By Dhanwanti Nayak
Hampi is the abode of bygone ruins, rusty colors and fascinating landscape
Born out of a resurgent Hinduism determined to prevent the incursions of the Delhi Sultanate into the Deccan, the Vijayanagara Kingdom took root in Hampi. Though it kept Delhi at bay, it was in constant battle with the Bahmani Kingdom to its immediate north.
It was a cosmopolitan kingdom in many ways. In addition to being populated by an ethnic mix, Muslims too lived and traded within Hampi. They were allowed to build mosques and bury their dead, were recruited into the army and intermarried with Hindus. A good amount of trade passed through Hampi, as is attested by Portuguese travellers, despite the fact that the really big players were the coastal chieftains, especially those on the West Coast.
The kingdom took root in the environs of Hampi when Harihara and Bukka, two brothers from the Sangama family, established an empire around 1336. In all, 23 kings from four dynasties ruled the land over a period of 300 years. Krishnadevaraya and his half-brother, Achyutaraya were its most legendary monarchs. They were finally defeated in the battle of Talikota in 1564–65, which resulted in mass-scale pillaging of Hampi. Such were her riches, it is said, that it took hundreds of elephants more than six months to carry the loot out of Hampi! To this day, the local guides recall legends that speak of precious stone-embellished temple sculptures. Now, of course, missing. Pillaging of a different kind over the last century has made UNESCO declare Hampi a ‘World Heritage in Danger’.
There are frequent buses from Hospet to Hampi, which is best seen locally by auto, bicycles, scooters, and the not-to-be-missed coracle. There are heritage walkways along the Tungabhadra River, and from the Vitthala to the Virupaksha temples. But it can get very hot so cycling might be better. Hire them at ₹100 a day from Hampi Bazaar or your hotel. Both can be taken on the boat across the river for an extra ₹20. To get to Hampi from Virupapura Gadda and Anegundi villages, where most of the accommodation is, the ferry or coracle costs ₹15 per head. Service is 6.00am–6.00pm. If you prefer an autorickshaw, a day’s seeing hire costs ₹800.
Things to See & Do
The Sacred Centre
The Sacred Centre of Hampi is along the riverside and comprises temple complexes such as the ancient Virupaksha Temple, as well as those dedicated to Pattibhirama, Raghunatha, Balakrishna and Vittala. The distinctiveness of the Vijayanagara style of building lay in the construction of mandapas and huge gopurams called rayagopurams. Around each of these temples rose habitation comprising ‘residential areas’ with quarters named after the king who built them or after main deities of the temples. Thus, we have Virupakshapura and Krishnapura, each with a bazaar street in front of the respective temple. Hemakuta Hill, to the right of the Virupaksha shrine, has many temples and is good for a bird’s eye view of the complex.
Take the Chariot Road (Ratha Veedhi) at the base of Matanga Hill. En route is the Kodanda Rama Temple, about 60ft above the rippling Tungabhadra. Bathe your feet in the simulated whirlpool below. It’s called the Chakra Thirtha. Here you’ll find 5ft idols in the Temple of Rama, Lakshmana and Sita, carved out of a single rock. The view of the river during the rains, from this vantage, is fantastic.
The Vittala Temple, whose construction began in 1513 under Krishnadevaraya, was never completed. Nevertheless, it is a lovely place with musical pillars and halls. It has a beautifully carved stone chariot in its courtyard, which is reminiscent of the Sun Temple in Konark.
There are many open, pillared structures, probably mandapas. The walls of some of the mandapa-looking constructions may have actually disintegrated since they were made of wood with thatched superstructures. Down the road to Kamlapura is the Badavi Linga which means ‘small’ or ‘poor’ linga. The 12ft linga, built in black granite, is any-thing but poor or small.
The Royal Centre
Palaces, zenanas and baths, as well as the Hazara Rama Temple meant for royal worship are located at the Royal Centre. Such a wealth of structures has not survived from any other kingdom, not even the powerful Cholas of the Tamil Nadu region.
Vijayanagara reached its zenith under Krishnadevaraya. Temple construction was given top priority and no aspect of life was ignored. Travellers’ accounts talk of wrestling competitions, dance, mock battles, astrology and music.
