Explore Badami & Aihole - Hidden gems of South India and UNESCO World Heritage Sites
Updated: May 18, 2021
If you happen to stay in south India and haven't come across the name 'Badami', I wouldn't blame you - neither had I! I looked up the pictures on Instagram for the first time, which resembled so much to the ancient architectural ruins of Hampi, but it wasn't half as popular as Hampi though. Not many people come here for sightseeing, but let me tell you why it's worth it, and why it should be on your list!
It's an 8 h 17 min (451.4 km) drive via NH 48 and NH50 or you could just take a train which is what we did- the Golgumbaz Express, which is a pleasant overnight journey.
The first place you must visit as early as you can after your breakfast and refreshment are the Badami Cave Temples. The red sandstone hills remind you of Jordan, not even kidding! This place is named 'Badami' for its famous almond-colored stones found all around the city. It consists of four caves that have been discovered and studied. Cave one is dedicated to Lord Shiva, cave two is all about Lord Vishnu, cave three has various incarnations of Vishnu and the fourth cave is related to Jainism. You'll find elaborate carvings in every corner of the temple, and it amazes me that such marvels could be carved by hand in ancient times. (inscriptions in the cave date back to the late 7th century and early 8th century.)
Cave one consists of - The Nataraja avatar of Shiva, Ardhanarishvara sculpture, Harihara avatar of Shiva, Kartikeya on his peacock, Nagaraja carving, and Mahishasura Mardini statue of Durga.
Cave two consists of - Trivikrama avatar of Vishnu, Varaha avatar of Vishnu, and Swastika present on the ceiling.
Cave three consists of - Trivikrama, Varaha, Vishnu on Seshnag, Pillar statues, Narasimha and Harihara, and ceiling with Frescos.
Good luck spotting each one of them! While you're at it, don't miss out on the views that are visible from each part of the cave of the beautiful Agasthya lake present at the foothill of it.
You can find the most stunning views ever from the caves
Carvings of the deities in the Cave Temple
Next, you've got to visit the Bhutanatha group of temples, which is believed to be dedicated to the deity Bhutanath. It's a cluster of sandstone shrines, each beautifully carved and just as intricate! Surrounded by the tranquil Agasthya lake, you could even sit down and dip your feet, but beware of monkeys as there are plenty around the temple complex.
Situated amidst the ravine with surrounding mountains, the temple Bhutnath is the perfect place to witness the sunset in Badami. The last rays of the sun turn everything into gold that it touches and the view is such that cannot be described in words! Surprisingly I ended up spending a lot more time at this temple and lake compared to the Cave Temples as the weather turned out to get cloudy by the minute. Naturally, the best time to visit these places would either be early morning or evening. There's no entry fee to this temple, and photography is absolutely free!
The Bhutnath temple right beside the beautiful Agasthya Lake
Post the sightseeing of these two temples, the next place to go to is the Badami Fort, which is just a kilometer away, you could walk it or rent an auto for the day- which is what we did. I'd suggest renting an auto, as they know the place best and when it comes to lunch, they'd suggest and take you to the best places - well i'll get to that in a while! But the auto people need to be bargained with big time.
Nestled atop a cliff, the Badami Fort is situated exactly opposite to the Badami caves. It gives a magnificent view of Badami town and its structures. The fort is circled by large granaries, a huge underground chamber, temples, strategically located watchtowers and various other attractions. I sadly couldn't trek all the way up as the sun was coming out again, and it was scorching during the afternoon. But till the point i did trek - I got a beautiful city glimpse and got the nicest photos!
The gorgeous city views from the top of the Badami Fort
These are the top 3 places to visit in Badami, which are all in all very close to each other and can be covered easily within a day. For lunch, we asked our rented auto driver to take us to a 'good hotel that serves authentic food' (sorry I don't remember the hotel's name, but the food was yum! I guess if you tell your auto driver the same thing he might end up taking you to the same place!). The people were super friendly, especially the hotel staff that served us.
Yummy food from a local restaurant in the neighborhood
Situated in the small town in Bagalkot district of Karnataka, the Mahakuta Group of temples was built in the 6th– 8th Century AD. You don't want to miss out on covering this gem on your way to Aihole! Mahakuta means “Great Group” and this name is given to the place because of a large number of Lord Shiva temples in the same complex. It is a religious place that has been dedicated totally to Lord Shiva. It is a pure reflection of Aihole architectural-style buildings.
After a quick lunch stop, we headed on to cover Pattadakal - a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The city was earlier called Pattada Kisuvolal, which translates to ‘City of Crown Rubies’. There are 10 major temples in Pattadakal, all dedicated to Lord Shiva. The temples contain elements of both South Indian (Dravidian) and North Indian (Nagara) styles of architecture. I was absolutely awestruck looking at the detailed carvings on the temples.
Welcome to the beautiful Pattadakal temples
Pattadakal, together with Badami and Aihole, is considered the center of architectural experimentation and innovation between the 5th and 8th centuries and exported a lot of ideas to the rest of India.
You also get the most beautiful photo backdrops here!
Aihole was once the capital of the Chalukya Dynasty and is a city with a rich and illustrious history. It has great cultural significance as the cradle of Hindu temple architecture and has more than 125 temples in and around it. Aihole is an archaeologists’ delight with several temples dating back to Chalukyan times! The most famous out of them all was the Durga Temple dedicated to Lord Vishnu, this temple is the most elaborately decorated monument in Aihole. It has exquisite carvings adorning the columns at the entrance attract several art enthusiasts every year.
While I conclude this weekend itinerary, I'd like to say - If you're a temple person, and if you loved Hampi and its architecture & vibe, this should be a MUST visit for you. It is enriched with history and temples that'll make you want to come back again as the exploration never ends. Add this to your wish-list, if you want to get away from the hustle of your city and relax for a weekend. Fin.