Posing with the boys

Why Hampi holds a piece of happiness for every traveler

Hampi is surely not just another tourist destination! It is a unique experience you will remember and cherish all your life. The simplicity of the locals, the vastness of the region, the luscious paddy fields, the beauty of the mandapa-lines boulder hills, it all enthralls a traveler. Hampi provides something for any and every kind of traveler.

1) Ancient Cave Paintings from the Iron Age: Not many people know about this place. Finding the place is equally difficult if you do not know what to explain to the local guides or autowallahs. The surprising fact is that there is no ASI board guiding you to this place or even an ASI board at the entrance of the caves. You can never ever find this place on your own. People just know of this place from word of mouth. The caves are literally right in the middle of nowhere. The auto driver led us through some village, stopped somewhere with no signs of any human.. just lush paddy fields on both sides bordered with the boulder terrain. He led us through the paddy fields, into the boulders and then after some 10 mins of zigzagging through shrubs and thorns, we reached the caves.

The cave paintings supposedly belong to the Iron Age, approx 1500 BC.

Way to Cave paintings
Way to Cave paintings
10 foot serpent
10 ft Serpent
Depiction of Megalithic Burial Site
Depiction of Megalithic Burial Site
Dancing Girls
Dancing Girls
Inverted Man
Inverted Man
Man taming the wild
Man taming the wild

Tip: From Hampi, catch a ferry near Virupaksha Temple to reach Anegundi. Cross the Tungabhadra on the ferry, get down and walk to the auto-stand (around 1 km from the ferry stop), negotiate the places you would like to see in Anegundi and the rate for the auto. The auto driver also doubles up as a local guide. If driver is not willing to guide, please do not go with him. There is no other way to get insights of the local places but from the auto driver. So make sure he is a good guide.

If you plan to travel using your own car, it might take approx an hour just to cross the Tungabhadra as the new bridge is located pretty far away. It is best to park your car in the Hampi main parking lot and then take the ferry to Anegundi.

2) Megalithic Tombs (Dolmen): There are a large number of burial mounds from the Neolithic period on the Anegundi side. The mounds can be found on a hill called Mourya Mane (Sounds really Lord of Rings-ish!), which is around 10 kms from Anegundi. We did not have much time on hand to visit this place but were luck to spot a stand-alone burial site on our drive from Hampi to Badami, at a place near Pattadakkal. It was such an exciting find for us! There was an ASI board but it did not describe the site. A local villager was a care-taker for the mound but she did not understand English.

Neolithic Burial Mound
Neolithic Burial Mound
Neolithic Burial Mound 2
Neolithic Burial Mound 2

Tip: Although 10 kms distance from Anegundi might not seem too much, but there is a 2-3 km stretch which you need to traverse on foot. That’s why the locals recommend to spare a full day to see the mounds of Mourya Mane.

3) Unique terrain: The first thing you spot when you enter Hampi is the boulder terrain. It seemed to me as if it was a giant’s playing area, where he had just stacked rocks on top of one another to create these hills! And even though the terrain seems so harsh, with just shrubs and thorn growing on the rocks, you fined the roads lined with banana plantations and paddy fields.

Unique Terrain
Unique Terrain
Hampi's Unique Terrain
Hampi’s Unique Terrain

4) Coracle boat ride on the Tungabhadra: This was one of the most amazing parts of my Hampi travel. It’s a must-do, if you are not scared of water. It is one of very few places you can actually take a coracle ride today, though it was the most popular ways of travel in earlier days.

Coracle
Coracle
Our coracle boat rower
Our coracle boat rower
Starting point visible
Starting point visible
Carved temples in the boulders
Carved temples in the boulders
Vishnu temple on way to Kotilinga
Vishnu temple on way to Kotilinga
Closing time
Closing time

Tip: To get the best views on your coracle ride, take it from near the Monolith Bull. There is a path near the Monolith Bull that leads to a picturesque path through the boulders and to the banks of the Tungabhadra. For a 45 min ride, they charge Rs 300. The rides stop at 6 pm. Be sure to mention that you want to see the Kotilinga Shiva. (Koti means Crore and Linga means the form symbolizing Shiva) For this, you have to get down on the rocks during the ride. It is pretty safe and the rower will guide you on how to balance on the coracle while climbing out. The only thing is, you need to traverse quite a few big boulders to get to the Kotilinga Shiva.

Kotilinga Shiva
Kotilinga Shiva

5) Sunsets: Hampi gives you an opportunity to witness the sunset with so many different backdrops, that you would want to stay back just to enjoy the sunsets!

