Going back to a place where I have already been and that I loved is a bit like stepping back home. This is the case with Karnataka, a state south of India. Karnataka had been an important stop on my trips in India.
Today is the day when we are going to leave the state of Kerala. Tea plantations, nature reserves, and backwaters are left behind. Karnataka awaits us with new experiences and places to meet. The exuberant landscape also disappears where the jungle and palm trees adorn the horizon. Now the plain and its rice fields are what our sight distinguishes up to the horizon.
Day 1 - Bangalore
At 8 o'clock in the morning, I arrive in Bangalore. The driver is waiting for me at the airport, who will accompany me to the hotel. I sleep for a while and after breakfast at the hotel a taxi driver picks me up who is not from the same agency and takes me to visit the state museum. We pass in front of the Vidhana Soudha but it is half fenced and we cannot see very well.
Then we go to the botanical garden, Lalbagh, where I visit it on my own. Then we go to the temple of the bull and the Dodda Ganesha temple, to the palace of Tipu Sultan, and to the Bengaluru palace. If it were not because I arrived at morning and I was exhausted and did not want to run away, I would not have given this city a whole day.
I have slept at the hotel, with a breakfast buffet included. I would not have chosen it but as I booked it on the internet it is what it is, maybe I would have asked for a better room if they have one. Mine was not "impeccable" as it puts it on the Lonely Planet. For dinner, I went to a nearby restaurant and have the masala dosa and the lassi.
Day 2 - Srirangapatna
At 9 o'clock in the morning, my driver picks me up for the whole trip. We stopped on the road in Channapatna, a place where they make wooden toys painted in bright colors. We headed to the temple of Somnathpur, one of the best examples of Hoysala architecture in the country. At one point along the way, we leave the main road to continue our journey through something like county roads. We crossed some small villages while fields with coconut trees or rice fields dyed the landscape green.
When arriving at the temple we found some cars with tourists taking advantage of the holiday to go out to know places of their patrimony. The exterior has somewhat neglected gardens where a mailbox hung on a tree draws attention. If you leave a letter or postcard there, it will arrive home with a special postmark with the image of the temple.
Once the wall surrounding the Chennakesava temple itself is crossed, a courtyard can be accessed. It is undoubtedly beautiful and also better preserved since it did not suffer the destruction of the other Hoysala temples due to the confrontations with the Chola. It is striking in this temple its perfect symmetry, to see so perfect height in half practically out of nothing because around as I said there are only villages and fields of cultivation.
The decoration of its walls is formed by delicate sculptures that describe scenes of the Ramayana and life in the era of the Hoysala kings. As in all the temples of India, although they no longer remain active for worship, we had to leave our shoes outside and walk the place noticing the stone and its temperature on the bottom of our feet. To me, that is something that I love especially if in this case, the ground is clean or just has some dust and sand.
We went around the perimeter of the temple, marveling at the decorative details of each level of the walls: animals, flowers, sculptures, and geometric motifs. The interior of this temple in Somnathpur seemed a bit claustrophobic. It was very dark. The bays of the doors were very low and we could barely make out the decoration of the walls. Still, we saw the columns that immediately reminded us of the other Hoysala temples.
Seen and admired the temple we had to leave the place to know a new place. Late in the afternoon, we arrived at Srirangapatna, a city built on an island on the banks of the Cauvery River. In it, Tipu Sultan reigned and from its fortress still remain part of the walls and the battlements. We could see from the car heading to the most important place of the place, the summer palace of Tipu.
This palace built largely of wood is in the center of beautiful and well-kept gardens, and due to the delicacy of the paintings that decorate it, it is forbidden to take photographs. So again the camera remained in the bag. It is not a very large place. A square structure with arches open onto the gardens and that is currently covered with fabrics to protect the precious paintings that tell the court life in Tipu's time.
After this place, we travel by car the couple of kilometers that we had until the imposing Gumbaz, the tomb where the remains of Tipu and their parents are. While we were crossing the gardens that led to the mausoleum, the sky began to turn black. Thick clouds began to cover the sun, but we trusted that they would pass by and it would not rain. We leave our shoes at the base of the tomb and enter the place made of white marble with polished black columns of the same material. There, of course, there were Muslims making their offerings, but also many Hindu tourists.
