Nowhere else in India can you find such a profusion of monuments as in Karnataka. No wonder then, that Karnataka has been called the ‘Cradle of Stone Architecture’ in India.

The magnificent World Heritage Sites at Hampi and Pattadakal, the exquisite temples at Belur, Haleibid and Somnathpur, the cave temples of Badami, Aihole and the stately forts, domes and minarets of Bijapur resurrect Karnataka’s historical and cultural affluence. These peerless wonders are eloquent reminders of a rich heritage.

Often called the ‘World’s largest Open-air Museum’, Hampi was the capital city of the powerful South Indian Vijayanagar Empire. Founded by Harihara and Bukka in 1336, it fell to the rulers of Northern India in 1565 after the battle of Talikota, and subsequently lapsed into decline and abandonment.

The once-proud city of victory is now a city of desolation. However, the ruins of these historical monuments have stood the ravages of man time and still evoke memories of regal splendor.

Amidst an awesome boulder-strewn landscape along the banks of the Tungabhadra River, Hampi was one of the glittering showpieces of India’s might in the 15th century. There were opulent palaces, marvelous temples, massive fortifications, baths, markets, aqua ducts, pavilions and stables for royal elephants. The city’s merchants traded in diamonds, pearls, fine silks, brocades, horses and much more.

Just across the Tungabhadra River is the fortress town of Anegundi, pre-dating the Vijayanagara Empire and its capital city. More ancient than Hampi, Anegundi lies in the mythical kingdom of Kishkinda, ruled by the monkey-king Sugriva of Ramayana fame. Anjanadri Hill, near Anegundi and its tranquil environs are dotted with forgotten temples and fortifications. The dilapidated Huchppayana Matha Temple, near the river, is worth a peek for its black-stone lathe-turned pillars and fine panels of dancers. The other places of interest are the sacred Pampa Sarovara, Aramane (a ruined palace) and the Ranganatha Temple.

Picturesquely situated at the mouth of a ravine between two rocky hills, the exquisite sculptures and the rust-red sandstone cliffs of Badami tell many a tale of yore. At the end of a flight of steps are four ancient rock-cut caves replete with carved pillars and bracket figures, all hewn out of red sandstone on the precipice of a hill. The first sculptural embellishment to dazzle the eye is the 18-armed Nataraja striking 81 dance poses. Overlooking the caves is the Agastya Theerta Tank, its banks dotted with a cluster of Boothanatha temples.

En route to Badami is a quaint hamlet taking its name from the goddess Banashankari. The highlight here is the Dravidian style temple dedicated to Banashankari- a form of Parvathi highly revered by the weaver community. The idol depicts the powerful eight-armed goddess seated on a snarling lion.

Once a great centre for the Shaiva cult, Mahakuta is surrounded by hills. The Mahakuteshwara Temple dedicated to Shiva features a natural spring pond called Vishnu Pushkarni. The temple is surrounded by several small shrines with a wealth of carving in their walls, some of them sating back to the Chalukyan era.

With its beautifully chiseled temples, this World Heritage Site on the banks of the Malaprabha River bears testimony to the richness of Chalukyan architecture. Pattedakal reached its pinnacle of glory under the Chalukya kings and was once used as a ceremonial centre where kings were crowned and commemorated. It has a cluster of 10 major temples- with the 8th century Temples of Jambulinga, Kaadasiddheshwara and Galaganathawith their curvilinear spires at the entrance to the site. The Sangameshwara Temple dating from the reign of King Vijayaaditya (696-733 A.D) is the earliest temple in the complex.

A tranquil village on the banks of the Malaprabha River, Aihole is acclaimed as the cradle of Hindu temple architecture. There are hundreds of temples in the villages and fields nearby. The most impressive one is the Durga Temple with its semicircular apse, elevated plinth, and a gallery encircling the sanctum. The Lad Khan Temple, which is one of the earliest temples, was originally a royal assembly hall and marriage mantapa chosen as the abode of a Muslim prince, Lad Khan.

The Huchimalli Temple with a square sculpture of Vishnu sitting atop a large cobra, the Ravalphadi Cave Temple celebrating the many forms of Shiva, the Konti Temple Complex, the Umamaheshwari Temple, the Jain Meguti Temple and the two-storied Buddhist Temple are other sights truly worth a visit.

Southeast of Gadag, in the hamlet of Lakkundi, are 50 stunning temples and 29 inscriptions dating back to the kalyana Chalukya period. The most ornate and spectacular of these is the Kashi Vishwanatha Temple. The Jain Temple dedicated to Mahavira is one of the largest and oldest shrines here. The Archeological Survey of India also maintains a sculpture gallery here.

Kittur Chennamma Fort
Located on the Pune-Bangalore Highway is the town of Kittur with its dilapidated palace, monuments, statues and horse tongas (rickshaws). The Kittur Chennamma Fort stands as testimony to the great freedom struggle led by Rani Chennamma.

