a college that dates back to 1854, making it one of the oldest. The Sri Yadugiri Education center has a mission to provide fantastic education to rural students. Melukote also has an old extensive library that has preserved hundreds of ancient manuscripts and teaching.
Chitradurga definitely transports you back in time. It is known for it’s umbrella shaped fort: Chitradurga Fort. It is surrounded by rocky outcrops and boulders. Chitradurga is known not only for it’s picturesque views, but also it’s rulers. Madakari Nayaka and his wife Onake Obavva ruled at Chitradurga. Onake Obavva is known as killing hundreds of enemy soldiers after they tried to infiltrate the fort. Chandravalli is an exquisite place to see it Chitradurga. It is an archaeologists playground. Belongings of the Roman emperor Augustus Caesar have been found here, along with other treasures. It is located in a valley formed by three hills.
Somanathapura is home to the Keshava Temple. It is dedicated to Lord Krishna in three forms. One of the idols is missing however. This temple is one of the most exquisite created by the Hoysala Empire. The construction of the temple was completed by 1268 AD. The temple is beautiful to look at and study the architecture, however it is no longer used as a place of worship. This is because as the one idol is broken, the other two are damaged. The carvings inside and outside the temple have been renowned for being truly intricate and even though there is no longer worship, it is still frequented quite heavily.
Udupi is known as temple city in Karnataka and is home to the Krishna Temple. The city got it’s original name because it is said that Udopa, the moon god, was cursed by Lord Ganesha, so he came here to worship him. Udupi is home to very popular festivals. The Krishna Temple here is unique because the idol is worshipped through the window. The story behind the window goes back the the sixteenth century. It is believed a devotee to Lord Krishna came to the temple, but at the time only Brahmins were allowed to enter. So, the devotee prayed from the window and Krishna was so impressed that he turned towards the window. The culture and traditions and even cuisine of Udupi is something you will never experience anywhere else.
Lakkundi is perfect for those who love to explore historical sites. This village is home to fifty temples and twenty-nine inscriptions. The temples in this village are ornately carved and truly divine. Kasi Vishwanatha Temple is debatably the most ornate temple in Lakkundi. Of the many amazing things in Lakkundi, the stepwells are products of perfect design technique. Stepwells are ponds in which the water has to go down a set of stairs and are usually multistoried. The stepwells in Lakkundi are huge and there are over one hundred of them. When viewing this incredible feat of engineering, you really do take a step back and time. Hindu and Jain temples live here, which are often forgotten about.
Kolar is often regarded to as the Golden City of India. This is because Kolar has little vegetation and is pretty mountainous. Gold mining started here as early as the first millennium BC. From the fifth century BC to 2001, gold mining took place here. Kolar is historically regarded to be involved in many ancient legends. It is famous for it’s religious establishments from ancient times. The Antaragange Temple is one of the most popular historical tourist destinations in Kolar. Inside the temple is a lovely pond that is constantly fed from an underground water source. Another famous temple is the Someshwara Temple. The goddess of this city is considered to be Kolaramma. Not only is Kolar very historical, with temples being erected in the ninth and tenth centuries, but it also leads India in the production of mangos and milk. The market held here is one of the largest in India. You will notice a different dialect spoken here called Kannada.
Near Kolar rests the small village of Avani. Similar to Kolar, it is very mountainous and rocky. Tourists find that this location is perfect for rock climbing. Not only is there numerous folklore legends surrounding Avani, but it is home to a one of the only temples dedicated to Sitadevi. This is the Sita Temple, which is situated on top of a hill. It is said that Sitadevi gave birth here in a small room to her twins Lava-Kusha. Avani is also home of very ancient temples dating back to the Nolamba Dynasty. Locals regard Avani as the Gaya of southern India, which means that it is of historical and mythological importance. The ancient temples that make it as such are: Ramalingeshwara, Bharateshwara, Lakshaneshwara, and Shatrugneshwara. The Ramalingeshwara is an incredible temple to visit due to it’s ornateness. It was originally created in the tenth century, but was also renovated during the Chola dynasty. The temple is considered a national monument and is protected in India.
