A rustic, rugged landscape strewn with boulders and dotted with majestic ruins from a bygone era, contrasted with azure blue skies make picturesque Hampi a must-visit for every photographer and traveller. From temples, a stone chariot, sculptures and stables, harems and courtesans’ streets to bazaars and royal baths-all these monuments and attractions instil curiosity and awe in the tourists to visit Hampi, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Situated on the banks of Tungabhadra river in Hospet taluka Hampi or Vijayanagar, as known earlier, is spread over a large area covering hills and planes.
Our journey began at Bengaluru from where we drove down to Kamlapur. We then checked into the KSTDC property late in the evening. Since it is difficult to see all of Hampi in one day, we had planned our itinerary and made a list of all that we wanted to see. The next morning which was also Diwali, after a simple breakfast of idli sambar, eggs and filter coffee we were introduced to our tour guide Prasad a middle-aged man. He helped us plan our route so that we could cover the major attractions and see as much as possible.
A lot of people hire bicycles, mopeds or rickshaws and explore Hampi at their own pace. We chose to drive down in a cab from our hotel to the Vithala Temple Complex. Vithala Temple, constructed in 15th Century AD, is dedicated to Lord Vithala, an incarnation of Lord Vishnu. Within large courtyard were several shrines, halls and pavilions.
The most extraordinary structure of Hampi is the Stone Chariot pulled by two elephants. We have seen it on Hampi Tourism posters and is believed to be inspired by the Sun Temple of Konark. The Chariot had engravings of soldiers, hunters, Arabs, Persians and Portuguese with whom trade in silk and precious gems was made. Years ago, the Chariot was mobile, but because of tourists trying to drive the Chariot, one of its wheels got damaged, and so it is now set on a stable platform.
The Mahamantapa (major hall) with its 56 musical columns is well-known for its exceptional craftsmanship. When tapped the columns play the seven musical notes (Sa Re Ga Ma Pa Dha Ni/ Do Re Me Fa So La Ti). Above every group of columns, were engravings of the musical instrument that the notes sounded like. The entry to this structure was out of bounds for the public, as over-enthusiastic tourists over the years had damaged the musical columns by banging them indiscriminately.
After exiting from the temple, we then proceeded to see the King’s Balance which is a tall archway structure. Legend has it that the kings were weighed in gold, diamonds and other precious stones which were later distributed among the poor. Moving further we reached the banks of the Tungabhadra river. We saw the Purandara Mantapa, an open pillared pavilion, that gets its name from the poet, Purandara Dasa who lived in Hampi. We spent some time here and dipped our feet in the water as we let the simplicity and serenity of this place soak in.
On the opposite banks was Angeondi village. We could see ruins of the old bridge, the Hanuman Temple on Anjaneya Hill where Hanuman, the monkey god, is believed to have been born. Near the Purandara Mantapa were the Coracle Crossings. Coracles or circular shaped boats are about six feet in diameter. They were used to ferry people and sheep across the river in earlier times and are seen even today.
After exiting the Vithala Temple Complex, we drove to the Malyavanta Hill. It is the only hill in Hampi where vehicles can go right till the top and one doesn’t need to trek. The Malyavanta Ragunath Temple on this hill is dedicated to Lord Rama. It is the lone temple where one gets to see Rama in a sitting posture while in all others he is standing, explained our guide.
The Queen’s Bath or royal bathing chamber is a fusion of Hindu and Islamic architecture styles. In the centre was a sunken bath with a ceiling open to the sky. There was an inlet from which water entered the bath. After the relaxing baths, the water was released from outlets by raising wooden columns. It is an excellent example of exquisite craftsmanship and design for its time which modern-day spas can’t match.
After the queen’s bath, while proceeding to the Royal Enclosure, we saw the Stone Doors. These two massive structures that were lying on the floor once guarded the entrance of some royal building or fortress. The Royal enclosure’s highlight was the Mahanavmi Dibba, a rectangular raised platform. From here the king watched the military parades and royal processions during Dassera.
The engravings on the walls of the Mahanavami Dibba of mythological stories, hunting scenes, dance postures provide a glimpse into its fascinating past. Women could be seen hunting, indicating that they enjoyed an equal status to men. The fact that the Kings traded with the Persians, Arabs and other foreigners could be made out by their distinctive features. Located close by was the Pushkarni, a square stepped structure, where water was collected. The Underground secret chamber is where the kings had confidential discussions, and future course of action planned.
