Radiant, royal, and revolutionary – these words best describe the exquisite heritage sites that the state of Karnataka is home to. These structures reflect the finest craftsmanship of the several dynasties that ruled the state and can also be visited easily with minimum to no entrance fees. While these attractions can be visited at any time of the year, September and February would be the most pleasant months to enjoy them. Here is a look at some of the most popular heritage sites of Karnataka
Mirjan Fort, Gokarna
Located in the coastal region of the North Karnataka district, the majestic Mirjan Fort is a must-visit especially if you are planning to explore the touristy areas around it like Karwar, Gokarna, and Murudeshwar. Spread across 10 acres, the fort has four main entrances with canals, moats, interconnected wells, and secret passageways. While some stories say that it was built by explorer Ibn Battuta in the early 1200s, the most popular story is that it was constructed by Chennaibhairavidevi, also known as the ‘Queen of Pepper’, between the late 1500s and early 1600s.
Shettihalli Church, Hassan
Straight out of a movie or fairy tale, this 19th-century Gothic church submerged in water has many tales to tell, and many admirers who repeatedly visit it during different seasons for its unbelievable beauty. Located in Hassan District close to the tourist spots of Belur, Halebeedu, and Sakleshpura, the Shettihalli Church was constructed by French Missionaries in the 1860s. A century later, the Hemavathi Dam was built, and its waters started to flood the church premises due to which the structure was abandoned. Deserted yet a sight to behold, the Shettihalli Church looks hauntingly beautiful and is also known as the Floating Church and Submerged Church.
Badami Cave Temples, Badami
The heritage history of Karnataka would be incomplete without the mention of Badami, a small town in Bagalkot District that used to be the royal capital of the Chalukyas. The first site that travellers head to is the Badami Cave Temples. Carved on a red sandstone hill in the 6th and 7th centuries, the rust-coloured Badami Cave Temple complex has four temples - one dedicated to Lord Nataraja, two to Lord Vishnu, and the fourth to Lord Mahavira, the god of Jainism. Visitors can also take in the jaw-dropping view of the still waters of Agastya Teertha Lake.
Durga Temple, Aihole
The capital of the Chalukya dynasty before Badami, Aihole is filled with wonders of the past. The sleepy little town has more than 125 temples with craftsmanship that is a source of delight for architects and tourists from across the globe. The most popular temple among these is the Durga Temple which dates back to the 8th century. Dedicated to Lord Shiva and Lord Vishnu, the temple has an apsidal cylindrical shape and houses an archaeological museum and art gallery.
Chitradurga Fort, Chitradurga
A four-hour drive from the city of Bengaluru, Chitradurga is a town steeped in history and Chitradurga Fort is one of the main marvels. A stone structure built between the 11th and 13th centuries by several empires, the fort overlooks scenic hills and valleys and has numerous gateways, temples, and secret paths in addition to over 2000 watchtowers. A walk around the fort takes a good two to three hours and it’s advisable to take a guide along to explain the history and significance of each point within.
Bahubali or Gomateshwara statue, Shravanabelagola
Stationed between the picturesque hills of Vindhyagiri and Chandragiri on the side of a ‘belagola’ (white pond) after which its named, Shravanabelagola attracts thousands of Jain pilgrims every year for its numerous temples. Of these, the most popular tourist attraction is the monolithic statue of Lord Bahubali or Gomateshwara. Carved out of a single granite stone, the structure was constructed by Chamundaraya in 981 AD and is truly an architectural marvel. Standing tall at 58 feet and weighing 80 tons, this statue is the largest monolithic sculpture in the world.
Murudeshwar Temple, Bhatkal
Sitting atop Kanduka Hill in Bhatkal district with the dazzling blue waters of the Arabian Sea on three sides, the Shiva temple of Murudeshwar is breathtaking! Not only does it have the second-largest statue of Shiva in the world, but it also has the tallest ‘gopura’ in the world which is 20 storeys high, and has an elevator that gives devotees an aerial view of the magnificent statue and its surroundings.
Namdroling Monastery/Golden Temple, Bylakuppe
Home to the second-largest Tibetan settlement in the world after Dharamshala, Bylakuppe is a peaceful town reverberating with Buddhist chants and positive energy. It also houses one of the most spectacular pieces of architecture in the state, the Namdroling Monastery, which is popularly known as the Golden or Tibetan Temple. The monastery is beautifully carved with a four-storey tower at the entrance and a wheel depicting the different symbols of Buddhism. The complex is a self-sufficient town that houses thousands of refugees and monks in addition to a junior school and college.
Virupaksha Temple, Pattadakal
One of two UNESCO World Heritage Sites in the state, Pattadakal has a group of monuments that are a fine blend of Dravidian and Aryan architecture. The most prominent among these is the Virupaksha Temple which was built in 745AD by Queen Loka Mahadevi, the consort queen of the Chalukyan King Vikramaditya, for winning the battle against the Pallavas in Kanchipuram. The temple is dedicated to Lord Shiva and has many chiselled pillars, gates, and deities the temple complex also has a sculpture gallery maintained by Archaeological Survey of India.
Mysore Palace, Mysuru
Mysore Palace or Amba Vilas Palace was built in 1912 and continues to be the official residence of the erstwhile royal family of Mysuru. A fine example of Indo-Saracenic architecture, Mysore Palace has square towers with domes, manicured lawns, and palatial courtyards, and also houses a royal museum, a portrait gallery, and a complex with temples that offer visitors a peek into the regal life of the Wadiyar dynasty.
Every step in this ancient city of ruins takes you to a natural wonder and tells a fascinating story from the pages of history. Set on rocky terrains amidst the backdrop of the serene Tungabhadra River, Hampi is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Sought after by pilgrims from across India because of Vijaya Vittala Temple, Virupaksha Temple, and Elephant Stables, it is also a backpacker’s paradise as one can find great trekking spots and campsites near the river.
Jamiya Masjid, Bijapur / Vijayapura
The princely Jamiya Masjid in Vijayapura, which can house up to 2500 people for prayers, was built to commemorate the victory of Adil Shah over the Vijayanagar Empire. A fine example of Islamic architecture and craftsmanship, the Jamiya Masjid has exquisite arches, prayer halls, and aisles with lines from the Quran beautifully etched in parts of its interiors. Although unfinished as it lacks two minarets, it’s still a marvel with 33 domes, 12 arches, and a gateway designed by the Mughal emperor Aurangzeb.
Chennakeshava Temple, Belur
Situated on the banks of River Yagachi in Hassan district, the temple town of Belur is home to one of the most visited temples in the state - Chennakeshava. A fine example of Hoysala architecture, the temple was constructed by King Vishnuvardhana in 1116 AD to celebrate his win against the Cholas and took 103 years and three generations to finish. Besides finely etched pillars and walls which have inscriptions from the ‘Ramayana’ and ‘Mahabharata’, the 42-foot-high gravity-defying pillar at the entrance is one of the temple’s prime attractions.
Hoysaleshwara Temple, Halebidu
Named after King Vishnuvardhana Hoysaleshwara who built it in the 12th century, the temple of Hoysaleshwara has two shrines – one dedicated to the king and one to the queen (Shantala Devi). An interesting fact about this Shiva temple is that it was looted by Muslim invaders in the 14th century with many of the artworks being damaged. This is how Halebeedu, which means ‘the old city’ or ‘the city of ruins’ got its name.