A fifteen hundred year old temple on the steps leading to a lake, sandstone cliffs surrounding the lake’s waters in three directions, ornate carvings inside the rock-cut temples on the cliff walls, and a sublime waterfall marking its bright streaks on the dark-brown cliff-face – together, they form the first and a lasting impression of Badami.

Badami is a small town lost in the dusty expanses of Central Karnataka. Its days of glory belong to an era in the past, when Chalukya Kings made this cliff-side habitat their capital, and used it as a base in their conquest of much of the Deccan plateau. The years of their dominance witnessed a boom in building temples, bringing sculptors from all over India to learn and create works of art from this mass of rocks.

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The temples and the cliffs of Badami are rooted to the ground, mute witnesses to the rising and setting sun for millenniums, standing permanently as kingdoms changed hands and civilization galloped through ages. The waterfall, however, is a contrast to this everlasting landscape, making fleeting appearances soon after the rain bearing clouds empty into the earth in the monsoon months.

It is not just the waterfall that brings a change to this vista with the monsoons. The rainy days transform the life and landscapes around Badami. Scrub jungles turn green and shed their brown attire of the summer months. Flocks of sheep, often taken away to greener places in search of fodder, return to graze on the greenery that has just sprung from the earth. Farmers start ploughing the fields as the first rains hit the ground, prepping for another season of crops. The sun, blazing with anger until recently, now hides above the cloud cover. The temperature drops considerably and the days become pleasant. With the very first rain, Badami is suddenly a new, beautiful world.

Bhoothanatha Temple, Badami.

 Although precipitation begins in much of the peninsula in the first two weeks of June, it is hard to say when this transformation begins in Badami. There are years when the first significant rainfall in the region occurred as late as August. It is not unusual see relatively rainless months in June, and July seeing a fair share of annual rainfall. A good indication of the amount of rains that has fallen in the past few months is given by the water level in Agasthyateertha – the tank surrounded by three cliffs into which the waterfalls empties.

Agasthyateertha is perhaps one of the earliest examples of how rainwater can be harvested to a scale that can feed an entire town. The tank is created by barricading the flow of monsoon waters in a location such that every drop of rain falling over the hills flows down to the tank. In places where the water would flow-off to another valley, embankments have been created to redirect the flow into the tank. The efficiency of the system is evident when you see the water level in this large tank going up nearly by a feet in just an hour’s good rain. The tank holds sufficient water, and it normally doesn’t run dry even in the summer months. It is perhaps the creation of Agasthyateertha that enabled dynasties of the past to survive even in this arid landscape.

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 The effect of monsoon is apparent in the table land above the cliff as well. Small depressions in the rocky terrain fill up quickly, and forms small ponds and puddles that reflect the temples nearby as well as the cloudy sky. 

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 Beyond these cliffs and away from the town, agricultural activity gets into full swing as the rains begin. While some farmers wait for the first rains, those who can afford borewells begin working as soon as they can. The crops planted are ones that can survive without much water, such as jowar, maize, green grams, groundnuts and cotton.

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 What stands visually well-apart among all these crops are sunflowers, which bloom and spread like a yellow carpet in late July. As you drive along these plains, it is common to see acres and acres of deep yellow fields dominating the landscape.

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Driving out of Badami through these fields takes you to several other towns that have marked their place in history. The first one among them is the Mahakooteshwara Temple, surrounded by tall, leafy trees that stand contrast to the arid plains and scrub vegetation around it. The jamoon trees around the temple are a favourite among the visiting pilgrims, while the ficus trees offer the much-needed shelter from the sun. A spring flows out of the earth from the temple premises, as if to reward for keeping the premises unusually green. The spring feeds a kalyani (tank) in the temple that is now popular with urchins who come here to swim.
 
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Kalyani at Mahakoota
Another twenty minutes away is Pattadakal, a UNESCO World Heritage Site with a large complex of temples dating back between 7th to 9th centuries. Malaprabha River flows right next to the temples, usually a dry-bed and several shallow pools that sees a full flow only during the best days of the monsoon season.This spree of building temples began first in Aihole, further downstream on the bank of Malaprabha. Historians often call Aihole as the ‘cradle of temple architecture,’ where a school of temple making attracted learners from across the country, who experimented with their chisels and created art from rocks.
 
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Pattadakal
While Aihole and Pattadakal were the early power centers of Chalukya Kingdom, Badami was their last bastion. Everywhere they went, they created impressions in rocks that immortalized their achievements. But only in Badami, the grand setup of nature colluded with the grand plans of the kings to create an extraordinary panorama that few places can boast of.