Badami – The least known world heritage site
It was 4:30 am when I stepped on a platform of the small railway station of Badami. I had stars, moon in the dark blue sky and station master for the company, who never came out of his cabin.
History of Badami
During the 6th century, Badami was made the capital of Chalukyas and it continued to be so for the next 300 years in all its glory. Temples were cut out of rocks and sculpted to the hilt, testifying to the greatness of the kingdom till now.
One of the greatest kings from Chalukyas was Pulakeshin II who expanded his reign to present day Karnataka, parts of Andhra, Tamilnadu, and Maharashtra. Badami stood defiantly after the decline of Chalukyas; Rashtrakuta, Hoysalas, Vijayanagara empire, Adil Shahis, and Marathas painted the political landscape. Kingdoms waxed and waned and left their impressions, still visible through monuments, food, and culture. It was only during the Chalukyas when Badami reached its glory.
Badami, Pattadakal temple complex and Aihole are UNESCO world heritage sites, so it had to be on my list. I planned a two-day trip from Hyderabad.
Badami has history written all over it. Surrounded by rugged sandstone cliffs from the three sides, it has temples carved out in caves, a fort at the top of steep hills, Jain sanctuaries, all around a huge lake. Agastya lake has a history, in fact, Badami has an interesting story on how it got its name. A demon named Vatapi was killed by Rishi Agastya at this place. It is one of those rare places where a place is named after the antagonist and the landmark lake is named after its protagonist.
The train station is on the outskirts of Badami town. I did not have a hotel booked so I preferred to wait for the dawn to break out. I waited for more than 90 minutes at the railway station before venturing out. Around 6:00 am I took a shared auto and got down at the city center. Buses from other cities drop passengers at the city center. I had already researched the hotels and the prices booked one for 800 Rupees. I was pleasantly surprised to see restaurants and eating joints serving food at seven in the morning, I had my early breakfast and napped for an hour. My friend accompanied me from Bangalore and reached around 8:30 am.
Most of the monuments are on the banks of Agastya lake. First stop was to visit the temples and then proceed to the other side of the lake to visit the caves. If you are planning to go to Badami, you might want to visit the caves first as caves get very crowded so visiting them early in the morning is better. After halting at smaller temples, we made our way to the Bhuthanatha temple. It has a perfect backdrop of a waterfall (during Monsoons), a huge green courtyard at the back, followed by the lake at the front. Just imagine yourself, sitting on the stairs, overlooking the lake, enjoying the vista comprising of a silhouette of Shivalya temple at the top of the hill on the right side, and caves on the left side. The scenery will leave you speechless.
I started a conversation with the guard, if they like you then they might let you go inside of the temples (garbh griha). They can also show you temples in smaller caves which you might not be able to discover by yourself.
After visiting the temples, we walked on a tiny strip of a cemented path around the lake to reach the other side to make our way to the caves. We walked through the narrow lanes surrounded by red colored walls, built thousand years ago. On our way was Markaj Jumma mosque, it was built during the reign of Adil Shah. It presented an interesting contrast as the mood of the town is mainly red because of old sandstone cliffs contrasting against the whites of the mosque’s building. It is equally heartening to see the varied cultural influences on architecture as well as people, living harmoniously with each other.
It is 200 meters walk and you reach the caves. One is left to marvel at how skillful, courageous and innovative our ancestors were that they could build such structures which have been standing for more than thousand years and will continue to be so for thousands more. I would suggest that you hire a guide who would tell you about the significance, patterns, geometry, and sculptures.
We traced our path back to check the inscriptions of the Chalukyan times. It is not easy to find so you would have to ask people. You might want to skip it as well but I really wanted to see the historical record carved on a stone tablet for forever.
I was exhausted and thought of giving fort a miss. Fortunately, my friend encouraged and we started for the hilltop and I was not the disappointed at all.
