Between December 24-26, 2004 I visited Hampi in northern Karnataka. The place was so fascinating that not only did I take heaps of pictures, I also managed to drum up a rather long piece.
Do read on (at leisure, might I add, since it’s rather wordy).
And the snapshots from the trip are here.
It was truly a magical experience. I have always wondered why there’s so much hype about the town of Hampi, 7 hours from Bangalore. It was only when I visited the place that I realized why. I never imagined there could be so much beauty amidst the ruins of an ancient kingdom. The journey to Hampi from Bangalore is pleasant in parts and not so pleasant in others. We took the road and saw quite a few accidents on the way. One particularly bad one with a Honda City crushed by a truck.
The expressway from Tumkur, which lasts for about 50 kms, is the fastest phase of the journey. After that there are so many diversions, that I nearly run the car off the road once! We stop at a sunflower field enroute where I sight this old man and I click before he realizes what I’m upto. Somewhere, around Chitradurga you can see the windmills all around the surrounding hills. Quite a pretty sight. We stop for chai (seriously could go down as one of the worst cups of tea I have had!) but I like the friendly boy who serves us tea, the angry cat and the peaceful pup we encounter at the stall.
We reach Hampi (after asking for directions at several junctions as there were no signs) at about 2 pm. After freshening up, armed with a map we set out for the Queen’s Bath – a rather elaborate structure for a bathroom. But I guess they weren’t royals for nothing, ay? Curved ornate balconies overlooked the main bath area and there were several open archways.
Now, I am not sure why the Queen would want to go about her cleaning activities in full public view, but I’m sure the onlookers weren’t complaining. Huge groups of kids had converted the lawns into a picnic spot – eating, playing and generally making merry.
We move on to the underground Shiva temple. This one looks like it was discovered later as some excavation work is still happening outside. Apparently, they weren’t too happy constructing on the ground, so they dug up the place and managed to build a temple below. Rather dank passageways criss-cross the structure. The afternoon sun filters through the imposing columns and squirrels play and hide and seek in the nooks and corners.
In Hampi, you’d be forgiven for thinking you’ve been taken back in time. The whole town has such an old world feel. Everything seems like it is tumbling down (and yet everything is actually quite well preserved by the government now). When you take a walk down the main street in Hampi (and it’s a rather short walk), you realize how small the place really is. All the small restaurants and eateries are concentrated in this area. And they all boast of being recommended by either the Rough Guide or the Lonely Planet, as each of them will scream out when you pass them! From Banana Pillars (go figure!) to Greek Salad – you get it all!
At one end of the Hampi Bazaar is the town’s largest structure – the 11 storey Virupaksha Temple. In the courtyard is an elephant chewing on his (or her) grass. I get quite a few kids all wanting their pictures taken. And an old woman who insisted I take her picture along with her grandson. Elsewhere, a man blows on a conch shell and just for Rs 10!
At about 6.00 pm, we head towards Hemkuta Hill, where we’ve been told one an catch a beautiful sunset – if you’re lucky. We’re not that lucky – it’s a rather cloudless day and the sun sinks beyond the horizon without much drama. Still there’s quite a crowd at the top, perched on the rocks and walking around. It’s so silent, sometimes it’s eerie. As you look around, all you can see for miles around you are just rocks of all shapes and sizes. And the horizon turning a shade of purplish pink and blue.
And then there’s the moon too making an appearance. At the bottom of the hill is a temple with a large Ganesh statue inside. It looks beautiful lit up in the night. That’s the last monument for the day. We make our way back to the hotel.
The Rough Guide says in Hampi you can catch “arguably” the best sunrises in the world. Our plan is to trek up to sunrise point on Matanga Hill, which is to the east of Hampi Bazaar. At 5.30 am in the morning, it is totally dark. And since the guide book talks about muggers and thieves who take advantage of the dark I have a lot of second thoughts when I see the dark outline of the hill before us.
After much debate and discussion, we start climbing the hill. At least I have my rather heavy tripod if anyone wants to act funny! The steps are roughly cut and it takes us about ½ hour to climb to the top. We reach just as dawn is breaking. I been a while since I’ve caught a sunrise. It’s rare that I wake up so early and of course, you don’t get to see much of it in the city.
I can see the light breaking from across the horizon as the sky turns purplish blue with streaks of orange. I perch myself on a rock and watch nature’s spectacle unfold. There’s another guy who has braved his way to the top. A while later, 3 foreigners give us company.
The sun finally peeks out of the horizon. As it comes out it casts a beautiful orange halo all around the rocky hills. It is mesmerizing, to say the very least. Finally, the orange ball emerging out of the distance turning bigger and bigger. Against an old temple structure at the top, it makes a particularly beautiful sight.
We are joined by three visitors who perch themselves on the edge to catch a better view. It’s beautiful and not to be missed if you ever visit Hampi. Probably one of the best moments of the whole trip as the sun gives a dazzling display of its imagery and magic. I was glad I climbed the hill after all.
An enterprising chaiwallah is at the top, and I have, what I can describe best as probably one of the most tepid cups of tea (stiff competition to the one I had earlier on the road!) I have ever tasted! And of course, he didn’t have change, so after having paid for everyone on top of the hill, we made our way back to the town, stopping once in a while to click a picture or two as the morning mist has cleared and we caught a glimpse of the view for miles around.