Near the Royal Enclosure was the Hazara Rama Temple. Our guide explained that scenes from all the three versions of the epic Ramayana could be found engraved on this wall. If one had to go through every scene, it would take 5 hours!
Zenana Enclosure as the name suggests was the harem reserved for the royal women. The Lotus Mahal is the pièce de résistance here and just like the Queen’s bath is a fusion of Hindu and Islamic architecture. It is a lotus-shaped ground plus one structure. The top floor was where the women bathed, got dressed and perhaps shared their most intimate secrets. Watchtowers close by ensuring that no trespassers were allowed.
We then headed to the Elephant Stables, was meant for the royal elephants. It had eleven domes, in different styles representing diverse religious faiths. These structures are testimony of religious tolerance and multi-ethnicity that existed in earlier times. Near the Elephant Stables were the Guard’s Quarters which now have a Museum. After exiting the Elephant stables, it was now lunchtime, and we decided to head to a nearby restaurant.
There is so much to see in Hampi from an underground temple to watchtowers to sculptures of Ganesh and Vishnu to boulders called Sisters stones symbolising two sisters who spoke ill about Hampi and were then punished and turned into rocks.
Ugra Narasimha is the biggest idol in Hampi- 22 feet high. This idol which was damaged by invaders, has been restored. One can see the Lion Avtar of Vishnu with a serpent behind its head. In the original idol, one could see Goddess Laxmi too. The Sasivekalu Ganesha idol is located at the foothill of the Hemakuta Hill. The tale behind this idol is that Lord Ganesha is well known for his voracious appetite. One day he ate so much food that his stomach was on the verge of bursting. In desperation, Ganesha caught a snake and tied it around its waist so that his stomach wouldn’t burst.
After seeing the Ganesha, we climbed the Hemakutta Hill. It was close to sunset, and this is the place to be in the evenings. From the top of this hill, we could see the Virupaksha Temple complex and the Hampi main tower which is located at the entrance. After descending the Hemakuta Hill, we proceeded to the Virupaksha Temple. Both sides of the street, called Hampi Bazar, leading to Virupaksha temple were lined with pavilions. In past years all the trade and commerce happened here. It is the oldest temple and is still active where puja happens even today and is thronged by worshippers. We were lucky to see the temple elephant Laxmi in its premises.
The sun had set, and we had managed to see some exceptional architecture in a matter of 8-9 hours! It was as if we had taken a journey back in time and been a witness to a lost civilisation of royalty, power and a thriving culture. We then retired to our rooms, and the next day checked out and proceeded to Badami. After staying overnight in Badami and exploring Pattadakal, Aihole and Badami we returned to Hampi and drove straight to Sloth Bear Sanctuary followed by the Tungabhadra Dam.
This Sanctuary is open between 2-6 pm. It was 5:30 in the evening, and with great persuasion, we managed to get entry. We drove down into the Sanctuary along mud tracks and then climbed up to the watchtower from where we could see the slot bears licking honey that was spread on the boulders by the authorities to attract them.
The Tungabhadra Dam is very massive, and its complex has a deer park, gardens, boating facilities, etc. We were told that a musical light and sound show was the highlight of this place and it was best to visit in the evenings. Honestly, the show was below average with repetitive and predictable movements of the fountains as Bollywood, and Kannada songs played. If you have seen the laser shows abroad, this one will not live up to your expectations.
We stayed overnight in Kamplapur and next morning on the way to Bengaluru decided to see the museum and two temples. The Archaeological Museum’s highlight is a miniature model of Hampi with all its monuments. It’s best to start or end your tour from here so it gives you a fair idea of what will be seeing or what you have seen.
We left Hampi overjoyed with all that we had managed to see and yet with hope to return someday to see all that we had missed out. After this trip, we now know why travellers, including us, can’t get enough of Hampi and want to visit it several times. Wanderlust had smitten us!
Nearest Airports: Bellary and Belgaum are closest but have limited flights. Bengaluru and Goa are better in terms of connectivity.
Distances: Bengaluru Hampi: 350 km (6-7 hours by road)
Hospet Hampi: 13 km (25-30 minutes by road)
Kamlapur Hampi: 5km (10-15 minutes by road)
Where to stay: KSTDC hotel is located in Kamplapur, which is closer to the monuments. Hospet has better accommodation options.
This travelogue was first published in Corporate Tycoons magazine, March 2017.