The Deccan Plateau
Trip Code: AITBDP
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A broad sweep through central south India, this trip features several of the country’s most remarkable yet rarely visited historical monuments.
Starting in Hyderabad and finishing in Bangalore, this itinerary covers a wide swath of central south India known as the Deccan Plateau. The region is criss-crossed by numerous historical territorial boundaries between Muslim invaders from the north and Hindu empires from the south, leading to what is today a fascinating and remarkably rich patchwork of historical monuments of varied provenance. The region’s hitherto poor infrastructure has kept visitors away; however with roads improving and attention increasingly being paid to India’s less renowned – though no less significant – ‘secondary’ historical sites, interest and visitors numbers are sure to increase. [Image: Sydzo].
Day 1 Hyderabad
Arrive in Hyderabad, where you will be met and transferred to your hotel. Hyderabad, comprising of the twin cities of Hyderabad and Secunderabad, it is the capital of the state of Andhra Pradesh. It is south-central India’s counterpart to the Mughal splendours of the northern cities of Delhi and Agra. Historically known as a pearl and diamond trading centre, it continues to be known as the ‘City of Pearls’.
Founded in 1590 by Muhammad Quli Qutb Shah, Hyderabad remained under the rule of the Qutb Shahi dynasty for almost a century before the Mughals captured the region. In 1724, Mughal viceroy Asif Jah I declared his sovereignty and created his own dynasty, also known as the Nizams of Hyderabad. The Qutb Shahis and Nizams were great patrons of art and literature and established the city as a cultural hub.
With the decline of the Mughal Empire in Delhi in 1857, Hyderabad emerged as the foremost centre of culture in India with artists migrating to the city from the rest of the Indian subcontinent. This migration resulted in a mingling of North and South Indian languages, cultures and religions, which has since led to a co-existence of Hindu and Muslim traditions, for which the city has become noted. [Image: Ravikiran Rao].
Day 2 Hyderabad
Begin your exploration of Hyderabad today with visits to Golconda Fort, Charminar, Laad Bazaar and Salar Jung Museum.
Before founding Hyderabad, the Qutb Shahi Kings ruled from the massive fortress city of Golconda that rises 122 metres above the plain 11 kilometres to the west. Built of blocks of local granite weighing more than a ton each, the fort comprises 87 semicircular bastions or burj, some still with their armaments, eight gates, a citadel and numerous mosques, tombs and pavilions. Unfortunately, many of these structures have suffered a great deal from past sieges and the ravages of time. The remains of the royal palaces are perhaps the most interesting ruins – some are 2 or 3 storeys high and once featured gardens with fountains, Turkish baths and mirror-tiled dressing rooms. Enough remains to give a good impression of the fort’s original splendour.
The famed Charminar, one of Hyderabad’s landmarks, is situated in the heart of the walled city and lined by lively bazaars. Built in 1591, it is a monument comprising four grand arches and four 54 metre high minarets; the city’s oldest mosque is located on its top floor.
From Charminar you’ll take a walking tour of the centuries old Laad Bazaar; its bustling streets and narrow alleys are the traditional centre for bridal accessories and it is particularly famous for bangles, bidri ware (metal decorative objects ornamented with inly work) and pearls. This is quintessential Hyderabad.
End your day with a visit to the Salar Jung Museum. The third largest museum in India, it houses the eclectic collections (over 40,000 objects) that once belonged to Salarjung III, Prime Minister of Hyderabad between 1899 and 1949. Its collections include antiques, rare art treasures and gems as well as miniature paintings. [Image: Sanyam Bahga].
Day 3 Gulbarga
Today is a six-hour drive to Gulbarga – taking in the medieval city of Bidar on the way. This small town was the capital of the Bahmani Kingdom from 1428, and later the capital of the Barid Shahi dynasty.
The old walled town contains a number of mosques, havelis and khanqahs (monastery-like complexes set up by the Muslim rulers for cleric-mystics and their disciples). The most outstanding of these is Mahmud Gawan’s Madrasa; although now little more than a shell, its elegant arched façade retains large areas of the vibrant glazed tile-work that once covered most of its exterior.
Bidar Fort, constructed on the edge of a plateau and surrounded by a triple moat, contains assembly halls, baths, zenanas and exquisite palaces, the most notable being the Rangin Mahal (‘Coloured Palace’); its interior features some of the finest surviving Islamic art in the Deccan.
Also worth visiting are the Bahmani tombs with their bulbous white domes, coloured glazed tiles and the Badri Shahi tombs decorated with Persian inscriptions.
After a tour of Bidar continue on to Gulbarga, arriving in the early evening. [Image: Madhavi Kuram].
Day 4 Gulbarga
Explore the town of Gulbarga today. A Hindu city before the Muslim conquest, Gulbarga is a unique synthesis of two cultures. Bahman Shah chose this city as his capital in 1347 and filled it with beautiful palaces, mosques, stately buildings and bazaars. The later rulers added to Bahman Shah’s vision and Gulbarga blossomed. However, in 1428, the Bahmani capital was shifted to Bidar and Gulbarga lost its importance.
