There is More to India than the Taj - SOUTH India

  • Article gives you details of monuments in Tamil Nadu and Karnataka that are architectural wonders for e.g. Big Temple Thanjavur, Mysore Palace, Badami Caves, and Belur Temples.  

When foreigners plan an India visit the Golden Triangle, consisting of Delhi, Agra and Jaipur, is high on the priority list. Within that the Taj Mahal is a must see. Even the honourable Supreme Court spends more time reviewing conservation measures for the Taj than on any other monument in the country.

From an architectural standpoint there are monuments across India that match if not exceed the Taj. 

An earlier article spoke about four must visit monuments in Gujarat and Maharashtra. They are Kailasa Temple Ellora and Ajanta Caves both in Maharashtra, Rani-ki-Vav Patan and Surya Mandir Modhera both in Gujarat.

This article is about monuments worth seeing in Tamil Nadu and Karnataka. These include the Big Temple Thanjavur, Palaces of Chettinad, Mysore Palace, Badami Caves, Belur Temples and Hampi.

Format of article is about place, how to reach and time to spend, name of guide and links to albums of places to see.

Vimana of Brihadesvara Mandir. Height 60.96 metres with 13 receding tiers. 

1 Brihadesvara Mandir Thanjavur, Tamil Nadu

This is amongst the most spectacular temples in India and a personal favourite. Construction started in 1003 completed 1010 and was to represent a MAHAMERU. This temple is called Dakshinameru meaning Kailash of South India.

The temple has a fort type wall with a moat all around it. It was made by Chola King Rajaraja I who ruled from 985 to 1014 A.D. Rajaraja I envisaged the temple as a place of worship, social institution, centre of learning and treasure house of arts and crafts.

The temple has Linga 3.66 metres, Courtyard 240 by 120 metres, Granite blocks used came from a distance of 50 kms. Height of Vimana is 60.96 metres, Stone Sikhara weighs 81 tons. Height of Vimana was achieved due to two tiered Bhuni wall.

First is Keralantakan gopuram. It was to celebrate Rajaraja 1 victory over Kerala king Bhaskar Ravi Varman. Gopuram 2 is called Rajarajan Tiruvassal after the Emperor himself


The names of the sthapathi (architect) of this temple are Viracholan kunjaramallan alais Raja Rajan, Nittavinoda Perundachchan and Kandaditiya Perundachchan.


As you walk into temple a huge NANDI greets you. Do see ceiling painting.


Complex has a small Ganesha temple built by the Maratha ruler of Thanjavur Sarabhoji at the end of the 18th century

All along the temple is a pillared corridor. On the northern and western side of the manadapa are mural paintings. Do see. Missed walking around external wall.


How to reach, where to stay and how much time to spend

The closest airport is Trichy 57 kms away. It is connected by train and bus to Trichy, Chennai (347kms) and Madurai (188 kms).

Guide: Selham Thanjavur is good 91 97512 15179. For hotels in Thanjavur see Tamil Nadu Tourism site Album links below.

1 Brihadesvara Mandir

2 Maratha Palace Thanjavur

3 Art Gallery Maratha Palace

60 kms away is Trichy

1 Srirangam Temple Trichy

2 Rock Fort Temple Trichy

3 Jambukeswarar Shiv Mandir Trichy

In another direction are Kumbakonam 40 kms and Gangaikondacholpuram 73 kms.

1 Gangaikondacholapuram Shiv Temple

2 Temples of Kumbakonam

3 UNESCO site Darasuram Temple Kumbakonam

Entrance door to MSMM House Karaikudi, Chettinad. 

2 Palaces of Chettinad

The Chettiars community came here from Kanchipuram about 200 years ago. The region comprises some 78 villages, originally 96, dominated by the prosperous Nattukotai Chettiar community of businessmen and bankers. Karaikudi is the region’s principal town.

Much of the profits made by the Chettiars went into building these grand residences, which used to be called Natukottai or regional fort. “Local legend narrates that the mansion walls were polished with a paste made out of egg whites to give them a smooth and shiny texture.”

“The Nattukottai Chettiar traders followed the expansion of the British Empire into S.E.Asia for their business. They brought back Burmese teak and European tiles for their mansions”.

Palaces are at various locations. In Karaikudi see the Bangla Hotel and MSMM House. About thirty minutes away is Kanadukathan village where you see the Chettinad Palace that is owned by M A M Ramaswamy/brothers and built in 1912. It is a personal home so access is restricted.

Most of the mansions in Kanadukathan village are locked, some have senior citizens staying. On payment of a small fee say Rs 100/ they allow you to see their homes. It was really sad to see the seniors struggling since family have moved out. Homes gave a sense of their grandeur when they buzzed with people and activity.

Wood work and carvings, doors, pillars and European tiles in the homes are exquisite and worth a look. The bigger homes have long corridors, a courtyard and numerous rooms.

“Pallathur, Devakottai and Kothamangalam villages, all within a 50 km-radius of the main town of Karaikudi, are also well known for their grand mansions. Visit Periya Minor's veedu in Devakottai, is supposed to be o/s with carved pillars, Italian floor tiles and a Spanish tiled roof”. 

