The magnificent ruins of Hampi dot an unearthly landscape that has captivated travellers for centuries. Heaps of giant boulders perch precariously over kilometres of undulating terrain, their rusty hues offset by jade-green palm groves, banana plantations and paddy fields. While it’s possible to see this World Heritage Site in a day or two, plan on lingering for a while.
A regular nominee among travellers’ favourite beaches in India, Gokarna attracts a crowd for a low-key, chilled-out beach holiday and not for full-scale parties. Most accommodation is in thatched bamboo huts along the town's several stretches of blissful coast. In fact there are two Gokarnas.
Kodagu (Coorg) Region
Nestled amid evergreen hills that line the southernmost edge of Karnataka is the luscious Kodagu (Coorg) region, gifted with emerald landscapes and hectares of plantations. A major centre for coffee and spice production, this rural expanse is also home to the Kodava people, who are divided into 1000 clans.
Alternating between relaxed coastal town and hectic nightmare, Mangaluru (more commonly known as Mangalore) has a Jekyll-and-Hyde thing going, but it’s a useful gateway for the Konkan coast and the inland Kodagu region. While there’s not a lot to do here, it has an appealing off-the-beaten-path feel, and the spicy seafood dishes are sensational.
Despite being home to amazing ruins and monuments, Bidar, hidden away in Karnataka’s far-northeastern corner, gets very little tourist traffic. Drenched in Islamic Indian history, this old-walled town was first the capital of the Bahmani kingdom (1428–87) and later the capital of the Barid Shahi dynasty.
Once the capital of the mighty Chalukya empire, today Badami is famous for its magnificent rock-cut cave temples, and red-sandstone cliffs that resemble the American Wild West. The scenery is stunning, once you're away from the horrible, dusty, traffic-plagued main road that cuts through town.
Anegundi is an ancient fortified village that’s part of the Hampi World Heritage Site, but it predates Hampi by way of human habitation. The settlement has been spared the blight of commercialisation, and retains a delightfully rustic feel: the seasons dictate the cycle of change and craft traditions endure.
Steeped in bloody history, the fort town of Srirangapatna (Srirangapatnam), 16km from Mysuru (Mysore), is built on an island straddling the Cauvery River. The seat of Hyder Ali and Tipu Sultan’s power, this town was the de facto capital of much of southern India during the 18th century.
Atop the bare, rocky summit of Vindhyagiri Hill, the 17.5m-high statue of the Jain deity Gomateshvara (Bahubali) is visible long before you reach the pilgrimage town of Sravanabelagola (also spelt Shravanabelagola). Viewing the statue close up is the main reason for heading to this sedate town, whose name means ‘Monk of the White Pond'.