14. Elephant Stables in Hampi
This is one of our favorite historical places in Karnataka that we have listed. It is truly exquisite and worth the visit if you love royal history. These impressive stables were designed to shelter the elephants of the Vijayanagara Empire and were completed during the fifteenth century. It is one of the few structures that remained undamaged during siege over the city during a Mughal attack and led to the end of the Empire in 1565 AD. This amazing structure proves that the elephants were regarded as royalty during the Empire, as their boarding house was very elaborate. The building is quite long and houses eleven different dome shaped chambers. The building holds a secret enclosed staircase that leads to the roof. The domes all lead to the central dome, which is the largest. The domes were all designed in different shapes. The elephant stables are one of the least touched pieces of history in Hampi.
Hampi is an ancient village in the state of Karnataka. It is most known for it’s royal elephant stables, but it also has several ancient ruins. Hampi is regarded as a World Heritage Site. It as the very last capital of the Vijayanagar Empire. The Vijayanagar Empire was one of the greatest in India’s history. It is dotted with ruins in a very unique rocky landscape. These ruins date all the way back to the fourteenth century. The Vittala Temple is here, which is dedicated to Lord Vishnu. It was of the most impressive temples in Karnataka. There is a three day festival that is put on here, dedicated to Hampi’s culture and history called Vijaya Utsav. If you are travelling to Hampi to experience their diverse culture and history, we recommend experiencing a guided tour here. They are extremely insightful and can last anywhere from a couple hours to an all day trip!
16. Kavala Caves
The Kavala Caves are made of limestone and are located in the Dandeli Wildlife Sanctuary. They are located about 500 kilometers from Bangalore. The limestone outcrops are on the face of a mountain in the sanctuary. The caves are actually very tiny and they present a very interesting way to get into them. A trip to Karnataka is not complete without seeing these unique caves. You’ll be sure to not see anything else like the Kavala Caves. To enter, you must climb down a flight of stairs and pass a beautiful temple at the entrance of the caves. Be advised that the caves are not normally lit so you must carry a flashlight. There is an office close by where you can ask for a guide as well. Once inside, you will see the Shiva Linga, which is made out of nuts. These nuts are known as Kavala. A small fountain is there as well. The caves are known for having a lot of stalagmite formations. The cave does have several other occasional visitors, such as bats, bison, and elephants.
Bangalore is the capital city of Karnataka. It was originally founded by the Vijayanagara Empire in 1537. Bangalore is home to many interesting and unique things to do. Malleswaram is a neighborhood in Bangalore that features many unique temples, such as Halli Mane and Shirdi Sai Temple. Basavanagudi is the oldest area in Bangalore. Although many parts of Bangalore are urbanized, Basavanagudi is a little different. It is home to the Bull Temple and several Hindu shrines. If you want some charm of the old world, this district in Bangalore would be perfect to visit. Near the Bull Temple is the Dodda Ganapathi Temple. This temple features an idol of Lord Ganesha, which is one of the reasons people from all over flock here. If you are looking for something similar to the Kavala Caves, but are closer to Bangalore, you can go to the Gavi Gangadhareshwara Temple. This temple is a cave carved out of monolithic stone. The sun shines directly on it only at a certain time every year. There are other mysterious stone formations surrounding this temple that tourists love to explore.
Dharwad is considered the gateway between the mountains and the plains. It was believed to be a resting place for travellers. Inscriptions found date back to the twelfth century, meaning that Dharwad is at least nine-hundred years old. Sightseeing inside Dharwad is truly fantastic. Dharwad was ruled by several different dynasties and thus has a vast array of different architectural structures. The Chandramouleshwara Temple dates back to the Chalukyas reign, making it the oldest in Dharwad. The temple’s unique outside features twelve different doors, facing each direction. It is dedicated to Chandramouleshwara, which is another name for Shiva. The Banashankari Temple is also located here, also dating back to the Chalukyas. The Chalukyas are known for being masters of stonework and this temple is no exception. This temple features magnificent pillars.
