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Karnataka’s coastline is dominated by the jagged Western Ghats, which shield the Deccan Plateau from torrential monsoon of the coast. On the plateau, saffron rocks give way to verdant fields and narrow waterways. The area upland of the Ghats is forested with teak and sandalwood, and the rivers produce so much hydroelectric power that Karnataka used to sell its surplus energy to neighbouring states. The boulder-filled terrain around the Ghats provided material for some of India’s ancient architectural masterpieces: in the north, Chalukyan temples and the Vijayanagar ruins at Hampi; in the south, the florid temples at Belur, Helibid, and Somnathpur.

Despite the ancient monuments and residents as mild as the climate, the attitude here is neither overly traditional nor alarmingly cosmopolitan, and Karnataka is one of India’s most progressive states. The British Raj had direct control of Mysore state for a relatively brief period, and the native maharajas who ruled the state under British protection until 1947 gave it cohesive vision – they were hailed for their efforts to speed modernization. In 1956, Kannada-speaking regions in the north were added to the Mysore state, creating a Kannada-speaking state that would be renamed Karnataka in 1973. Bangalore, the state’s capital, is today a centre for information technology, and multinational corporations have flocked to the burgeoning city, flooding the streets with neon sign and mobile phone-wielding businessmen. The bright lights of that big city draw an ever-increasing number of Karnatakans away from their traditional village occupations, changing the character of the state and leaving many to wonder what the future will hold.

Map of Karnataka

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