When you are looking for Places to visit in India and want to go a path that is relatively less travelled but still rich in Culture and Heritage then this Itinerary would tick all the boxes for you.
This Itinerary begins in Kochi, passes through Tamil Nadu and then takes you to some interesting places in Karnataka, some which are familiar and some which may not be very familiar simply because they don’t make it to most of the Itineraries.
This journey showcases some of the most exquisite ancient Hindu Temple architecture which has no parallel anywhere else. If you are looking for off the beaten track places which showcase the Culture, are historically important and of significance this is one of the top itineraries to follow.
Your Journey would begin in Kochi, Called the “Queen of the Arabian Sea”, Kochi was an important spice trading centre on the west coast of India from the 14th century onward, and maintained a trade network with Arab merchants from the pre-Islamic era.
In 1505, the Portuguese established trading ports in Cochin. There are still buildings like the Old Harbour House from this period, some of which have been renovated in more recent times. The Kingdom of Cochin allied with the Ming Dynasty, Portuguese, and Dutch and became a princely state of the British.
With regards to your Sightseeing, I recommend staying here for 2 Nights as a lot of what you can do depends on what time your flight arrives. The main areas to cover in Kochi are mentioned below.
Cochin, which comprises of a cluster of islands and towns. Fort Cochin is believed to be the oldest European settlement in India, with the Portuguese flag first hoisted here in 1500. St Francis Church, built in 1510 by friars brought to India by Vasco da Gama, is the first European church built in India and is the site where da Gama was buried.
The “Dutch Palace” was built in the 1550s by the Portuguese and taken over by the Dutch, who later presented it to the Rajas of Cochin. The palace contains excellent mythological murals and a rare example of traditional Keralite flooring.
The Chinese fishing nets are used for a very unique and unusual method of fishing. Operated from the shore, these nets are set up on bamboo and teak poles and held horizontally by huge mechanisms, which lower them into the sea. They look somewhat like hammocks and are counter-weighed by large stones tied to ropes.
You should plan time to wander around Mattancherri or Jew Town. Jew Street is full of antique shops selling genuine and pseudo objects d’art. The Jewish Synagogue (CLOSED ON FRIDAYS AND SATURDAYS) was built in 1568 and considerably embellished in the mid 18th century. It contains Grand Scroll of the Old Testament and the copper plates giving privileges to the Jew settlers by the rulers of Kochi.
In the evening plan to witness a Kathakali dance performance. This is the most developed dance drama art of India. Drums beckon an audience to a performance most magnificent – actors depict characters from the Puranas and the Mahabharata, the great Indian epics – demons, superhuman beings and ordinary men and women. The dancers, all male, adorn themselves in huge skirts and elaborate head-dress, wearing what must surely be the most intricate make up known to any dance style in the world. Dialogue is combined with dance to bring myth and legend to life in the temple courtyards of Kerala.
Kochi would be an excellent introduction to this Journey.
Most Itineraries you look at online usually focus on key destinations in Kerala however there is more to see here and it would really add on to your experience and take it from Good to WOW.
One such experience to add is to visit a Festival in Kerala. Festivals happen around the year and it is always good to check where a festival is happening and how you can be a part of it while planning an Itinerary. You would be surprised how many festivals happen in Kerala and this would add to your Kerala experience.
If you have found a Festival chances are that this could be in Thrissur or Pallakad District both of which are to the North of Kochi. Your Journey would be going to Ooty from Kochi so Thrissur and Pallakad are on the way and the Journey can easily be broken for a night here.
Next stop on your Journey should be Ooty, at an altitude of 2,240 metres (7,350 feet) above sea level, It is situated in the Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve. Many of the forested areas and water bodies are off-limits to most visitors in order to protect this fragile ecosystem. Some areas of the Biosphere Reserve have been earmarked for tourism development, and steps are being undertaken to open these areas to visitors whilst conserving the area.
Ooty was originally a tribal land occupied by the Tamil, Toda, Kota, Irula and Kurumba. The Toda in Nilgiris are first referenced in a record belonging to Hoysala king Vishnuvardhana and his general Punisa, dated 1117 CE. The Toda people were known for raising water buffalos and for farming activities.
