I said yes without thinking much when Dominic asked me if I was free for a trip on the weekend of Jan 11th and 12th. He came up with Hampi and I readily agreed as I had it in my list since few months. I am glad I visited, for I visited the most beautiful architectural historical place.
It was almost non-existent and included failed attempts to book Tatkal tickets through IRCTC website, reading a few blogs and taking few print outs about the place. Due to unavailability of public transport we agreed to tour in Dominic’s car. It was again an unfamiliar group: Dominic from Kerala trip, Dominic’s friend Saurabh, and my 5 day old flat mate Hari. 3 hours before departure I came to know that Hampi Utsav was being celebrated on Jan 10th to 12th. I didn’t know if it was fortunate or not (as I usually don’t prefer too much of a crowd), but Hampi had its own plans to bedazzle us.
On Jan 11th 2014, at 12.15 AM, Dominic picked me and Hari at Marathahalli and after navigating through Bangalore’s tortuous roads we hit Asia Highway 47. Although not common knowledge, the route that shares portions of Indian National Highways numbered NH3 and NH4 has been promoted to continental status. It’s an amazing feeling to ride this route in the night. Arrays of shining red and white cat eyes adorning a dark smooth road trump the journey’s tiredness. We traveled non-stop till Chitradurga after our dinner at a dhaba near Tumkur. From Chitradurga we took NH63 (Solapur – Mangalore highway) which took a toll on our timing and spines, thanks to its two-lane patchy road. The non-existent road near Hospet had its own special share in slowing us down. It was Dominic’s first road trip and we all helped him in driving. Saurabh located pot holes, Hari pepped Dominic for overtaking vehicles and I was the navigator for almost the entire trip. It was as if all four of us were in driving mode. After few failed attempts (by phone) to find availability in guest houses at Hampi, we decided to stay at Mayura hotel, Hospet – managed by KSTDC, which is 20 kms from Hampi. It cost us about Rs.1200 for a decent 5 bedded room with attached bathroom for a day (more importantly it had 24 hours hot water). Hospet is a small city in Bellary district with Tungabhadra dam at one end and a UNESCO world heritage site consisting the ruins of the medieval city of Vijayanagara(Hampi) in the other. After breakfast, we left for Hampi – the cradle of Vijayanagara Empire – which took us 700 years back in time.
Hampi, nestled between the numerous boulder mountains shores of the Tungabhadra, is bordered by coconut and banana plantations. There are around 80 places of interest in and around Hampi spread across 10 sq kms. After scanning the maps quickly we decided to begin with archeological museum at Kamalapura (a village near Hampi). It was adorned with stone structures on the lawn in front and intriguing objects inside including artefacts, a huge model of Hampi depicting important places, life-sized sculptures, to name a few. We then continued our journey through Talarighatta gate and found a parking spot near Vitthala temple. The rest of the exploration was by foot. Owing to Hampi Utsav, two wheelers were banned in most of the places (they were replaced by strange soundless vehicles to ferry people to important areas). We took no help and enthusiastically started with our tour. Vitthala temple is located in the North eastern end of the city and the path leading to it is amazing by itself. After gejjala mantapa and kuduregombe mantapa(Horse temple), the path is flanked by mountains in the left and series of stone pillars and a pushkarni in the right. In a distance the dilapidated Gopura (tower) in front of Vitthala temple can be seen. It is almost half destroyed (don’t know if by invaders or by nature). I liked the premises the most – it consisted of a beautiful stone chariot, musical pillars and multiple temples with amazing architecture. Each temple had steps leading to arena of pillars in the front and one or more Garbhagudis (the Sanctum Sanctorum), with a tower to crown it. A peculiar fact about them is that most of the temples are without idols. The pillars in most of the temples here are adorned with a fierce looking lion with its two legs raised and a short man riding on it. The small short stone pillars made different sounds on thumping and sadly we couldn’t try the main musical pillars as touching them was banned due to wear and tear with time. We took quite some time in admiring the beauty of the premises and then followed the trail in the south east which led us to two storied gateway and king’s balance. Here, across the heavy currents of Thungabhadra, an ancient stone bridge connecting two land masses is visible.
We spent some time near the shore and had lunch which comprised of Mirchi bhaji, Avalakki and Upma. We decided to go to Virupaksha temple and then climb Mathanga hill for the sunset. On the way our eyes fell on a tree which had numerous stone hangings. It’s believed that if a person hangs a stone on the tree or build a stone structure there, he or she would own a house soon. The trail to Virupaksha temple had many lined temples at one side and river on the other. After walking for 1.5 kms or so we reached Virupaksha temple, which is situated in the western part of the city. Due to the Utsav, there were stage events, food, craft festivals and huge crowd made the temple appear a lot younger than it actually was. This temple for an exception had a Shiva Linga in the Garbhagudi and had colored paintings on the roof depicting Shiva’s marriage. There were other attractions which included an Elephant, an inverted shadow of Gopura (which was hard to believe), and so on. We left the temple premise, packed some snacks and proceeded to climb Mathanga hill.
