A Cultural and Heritage Travel Guide on Karnataka

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Frequently Asked Questions by Travellers Visiting Karnataka. 

Early history of Karnataka? 

Fossil studies indicate that the Karnataka region was inhabited by early hominid species (Homo Erectus) more than a million years ago. Our homo sapiens, who ventured out of Africa, started a long migration to the East about 1000 years ago and reached the south Indian plateau around 60000-70000 years ago. They are the early Indians. Then, the second migration of the Indus Valley people arrived about 4500 years ago and mingled up with the local population. Karnataka also welcomed the Aryans followed. If you study the DNA of current residents of this beautiful state, finding any specific lineage in their DNA line-up will be hard.

Regarding the modern history of Karnataka, the region was ruled by dynasties such as the Satavahanas, Chalukyas, Vijayanagara, Rashtrakutas, and Hoysalas. Choalas and Pallavas, the classical empires of South India, had also ruled a portion of present-day Karnataka. Tipu Sultan was another powerful king who emerged locally and gained a tight grip on the land. Another must-mention empire, the Wadeyar dynasty, ruled the Mysore area for more than 500 years before Independence.

What is the colonial past of Karnataka?

Though Portugal was the first foreign power to set up a permanent base in Karnataka (1568 Mangalore), the colonial history of Karnataka is mainly linked with the British. The British left a lasting impact, with many colonial-era buildings and institutions still standing in cities such as Bangalore and Mysore. The Bangalore Palace, built in the Tudor style, and the Mysore Palace, which blends Indian, Gothic, and Islamic elements, are prime examples of the remaining colonial architecture.

What is the cultural heritage of Karnataka?

Karnataka’s fascinating art forms have been shaped by the influence of several dynasties that ruled the region for centuries. In addition, the state is renowned for its great cultural legacy in music, dance, and theatre. Classical dance forms like Bharatanatyam and Kuchipudi and folk dances such as Yakshagana and Dollu Kunitha are highly popular in Karnataka. Furthermore, the state has a thriving theatre industry with several traditional and regional drama performances still taking place.

Which is the best time to visit Karnataka?

The best time to visit Karnataka is during the winter months, from November to February, pleasant. But this is also the peak tourist season, so booking hotels in advance is advisable. The monsoon season (June to September) is also an excellent time to visit if you want to see the landscapes in lunch green. But constant rain and flooding may hinder your travel. If you are visiting forest areas, please beware of leeches. You can read an article on “Managing Leeches in Indian Forests” here. 

What are the main historical and cultural places to visit in Karnataka? 

a. Hampi –Hampi was the capital city of the Vijayanagara Empire, which ruled most of Karnataka and portions of neighbouring states between 1336-1646). Now, Hampi is a UNESCO heritage site. You can see the ruins of this ancient city, adding to about 1600 monuments spread across 42 square kilometres. The ruins include numerous temples, palaces, and other structures. 

b. Mysore Palace – The quintessential symbol of Mysore, the Mysore Palace (aka Amba Vilas Palace), is the most famous landmark after Hampi in Karnataka. The Palace is the residence of the Wadeyar dynasty, which ruled Mysore and most of Karnataka from the 14th to the 20th century.

c. Gol Gumbaz is a mausoleum in Bijapur and is known for its immense dome, the second-largest unsupported dome in the world. The monument was built in the 17th century by the Adil Shahi dynasty.

d. Badami Cave Temples – The Badami Cave Temples are a series of rock-cut cave temples in Badami town. The Temple is believed to be constructed in the 6th or 7th century CE.

e. Belur and Halebidu Temples – These Temples are famous for their intricate sculptures and carvings dating back to the Hoysala period in the 12th century.

f. Aihole – Aihole is a historic site similar to Bambi in northern Karnataka. The ruins are known for their numerous temples and rock-cut cave shrines. The site is older than Humpi, and most of them are from 600-700 CE

g. Bidar Fort is a historic fort in Bidar and was built in the 14th century by the Bahmani Sultanate. The fort is known for its impressive architecture, which blends Persian and Indian styles.

What are the popular places to visit in Karnataka? 

Karnataka has many other tourist attractions besides its historical and heritage sites. Some of the popular tourist spots include:

a. Coorg, also known as Kodagu, is a hill station famous for its coffee plantations and scenic beauty.

b. Gokarna – it is a town on the coast of Karnataka. The place is known for its beautiful beaches and temples. It is a pilgrim town. We found the Mahabaleshwara temple is most attractive and visited by devotees. This stone-carved Temple is around 1500 years old.

c. Bandipur National Park has recently risen to fame and become frequently visited by wildlife photographers due to the presence of black panthers and frequent sightings of Tigers. 

d. Jog Falls – We found this waterfall so unique because of the area it covers (width and height of the fall). It is in the Shimoga district of Karnataka and is one of the highest waterfalls in India.

e. Chikmagalur is a hill station known for its coffee plantations, trekking trails, and scenic beauty.

What art forms should you experience in Karnataka?

Karnataka is home to several classical and folk art forms. Some of the popular ones include:

a. Bharatanatyam is a classical dance form that originated in Tamil Nadu but is prevalent across southern India, including Karnataka.

b. Yakshagana is a traditional dance-drama form popular in Karnataka and other parts of coastal South India.

c. Dollu Kunitha is a popular folk dance form performed with drums and associated with the shepherd community.

d. Veeragase is another traditional dance form performed during festivals, characterised by its fast-paced movements and energetic music.

What are the best souvenirs you can buy from Karnataka?

Karnataka is famous for its handicrafts and traditional textiles. Some favourite souvenirs include:  

a. Mysore silk Sarees – They are famous for their fine quality and intricate designs.

b. Sandalwood carvings – It is a famous handicraft in Karnataka, and you can buy intricate sculptures and other items made from sandalwood.

c. Channapatna Toys – Channapatna is a town in Karnataka famous for its wooden toys made using traditional techniques and natural dyes.

d. Bidriware – Bidriware is a traditional metal handicraft that originated in Bidar and is known for its intricate designs and inlay work.

e. Coorg Coffee – The coffee is known for its depth and aroma. We remember buying them in large quantities during our Karnataka heritage tour.

What traditional food and drinks must you try while in Karnataka?

Karnataka has diverse cuisine. Some of the must-try dishes include:

a. Bisi bele bath is a popular rice-based dish flavoured with spices and vegetables.

b. Mysore masala dosa is a crispy rice and lentil pancake with spicy potato filling.

c. Chitranna is a lemon rice dish flavoured with mustard seeds, curry leaves, and peanuts.

Please visit “Five Traditional Food You Must Try in Karnataka” for more information. 

How many days are required to explore Karnataka?

We took 12 days to cover all the destinations mentioned here by road. It is better to keep 14 days for an entire Karnataka expedition. If you don’t have that much time, we recommend visiting Mysore, Hampi and Bandhipur to get a good introduction to this state. A week is good enough for this.  

Is visiting Karnataka worth it?

A visit to Hampi alone will make your trip worthwhile. Visiting Mysore palace and witnessing Dasara (September-October) festival, etc., will be a rich experience for any traveller. But in short, Karnataka is a good destination for cultural and historical travel enthusiasts. 

What are the best historical and heritage hotels available in Karnataka?

We have selected the hotels listed below after carefully studying their heritage, location, facilities, the local experience they can offer, etc. 

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