We spent a couple of days at Hampi – the ruined capital city of the Vijayanargara Empire. It’s one of my favourite places – use your imagination well and you can really see what it’d have been like at the heights of its glory! The people, the palaces, temples, armies, courts, courtesans, elephants!
Here’s a quick photo version of the trip. For those who’d like to hear more of the story, scroll on, read more…
On my last 2 visits, nearly 10 years ago, we had stayed at Shanti Guesthouse, right next to the Virupaksha temple. Now, guesthouses have sprung up on the other side of the Tungabadra River, so we stayed at Shanti there. There’s a beautiful ‘river’ view, with paddy fields and teak saplings peaking out between the rocky terrain. We crossed over on the ferry. Last time, we took a coracle ride across the river for kicks, but this time it was to get ‘home’ and back.
There are lots more people (& dogs & bikes) using the ferry, tourists mostly, and locals (whose business is with the tourists!). Shivaratri meant that there was a large share of Indian pilgrims as well, so the place was crowded and bustling in a sort of relaxed kind of way!
Shanti Guesthouse is about a kilometre from the river bank. There are paddy fields on one side of the mud road, and guesthouses shops & restaurants galore on the other side.
(Photos especially for Bobby machan, and Annakoch!)
We had a late but HUGE breakfast at Gowtham guesthouse – Israeli, English and cheese breakfasts, with papaya lassi and strong coffee. Thus fortified, we ferried back across the Tungabadra, and into our two waiting chariots! (The charioteers had brought us from Hospet to Hampi that morning, so were known devils, as opposed to the rest of the herd that hawked around us aggressively!)
The Vijayanagara dynasty grew to prominance in the 13th century BC, and kept muslims invaders on the other side of the Tungabadra for the next 300 years or so. Hampi has the beautiful ruins of four massive temple complexes – Vitthala, Achutarya, Virupaksha (where worship of the golden Vishnu still takes place today) and the Krishna. The ten avatars of Vishu are found in different forms all around – on deities, monolithic sculptures, carvings on pillars etc. Even older than these, are the Jaina temples and caves. The Vitthala Temple is down along the banks of the Tungabadra, a lovely riverside walk, past the homes of Hanuman, Sugriva and their tribe. We however were in our chariots, so we zipped past many beautifully restored ruins, around to the Vitthala temple (a UNESCO world heritage site), and walked up the entrance way to the temple. What I’m calling walkway/entrance way was actually made for chariots and elephants, so imagine the scale! The puspakarni tank had a kurma (Vishnu’s turtle avatar) swimming merrily in the water. You can imagine the shops along the side of the walkway, busy with people buying pearls, precious stones, gems and cloth. Bargaining, hustling, waiting to enter the temple and be blessed by Vishnu. The ruins are spectacular – especially the monolithic ratha. The grabagriha has been closed for repair, so sadly we couldn’t hear the musical pillars, but the narasimhas and intricately sculptured yalis, the carved pillars and mandapas are a feast for the senses!
We didn’t have time for the king’s balance or the Achutaraya temple complex, tho we did see it at its best the next morning – an aerial view from Mathanga hill!
Our Charioteers took us zooming back, past the Queen’s Bath etc to the Royal Enclave complex. Only the base of Krishnadevaraya’s massive darbar hall is left – with carvings of camels, elephants, horses and many interesting scenes. He is supposed to have held his court here, as well as watched the dasserha festival processions from here. The amazing stepped bath has huge aqueducts that brought water from the river all the way into the enclave for the royalty (now its filled with rainwater only, since the Tungabadhra has been dammed near Hospet). The huge stone doors of the enclave are now lying flat on the ground – apparently they had to use elephants to pull them open! The drainage systems were complex and you can see large manholes meant for cleaning and so on.
We then drove past the Pan Bazaar to the Hazararama Temple. We saw many many Rama’s and believe there must have definitely been a thousand at some point! Also the other avatars of Vishnu, on the beautiful black stone pillars. The friezes (frenzies!) on the outer walls had many scenes from the Ramayana.
This a stones throw from the next complex of buildings: the Zenana Enclosure. The beautiful lotus mahal, with its foliated arches, was where the king sat with other scholars and scientific thinkers. The elephant stables (which they now say might have been the secretariat buildings – makes one ‘poo’nder at how weird the evidence for these two must be!) have interesting roof designs – octagonal in the middle, round and ringed at the sides. And guards quarters, guarded by elephant steps, are all secured within great walls and watchtowers of the Zenana. Beyond, lies the Madhavan palace, with 1 lakh pillars (? we didnt manage to see this).
