Deccan Herald – Hampi – A City Set in Stone
It was love at first sight. A 12 feet long Shiv ling, made out of a single black stone, immersed in a perennial stream was the first thing we saw as we entered Hampi – the land of the glorious past. Twenty-five square kilometres of ruins on undulating rocky terrain stand by the river Tungabhadra that has seen the rise and fall of the Vijaynagar Empire and the nascent days of the city of Hampi, whose existence pre-dates the empire to an unrecorded past.
“Most civilisations met with their end when they were at the peak of advancement. Like Maya, Mohenjo-daro and Harrapa,” a scholar of ancient history, Himalay Tehsin, once observed. Strange, but true. Hampi was also at its peak. The towering intricately built temples, sprawling bazaars, musical pillars, the king’s balance, elephant stables, the aqueducts and canals and imposing palaces stand testimony to it. One can get a glimpse of the glory and progress reading the accounts of the 15th century traveller Domingo Paes about superior irrigation, ports and administration, quick redressal by judges and courts, thriving trade and commerce and city the size of Rome.
Hampi comprised of the core areas of the Vijaynagar Empire, formed by Harihara and Bukka, during the 14th to 16thcentury. It reached its zenith during the reign of Krishanadevaraya in the 16th century.
At historical places or otherwise, we prefer not to hire a guide but to buy a guidebook and explore, absorb and photograph the areas at our own pace. However, for some parts of the Hampi ruins, hiring a guide may be a good option. Vittala Temple complex is one of those monuments. The stories of the musical pillars, the mythological carvings, the Persian trading horses, the world famous stone chariot etc. told with the dramatic storytelling of the guide will make the experience amusing to say the least. When you approach this part of the ruins, you will need to park your vehicle and take a battery operated open bus. It’ll take you down the spectacular old Hampi Bazaar, with shops on both sides that once used to trade horses, leading to the Vittala complex.
The main 165 feet high tower of the oldest temple of Hampi – Virupaksha – can be seen from a distance. It perhaps is the most frequented of all the ruins, as it is a place of worship. Shops and stalls flank the main road leading to the temple. Tourists as well as pilgrims thronging the place do not give the feel of ruins there, but of a well-visited and lively religious place. A road behind the temple leads to the bazaar where there are small and big cafes bordering the Tungabhadra River, mainly to cater to the foreign tourist. The walls of one of the cafes are splashed with vibrant, spellbinding paintings, up for sale. Yet others give a wonderful view of the river. With fifty plus varieties of teas and good continental food, these cafes are perfect for an evening snack by the river.
On a walk down to the Puranda Mantapa, with Tungabhadra waters lapping its base, you’ll encounter vendors calling you to have overpriced sugarcane juice, as well as boatmen, luring you to a ride in the river on wide straw basket-like boats. We succumbed to the temptation and took a short ride down the river to the ruins of an old bridge built by the kings. Instead of the boatman with whom we’d bargained a rate, it turned out to be a 12-year-old kid, claiming to be 18, to be our captain and shipmate. It is one of those experiences, which look stirring, but can be just the opposite if undertaken in an afternoon sun with a kid on the helm.
Some monuments are a distinct fusion of Muslim and Hindu architecture like the Lotus Mahal and Elephant Stables. The King’s Balance, Hemakoota, the monolithic Ganesh statue, Krishna Temple, the twenty-two feet high Ugra Narsimha, Veerbhadra Temple, two huge boulders called Sisters’ Rocks, Queen’s Bath, Pushkarani, the Commander in Chief’s fort, Hazara Rama Temple near the king’s palace and the remaining maze of ruins of this World Heritage Site require at least 3 nights stay. For the ones wrought with the romance of history or photography, a month may not suffice. The most captivating moment of our trip was a thin moon hanging over the solitary ruins on a cool, dark summer night.
You can feel the vibrance of the past even at the museum. The artefacts and a big model of the ruins in the middle make the museum in Kamalpura worth a visit.
The best way to reach Hampi is by road. We drove down from Mumbai and enjoyed the changing sceneries on the largely good highway until Hospet, 12 kilometres away from Hampi, and then a not so good drive from thereon. One can also take a train to Hospet, which is the nearest railway station. There are numerous places to stay in Hospet. Many opt to stay in guesthouses in the old town of Hampi, across the Tungabhadra River. The KSTDC’s Mayura Bhuvaneshwari also offers a decent stay near the ruins.
If there is an extra day in hand, a must visit place is the Daroji Wildlife Sanctuary. You drive down alongside a deep canal, which was built by Tipu Sultan to irrigate the farmers. Now, it looks like a natural stream carved by years of flowing waters. This sanctuary is famous for its sloth bears. Sloth bears are shy animals and difficult to spot in the wild. Daroji has a feeding schedule for these animals, where they spread honey mixed with grains on bare rocks at dusk. We were lucky to see eight sloth bears at a time, with a couple of large wild boars, during the feeding hours. The most interesting sound that you’d hear in this forest is the slurping of bears as they lick honey.
Hampi, they say, is the monkey kingdom Kishkinda of the epic Ramayan. Others say Hampi is the ‘Pompeii of India.’ For us, it was a song sung in the rhythm of rocks, a story told in stones and an age-old memory that has refused to linger and vanish.
Hampi: A City Set in Stone