Badami is the next town along and the next capital of the Chalukya dynasty that ruled much of current central and southern India in the 6th to 8th centuries.

There’s a dramatic line of sandstone hills which at Badami yields into a vast cove. In the cove, surrounded by stone cliffs is a vast tank (reservoir). Washing ghats surround much of the lake along with temples and rocks and caves full of carvings. The cove is defended by forts north and south, overlooking the tank and the modern town. Some of the buildings and walls are ancient, other parts date from Tipu Sultan’s defences in the late 18th century. The famous caves are on the south side of the cove.

Looking across the tank to the caves
View from the caves
Betal leaves

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The road that runs through the town is busy, dusty and dirty. There are one or two hotels and and restaurants. The trickle of foreigners cling to one or two regular spots. There’s a small stream of people doing the same Hampi-Hyderabad route, a few have wandered up from Hampi and there’s a number of adventurous bikers.

One of the eating places has a garden at the back which allows them to sell beer. Some bamboo screens shield it off from the stinking stream and the groups of pigs that scavenge between the houses. A pet white rabbit with a bell round its neck incongrously hides under the tables in the beer garden.

From the main road to the tank there’s a maze of flat-roofed houses, a market area, schools and the occasional ancient building. The surroundings of the lake have been prettied-up by the ASI with neat and fenced off lawns left to the monkeys while a new village has rehoused those moved. There’s a little museum with a couple of truely world-class scultptures, included a rare statue of a woman in childbirth position, her head and hands replaced by lotus flowers.

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We find a guide to walk us round the fort and up the hill. He promises context and a secret path back down the hill. We get some useful information, a lot of conjecture and plenty of spectacular views. Narrow sandstone gorges are reinforced with walls and gateways and bastions. Some of this is 16th century, some belongs to Tipu Sultan. There are temples and reliefs of animals carved directly into the rocks.

We drop down to the tank. The pretty Bhutanatha temple (7th to 11th centuries) extends into the lake. Behind it rock faces and caves are covered in carvings, accentuated by the swirling deep colour bands in the sandstone. One cave conceals a massive buddha.

The main caves

The ‘monkey menace’ guards the 4 caves on the south of the lake, which are the pride of the World Heritage site. These were cut in the 7th century into the soft sandstone and are covered with reliefs, over lifesize set pieces of Gods in key poses, elaborate columns and geometric carvings. One at least was once covered in colourful and dramatic paintings but the only remains is a 19th century memory of the work. One temple is Jain; walls covered in the naked tīrthaṅkara of the faith.

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