This post is dedicated to my friends Sonam and Darshan, with whom I traveled to Hampi…with whom I shared many coffees, laughs, conversations and quiet moments. They embark on an exciting journey today..hope to see them in another part of the world, soon.
The comparisons and references were many…Petra, Machu Picchu, Greece, Cambodia.. I’ve been to Hampi thrice and in my mind, this centuries old kingdom of Vijayanagara, by the Tungabhadra river, is unique. Of the 1800 temples and architectural sites built in this region over the rule of 28 kings and 4 dynasties..ruins of 84 sites are in and around Hampi. It’s a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Getting to Hampi from Bangalore
The nearest city is Hospet. There are overnight buses and trains from Bangalore. I would definitely recommend taking the train. The timings are perfect, it leaves Bangalore at 10 pm and reaches at 6 am. I got a good night’s sleep on the train was all set to explore Hampi the next day.
One street town
As an inn owner there said, ‘Hampi is a one street town’! The backpackers’ street is on the other side of the river. Most travelers stay here. This street is lined with small shops, backpacker pads, cafes and bike rentals. Don’t miss the German Bakery at the street corner, right by Heera Music shop which sells djembes, dholaks, flutes, African rattles and other instruments. The shop owner, Muhamad Sami is a friendly guy who shared interesting stories about the instruments, his life and other travelers with us. We stayed at Hema guest house. Lovely place with small but clean rooms, good coffee and hammocks! Make sure to meet Ramesh, the cheerful manager at Hema…he epitomizes ‘service with a smile’.
The history and other stories
Hampi, earlier known as Pampakshetra, then rechristened to Kishkinda and finally to Vijayanagara. It holds an important place in Hindu mythology with Lord Rama gathering the vanara sena (monkey army) and sending Lord Hanumana to present day Sri Lanka to search for Sita and bring news of her whereabouts. Lord Hanumana brings back her ornament to Lord Rama as proof of life.
The sculptures and engravings in the temples depict different events from Ramayana in addition to those from the lives of the Vijayanagara kings.
In the olden days, the main Hampi Bazaar St was used by traders,who came to Indian shores from far off lands. Arab traders brought horses, Italian merchants sold leather, Chinese sold silk, gold and South Africans traded diamonds here.
A walk over the hill and by the river
At the end of this street, right across from the main Virupaksha temple is a small Culture shop selling local handicrafts, weaves and incense. On top of the hillock is a monolithic Nandi (a seated bull) sculpture. Its a short hike up from here to another small temple on the left, climb down from here to reach the Achyutaraya temple.
There is a small pushkarni (manmade lake, also used as a bath) in the central courtyard. The site is very peaceful. The architecture and carvings are reminiscent of the Angor Wat temples in Cambodia. There are a lot of similarities in the deities and mythology depicted (Ramayana is a common thread).
Walk down the Courtesan’s Street, it has a similar layout to the market place with pillared walkways on either side. Merchants used to trade gems, pearls and ivory here.
The pathway towards the left leads to the river. There’s a lovely spot under a peepal tree, atop a small hillock,overlooking the river and the massive boulders on the other side. This is a nice spot to get some tender coconut and relax, with a beautiful view. Walk on by the river, there’s a temple in black stone. The route is on a cliff-ish part which passes through a small cave and ends near the bazaar street.
Evening at the backpacker’s
The perfect place to unwind after a day of exploring is Evergreen cafe. Its on the terrace of a small inn on the backpackers’ lane. They serve delicious cold coffee, chilled beer and some interesting flavors of hookah! They have low seating and play really good music. However, the food here is a-ok..
Back at our backpackers, there’s live music. Muhamed Sami, the owner of Heera Music shop is singing Hindi songs and playing a dholak. On next is the in-house dj!
The guest house next doors, screens movies every night. They’re showing Wolf of Wall Street tonight. It’s a great place to relax and meet other travelers. There’s also a drum circle that happens most evenings near the shacks in the fields. Since the last ferry is at 5.30pm, all the action is on this side of the river after that!