We were approaching the mosque that was a few meters from the grave when it suddenly started to rain, but with such force and so suddenly that we could not even think of going for the sandals. We had to protect ourselves and wait.
From there we went to Mysore, where we arrived at 4 in the afternoon. We crossed a city that seemed well developed and with wide avenues. I visited the St. Philomena's Cathedral and then I went to the hotel. It was one of the cheapest on the trip thanks to a great offer, and from the outside, we found it modern and stylish. Once in the room, everything was fine, from the spaciousness of the stay to the cleanliness or comfort of the bed.
At five in the afternoon, I go with the driver to see the Brindavan gardens. It was pretty, especially at dusk. At that time they turn on the lights and there are fountains with colorful lights. The people get excited as if they were watching a Bollywood movie.
We went for a walk then to the palace of the city. It was about a 20-minute walk and the road was simple thanks to the always parallel streets. As I said before, we were in full celebration of Dasara, one of the most important festivals of the calendar. It is precisely in Mysore where it is celebrated with more splendor. There are adorned elephants, processions, and offerings in the temple.
Halfway through our walk, we met the maharajah of the city in elephants who had gone out into the street in a kind of procession. So there, in the middle of a street cut off by traffic and full of onlookers, we saw for the first time elephants that the next day would be part of one of the biggest parties in the city.
We walked to the palace where was another great joy. It was fully lit and we could access the gardens without problems to see it, taking a small detour. Inside, a ceremony was taking place in which the Maharaja (who still lives in this palace) and members participated. Everything that happened inside a room was taken out of the thousand and one nights. It could be seen live in some large screens installed in various points of the gardens.
We walked for a while. We decided it was time to go to dinner. We had read about a restaurant that was highly recommended and that happened to be in a hotel very close to ours, which was perfect. The truth is that we dined quite well at a buffet with well-prepared and presented Indian and Western food. Yes, it was so full that we had to wait a few minutes for a table to be empty. I especially like the malai kofta. But it was definitely worth that delicious dinner before going to rest after an intense day.
Day 3 - Mysore
I return to breakfast at the one of yesterday. Before leaving the beautiful city of Mysore, we went to visit some places, the first the railway museum where we saw several wagons, among which the one that belonged to the Maharani of the city stood out. Completely covered in wood, it has a bathroom, living room, bedroom and rooms for the service. A true jewel that cannot be photographed.
As in the morning, I have not had time to see anything else in Mysore. I thought I would spend the afternoon and go back to stay overnight in this city. So I booked the same room again. I went to the restaurant on the same street as the hotel and order rice, paneer masala and pakora. The paneer was exquisite.
In the afternoon, taking a walk, I approached the railway museum, recommended by the Lonely Planet. Then I entered Indira Gandhi Rashtriya Manav Sangrahalaya, which for me was dispensable. I followed to the governor's house to see its gardens and finally, I went to the palace Jaganmohan Palace, which was closed. So to rest I ended up taking a juice at a roadside shop.
The last thing we had to see in Mysore was the palace. For the third time, we came here. We went to the entrance to access the interior of the building and there were so many people that I thought it would be impossible. I took a breath and did what other men did and put my arm between all the bodies asking for two tickets. True, I got involved, but that was it or we were desperate in front of so many people.
With the tickets in our possession we accessed the gardens and after taking a couple of photos we had to leave the camera since it is totally forbidden to take pictures inside the palace. Along with a bunch of locals and a handful of tourists we approached the second gate in which we had to leave our shoes. Barefoot and with the entrance in hand we approached the third stop before entering.
We were ready to enter the Mysore Palace, one of the most splendid in India. We went from room to room, some with art collections, other reception rooms, some patio. But all the time there were so many people that it was complicated to stop to enjoy the place with tranquility.
Then we went to Lake Karanji, about 2 kilometers from Mysore. I have a nice walk. Then we go to Chamundi hill where there is a temple and a good view of Mysore. I got off from the car and walk down the stairs. It was about 1000, but halfway I stop where there is a large sculpture of Nandi.