Hampi, is also a birder’s delight. As we descend the hill, we caught sight of pretty spotted doves, a coucal, parakeets, hoopoes and even an enthusiastic and curious peacock!
To the opposite end of Hampi Bazaar is an interesting structure, which now houses the Crafts Emporium. I roam around the long never-ending corridors. I spot a sadhu sitting in a corridor and get reprimanded when I point my camera at him! So I settle for a friendly peacock who has no problems with posing!
We head back to Hampi Bazaar for a hearty breakfast at a place called Venkateswara (also mentioned in Lonely Planet!). From there we move on to a temple on Hemkuta Hill. The morning is turning out to be quite pleasant. Unlike the day before, there are even some clouds in the sky.
My car had gotten mobbed in the meanwhile with curious kids, who are all posing in front of it. Ma Cherie, I must say, has gotten more than her share of attention during this trip, and I think it had something to do with her colour.
From there we made our way to the Vithala Temple, another very famous monument in Hampi. It’s a huge complex so try and make sure you have a look at the map first! Otherwise, you could walk and walk and reach the Hampi Bazaar again. A huge group of foreign tourists had just unloaded from a very flashy looking bus (which had to be parked quite far away, since it could not get through one of those low arched rocks at the entrance).
There is an army of school kids again. Besides the main temple complex, this area houses the King’s Balance and several other structures (can’t remember the names though – after a while it’s tough, believe me!). Some imposing structures and a little walk later and we come to a temple overlooking the Tungabhadra river.
Lots of religious (and bathing, which could be related) activity is going on in this area. There’s also coracle rides one can take here for 50 bucks per person (both ways). We take the coracle back to where we started. It’s a pleasant ride along the river (especially so since someone else is rowing). And a coracle is surely a fun way to travel. It feels like you’re in a huge salad bowl. Thankfully, you’re not the salad.
From there we enter the main Vithala temple complex and I come across artists sketching inside. I am tempted to just sit there and watch. Or better still, join them! But I take a few pictures of the artists at work instead. Some of them are really good.
The temple also houses a Stone Chariot in its front courtyard. The rest of the structure is very similar to the others. A main structure in the centre. And longish structures with lots of pillars on the side. These guys sure loved their pillars. After roaming around for a bit, I sight a very interesting tree. And take a few photographs from inside and outside. It looks as old as the buildings.
Rather tired by now (it’s about 12 noon) and we’ve packed in quite a few temples! We go back for lunch, freshen up and then set out again at about 4pm. Today we are determined to catch the sunset. We head for the Queen’s Bath area where there are some more interesting structures we hadn’t had time for yesterday.
After a brief stop at the Mahavahana Dibba and another temple, we head to the Lotus Mahal. Pink coloured walls and a lot of arches. From the distance, this one looks truly beautiful. Squirrels dart in and out of the corridor. From here we head to the imposing Elephant Stables. Of course, they look nothing like the stables that you and I might keep our horses, if we could afford them. One can almost imagine a procession of grandly dressed elephants being paraded around the lawns and housed in this rather grand structure.
The sun in the meanwhile has begun to set. So we head out again towards Hemkuta Hill. Along the way, we catch sight of the sun turning into a huge golden ball between the banana plantations (did I mention that they are the 2nd most abundant sight in Hampi after rocks?). Unfortunately, our race with the sun didn’t have a fruitful ending. I just about managed to catch the last of the sun going down, and I was still on a black and white roll!
We trek up to the hill again. The sky turning that beautiful shade of purple again, but like last evening, it wasn’t too bright. I tried a few shots anyway. The moon was out nice and bright again (I think it was the day after full moon).
Once the evening set in, we walked across to the Hanuman Temple, which was looking really pretty in the evening light. A gaggle of school boys wanted to touch my camera and know my name etc. The kids, by the way, are really friendly around here. At about 7.30 or so we decided to call it a day. Referring to the Rough Guide, we tried to find a place called Mango Tree for dinner. But after taking a wrong road, all we could see were banana trees all around. The Mango Tree eluded us so we went back to the really slow service of Mayura Bhuvaneshwari.
In the morning, behind Mayura, we can see a temple and we decide to try our luck there before leaving Hampi. It’s about 2 kms from the hotel and there’s a lock on the gate. Fortunately, the gatekeeper seems to live across the temple, so he opens it for his early visitors. There are actually people inside and I discover this gentleman studying (the scriptures?) in the early morning light.
This is the Patabhirama Temple. And the final one for us as we bid goodbye to Hampi.
We take a quick detour via the Tungabhadra Dam. The water sluice gates are not open. But there are heaps of birds chirping around the place. It’s about a one-km walk from the entrance. When we get back, Ma Cherie has been mobbed again. This time by googles wearing giggly teenagers who are posing and taking pictures with my car.
The more interesting sight of the dam, however is outside from the roadside. I catch sight of these trucks getting an early morning bath by the side of the dam! What a novel way to clean a truck. I think I should try this with my car sometime. At the lake beside my house. On the way, just after we reach Tumkur, we make our last pit stop to catch the sunset by the highway. It’s hard to resist watching the sun going down on yet another day!