This post was originally posted on my travel blog Commoner's Causeway. Visit the blog for more travel stories, guides, and tips.
Enroute the ancient Hindu temple sites of Belur and Halebid, or the lush coffee estates of Chikmaglur, lies a town named Hassan in Karnataka. This nondescript town, with its hustle and bustle, is a stop-over to a village called Shettihalli, home to a sight that has been dubbed the submerged church or the floating church. Or so I had read on a travel blog.
As fate would have it, I found an opportunity to visit the hamlet of Shettihalli, home to South India's so-called floating church a few years after stumbling upon the blog post, and again quite recently (Post-COVID 2022). An old floating church - sounds eerie, but people who had been to the site before gave it rave praises.
They were right.
What's the big deal about the Shettihalli Church?
Depending on the season, one of two sights will greet you. In summer, you will find the greyish-brown ruins of a Gothic-style Rosary Church in Shettihalli looming in front of you, a quiet-yet-massive shadow of its former French glory standing tall on dry land, surrounded by a handful of dry grass and shrubs, as the Hemavathi river silently snakes behind it.
In the monsoon and early winter seasons, you will lay your eyes on the submerged church - the Shettihalli Rosary Church in its much talked about Atlantis-esque avatar, the columns of its roofless dilapidated self projecting themselves out of the waters as though eager to touch the sky.
What's its story?
The Shettihalli Rosary Church was built in the early 1860s by French Missionaries. The church, which served colonial-era Britishers, was constructed in the French Gothic architectural style; made of limestone, brick, and mortar among other materials, it rested on the banks of the Hemavathi River.
Then, in 1979, the State Government constructed the Gorur Dam, which flooded the Hemavathi Reservoir. The flooding that resulted caused the villagers to abandon their land and their homes, and relocate. What was left behind was the church, which would eventually retain only its magnificent skeleton, standing strong against the elements of Nature and the test of time.
Personally, I'd choose to drive the 200 kilometres stretch from Bangalore to Shettihalli to get to the submerged church.
The Shettihalli Rosary Church is nearly 2 kilometres from the Shettihalli village, which in turn is around 40 kilometres from the town of Hassan.
Buses and trains operate daily from Bangalore's Yeshwantpur station to Hassan. From Hassan, you can alight an hourly bus that will take you directly to the church if you inform the conductor that that's where you want to get off.
Alternatively, you can take an auto-rickshaw from Hassan to the Shettihalli church and back. The fare, along with a waiting time of about an hour, would cost you less than INR 800.
The best time to visit the Shettihalli Rosary Church
This really depends on the kind of view you are looking for.
Want to sit by the church's ruins, set up a little picnic spot on the grass while walking inside the remains of a house of colonial-era worship to be close to the beautiful rusticity and weathered-down charm that draw locals and travellers alike? Then the dry months of December to May are for you.
However, if you want to be blown away by the partially-submerged spectacle of the church and stand in awe of water and stone coming together in harmony, visit between July and October when the rains hit south India.
Things to do at Shettihalli
Is 'do nothing' an acceptable answer?
Honestly, if you're an adventure junkie or are looking for a thrilling experience (unless you count taking a coracle ride in the river), you will find squat here. At Shettihalli Rosary church, one explores the ruins at leisure, sits on the barren land outside of the arches, and takes loads of pictures (for real, this place is a haven for photographers and travellers alike). One also enjoys the smooth drive to get here. It lives up to the definition of an off-beat destination.
During the wet season, a multitude of bird species frequent the reservoir, so birdwatchers are in for a real treat.
Take my word for it - if you're in Bangalore, Mysore or Hassan, or are simply visiting, plan a quick day trip to Shettihalli's Rosary Church. It is well worth your time.