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Dreamy Hampi

Virupaksha Temple.
Image courtesy: Gitika Saksena

Surreal, stark and yet stunning – you soon run out of words to describe Hampi and its silhouetted monuments, as they stand vigil over time. An overnight train journey is all that separates the chaos of Bangalore from the haunting ruins. One can board Hampi Express from Bangalore at night and reach Hospet, the nearest railhead to Hampi, the next morning.

The name Hampi is derived from ‘Pampa’ – the old name of the Tungabhadra River, on whose banks the capital city of the Vijayanagara Empire was built. The site was chosen because it had natural defences, in the form of rocky hills on three sides and the river on the fourth. It was a thriving, bustling city till the second half of the 16th century, when it was laid siege to and ultimately overrun by the Sultan of Bijapur. As legend has it, the city’s temples were ravaged by the invaders and its sandalwood palaces burnt down in an attempt to wipe it clean from popular memory.

And so Hampi was forgotten – its stone survivors overwhelmed by jungle growth; until British archaeologists stumbled upon it several many decades later.

The grandeur of Virupaksha Temple

Part of the central aggregation of the ruins known as Hampi Bazaar, Virupaksha is a revered Hindu temple and a major attraction for the religiously inclined. There is a fascinating, centuries-old pin-hole camera within the temple walls which projects an inverted silhouette of the main structure. Particularly helpful is an information board, put up by the Archaeological Survey of India, presenting a short history of the several dynasties which ruled the Vijayanagara Empire.

Just outside the Virupaksha Temple complex are the embankments of the Tungabhadra River. With vegetable sellers, curio hawkers and stone-swallowing-nomadic magicians, they are a wonderful reminder of the intimate equation the locals of today share with the past of a forgotten empire.

Vijaya Vittala Temple.
Image courtesy: Gitika Saksena

The calm of Vijaya Vittala Temple

This temple is well-known for the iconic structure of stone chariot within the complex. But, there is so much more to absorb here – the intricate carvings on the walls depicting fables and stories from Hindu mythology, military conquests of the king, Krishna Deva Raya and daily life of his empire’s citizens.

On the way back from the temple to Hampi Bazaar, one can walk along the riverbank with the boulders of the Deccan outcrops for company. On the way, do pause for a moment at the cave of monkey king Sugriva (of Ramayana fame), unfettered and undisturbed over all these centuries.

View from Matanga Hill.
Image courtesy: Gitika Saksena

The view from Matanga Hill

It is highly recommended getting up at the break of dawn to trek up Matanga Hill, which rises in the very middle of the ruins. As far as one’s eye can see, the landscape of rocky hillocks and palm trees falls away. On one side, the river glitters against the hazy backdrop of Anjaneya; a hill now thronged by devotees for being the birthplace of Hanuman.

And many more magnificent ruins

One can spend days just meandering around the many sites of the ruins, the notables ones include the  six metre- monolithic statue of Narasimha, the half-man and half-lion incarnation of Vishnu; the Bal Krishna Temple, which Krishna Deva Raya built in honour of his third wife Jaganmohini; the ornate Elephant stables with influences of Jain and Buddhist architecture; the Hazara Rama Temple which, as the name suggests, has a thousand scenes from Ramayana depicted through wall carvings; and the Sunset Point near Hampi Bazaar, where the fading sun saunters over the dramatic ruins-scape.

Top Tip

  • If on your first trip to Hampi, engaging a government approved guide to take you through the city is highly recommended.
  • Hospet is where several visitors choose to stay, simply because it offers acceptably modern accommodation. If you have an appetite for the basic, stay at one of the few guest houses in the heart of the ruins at Hampi Bazaar, they offer good continental breakfast too!
  • A good place to have lunch is ‘The Mango Tree’ – a tarpaulin tented eatery in the middle of the hutments near the Virupaksha Temple. It has an eccentric menu comprising standard Indian fare, the ubiquitous Indian Chinese and Nutella pancakes!
  • Biking and cycling are the best ways to explore Hampi. Alternatively, hire an auto rickshaw or a cab for the whole day.
Funky wall art at Hampi.

An economics graduate from Lady Shri Ram College, Delhi and an MBA from Xavier Institute of Management, Bhubaneshwar, Gitika started flirting with photography in 2011 and it has been a constant companion ever since. She enjoys taking photographs related to travel, humanitarian causes, festivals and celebrations and once in a while, likes to connect dots and find the common thread between images of people and places. You can view some of her work here.

For more information on Hampi, please refer to our  Short Escapes from Bengaluru travel guide.