- Saptadeepa Bandopadhyay
Explore Hampi - The lost city of Vijayanagara Kingdom
It has been long that I last visited Hampi! But the place has made me so curious and interested that I often google up details about it after I visited it. Like recently I learnt that the successor of the Vijayanagara empire still resides in a nearby village of Hampi. I would really like to follow that news more!
In 2015, when I informed my family of spending a long weekend of October exploring Hampi, they were clueless about the place. Hampi used to be an offbeat destination even for Indians until recently it was written about internationally. It has been well promoted today by the backpacker community and photography enthusiasts. Lately, Hampi attracts many tourists from around India and also internationally.
I just wonder sometimes, why was Hampi missing from our history books while Harrapa and Mohenjodaro civilization had such elaborate lessons.
Tell me about Hampi -
Hampi was declared as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1986! It is the excavated and ruined remains of the grand Hindu Empire of Vijayanagara which dates back to structures ranging from the 13th to 15th Century AD. Hampi lies in one of the oldest plateaux of the earth in the South Indian State of Karnataka. There are several stories of the historic significance of Hampi and the more I read about it, the more it makes me nostalgic and sad thinking of how a city as old as Beijing and a potential commercial hub for international traders could have been destroyed to such an extent. Today all that remains is ruins and ashes.
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Here is what I have learnt about the region and would love to share about Hampi's history -
The mythological connect -
A part of Hampi known as Kishkinda is believed to be the kingdom of the Monkey God (Hanuman) from the Indian Mythology, Ramayana. Kishkinda has a mountain-top 'monkey temple' significant for being the birthplace of Hanuman.
About Anegundi -
Anegundi lies across the Tungabhadra river northwest of Hampi and is said to have existed much before Hampi. Existence of Anegundi is dated back to 1500BC and the region is said to have been the oldest plateau of the earth. Stories around Lord Rama and the Monkey God makes Anegundi one of the important pilgrimage places of South India.
Anegundi also happens to be the first capital city of the Vijayanagara Empire until it was later moved to Hampi.
The Vijayanagara Empire -
The ruins and remains of this grand South Indian Empire are scattered around Hampi. The Vijayanagara empire was established in the 13th Century AD and eventually grew as a collective of all royal dynasties of the Deccan Plateau with the objective to wade off the influence of the Muslim Sultanate rulers in the region.
However, the battle of Tallikota, in1565 AD caused a major military defeat of the Vijayanagara empire by the collective forces of the Muslim Sultanates. The battle left the entire region of Hampi devastated. The Hampi town is said to have been burning for months at a stretch including the destruction of monuments, vandalizing and looting of resources.
Also Read: Places to visit near Bangalore in Karnataka
I'll share with you some snippets of the sights I visited in Hampi, without going much into the dates and ages of the monuments but more about their significance.
Experiencing the grandeur of Hampi -
I spent three days in Hampi and not just experienced the extravagant grandeur of the temple town of Hampi but also the surrounding villages of Anegundi/Kishkinda and Gangavathi.
Our accommodation was at Gangavathi, which is around 20 km away from the main tourist hub of Hampi but at the same time a gateway to explore the simplistic surrounding villages. More about that in a separate blog!
Here is an elaborate list of all that I saw in Hampi! Hope it helps you to explore the UNESCO world heritage site on your visit!
An extensive list of places to include in your Hampi Itinerary-
Temples around Hampi -
The Vitthala Temple complex and the Stone Chariot -
This is the largest temple complex in Hampi and sees the maximum number of tourists in the whole of Hampi. It comprises of the many temples and halls around the premises. Here are some facts about the Vitthala Temple that every visitor must look-out for -
Vitthala temple is dedicated to Lord Vishnu in the Vitthala form.
All the buildings are made in the Dravidian style of architecture with intricate carvings depicting stories from mythological tales, day-to-day life.
There are separate chambers like the Maha Mantapa, Kalyana Mantapa or Ranga Mantapa dedicated for different activities like rituals, marriages and music.
We were amazed by the musical pillars of the Ranga Mantapa. Each large pillar is divided into seven smaller pillars which when tapped produces different notes of music. These pillars have been of interest to many researchers and the British rulers even cut open two of these to check what was within but found nothing.
The stone chariot is another important attraction. It is among the three most-famous stone chariots of India. The other two are in Konark(Orissa) and Mahabalipuram(Tamil Nadu) respectively. The stones wheels have been cemented to avoid damages but were once functional.
