The idea for this 2500 km of history, nature & leisure road trip originated when my husband and I decided to do something exciting around the already planned new year get-together at Goa with friends. We embarked upon a road trip through north Karnataka to see some of the major historic UNESCO heritage sites of the Chalukya & Vijaynagar empire at Badami, Aihole, Pattadkal & Hampi and then zipped down to Goa via the Konkan Coast to ring in the new year with friends! Reluctantly driving back, we stayed at Ganpatipule before heading back to Mumbai.
Day 1: Mumbai to Bijapur
The 500kms of this trip was comfortable & easy. We started out at 6am in the morning & breezed down the Mumbai – Pune Highway, stopping at good old McD’s for breakfast. We got onto NH-9 after Pune, heading straight to Sholapur, stopped on the way at Kamat’s for lunch & then took the NH-13 to Bijapur. We took almost 12 hours to reach Bijapur. The roads were good except the last patch of NH-13 which is an unlit one lane state highway and hence a pain to drive what with blinding oncoming headlights post sunset.
Day 2: Bijapur
We hit the day early at 8 am to start the day at Gol Gumbaaz. If you are an early riser, the gates open at 6am at which time there are no crowds and you will have the entire place to yourself. We kicked ourselves for not getting there earlier when we saw hordes of school children who arrived by busloads on their annual school trip. It was quite painful to get even one photograph with it being photobombed with kids from all sides.
Gol Gumbaaz is the mausoleum of Muhammad Adil Shah known for its amazing dimensions (2nd highest dome in the world after the Vatican) and unique acoustic features. We spent a good three hours at the monument and climbed to the rooftop to get some amazing views of both the interior of the tomb and the outer landscape of the city. We then paced the day, setting ourselves a time limit of 1 hour at each monument as we had only one day at Bijapur & we wanted to cover as many attractions as possible. We thought 2 days would be needed, but we managed to cover most of the Bijapur in one day, rather in one afternoon. Next stop was Ibrahim Rauza, built by Ibrahim Adil Shah II and has his tomb and a mosque on a commonly raised terrace. Jod Gumbad’s twin domed tombs were built in memory of Khan Muhammad and Abdul Razzaq Qadiri. This is in the middle of a village and is being used as a mosque, so I wasn’t able to go inside. One can easily skip the Taj Bawri. Once a beautiful step well, it is reduced to a garbage disposal water body with some local villagers washing clothes on the other side. An eyesore! Bara Khaman is the unfinished mausoleum of Ali Adil Shah II meant for him & his wives. Supposedly the work was stopped as it could have overshadowed the brilliance of the Gol Gumbaaz. From there on we went to Jami Masjid which is the largest mosque in south India built by Adil Shah 1 in the 16th century. Not as much a sight as Taj-ul-Masjid at Bhopal, but nonetheless is an important monument in the landscape of Bijapur. What we missed was the Uppali Burj, a 16th-century watchtower built by Hyder Khan to strengthen the city’s defences.
Where to Stay In Bijapur:Hotel Basava residency is a decent option and is on the main road from where you can cover all attractions.
Tip: Get to the sites as early as possible. In winter time, sites open as early as 6am. Check the timings and get in early. Some auto wallahs do fleece outstationers. Bargain hard.
Day 3: Bijapur to Bagalkot
After a restful night at Bijapur, we drove early morning to Bagalkot which is 90kms away. The views were stunning as there were sugarcane plantations for miles at a stretch. Bagalkot is barely 40 km or one-hour drive away from Badami so we made it as a base to travel to Badami, Aihole & Pattadkal as all good options in Badami were sold out when we booked.