The 500m trail starts near a monolithic bull and is steep and dangerous at some places. But the view from the top compensates for everything. It’s beautiful, serene and one can see almost whole of Hampi from the top. Especially Achyutaraya’s (Courtesan’s) street, with the temple in the East of the hill, looks amazing. The frequent sightings of helicopters throughout the day made me suspect if stars were being ferried for performances. My suspicion disappeared when I saw a white helicopter circling Virupaksha temple (and I understood that they were paid rides for aerial view of Hampi). After carefully walking on the steep boulders, we reached a labyrinth building on the top. We climbed over it too and just enjoyed the scenery. Our eyes caught a glimpse of Vitthala temple in the North East, Courtesan’s street in the east, Virupaksha temple in the North West, a hot air balloon in the south, intermittent banana/coconut plantations, mountains with brown boulders surrounding Hampi and Thungabhadra River snaking across the city. As we clicked pics and had snacks, Sun turned into Orange and hid itself in the clouds, which was a sign for us to get down immediately. This time for a change I didn’t enjoy the sunset as much as I enjoyed the scene from the top. Its splendidness leaves me at a loss for words. While getting down somewhere in midst of shouting and hearing echoes, smiling at other tourists and enjoying the beauty, I reached the zenith of happiness. During such moments I feel the blessings of Parents and God, and feel proud about my country and Her rich cultural heritage. I feel that I live to experience such moments, I feel the plain unadulterated happiness about whole life. Bathing myself in such wonderful moments I got down to Achyutaraya temple (by different and less dangerous route than we took while climbing) and started walking on the Courtesan’s street. I have heard that gold and diamonds were sold on the streets of Hampi in the olden times. Assuming the present bazaar to be at the same Hampi (Vijayanagar time) bazaar location I felt really honored walking there (But in actuality the Hampi Bazaar is the street infornt of Virupaksha temple). Nevertheless, I enjoyed the walking the streets which had pillared room like structures on the either side. Their awesomeness escalated in green and orange lights in the evening. On the way back, I noticed bright yellow light falling on the boulders near the river and they looked like huge chunks of gold glistening in the night. Somewhere we could see a purple light in the sky. We passed the moonlit Vittala temple whose dilapidated Gopura cast a serene silhouette against the night sky. The whole ambience was soothing considering the fact that I was in between 500-700 year old ruins. Delighted, we went back to hotel in Hospet and had a good night’s sleep.
We freshened up, packed our bags and left to Hampi to cover other places. First we went to Pattabhirama temple located in south west which was majestic and I guess we were the only visitors. It was here where I admired the architecture calmly and learnt how the pillars supported the roof. Big temple premises verified the fact that Hampi, in its heydays, was one of the most populous cities. After we parked the car near a school in Kamalapura, we started for the places around Royal Enclosure. We wondered about the luxurious a life Vijayanagara people were enjoying when we saw the octogonal bath. It had eight sides with a central raised platform with a water inlet at each edge. After we visited Saraswati temple nearby our eyes fell on the kites that were being flown. Apparently it was kite-flying competition and it was not a single kite, but array of kites attached to a string. I guess there were around 200 kites attached to a string and after letting them fly high, the person there agreed to let us hold it for some time. I didn’t know until I held the string the pressure the array of kites exerted on hands. It was a good feeling to hold it and we enjoyed the view of 3 of such displays. The timing was apt as the kite were flown only for 15 minutes. From there doing some rock climbing we went to mahanavami Dibba which was part of the places where Dassara was extensively celebrated. There was a square stepped tank nearby which had array of 5 concentric steps on all four sides going to the bottom of the tank. The water to this tank came from an aqueduct which ran all over the place from its source in Kamalapura Lake. Then there was a gigantic pool, easily one of the biggest I have ever seen. We gaped at the large stone food plate’s which had multiple partitions like the ones we usually use now.
We then went to underground temple and I felt the insides too dark for obvious reasons. But only later did I realize that my sun glasses were adding to the darkness. Royal enclosure consisted King’s audience hall, quarters, etc and sprawled across 1 sq km. I wondered how grandly the King was treated in those old days. I guess this city is the oldest largest place to be preserved. The next stop was at Hazara Rama temple, which is dedicated to Lord Rama. The black smooth pillars inside has excellent meticulous carvings and inscriptions of Ramayana are all over the temple. It felt good recalling the story by seeing the inscriptions. We then moved to see Lotus Mahal which had perfect symmetrical arches and it’s said that the queen rested in this place. Near to it are Elephant stables which had big domed lined rooms to hold elephants, with small doors connecting individual rooms. We took a short cut from there to reach Queens bath which was near the entrance. This place had moat around which ensured the flow of fresh water continuously and this too had a raised platform in between. Just when we were going out we saw and got into the free government bus which ferried us till Kamalapura.
This marked the end of a rich cultural, architectural, historical trip in which I learnt and experienced many new things. Throughout, I had been wondering how beautiful the city would have been in its golden times. The importance given to art and engineering is unimaginable. I am certainly visiting this lost city of Vijayanagara Empire again. I strongly recommend anyone to go visit this place. We dropped visiting Tungabhadra dam as it was closed for vehicles and we had planned to hit AH -47 before dark. We stopped to enjoy the expanse of backwaters nearby though and left for Bangalore with some interesting discussions on the way.
- If more people, plan for a road trip. Its fun riding and will be really helpful around Hampi.
- There are numerous guest houses in Hampi. If you want a calmer nicer place, try the guest houses across the river which can be reached only via boats.
- Read something about the history of the place before you go.
- Don’t miss the trek on Mathanga hill, it’s worth every sweat.
Places really worth a visit:
Vittala temple, Ancient Stone Bridge, Virupaksha temple, Mathanga hill, Courtesan’s street, Octogonal Bath, Stepped tank, Royal Enclosure, Underground temple, Hazara Rama temple, Elephant stables.