Most people around the world have probably seen at least one Star Wars movie in the series and that’s the first thing I thought of when visiting the Badami Caves in Karnataka, India. The Badami Caves are a series of ancient caves burrowed into towering iron-rich cliffs complete with carvings and paintings of Ganesh, Shiva and Hanuman (and many more). Far in the distance the Badami Cave temples are perched on the edge of 100 metre walls.
The Badami Caves are one of the best things to do in India and an amazing place to visit in Karnataka.
1. Badami caves history
Badami is a small town with a population of around 26,000 people in the northern reaches of Karnataka state in India. It is famous for its Badami caves, temples and paintings dating back to the 6th century. Damn impressive when you look at the intricate carvings on the caves entrance and fine details gone into the construction of the caves. You need to remember these caves where made thousands of years before steel chisels and proper eyewear was invented!
Long before what Badami is today, it was the capital of a vast kingdom which expanded from Kanchipuram in the Tamil Nadu to the Narmada River near Gujarat which stretched far beyond the borders of today’s Karnataka state. Before Badami was done and was no longer the capital of these far reaching lands, architects took to the multicolored walls to engrave some of the finest carvings and paintings one might see in India today. Make sure to check out the Badami caves paintings when visiting Karnataka.
2. Badami’s Caves location
If you have been to Petra in Jordan or remember Tatooine from Star Wars then you’re in for a treat. Only a few minutes’ drive from the centre of Badami are the Badami Caves which can actually be seen while strolling the streets below. The Badami caves are so accessible that you don’t even need to get an auto rickshaw instead you can walk there with ease from Badami city center
3. Badami Caves timings
The Badami Caves are open 7 days a week from 9.00 am till 5:30 pm. Opening hours on public holidays may differ.
4. Badami Caves entrance fee
Entrance to the Badami caves cost 100 rupees which is about $1 USD. If you have camera gear expect to pay a little extra for that…
India has this thing were you need to pay for your cameras and phone before using them. You can get away with it by leaving them in your bag until you are out of sight of the ticketing office, but hey we are talking about pennies, help these people out…
5. Badami caves guide
If you are travelling solo and in need of a guide for more information on the paintings in the caves, you’ll probably find a local guide wandering about near the carpark below the steps. Around 300 rupees ($4) is generally the asking price for a local guide and that’s quite cheap considering the vast amount of caves and carvings in the area.
If you don’t want a guide, simply pick up a cheap guide book for 50 rupees from a local vendor and be your own Badami caves guide! :)
Badami Cave 1
Getting to the first Badami cave requires walking up a hundred or so steps. Caves are numbered from 1 to 4. Cave 1 is probably the most beautiful of the 4 discoverable caves with Nataraja a depiction of the God Shiva dancing in the cosmos creating the world as it is today. Also in cave 1 you will find stone pillars that hold up the roof and if you look closely you will see that the caves have been carved from one piece of stone and damn these caves are not small by any means!
Badami Cave 2
Another flight to stairs above cave 1 is cave 2 which is dedicated to God Vishnu. Vishnu’s role is to protect humans and to restore order to the world. Vishnu can be seen holding four objects in his four hands and that being a lotus flower, a discus, a mace and a conch. Badami Cave 2 is less intricate that of Badami cave 1 with various statues of Vishnu incarnations. One of the most incredible statues at Badami caves can be seen here: Yali, a mythical lion creature which is a combination of a lion and a griffin!
Badami Cave 3
Badami Cave 3 is also dedicated to Vishnu and is probably the most spectacular of the 4 caves in Badami and if you don’t like stairs then well, sorry not sorry! Cave 3 is another hundred or so steps past cave two leading you past a very old tree, under a stone arch way and onto a cobble stoned courtyard overlooking Agasthya Lake down below. The views from here are stunning.
Cave 3 was constructed in 578 AD with a notable feature of the cave being: Vishnu sitting on a snake. Close to Vishnu is another Yali while a painting of Varaha is close by. Varaha is another incarnation of the God Vishnu and takes the form of a boar which Vishnu transformed into in order to rescue the earth from a demon known as Hiranyaksha.