The Lotus Mahal and the Elephant Stables are in remarkably good shape. Some historians say that these were built after the ransacking of the city but recent evidence suggests that they were contemporary to the other ruins. The other buildings are also examples of Indo-Muslim architecture. In the Lotus Mahal, for instance, the arches are distinctively cusped and its chhajjas or window awnings bracketed, as is found in Muslim structures. Even the Elephant Stables have a dome over each individual stall. There is another enclosure close by, a water pavilion, which could have been the Queen’s Bath. A stepwell in Maharashtra-style has been recently excavated here, indicating the reach of the Vijayanagara Kingdom.
Vittala Temple & Palace Area entry Indians ₹30; Foreigners ₹750 (same day ticket for both) Timings 10.00am–6.00pm Open all days KSTDC bus tour Full day, ₹300 per head Timings 9.30am–6.30pm.
Hampi’s huge rocks are also a hotspot for bouldering. The main climbing hangout is Goan Corner. Kishkinda Trust (Cell: 09449284496) offers equipment and instructors. A short guide to bouldering in Hampi can be had at canpirra.com.
Where to Stay
The burgeoning development of accommodation options in and around Hampi has been a godsend for travellers who previously relied on basic homestays. In the high season you need to book in advance. A popular new addition is the Hyatt Place Hampi (Tel: 08395–661234; Tariff: ₹6,500–9,500) located off SH40. Hampi’s Boulders (Cell: 09480904202; Tariff: ₹7,000–14,000) at Narayanpet, Bandiharlapur Post, arranges sightseeing, treks and nature walks.
Right near the Hampi ruins, is the KSTDC’s Mayura Bhuvaneshwari (Tel: 08394-241574; Tariff: ₹1,850–4,500). The hotel organises sightseeing tours.
Check out the cottages (21) on offer at Jungle Lodges and Resorts’ Hampi Heritage & Wilderness Resort (Cell: 09449597874, 09620903133, 094814-28680; Tariff: ₹4,019–6,553 per person with meals and some activities). The swanky Royal Orchid Central (Tel: 300100; Tariff ₹7,500–1,50,000) on Station Road, has several restaurants, a bar, a swimming pool and spa. Hotel Malligi (Tel: 08394-228101; Tariff: ₹2,500–5,000) is a decent option, five minutes walk from Hospet bus stand.
Where to Eat
Mango Tree Restaurant is among the better eateries here. Goan Corner is popular with visitors. You can also try Funky Monkey, Laughing Buddha and Ranju Restaurant. The most popular eatery, however, is the Venkateswara in Hampi Bazaar. Rahul Guest House accepts walk-ins. Authentic Lingayat meals are only available at Shankar Hotel on the main Hampi Road.
When to go The monsoon (July– September) and winter (November– February). Catch the three-day Hampi Festival in November
Tourist Infocentre, Hampi Bazaar, Tel: 08394-241339, Cell: 09538430065, karnatakatourism.org
KSTDC Tourist Office, Taluk Office Circle. Old Fire Station Bldg, Hospet. Tel: 221008
STD code 08394
Air Nearest airports: Hubli (162km/ 4.5hrs), connected to Bengaluru, Mumbai and Hyderabad. Taxi ₹8–20 per km. Bengaluru Airport is approx 350km away. Taxi ₹8–20 per km
Rail Nearest railhead: Hospet (13km/ 45mins). The perfectly timed Hampi Express leaves Bengaluru City station at 9.00pm every day, and reaches Hospet at 7.00am. Taxi to Hampi costs ₹1,800 (return) and charges ₹600 for a drop. An autorickshaw will charge ₹200 to Hampi. ST buses are also available. Sightseeing taxi (return) from Hospet charges about ₹1,800–2,500
Road To drive to Hampi from Bengaluru, follow NH4 to Tumkur and on Chitradurga. Stay on the NH4 Chitradurga bypass. Stay below the flyover intersection to catch the right turn onto NH13 for Hospet via Hosahalliu. NH4 is a good run till Chitradurga, but NH13 offers a bumpy ride. Travel during the day to avoid heavy night traffic Bus KSRTC night bus (Rajhamsa Executive Bus) runs daily from Bengaluru to Hampi. Also connected by deluxe and ST buses.