Karnataka – A Tourism Perspective

Chennakeshava temple Marvels of Karnataka
Photo by Srinivas JD

Karnataka, one of the four states of South India, is a veritable tourist paradise. Name any attraction, you have it in this State of erstwhile kings and Maharajas – magnificent Palaces and bungalows, forts and monuments, architectural marvels and temples, lush green forests, and wildlife sanctuaries, sprawling beaches and captivating valleys, hurtling waterfalls and silvery cascades, historic mosques, and churches. Karnataka has a variety to offer for a tourist, who wants to relax or have an insight into this ancient part of India.

The states of Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Goa, and Telangana, constituting South India, border Karnataka. Sharing its boundaries with these States, Karnataka accounts for 1/16th of the total landmass of India. It has a population of nearly 70 million. Kannada is the language of the State. A sizeable section of the people understands English. The national language Hindi, and the South Indian languages – Telugu, Tamil, and Malayalam – are also spoken by some sections of the population.

Along with holidaying, one can combine business and shopping to buy the best in exquisite sandalwood carvings, rich rosewood inlay works, gold-laced silks, and silk sarees, fragrant-rich sandalwood oil, and agarbathies. Karnataka excels in items of carvings and sculptures also. The tradition has been kept alive with the same best items as of the yesteryears, crafted by some of the best master craftsmen of the country, still available in the show-rooms.

A Brief History of Karnataka

Archaeological investigations reveal that Karnataka was the habitat of pre-historic man. It was later ruled by several dynasties. The minor rock edicts of Ashoka, the great emperor of India, have been traced in North Karnataka at Brahmagiri. The political history of the State can be traced from the Mauryan period from the 4th century A.D. onwards. The Kadamba kingdom was founded at Banavasi and the Gangas ruled from Talakad, which are historically important places even today. Then followed the dynasties of Cholas, Rashtrakutas, Chalukyas, Hoysalas, Vijayanagar kings, Wadiyars of Mysore and the British rulers. All these dynasties, including the minor ones, have left behind historical traces.

The St. Mary’s Church at Bangalore, the St. Philomena’s Church at Mysore, the St Milagres, and the Rozario churches at Mangalore and the St Mary’s Church at Belgaum are some of the beautiful Christian centers of worship. The successive dynasties have also largely contributed to the art and cultural glory of the State. The Karnatak music and the Bharata Natyam are most famous among the classical music-dance traditions of India and these are performed even today.

These rulers and their court musicians, along with saints like Purandara Dasa, have produced highly evolved works on music. The Hindustani music of Northern Karnataka is as famous as the Karnatak music of the South. Similar is the contribution made to the fields of painting and drama. The folk art is equally rich and colorful. The rituals and celebrations have added to the cultural richness of the State. The most famous of these celebrations is the 10-day-long Dasara festival in Mysore. Thus, these several rulers have left behind indelible footprints in every aspect of Karnataka, making the State unique in several aspects amongst the States of India.

After the British, democratic setups have furthered the cause of tourism by establishing a number of attractive places and improving amenities for the visitors. The private enterprise is not lagging behind and they have built hotels and resorts at several attractive places, offering some of the best varieties of tasty vegetarian and non-vegetarian cuisine of Karnataka.

Apart from the private organizers, the Karnataka State Tourism Development Corporation (KSRTC) organizes regular tours on different sectors of tourist routes in the State. The Karnataka State Road Transport Corporation (KSRTC) operates regular bus services and almost all the tourist places are covered by it. The State is well connected by air, rail and road communications, to reach several of these important tourist centers.

The State experiences normal to heavy rainfall. The south-west monsoon, advancing from June, brings heavy rains. The temperature is also ideal almost throughout the year, but for some parts of North Karnataka where the mercury soars during summer. April is the hottest month of the year.

Capital City of Karnataka

Bangalore, Karnataka
Photo by Chandan Chaurasia

Bangalore/Bengaluru is the headquarters of the State. It is also the industrial capital of the State. A large number of prestigious industries, academic and research institutions, academies, and art galleries are housed in the city. The administration of the State emerges out of the Vidhana Soudha, the State Government’s most popular and majestic building. It has the Raj Bhavan, the residence of the Governor of Karnataka, and High Court, the highest judicial body of the State. Near Bangalore is the famous 4851-foot Nandi Hills, a summer resort.

Southern Karnataka

Prior to the formation of the enlarged state of Karnataka, the southern portion of the present state constituted the old State of Mysore. The erstwhile Mysore State was ruled by a succession of Maharaja’s from their capital in Mysore. The Wodeyars contributed vastly for the growth and development of the then Mysore State. They were pioneers in several areas and one of the most enlightened rulers the country had seen. Ably assisted by the far-sighted Dewans (Prime Ministers), these rulers laid the foundation for the modern State of Mysore. Their contribution, and in particular the contribution made by one of the ablest statesman and engineer, Sir M.Visvesvaraya, is remembered even today.