Gokarna is a small sacred town located on the coast in Karnataka. Lord Shiva, also called Mahabaleshwara, is the main deity and is worshipped. It is one of the seven main Hindu pilgrimage centers. Gokarna translates to: cow’s ear. So, it is believed that Shiva came from a cow’s ear here. Gokarna is considered a sacred temple town. The Mahabaleshvara Temple sits on the coast and has a carving of Lord Shiva believed to be 1,500 years old. One of the most visited temples in Gokarna is Tamra Gauri Temple. The reason it is so well trafficked is because it is believed that the deity worshipped here grants wishes. The Venkatramana Temple one of the most famous temples all throughout Karnataka. It is dedicated to Lord Vishnu. If you were to visit this temple, you are not allowed inside. But, you can watch the rituals from outside as they are very interesting to see.
If you are looking for something off the beaten path, check out the little tranquil town of Coorg. Surprisingly, Coorg has the largest Tibetan settlement in South India. Bylakuppe houses the beautiful Namdroling monastery and handmade goods. The monastery is the largest teaching center of Tibetan Buddhism. Inside, there are enormous forty-foot high golden statues and mythological paintings. Visiting, you will have the opportunity to witness monks performing prayer rituals. It is required that you are silent inside the monastery, so you do not disturb those who are in meditation. History lovers rejoice! The Madikeri Fort in Coorg is absolutely stunning. It was built sometime in the seventeenth century and features two life-size elephant statues at the entrance. It houses several artifacts and there is a nearby museum.
21. Nagarhole National Park
The Nagarhole National Park was named a sanctuary in 1955 and was named a National Park in 1983. It is one of the last and best places protecting endangered species. What is fascinating about this park is that you are able to drive through a section in your vehicle, granted you stop at the office to receive required materials. However, there are safari times where you are more likely to see more animals than just in your vehicle on the main road. This land was originally a hunting reserve for the Maharajas of Mysuru. Near Nagarhole is Ishwara Temple. This temple is a popular pilgrimage sight. The park is home to several different species of animals and vegetation.
This small town in Karnataka is located in the foothills of the Mullayanagirl mountain range. This quaint town is incredibly scenic and sports a lot of greenery. The highest peak in Karnataka is in Chikmagalur on the Mullayanagirl mountain top at 2,000 meters. Bhadra Wildlife Sanctuary is located here. It is a protected area home to wild animals and birds. The Kallahathigiri Mountain is located inside this park and is a popular climb for tourists. The park also holds an ample tiger population. You are able to see the Bhadra River flowing through the park. If you wish to see one of the elusive tigers, you will have a greater chance to if you check out one of their jeep safaris. You will not only get up close and personal with the animals, you will learn facts and history about the park as well. If you are looking for an expansive and truly impressive waterfall, check out Kallathigiri Falls. Trekking and hiking around Chikmagalur is very popular. As is meditating and relaxing along the Kallathigiri Falls. You are also able to camp around the falls and spend the night!
Shravanabelagola is the home of the Gommateshwara Bahubali statue, which is one of the most important pilgrimage destinations for Jainism. Inscriptions have been found here, actually over eight-hundred of them! Some of these, date back as far as 600 AD. They can be found in the Chandragiri and Vindhyagiri Hill. The statue here is fifty seven feet tall. It was carved from a single slab of granite. It was built around 983 AD by the Ganga dynasty in honor of Jain god Bahubali. To travel here would be travelling to one of the most popular Jainism pilgrimage sites in the world. There are monuments all over Shravanabelagola. These monuments were erected by the skillful and artsy Gangas and Hoysalas who were extremely devoted to their religion.
