Located on the banks of the Malaprabha River, the village of Aihole in Karnataka is a real mix of old Hindu temple architecture with hundreds of temples around the village and fields nearby. During the reign of the Chalukyas, Aihole was the first capital of the Chalukyan Empire. The name 'Aihole' originates from the legend associated with the cult figure of Parashurama in Hindu mythology. The first group of temples dates to the 6th and 7th centuries, and the second groupe to the 12th and 13th centuries.
Built between two rocky hills, the town of Badami was the capital of the Chalukya rulers between 540 and 757. The Temples built at Badami during this period were inspired y the Dravidian style. The city is known for its temples carved into the rock. It has four temples and a natural cave. Two of the temples are dedicated to Vishnu, the third to Shiva and the last one is a Jain temple.In the first temple of Vishnu, there is a statue of Vamana and Varaha, two incarnations of Vishnu.In the Shiva temple there is a representation of a Nataraja (dancing Shiva) with 18 arms and 81 poses.These caves overlook the large bathing pool of Agastyatirtha dug in the fifth century and on the banks of which are the two temples of Bhutanatha.
Bangalore is the capital of Karnataka. The city was founded in the sixteenth century and was soon fortified by Hyder Ali and Tipu Sultan.The modern city has experienced a significant economic boom with the introduction in the 60s of high-tech companies. It is now a major center of scientific research in India especially in the field of Information Technology.The fort was built by Kempe Gowda and expanded in the sixteenth century by Hyder Ali and his son Tipu Sultan in the eighteenth century.The palace was built in 1887. The architects were inspired by the English Tudor style castles. There are numerous paintings and sculptures in the palace.Located south of the city, the Botanical Garden of Lalabagh, with an area of 96 hectares was designed by Hyder Ali. Dozens of species of trees were planted by Tipu Sultan. Today there are over 1000 species of tropical flowers and trees. The main attraction of the garden remains the gigantic greenhouse modeled on London's Crystal Palace.The 'Nandi' Temple,built in the Dravidian style by Kempe Gowda, houses a huge monolithic statue of the bull Nandi ( 4.5 m high and 6 m long).
Belur and Halebid
Belur and Halebid were the two major cities of the Hoysala rulers. Halebid was the capital of the kingdom in 1060. This dynasty reigned between the eleventh and fourteenth century.17 km apart, the two cities have preserved the great temples built during this period. They are witnesses to the exuberant artistic wealth of the period. The Hoysala rulers converted to Jainism, which explains the presence of Jain deities alongside Hindu deities.
The Temple of Chennakesava (Belur)Originally called the Vijayanarayana Temple, its construction was initiated in 1116 to celebrate the victory of Hoysala over the Cholas The temple construction was completed 103 years later. The facade of the temple is covered with the carvings of animals, deities of Hindu sages, friezes depicting scenes of sacred texts. None is identical to another. Unlike other Hoysala temples, the interior is as richly decorated as the exterior, including the lintels and pillars. The temple has a gopuram (monumental tower) built in the fourteenth century and a bathing pool.
The Temple of Hoysaleswara (Halebid) Construction began at the same time as the Chennakesava Temple but it was never completed despite 80 years of labor. Yet it is the most outstanding example of Hoysala art. The exterior and interior walls are entirely covered with sculptures and friezes of all kinds. They depict scenes of sacred texts but also the way of during the Hoysala period.
Chidambaram is an important pilgrimage centre. Hindu pilgrims visit Chidambaram to pray and to offer sacrifices at the temple of Shiva Nataraja, which is the most important temple of Dravidian India. The temple complex resembles a vast religious city enclosed by several walls with doors and high towers.
Hampi is an Indian village located within the boundaries of the ruined city of Vijayanagara,the former capital of Vijayanagara kingdom,north of the state of Karnataka,in the valley of the Tungabhadra. Vijayanagara was once the capital of one of the largest Hindu empires. This empire was founded by the Telugu princes in 1336 and peaked in the sixteenth century. At that time,the city was described by foreign travelers as fabulously wealthy (the empire controlled the regional trade of cotton and spices) and probably had up to half a million people-a population that was substantial at the time. The city was surrounded by seven fortified walls and covered an area of 43 km2. After the defeat in 1565 of the empire against the coalition of Muslim sultanates of the Deccan during the Battle of Talikota,the empire collapsed abruptly and the city was plundered and abandoned,leaving a series of remarkable buildings in an unusual and grandionse landscape.
