Hampi : A trip to the fantastical past

It was probably in my fifth or sixth standard history class that I first came to know about Hampi.

I remember being wonderstruck by the black and white picture of the bird’s eye view of Hampi as the teacher proceeded to tell us about the capital city of the once powerful Vijayanagara Empire that was lost till its ruins were discovered. For my naive mind, the tale of a 600 year old city with its ornate temples, grand palaces, imposing gates, bazaars consisting of straight parallel rows of shops, tanks and bathing ghats still intact was like the proverbial time machine. All I wanted to do was to ride that time machine for a glimpse of the fantastical past.

It was only many many years later that I finally got a chance to step into that time machine and take the ride back in time.

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Hampi’s rocky hills bordered by green plantations

Hampi was everything I had read in my school history book and more.

The rocky landscape strewn with huge bald boulders precariously balanced upon one another and punctuated by lush green plantations of coconut and banana provide a surrealistically beautiful background to the ruins. Thanks to the Archaeological Survey’s years of painstaking efforts, a large part of Hampi has been restored giving visitors a very real idea of the urban sophistication that people of Vijayanagara Empire lived with. While the Religious and Commercial sections of the city are clustered around the southern bank of the Tungabhadra, the royal quarters, stables and houses of noblemen lie a few kilometres further south along the road to Hospet.

The Virupaksha Temple is one of the few temples in Hampi where religious prayers are still carried out. It is an important pilgrimage site and also the de facto centre of Hampi. Hampi bus stop, parking lot for tourist vehicles and auto stand are all situated next to the Virupaksha Temple. The vicinity of the temple, choc-a-block with homestays, shops and eateries for tourists is not much different from any present day temple but walk a few metres along the path cradled by mighty boulders on one side and the calm waters of Tungabhadra on the other and you will quickly leave the maddening crowd behind. Since this area is not motor-able, it is a lot more peaceful as only a fraction of tourists make it here and beyond.

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The gopuram of Virupaksha Temple peeps over coconut plantations as pilgrims take a dip in the waters of the Tungabhadra

The guidebooks sold by small boys in and around Hampi Bazar list nearly hundred places of interest in Hampi and across the river, in Anegundi. One can actually spend a week visiting them all at leisure or lounging in Hampi’s many restaurants and cafes. However, if you are in Hampi for only a weekend, make sure you cover these at least:

  1. Virupaksha Temple: The most visited monument in Hampi for both archaeological and religious reasons
  2. Sunset from Hemakuta Hill: Nothing beats the view of Virupaksha Temple bathed in the golden rays of the setting sun as seen from Hemakunta Hill. The hill is low in height and is more of a flat table at the top. The gentle slope of the Hemakuta hill houses a number of small temple structures including one of a giant monolithic Ganesha.
  3. Hampi Bazar & monolithic Nandi: Consisting of two parallel rows of shops facing each other, the Hampi Bazar stretches for about a kilometer with the Virupaksha temple at one end and the giant statue of Nandi, the Bull at the other end.
  4. Sunrise from Matanga Hill: For a bird’s eye view of Hampi, climb up Matanga Hill at sunrise. There are three routes to climb up Matanga Hill but the one from the Achyutara Temple side, with large slabs of stone placed like a staircase, is the easiest to climb. The climb is strenuous but the view from top is worth the strain: the towering gopuram of Virupaksham Temple rising out of the sleepy clutter of Hampi Bazaar on the left, the crumbling and deserted Achyutara Temple complex set among green plantations on the right. Behind you, the sun rising over the stone scattered hills and in front of you, the distant Tungabadhra seems like a weak trickle of water flowing on a path ordained by the mighty boulders surrounding it.

  5. Achyutaraya Temple and Courtesan Bazaar: Situated behind Matanga Hill, this crumbling and deserted temple complex and bazaar is a sharp contrast to Virupaksha Temple and Hampi Bazaar situated closeby
  6. Pushkarani: The now dry holy tank next to Courtesan Bazar
  7. A stroll along the Tungabhadra from Virupaksha Temple to Vithala Temple: While you can get to Vithala temple by bus or auto by a different route, the two kilometre stroll from Virupaksha temple to Vithala temple along the stony bank of the Tungabhadra offers the chance to visit a number of small and interesting sites on the way such as King’s Balance, Two Storied Gateway and the bathing ghats.