Also see, famous Pillaiyar Patti temple i.e. 12 kms away, Sivan Temple, Muthu Mariammam Temple and Koppudaiamman temple. The Meenakshi Sundareswarar Temple in Devakottai is famous for the 108 statues of Vinayakar. It is 13 kms from Karaikaudi.

Chettinad cuisine is aromatic, spicy and rich with strong focus on non-vegetarian food (excluding beef and pork).


Karaikudi is famous for its collection of KANDANGI cotton sarees. Athangudi village manufactures these tiles, hence the tiles are identified by this name. “These tiles come in a myriad of colors and patterns, made by a unique process using local soil and glass plates”.

How to reach, where to stay and how much time to spend

The closest airport is Madurai 90 kms away. Karaikudi is the main railway station. It is well connected by road as well.

Keep atleast two days. Town has a market where you can buy antique furniture and art items that decorated mansions once, see the Bangla album.

Read about Chettinad Culture Link to Tamil Nadu Tourism site Album links below.

1 Palaces of Chettinad

2 The Bangla Chettinad has traditional home and hotel

3 Visalam is a traditional home converted into a hotel

Mysuru Palace all lit up during Dussehra.

3 Mysore Palace, Bahubali and Somnathpur Mandir near Mysuru

Palace was built in 1912 because earlier one destroyed by fire in 1897. It costs Rs 42 lakhs and was Krishnaraja Wodeyar. 'This 3-storied structure has beautifully designed square towers at various cardinal points covered by domes. It is also known as the AMBA VILAS Palace.

The palace measures 74.5 m (length), 47.5 m (width) and 44.10 m (height). It has a gold plated dome about 145 feet from the ground.

The Kalyana Mantapa or marriage pavilion has a central octagonal gabled roof that is covered with stained glass. Mantapa is supported by many pillars. Must see.

Durbar Hall is 155 feet in length and 42 feet in breadth. It has bottle shaped columns painted in pleasing colours. Must see paintings in Durbar Hall including its ceiling.

There is something very special about Mysore Palace. No wonder it attracts an endless stream of visitors. If you visit during Dussehra the Royal Throne is displayed.

There is a Light and Sound show on all days except Sundays and government holidays. According to Mysore Palace site show is from 7 to 8 pm.

Sand Museum in Mysore is also worth seeing – creativity at work.  

1 Inside Mysore Palace

2 Somnathpur Mandir

3 Sand Museum Mysuru

4 Mysore Dussehra

Official website of Mysore Palace

Bahubali Sravanbelgola

Bahubali Sravanbelgola

Bahubali son of Rishabhdev, the first Jain tirthankara. His murti was made by the Ganga sculptors. Image sculptured around 982 by sculptor Arishtanemi. Height is 18 metres. Made out of uniform fine grey granite.

Spiritually very powerful place, I connected instantly.  

Pictures of Bahubali Gomateshwara Sravanbelgola 

Somnathpura Mandir 35 kms from Mysuru

It was built (around AD 1268) under Somnatha (a general in the army of Narasimha III) of the Hoysala dynasty. Temple name is Keshava Temple. Temple has 3 garbhagrihas (sanctums). Each has an image of Vishnu as Kesava (centre), Venugopala and Janardana.

The temple is known for its elaborately carved doorways and the beautifully executed ceilings of the Navranga mandapa.

Pictures of Somnathpur Temple

How to reach, where to stay and how much time to keep

Mysuru is very well connected. It is 145 kms from Bengaluru. There are air conditioned buses from Bengaluru airport and railway station to Mysuru.

Within Mysuru public transport is good, bus and auto. Sravanbelgola is 85 kms away. If you take a local bus is about 2.5 hours, by private car would be much shorter. Somnathapura is just 35 kms away, local bus is good.

Maha Trivikram, the 5th avatar of Vishnu who came to earth as Vamana.

4 Badami Caves, Karnataka  

Badami also known as Vatapi was the capital of the Chalukyan Empire (6th to 8th century a.d.). The town is known for its rock cut architecture and holy tank Augustya Tirta Maha Sarovar.

“The caves were carved out of the Deccan sandstone that is abundantly available in the area, during the 6th century, under the rule of Chalukya Empire. The color of the Deccan sandstone is believed to have given the place its name, i.e. the color of Badam which means almond in local dialect”.

Of the 5 caves in order are Shiva, Vishnu, Buddha, Maha Vishnu and Jaina. The Chalukyas were Vaishnavites but Saiva, Jaina co-existed.

As you start on wall right side is Nataraja striking 18 dance movies in one pose.

Cave 1 dedicated to Shiva is the oldest, carved from solid rock app 550.A.D. You can see Mahisha Mardhini, Ganesha, Kartikeya, Bhagirathi Rishi Muni and Harihara (half Shiva half Vishnu) amongst others.

Cave 2 has different forms of Vishnu. Trivikram, the 5th avatar of Vishnu who came to earth as Vamana. Varaha, third Avatar is in the form of a Boar. MATSYA AVATAR – the Fish Incarnation is the one horned fish and the first among the Dasa Avatara of Lord Vishnu.