The Vitthala Temple Bazaar which spreads over a large area is another visibly large single-storey building which used to be a busy market place, back in the days, for traders from across the globe.
The Virupaksha Temple -
The Virupaksha temple is the largest temple that has survived the test of time amidst the ruins of Hampi. It is just adjacent to the bank of the Tungabhadra river.
Virupaksha Temple is devoted to Lord Shiva and still remains functional for many devotees who visit here. The Nandi (Bull) to the Shiva temple is a grand Monolith structure seated at an elevated platform, at the far east end of the entrance. The bull structure attracts many eye-balls for its spectacular view during the sunset hours with its backdrop of large boulders.
The bull leads to the entrance after a long way through a broken stretch of the once market area also known as the Hampi Bazaar.
The eastern gate is a huge nine-tier temple-like structure with many beautifully carved designs on it. I bet you can't see it completely without looking straight up at the sky.
The temple structure has been renovated many times and thus, the only functional complex amongst the ruins of Hampi.
The Kadalekalu and Sasivakalu Ganeshas -
Both these Ganesh statues (the Elephant God) are monolithic structures carved out of a single stone.
The Kadelekalu Ganesha temple is located on the Hemakuta Hill and is 15-feet tall, the largest in south India. The location of the temple gives a calm meditative kind of vibe with a breathtaking view of the Matanga Hills and the whole of Hampi.
The Sasivakalu statue is around 8-feet tall in height. This structure is unique, for a snake tied around Ganesha's huge belly and has a funny mythological story to it. The story says that once Ganesha had stuffed himself so much with food that he tied the snake around his belly afraid that his stomach would burst open anytime.
The Lakshmi Narasimha Statue -
The Narasimha is a form of Lord Vishnu in Hindu mythology which resembles a lion-face and the fierce look has been beautifully portrayed through its big bulging eyes. The statue is around 6.7 meters tall.
The original structure was the seated Narasimha over a coiled snake which forms the crown-like feature of the statue with its seven heads i.e. the Shesh Nag as referred in Hindu Mythology. A Lakshmi statue was seated on the lap of the Narsimha which is missing now. The structure was vandalized and destroyed by the Mughals when they attacked Hampi. The hands of the statue were also broken off.
The large Badavilinga Shiva Linga Statue -
It is a small temple that stands over a water channel flowing through it. It is a large 3 meters tall Shiva Linga statue which is partially submerged in water. The temple has no ceiling and the sun rays beaming through the ceiling lights up the structure. It gives a charismatic glow to the statue.
The Hemakuta Hill -
Hemakuta Hill is a short trek uphill where a number of temple structures exist mainly dedicated to Lord Shiva. These temples are architecturally very different from all other Vijayanagara structures and are thus often confused as Jain Temples. What struck my attention were numerous little Shiva Lingas scattered across the surface of the hill and I kept wondering how had so many little Shiva Linga's landed there carelessly.
Hemakuta Hills offers some very gorgeous sunrise and sunset views from the top. However, we were lashed with some sudden rains when we were at the top.
Also Read: A hidden waterfall I visited in Karnataka
The Royal Enclosure - Largest Open Air Museum of Hampi
The royal enclosure is a vast open area of around 59000 sq.mtrs that demonstrates the vastness of the Vijayanagara Empire with every possible amenities engineered for a town to sustain and flourish! I could imagine the amount of destruction that must have been caused during the battle of 1565.
All that remains today are the basements of most of these structures. The walls and ceilings are missing because they were burnt down by the opponents over a fortnight. Since the majority of the empire was made of sandalwood, the complete empire was subjected to such destruction by fire.
Here are the few attractions that remain for us visitors -
The Mahanavami Dibba - An elevated platform in the centre of the enclosure used for occasions like the Dusshera celebration or for the King's address to the people. If you were wondering, yes Dusshera was a grand celebration in the Vijayanagara Empire before it moved to Mysore.
The Stepped Well - It is a large square-shaped water tank which has beautiful symmetric steps leading into the tank. It was the water storage system for the entire royal enclosure.
The Aqueduct - There are stone ducts/pipes laid underground connecting at least 20 wells and tanks and are functional till date.
Underground Halls - One can see steps leading underground to some of the buildings which indicate the existence of such a structure in the past.