The area of Ooty came under the rule of the East India Company at the end of the 18th century, as a Hill Station. Being in the Western Ghats, these Hills were optimum for growing Tea, as a result you will see many Tea Plantations. The economy is based on tourism and agriculture, along with the manufacture of medicines. The town is connected by the Nilgiri ghat roads and Nilgiri Mountain Railway.
Since The British took this region over, Railway tracks were laid down to transport Goods during the summer months. The Ootacamund Club was built and it was at this club that the game of Snooker originated on the billiard tables, invented by an army officer Neville Francis Fitzgerald Chamberlain.
There was also a cricket ground with regular matches played between teams from the Army, the Indian Civil Service and the business sector. Visiting teams would come from various parts of India as well as from the island of Ceylon.
Ooty is steeped in History and offers glimpses of its glorious past during the stay here. It is best to spend 2 nights here and explore the various sights including the Nilgiri Mountain Railway.
From Ooty your Journey would proceed to Mysuru / Mysore. Mysuru is one of South India’s most enchanting cities, famed for its glittering royal heritage and magnificent monuments and buildings. The World Heritage–listed palace is what brings most travellers to this city, but Mysuru is also rich in History and tradition, the city served as the Capital of the State of Mysore between 1399 and 1956.
I recommend spending 2 nights here, the first day post arrival from Ooty should be used to relax and maybe visit the Chamundeshwari Temple atop the Chamundi Hills. The view from the temple is stunning, as you can see many significant structures of the city including the Lalitha Mahal Palace.
The second day start with a visit to the Chennakesava temple in the town of Somanathapura. Built in the year 1258 it is the finest and most exemplary monument of Hoysala architecture. This Hindu Temple is dedicated to might and beauty of Lord Krishna (Chenna means Beautiful and Kesava is one of many names of Krishna).
Next visit the Mysore Palace, which happens to be the 2nd most visited tourist attraction in India, the first being the Taj Mahal. The former residence of the royal family of Mysore, the Mysore Palace is an extremely breath-taking example of the Indo-Saracenic style of architecture. The Mysore Palace has a rich history to it.
It was used by the royal Wadiyar family of Mysore from 1350 to 1950, for almost 600 years as their residence. During its lifetime, the palace had been built and rebuilt many times. In 1897, the then ruler of Mysore, Krishna Rajendra Wadiyar IV, ordered the restoration and reconstruction of the palace after a wooden palace was destroyed by fire at a wedding ceremony. Lord Henry Irwin, the British architect, was commissioned to replace the older palace which had gotten burnt during a fire in 1897.
This evening can be best used to explore the local bazaars and markets.
Next day takes you first to Sravanbelagola, whose Gommateshwara Bahubali statue is one of the most important tirthas (pilgrimage destinations) in Jainism.
The 58-feet tall monolithic statue of Gommateshwara is located on Vindyagiri Hill and is considered to be the world’s largest monolithic statue. The base of the statue has an inscriptions in Prakrit, dating from 981 AD. The inscription praises the king who funded the effort and his general, Chavundaraya, who erected the statue for his mother.
Every twelve years, thousands of devotees congregate here to perform the Mahamastakabhisheka, a spectacular ceremony in which the statue is anointed with Water, Turmeric, Rice flour, Sugar cane juice, Sandalwood paste, saffron, and gold and silver flowers. Recently
Mahamastakabhisheka was held in 2018 during feb month. The next Mahamastakabhisheka will be held in 2030.
Visit to Sravanbelagola requires climbing up to the top of the Mountain.
From Sravanbelagola continue on to view some of the finest examples of Hoysala Architecture. First Stop is Halebidu, Historically known as Dorasamudra or Dwarasamudra, Halebidu became the regal capital of the Hoysala Empire in the 11th century CE.
The city was damaged and deserted after being ransacked and looted twice by the forces of the Delhi Sultanate in the 14th century.
Halebidu is home to some of the best examples of Hindu and Jain temples with Hoysala architecture. These show the breadth of Hindu artwork traditions – Shiva, Vishnu, Devi and Vedic deities – fused into the same temple complex, depicted with a diversity of regional heritages, along with inscriptions in scripts from South and North India.
