Boulder boulder everywhere, not an inch to spare – A one-liner for Hampi. Though not sufficient enough to describe a land such rich in historic, wildlife and natural wealth. Vast stretches of uneven land with boulders stacked over the other creating heaps and hillock giving a unique identity to the place. Residing among these huge pile of rocks are the temples and ruins of the Vijayanagar Empire. One of these ruins qualified to be the symbol of Karnataka state Tourism – the iconic Stone Chariot of Vitthala Temple.
The frail Tungabhadra traversing the landscape separates Anegundi from Hampi. Thus replenishing the water content of the soil and providing the necessary food to the farmlands. The greens of the paddy fields and the banana plantation cut the otherwise earthy hue of the surrounding. Scattered within these lies the ruins – the prime attractions of Hampi. This strange topography is also home to many wildlife species.
The rocky terrain adds to the already warm climate. The scorching sun throughout the day, all through the seasons, except the short meagre monsoon months, heat up the boulders raising the mercury. The heat is no bar for the travellers to explore this wondrous land. This quaint location is a photographer’s temple. I spotted many groups on a photographic excursion with various lenses attached to multiple cameras dangling from their shoulders. A sight really different from that of the commonly seen selfie seekers.
Hospet is the major town beside Hampi. It can also be called the base station for the visit to Hampi. The majority of the famous ruins are located within an area of few kilometres. While on the other side of the irrigational canal in Kamalapur lies the Daroji Bear Sanctuary. Hotels and guest houses are mostly on the other side of the Tungabhadra river, while some towards Hospet and Kamalapur. The clean and beautiful bus terminus at Hospet with bright red and green buses attracted us to take a ride to reach our hotel.
We stayed at Hampi Jungle Lodge and Resort. Read my Birdwatching Experience on my stay here. Being in the vicinity of the Bear Sanctuary we started our trip from the same. The beautiful resort is intriguing enough to give an initial kick to start a journey, very different and exciting. Then one after the other the visit to the ruins, beginning with Hemakuta Hills. Every place in Hampi has a mythological and historical story associated with it. It is said that Lord Shiva performed meditation here, before marrying Pampa. On his decision of marriage, golds were showered from heaven and thus the name (Hema meaning Gold in Sanskrit). This small hillock with gentle slopes consists of many temples scattered on its rocky surface. It also provides a magnificent panoramic view of the surrounding.
Climbing down to the famous Virupaksha Temple on the other side. This temple is dedicated to Lord Shiva. The temples here are of the pre-Vijayanagar era. Another mythological story that goes along is Lord Shiva in his wrath burnt Kama for distracting him to marry Pampa. Later he was brought back to life on Rati’s (wife of Kama) pleadings to Lord Shiva. Most of the temples here are dedicated to Shiva. The giant tower or the Gopura of the temple is the most prominent Landmark of Hampi. This is a nine storied structure with erotic stone carvings on the lower two tires ending up to the cow horn-like protrusion at the end.
The road from the Virupaksha Temple leading towards the Matanga Hill is lined on either side by small cells. These stone made pavilions, some of them double storied, used to be a flourishing market of the ancient times. The barter system was prevalent mode of exchange of good in the market then. In recent past, these cells were occupied by locals as their home. With the ASI site gaining importance these place was evacuated to preserve the structures. The street ends to the huge monolithic bull. The Matanga hill stands behind this.
The Matanga Hill is the favourite spot to watch the sunset and have an excellent aerial view of Hampi. Another mythological story linked with this place. The hermitage of Saga Matanga was located here. Once Bali killed the demon Dundubhi and threw his corpse in this sacred place to be cursed by the sage never to venture to this hill again.