Gulbarga’s medieval fort contains a number of interesting buildings including the Jama Masjid, reputed to have been built by a Moorish architect during the late 14th or early 15th century, who imitated the great mosque in Cordoba, Spain. The mosque is unique in India, with a huge dome covering the whole area and four smaller ones at the corners.
Gulbarga also has a number of imposing tombs of Bahmani kings and two shrines, one to an important Muslim saint Khwaja Syed Mohammed Gesu and the other to Saint Sharana Basaveshwara, an eminent Hindu teacher and philosopher who preached religious and social equality. [Image: Zaheer 031].
Day 5 Bijapur
Today begins with a 3.5-hour drive to the stunning medieval town of Bijapur, the ‘Agra of South India’. The foundation of this historic city was laid during the reign of the Chalukayan Dynasty of Kalyani between 10th and 11th centuries. It experienced a great burst of architectural activity under the Adi Shahi Dynasty and is today full of ruined and still intact gems of 15th to 17th century Muslim architecture – mosques, mausoleums, palaces and fortifications. It is a pleasant garden town, still strongly Muslim in character.
Like Agra, Bijapur has its world famous mausoleum, Golgumbaz (‘Round Dome’), the tomb of Mohammed Adil Shah (1627-56), the seventh ruler of this dynasty. Set in the middle of a formal garden, this enormous structure, with its vast hemispherical dome, is said to be the second largest in the world (after St Peter’s in Rome); conceived on a massive scale, it dominates the landscape.
In complete contrast to Golgumbaz, which impresses by its scale, is the Ibrahim Rauza Mausoleum, the tomb of Ibrahim Adil Shah (1580-1626); a small, finely proportioned and graceful complex it features elaborate Koranic inscriptions and beautiful stonework.
Other notable sights here include the Jami Masjid, regarded as one of the finest mosques in India and the Mithri Mahal, a lovely three-storey structure featuring ornate projecting windows and minarets. [Image: Ashwatham].
Day 6 Badami
After breakfast begin a 2.5-hour drive to Badami, the capital of the early Chalukyas who ruled much of central Deccan between the 4th and 8th centuries. It is situated at the mouth of a ravine between two rocky hills. Here, and at nearby Pattadakal and Aihole, can be seen some of the earliest and finest examples of Dravidian temples and rock-cut caves that provided inspiration for the later Hindu empires.
Badami is famous for its exquisite 6th century Hindu and Jain Cave Temples that overlook Bhuthanath Lake. Of the four temples, two are dedicated to Lord Vishnu, one to Lord Shiva and the other is a Jain temple. Among the most spectacular sculptures that Badami temples offer is the well-known 18-armed Lord Shiva that embodies 81 dance poses. Also of interest here is Malegitti-Shivalaya temple; perched on the northern hill it is built of stone, finely joined without mortar. [Image: Nithin Bolar K].
Day 7 Hampi
From Badami take a three-hour drive to Hampi, stopping en route to visit the stunning sites of Pattadakal and Aihole.
Pattadakal, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, was not only the second capital of the Chaulakyas, but it was also where coronations took place between the 7th and 8th centuries. There are many temples here, the most important being the Virupaksha temple. Its interior pillars are carved with scenes from the Ramayana and Mahabharata epics and it has Nandi hallways and sanctuaries housing black polished stone lingams.
Aihole has a number of beautiful examples of Hindu architecture dating from the Chaulukyan and the later Rashtrakuta periods (6th to 12th centuries), the largest and finest being the Durga Temple, which contains elaborate carvings and sculptural masterpieces. Other temples of note include the Ladkhan located in a small complex nearby, and the Kunti Group – a quartet of temples of open columned halls with interior sanctuaries.
Arrive at Hampi late in the afternoon and remainder of the day at leisure. Hampi is set in a strange and beautiful landscape – hill country strewn with enormous rounded boulders with the Tungabhadra River running through the centre. The juxtaposition of the ruins and the unique landscape is fascinating. [Image: Dineshkannambadi].
Day 8 Hampi
Spend the day exploring Hampi, the capital of the medieval kingdom of Vijayanagar. Having held a monopoly of trade in spices and cotton, the city was once incredibly rich, with a market full of jewels and palaces plated with gold. Today the ruins of the once great empire are strewn across a large area. It boasts of some exquisite examples of temple architecture of that period and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The area is still being excavated today, making you witness to the unveiling of history.
Visit the Virupaksha temple, where continuous worship has been conducted for over 500 years. Inside are a series of courtyards dotted with small shrines and pillared halls. The Vittala temple, a World Heritage Monument, is noted for its sculpted stone chariot and carved pillars, which, when struck, produce musical notes. Classic examples of the Vijayanagara style can also be seen in the Hazara Ram, Krishna and Achyut temples.
Monuments not to be missed here include the unforgettable Lotus Mahal, the Queen’s Bath and the Elephants’ stable. [Image: Dey Sandip].
Day 9 Hampi
Spend another day exploring all that Hampi has to offer. Only on your second day will you begin to fully appreciate the vast scale of the city. [Image: Agnihotram].
