Finally went on a long-wanted trip to Hampi. I had always been fascinated by the rise and fall of the Vijayanagar empire right from the time I read it in the history books. Who wouldn't be - with gold and diamonds sold like peanuts on the roadside, it must have been some empire!
Hampi is an interesting place to visit with something to offer to every kind of traveller - historically-inclined, touristically-inclined, religiously inclined, cinematically-inclined, herbally-inclined...
For the cinematically inclined, many national and international movies have been shot at Hampi - most recently Jackie Chan's THE MYTH and Mani Rathnam's GURU (you can catch Ash dancing in the rain around the Hampi ruins). Guess the place lends a magical touch in the background.
For the herbally inclined, Hampi is now supposedly a major rave destination. A discerning person can catch chillum smoking sadhus around Anegundi which is across the Tunga river.
And here is some fodder for the historically inclined. Will come to the touristically inclined later on.
Hampi was the erstwhile capital of Vijayanagar empire, of which KrishnaDevaRaya is the most famous and well-known ruler during whose reign the empire stretched from Orissa to Kanyakumari. It is about 12 km from Hospet (which boasts of the Tungabhadra dam). The story of how the empire was built is a fascinating one to hear. Legend has it that 2 soldiers from Warangal, Harihara and Bukka from the Sangama dynasty wanted to establish a strong Hindu rule in South India. At this place, they saw a strange sight where a rabbit was chasing down a scared hound-dog. When they narrated it to their guru, Sage Vidyaranya, he pointed out the powerful qualities of this place, its secure environs with hillocks on 3 sides and the Tungabhadra river nearby which could foster a teeming capital city. Thus, Hampapatna was established. Since this was to difficult for the later British rulers to pronounce, they simply butchered the named to Hampi (a la Oooty from Ootacamund) which stuck on. The city was plundered and ransacked after the Bahamani Sultans of Golconda defeated the Vijayanagr rulers. According to locals, the idols of all the temples have been broken and disfigured by marauding soldiers looking for treasure believed to be stuffed inside the stone idols during their consecration. Now, all that is left of it is in ruins. After it was recommended in the Lonely Planet guide, Hampi has seen a major inflow of tourists - both Indian and foreign - since then. This provides a major source of income for the locals who are all in the service industry ranging from accommodation to artisans selling authentic Indian artifacts. This year the Hampi Utsav in November was a grand event attracting around 2lakh people.
So took off on a Friday night along with friends in a rickety KSRTC Rajahamsa bus (they used to be pretty good, but the advent of Volvo Airavatas looks to have consigned the Rajahamsa to step-motherly treatment from the authorities). Couldn't get enough sleep on the bus and was pretty groggy in the morning. We were advised to stay at Malligi Hotel in Hospet, but since we didn't have any advance booking, we didn't find any room there. The hotel seemed to be teeming with foreigners attending some conference out there. The rude receptionist just as much dismissed us without even the slightest courtesy (Looked like athiti devobhava applies only to foreigners?? ;-))
Anyways we decided to have breakfast at the restaurant there and one of the waiters provided us with info on guest houses in Hampi itself.
So, on we proceeded to Hampi in a huge auto (which usually runs on shared basis). First thing you notice in Hampi are the rocks! The rocks really rock!! Whichever way you turn, seems like some divine force just sprinkled rocks out of a humongous salt/pepper-shaker all over the place.
We found a basic but good enough accommodation just next to the Tungabhadra riverbank called Keerthana Guest House. An early morning walk by the riverside and caught sight of the temple elephant being given a good scrubbing and it enjoying every moment lazing in the water. By the time we were ready to get out, it was around 11. We decided to hire cycles and roam around town. And one ride uphill and we promptly were convinced that cycling was not the easiest of stuff to do for people in the IT industry. We then returned the cycles and got ourselves 2 mopeds and a kinetic. It was fun to ride a TVS XL Super all around the place (made me nostalgic about the time I used to ride my mom's Luna way back in school :-D)
We first visited the eastern part of Hampi which included 2 huge Ganesha statues, Krishna temple complex and the Pushkarni lake. all of us were having a good discussion on the different sculptures in the temple.
It was almost noon and an autodriver there guided us to a place called Mango Tree for lunch. And that place was just awesome. They had seating on the ground and on different levels on the wall overlooking the river. So one could just relax and eat under the shade of the huge mango tree taking in the sight of the serenely flowing Tunga in front. After a hearty and rejuvenating meal, we resumed our sightseeing and visited the LaxmiNarasimha temple, Queen's bath and the Mahanavami Deepa complex. We had fun discussing how the queen would have taken bath on that huge complex and how the guards would have had to keep a hold on themselves lest they get their heads cut or something. The MahanavamiDeepa was really regal to look at. This was the place where the festivities used to happen and the king would watch different contests sitting on his high perch. Hampi is an awesome place just because of its ruins. The ruins provide a mystical quality to the whole place. It was such a difficult fact to digest that so powerful and rich an empire could just be reduced to such abject ruin. As Suppi recollected, it was very much like the poem Ozymandias we studied way back in school - however powerful you are, someday you are just reduced to dust and rubble. It was almost dusk and we caught the sunset from here.
