Halebid is 220km (136 miles) W of Bengaluru; Belur is 14km (9 miles) SW of Halebid; Sravanabelagola is 85km (53 miles) SE of Belur.

The Hoysalas were ferocious warriors who, despite regular military campaigns, found time to allow their love for the arts to flourish. What remains of this once-powerful dynasty are their beautiful temples, usually commissioned to commemorate their victories or successful covenants made with their gods. Situated at the edge of the Western Ghats, the temples of the once-powerful cities of Belur and Halebid are often referred to as the "Jewel Boxes" of Hoysala architecture, and are comparable with the religious monuments of Khajuraho (in Madhya Pradesh) and Konark (in Orissa). The artists who created these compact, assiduously sculpted temples demonstrated enormous regard for the rules of proportion, and went to extreme lengths to ensure absolute spatial precision. Exterior temple walls are invariably covered in detailed sculpted decoration, while inside you will discover hand-lathe-turned filigreed pillars and figures with moveable jewelry, also carved from stone. The gods paraded at these temples are over 8 centuries old, yet continue to impress with the vigor with which they carry out their superhuman duties, slaying demons and moving mountains, while celestial maidens admire their reflections in eternally reflecting mirrors.

In quite a different vein, the living pilgrimage center at Sravanabelagola is where you will find the world's tallest monolithic sculpture. The statue of Gomateswara, a naked ascetic saint, is the object of one of the biggest Jain pilgrimages in the country -- lacking any decoration whatsoever, yet awesome in its sheer grandeur.

To see these highlights of Karnataka's religious heritage, you have to veer off the main drag a little. Fortunately, if you're pressed for time, it is possible to cover all three destinations with ease in a single day. Most visitors base their exploration of this region out of the dull and dusty town of Hassan, but the coffee-growing town of Chikmagalur, 25km (16 miles) from Belur, offers far more glowing surroundings, and the pleasant accommodations of the Taj Gateway Hotel.