We didn’t have time for the museum, so we headed back to the ‘riverside’. On our last visit, we had a Lebanese meal in a shack here. Now, all the shops and eating places have become ‘pukka’. Gil had some very nice Carrot-Ginger juice, and after a little window shopping we headed back across the river.
Anuja and me checked out Nargila (which was a decidedly mallu joint, with typically modern sickly green paint) and enjoyed the view of newly ploughed rice fields and not so nice juices. For dinner, we wandered down suspicious back roads to the laughing Buddha, which turned out to be dingy, with even more suspicious fragrances, and not a ‘family’ type place. So we chose Mowgli instead. It was a bit noisy, the soup was awful (milk with mushrooms/ chicken floating in it!), the lasagna passable. But the pizza margherita was very good.
We planned an early start the next day, so had breakfast at Shanti. Gil’s ipad ‘india’ app had a review which said that the food at Shanti was awful. But we figured that it meant the other shanti, near virupaksha! This Shanti had amazing juices and a pretty good breakfast – they were pretty pleased to have us take the Indian breakfasts!
We checked out of two rooms, and kept the third, and set out for our view of the Achutaraya Temple complex – my favourite! Crossing the river meant we unfortunately (or fortunately depending on your point of view) couldn’t not start at the crack of dawn (which is the best time to see the temple). Still, it wasn’t too hot when we set out, and we walked down the entrance way to the Virupaksha temple. The huge monolithic nandi greeted us at the foot of the hills, alongside the Hampi police station and crafts bazaar. We started the climb, and we soon puffing up the hill. The steps are pretty good now, and only right at the top we had to crawl on all fours. Anuja stayed on a ledge and looked after our bags, except that one of Hanuman’s descendants decided to steal our bags! She bravely rescued the bag and the camera in it, but he got a bottle. Bonnet macaques are not my favourite, but this guy tried unsuccessfully to open the bottle of water, and then BIT into it to drink! Then he chucked it over the cliff and looked expectantly at Anuja. She charged up the steep slope to join us on top! The Achutaraya temple complex has the usual walkway, lined with shops and stall on the side. The gopurams and garbagriha are crumbling, but you get a fantastic aerial view of the beautiful roof-slab arrangement. The temple is surrounded by the beautiful green of banana and coconut plantations. Just beyond, the gopurams of the Vitthala temple are visible, with the river running alongside. The remains of the old bridge lead up to the hanuman temple on the other side. Coracles float down the river peacefully. Further behind us, on this side of the rocky hills beyond the Tungabhadra, lies the Virupaksha temple and bazaar, chariot street, bustling with people and businesses. The Krishna temple, Jaina ruins and archways blend gracefully into the rocks. Beyond, hidden in the sugarcane fields is the massive statue of Narasimha. The ruins of this great empire are majestically laid out in these Anegudi hills. It is truly an awe-inspiring sight.
At the foot of the hill, between the crafts bazaar & Police station, was a very interesting photo exhibition. Each display board had 3 snaps – one by an Alexader Greenlaw in 1856, another by John Gollings in 1983 and a ‘modern’ view in 2004. It was amazing to see the same site over 150 years! The ASI have done a great job of reconstruction and preservation (incidentally, its also 150 years of ASI!) We spent the next few hours shopping in the main bazaar, had momo’s in Durga rooftop restaurant, wandered around the Virupaksha temple, fed Lakshmi the elephant (I dont think of Lakshmi as being a unisex name, but this one definitely had the beginnings of tusks). The gajayallis and dasavatara in the temple are beautiful, the gopurams as well. Worship of the golden vishnu still takes place here, so it was crowded from Shivaratri onwards.
We dragged ourselves back across the river to Shanti GH for a final fruit juice before packing up. (The ipod app also said we couldnt leave without having Hello To The Queen, a amazing Hampi dessert, so we were planning to try that. But all enthusiasm died when we found it was icecream with chocolate sauce surrounded by thick banana slices!)
We caught a KRSTC bus to hospet, more fresh fruit juice on the way to the station and in a few hours we were heading back home, with Robert Sewell for bedtime reading on the train. Since we are following the trail that the Vijayanagara kings left all those centuries ago, maybe our next stop will be the Vellore fort! (And yes, it has the same founding myth as Hampi – hares/ rabbits chased dogs around the perimetre of the fort!) Come visit and join us as we continue to make history along the Vijayanagara trail!