Karnataka has always occupied a special place in Indian history and the contemporary world alike. Its unyielding and mysterious spirit emanates from the very language they use – Kannada, a relic of old. The very same goes for Uttara Karnataka, the northern region of the state. The many ancient temples and monuments that dot its landscape tell the story of all the cultures that alternated in its long life span and comprise some of the most distinguished tourist places in North Karnataka.
The core of tourism in the region are these aforementioned temples complimented by forts of empires gone. Despite its semi-arid climate, certain natural features happen to be equally successful attractions. Indeed, this place is a true gem waiting to be discovered.
Badami Cave Temples
Location: Town of Badami, Bagalkot District
The complex of four temples in Badami is one of the earliest representatives of early Chalukya architecture.
There is something really amazing about witnessing these rock-cut temples that also happen to be the first Hindu places of worship in the region. Oftentimes the consist of three different features – a columned hall, pillared veranda and a sanctum that has been carved inside the rock (hence the rock-cut, or cave temples).
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In the first cave, you can observe Nataraja, a representation of a dancing Shiva. Carved sculptures of deities such as Ganesha and Kartikeya line the walls. Proceeding to the second cave will mostly reveal reliefs of Vishnu and stories from Bhagavata Purana. Third and fourth cave have equally stunning motifs from Hinduism, especially the latter with the carving of Bahubali in Kayotsarga meditating posture. There’s much more to be seen in each of these caves, more than words could ever portray, which is why you should really see the complex with your own eyes.
Location: Vijayapura District
The remnants of Muslim-ruled India are scattered across Uttara Karnataka, shining examples of Deccan architecture of the middle ages.
The Gol Gumbaz mausoleum from the 17th century is one of the best representatives of said architecture, constructed for the Sultan of Bijapur and its seventh ruler, Mohammed Adil Shah. The very name of the mausoleum holds the key to understanding Deccan architecture, as ‘Gol Gombadh’, from which the name is derived literally means ‘circular dome’. The entire mausoleum stands to this day, including the pendentives that hold the dome in place.
Inside, you’ll find a cenotaph beneath which is the actual tomb, a design that was quite unique at the time of Deccan Sultanates. Visitors to the mausoleum often like to test the whispering gallery, a section of the structure under the dome whose acoustics allow even the faintest of whispers to be carried around. Towards the end of the 19th century, the British have established a museum inside of Gol Gumbaz.
Location: Bellary District
A more disdainful heritage of the Sultanate can be traced back to the Ballari (Bellary) district, where little remains of a once glorious city.
Hampi is derived from the Sanskrit word Pampa, which was another name for the goddess Parvati. Nested by the shores of river Tungabhadra, Hampi was a magnificent medieval city, the second-largest in the world after Beijing. A coalition of Muslim Sultanates completely ravaged it by the end of the 16th century, leaving only what is known today as Group of Monuments at Hampi.
This UNESCO World Heritage Site is one of the most frequented destinations in North Karnataka, hosting quite a decent number of monuments spread across 16 square miles. Start your journey here by visiting Hindu temples dedicated to Vishnu, Vitthala and their distinctive avatars. Hazara Rama Temple and Hemakuta Hill Monuments should also find their way into your bucket list. Also, try and visit as much of Jain Ganagitti Temple Complex as you can. Hampi is rich in culture and history despite its violent downfall and a place you’ll likely spend the most time exploring.
Location: Town of Itagi, Koppal District
Just 40 miles from Hampi, there exists a place called ‘Emperor among Temples’, as not so humble inscriptions in Mahadeva Temple describe this majestic structure.
Based on Amruteshwara Temple at Annigeri, Mahadeva Temple builds upon the same components but with some unique touches, a testament to the greatness of West Chalukyan architecture.
The inner sanctum naturally houses a lingam, a common practice in Shaivism. The main temple is surrounded by 13 smaller shrines, each with a lingam of their own, and two shrines dedicated to Mahadeva’s parents, Murthinarayana and Chandraleshwari. The incredible attention to detail paid during the construction makes the visit to Mahadeva an otherworldly experience. The stonework on the ceiling of open mandapa shows mythical creatures emerging from the mouth of Kirtimukha. The face of this monster resembles that of a gargoyle in western architecture, but the meaning is somewhat different. Every door lintel is just as meticulously detailed as other portions of temple, a true sign of dedication, making for a worthy experience.