I continue to the Lalitha Mahal palace and also to have a drink here. After another stop at a cafe to have a coffee we continue on to Kutta, near Nagarhole, where I stay in the middle of nowhere. I mean, in the middle of the coffee plantations, in a homestay. The room is very good. The bathroom is new and although during the day it has been hot, the temperature drops at night.
So the fan is enough. There is free wifi. The staff is friendly and the dinner has been exquisite, almost a la carte. For dinner, I repeated the same restaurant of yesterday with lassi and masala dosa. It was a full vegetarian, as I like it. Then they offered us an exquisite juice.
Day 4 - Nagarhole National Park
At 6 o'clock in the morning, I go with the driver to the safari, in Nagarhole National Park and Tiger Reserve. In the end, it started at 7.15 that lasts about an hour. We have seen elephants, birds, monkeys, gaur, chitals, and some other animal that I do not know. Anyway, for my pleasure, it has not been a wonder either. It is always like that, but I expected to see more.
When I returned to the homestay I had lunch. I do not usually eat too much, but I could have asked for more things. They surprised me with rice, chapati, and an assortment of vegetable dishes. At 12 we left for Iruppu Waterfall, which is about 20 kilometers from the homestay. When I arrived, I took a one-hour walk through the coffee plantations, with a guide explaining things. Then we stopped at a tea plantation where I took a little walk. On the way back we stopped at Kutta but I left almost running because it has nothing. Not even the market is worth it. So at 3, I was back at the homestay to rest the rest of the afternoon because it was not an intense day but a long one.
Day 5 - Shravanabelagola
Around 9, after having breakfast, we leave towards Shravanabelagola, where we arrive around the 12. The car left us near the stairs that lead up the hill to the Jain temple that houses the large statue. It is necessary to enter barefoot from the base of the hill. Only 614 steps separated us at that moment from the statue. We appreciated that it had been cloudy because although it was not very hot, the sun was hitting fully. It would not have helped in the climb up a slope without a single shadow. I go up the Vindhyagiri hill, after crossing 614 steps. There is the statue of the Jain deity Gomateshwara of 17.5 meters.
Once at the top and before crossing the outer walls we can already distinguish the head of the god that stands between roofs and columns. Inside the central patio that is surrounded by what we can call the cloister, we finally find ourselves in front of the large naked statue with simple features decorated only by a kind of vine that climbs up its legs.
We went down the 614 steps to get back to the car and go to the other side of the lake that we had seen from the top of the hill. There was another hill there and on top, we had distinguished another temple. In view of the fact that we would finally have light to visit everything, we encouraged ourselves to climb more stairs and walk barefoot again through another of the rocky hills of Shravanabelagola. I climbed around 200 steps to go to Chandragupta Basti temple. Finally, I went to Chandranatha Basti, which was closed.
A few hours later we arrived at Hassan, a large and chaotic city in which we face our first Karnataka traffic jam. For us, it would be the place to stay overnight before leaving for the temples of Belur and Halebid the next day. We left the city to reach what would be our accommodation that night and it was located on the outskirts of Hassan. Our room was spacious with comfortable beds and a great shower, besides having for us a peculiar terrace with latticework.
As there was not much to do in the surroundings, we took advantage of the evening to rest while I gave myself a massage that left me fresh. At dinner time we went to the hotel restaurant, a wide-open room in which we had a very rich dinner.
Back in the room, I had to put on the long-sleeved T-shirt I had brought with me. That is because the oppressive heat of the Kerala or Tamil Nadu coast had been left behind. In Karnataka, there is some heat during the day, but the nights are cool and pleasant.
I sleep early as we have to leave Hassan the next morning for some of the most important temples of this state in southern India.
Day 6 - Halebid
We had breakfast early to leave Hassan and leave for the first of the temples we were going to meet that day. After drinking the coconut water and eating an exquisite plate of idli, we continue to Halebid to see the temple of Hoysaleswara. Although it was left unfinished, the Hoysaleswara temple is the most outstanding example of Hoysala architecture.
This place of free access is no longer active, so it has a much more touristy character than we had previously visited. Many vendors of souvenirs and guides promise the traveler to tell a thousand and one curiosities of the place. It is the first thing we saw when getting out of the car. But once the door of the premises was crossed, peace returned.