The Hindu temples include Jain reliefs in its panel. Similarly, the Jain artwork includes the different Tirthankara as well as a Saraswati within its mandapa. Most notable among the Halebidu monuments are the ornate Hoysalesvara temple, Kedareshwara temple, Jaina Basadi temples, as well as the Hulikere step well (kalyani).
These sites are within a kilometer of each other. The Hoysaleshwara Temple remains the only surviving monument in Halebidu
From here a short distance away is Belur, renowned for its Chennakeshava Temple dedicated to Vishnu, another great example of Hoysala architecture and the largest Hindu temple complex that has survived from pre-14th-century Karnata-Dravida tradition.
A historic site inspired by the teachings of Ramanujacharya, it has been a Vaishnava Hindu pilgrimage center since at least the 12th-century. It was also the first capital of the Hoysala dynasty, before they built Dorasamudra or Halebidu that you would have just visited.
The last Stop for the day is Chikkmagaluru, known for its serene environment, lush green forests and tall mountains. It is also famous for the coffee and is often referred to as the coffee land of Karnataka. The destination serves as a night halt for you and allows you to explore the coffee Plantations if time permits.
If Belur and Halebid were impressive then what awaits you is really spectacular. Located around 5 hours north of Chikkmagalur is the UNESCO world heritage site of Hampi. Hampi was a fortified city and served as the capital of the Vijayanagara Empire in the 14th century.
Chronicles left by Persian and European travellers, particularly the Portuguese, say that Hampi was a prosperous, wealthy and grand city near the Tungabhadra River, with numerous temples, farms and trading markets.
By 1500 CE, Hampi-Vijayanagara was the world’s second-largest medieval-era city after Beijing, and probably India’s richest at that time, attracting traders from Persia and Portugal. In 1565 owing to its immense wealth the city was attacked, conquered, pillaged and destroyed by the Delhi Sultanate armies after which Hampi remained in ruins.
Hampi is located in hilly terrain formed by granite boulders. The Hampi monuments comprising the UNESCO world heritage site are a subset of the wider-spread Vijayanagara ruins. Almost all of the monuments were built between 1336 and 1565 CE during the Vijayanagara rule. The site has about 1,600 monuments and covers 41.5 square kilometres (16.0 sq mi) of area.
Most of the monuments are Hindu; the temples and the public infrastructure such as tanks and markets include reliefs and artwork depicting Hindu deities and themes from Hindu texts. Apart from the Hindu Temples there are also six Jain temples and monuments and a Muslim mosque and tomb.
The dominant style of architecture Dravidian, with roots in the developments in Hindu arts and architecture in the second half of the 1st millennium in the Deccan region and the local stone which is found in abundance has been used for construction.
One can also see elements of the arts that developed during the Hoysala Empire rule in the south between the 11th and 14th century such as in the pillars of Ramachandra temple and ceilings of some of the Virupaksha temple complex. The architects also adopted an Indo-Islamic style in a few monuments, such as the Queen’s bath and Elephant stables, which UNESCO says reflects a “highly evolved multi-religious and multi-ethnic society”.
2 Nights are definitely recommended here since It is a group of monuments. The Main sites that one should plan to visit are
Virupaksha temple and market complex, Krishna temple, market, Narasimha and linga, Achyutaraya temple and market complex, Vitthala temple and market complex, Water infrastructure also known as Queens Bath and the Elephant Stables and enclosure.
From Hampi we move to an equally impressive buildings of Badami, Pattadakal and Aihole. Which are also Unesco World Heritage Sites.
The city of Badami formerly known as Vatapi, was the capital of one of the greatest and most enduring dynasties in Southern India – the Chalukyas. There were three branches of the Chalukyas, the first of them being the ‘Badami Chalukyas’, who reigned from here from 543-753 CE. The valleys of the Mallaprabha (where Badami lies) and the Ghataprabha (both tributaries of the Krishna River) formed the very fertile heart of the farm-based economy of this early empire. Nestled in an imposing ravine that cuts through the heart of the sandstone landscape by the Mallaprabha, the site is graced by 4 beautiful rock-cut temples that are remnants of a bygone era.