From Kollam (Quilon) to Allepey, the boat ride on the famous backwaters of Kerala seduces the traveller with its tropical charm: the coconut trees leaning over the water, boats loaded with fruits and vegetables, sounds of the bells of the neighboring churches, villages on the water bank hidden amidst the palm forests.
Essentially a colonial city, Cochin for a long time was a rich trade centre for spices. The old city is situated between the Arabian Sea and an estuary dotted with small islands. In this romantic city the main sites of tourist interest are the Dutch Palace which houses mural paintings depicting mostly scenes from the Ramayana; the venerable synagogue around which lives the oldest Jewish community of India; and finally, the Santa Cruz cathedral which is magnificently baroque. The Chinese fishing nets are also of considerable interest.
The "Golden City", is one of the most sacred seven cities of ancient India, for both the devotees of Shiva and of Vishnu. An ancient religious center for Buddhism, the only holy village of the South houses nearly 100 very beautiful temples. The temple of Kailashanath, built in the beginning of the 8th century is dedicated to Shiva and is known for its beautiful sculptures. Kanchipuram is famous in India for the quality of its silk and hand woven saris. Their beautiful color schemes are strong competitors to the saris of Benaras.
Chennai, the capital of the State of Tamil Nadu is an immense and bustling metropolis. The majority of its inhabitants are Tamils. It is one of the four big cities of contemporary India. The Mount road links the St. George Fort, a 17th century building which resembles more an administrative city than a fortress, to the government museum which houses ethnological and archeological collections (exquisite collection of bronze). Farther on, the Kapaleeshwarar temple, a vast sanctuary on the banks of a lake, is dedicated to Shiva. The mount St. Thomas is the place where the apostle St. Thomas had taken his last breath; at the top there is a small church built by the Portuguese in 1547.
Probably the most venerable and ancient city of Tamil Nadu, Madurai is also the centre of Tamil education and culture. Its temple: Meenakshi Sundareshvara is a very important temple dedicated to Lord Shiva. You will get a strange feeling while walking across its labyrinth of courtyards and halls housing fantastic creatures. Madurai is a city whose heart beats in sync with the national legends of the country. It is truly a place of live cult.
At sunrise, the famous bas-relief of "the descent of the Ganges ( also known as Arjuna's penance)" is a lesson in rock-cut art on Hindu mythology:Shiva, surrounded with divine creatures, is the source of the Ganges which flows like nectar from his matted locks. In the vicinity, a dozen other small temples deserve a detailed visit. The sun set from the famous shore temple, although ravaged but marvelously situated, is an unforgettable moment.
Mumbai is the commercial and entertainment capital of India. It lies on the west coast on the edge of the Indian Ocean. The visit of Mumbai begins with the Gateway of India and continues along the famous Marine Drive upto the temple of Mumba Devi and the Victoria Gardens.
Mumbai (Elephanta Island & Caves)
The Elephanta island, situated 10 km away from Bombay, harbors caves constructed in the 6th and 7th century under the Chalukya dynasty. One of the caves, the Nataraja cave, known for its sculptures, is one of the most beautiful representations of Indian Art. Known before as Gharapuri or 'city of caves', the Elephanta Island is one of the highest centres of Shiva worship where the God of creative and destructive energy reveals his three faces in a magnificent composition.
Munnar (and Chinnakanal, 22km. from Munnar)
Munnar, also known as the Kashmir of South India is a peaceful hill station that has become the most sought out destination for vacationers due to its impeccable beauty. Earlier, Munnar was the summer capital of the British Government in South India. It is a luxuriant gift of nature in the Western Ghats, of the frontier of Kerala and adjoining parts of Tamilnadu. The city of Munnar, which literally means the three river's derives it name from the confluent of three mountain streams, the Mudrapuzha, Nallathanni and Kundala, at 5000 ft above the sea level. Munnar has vast tea estates, mostly belonging to Tata Tea. Coffee and cardamom plantations give to it a simple and soft look. Munnar is an all time favorite destination for newly wed Indians.
