Where possible I love traveling by trains Vs buses. The option of a comfortable night’s sleep and availability of restrooms at all times, trumps buses any day. So this time, that’s how we traveled to Hubli. Early one sleepy morning we got to the Hubli railway station and in the mild drizzle managed to find an auto to our hotel. After freshening up, some rest, and picking up our hired car for the next 2 days, we were all ready to tackle what Hubli had to offer. But first -breakfast.
We made our way to the hotel Gurudatta bhavan that , as it announces on the board right at the entrance, has been around since 1958. We together polished some oggarne avalakki and khara bath-sheera. The glasses they use to serve both water and coffee are a unique shape and size- we’d recommend buying some on your trip and as a fun utilitarian souvenir.
Now well fueled, we started the trip with the 2.5 hr drive to Badami in Bagalkot. It’s my favorite of the places in the area including that in the much more popular Hampi.
Badami was once was the capital of the Chalukya empire which lead to its prominence.The caves are carved out off the sandstone rocks in warm red shades that give the place its name(Badami = almond-coloured). After visiting the Ajanta and Ellora caves this seems smaller relatively. However, it still has a charm and magic of its own.
As one ascends the 3 sets of caves at 3 different levels it gets increasingly windy. The first level from 559 CE is dedicated to Lord Shiva with large sculptures on either sides of the cave of Harihara and Ardhanareshwara on the right. The rest of the cave is also adorned with sculptures of mythical creatures like the vrishabha-kunjara(bull + elephant in one) and deities including one of Shiva and Parvati on the Nandi, Kartikeya on the Peacock and the Lord Ganesha.
The second cave dedicated to Lord Vishnu is from the 5th century CE includes equally interesting sculptures of deities- Brahma, Vishnu, Durga etc ; creatures like elephants, fishes, humans emerging from the mouths of aquatic creatures(Aqua-man version-1 maybe?) and imagery from stories in mythology including the samudra manthana and exploits of Lord Krishna as a child.
The 3rd is supposed to be the most ornate of them all from 578CE including that of the 8 armed Vishnu seated on the Shesha Naga(the celestial snake);imagery from mythology including both the Mahabharata and the Puranas; divine couples- Naga-Nagini(the snake Gods) , Shiva-Parvati, Kama-Rati(the Hindu Gods of love) and deities not limited to Indra(the King of the Gods), Kubera(the Lord of wealth) and Varuna(God of the oceans).
The view of the surroundings area is beautiful from here.
The 4th cave- the smallest, highest and therefore the windiest is relatively recent from the 7th century include the sculptures of Bahubali and several of the Thirthankaras(propagators) of Jainism including Parsvanatha. A lovely view of the lake Agastya and the Bhootanatha temple can be seen from this level of the Badami caves.
Note: It is extremely windy as you climb atop the steps of the caves and at any of the higher levels. Your hats may fly off too. So dress accordingly.
Also there are monkeys alert to grab food/water/anything interesting from your hands. So try to carry things inside your bags firmly with yourselves Vs in your hands. Personally I prefer a backpack in such places.
This was the second time visiting Badami for both of us and we therefore decided to take our time and explore the small and big spots near it too. We set off on foot following the boards that directed us to the Archaeological Museum. Sadly the path through the surrounding village is quite run-down and not very clean. Seems like this part of the state could do with some attention from the authorities.
We walked further away to the caves that housed an inscription on one famous Kappe Arabhatta. However, in the absence of a guide and prior research we weren’t able to actually find it.
We finally made our way to the other side of the lake Agasthya to the 5th century Bhoothanatha temple.
On our way, a gentleman with heavily paan stained teeth, stopped us and offered to take our picture with our own camera. We were not entirely sure why he was asking for it but obliged. Some struggle with the bulky camera and its controls later, he managed to click one. He also introduced himself and just mentioned he lived nearby. Our skepticism was high since we often encounter touts who try to get money off of tourists one way or another. But we were pleasantly surprised when he said we were a super jodi(couple) and he had offered just because he thought the picture of where we had been standing with the backdrop of the temple would look beautiful. It’s always lovely to have a moment to smile, with our trust a bit more regained in humanity.