Day 10 Chikmagalur
Today involves a long drive of 7.5-hours to Chikmagalur. Located in the foothills of the Mullayanagiri Range, Chikmagalur is known for its coffee and its hill stations. On arrival check into your hotel and spend the rest of the day at leisure. [Image: Sherwin 1995].
Day 11 Chikmagalur
Take a full-day excursion to Belur and Halebid, capitals of the Hoysala Empire. Situated at the edge of the Western Ghats, the temples of these once powerful cities are often referred to as the ‘Jewel Boxes’ of Hoysala architecture.
The main attraction in Belur is the Channakeshava Temple. Perched on a distinctive star-shaped base, it was built by the Hoysala King Vishnuvardhana in 1117. Rising to a height of about 30 metres, it has a magnificent threshold or gopuram; its inner walls are adorned with sculptured stories from the Puranas, the Upanishads and the epics of Ramayana and Mahabharata. Channakeshava is a living temple where puju (prayer) is performed each day.
Halebid is home to some of the best examples of Hoysala architecture in the ornate Hoysaleswara and Kedareswara temples. The Hoysaleswara Temple was begun in 1121 by King Vishnuvardhana, but was never completed. It is remarkable for its wealth of sculptural details; its walls are covered with an endless variety of depictions from Hindu mythology, animals, birds and Shilabalikas or dancing figures. The exterior of the smaller Shiva temple, Kedareswara, is decorated with many fine images, including an unusual stone Krishna dancing on the serpent demon Kaliya. [Image: Pavithrah].
Day 12 Mysore
This morning you’ll be driven to Mysore (four hours), with a stop en route at Srirangpatnam.
The island fortress of Srirangpatnam was the summer capital of Haider Ali and his son Tipu Sultan, known as the ‘Tiger of Mysore’. Although largely destroyed by the British, parts of the fort area survive, including gates, ramparts, arsenals, dungeons and the Jami Masjid mosque. The beautifully preserved interiors of the former summer palace, the Daria Daulet Bagh, display ornamental arches, tiger-striped columns and floral decorations on teak walls and ceilings.
Mysore has a long history of eminent dynasties. Even today, it is one of the finest and best planned cities in southern India. Often called the ‘City of Palaces’, Mysore combines traditional grandeur with modernity. Its tree-lined boulevards, beautiful gardens, parks and stately palaces are a pleasure to explore. [Image: Roshan 381].
Day 13 Mysore
Spend today sightseeing. Visit Mysore Palace, formerly the residence of the Wodeyar family. Among its many attractions is a magnificent gold throne displayed during the Dussehra festival celebrations and a carved silver door. Its Kalyana Mandapa (Marriage Hall) has paintings that depict the royal times of the maharajas.
Later visit Somnathpur and Chamundi Hill. The star shaped temple at Somnathpur is a splendid example of Hoysala architecture. Up on a hill, overlooking the city, is the 2000-year-old temple of Chamundeshwari, its patron goddess.
Day 14 Bangalore
This morning drive three-hours to India’s ‘Garden City’, Bangalore; a pleasant metropolis, its avenues are lined with flowering cassia, gulmohar and jacaranda. A mix of the traditional and the modern, it has stately buildings, lively bazaars, silks and sandalwood, golf courses and pubs, historical monuments, bustling shopping centres and serene lakes and parks. Bangalore is also a major industrial and commercial centre, well known for its scientific and research institutions and its growing software industry gives it the reputation of being the Silicon Valley of India. Situated 1,000 metres above sea level, it has one of the best year-round climates in the country.
This afternoon take a tour of Bangalore, including visits to Tipu Sultan’s Palace, Amba Vilas Palace, the Botanical Gardens and drive past Vidhana Soudha.
Dating from about 1790, the 2-storeyed Tipu Sultan’s Palace is made mostly of timber with finely embellished balconies, pillars and arches. A summer retreat, Tipu Sultan referred to it as the ‘Envy of Heaven’, it now contains a fine collection of memorabilia.
The magnificent Amba Vilas Palace was built by the Wodeyar rulers of Mysore over a hundred years ago. The main block of this lavish Indo-Saracenic building with its domes, turrets, arches and colonnades was modelled on Windsor Castle. Its sumptuous interiors are richly decorated in gold and turquoise; its private Durbar Hall features a stained glass ceiling imported from Glasgow.
Spread over an area of 97 hectares, the Lal Bagh, laid out by Haider Ali in 1740, is regarded as one of the most richly diverse botanical gardens in South Asia. Its exquisite Glass House, constructed as a venue for horticultural shows, was modelled on London’s Crystal Palace
End your tour at the imposing Vidhana Soudha. Built in 1956 it houses the Secretariat and the State Legislature of Karnataka. Constructed of grey granite and porphyry, with Rajasthani jharokhas, Indo-Saracenic pillars and other decorative features, it exemplifies the neo-Dravidian style of post-independence Bangalore. [Image: Aiswarya G].
Day 15 Bangalore
This morning you will be collected from your hotel and taken to the airport for your flight to your onward destination.
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