Mysore is the third-largest city in the state of Karnataka. It served as the capital city of the Mysore Princely Kingdom for nearly six centuries.The Mysore Palace, built in the Indo- Saracen style with domes, turrets, arches and colonnades, is a treasure trove of exquisite carvings and art work from around the world. The carved doors open onto luxuriously furnished rooms. The majestic Durbar Hall has an ornate ceiling and many sculpted pillars. The Marriage Pavilion is adorned with varnished tiled floors, stained glass ceilings and domes. The enclosure of the palace houses the Residential Museum, temples and tombs, including the Shwetha Varahswamy Temple.The Chamundi Hill at a height of 1060 meters overlook the city. It houses the 12th century Sri Chamundeswari Temple. Sri Chamundeswari was the patron goddess of the Wodeyar dynasty. The seven-storey gopuram (tower) of the temple is 40 meters high and is covered with statues of the goddess in all attitudes. At the front of the temple is a huge painted statue of Mahishasura, a demon who was defeated by Chamundeswari. Adjacent is a monumental statue of the bull Nandi dating to the late 17th century and carved from a monolith 5 meters high.
Padmanabhapuram Palace ( near Trivandrum )
The Palace of Padmanabhapuram (at 63 km or two and a half hours away by car from Trivandrum) was the capital of the ancient sovereign of Travancore. This magnificent palace is situated in Thuckalai, on the road to Kanyakumari. It is a wooden palace, well preserved, and a splendid example of the school of traditional architecture of Kerala. The extraordinary mural paintings, the exquisite sculptures of flowers and the lacquered floors in black granite have marvelously resisted the passage of time.
Pattadakal, in the state of Karnataka, represents the high point of an eclectic art which, in the seventh and eighth centuries, under the auspices of the Chalukya dynasty, achieved a harmonious blend of architectural forms from northern and southern India. There are an impressive series of nine Hindu temples, as well as a Jain temple. In this group stands a pure masterpiece, the Virupaksha temple, built in 740 AD by Queen Lokamahadevi to commemorate the victory of her husband over the kings from the South.
The national park of Periyar, with an area of 777km2 situated at an altitude of between 90 to 1800 meters, is one of the most beautiful natural wild sanctuaries of India. Dotted with small islands, a lake of 31 km, valleys, mountains, fragrant tropical forests, it is a rich habitat of animal species: elephants, wild buffalos, monkeys, tigers, bears and also harbors a large bird sanctuary.
Pondicherry was under French colonialisation for three centuries before its final return to India. Many French intellectuals come to study the Indian civilization and languages in the French institute of Ideology. The city hardly arouses any cultural interest except for perhaps the national museum and the mansion of Anandarangapillai, constructed in the 18th century by a representative of Dupleix. It shows a fusion of Indian and western architecture.
The Temple of Somnathpur Chennakesava stands on the edge of the peaceful village of Somnathpur 35 km from Mysore. The temple is built in the shape of a star. The triple towers and walls are covered with beautiful sculptures. It is a perfect example of Hoysala architecture at its best. The frieze depicts elephants, horses, flowers, lions, birds and beautiful sculptures of gods and goddesses in epic Hindu scenes.
Sravanabelgola is known for its colossal statue of Jain Saint Gomateshwara. 614 steps lead to this monolithic statue 18 meters high built atop the hill Indragiri. It is considered to be the world's largest monolithic stone statue. Every 12 years Jains from all over India gather here for the spectacular bathing ceremony of the statue.
Situated in the rich Kaveri Delta (the rice bowl of India), Tanjore is an old city where the Shiva temple of Brihadishvara of the 11th century recalls its past of being the capital of the powerful Chola Empire. Today, this city is the musical metropolis of meridional India. The palace houses a very beautiful art gallery. The Cholam Rajaraja museum exhibits a splendid collection of Chola bronze.
Situated on a rocky promontory, Tiruchirapalli consists of an immense religious complex of Lord Vishnu in the temple of Ranganatha and a Shiva sanctuary in the temple of Jambukeshvara. The rock temple is a fortress occupying an impressive strategic position and houses sanctuaries of rock art.