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Why the hell had I not come here earlier? That’s the thought that came to me when I saw the Agasthya Lake, shimmering in the evening sun and circled on three sides by burnt red hills. The rays illuminated the ancient Bhutanatha temple and covered everyone in a golden glow. At the banks of the lake, children played, men chatted and women washed utensils, in a ritual that must have repeated every sunset since the 7th century. And that day, just for a while, I was part of this age-old scene.

We had left Pune at dawn, and driven through Satara and Kolhapur to reach Badami by late noon. The evening was spent exploring the Bhutanatha and Malikarjuna group of temples clustered around the eastern and north-eastern sides of the lake. We spent the night at the Clarks Inn. I ate dinner at a nearby canteen, gorging down dried jowar rotis, dal and some incredibly spicy chutneys. But then I am an intrepid foodie. My husband took the safer option and ordered room service. The next day, Just before dawn, we went back to explore cave temples that are carved into the southern flank and Badami fort built on the north-western side of the lake.

The Badami temples, comprising Hindu and Jain temples, are stunning examples of rock-cut architecture, dating back to the 6th century.

The Badami Fort, also from the 6th century, was the residence of the Chalukyan rulers. Its entrance is through massive rock walls and the monuments are strewn all over the sandstone hill. Some of the monuments are accessible only through narrow crevices and others are a long climb to the top. Sitting on the high boulders, looking at the winking waters of the lake and the cool breeze on our faces, a feeling of deep contentment…

View from the southern Badami cave temples. To the west is the city edging in

We would have loved more time at the Fort but had to leave for the two architectural marvels close by – Pattadakal and Aihole.

Skyline at Pattadakal
Iconic Durga temple at Aihole

These two sites are barely 10 kms. apart and together with Badami form the cradle of Hindu temple architecture, built by the mighty Chalukyan dynasty. Aihole especially was like an open-air school for architects from all over to come and experiment. What they created has now become a veritable museum of architectural styles from North and South India and which, from 1400 years earlier, have inspired temple structures all across India.

Why do these magnificent gems get overlooked by tourists? Maybe it gets overshadowed by Hampi? Maybe it is off the beaten path? But this UNESCO World Heritage site is an absolute must do. So, to help you put this on your list, here are the distances from more visited places

  • Goa: 238 kms
  • Pune: 446 kms
  • Belgaum: 146 kms
  • Kolhapur: 227 kms
  • Hampi: 140 kms