Chitradurga Fort
Chitradurga, on the highway linking Bangalore with Hospet, is famed for its massive Kallina Kote (Palace of Stone), a marvel of military architecture made impregnable by the Nayak Palegars. It has 19 gateways, 38 side entrances, a palace, a mosque, granaries, oil pits, four secret entrances and water tanks. Also inside the fort complex are several temples.

Gulbarga Fort
Built originally by Raja Gulchand and later fortified by Ala-ud-din Bahman, the fort encompasses large buildings, mosques, temples, stables, armories, carriages, towers, cannons and several beautiful courtyards. The piece-de resistance of the sprawling fort is the 38000 sq. ft. Jumma Masjid with its elegant domes and arched columns eminiscent of the great mosque of Cordoba in Spain.

Bidar Fort
This rugged 15th century fort surrounded by a triple-moat wall hewn out of red rock, with intricate battlements and an imposing gateway affords a glimpse of Karnataka’s richly textured history. The Rang Mahal has elaborately carved wooden pillars, Persian couplets engraved in tiles and exquisite mother-of-pearl inlay work.

Mysore Palace
All roads in Mysore lead to the Mysore Palace. Built in the Indo-Sarcenic style with domes, turrets, arches and colonnades, the palace is a treasure house of exquisite carvings and works of art from all over the world. Intricately carved doors open into luxuriously furnished rooms. The majestic Durbar Hall has an ornate ceiling and many sculpted pillars. The Marriage Pavilion is adorned with glazed tile flooring, stained glass windows and domed ceilings. The walled palace complex houses the Residential Museum, temples and Shrines, including the Shwetha Varhaswamy Temple.

The onetime capital of the Adil Shahi Kings (1489-1686), Bijapur is dotted with mosques, mausoleums, palaces, fortifications, watch towers and strong gateways.

The massive Gol Gumbaz dominates the landscape for miles around. It is the imposing mausoleum of Muhammed Adil Shah and was built in 1659. Housing the world’s second largest dome, unsupported by pillars, it is an acoustic and architectural wonder. Its amazing whispering gallery distinctly echoes the faintest whisper eleven times.

The jewel of Adil Shahi architecture is the Jumma Masjid, with its graceful arches, aisles, halls, intricate designs and large crowning onion dome. What makes it even more special is the priceless Koran written in letters of gold that is carefully preserved here.

Malik-e-Maidan is a 55 ton cannon perched on a platform. The head of the cannon is fashioned into the shape of a lion whose jaws are trying to devour an elephant. Legend has it that if you touch the gun and make a wish, it will come true.

Other architectural sites in Bijapur include Mehtar Mahal, Gagan Mahal, Jala Manzil, Bara Kaman, Upli Buruj and Taj Bawdi.

The island fortress of the legendary warrior king Tipu Sultan houses the monarch’s mosque with its twin minarets, the celebrated Ranganatha Swamy Temple, the Summer Palace, the Wellesly Bridge and the dungeons where British officers were once imprisoned. Equally impressive is the ornate white-domed Gumbaz, an imposing structure with doors of ebony inlaid with ivory and lacquered with Tipu’s tiger-striped emblem. About 1km to the east of the fort is Tipu’s Summer Palace, Daria Daulat Bagh, which is set midst a lovely garden.

Chennakeshava Temple, Somnathpur
Situated in the inconspicuous village of Somnathpur, 35km from Mysore, the exquisitely carved, star–shaped temple with triple towers is a perfect example of Hoysala architecture. The friezes on its outer walls have intricately carved rows of caparisoned elephants charging horsemen, mythological birds and beasts.

Chennakeshava Temple, Belur
On the banks of the Yagachi River in Belur is a star-shaped temple with hand lathe-turned filigreed pillars and sculptures.

The winged figures of Garuda, Lord Vishnu’s carrier, stands at the entrance facing the temple. The most marvelous specimens of Hoysala architecture, found exclusively at Belur, are the angled bracket figures depicting celestial nymphs. The beautiful and expressive nymphs are depicted singing, dancing or executing daily chores. Equally impressive are the Temples of Chennigaraya, Viranarayana, Sridevi and Bhoodevi– all in the same complex.

Hoysaleshwara Temple
The temple is situated in Halebid, the ancient capital of the Hoysalas. The temples here are richly carved with an endless variety of Hindu deities, sages, stylized animals, birds and friezes depicting the life of the Hoysala kings. The temple complex has a museum which houses the idols, statues, busts and sculptures excavated by the Archeological Department.

Bangalore Palace
Modeled on the lines of the Windsor Castle, the Bangalore Palace flaunts turreted parapets, battlements, fortified towers and arches.

Tipu’s Fort and Palace
Built in 1791, this summer retreat of Tipu Sultan in Bangalore is a two-storied ornate wooden structure with fluted pillars, cusped arches and balconies. It now houses a museum, which contains artifacts from the Hyder Ali- Tipu Sultan era.