3 Offbeat Temples in Karnataka
India is alive with different faiths and full of fascinating history so a visit to India is not complete without visiting some historic temples and combining the two.
Karnataka is really an underrated state with a lot to offer including many interesting temples. The most famous temples at Hampi are magical, beguiling and bewitching – a real must see but they are too far to be visited in a day trip from Bangalore.
But the Hoysala temples of Belur and Halebid – South India’s answer to amazing Khajuraho and interesting Shravanabelagola offer a great off beat adventure where you are unlikely to see any other foreign tourists and can be visited in a day trip from Bangalore or Mysore.
There is no direct bus to these sites from Bangalore but the Karnataka Tourism Office runs a day tour that visits the ancient temples at Belur, Halebid and Shravanabelagola. So, with some other Leave Ur Mark volunteers, we found ourselves the only foreigners on a bus full of Indian pilgrims for an unforgettable and surprising day out!
These Hoysala temples at Belur are almost 1000 years old and are the apex of one of ancient India’s most artistically, architecturally and culturally exuberant periods. India used to be a series of kingdoms that were often at war with each other and the Channakeshava Temple, built in 1116 at Belur to commemorate to Hoysala’s victory over the neighbouring Cholas, has not been sculpted to completion.
However, Belur is interesting as it is the only one of these temples still currently in use so visitors must remove their shoes but can get a feel for the religious fervour at these revered ancient temples.
Take time to enjoy the atmosphere at this religious site, admire the colourful paintings on the floor, and make sure to wander around the whole temple to take in the exquisite detail or the sculptures that bring ancient Indian history to life. Look up at the towering Gopura and admire the carvings inside the temple including an incredibly carved pillar.
Belur and Halebid are only a short trundle through the beautiful, green South Indian countryside passing palm trees, small, dusty villages and brightly coloured painted houses that barely seem touched by 21st century life.
The main attraction at Halebid is the Hoysaleswara Temple. Building was started in 1121, and took 190 years, but was never completed. The detail on the walls features large carvings of deities in amazingly intricate and incredible detail along with freezes of everyday life.
Inside the temple, the inner sanctum is beautifully sculpted out of dark smooth black stone. Outside sit two huge statues of Nandi (Shiva’s bull) and Indian families and pilgrims picnicking in the grounds or just relaxing on the grass.
The most surprising stop of the day was Shravanabelagola. The bus disgorged us in a cute village beside a square pond where we were told to leave our shoes at the bottom of a huge, smooth rock and proceed to climb barefoot over 600 steps up the Vindhyagiri Hill. We passed through several temples until we reached the top panting, sweating and with our feet and legs aching from the steep barefoot climb. Once at the top our efforts were greeted with a huge stone penis of a naked man!
This 17.5 m high towering naked statue is of a Jain deity known as the Gomateshvara Statue – the largest monolithic statue in Asia. I circled the temple complex taking in numerous other smaller statues and then along with excited Indian pilgrims received a blessing in front of this towering naked statue for which I was expected to give a donation, flowers, blessed food or fruit in return.
The simplicity of this statue is in stark contrast to the exuberant and elaborate detail of the temples at Belur and Halebid and impressively was carved from a single piece of granite in AD 981. The stunning views back down over the village and the beautiful boulder strewn Karnataka countryside relived the pain in my feet!
I visited the temples on a day trip from Bangalore where I’ve been volunteering with a local social enterprise Leave Ur Mark who organise meaningful internship and volunteer experiences in India. They aim to provide benefits to both your career development as well as positive community growth through local initiatives. You can see more about a typical day in my life as a volunteer in India .
2015 Update: goMowgli – India’s first hop on hop off backpacker bus run day tours and bespoke tours to Belur, Halebid and Shravanbelagola among other off beat destinations in Karnataka. Check out Hoysala Temple Trails.