Sunset on the banks of Tungabhadra
Sunset on the banks of Tungabhadra
Hemakuta hill during sunset
Hemakuta hill during sunset
Virupaksha temple complex at sunset
Virupaksha temple complex at sunset
Sunset from Malyavanta Hill
Sunset from Malyavanta Hill
Setting sun looks like an erupting volcano
Setting sun looks like an erupting volcano

Tip: Although most popular place amongst foreign tourists is Matanga hill, but it takes around 30 mins to climb up. While descending from the hill there are no lights on the path. So you should carry a torch with you. Also try to begin your descent as soon as the sun sets. I found Hemakuta hill sunsets very beautiful, as the sun sets on the backdrop of a hill full of architectural beauty.

Another place I liked was the Malyavanta hill. It gave a beautiful backdrop of the green paddy fields and banana plantations laced along the unusual terrain of boulder hills.

6) Explore India’s rich history: Hampi was flourishing during Krishnadevaraya’s empire. The several excavated bazaars that have been excavated by the ASI, stand testimony to the fact that there was a lot of trade happening right here. There were markets where people used buy and sell precious items like spices, gold, gemstones etc. There were separate bazaars, some even 1 km in length, for trade of each type of item. There was even a horse bazaar!

The mandapas were used as resting places by the traders travelling to these bazaars, and also by pilgrims who traveled to the Virupaksha or Vitthala temples. Some of the temples were even built by the traders who profited due to trade from Hampi.

Bazaar opposite Krishna Temple
Bazaar opposite Krishna Temple
Mustard Ganesh
Mustard Ganesh was built by a mustard trader

Tip: The main bazaar of Hampi lies in front of Virupaksha Temple. Till a few years earlier locals were using these as their homes or shops. ASI recently cleared them to maintain the original integrity if the bazaar structure. You can see another huge elaborate market in front of the Krishna Temple. There is another 1-km long market in front of the Vitthala temple as well.

7) Architectural splendor: There is so much to admire that you need at least 3 days to a week to appreciate the architecture and study each structure in detail.

Lotus Mahal: It was built as a summer palace for the queens. The palace has hollow walls, into which the maids used to pour water to keep the palace interiors cool. There were 4 watch-towers surrounding the palace to keep the queens safe, when the king was out hunting or on wars. The palace is unique in another way as it shows three different styles of architecture in layers: Jain, Hindu and Muslim.

Lotus Mahal
Lotus Mahal

Stepwell (Pushkarani): The huge stepwell is exquisite with its geometric pattern structure.

Pushkarani (Stepwell)
Pushkarani (Stepwell)

Aqueducts: The stepwell used to receive water through a channel of aqueducts built by the co-founder of Hampi, Bukka. The series of structures, albeit smaller, resemble the Roman aqueducts.

Aqueduct
Aqueduct
Aqueduct feeding Pushakarni
Aqueduct feeding Pushakarni

Pinhole camera: Krishnadevaraya was supposed to be a man religion and science alike. You can find evidence in the construction of the Virupaksha temple gate. The temple gate has been built at a such a distance, that inside the temple there is a point where you can see the inverted shadow of the gate! We basically have a pin-hole camera here.

Pin hole image
Pin hole image

Secret chamber: There is an underground section in the Royal Enclosure, where the walls are made of black stone. This is where the king is supposed to have had secret meetings with his spies. No one could see each others’s face and there is no place to hang lanterns or lights as well. Even today (although the ceiling has given way), if you want to traverse out of the chamber, you have to use your left hand to guide you out. You can easily get lost and end up where you started.

Way to secret chamber
Way to secret chamber

Musical pillars of the Vitthala temple: The Vitthala temple was built for Krishnadevaraya’s younger queen who loved to dance. The pillars were built in such a way that when they were struck, they produced various musical notes. The musicians used to sit and play on the pillars and the queen used to dance. Tourists and not allowed to enter the temple any more, nor touch the pillars, to prevent further damage.

Where has the King’s palace gone? When you reach the Royal Enclosure, you will find the base of the palace carved in stone but no walls. The reason you can’t see any palaces is because they were made of sandalwood (to make living in such harsh temperatures bearable). Sandalwood provided cool interiors even during sweltering afternoon heat. But during Muslim invasions, the palace was burnt down, leaving only the stone base we see today.

8) Plethora of temples: Shiva was worshiped in Hampi before Hakka and Bukka setup their empire. Since they were sergeants of the Hoysala empire, they brought with them the practice of worshiping Vishnu as well. Virupaksha temple is a Shiva temple, whereas Vitthala is a Vishnu temple. You will also find Jain temples. These existed since long back before Hakka and Bukka arrived.

