Endless ruins and temples – Welcome to Hampi!
The ruins of Vijaynagar, near the village of Hampi are some of the most fascinating in India. Once the capital of one of the largest Hindu empires in Indian history, it was also the busiest bazaar of spice trade and cotton industry. However, this region is muss less dramatic these days in fact time seems to stand still in the bubble of Hampi. It’s a thriving traveller’s center, the kind of place to connect and re-connect with people; visitors tend to stay a while. However it is possible to see this place in a day or two hence I planned a long weekend holiday in the month of November in 2015.
Getting to Hampi:
There are many busses from Bangalore to Hampi and are usually over night buses. I took the one that left Bangalore around 10pm and we reached Hampi very early in the morning, even before the sun had risen. Many people also choose to drive to Hampi and the benefit of that would be easy travel within Hampi from one tourist site to another. If you don’t have a private vehicle then travelling within Hampi can be a tad bit expensive as it is a historical tourist spot but most of Hampi can be explored on foot. There are also numerous travel agents in Hampi that offer local tour packages with travel guides that explain the magic of it history in detail.
Places to see:
1. Hampi Bazaar – Hampi Bazaar is a unique attraction of Hampi. Located in front of the Virupaksha Temple, the Hampi Bazaar is a well-known market place that spreads for more than one kilometer. The road passing through the market has series of old pavilions on both sides. The place used to be a thriving market during the days of the Vijayanagara Empire. Though the market has lost much of its sheen and significance, it is still popular among the tourists.
2. Virupaksha temple – This is perhaps the most known attraction in Hampi. Luckily for me, I had an amazing view from the guesthouse and it being so close to it, it was the first thing I visited. This is one of the city’s oldest temples and the only functioning one. It is dedicated to Lord Shiva and during the morning hours you can also see the aarti and the temple elephant named Lakshmi, going for a bath in the river.
3. Vittala Temple – The Vittala temple is known for its magnificent musical pillars. This is the temple where you will find an impressive stone chariot. Entry charges: Indian – INR 50, Foreign – INR 500. The same ticket can be used for Lotus Mahal and Queen’s bath.
4. Achyuatraya Temple – This is one of the last great monuments constructed before the fall of Hampi. The central halls boast of elaborately carved pillars and structures. Located at the end of Sule bazaar and at the foot of Matanga hill, it is a very peaceful spot.
5. Lotus Mahal – Is one of the key attractions of the royal center. It is a beautiful pavilion with amazing architectural synthesis of Hindu and Islamic styles. The royal women of the Vijayanagara dynasty primarily used this area for recreation. Entry charges : Indian – INR 10, Foreign – INR 250. Entry for children is free.
6. Archaeological Museum – The exhibits in the museum consists of elegant replicas of bronze structures that once belonged to the royal family. The museum can be divided into 4 galleries with the first consisting of display of Saiva faith, the second gallery has sculptures of Ranganatha, the third gallery exhibits assorted antiquities like arms and armory and the fourth has antiquities pertaining to pre-historic and proto-historic period. This museum is known for its valley model of Hampi locating popular landmarks and the ruins of the great sprawling Vijayanagara.
7. Elephant’s Stable – This magnificent 15th century, domed and long rectangular structures considered to be the stable for the state elephants. Facing west, it has eleven large domed chambers interconnected with large arched openings. You can have a seat in the shaded grass with a freshly cut coconut and dream about the times when these majestic beings were a show of richness.
8. Kadalekalu Ganesha Temple – is one of the largest statues of Lord Ganesha that exists in the southern part of India. The statue is 4.6 meters tall and is craved out of a single boulder. One of the pillars has a carving depicting naughty infant Krishna hiding on a tree. He steals the clothes of the bathing women and hanged the clothes on the tree and the women request to return their clothes. On the rear side of the statue, a giant hand can be seen supporting the back of Ganesha. The hand is that of Goddess Parvathi. The statue is imaged as Ganesha sitting on the lap of mother Pravathi who is holding his back. The temple also offers picturesque views of the Hampi Bazaar and the Matanga Hill while standing in the hall of the Ganesha temple.
9. Madhava (Ranga) Temple – The twin shrine temple complex is dedicated to lord Vishnu and his consort Lakshmi. The main shrine is decorated with a brick tower. The main hall in front of this contains the Hanuman figure It’s believed based on some inscriptions found at the site that the hall attached to the temple were used for art performances.
10. Mahanavami Dibba – This pyramidal, three tired stone platform, rising to a height of 8 meters is located to the northeast of the royal enclosure. It was one of the most important ceremonial structures of royal use, built in granite and encased in sculptured stone. This platform was used by the royal family for important festivals to hold elaborate entertainment and feasts.