Location: City of Bellary, Bellary District
The mighty fort atop the Ballari Gudda hill can be seen from any part of the city as if it was standing watch to this day.
The defensive structure on Fort Hill was the first one to be constructed back in the days of the Vijayanagara Empire. Visitors to Bellary will notice that there are two sections of the fort now, simply designated as Upper and Lower Fort. The lower section was added in the 18th century by the French engineer working for Sultan Hayder Ali. You can visit the engineer’s grave, as he met an unfortunate end at the hands of the displeased sultan.
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Both parts of the fort are located on Ballari Gudda or granite hill, which in its own right looks intimidating enough. The Lower Fort is also known as Face Hill due to rocks around it resembling human faces, and the entire fort is well-connected by roads and railways, so you’ll have no trouble conquering it!
Lad Khan Temple
Location: Historic Site of Aihole, Bagalkot District
Regarded as one of the oldest Hindu temples, Lad Khan is estimated to have been constructed somewhere around the 5th century and named after a prince of Chalukya dynasty.
What was originally a place of worship of Vishnu, Lad Khan temple now features a lingam designating it as a temple to Shiva. It even employs Nandi, the guardian deity of Shiva’s abode Kailasa.
What’s most interesting about this temple, besides being one of the first of course, is the fact that in its construction, you can see the first attempts at what are later going to become staples in Hindu temples. First of all, there’s a rectangular area, a maha mandapa, leading to a square shrine. Secondly, you’ll notice the first attempt at a shikhara, albeit a very short one. A lot of the walls are decorated with floral patterns that persist to this day, beautiful details that really complement the rest of the temple. It’s easy to see how important this structure is and why Aihole became one of the most visited tourist places in North Karnataka.
Location: Historic Site of Aihole, Bagalkot District
The most visited temple in Aihole, Durga Temple is shrouded in mystery in both how it got its name (no connection to goddess Durga) and origin. Experts can’t really pinpoint the exact century when Durga was constructed with estimates ranging from the 5th to the 8th century.
A must-see on any visit in North Karnataka, Durga is home to more than a single deity. Vishnu, Shiva, Ganga, Surya, Brama, and Durga make an appearance, but there’s far more to be discovered here. Statues and carvings of deities are decorating the largest portion of the temple, with many artsy representations of courtship and intercourse.
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The sanctum features a lingam, and it’s surrounded by concentric squares, while the main community hall has two mandapas on its sides. You really don’t have to be a follower of any of the Hindu deities to truly appreciate the magnificence of Durga Temple.
Location: Vijayapura District
For an unfinished mausoleum, Bara Kaman sure casts a mighty shadow, especially considering the fact that the construction ended with the murder of the person to whom it was dedicated.
Interestingly enough, it was indeed its shadow that’s led to gruesome events that unfolded in the 17th century. Ali Adil Shah wanted a mausoleum so grand that it would be the most magnanimous building imaginable. With twelve horizontal and vertical arches, Bara Kaman would even (quite literally) cast the shadow on his father’s Gol Gumbaz.
As it seems, his father, Mohammed Adil Shah would not stand for this and he murdered his own son. The construction of the mausoleum was discontinued at only two vertical arches, as it can be seen today. The mausoleum serves as the place of eternal rest for Ali Adil Shah, his wife, mistresses, and daughters.
Jama Masjid Gulbarga
Location: City of Gulbarga, Gulbarga District
There’s more than a single aspect that makes Jama Mosque in Gulbarga stand out from other Islamic places of worship. It was the crowning jewel of Bahmani Sultanate as acknowledged by Mohammed Shah I who had it built.
Unlike the majority of mosques around the world, Jama Masjid has no minaret or courtyard. All the focus of the architects was on making the interior as magnificent and extraordinary as possible. Suffice it to say that they’ve succeeded in their endeavor, creating one of the only two mosques in India (the other one being in Hyderabad) that resemble the exact lineup of arched doorways as found in Great Mosque of Córdoba.
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The amazing work they’ve done on all the arches inside has inspired Deccan architecture more than a little bit. Standing inside and observing these arches as they extend almost endlessly is a really worthy experience and one of the places that you should visit in Uttara Karnataka.
Location: City of Bijapur, Vijayapura District
Bijapur Fort is, much like some other entries on this list, a heritage of Adil Shah dynasty who’ve reined over Bijapur (former Vijayapura) almost 200 years.