Vitthala Temple entrance
Vitthala Temple entrance
Stone Chariot
Stone Chariot

Interesting Fact: Out of the total 80+ temples in Hampi, only 3 temples are used for worship today. The other temples were either partially destroyed or the idols were broken by the Muslim invaders. As per Hinduism, a broken idol cannot be worshiped.

9) Embrace Indian Mythology: Hampi and Anegundi are supposed to fall in the Kishkindha region of Ramayana, the place where Hanumana was born. In Anegundi you will find mountains named after Hanuman (Anjaneya Hill – where he was born), Sugreeva Hill and Vali Hill.

Anjaneya Hill (Birthplace of Hanuman)
Anjaneya Hill (Birthplace of Hanuman)
Old fort on Vali Hill
Old fort on Vali Hill

A temple near Pampa Sarovar is supposed to be the place where Shabari lived. Shabari was an old lady who prayed to meet with Lord Rama in her lifetime. Rama, during his quest to find Sita, met her some 60 kms from this place. Shabari fed him wild berries, but to make sure that she only gave him the sweet one, she first took a bite from each berry and the offered to Rama.

Chintamani temple: As per locals, the famous duel between Vali and Sugreeva took place here.

Chintamani Temple (Where Sugreeva defeated Vali)
Chintamani Temple (Where Sugreeva defeated Vali)

Tip: From Sugreeva hill you can see the old bridge that was supposedly used centuries ago for crossing the Tungabhadra. The bridge is not functional now and lies on the river floor as a pile of boulders.

Remains of Old bridge from Sugreeva Hill
Remains of Old bridge from Sugreeva Hill

10) Long-stay destination for foreign tourists: It is the only place in India where I have not seen Indian tourists. Most Indians I saw were locals from around Hampi who were visiting the Vitthala or Virupaksha temple to offer prayers. There were hardly any Indian tourists apart from the two of us.

Stalls selling everyday items
Stalls selling everyday items

Tip: For long-stay, Anegundi side of Tungabhadra provides more options.

11) Stay in an Indian village, very comfortably and with more than basic amenities. 

Books in various languages at a homestay
Books in various languages at a homestay
Relaxing at a home-stay dining area
Relaxing at a home-stay dining area

Tip: Stay on the other side of Tungabhadra, in the village of Anegundi. Every evening each local village guest house screens a different popular Hollywood movie, using a VCR and a projector.

12) Amazing locals: Most people here know Hindi and are fully conversant in English, owing to the large number of foreign tourists who come and stay for weeks here. The kids too are comfortable speaking in English. The locals the value of tourists for their village and treat them with a lot of love.

A young boy selling books
A young boy selling books
Kids followed us around Chintamani
Kids followed us around Chintamani
Posing with the boys
Posing with the boys

13) Mix of International and Local cuisine: I was a bit disappointed as I did not get to try many local food options in the village restaurants. This was obviously because of the dearth of Indian tourists. In Anegundi, I got to try some good local cuisine, and a special local paratha. When I heard paratha, I felt it would be a Malabar Paratha or Lachcha Paratha, which is found in Southern India. But this was something similar to what North Indians call a Kachori (Similar to Stuffed Pooris but crispier)!

Veg meal
Veg meal
Local paratha
Local paratha
Mango Tree Restaurant
Mango Tree Restaurant

For international tourists, there is no issue of food. You find the restaurants stocked up with Nutella, Baked Bean cans.. and the menu features pancakes, English egg dishes and even desserts like Banofee Pie! In Anegundi you can actually find separate Israeli restaurants, because of the huge number of Israeli tourists!

14) Rock Climbing: For the adventure-seekers, Anegundi provides rock-climbing options. Well the area is full of boulders, go figure!

General Tips:

Stay: You can choose to stay at one of the village guest houses, either in Hampi or Anegundi. If you have your own vehicle and want to stay in a hotel, then the nearest hotels are in Hospet city (12 kms from Hampi). Hotel Hampi International is a good hotel.

Sight-seeing: If you have your own vehicle, just hire a guide in Hampi. Else you can hire an auto rickshaw on a full or half-day basis. There are cycle tours conducted every day from the Virupaksha temple entrance. For Anegundi, it is best to cross the Tungabhadra on a ferry and then hire a full-day auto-rickshaw. The rickshaw driver doubles up as a guide. Coracle tour is a must.

Food: Mango Tree restaurant is the most popular restaurant in Hampi. Most restaurants here have lower seating option only, but Mango Tree also has a few tables and chairs. The cold coffee and the Banofee Pie at Mango Tree were amazing.

