That's Karnataka for you-high on heritage and nestled in nature, India's silicon valley but cradle of temple architecture, traditional and hip. Cool for both adventure buffs and revelers in the past.

In a national rich with heritage, Karnataka is richer still. A profusion of monuments dot the landscape of this southern state, India's eighth largest. The state has it all-cool hills, lush forest, rich wildlife, vibrant culture, lordly heritage and, if all this wasn't enough, an unspoilt coastline.


Karnataka's capital, Bangalore-India's fifth largest city-is a town of contrasts. Easily India's most happening metro city, its origins are old- Kempegowda, a feudal lord who served the ruler of the Vijayanagar empire, founded it in 1537. Air-conditioned City, city of Gardens, India's Silicon Valley, Pub City-many are the flattering names it is known by. The weather is balmy-Bangalore is set at an elevation of 3250 feet. Lalbagh Garden and Cubbon Park are two nice parks you must visit. Vidhan Soudha, the state legislature building, is impressive.

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The heritage destinations of Karnataka are a window to the state's rich past. Frozen in time, every monument tells the saga of kings, kingdoms, customs and cultures of yore. There are world heritage sites, namely, Hampi and Pattadakal, exquisite temple at Belur, Halebid and Somnathpur, cave temples at Badami and Aihole and stately forts, domes and minarets at Bijapur.

Hampi is best experienced on a leisurely stroll through its eloquent ruins. HAmpi was once the capital of the Vijayanagar empire and remnants of once opulent palaces, temples, pavilions and imposing fortifications still occupy the dramatic boulder-strewn landscape here. Key monuments include the Virupaksha Temple, Ugranarasimha statue, Lotus Mahal and Hemkuta hill with its breathtaking rock formations.

Set on a riverbank in Belur, the star shaped Chennakesava Temple, with its filigreed pillars and sculptures is bound to astound you. Just 17 kilometers from Belur is Halebid, the ancient capital of the Hoysalas and home to the spectacular Hoysaleshwara Temple complex.

From the evergreen forest of the Western Ghats to scrub jungle in the plains, Karnataka boats a variety of habitat where diverse flora and fauna thrive.

The Bandipur Wildlife Sanctury, in the high ranges of Karnataka, was once the private hunting ground of the Maharaja of Mysore. Today it is home to rich wildlife, predominated by elephants. Lucky visitors will also see the tiger. Nagarhole National Park draws its name from the winding course of the 'snake river' -Nagarhole-that flow through it. Beside elephants, you can sight gaur, barking deer, wild dogs, bonnet macaques and the elusive big cats. The Kabini River Lodge here-a world-class wildlife resort on the banks of the Kabini river-promises an idyllic tryst with nature. Other notable sanctuary includes Ranganathittu Bird Sanctuary, Bannerghatta National Park, Dandeli Wildlife Sanctuary and Kokkrebellur Pelicanry.

The jagged coastline, the long stretch of the Western Ghats range, incredible craggy formations and rivers and the sea all ensure that Karnataka is a haven for adventure buffs. Experience whitewater rafting on the Kali River near Dandeli. Honnemaradu in the Western Ghats is a haven for water sports. The craggy wilderness around Ramnagar, 50 kilometers from Bangalore, is a climber's paradise.

Studded with aromatic sandalwood forests, coffee and spice plantations, trekking trails, waterfalls and wildlife, the hill stations of Karnataka have their own unique charm. Madikeri is the capital of picturesque Coorg (Kodagu), the land of coffee, cardamom, colonels and the Cauvery. Sights include Madikeri Fort and Omkareshwara Temple. Coorgis are legendary cooks as well, and their pandhi curry, a pork delicacy, is to die for. Other lovely hill stops include Kemmangundi, Kudremukh, Nandi hills and BR hills. Karnataka has many beautiful waterfalls too.

The 320-kilometre-long coastline of Karnataka is dotted with unspoilt beaches and ancient temples. Many are unfrequented, and this is their charm. Not to be missed are beaches at Karwar, Gokarna, Ullal, Marawanthe, Maple, Murudeshwar and Kaup.

Karnataka has a rich and vibrant culture, manifested in a variety of art form. Most impressive perhaps is the Yakshagana, an elaborate dance drama popular in the coastal belt. The ancient art of leather puppetry-togalu bombeaata- draws heavily on mythology. Bhootha aradhana or devil worship is common in coastal towns. Classical dance like Bharatanatyam, Kuchipudi and Kathak are also performed in Karnataka.

Karnataka is famed for its shrines. Popular pilgrimage towns include Gokarna, Shringeri and Udupi. A 135-kilometre drive from Bangalore brings one to Shravanabelagola, a prominent jain pilgrimage. The chief attraction is the 58-foot-high statue of Lord Gomateswara, the largest monolithic statue in Asia. Every 12 year the Jains gather here to participate in the colourful Mahamastakabhisheka or head-anointing ceremony of the Lord.

You can't leave Karnataka without a spot of shopping. Mysore's silks are legendary. Karnataka is the home of sandalwood and the aromatic wood is fashioned into thousand of interesting products-choose from beads and pendants, carved tables, screens, dinner gongs and every bookmark. The traditional Mysore painting with their bright vegetable-dye colors and lustrous gold leaves are a connoisseur's delight. So take a little piece of Karnataka back with you.

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