Four rock-cut caves are adorned with ancient carved pillars and bracket figures cut out of red sandstone. The four Cave temples are dedicated to various Indian deities and there also exists a fifth cave which is revered as a Buddhist temple. The first cave abounds with carving of Lord Shiva along with a frieze of his attendants, the Ganas. The ceiling is replete with murals of couples depicted in amorous positions which are still remarkably preserved in spite of the passage of time. There is an exquisitely carved relief of Shiva and Parvati along with several others, with an 18 armed Nataraja taking prominence over the others.
The second cave is dedicated to Lord Vishnu , portrayed as Trivikarma depicted in his Divine Avatar standing with one foot on Earth and the other directed northward. Vishnu is also represented here as Varaha (Boar) and Krishna Avatars.
Cave three is by far the largest among the lot with inscriptions etched all over the interiors. The ceilings of this humongous cave abound with magnificent paintings and a brilliant mural of Lord Brahma seated on a swan. On the floor below, is a Lotus medallion where offerings are laid. Several reliefs of Lord Vishnu depicted in various positions also proliferate in this huge cave.
The fourth cave is located higher than the other caves and dedicated to the Jain faith. The cave contains an elaborate carving of Thirthankara Parshavnatha with a serpent at his feet. It also contains a sculpture of the Jain Saint Mahavira in a seated pose and a standing Gomatesvara depicted in a serene posture with creepers twisted around his legs.
The caves overlook the Agastya Theertha Lake, its banks dotted with a group of Bhutanatha Temples. Dedicated to Shiva’s form as the god of souls, spirits and ghosts, the Bhutanatha Temple dates back to the 7th century with the outer mantapa added in 11th century during the late Kalyani Chalukyan age.
Not far from Badami are Pattadakal and Aihole. UNESCO has described Pattadakal as “a harmonious blend of architectural forms from northern and southern India” and an illustration of “eclectic art” at its height. The Hindu temples are generally dedicated to Shiva, but elements of Vaishnavism and Shaktism theology and legends are also featured.
The friezes in the Hindu temples display various Vedic and Puranic concepts, depict stories from the Ramayana, the Mahabharata, the Bhagavata Purana, as well as elements of other Hindu texts, such as the Panchatantra and the Kirātārjunīya.
The Jain temple is only dedicated to a single Jina. The most sophisticated temples, with complex friezes and a fusion of Northern and Southern styles, are found in the Papanatha and Virupaksha temples. The Virupaksha temple is an active house of Hindu worship.
The Pattadakal monuments reflect a fusion of two major Indian architectural styles, one from north India and the other from south India (Dravida-Vimana). Four temples were built in the Chalukya Dravida style, four in the Nagara style of Northern India, while the Papanatha temple is a fusion of the two.
Aihole located a short drive away is a historic site of ancient and medieval era Buddhist, Hindu and Jain monuments that dates from the sixth century through the twelfth century CE. Most of the surviving monuments at the site date from the 7th to 10th centuries. Located around an eponymous small village surrounded by farmlands and sandstone hills, Aihole is a major archaeological site featuring over one hundred and twenty stone and cave temples spread along the Malaprabha river valley.
Aihole was an early medieval era meeting place and a cradle for experimentation of Hindu arts, particularly temple architecture. The regional artisans and architects of Aihole region created prototypes of 16 types of free-standing temples and 4 types of rock-cut shrines to express in stone the theology of Hinduism. Though there is a sprinkling of Jaina monuments in Aihole, the temples and relief artworks are predominantly Hindu.
You would need 1 night stop here which would be best booked in Badami.
From Badami, you should have a pretty much straight drive over to Goa which is between 6 to 7 hours drive depending upon where you your Hotel would be located. You could spend a few nights here enjoying the Beaches or Food or partying in Goa or you could deaprt from here for your next destination.
Leverage my 3 decades plus of expeience as a Traveller and let me help you craft the perfect Itinerary for your Trip. This would be made in Consultation with you and would help you maximise your time in India.
If after that you wish to have it booked, I would get it booked for you locally which would
A) give you a Huge price advantage 15-20% cheaper than what you would pay in your Country.
B) You will benefit from last minute upgrade deals that are made available locally.
If you are searching for best Places to visit in India and have zeroed in on North India and the area of Interest is Culture