Others: Carry a scarf or hat, as it can get really hot and sunny during the day. Try to start early in the day and take a break between 1 and 4 pm. That is when the sun is the harshest. Stay hydrated at all times.



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Hampi

Hampi is the most unique Indian village I have ever seen – an ‘Indian’ village surrounded by such magnificent ruins and yet fit for a perfectly comfortable stay due to the enamoring hospitality of the locals. The locals have completely adapted themselves to meet each and every need of the tourists. Every adult and child in the village can speak English, even if a bit broken, and most amazingly they understand all possible English accents, as tourists come from all parts of the world – Israel, Russia, Japan, Italy, France, England, Spain, etc!

Grocery stores build inside mud houses stock on single toilet paper rolls. Restaurants display stacks of Muesli boxes, Nutella jars, Heinz beans cans. Menus showcase cuisines attracting every kind of foreign tourist, but sadly, for people like me interested in local cuisine there is hardly mention of any local dish.

I did not catch a single Indian tourist, except for the Virupaksha temple (where Indians go to pray). Mostly you see the hippie crowd who have their base in Goa, but come to Hampi for a break.

The firstBoulder Hill thing that grabs your eyeballs as you enter Hampi, is the weird terrain of the hills around you, It seems as if a huge giant while playing with boulders piled them up on top of one another creating these small hills! And yet there is a lot of greenery on ground level, consisting mainly of banana plantations and paddy fields. The geography of this region is amazing.

Due to the rocky terrain, there is a lot of heat during the day, throughout the year. The best time to go sight-seeing would be early morning to 1 pm, and 4 pm till sunset. Most places are not very well-lit, so it is better to leave immediately after sunset.

As per our guide, during the time of Krishnadevaraya the city was called ‘Hampe’, which denotes a flourishing kingdom. But after Vijaynagar was defeated by Muslim invaders (Adil Shah), and people fled the city, it was renamed as ‘Hampi’, which means ‘destruction’. I did not find this story anywhere on the internet but seemed interesting.

The destruction by Adil Shah can be seen in the fact that there were more than 80 temples in the whole region, of which only 3 are used for praying today. This is because the idols placed in the other temples were intentionally destroyed during the invasion.

The Hampi monuments are distributed across a vast area. The ASI segregates it into two sections: The Sacred Center and the Royal Center. The Vitthala temple is farther away. The entire region of Hampi and Anegundi was referred to as Kishkindha in Ramayana. Anegundi is on the other side of the Tungabhadra and is a very unique place. There are cave paintings dating back about 5000 years in Anegundi!

Our trip details and photo-memories are captured in the following blogs: Hampi Part 1  |  Hampi Part 2



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Virupaksha Temple Complex

The Sacred Center of Hampi – Virupaksha, Hemakuta Hill, Mustard Ganesh

We had to cover Hampi and Anegundi in just 2 days. So we planned on starting the day early and take as less breaks as possible. The heat did make it difficult and we ended up taking one long break during lunch.

We started aIMG_6530t the “Mustard Ganesh” temple.IMG_6534

Mustard Ganesh: Hampi was a place of trade and a mustard trader made a great deal of money in the Hamp Bazaar. With the permission of the king, he built a Ganesh temple with his profits. Hence, the name Mustard Ganesh.

The rear part of the Ganesh temple is shaped like the posterior of a woman. Archaeologists believe the Ganesha idol was supposedly sitting on the lap of Goddess Parvati. Due to the destruction of statues, only part of the idol remains.

There are more than 80 temples in Hampi, but only 3 are used for worship today. This is because during the invasion of Adil Shah, most idols were destroyed. In Hinduism, a ‘khandit’ (incomplete) idol is not used for worship.

Next, we passed the Krishna temple complex and climbed atop the Hemakuta hill. The hill almost seems like a really big boulder with numerous temples on top.

Hemakuta hill

Hemakuta
Hemakuta Hill

Before Hakka and Bukka built the Vijaynagara kingdom centered around Hampi, there were several abandoned Jain temples in this area. Many of them can be seen on the Hemakuta hill. All over Hampi (as also on this hill) you can see several Mandapas. These were used either as watchtowers or as resting places for traders or pilgrims travelling from far away.

Mandapa
Mandapa
Two floored Mandapa
Two floored Mandapa
Matanga Hill
Matanga Hill

We also caught sight of Matunga Hill. It is supposed to be the best place from where to view the

sunset in Hampi. But the climb takes upwards of 30 mins and while climbing down you need to be really careful as it starts to get dark and there is no lighting in the area. So we decided to skip it.