11. Royal Enclosure – The nucleus of the capital city of Vijayanagar is the largest extant enclosure in the ancient city and houses as many as 43 buildings. The enclosure has 3 entrances, two on the north and one on the west. The northern entrance east of the audience hall was the main entrance with well-guarded massive doorways arranged with exquisitely carved monolithic temple type door flaps the western entrance leads to a passage that connects the temple on the north. To the southwest of the secret chamber was the king’s residence with as many as 9 chambers.
12. Queen’s Bath – The Queen’s bath is located to the southeast of the royal enclosure with its own separate enclosed space consisting of a complex of changing rooms and a bath. At present only the bath is extant. Pillared and vaulted corridors run all around with ornate balconies projecting into the bath. There is an inlet of water channel to the east and a moat that runs all around the structure that ensures a constant supply of fresh water.
13. Hemakuta Hill – The sacred Hemakuta hill is dotted with numerous shrines and mandapas. The characteristic features of these temples are three shrines facing east, west and the North with a common mandapa and a front porch.
14. Matanga Hill – It is worth it. Climb this hill at 5 in the morning to see the sunrise and you will not be disappointed. This itself is an experience and the aerial views of the boulders, paddy fields, coconut trees is just surreal! And incase you’re not an early bird, watching the sun set from this hill is pretty awesome too.
15. Pushkaranis – These are the sacred water thanks that are attached to the temples. The sacred tanks were related to various rituals and functional aspects of the temples and the people surrounding the temples. The tanks were considered to be sacred places by the people of Hampi in the ancient times. There are some water tanks that are not related to the temples. Some of the water tanks are situated within the Royal Enclosure and they were built for the use of the members of the royal family of Vijayanagara.
16. Tungabhadra River and Backpacker/Hippie Island – Another interesting thing to do in Hampi is to take a coracle ride. On the other side of the river lies the famous ‘Hippie Island”. Virupapur village aka Hippie Island in Hampi is known for its relaxed and chilled out vibes. It is not as crowded as the heritage side and has many cafes to just chill. You can also go cliff jumping at Sanapur Lake.
Fun Facts about Hampi: Due to Hampi’s UNESCO status there is no bridge allowed across the river so the only way to get across is by a boat that runs from sunrise to sunset.
Places to Stay:
There are many places to stay varying from your luxury hotels to airbnbs to backpacker hostels. You can stay near the market area or can opt to stay on the hippie island. This part has a Goa like feel to it and is mostly occupied by foreign tourists. I had booked a guesthouse called Padma Guest House, which was about a 100 m from the Virupaksha temple and the hustle and bustle of the bazaar yet in a quiet lane. They served complimentary breakfast and the rooms included cable TV, AC, private bathroom and the terrace had the most spectacular view. The property’s 24-hour front desk provides currency exchange, luggage storage and ticket service. Guests can also request laundry services here at a surcharge as well.
Places to Eat:
Though not a big place, Hampi has a number of restaurants for eating out. Most of the guesthouses offer complimentary breakfast and other meals at a decent cost. A place that’s become very famous by word of mouth is the Mango Tree. You can find good South Indian meals and Mango Lassi. They have homemade mango jam as well! Though little away from the main area, it’s a good stop for a quick lunch.
Things to keep in mind:
1. Do not step on Temple Thresholds – Hampi being the land of many temples definitely requires you to understand the culture of the people. When entering a temple, never step on the doorway but over it.
2. Remove your shoes before entering a temple – Always remove your shoes when entering a temple. It is also polite to do so when entering someone’s house.
3. Take off your hat when entering a temple – Being a hot place, hat becomes an essential travel item however out of respect, take off your hat in religious places.
4. Dress code for temples – There is no official dress code however when entering temples across India in general, try and cover up your body as much as you can or at least your shoulders and anything up to your knee.
5. Moving clockwise – Once you’re inside the temple, and there are many directions you could go in, make sure to move clockwise so that the sacred object/god statues are always to your right. Moving around in a counterclockwise direction is considered disrespectful to the god.
6. Temple entrance fee and timings – All temples in Hampi are free but often you need to pay a fee for your phones/cameras. Most temples are closed between 12:30pm to 2pm for lunch. They however do usually open up as early as 8am.
7. Women on their period – This may sound weird but women on their period are not welcome inside a temple. This is just against the rules of the religion.
8. Accept offerings – Most temples here offer some snacks on exiting the temple like fruits, etc. These offerings are considered sacred so do not refuse it or throw it away.