The best way to see Badami is to trek up the Northern Hill through the pathway between the rocks and get a view of the caves and the temples on the hill. The southern hill is where the 4 rock cut caves and in between the hills is the beautiful Agastya Teerth (Lake) beside which lies the exquisite Bhoothnath Temple. After completing the round of caves, I walked along the lake towards the other side. There is a ASI museum at the base of the hill which has one display room with a few artifacts. A paved pathway through the wide gate leads upwards to the hill. I walked further down towards Bhoothnath Temple and then took a short cut upwards though steep to reach the Upper Shivalaya. However, I would not recommend that route much. It is easier done through the defined trail.
After about 10 minutes walk, Lower Shivalaya can be seen which is dedicated to Vatapi Ganapati which actually means the Ganapati of Badami (earlier known as Vatapi). The idol is missing, only the base has survived. Vatapi Ganapati is famous in ancient texts, the handsome Ganapati without the huge pot belly. Then there are two structures on a hill that appear to be structures that have seen better days. Further up, it leads to a huge protruding bastion which can be seen from anywhere in Badami. This is Badami Fort and the presence of a cannon just confirms the belief. Then there are the steps to the auditorium which is now the place for flag hoisting that can be seen from the entire town.
A short walk up are two conical brick structures which were supposedly granaries in the past. The security guard pointed out to a structure that appeared like a small room with a flat roof as Tipu’s Treasury. The temple on the elevated base was once dedicated to Lord Vishnu and was adorned with different sculptures with Vaishnava theme. I found one which depicted Narasimha killing Hiranyakashyapu but most of the facial expressions were weather beaten. What caught my attention was the exquisite sculpture at the base that appeared like everyone dancing in joy. The song “Ek Lo Ek Muft” in Movie Guru starring Abhishek and Aishwarya was partly shot in Upper Shivalaya and Badami Caves.
The temple of Malegatti Shivalaya can be seen from the top between all the newly constructed houses. This temple is dedicated to Sun God and can be approached through a narrow pathway from the bus stand. I gave this a miss, opting to take pictures instead.
I sat there for a while as the sun slipped away, leaving behind a golden glow on the rocks. The caves on the other side, the stillness of Agastya Teertha just added to the moment. I enjoyed some me time before it was time to head back. The best part is not too many people trudge up the hill and it is devoid of the huge crowds jostling around in the caves.
Badami is best visited in the months of October-March. After my trip, I have a feeling, the rocks will be charming in the months of July-August when the rain water drenches the caves to different hues of brown and red. This trek is best done around sunset or early in the morning for the best views. Children and Older People can walk up to Lower Shivalaya atleast.
Base yourself in Badami where there are hotels to suit every budget located in and around the Badami Bus Stand and visit Aihole-Pattadakal-Mahakuta-Banashankari within a day or two.
Badami is connected by rail and there are trains from Bangalore, Hubli, Bijapur every day. It is about a 12-13 hour journey from Bangalore. You can plan a day trip to Badami if you are planning to visit Hampi and station yourself there for a few days.