The benevolent rulers developed Mysore city into a literal paradise with the construction of beautiful palaces and bungalows, spacious parks and roads, unique industries, and handicraft centers. The glory left behind by these rulers attracts a large number of people today.

If Mysore has some of the best palaces and mansions, the nearby historical place of Srirangapatna, ruled by intervening two Muslim rulers, Hyder Ali Khan and his famous son, Tipu Sultan, who fought the British taking help from the French, has a number of places of attraction dotted on the small island town formed by the river Cauvery.

Around Mysore are a number of tourist spots, Krishnarajasagar or the Brindavan Gardens, which is illuminated every night. The Ranganathittu Bird Sanctuary on the bank of the Cauvery, Melkote, a center of Srivaishnava philosophy and religion, Sivasamudram, where the Cauvery river takes a leap to form into two beautiful waterfalls.

Somanathapur, where stands a beautiful example of the Hoysala architecture in the form of a temple dedicated to Vishnu, the Bandipur wildlife sanctuary for seeing elephants, tigers, bison and other animals roaming in the forest, and Talkad, where lies some of the ancient temples buried under the sand dunes of the river Cauvery.

gomateshwara, karnataka
Photo by KAKUDMI

For some of the best architectural monuments and splendors, a visit to places like Sravanabelagola, Belur, and Halebid is a must. In Sravanabelagola stands the gigantic rock-cut statue of Jain saint of Gomateswara of the 10th century. Belur and Halebid, the twin towns of Hassan district, are places to witness the marvel on stone. The temples of the Hoysala rulers are literal poems on stones. A visitor will be astonished by the wonder the master craftsmen have executed on stone.Tala cauvery Karnataka

Cauvery in the south, like the Krishna and Tungabhadra rivers in North Karnataka, is the lifeline of the people of this area. It takes its birth in the beautiful hilly areas of Kodagu district and flows down towards Mysore to reach the sea in Tamil Nadu, enriching the entire area with green belts of paddy and sugarcane, besides other crops. The birthplace of the Cauvery is obviously one of the sacred spots for the annual worship of the sacred river. The lush green forest is the habitat of wild elephants and other animals and this protected area is now the famous Nagarahole game sanctuary.

North Karnataka

The northern parts of Karnataka have a rich history to tell through the traces the dynasties which ruled these places have left behind. From the caves of 6th century A.D. down to the 18th-century Islamic architecture, a student of history can find ample evidence of interest in these places, some of which were the headquarters of these ruling dynasties. The caves of Badami, Aihole, and Pattadakal have stories to tell about the great epics of India. The ruins of Hampi, spread across a vast area, is an architectural splendor of the famous Vijayanagar empire, a must for a tourist.

Bidar, Bijapur, and Gulbarga provide ample testimony for the architectural brilliance of the Islamic rulers, who ruled from these places. The Gol Gumbaz in Bijapur is the most famous of all of them. Mosques, tombs, palaces, and forts are some of the best standing examples for Muslim architecture and a combination of the Muslim – Indian architecture (Indo-Saracenic architecture).

Bidar, North Karnataka
Photo by Venkat Sudheer Reddy

This region is also an important center of Veerashaivas. They have several sacred places here. Basavana Bagewadi is the birthplace of Basavanna. Koodala Sangama and Basava Kalyana are two other important places. A number of saints and associates of Basava, who brought about a social revolution by their famous Vachanas, lived in these places.

The Western Ghats and Coastal Karnataka

The long stretch of western ghats runs through North Kanara (Uttara Kannada), Udupi, and Mangaluru (Dakshina Kannada) districts parallel to the Arabian sea-shore. From these hills and forests flow through the Kali, Sharavathi, Kadri, Bedti, and Netravathi rivers, making the areas lush green and providing the much-needed hydroelectricity to the ever-growing industrial requirements of the State. The coastal areas have some of the most beautiful beaches in the country, like Karwar, Marawanthe, Ullal, Malpe, Gokarna, and Mangalore.

Mangalore Beach Karnataka
Photo by Sonaal Bangera

The coastal strip is about 320 km long. Mangalore, Malpe, Honnavar, and Karwar are ports of fame of this coastal belt. Bhatkal, Malpe, Karwar, and Kumta are ancient ports where ships have dropped anchor throughout centuries. Near Karwar is the Dandeli wildlife sanctuary.

The western slopes and ghats receive ample rains during the monsoon. Agumbe is one such place that records the highest rainfall during the four-month monsoon rain season starting from June. The lush green and forest areas these rains have made are known as the Malnad areas, again dotted with a number of pilgrim and tourist centers.

To name a few are Udupi (center of Madhwa philosophy and its mutts), Dharmasthala (Jain pilgrim center), Sringeri (the seat of Sankaracharya of the South), Subrahmanya and Gokarna. The river Sharavati takes a plunge at Jog Falls to form the world-famous waterfalls. Near the industrial town of Bhadravati, Kemmannu Gundi is a famous hill resort.