Cave 3 also has one of the most intricate series of carvings of the four caves with Indra riding an elephant and Shiva riding on a bull.
Before heading to Cave 4, take the time to revel in the stunning views that surround you. The views from the Badami caves are gorgeous especially towards the afternoon. Above Agasthya Lake, a temple can be seen soaring above the town and I’ll tell you more later exactly what this Badami caves temple is about.
Badami Cave 4
Thankfully there aren’t any more stairs to conquer as Cave 4 is the last accessible of the caves in Badami. Cave 4 is the smallest of the four Badami caves but is quite interesting with the amount of Yali carvings.
The other thing to note is that cave four isn’t of Hindu origin instead of Jain or Jainism which is an ancient Indian religion which came to life in the 6th century. Jainism is known for its protection and care of all things living. From the courtyard area of cave 4, views of Agasthya Lake continue as well as the first glimpses of the Bhutanatha Group, a series of one of the incredible Badami Cave temples on the shores of Agasthya Lake.
6. Badami Cave Temples
Bhutanatha Group Temples
While walking towards Cave Three and Cave Four, you will probably already notice one of the Badami Cave temples in the distance. The temple perched on the edge of the vast lake below is that of the Bhutanatha Temple, a 7th century temple with an inner shrine and halls containing lotus carvings and the Goddess Ganga who is the Goddess of the Ganges River. The Bhutanatha temples are probably the most impressive Badami Cave temples.
The 2nd temple in the group is often referred to as the Mallikarjuna Group constructed in the 11th century and while not as impressive as the Bhutanatha Group, the Mallikarjuna Group hugs the foothills of the mountains behind. It is said that during the monsoonal months it is much more spectacular as waterfalls often form a cascade into Agasthya Lake!
The temples can be accessed by walking around the shores of the lake. It takes about 1.5 to 2 hours to walk around the lake and properly see the temples, just keep an eye out for cheeky monkeys that might want to steal your things while you are photographing the Badami Cave temples.
Badami Shivalaya Temples
Once you arrive in Badami city or at some point during your visit to the Badami Caves you will surely notice a temple at the top of a flat top sandstone mountain, that temple being Upper Shivalaya. It is said the Shivalaya Temples where constructed during the 7th century to which most remain in very good condition to this day.
Not far from the Upper Shivalaya Temple is the Lower Shivalaya Temple with only the remnants of the temple remaining. Getting to the Upper and Lower Shivalaya Temples requires walking around Agasthya Lake and a decent hike along the sandstone ridge line. It is best to visit these Badumi cave temples during sunrise to avoid the crowds and the heat and humidity of the day.
A few kilometres from Badami is Shivapur and there you find the temple of Banashankari Amma. It is one of the stranger temples to see if you have already walked upon the caves of Badami or Upper Shivalaya Temple.
The Banashankari Temple is a concoction of pinks, greens, yellows and reds and obviously isn’t the original colours of the temple and either is the maze of steel fencing inside the temple to curb the amount of people visiting the temple at any given time. The temple dates back to the 7th century but on first appearances you would think it was made it the 1980’s. As you stagger to its centre the shrine in the middle of the temple accompanied by two Hindu men performing Puja’s shows its significance to the Hindu religion (tips necessary for a blessing).
In the centre of the temple is Shakambhari, The Vegetable Goddess who is an incarnation of Goddess Parvati. Just be aware that taking photos or film inside the temple are strictly forbidden, you’ll just have to see it for yourself, shoes are also forbidden inside the temple grounds and the temple itself.
7. Exploring Badami City
On my first look at Badami I thought it was amazing as it hugged the red sandstone cliffs to its rear as towers of rock jutted out of the ground and into the air making it very much ideal for rock climbing, photography or simply just for admiration.