The Chakratirtha, by the Tungabhadra river on the other side, is the holiest of the bathing site here. As per the local belief, the swirls of the water in the stream transforms into the images of Ram, Sita and Lakshman on some auspicious days. Thousands of devotees gather to take a holy dip and pray in the nearby Kodanda Rama Temple. The flat stony bed of the river is engraved in various forms depicting Shiva Linga, Nandi and footprints within circular pattern with devotees praying with folded hands. While walking down the banks towards Chakratirtha we came across the Sugriva’s Cave. It is said that the mystical warrior Sugriva lived in this caves made of boulders till he met Ram and Lakshman on they way to rescue Sita.
A few decorated coracles (small, roundish shaped, lightweight boat) were parked by the rivers. And the boatmen waiting for their rides. The calm waters winding through the bouldery scenery was appealing enough to get us onto the coracle for a smooth sail through the river. But the time did not give us the liberty to fall for our temptation.
Ruin one after the other. History blended with mythology and legend. To us only interesting stories in an absorbing terrain. So many spots the Sasivekalu Ganesha, the Kadalekalu Ganesha, Badavalinga, Lakshminarasimha all the huge stone sculptures created from a single stone are creative marvels. Then slowly moving on to the vast area of the Royal Enclosure or the Mahanavami Dibba. The tallest structure within the enclosure is the Mahanavami Dibba. A three-layered raised square platform with stone carved stairways on either side offers a beautiful surrounding view. This was possibly built by Krishnadevaraya to commemorate the victory over Udayagiri (now Odisha). The stepped well too, lies within this enclosure.
Near to the Royal Enclosure is the Hazara Rama temple. This was the private worshipping place of the royal family. The location and the temple and various paths from the important structures leading to the temple suggest the possible link. The temple wall has exquisite carvings of stories of Ramayana in the panel of the walls. The temple got its name (Hazara means thousand) from these thousands of carvings from stories of Ramayana. The Zenana Enclosure is also close to this temple.
The sprawling compound of the Zenana Enclosure has the Lotus Mahal on one side, the queen’s palace, the watch tower and the royal treasury building on the other side. The compound is encircled by a stone wall. This enclosure was built for the royal woman to watch ceremonies. Behind the zenana enclosure is the elephant’s stable. This is 11 domed chambers in a row used to park the royal elephants. One after the other the historical structures came and went with their stories attached.
In a short trip of three days, I became physically exhausted moving from one to another but there was no end to these historical sites. I tried and covered few more sites then moving on to the prime attraction of Hampi – the Vittala Temple. This is the site houses the iconic Stone Chariot. This spectacular piece of architecture in a large compound which is around 1 km from the main entrance. Battery operated vehicles driven by local lady employees drive the visitors to and from the temple. One can even walk to the temple to enjoy the surrounding beauty.
The temple is dedicated to Lord Vishnu also called Vittala. The first temple was built during the 15th century and later enhanced by successive kings during their respective reigns. The remains of the ancient township around the temple complex can be seen in the forms of ruins on either side of the road. The stretch of the road got me into a strange feeling of peeping into the imaginary past. With ancient people around in their nearby chambers and elephants carrying the kings and queens arriving through the broad walkway to reach the temple. With my flights of fantasy thus roaming around in its own whims I entered the temple.
The temple has some intricate carvings in its wall and also has some elegant sculptures within. The first thing that grabs attention on entering the temple compound is the stone chariot. It was a temple dedicated to Garuda (with the symbolic fact that Garuda being the vehicle of Lord Vishnu so is the chariot facing the main temple). Facing the chariot is the Maha Mandapa or the main temple partly damaged. This is a highly ornate hall. There are other halls around the Maha Mandapa for various purposes. The monolithic pillars within these halls are also called musical pillars. These slender and short pilasters carved out of the giant pillars emit musical tones when tapped.
After my visit to the Vittala temple, I realised the reason for the fame. It has a gorgeousness and a feeling much different from the other ruins. Although much of it is in a dilapidated condition as compared to the other sites of Hampi. It has the ability to take one to a virtual tour of its flourishing past. I was happy to keep the best for the last. The magic of the Hampi remained in my mind for days and will remain in my heart fresh forever.