This temple is nice as soon as we are in front of it. Well-tended gardens surround us. The dirt roads are clean and maintained. For once we could also enter a temple without shoes comfortably. Its interior is carved in black stone and outside its walls are covered with figures of gods and sages, animals and friezes where the life of the Hoysala rulers is told.
As a curiosity, we discovered that this temple has two front entrances in front of each of which is an altar. Outside we find some large sculptures before each door that indicate to whom the temple is dedicated. It is Nandi, the bull vehicle of the Shiva.
We walked and could see the wonderful and elaborate decoration of the entire perimeter of the temple. They tell the history of the Hoysala in those walls, and it will be strange for the traveler who does not stay enchanted watching them. In Halebid, we visit other minor temples too. One is the temple of Kedareswara that we found in repairs covered in scaffolding made with bamboo sticks. Even so, we discovered part of its elaborate decoration.
The last enclosure that we visited in this city corresponds to some Jain temples. In them obviously, some things change, like the sculptures of the interior that are different enough from those of the other temples. Both the exterior and the interior have worked columns and the whole is surrounded by well-tended gardens. No doubt if you are in Halebid and because of the closeness between the temples it is worth spending time with them all.
Our next destination was Belur, a town that houses one of the three main temples of the Hoysala period and the only one of them that is still active. When arriving at the city we find streets full of flowers, trucks adorned with garlands, adorned cars. And it was the first day of one of the most important holidays of the calendar: Dussehra (or also Dasara). There are fairs, processions and special offerings in the temples, to which people come with flowers and food. We were immediately encouraged and since we saw that everything was decorated I went down to buy a garland of flowers to decorate our car as well.
We parked next to the Channakeshava temple, which was built to commemorate the victory of the Hoysala against their Chola neighbors. We left the shoes in the car and crossed the entrance door formed under an elaborate gopuram. It is similar to those of Tamil Nadu but smaller than those and in this case without any type of painting. Only sculptures are part of the decoration. Once inside, we find ourselves in a large courtyard in the center of which is the temple and other smaller ones scattered here and there.
The first thing was to see the devotees and priests cross the courtyard with the image of the god on their shoulders to leave it in the central chamber of the temple. We follow them to the interior and there we live one of those special moments that the traveler adds during his journey. Columns with elaborate sculptures surrounded us. There were walls blackened by the smoke of candles and incense surrounded the altar.
Behind us began to play a music that accompanied the moment of prayer. The most special thing is that here no drums and bells sounded like in other places. Here the music came from a saxophone and I can assure you that I still have that moment engraved in my head. First out of respect, and second to not miss anything, I did not take any pictures.
At the end of the prayer, we walked a little inside the temple observing the decoration, especially of its roofs. Later we went outside to enjoy the beautiful figures that adorn the walls of this place. Some parts such as the lower frieze did not finish sculpting, but the beauty of the rest compensates for that lack. Human figures in foreshortening, animals and erotic scenes decorate the walls of this temple. It is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful in Karnataka.
The festive atmosphere was contagious. The people who passed by the temple were happy and they were noticeable. And we also because the ground did not burn. After suffering in some temples of Tamil Nadu walking around this place without getting burned was a pleasure. We could walk every corner calmly and comment on differences and similarities with many other Indian temples we had met on this and other trips.
The temple of Belur, despite being one, undoubtedly has the beauty of those we had seen years before in the north of India in Khajuraho. These were built precisely by the Chola dynasty (the one that, as I said above, won the Hoysala). The truth is that we liked the temples of Belur and Halebid so much that we had spent a lot of time in both of them.
I stay at a hotel and dine at the hotel restaurant, with paneer kofta, roti, and lassi to end the day.
Day 7 - Mangalore
After a continental breakfast at the hotel, we left for Mangalore, passing through places with beautiful landscapes. We arrive at 12.30. The accommodation is in the hotel with breakfast included. The room has seemed a little shabby, although on the Lonely Planet they put it well. I went to eat at the bar, and order biryani and pineapple juice. After lunch, I went to visit the chapel of St Aloysius College.
It is beautiful, with walls and ceilings covered with frescoes. Then I went to the Church of Our Lady of Miracles. At mid-afternoon, I have been with the driver to take me to the beach. It was beautiful, with a fine white sand, but I feel bad that it was very dirty. There I see the sunset. Upon returning to the hotel I went up to the rooftop restaurant, which has good views of the city and is not particularly expensive. I have the fruit salad and strawberry lassi.