The Bhoothanatha temple itself is quite a sanctuary of calm to just sit a while and admire the lake, the surrounding caves. Just as you make your way, there are also carvings on rocks- that while pretty, seem like just the place for the sculptors to practice their art- since the carvings are in various states of completion. The door of the sanctum sanctorum of the temple has the River Goddess Ganga on the makara(half-elephant half aquatic creature) and Yamuna on her own steed, the tortoise.
After a quick lunch, we headed to the 7th century Banashankari temple. Legend has it that Goddess Parvati vanquished the demon Durgamasura – the idol of the deity in the temple is a depiction of her with 8 arms seated on a lion crushing the demon with her foot. The location of the temple was what was earlier the Tilakaaranya forest which led to the name Bana-shankar-I the (forest + consort of Shiva). It is believed that the goddess was the family deity of the Badami Chalukya kings.
The main part of the temple that one cant miss is the Harischandra Thirtha, the stepped pond just outside the temple.
A path lined with pillars on both sides goes all round the pond. Yet another thing that’s impossible to miss are the large number of women selling, in baskets, the local meal of jowar roti, curd and typically a brinjal curry typical to the place. We had however already had our meal so gave it a miss this time. At one corner of the pond is a tall watch tower.
1/2 hr away is the UNESCO world heritage site-Pattadakal(Patta = meaning coronation). It’s older name was Raktapura (red-city) aptly reflecting the red-soil of the place. The region itself has shifted hands between the whos who of the South Indian history portion of our text books- the Guptas, the Chalukyas, Rashtrakutas , Vijayanagara empire, the Sultanate of Bijapur, the Mughal empire, the Maratha empire, Tipu Sultan and finally the British. The temples themselves also reflect several of these styles depending on the era when they were built.
- Kadasiddeshwara temple : The main deity is Shiva with the predictable Nandi bull facing it. The steps to it are similar to the Bhootanata temple flanked by the Godesses Ganga and Yamuna.
- Jambulingeshwara temple : The dancing form of Shiva -Nataraja with Parvati and Nandi again.
- Galaganatha temple : We don’t have the best knowledge of architecture, but even to us laypersons we had been reminded of Pattadakal when we visited the temple in Alampur, Andhrapradesh. Apparently this is supposed to be notable for being almost an exact copy of it. The similarity is said to be because both the places 300kms away from each other were part of the Chalukya kingdom
- Chandrashekara temple : is yet again of Shiva with Nandi , in addition there are guardians at the door of the temple.
- Sangameshwara temple : Includes numerous forms of Shiva and Vishnu.
- Mallikarjuna temple : This one was supposedly sponsored by a queen with an amazing name : Trailokyamahadevi. In addition to Shiva, Vishnu there are sculptures depicting stories of Krishna, scenes of different Hindu fables and everyday lives too.
- Virupaksha temple : supposedly was the one the Kailash temple at Ellora was modeled after. It includes sculptures of the numerous Hindu deities and the stories from Mahabharata, Ramayana, fables from Panchatantra. This was built by the also awesomely named Queen LokaMahadevi ( queen of the world).
There are other temples nearby away from this temple complex that one could visit if you had the time too.
Tip: Monsoons are a good time to visit Badami, Aihole, Pattadakal. The rest of the year all these places are very sultry and dry. Both Pattadakal and Aihole have over 100 temples spread across large areas. Typically the main group of temple clusters are what you’d be led to on following maps. It’s your choice based on time and interest to try visiting the less popular ones too. It’ll just take more time but one can spend a weekend just in Aihole, and another in Pattadakal. There are caves, buddhists and jain temples in addition to Hindu ones, dolmens and even a fort.