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Northern Karnataka

If you'd like to get off the principal tourist beat and discover the Deccan's architectural treasures in less-chartered territory, definitely set aside a few more days to explore the splendid remains of the erstwhile Chalukyan Empire and -- tucked within one of the state's northernmost corners -- the Muslim city of Bijapur, filled with mosques, minarets, mausoleums, and palace ruins.

The easiest way to get to these sites is to rent a car and driver in Hospet (you can arrange one through Hotel Malligi; Rs 2,600 for a return trip (Hospet to Badami is about 4 hr.); drive to Badami, stopping at Aihole and Pattadakal either on your way in or out. It is quite possible to spend a long day traveling from Hospet or Hampi to all three Chalukya sites, including a stop at Mahakuteshwara and Mallikajuna temples en route. After that you can either proceed to Bijapur, or return to Hampi before nightfall. If you prefer something a little less hectic, however, overnight in Badami, and then continue your journey the following day. The best accommodations choice is Hotel Badami Court (tel. 08357/220-230 through -233). It's located 2km (1 1/4 miles) from the town center and has a pool and decent air-conditioned rooms with TVs and bathtubs (ask for one of the garden-facing rooms, which are quieter) for around Rs 4,200 including breakfast.

Badami, Aihole & Pattadakal

Around 4 hours by car from Hospet, the remote, modest town of Badami was established around A.D. 543 when it became the capital of the Chalukyas, one of the most powerful of the Deccan dynasties. Today its most significant attraction is the complex of cave temples (Rs 220; daily sunrise-sunset) carved into the imposing horseshoe-shaped red-sandstone cliff that once formed a natural fortification at the southern end of the town. Enter the pillared interiors and you'll discover elaborate symbolic and mystical carvings of the highest quality (not to mention a few scampering monkeys). It's worth hiring the services of a guide (around Rs 200 for up to 3 hr.) to gain some understanding of the symbolism. Also worth exploring are the Bhutanatha temples, built over 4 centuries at a picturesque location at the edge of the Agastyatirtha water tank; and atop the hill, 7th-century Malegitti Shivalya Temple, unusually decorated with dwarfs, geese, and various geometric patterns. Time allowing, stop at the Archaeological Museum (tel. 08357/22-0157; Rs 2; Sat-Thurs 10am-5pm) to see well-preserved sculpted panels depicting the life of Krishna, and the Lajja Gauri sculpture, an extraordinary fertility cult symbol. Less than 30km (19 miles) from Badami, en route to Aihole, is the small settlement of Pattadakal and its UNESCO World Heritage-listed temple complex ($10; daily sunrise-sunset), where Chalukyan temple architecture reached its zenith in the 7th and 8th centuries. Some, like Papanatha Temple built around A.D. 680, are in the northern Indo-Aryan style, while others, like the main Virupaksha Temple built 80 years later, are in the South Indian Dravidian architectural style, with tiered pyramidal rather than conical roofs. A dance festival is held at Pattadakal each January. (Note that if you're pressed for time, the Pattadakal stop can be skipped.)

About 17km (11 miles) away, the riverbank village of Aihole is strewn with some 70 abandoned temples, built between A.D. 450 and 650 as architectural experiments by the early Chalukyan kings. Historians theorize that these obsessive rulers had a guild of architects, artists, and artisans working for them, and the variety of styles, including the Gupta (northern), incipient Dravidian, and elements of Buddhist architecture, reflect the various stages in the development of Chalukyan architecture. The chief attraction among these, fashioned along the lines of a Buddhist chaitya (prayer hall), is Durga Temple, with its magnificent circular colonnaded veranda studded with stunning sculptures and intricate carving. Contrast this with the Jain Meguti Temple situated atop a nearby hill -- with an inscription putting its construction at A.D. 634, this was perhaps the last temple to be built in Aihole.

The interiors aren't lighted, so you should carry a flashlight -- the detailing is well worth studying. In some temples, you'll discover images of fierce Chalukyan warriors in action, while elsewhere, amorous couples engage in a different sort of action. Admission to the main complex of temples is free; entrance to Durga Temple is Rs 90. Hours are daily sunrise to sunset.

Bijapur

The walled city of Bijapur, in the far north of Karnataka, is often referred to as the "Agra of the South" because of its profusion of Muslim architecture. First founded during the reign of the Chalukyan dynasty, between the 10th and 11th centuries, Bijapur passed into Muslim rule and later into the hands of the Bahamani kings. When these rulers fell into decline, the city was taken over by its governor, Yusuf Adil Khan, the founder of the Adil Shahi dynasty, who established rule over the Deccan during the 16th and 17th centuries, with Bijapur as their capital. Muslim mausoleums, mosques, palaces, pavilions, and burkha-clad women will remind you that this is a city unlike any other in Karnataka. Head to the very helpful local tourism office (Station Rd.; tel. 08352/250-359; daily 10am-5:30pm) to hire a guide and get assistance with sightseeing. Monuments are open from sunrise to sunset and entry is free except where listed. Within the fortified Citadel in the city center lie the remains of royal structures, including Anand Mahal (Pleasure Palace), and Saat Manzil. Outside Saat Manzil is beautiful Jal Mandir, or water pavilion, now dry, so you can admire its carvings and porticos. Not far away (near the tourist office) is incomplete Bara Kaman ("12 Arches"), the roofless tomb of Ali Adil Shah II -- a wonderful piece of architecture comprising 12 arches -- surrounded by a garden.

Outside the Citadel's walls, near the edge of the city, is Ibrahim Rouza, the gorgeously proportioned and heavily decorated mausoleum of Ibrahim Adil Shah II and his wife, Taj Sultana (admission Rs 90; daily 6am-6pm; leave shoes outside). Ignore the garbage dump near the entrance and admire what is considered the most beautiful Muslim structure in the Deccan, featuring richly engraved walls and inscribed ornamental stone windows. Move on to Gol Gumbaz, the world's second-largest dome (after St. Peter's in Rome), atop the mausoleum of 17th-century sultan Muhammad Adil Shah (Mahatma Gandhi Rd.; admission Rs 220, video cameras Rs 2,200; leave shoes outside; daily 6am-6pm). Renowned for its remarkable engineering and stereophonic acoustics, the Gol Gumbaz can get noisy as visitors test the echo effect created by the massive dome -- multiple distinct echoes are said to be produced for each sound uttered in the whispering gallery upstairs. Most visitors don't bother to whisper, however, which may leave you with an experience akin to an auditory hallucination. As is the case with the Taj, try to arrive as soon as the gates open for the most atmospheric visit. It's worth scaling the 115 steps to reach the dome's terrace for the excellent views of the formal gardens and tombs.

Jami Masjid (free admission; daily 6am-6pm), close to Gol Gumbaz, is the city's other major attraction. Also incomplete, this is the largest mosque in the region, dating back to A.D. 1576, when Ali Adil Shah I reigned. Consisting of a large dome and gorgeous white arcaded bays, this impressive mosque is spread over some 10,000 sq. m (107,639 sq. ft.).

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.