Murdeshwar is an absolutely gorgeous coastal town located on the south-western coast of Karnataka. At the entrance to the town is two life-sized elephant statues. The name itself means: Shiva. Murdeshwar is home to the famous Murdeshwar Temple, which has the largest Shiva statue in the world. This temple is surrounded by the Arabian Sea on three sides. The temple was renovated recently, making it twenty-one floors tall. Climbing to the top means aerial views of the pristine beaches and of the Shiva statue, which stands at one-hundred and twenty-three feet tall. The temple was originally built in the tenth century by the Chola Empire. The fort here was constructed by Vijayanagra Kings, but was later renovated by Tipu Sultan. The fort is located behind the temple. The fort is not well trafficked, so you can expect it to be a peaceful visit inside the greenery covered stone walls.
Hospet is located along the Tungabhadra River, which is very close to Hampi. Hospet was in fact built by one of the Vijayanagara rules in 1520 AD. Hospet was considered the main entry point into the city of Vijayanagara for those coming from the west coast. The Tungabhadra Dam is located in Hospet. It serves as irrigation, flood control, and electricity. It was completed in 1953. Travelling to this dam gives you breathtaking views of the reservoir. There are gardens you can explore around the dam as well. Close to Hospet, you will find the Lotus Mahal. It is a structure located along the Hampi ruins. It was a royal structure that used to house queens and other royal women of importance during the Vijayanagar rule. It is named Lotus Mahal because the architecture is such that it resembles a lotus bud.
26. Achyutaraya Temple
One of the most famous temples in Hampi is the Achyutaraya Temple. The temple was construction in 1534 AD during the Vijayanagara Empire and features much of their style of architecture. This temple is regarded as one of the most grandiose in Hampi. But, not only that, this one of the last temples erected before the fall of the Vijayanagara Empire. This temple is dedicated to Lord Vishnu. If you are in love with the temples of India, you will not want to miss this structure in Karnataka. It consists of two courtyards on the outside and the main shrine is located between them. The carvings in the pillars of this temple are incredible. They feature different scenes of Lord Vishnu, one of him playing the flute. The Vijayanagara Empire is known for their extreme devotion to their deities, so their architecture reflects just that. This truly immaculate temple and it’s shrines are a must see if you are in Karnataka.
27. Lotus Mahal
Lotus Mahal, located in the Hampi ruins, is defined by it’s structure resembling a lotus bud. You can not visit Hampi without stopping at the Lotus Mahal. The Lotus Mahal was used by the royal women of the Vijayaynagra Empire. It is one of the only few buildings not destroyed when the empire fell in an attack. The palace appears to be quite small, but it is actually two-storied. While the bottom story is all open aired, the top story is closed off, with only tiny windows to the outside. The palace was designed for the royal ladies to have a meeting place to mingle and plan other activities. It also served as a meeting point for the king. It also documented that several musical activities happened at the Lotus Mahal.
If you are inspired by royalty and imperialism, the capital of the Vijayanagara Empire from the fourteenth to sixteenth century is the place to visit. It will take you back in time the moment you enter. This massive city grew expansively and became one of the largest cities in the world by the sixteenth century. It was complete with immaculate forts, gardens, and temples. Artifacts have been found here dating back to the third century BC. Vijayanagara ecompasses most, if not all, of the Hampi ruins and the Ballari district. If you wish to learn more about the history and artifacts, visit the Archaeological Museum. It is home to many sculptures and antiques. If you would rather take a hike to take in the expansive views, take a trip up to the Monkey Temple. But, just as the name implies, you will have some visitors accompanying you on your journey to the top.
29. Lakshmi Narasimha Temple
This temple was constructed in 1246 CE by the Hoysala Empire. Hoysala temples are known for being incredibly decorated and attention to detail. This temple is no exception with it’s amazing sculptures along the walls. The temple is raised up from the ground as it is built on a platform. The central shrine has a large tower overhead. Stone walls surround this temple and cobblestones lead up to it. A long hallway leads to the side of a hill, which is also adorned with a tower. The sculptures are also outside of the temple, leading all the way up the sides to the domes. The temple is dedicated to Hindu deity Narasimha, who is an avatar of Vishnu. There are fourteen inscriptions inside and outside the temple. The inscriptions inside tell the tales of the Emperors. Those who worship this temple are said to have complete bliss and health.