Once you go into the open archaeological museum, you could draw a parallel with the Grand Canyon national park. It should NOT be missed. The time spent at the hilltop, overseeing the entire town and much more until it starts to merge with the blue horizon, is unspeakable and unexplainable. One has to be there to experience it. The museum closes at 6 pm so you would be asked to leave around 5:45 pm.
I spent my evening at the ghat, on the banks of the Agastya lake, talking to kids. People in groups were swimming, fishing or generally talking, things which have long diminished from the lives of people dwelling in cities.
Day 2 in Badami
We started early to visit the Banashankari temple. You could miss visiting this temple if you are pressed for time. This temple holds significance for local devotees. Luckily, there was a festival going on so we could see the temple and its surroundings brimming with life.
We took an auto for Pattadakal and Aihole from there. Pattadakal temple complex belongs to the 7th and 8th century, representing the highest point of an eclectic art blending the architectural forms from northern and southern India. Badami, Pattadakal, and Aihole have the only temple complexes in India where five different styles ( Nagara, Dravida, Phamsana, Uaprishtha, Mantapa) of temple building were mastered. One visit to the archaeological museum would help understand the specifics of these architectural styles and how to identify them. These temples are the largest and the earliest group of monuments which demonstrates the evolution of Hindu rock-cut and temple architecture in India, especially in the south. Pattadakal has nine temples and one Jain sanctuary.
Pattadakkal has a rich history and richer temples. It was considered a holy place by Chalukyas and kings used to visit this place for their coronations and before going to wars. Chalukyas built temples whenever they emerged victorious from their wars. One of the biggest temples is Virupaksha temple, commissioned by the queen Lokamahadevi in the 8th century, to commemorate the victory of her husband.
It houses one of the biggest monolithic Nandis, the biggest monolithic Nandi is in Lepakshi temple, Hindupur. Imagine this place in all its glory and extravagance when Chalukyas were at their peak, it must be un-matchable and imposing. Hire a guide as he would be able to tell the tricks and hacks, which the builders used at that time. He would also be able to show you the sculptures and their meanings. Pay close attention to the hairstyle, draping styles, and the postures. Though a guide may not give your correct historical facts however his stories would still interest you and this place will stick with you even after you leave. There is a temple devoted to ‘Saturn demigod’, It is outside the main temple complex, Ask your guide to take you there otherwise he might skip.
In the 15th century, when Vijayanagara empire was attacked by five kingdoms, collectively called Deccan sultanates, Pattadakal was also plundered and destroyed. Sculptures were defaced so that they could not be worshipped.
After spending considerable time, we left for Aihole and stopped our auto-rickshaw a couple of times to take beautiful shots of sunflower fields. One could notice the gradual sophistication in temple building. Temples in Aihole are smaller and distinctive and are much older (5th or 6th century). There are Jain sanctuaries, these sanctuaries are pre-dated and oldest of all, Jain monks would travel with merchants who would commission these sanctuaries for the monks.
We were back in Badami around 5 pm. We did not spot a lot of tourists from Bangalore or Hyderabad, there were local tourists from Sholapur. This town is slow moving and people do not know much about the outside world. I was asked by kids if I came from some other country. When I told them that I had come from Hyderabad, their perplexed gaze told me that they didn’t know about Hyderabad.
A lot of foreigners come here for rock climbing, trekking, bouldering as Badami is famous among international tourists for its abundant red sandstone crags and because of its world heritage status.
You can check more photos at my Instagram channel
Food and Weather in Badami
I love south Indian food so I was excited to get Karnataka version of Sambhar (sweeter!). I did not experiment much with food and ate only south Indian (a treat for me!). Badami is hot so best time to visit is winter or rainy season.
I opted for wraparounds and loose pajamas as temperature rises during the day and you would need the air to keep flowing through your clothes. I found it safe to travel solo (with all due precautions) and people are sweet and helpful.
My train was at eleven in the night, I reached the railway station at 7 pm. Was able to finish reading a book at that time.
Do plan a trip to Badami for its unexplored history, mystic feel. A place for which clock has stopped winding, and before it becomes yet another weekend gateway.