Any tourist will find the visit to Bijapur Fort both educating and enlightening. The fort is quite literally brimming with amazing sights and great monuments left behind by the Sultanate. It’s here that you’ll find the largest mosque in Bijapur, Jamia Masjid, a legacy of many rulers alternating throughout history, each adding something new until it was finally complete.
Some of the other structural marvels include Mehtar Mahal, done in Indo-Saracenic style and dated to 1620, the tomb of Ibrahim Adil Shah II, and Gagan Mahal. One thing that all of these buildings (and others we haven’t mentioned) have in common is constantly striving to be grander than the buildings that came before it. All of these tombs, mosques, and even water reservoirs are illustrious structures intended to display the wealth and power of Adil Shah dynasty.
Location: Bagalkot District
Lingayats are considered to be a sect of Hinduism, as they do share a lot of tenets with their Hindu brethren and their worship Shiva. Each year, they make their pilgrimage right here, to Kudala Sangama.
While it is an important spiritual core of Lingayats, tourism is also prevalent at Kudala Sangama, a temple town near Almatti Dam in Bagalkot. As a matter of fact, more and more tourists have begun to realize the potential of Kudala Sangama and its many landmarks.
Whether you’ll be stunned by the sheer size of an enormous auditorium known as The Sabha Bhavana or lost in the tiny forest of Poojavana and its neatly made paths, it matters little. There are a lot of great attractions here, so you’ll have to try hard if you want to do a full round.
Location: City of Bidar, Bidar District
The name givers of the region weren’t that creative it would seem, running out of ideas the farther north they went, for you can visit Bidar Fort in the city of Bidar on the plateau of the same name in the district of Bidar.
While it is mildly amusing to poke fun at the lack of creativity of the northernmost region of Uttara Karnataka, the beauty of this red laterite fort is indisputable. While visiting the Bidar Fort and its seven gates, two of which (thankfully) remain unnamed to this day, is an interesting prospect, don’t forget that the plateau borders one of the biggest volcanic features of the world – the Deccan Traps.
As for the fort itself, over 30 monuments can be found there, a daunting challenge for an article, but futile at the same time. The heritage of middle ages India should be experienced directly.
Location: City of Raichur, Raichur District
About 254 miles from the capital of Karnataka, Bangalore, you’ll find a city that’s as culturally rich as any other in the state.
Raichur and its fort have survived many empires and Sultanates alike. The structure you can see today rising above the city of Raichur was most likely constructed in the 13th century when the Kakatiya empire was at its peak.
It’s quite an impressive sight to behold, and many travelers value making a trip to this city, just to see the Raichur Fort rising above it all. It’s one of the locations where you can partake in some exploratory efforts yourselves, considering that new sections of the fort are still being discovered.
Location: Belagavi District
While it may seem as if the only places you can visit in North Karnataka are temples and forts, that is far from the truth, as this semi-arid landscape also features some tucked away lush treasures.
Godchinamalaki Falls, also known as Markandeya Falls, is only accessible by two roads. That’s quite expected of a forgotten paradise, otherwise, visitors would be swarming this beautiful destination and it would lose most of its charm. You can either take Malebail road from the village of Godchinamalaki or go past the Gurusiddeshwar Temple. The latter option will also introduce you to this grandiose temple.
While finding this gorgeous waterfall is not that easy, it’s certainly at least as rewarding as locating any destination that requires some measure of persistence and adventurous spirit.
Meguti Jain Temple
Location: Historic Site of Aihole, Bagalkot District
We’re back at Aihole, simply because it’s historically too valuable not to be revisited at least one more time but in a Jainistic context.
Meguti is a variation of the word ‘megudi’ meaning upper temple. This perfectly describes Meguti Jain Temple sitting atop of a hill, surrounded by the walls of Aihole fort. It’s one of the more interesting sites of North Karnataka mainly due to its unique interior layout. It keeps increasing in height, so there are stairs connecting mandapa with the elevated sanctum.
Moreover, this temple rests dominantly above the area, giving a great overview of the surrounding landscape, which, as you can tell by now, is rich in structures of immense cultural and historical significance.
For such a large and historically rich region, these tourist places to visit in North Karnataka only scratch the surface. If you have any favorites of your own, we’d love to hear more about them!