Now came the most adventurous journey I have been part of in a long time. One of us wanted to withdraw money for shopping and the ATMs were all at Hospet. We decided to go to Hospet but realized that none of our vehicles had headlights. The 12km journey from Hampi to Hospet in the dark on the highway with all types of vehicles zooming past and in front of you, with their high beams, man! that was some journey! We somehow managed to reach Hospet without any mishaps. After fiddling with the light systems, we realized 2 of the vehicles had their headlights working and we that reassured us about our return journey. Else it would have been too difficult since the last 4km to reach Hampi is absolutely deserted and has absolutely no streetlights. After finishing the ATM work, we safely rode back to Hampi with the 3 vehicles following one behind the other. I chose the one without headlight. In hindsight , it was actually fun to ride it.
We then returned the bikes, had a leisurely dinner watching highlights of South Africa's collapse on the 2nd day at Wanderers at a funky restaurant. We finally retired for the day and decided to wake up early for sunrise. But the previous day's journey was so tiring that I was the only one awake at dawn. Seeing that the others were fast asleep, I went back to my much-desired sleep.
Finally woke up fresh at around 9. Had breakfast at a roadside thela where we gorged on lip smacking idlis and bajjis. Coffee was served in a huge glass which was worth every drop. One thing we sorely missed on the first day was a guide. Without a guide, it was just as good as walking down on MG Road looking at shops. You really don't get to feel the history of the place. So second day, we trooped into the KSTDC office there and booked a guide. All morning was spent in shopping. And since there were 3 girls, it was a major item on our to-do list. The sheer variety of stuff available was so enticing that we too picked up some stuff for ourselves. Finally, at 1 we started on our sightseeing - the guide took us to the Vitthala temple. Here was the most fascinating stuff - the musical pillars. The temple complex has these set of pillars all round the temple, which one tapping the pillars, emit different musical notes - one set of pillars had the Sa Ri Ga Ma tune, one the jal tarang tune, one the calling bell tune, one the mridnagam sound - it was truly amazing. Whoever sculpted this was someone par excellence.
Next we crossed the Tunga river near the unfinished bridge. The bridge was supposed to be the connection of Hampi with Anegundi village across the Tunga. It remains unfinished since the UNESCO feels that movement of vehicles on the bridge will weaken and finally result in falling of the Vitthala temple. So the only way the Anegundi can be reached is by a coracle ride. One can see bikes and people together on the coracles crossing across. People have the sit on the bikes to balance them. It is a pretty funny sight. After crossing the river, we had lunch at a dhaba and from there, proceeded to Anjanadri hillock. This place has another legend attached to it. There are multiple versions of Ramayana - Valmiki, Tulsi, Skanda - according to Skanda Ramayana, Anegundi is the birthplace of Hanuman. Climbing on Anjanadri, one could find innumerable monkeys all over the place. There is a Hanuman temple at the top of the hillock where we paid obeisance to Hanuman, whom we consider the God of rock-climbing, actually any sort of climbing ;-)
We caught the sun going down from the top of the hillock. A funny sight was a small baby monkey playing bashfully with a coconut it had laid its hands on. It was a true showman, playing to the gallery and pleasing all of us camera-toting enthusiasts.
Finally reached back to the guest house, which included a motorboat ride powered by a RX-100 engine.
Got another auto back to Hospet, had a nice, leisurely dinner at Temptations in Malligi and were at the bus stop waiting for another Rajahamsa to fly us back to Bangalore and the same old office the next day!
Post monsoon and pre-summer are the best times to go. Summer will be scaldingly hot out here. If you want star accomodation, stay at Hospet. Most people recommend the Malligi Hotel, but going by our experience, I wouldn't comment on that.
For taking in the full splendor of Hampi, stay at any of the budget guest houses at Hampi which allows you to explore the ancient city till late evening and then spend the rest of the time shopping. It's definitely a shopper's paradise with numerous atrifacts and clothes to choose from. There are enough places inside Hampi to rent cycles and bikes from. Most of the restaurants would have a "Recommended by Lonely Planet" sign, and their menu if definitely not South Indian. We had to really struggle to find places which sell idlis and dosas for our desperate-to-eat-idli US-returned friend :-)
But food is generally good out there. Go to the state tourism office and they are very helpful with giving directions to visit as well as helping with getting guides. They even have some interesting books and maps on Vijayanagar.