A multiple choice question - What is Karnataka?
1. A state in Southern India where the temperature, in most areas, is uniformly cool and pleasant during most of the summer.
2. A state with a plethora of amazing monuments and sights, with the crown jewel being the incredible and surreal city of Hampi, a UNESCO world Heritage Site.
3. A state that has incredible natural beauty, ranging from massive granite formations to lush rain forest and mountain resort areas such as legendary Coorg.
4. A state that has some of the best wildlife viewing in all of India, with tigers and large elephant herds and even the elusive leopard.
5. A state with a diverse cultural base that ranges from the modern lifestyles of cosmopolitan Bangalore, to colorful rural communities with a higher standard of living then most other states in India.
6. A state with a unique, delectable cuisine that, although Indian, has its own unique flavors and characteristics, honed by millennia of local evolution.
7. A state with world class lodging options for travelers, ranging from small boutique resorts like the amazing Orange County Resorts, to incredible architecture that is both luxurious and environment friendly like Coorg’s Taj Vivanta, situated in the middle of a rainforest.
Answer: All of the Above.
Karnataka is obviously a year around destination with its temperate climate and great selection of attractions that cater to all travelers’ tastes. It should really be a must for anyone touring India in summer because of the cool weather when compared to most destinations in India.
The one drawback is that most of the hotels and resorts do not offer the steep discounts available in most of India during summer as they are aware of the fact that they are a preferred destination during that period. An ideal itinerary could allow you to explore the Golden Triangle and then take you to Karnataka for the rest of your time in India.
The most remarkable single attraction in Karnataka has to be the ruins of the ancient city of Hampi.
Traces of a two millennia old civilization have been found at Hampi, but the UNESCO World Heritage Group of Monuments at Hampi are a mere five to seven centuries old. Hampi was the last Capital of the Great Vijayanagar Empire, and the amazing monuments here are definitely matched by the incredibly scenic landscape that is strewn with massive boulders.
The landscape is surreal and breathtaking. Amidst hundreds of square kilometers of granite hills and boulders are the remains of a civilization that was unmatched in its heyday. It is our opinion that Hampi, along with the Taj Mahal and the caves at Ajanta & Ellora, make up the most impressive attractions in a country that is overflowing with magnificent achievements made by ancient and medieval man.
Two days of exploration at Hampi are a must to be able to really savor the amazing city and its granite monuments. The Vijayanagar Empire thrived here from the 14th – 17th centuries. The estimates of the local population during that period range from over 500,000 to almost a million residents, and the city was said to have been surrounded by an army of about a million soldiers.
The streets, temples, bazaars and other structures (remnants of which are spread all over the 30 square kilometers of the Site) were so safe that traders dealt in precious stones in the open. The incredible stone aqueduct dots part of the landscape, as do various tanks and stepwells. Through this other worldly environment meanders the picturesque Tungabhadra River, creating an image that a visitor will never forget.
The Golconda Kingdom that (after centuries of trying) conquered Hampi was determined to destroy all remnants of the glorious city and they spent five years doing just that. All wooden structures were burnt and brick structures were wrecked using elephants and other means. Except for the dozens of stone temples, they destroyed as much of the stone structures as they could, but there are still many left behind.
The area is now completely rural and the closest town, Hospet is a 20 to 25 minute drive away. It is common to see goat, sheep and cow herders wandering through these priceless ruins.
You can explore most of the monuments with a guided trek for those inclined to do so, or you can drive between areas with monument clusters and just take short exploratory walks while being amazed by what you will see.
The only drawback of touring Hampi up until now has been the lack of luxury accommodation. The best available lodging has been fairly spartan hotels at Hospet and, since 2012, an upscale Hyatt Place that is about an hour away, located in an industrial city. This will change in 2015 when Orange County Resorts, Karnataka’s leading boutique Resort Group, open their new facility next to Hampi. This resort promises to be the same as their other two resorts at Nagarhole National Park and in scenic Coorg, with a unique combination of all inclusive luxury combined with good measures of excellent cuisine, great service, and a selection of organic activities.
Hampi is about a six and half hour drive from Bangalore and about a three and a half hour drive from the city of Hubli, which has daily direct flights to Mumbai and Bangalore.
Other Must See’s in Karnataka
India is a nation that has more exquisite ancient stone sculpture than all of Europe combined. Yet, even in India the early 12th century temples at Belur and Halebud stand out for the level of detail and intricacy in the thousands of incredible sculptures that adorn them. The Serai Lodge at Chikmagalur offers boutique luxury lodging for those wanting to be spoilt, and the Taj Gateway has comfortable accommodations located among gorgeous gardens for those not requiring the pinnacle of luxury.
Just a few hours from Bangalore are the scenic wildlife parks, Nagarhole (Rajiv Gandhi) National Park and Bandipur National Park. Both parks offer a large variety of wildlife, including hundreds of unique avian species. A large number of wild elephants, frequent tiger and leopard sightings, as well as dozens of other species are found in these parks located on the banks of the scenic Kabini River. The Orange County Resort on the banks of the Kabini is a luxurious all-inclusive resort that offers excellent service and cuisine, as well as many activities besides the scheduled safari’s into the park.
The Coorg area is an ideal place to relax and enjoy nature. The landscape is a lush combination of rainforest and coffee plantations, making Coorg a popular vacation destination for the affluent from Bangalore. The elevation of this portion of the Western Ghats ranges from 3000 feet to about 5600 feet above sea level and the scenery is spectacular with clouds meandering through the green hills. The Orange County Resort and Taj Vivanta offer very luxurious yet organic lodging and a number of local activities, including rural experiences.
The city of Mysore is the ancient capital of the region and is still considered the cultural hub of Karnataka. A short 3 hour drive from Bangalore, its most famous attraction is the Mysore Palace, this awe-inspiring and colorful structure is one of the most opulent palaces in the world. Various lodging options are available, including the magnificent but poorly maintained Lalitha Mahal Palace. Mysore really comes to life during the 10 days of the Dasara (Dussehra in North India) Festival period. There are 10 days of festivities, culminating with the fascinating procession on the final day, locally known as Vijayadashami.