Cycling through the ruins
The very landscape of Hampi is breathtaking. Huge rocks, ancient ruins, massive pillared walkways, the Hemakuta hill..and the peaceful Tungabhadra river flowing through.
We rented cycles, and started at the central Virupaksha temple , cycled straight down the market street, took a right through the bus stand and cycled uphill. Thankfully the day was not too sunny and the breeze was cool.
We stopped at the Ganesha temples on Hemakuta hill, Sasivekalu and Kadalekalu. The inner sanctum of the first temple has a monolithic Ganesha idol. Down the road there’s a Krishna temple, as you walk in there’s a tall arch. If you look up, you see a rabbit in the circle of the moon, with a snake on either side. This depicts a lunar eclipse and the snakes depict Rahu and Ketu.
The columns are lined with carvings of Lord Vishnu’s avataars. This temple has 3 entrances-North, South and East. Just across the street are the ruins of the market place and a small tank (pushkarni). There is a central structure which houses the idols in the pushkarni.
Another kilometer or so down the road and through the plantain fields is the Lakshminarasimha temple, a monolithic statue of a man-lion (Nara-man, Simha-lion). A lot of the statues in the shrines were destroyed during the mughal invasion by muslim rulers. You will notice that many elephant sculptures have their trunks broken, the Ganesha idols have their arms cut off. These statues can no longer be worshiped. The Badavilinga, which is a 3 m high shiva lingam, located next to the Narasimha statue is still intact, hence still worshiped.
This last stretch of cycling from here to the Queen’s bath is really pleasant, the roads are clean and wide, lined with trees and plantain fields. The queen used to bathe in turmeric, rose, sandalwood waters.
There’s a small stone outside the bath, with an indentation, where these herbs were ground daily. I really enjoyed visiting the Lotus Temple which has a beautiful, grassy compound, the neem trees look very artistic framed against the fortress walls. We sat here for a while and drank tender coconut water under the neem trees, before exploring the Elephant Stables which is in the same compound.
The Hazara Rama temple is probably the most intricately carved temple in the Hampi ruins. It literally means a ‘Thousand Ramas’. The walls of this temple are embellished with bas reliefs of scenes from the epic, Ramayana. There are friezes of ceremonial and war processions-elephants, dancers,horses and soldiers.
When my friends and I were waiting at the train station, I asked them if they had to pick their favorite moment from the trip, what would it be, here’s what they liked best…
Coracle ride: Most of the travelers use the motor ferry to cross the river, we opted for the coracle, and just as we neared the shore, the rower offered us a ‘spin’ literally! He rowed the coracle round in the same spot till we were spinning like on a merry go round! After seeing this, the group of German travelers on the shore hopped on..for a coracle ride!
The next night, we rode in the coracle again. It was pitch dark outside, the town had gone to sleep, we heard the splish-splash of the oars. He was coming to drop us to the other side so we could head to the train station. That coracle ride was memorable, the sky filled with stars, no city lights and the river water shimmering in the moon light, the silhouette of the Virupaksha temple in the distance…
Cold water wade: The underground Shiva Temple near the Hazara Rama temple has an underground cave situation going on, the main sanctum with the shiva lingam is inside this cave. After our 3 hour long exploration and cycling in the sun, wading through the deliciously cold water was lovely!
Buttermilk at Ravi Rose cafe: We found another superb rooftop cafe, its off the main bazaar street, in the side lanes. It’s got the most delicious,frothy and light buttermilk I ever had, perfect on a hot day out. They also serve good Indian lunch.
Three times and I’ve still not gotten enough of Hampi, I plan to go back there with my djembe for the drum circle and also to try my hand at bouldering. Need to figure out how different it is from rock climing!
© All text, images and ideas on this blog are copyrighted by medeaspeak and cannot be used without explicit permission.