Badami caves complex of 4 main caves and other smaller caves is a UNESCO world heritage site built in 6th century by the Chalukyas. The caves are considered a prime example of rock-cut architecture which transformed the Indian temple architecture in centuries to come. The caves are dedicated to Shiv & Vishnu. Cave 4 has some Buddhist & Jain reliefs as well. Badami caves are on the hills on the south side of Agastya Lake named after one of the saptarishis, Agastya. On the eastern corner of this lake, is the Bhutanatha group of temples dedicated to local deity – Bhutanath. The temple parts were constructed over 4 centuries – 7th – 11th – and hence have architectural inspiration from different periods. On the north side of the lake, is a sandstone hill on top of which is located the Badami fort. The path to the top is behind the Badami Archaeological Museum at the base of the cliff. The path is well laid with stairs and one can walk up to the top quite comfortably to catch stunning views of the city. One finds two open mandapas on the way to the top where there is a Lower Shivalaya temple & one Upper Shivalaya temple. Remnants of the fort can also be seen en route like the circular outlooks, granaries, and a ruined fort complex.
What we missed was the Banashankari temple located 5 km away on the road to Gadag. Dedicated to the house goddess Banashankari, it was built by the Chalukyas in the 7th century. It is still in use today & old spectacular lamp towers are found adjacent to the temple alongside the huge water tank inside the temple complex.
Where to Stay in Badami: The best place to stay is Clark’s inn which is a 5 min walking distance from the caves.
Tip: Beat the crowd and start early. In winters, the monuments open at 6 am. Catch the sunset from Bhutanath temple or climb up the hilltop to the North fort/ Upper Shivalaya temple to get a panoramic view of the city against the setting sun.
Day 4: Bagalkot to Aihole & Pattadkal
Learning from experience at Bijapur, we had an early morning drive to Aihole, making sure we got there to view the sunrise at 6.30 am. The best way to start the tour of Aihole is to climb up the Meguti Hill and catch the sunrise over Aihole from there. Though it looks quite imposing from a distance, the paved road for a taxi goes quite far up the hill, leaving you with hardly 100 odd steps to climb to reach the top. At the crest of the Meguti hill, is a two-storeyed Buddhist temple with tall columns. A few more steps and you reach the hilltop which has a majestic Jain Temple of 7th century & fort ruins on the sides. From here you can see the city of Aihole. The majestic semi-circular temple Durga Temple complex is the most famous attraction of Aihole. Mistakenly thought to be dedicated to a goddess, the origins of its name are from the word “Durg’ or fortified outlook that covered its roof once upon a time. Another attraction is the Lad Khan temple, originally a shiv temple but later got its name from a Muslim general who occupied it and made his home there. There are many other small temples that dot the complex. Make sure you take out time & enjoy the architectural beauty. There are Ambergudi, Chikigudi & Huchimalligudi temples which are well preserved and can be enjoyed at leisure. One of the most attractive temples is the Ravanaphadi temple, a huge free-standing rock cut temple from the early Chalukyan period. Huge reliefs of Shiva & Vishnu adorn the temple. We had only half a day, but one needs a day to cover many other monuments of Aihole.
Driving to Pattadkal after lunch, we arrived at a massive UNESCO world heritage temple complex consisting of 8 temples all dedicated to Shiva. The two largest & most impressive ones are theVirupaksha temple & Mallikarjuna Temple, funded by the queen Lokmahadevi & Queen Trailokamahadevi to commemorate their husband’s, Vikramaditya II’s successful military campaigns against the Pallavas. In the same complex are the Kadasiddeshwara temple, Jambulinga temple, Galagnatha temple, Sangameshwara temple and Kashi Vishwanath temple amongst 100s of smaller shivlings and the Papanatha temple which is a short walk away.
Where to Stay in Aihole & Pattadakal: The best place to stay is at Badami in Clark’s Inn to cover both Aihole & Pattadkal.
Tip: Beat the crowd and start early. In winters, the monuments open at 6 am. Catch the sunrise at Pattadkal or from Meguti Hill at Aihole.
Day5 & 6: Bagalkot to Hampi
The 150kms to Hampi was covered in 3 hrs. We stayed on Anegudi side of the river. Crossing the river by a speedboat, one arrives at Hampi ruins. Hampi, a UNESCO World heritage site, was the capital of the Vijayanagara empire and one of the richest & the largest cities in the world in 16th century. Hampi has mythological connections: Anegudi across the river is considered the birthplace of Hanuman and Hampi was known as Kishkinda which is where Rama beheads Bali to install Sugreeva on the throne and muster his support to free Sita from Lanka. There are 3000 temples & points of interest in Hampi and it will take a year to see all of them. To cover the main attractions at leisure, one needs 3 days. We had just a day and a half. So we prioritised and walked like how. Hampi is spread over 9 sq miles and one needs to be prepared to walk a lot. Though autos ply on the main road, one is tempted to walk and lose oneself in the ruins of Hampi. Hampi can be divided into four groups and covered in such fashion – the Sacred centre with Virupaksha Temple, The royal centre with the royal palace ruins, the Vitthala temple centre and the Zenana enclosure group.