Cave 3 Buddhist is small. Saw a sculpture of Padmapani.

Cave 4 Maha Vishnu has an opening of nearly 70 feet and is the biggest and most attractive of the caves of Badami.  It was built in 578 A.D. by Mangalesh, father of Chalukyan architecture.

Sculptures that one sees include Lord Vishnu as door guard called Ashthaibuja or Viraat Purusha, 8 handed Vishnu. Maha Trivikram who came to earth as Vamana, Maha Vishnu sitting on a serpent, Narasimha fourth avatar (incarnation) and four headed Lord Brahma.

Cave 5 Jaina has sculptures of Bahubali, Parshunath and Mahavir. It was made nearly 100 years after the earlier caves. 

The curvilinear Shikhara of the Yellama Temple represents the Northern style whilst the Bhutanatha Temple represents the Niagra style. Also visit the fort. Do walk around the holy tank.

How did our ancestors make these caves out of hard rock and surviving to this day!

How to reach and how much time to keep

Badami is 450 kms from Bengaluru. Hubli Airport is 84 kms away, check if flights operate. If you are coming from Mumbai side take a VRL Logistics multi-axle sleeper bus that leaves from Mumbai. Get off near Hubli and hire a tax/take a bus.

At Badami stay at the Karnataka Tourism hotel, is functional and reasonable.

Visit 11th century Mallikarjuna temple ie  built on the star shaped base, Badami Fort, Aihole and Pattadakal Temples. Aihole is considered as the cradle of Indian temple architecture and Pattadakal is a UNESCO World Heritage site.

For Badami, Pattadakal and Aihole keep 2 to 3 days. Links to albums.


1 Badami Caves

2 Badami Fort

3 Close by UNESCO site Pattadakal Temples

4 34 kms away are Aihole Temples

5 Durg Mandir Aihole


Temple wall has bracketed figures called Madanikas. U see lady looking into mirror. 

5 Belur and Halebidu Temples Karnataka

King Vishnuvardhana built the Chennakeshava Temple in 1116 to commemorate his victory over the Cholas. It is dedicated to Lord Vijayanarayana, one of the 24 forms of Lord Vishnu and took 103 years to complete.

It was made by the Hoyasala kings. Hoysala means killing the tiger. Hoy means to kill, Sala is the boy’s name who killed a tiger at the instance of his teacher Sudattacharya i.e. how the dynasty got its name. They had their origins in the hill tribes of the Western Ghats, became Jains in the 10th century and Hindus in the 11th century.

The temple has fascinating sculptures, there are totally 42 sculptures of women and 5,253 dancing figures on temple walls. Virtually every inch of the shrine is intricately carved. The Gravity Pillar built during the reign of the Vijayanagara Empire has a lamppost that is 42 feet high.

Temple has 650 caparisoned elephants in different moods, some charging-playful-standing.

Temple wall has 38 bracketed figures called Madanikas. For example a lady admiring hear beauty in the mirror that she holds with her left hand. Tribhanga Dance. Lady bends her body in 3 different angles. 1st angle is drum up to neck. 2nd angle is neck to waist. 3rd angle is wait to foot. Dancing on a single leg - Natya Mayuri. Successful huntress holding a bow. Mallitamma was the most prolific of all known Hoysala artists and more than forty well-executed sculptures stand in his name. One sculpture shows lady hairstyle as a bob cut.

The temple is carved out of soapstone that was available in Tumkur, 200 kms away. This stone is easy to chisel and acquires stone like firmness when exposed to the atmosphere.

Belur is considered to be the best of all the temples made by Hoysalas. To know more about architecture of Belur Temple .

Scene Mahabharata. Right Chakravayu war formation. Left war between Karan &  Arjun. 

The Halebidu Temples closely by are superb and a must visit.

How to reach, how much time to keep and guide contacts

Belur is 222 kms from Bengaluru that is well connected by air, train and bus.

Guide: Guruprasad 91 9343244748, Ramesh 91 99642 36132 and Satyanarayan 91 9980027172

Keep two days to see temples comfortably or 1.5 at the least. Make Belur your base – lots of good hotels across various price points. Halebidu is only 18 kms. Album links below.

1 Belur Temples

2 Belur Temples album 2

3 Halebidu Temples

4 Halebidu Temples album 2

5 Halebidu Jain Temples


There is nothing in this world like Hampi, a must visit.


To know all about what to see in Hampi along with album links click here

How to reach and how much time to keep.

Hampi is 344 kms from Bengaluru, takes about seven hours.  Fly into Jindal Vijaynagar Airport from where Hampi is 38 kms away. I took a bus from Hampi to Hubli from where took an overnight bus to Mumbai. Take a VRL Logistics multi-axle Volvo bus – the best.

Keep three-four days to enjoy Hampi. Best time to visit is winters. Lots of small and big hotels. Or stay across the river where all the bag packers stay.

Guide:  Prakash very good 91 94487 95114, Ranganathan 91 94487 91222.

Explore these gems of Indian architecture. If need travel tips mail me


Author is a travel photojournalist and founder  . All pictures by author. 

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