There are many more halls like the King's Darbar Hall, buildings and stairs which only lead into the open air today and is visible on standing at a height.
The Hazara Rama temple is the only temple in the entire Royal Enclosure which was dedicated to Lord Rama. It has delicately carved tales of the Ramayana on its walls.
The Queen's bath is an enclosed area built for the ladies of the royal family.
The Lotus Mahal - This is a beautiful Lotus shaped hall surrounded by a garden which is believed to be the Queen's leisure area or for meeting people.
The Elephants, stable is another well-known building beautifully carved and which looks like separated compartments for royal elephants.
The Hampi Archeological Museum -
A museum has been maintained next to the Virupaksha temple. It has many other remains of the region which has been excavated over the years.
Also, the broken carvings, wall pieces, temple idols have been preserved here. You can walk around the museum if that interests you.
One should be able to visit these places around Hampi by foot/bicycle or even hire a rickshaw.
Walking around these vast stretches caused sore feet by the end of the day but it also filled our souls with stories untold and unheard of.
Hampi somehow makes me sad every time I imagine the mayhem that the region and its people must have had to experience after the battle of 1565. The place may haunt in your dreams once you know of that it has never ever been inhabited again by humans. Until the mid-1900 it lay hidden under bushes and wild animals found shelter there.
Basic Hampi Travel Guide
How to reach Hampi?
If you have not yet aware where is Hampi located on the map, let me help you with how to reach Hampi, UNESCO world heritage site -
Hampi is in the Southern state of Karnataka in India. Hampi has no direct connectivity by air or railway. And the best mode to reach Hampi is by roads. But if you are arriving from outside the state of Karnataka, here is how you can reach this temple town.
By Train -
Hospet is the nearest railway station around Hampi. You can book trains from major Indian cities to Hospet. A public transport bus or an auto-rickshaw can be hired to reach the Hampi village from Hospet railway station.
By Air -
The nearest domestic airport from Hampi is Bellary (60 km) from where you can hire a taxi to reach Hampi.
However, if you are an international tourist, you must reach Bengaluru Airport for your Visa formalities and at a distance of 272km from Hampi. You can take a domestic flight from Bangalore or an overnight bus to reach Hampi.
Other international airports in the vicinity of Hampi are Goa, Mumbai or Hyderabad.
By Road -
This is the most preferred mode of transport for the local tourists coming to Hampi. Hampi is well connected to Bengaluru (372 km), Hubli(162km) and Hyderabad(361km) and can be reached by an overnight bus or taxi ride. Sleeper buses are available from all these cities.
Best time/season to visit Hampi -
Hampi weather is hot and humid most of the year.
November to February are pleasantly tolerable to explore around Hampi.
However, over the last few years, people have been visiting the place beyond its Tourist season. The backpacker community is also often here irrespective of the season.
November and January have some festivals like the Hampi Utsav organized by the locals and you could choose that time as well to witness the local culture fest.
Also Read: All that I learnt about Kerala's Classical Art, Kathakali
Places to Stay in Hampi -
There is no place to stay in Hampi. Hampi was never inhabited after the 1565 battle of Tallikota. Yes, that is the tragic ending of an ancient city like Hampi!
Nobody is allowed to stay beyond 6 PM in Hampi, though the day here is bustling with tourists.
Wondering where should you stay then?
Locations around Hampi have grown into commercial tourist spaces over the years. So the nearest you could be staying is on the opposite side of the Tungabhadra river which is today fondly known as the Hippie Island by the backpackers and travellers coming here.
For budget and solo travellers, There are many hostels in Hampi located at the Hippie Island side of Tungabhadra River.
Alternately, you could stay around the nearby town of Hospet or villages like Anegundi or Gangavathi. You could hire taxis from here to reach Hampi. These locations have options for tourist lodges and hotels.
Where to Eat in Hampi -
Hampi side of Tungabhadra river has two restaurants just behind the Virupaksha temple i.e. Mango Tree Hotel and Sri Venkateshwara Hotel and the most feasible options on the day you are exploring Hampi. They serve authentic South Indian Meals or Thali. However, these places become extremely crowded in the afternoon.
Hippie Island has many options to chose from and also serve International cuisines at many places. You could even check with your accommodation.
There is a lot to be explored on the other side of the Tungabhadra river and in the nearby towns of Hampi. I would share some offbeat experiences in Hampi in another blog soon!