Day 8 - Hampi
At 8 o'clock in the morning, we left Mangalore to arrive at Hampi at 2 o'clock in the afternoon, stopping only where necessary. It was exhausting. We could have stopped in Chitradurga, which is interesting, but by the time I arrived in that city, I just wanted to continue and finish in Hampi at once. I stay in a guesthouse at night, with breakfast included in the restaurant. Here I eat coconut masala dosa and lassi. The room is fine, spacious and with air conditioning.
Day 9 - Hampi
After having breakfast in the restaurant, I left for Sule Bazar. Then went down to the Virupaksha temple. From there I walked to the temple of Vittala. There is a decent walk but I wanted to walk a little after the sitting yesterday. I visited the temple, and the same entrance serves as the royal center and the museum. After the exit from the temple, my driver takes me by car to the real center, where I visited everything that can be visited.
I was sitting comfortably in the car with air conditioning and appreciated because it was tremendous heat. On the way back I stopped at the Krishna temple. Around 3 o'clock I finished the visits and I went to rest for a while at the hotel. Afterward, I ate my usual meal, of the coconut masala dosa I took the boat to cross to the other side of the river. There I could not stay long because the last boat left at 6.
So I could only take a short walk among rice fields, but it also seems a nice place to stay as there are several homestays. On the way back I saw the sunset. I went for a walk to the restaurant and had dinner again in with samosa, lassi and papaya juice.
Day 10 - Badami
After breakfast, at 9 o'clock we left for Aihole, arriving at 12. There we visit the Durga temple and Ladkhan temple. Then we continued towards Pattadakal to visit its set of temples. After that, we go to Badami. I stay in a hotel with breakfast included.
At 3 I went in the car to the caves, which I visited, along with the museum, and the Agastya lake. There are a couple of temples next to the lake but I have not wanted to see them. Between yesterday and today, I have enough. So I went to the crazy main street of Badami. I went to dinner near the hotel, because it has a dining room outside.
Day 11 - Gokarna
We leave Badami in the early morning and reach Gokarna at around 2 in the afternoon. I had never been to Gokarna, although this name has been revolving in my visions for a few years. I remember the palm trees slightly swaying. I have always seen them as female entities, that expanse of green that every time kisses my eyes and my soul.
After the short walk on the main beach, with backpacks, I arrive at a place where there are several huts that can be rented. The cabin is very different. It's dark but it's nice to stay in it. Yet in Gokarna, they are so, much more Spartan.
The day in Gokarna is marked by walks and long conversations. We go to take the holy water on the hill where is the temple of Rama. To get there we take a walk along the beach populated by people who take a bath, between a votive offering of flowers to the sea god and a walk in camel. There are also several Shiva Lingam of sand shaped by devotees.
We follow on to Om Beach and Paradise Beach. After some reflection, I decided to focus on the natural beauty of the place. The water in this beach is low near the shore and transparent. I meet very few people and I want to have the hut here. This is a typical tropical postcard beach, with slightly curved, thin-trunked palm trees creating a natural umbrella.
Paradise Beach resembles the Blue Lagoon beach as it is beautiful and wild. The only difference is that some hippies - or supposedly - have settled there with tents or hammocks to spend an Indian and wild stay at no cost. I go to Paradise Beach with all the troops. We travel a stretch by bus, I like a lot because of the breathtaking landscape that unwinds out the windows. We arrive near a small beach and from there we continue on foot for about twenty minutes, passing through nature.
During the bath, a large jellyfish is approaching us. I've never seen one like it and it fascinates me, it almost seems like an angelic being. And to think that if you touch it is able to infuse a lot of pain. We get to Kudle Beach, a beach with crystalline water populated mainly by Westerners.
Here, a lively alternative street market takes place at sunset and the sale is punctuated by the rhythm of the jam of the passing musicians who meet. There is a musical evening sheltered in the verandas of our huts, while the silky night falls on the palms and the ghosts of those who pass by here wander the beach.
Day 12 - Goa
After breakfast, at 9, we left for Palolem in Goa, passing through Ankola forest.