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    Along the route from Virupaksha Temple to Vithala Temple
  8. Vithala Temple: Probably the second most visited monument in Hampi. The Vithala Temple complex with its now crumbling gopuram houses the famous Stone Chariot of Hampi and also pillars which produce music on tapping.
  9. The statue of Lakshmi Narasimhan & Monolithic Shiv Linga near Krishna Temple

 

In Anegundi:

  1. Anjaneyadri Hill: Situated across the river, Anjaneyadri Hill is the fabled birthplace of Hanuman. You will have to take a boat to get there. There is a temple dedicated to Hanuman at the top of the hill and also a couple of good restaurants around the hill.

 

Among the non-religious structures at the outer edge of Hampi:

  1. Royal Palace Complex: The biggest among the non-religious structures in Hampi, the Royal Palace Complex consists of a ceremonial platform, the king’s court, a step well and many other monuments
  2. Lotus Mahal: A two storeyed structure with lotus bud shaped arches and domes inside the Zenana Enclosure
  3. Queen’s Bath and Octagonal Bath
  4. Elephant’s Stables

 

When to Visit

Summer is probably not the best time to visit what is arguably the world’s largest open air museum. Given its rocky and bare terrain, temperatures can really shoot north making it difficult to venture out too much. Best time to visit would be post monsoon and the winter months.

We travelled to Hampi in Jan end and even then it was difficult to step out for sightseeing between 10am and 3pm.

Getting there and around

Hampi is 345 kms away from Bangalore and 565 kms from Pune. Closest railway station is Hospet (11kms away). Most people either take a bus/ train to Hospet or drive down to Hampi. From Hospet you will easily be able to take a public bus or auto to get to Hampi. It takes roughly 30 minutes to travel from Hospet to Hampi by road unless you are unfortunate enough to get stuck at the railway gate on the way.

We first took an overnight bus from Chennai to Bangalore and then drove down to Hampi from Bangalore via Tumkur – Chitradurga. The road from Bangalore to Chitradurga is fantastic four lane highway. As a result it took us about 2.5 hours to cover the first 200kms to Chitradurga. From Chitradurga, we turned right to take the NH 50 to cover the last 150 kms to Hampi. This stretch of the road is really bad; single lane with a lot of potholes and largely uneven stretches. As a result it took us almost 3 hours to get to Hampi from Chitradurga. This stretch also does not have any good restaurants or many petrol pumps on the way. Hence, it is best to refuel your car and stomach before you hit NH50.

The ruins are scattered over a very large area and although autos are available to ferry tourists from one monument cluster to another, most of the sightseeing will have to be done on foot or on bicycles.

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Stone Chariot at Vithala Temple

Where to Stay

There are a lot of big hotels in Hospet. We had initially booked a hotel in Hospet itself but once there, we realized that if we want to wrap up most of the sightseeing in early morning and evening to save ourselves from a sunstroke, it would be best to stay close to the ruins.

There are no bon-a-fide hotels in Hampi but the area around Virupaksha temple has a lot of home-stays. Most of these are dingy rooms tucked away at the back of the homes of local residents, others are clean and airy but still very basic in terms of facilities. However, their proximity to the ruins is a definite advantage to sightseeing.  We stayed in Ranjana Guest House which was clean and airy but the owners were not friendly. I hear that Ganesh Guest House is also good and it’s owner is amiable too.

The other option could be to stay in the KSTDC resort or the few private resorts in Kamalapur, 5 kms away.

Where to Eat

Hampi has a wide array of restaurants that serve or at least claim to serve cuisines from India and all over the world be it Italian, French, Lebanese, Tibetian or Russian. Most have a very bohemian and laid back ambience. However, all restaurants in Hampi only serve Veg or at most egg. One of the most popular one is Mango Tree but check out TripAdvisor for more suggestions.

Can’t live without your chicken and beer? Then take a coracle or boat ride across the river to Anegundi.

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Lamps at Mango Tree

Tip

Two very unique occasions to visit Hampi would be:

  1. During the Hampi Heritage Run, where you can give you morning job in the park an interesting change with a job around a World Heritage Site. Check here for next year’s schedule.
  2. Hampi Utsav: The three day cultural festival held in November with the World Heritage Site as the backdrop.
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Hampi Heritage Run

 

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