There are some India guide books like cough, cough Lonely Planet who will tell you that the streets of Badami are “dusty and an eyesore” but don’t for one minute believe these Badami travel guides! The backstreets of Badami are quite incredible to wander with ginormous boulders, coconut palms and colourful houses and some of the friendliest and most laid-back people in India.
It reminded me a little of Pushkar, the vegetarian city of the Brahma’s or the amazing city of Hampi. Click here to read my Pushkar travel guide or my Hampi Travel Guide, the second coolest thing to do in Karnataka. ;)
What makes the streets of Badami even more intriguing is the backdrop that is presented before your eyes with temples visible everywhere you look and views of Agasthya Lake being ever so close.
Lonely Planet, i am sorry to say but you may need to open your eyes a little bit more to the magical Badami and its amazing caves, paintings, temples and people.
8. More Badami cave temples
About 20 kilometres from Badami is the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Pattadakal, a jaw-dropping series of temples literally in the middle of a flood plain and India is known for having some of the world’s biggest and most deadly floods.
Pattadakal is one of the more colorful temple complexes and one of the best things to do in Karnataka. With roses of all colours surrounding the temple’s stone walls while coconut trees sway in the humid winds. One of the most intriguing statues at Pattadakal is the Basava Statue which takes the form of a bull (Nandi) and is worshipped by locals and pilgrims from afar.
As you exit down the stone stairs from the Basava Statue, the Virupaksha Temple (not the one you will see in Hampi) is right at your feet. Within this temple are huge stone pillars and if you look carefully enough to the right at the end of the temple, a goddess can be seeing slaying a demon!
Take the time to stroll around the rest of the Pattadakal temple complex as you are bound to discover many hidden rooms, paintings and teachings from Hinduism.
The Pattadakal Temples entry fee is 250 rupees ($3).
A further 13 kilometres from Pattadakal, Aihole is home to some of the most amazing temples in Karnataka and the best being the Durga Temple, a 6th century structure that looks like something you would see in Rome!
Durga Temple from the outside looks like a horseshoe with stone pillars expanding from left to right until they come to a halt at the backend of the temple where steep stone stairs lead into the heart of the temple to reveal statues of Shiva with the vehicle Nandi (bull) and a series of familiar statues carved into the walls of Durga.
The Aihole Temples and Durga entrance fee is 100 rupees, a little more than a dollar.
9. Last tips for the visiting Badami Cave temples
Temples in India are very sacred places and are very old with some been over 5,000 years old. After spending a week in and around temples in Karnataka and Badami (I know that doesn’t sound long) there are a few things that I learnt that you should take on board paying a visit to these amazing places to see in Karnataka.
Please keep your voice down when either inside the temples as they tend to echo or on the grounds of the temples as locals come to pray at almost all times throughout the day.
- Temples often require you to go barefoot. There are places to store your shoes and will cost no more than 10 rupees.
- Women are often asked to cover their shoulders and men are asked in some instances to cover their knees.
- Walk clockwise which is generally the flow of the crowds.
- Some places ask that you don’t take photos as a sign of respect
- Avoid wearing leather. Cows in India are sacred and as we all know or might not, leather comes from cows.
- Please accept an offering if given one, this is a sign of respect.
Badani Cave and Temples blog
I hope all the above tips for the Badani Caves and Temples in Karnataka were helpful for your upcoming trip. This Badani Cave blog was written with the help of my friend Calumn Hockey an avid travel photographer who also took all the photos for this article. Check out more of his work on Instagram @calumnhockey. Calumn and I met on our trip to Nepal where we did the Langtang Valley trek.
Interested in more of my India blogs? What about a Tiger safari in Dudhwa National Park, a hidden gem off the beaten path in the North or multi day trekking around Dharamsala and visiting Mc Leod-Ganj and many more.
So far I was able to travel to India 3 times and spend about 2 months in the country. I am sure there will come many more times as there is so much to see. Please send me your recommendations for places to visit in India. Find more inspiring India photos on my Instagram account @traveltomtom.