A thousand years before Vijayanagar reached its zenith, the Chalukya Dynasty carved a series of beautiful capitals from the rugged sandstone hills of northern Karnataka. Although far less well known than Hampi, the ruins of ancient Badami and nearby Pattakadal and Aihole fully warrant the long journey north across one of the emptiest regions of the Deccan to visit.
Ranging from rock-cut cave shrines to structural temples and forts, Badami’s monuments are scattered across a gorge between two steep, rocky hills, divided by a large water tank. The cliffs provide an epic backdrop to the Bhuthanatha Temple, the town’s poster piece, whose finely carved towers and pillars are reflected in the green waters at its feet. Old stone ghats line the edge of the tank, where local women soak and thump their laundry each morning – much as their ancestors must have done in the time of the Chalukyas.
A pair of modern resort hotels on the outskirts Badami provide comfortable bases for explorations of this fascinating area. Only recently built, they are likely to stimulate interest in this remote town over the coming years, but for the time being it remains firmly off the tourist trail – and one of south India’s most magical spots.