Karnataka Tourism Information

Karnataka, the land of royal grandeur and oriental glory is studded with architectural marvels, ancient sculptures, endless beaches, looming hill stations, pristine forests and excellent game reserves.  Kaveri, Tungabhadra and Krishna, the three great rivers of the South, originate from the verdant ghats.

A changing pageant of cultures, customs, life-styles and religions has left its marks on this land.  Its attractions are varied and diverting.  Belur, Halebidu and Hampi are known for its magnificent temples adorned with miniature carvings and are masterpieces to be marvelled at.  On the other hand, there are gigantic structures like the sculpture of the Jain sage Gomateswara at Sravanabelagola and the majestic Gol Gumbaz at Bijapur.  In sharp contrast with the simplicity of the courtyside are the grand palaces and beautiful gardens befitting this princely State and the splendour of festivals like Dassara.  Karanataka is also a fine base for adventure enthusiasts and wildlife lover’s.  It is a treasure trove of exquisite handicrafts made in metal, stone, sandalwood, rosewood and ivory.  And is equally famous for silks and scented oils.

Sixteenth-century visitors to the royal courts of present-day Karnataka returned to Europe with stupendous tales of wealth—cities overflowing with jewels, and streets littered with diamonds. Over the centuries, the lush green state that occupies a vast chunk of India’s southwestern seaboard and much of the Deccan plateau saw numerous kingdoms rise and fall, powerful dynasties that left legacies of impressive palaces and monumental cities that now lie scattered throughout the interior, some of them well off the beaten track, but worth the effort and time it takes to seek them out. The post-independence state of Karnataka, unified in 1950 on the basis of common language, is predominantly made up of the once-princely state of Mysore and the Berar territories of the Nizam of Hyderabad’s kingdom. Once one of the richest cities in India, Hyderabad is now the vibrant capital of neighboring Andhra Pradesh, and a possible excursion from Bangalore, state capital of Karnataka. Bangalore, in many ways the country’s most “Western” city, is today famous for its energetic nightlife and highly evolved computer and technology industries. Although it offers little by way of sightseeing attractions, it’s a great place to relax; you can shop by day and explore the bars and clubs at night before taking an overnight train to explore the ghost city of Hampi. This great medieval Hindu capital of the south is said to have once rivaled Rome in size and wealth. The ruins of the 14th-century Vijayanagar kingdom are set in a boulder-strewn landscape that proves fascinating in its own right—deservedly Karnataka’s most famous attraction. Karnataka’s other primary destination is Mysore, the famous “City of Incense,” where vibrant markets are perfumed with the scents of jasmine, musk, sandalwood, and frangipani. Ruled by India’s most enlightened Maharajas, Mysore is home to some 17 palaces, of which Amba Vilas is arguably India’s most opulent. Just a few hours south of Mysore is Rajiv Gandhi National Park, home to herds of wild elephant and the more elusive Bengal tiger. Northward lie the “Jewel Box” temples built by the mighty Hoysala warriors in the cities of Belur and Hal, best reached via Sravanabelgola, home to one of the oldest and most important Jain pilgrimage sites in India: an 18m (60-ft.) statue of the naked Lord Gomateswara, said to be the tallest monolithic statue on Earth and one of the most spiritually satisfying destinations in India.

Planning Your Tour

Most travelers head directly for Bangalore, Karnataka’s capital, using it as a base to fly to Hyderabad, capital of Andhra Pradesh (discussed at the end of the chapter), or as a base from which to catch an overnight train to and from the “lost city” of Hampi, which lies 320km (198 miles) north. (Note that more adventurous travelers, usually backpackers, catch a bus from Goa and head straight here.) Remote and serene, Hampi is good for a few relaxing days—at least 3 if you intend to explore the under-visited temples of the Chalukyas, which lie north of Hampi. The second principal destination in Karnataka is Mysore, again usually reached from Bangalore. If you’re in Tamil Nadu or Kerala, it’s also possible to drive directly to Mysore, passing Rajiv Gandhi National Park, or to approach it from the coastal city of Mangalore, connected to Goa and Kerala via the Konkan railway. Spend at least a day in Mysore before spending the next day or two visiting the beautifully decorated 11th-century temples at Belur and Halebid, and the nearby Jain monolithic statue at Sravanabelgola. Karnataka also has a few stunning beaches, just south of the Goan border, but unless you can make do with limited facilities, save your sunbathing for Goa and Kerala.