Where to Stay in Hampi: Stay across the river from Hampi in one of the many guesthouses frequented by foreigners. This side has a bustling nightlife and shops for buying in clothes & other knick knacks. We stayed at Mowgli Guesthouse which was nice & clean with great views of paddy fields behind. It was a short 10 min walk to the ferry point to cross the river to Hampi ruins.
Tip: Hampi is an open air museum and can get really hot during the day. Carry shades, cap & bottle of water and something to eat if you plan to walk the whole day as you will not find any food amongst the ruins.
Day 7 – Hampi to Chitradurga to Jog falls
We started the day early as we wanted to reach Jog falls covering Chitradurga on the way. The 150 km drive to Chitradurga took us about 3.5 hrs on the NH13 which was a smooth & easy drive. After a quick early lunch, we set on to walk to the top of the Chitradurga fort. The fort was expanded between 15th-18th century by the Palegar Nayakas, who were then defeated by Hyder Ali at Chitradurga in 1779. The seven concentric walls of the fort were built in a manner to spring surprise attacks on the enemies and hence formed an impenetrable defence for the city. From Chitradurga, we drove to Jog falls via Shimoga.The route gets more and more picturesque as you ascend the Sahyadri range. After 5 hours of driving 220 odd km, we reached our destination.
Where to Stay in Jog Falls: The KSTDC property Mayura Gersoppa is located right at the jog fall viewing area and has decent rooms. Don’t expect anything fancy.
Tip: Drive up to the British Tourist Bungalow for an up-close & invigorating view of the falls.\
Day 8 – Jog Falls to Goa
Early morning we made our way to Jog Falls, a few km away from our resort. In the winter season, the falls don’t have much water but nonetheless are a sight to see. They are the second highest waterfalls in India and the water drops down in four distinct falls – raja, Rani, Rocket, and Roarer.
We hopped onward to Goa and that was undoubtedly the most scenic part of our entire road trip via the Edpally Panvel highway. The lush green forests and long winding roads made for a perfect romantic drive with windows rolled down, with the wind in our hair and nice melodies playing in the background. After a 7-hour drive, we arrived at Varca Beach, Goa to meet up with our friends and ring in the new year.
Day 9, 10 – Goa
The days just went by having fun with friends in Goa, ringing in the new year, thinking about the year gone by and making a new set of resolutions for 2016 over food & wine. We stayed at Varca Beach in South Goa, far away from the madness of touristy north Goa beaches.
Day 11 – Goa to Ganpatipule
We had to finally bid adieu to Goa to embark upon the last leg of our road trip. After a 7-hour drive to Ganpatipule, we arrived at the MTDC hotel, which is THE place to stay in Ganpatipule. It is bang on the beach, the cool breeze, and the sound of waves crashing the beachfront kept us in deep slumber through the night and made us not want to wake up and go to back at all.
Where to Stay: MTDC Ganpatipule executive cottages is the place to stay.
Day 12: Back to Mumbai
But all good things do come to an end. We drove back to Mumbai via the Panvel Edapally road which is quite tiresome to drive as it is single lane highway for the most parts of it. We regretted not taking the coastal road , which would have been more scenic, free of trucks and would have made for a peaceful drive. Alas, next time!
The road trip gave us a heady mix of enjoying long drives, admiring 1500 yr old UNESCO heritage sites and temple architectures in Karnataka, witnessing natural wonder at Jog Falls, feeling enthralled driving on the scenic Konkan Coast, and enjoying with friends and sacking out at beach cafes in Goa. One couldn’t have asked for a better road trip!
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