The road into Hampi sets the scene for what is to come. With its large boulders precariously sitting on one another, it emulates a Disney movie set and is the perfect gateway to enter a previous era in time. The historical and surprisingly mystical journey was about to begin. Did Lord Rama roam here? – the skeptics may have their doubts but the believers like me, get goose bumps thinking about walking where the Lord once met Hanuman. Nearby Kishkindha or Monkey Kingdom is the birthplace of Hanuman, and plenty of his descendents still roam nearby.
Hampi’s significance as a center of trade grew from around 1336 AD when it became the foundation of the Vijayanagara Empire, one of the greatest kingdoms in India’s history. By 1565 the empire was covering the whole area between the Arabian Sea, Bay of Bengal Ceylon and the Deccan Plateau and Hampi was at its peak under Emperor Krishnadevaraya.
When viewing history firsthand you are overcome with an instant feeling of pride. The “India Story” as it is known all over the world seems like nothing compared to the progress made when Hampi had achieved when it was in its prime. Emperor Krishnadevaraya knew the meaning of development and growth had had taken the right steps to achieve it.
What remains today are the ruins of a great empire– ruins which enthrall historians, archaeologists, architects, religious pilgrims, and tourists alike. Ruins which are considered as one of the world’s most stunning archeological ruins. The entire area is a gigantic open air museum with palaces and temples exhibiting extraordinary engineering and beauty, and an untold story in each corner. Hampi is listed as one the UNESCO World Heritage Sites, a site with a rich historical and cultural significance and a site to be preserved. Every column and wall in the temples has been built diligently with such purpose. While visiting, there was some renovation being done on one of the temples. It took 5 men to carry one stone — in Hampi, there are thousands of such stones in each structure.
There are several large beautiful temples in obvious need of protection, so I asked our guide why they were not being preserved and he replied quite logically that there was only so much money and just too many temples and building sites to preserve. There are literally hundreds of temples sprawling the area but only the inner 26 kilometre range of Hampi is protected.
The Virupaksha temple, Vittala temple, Badavilinga Temple, Kadalekalu Ganesha, Krishna Temple, are the most well preserved and architecturally significant, still attracting thousands of devotees. The stone chariot that is often the symbol of Hampi, sits majestically in front of the Vittala Temple. The large stone dome can be seen from a distance, and as you approach you realize how intricate the carvings covering the entire dome actually are. Another highlight of the temple is its richly carved monolithic pillars. The outermost of the pillars are known as the musical pillars and they emit musical sounds of different tones when tapped.
The palace grounds are where history is brought alive. The first item that strikes you are the palace walls. Large stones sit on one another perfectly, making a fortress, many of which still remain today, hundreds of years later. No concrete, no power tools, just stones perfectly placed on top of another. The downfall of the empire was due to the invasion by Muslims from the south and the battle of Tailikota in 1565 left many of the palaces in Hampi in ruins. The kingdom lingered on for another seventy-six years with Aravidus being the last dynasty. Only a few palace royal structures are left giving a vivid picture of life during the Vijaynagar empire’s heydey. The Royal Enclosure is a vast ruin site which one can only imagine the life of royalty during that period. One structure remaining is the Lotus Mahal. This palace, which was known as a retreat for the emperor’s queen, is unique in its architecture using Islamic style arches and Hindu style multilayer roof and base structure, showing the open-mindedness of the king as well as the ingenuity of the of Vijaynagara artisans. Emperor Krishnadevaraya was a great patron of religion and the arts. Literacy flourished during this period and some of the finest works were produced in Sanskrit, Telugu, and Kannada languages. He was not afraid to experiment with engineering and architecture. The water tanks that dot the royal grounds exhibit a well planned water supply system and some parts are still in use today.
The empire was a force in trading everything from jewels, spices and horses. The marketplace is a strip near the center of town. Jewels, precious stones and gold ornaments were sold there — sellers sat selling rubies and diamonds jsut like the dabji mandis of today! When you go to Hampi forget who you are and pretend you are the Emperor, his faithful queen, or one of the performers in his court. Let yourself loose and taken back to a great period in our history.
Here are some tips on how to get started:
Once you reach the town center, hire a guide. Many of the guides also work for local chapter of India’s Archeological Society and speak a bit of English. They have an interest in history and preserving the local heritage.
There is very little shade cover in the complex. Wear a hat and bring an umbrella and try to use the morning hours for the tour.
This is not exactly a place where kids would have regular tourist fun; however they most likely would have learnt the history of Hampi and its rulers in school, and brush up your history before the tour. The rocks and landscape are great attractions for kids and perhaps the kid in you. Many kids were running away to climb boulders while their parents were listening to the tour guide.
Riding around in a bike/cycle is a great way to enjoy the landscape.There are both bike and cycle rentals available at the main market near the Virupaksha temple.
A trip to the Hanuman Temple in nearby Anegundi is only 5kms. The climb to the temple is 500 steps and there are plenty of monkeys along the way. To be safe, do not carry bags with you—they may think there is food in there. Try not to make eye contact and definitely do not try and pet them.
How to get there:
By Air: Spice Jet flies to Bangalore and Goa which have direct buses to Hampi.
By Road: The nearest town Hospet has a plethora of bus connections to all over Karnataka, Goa and Maharashtra.
By Rail: Amaravati Express, and Hampi Express are the most connected trains
Where to Stay:
Hampi’s Boulders, Shanthi Guesthouse, Mowgli Guesthouse and Kishkindha Resort are a few options. Hotel Malligi is a three star property in Hospet.
Published in Spice Route Magazine, January 2012