On top of the Hemakuta hill, we found small Shiva lingas like in the picture below. The guide could not explain why the lingas were not inside a temple, but it is believed that founders of Vijaynagar kingdom were strong followers of Shiva. Also you can see these single pillars in front of each temple. This was the flagpost for the temple.

Virupaksha Temple Entrance
Virupaksha Temple Entrance

IMG_6558

As we trekked and crossed the hill, we caught the first glimpse of the Virupaksha (Virupaxa) temple entrance. It looked magnificient!

The Virupaksha temple is also a Shiva temple. The actual origin of the temple is not known. Some believe the original construction of the ‘garbha gruha’ (where the main idol is placed’ was done by the Chalukyas, but there is no record of that.

The rulers of the Vijaynagara kingdom helped develop the entire temple complex, with Krishnadevaraya contributing to some of the most magnificient and interesting features.

Virupaksha Temple Complex
Virupaksha Temple Complex

As we started to descend the hill, we got an amazing view of the entire Virupaksha temple complex. I could not help but wonder what glorious days this region must have seen! The effort made in developing such amazing architecture showed how rich a culture the Vijaynagara empire possessed.

At the temple entrance
At the temple entrance

IMG_6571At the bottom of the hill, a 10 year old boy came to us selling postcards and guide-books, speaking broken but intelligible English. When we asked him how he learnt to speak English, he told us his mother had taught him. The residents of Hampi really take their foreign tourists seriously! We bought a guide book and a packet of postcards from the boy and posed with him 🙂

To enter the Virupaksha temple, you have to purchase an entry ticket for Rs 2! Again, the lady guarding your footwear charges Rs 2 per person! And guarding the temple entrance is was this huge langur! The village is full of langurs, but they don’t really trouble anyone. We got to capture some funny antics in a video, post-lunch.

Just on the inside of the temple entrance, we saw a three-headed black bull. It supposedly symbolizes the Trimurti (Trinity).

Trimurti Bull
Trimurti Bull

Hakka and Bukka were sergeants of the Hoysalas and hence we can see some similarities. They borrowed the symbol of Varaha (reincarnation of Vishnu as a wild boar to save the Earth from drowning), which seems to be really important, as you find it everywhere. The royal seal of the Vijaynagara empire consisted of the Varaha, a sword (symbolizing Kshatriyas), the Sun and the Moon.

Royal seal of Vijaynagara
Royal seal of Vijaynagara

The temple complex consists of resting areas on both sides of the corridor. These were used by the traders who visited the Hampi bazaar. The Hampi Bazaar lies just outside the Virupaksha temple complex and is stretched upto a length of almost 1 km. There are 5 such markets in Hampi, all used for separate trading purposes, like spices, precious metal and stones, horses and even prostitutes!

IMG_6516 IMG_6517

There are three small platforms at the center of the complex, each of increasing height. Each is used for a separate purpose. The first one consists of a small linga like mound. It is believed that if you join your thumbs together and placing your palms along the circumference of the mound, try to join your index fingers for 1-2 hrs and they do finally meet, anything you wish for will come true!

IMG_6522 IMG_6537 IMG_6536

Photography is not allowed inside the main temple, but the corridors and rooms in the complex are beautifully decorated with carvings and intricate paintings on the ceilings. All of this is believed to be have done by the Vijaynagara kingdom, mainly Krishnadevaraya. The latter’s interest in science can be seen by the fact that he built the Gopura (Temple entrance) at such a distance that its shadow can be scene on a wall inside the temple complex, upside-down! So basically he built a Giant Pin-hole Camera!

Pin hole image
Pin hole image

Just then we saw the temple elephant entering the temple after taking his bath in the Tungabhadra. (The next day we also got to watch him taking his bath, but that’s for the next blog post.) The complex consists of several small temples, and as the elephant approached each of these, on the instructions of his mahout, he bowed in front of each of them. After bowing he stood up on his hind legs.

Temple Elephant
Temple Elephant

As we started to exit the complex, we saw a hippie couple performing some stunts. Pretty cool it was. I managed to capture the image with the Gopura as the backdrop.

Yoga

Every Shiva temple has a Nandi bull constructed right guarding the linga. Right opposite the Virupaksha temple, once you have crossed the entire stretch of the Hampi bazaar, right at the end of the road is a Monolithic Bull.

Monolithic Bull
Monolithic Bull

Next we moved on to Chana Ganesh. Explore the rest of Sacred Center with me here.



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