30. Mahanavami Dibba
Mahanavami Dibba is a unique stone structure in Karnataka located within the Royal Enclosure. It may just look like a slab of stone oddly misplaced in the scenery from far away. But, as you get closer, you are able to make out more details. The Mahanavami Dibba is actually made up of three layers. The front staircase is elaborately decorated. There are numerous carvings of elephants and horses. A twin staircase is on the back of the platform. The King of Vijayanagar would use this for celebrations and ceremonies. It was originally constructed in 1513 AD to celebrate the victory over Udaygiri. This platform is unique because a side chamber depicts trading with the Chinese. It is open from 6am to 6pm, but can be kind of difficult for small children to climb.
Mattur is a small sleepy village in Karnataka. The Tunga River flows through here. On the other bank of the river is Hosahalli, which is so similar to Mattur that they are often referred to together. These two small towns are most known for their unique singing and storytelling. This is called Gamaka art. Sanskrit is how these two towns communicate, which is very rare in southern India. If you are wanting to hear about history and learn about the ancient ways around the Tunga River, listening to Gamaka is an excellent way. Usually, these stories and poems come from old Kannada epics. The village is uniquely built as a square with a central temple.
32. Kadalekalu Ganesha
This statue is one of the largest statues of the Ganesha that exists in southern India. The shrine is located on the Hemakuta Hill in Hampi. It is a grandiose monolithic statue carved out of a huge boulder. The temple housing the Kadalekalu Ganesha is made of beautiful stone. It is decorated ornately with beautiful carved pillars made of granite. The hall in the temple is completely open and leads directly to the statue. Come here for the amazing architecture and famous statue, but stay for the view. Visitors who climb to the top of Hemakuta Hill are treated to a beautiful view of the landscape below. The temple is open from 6 am to 6 pm and there is no entrance fee.
33. Folklore Museum
The Folklore Museum is located in Mysuru and exhibits relics and art from all over Karnataka. The museum first opened in 1968 and since been a popular tourist destination. The University of Mysore has contributed immensely to it’s success. It houses more than 6,500 exhibits and is divided by type of art. It is home to the extremely valuable Hanuman crown from North Karnataka. If you are interested in diving headfirst into the folklore of Karnataka, this museum would be an excellent place to start. It has ceremonial headwear, religious objects, dolls, and figurines.
This ancient temple town was once the capital of the Kadamba Empire. The Kadamba ruled from 345 AD and ruled for two centuries. The Kadamba’s ruled until the Chalukyas took over. You will notice this town’s architecture is strikingly different than the Vijayanagara architecture you will find at other towns in Karnataka. It is debated as being the oldest town in Karnataka. It is home to the Madhukeshwara Temple, which was built in the ninth century. This temple is dedicated to Lord Shiva. It is very simple in design and does not have elaborate carvings or sculptures on the walls. One of the oldest coins ever discovered was found here. It is believed to be from the fifth century and has inscriptions of Kannada on it.
Bellary is known for it’s connection with Hindu mythology and it’s diverse history. It includes many temples within it’s borders. The Bellary Fort is a perfect stop for a history buff. It holds more than three-thousand years of history and was constructed during the Vijayanagar Empire. The fort was constructed on a monolithic rock, making it a popular attraction. Kumaraswamy Temple is also found here. It is one of the oldest temples around, dating back one-thousand years. Peacocks can often be seen on this mountaintop.
Karnataka is a focal point of tourism in India. This state has some of the most remarkable mountains, hills, rivers, caves, and of course temples. Every location we listed above is amazing enough to truly blow you away. Karnataka is home to a rich and diverse history, as well as beautiful landscapes. This state has charm in the rolling hills and ancient secrets locked in it’s temples. We hope you enjoy your trip to Karnataka and everything it has to offer.