Hampi: A unique saga etched in stone

Hampi: A saga in stone

Located on the banks of river Tungabhadra, Hampi is a tale etched in stone. Every grain of sand here has a history, every stone is a work of art. Visitors from across geographies come to this place in Karnataka to revel in the sights and in the old-world charm of this majestic city. A UNESCO World Heritage Site since long, Hampi happens to be quite popular on a travellers list and is also the most searched historical place in Karnataka on Google.

A Nissan Terrano, 3 days, 1700 kms and the scorching sun. To add to this potent mixture, the lonely, deserted look that most places in Karnataka have. The only push that I needed, was that nothing is going to come between me and my dream destination - Hampi. The initial route for the trip was Kottayam – Sulthan Bathery – Chithradurga – Hampi. An acquaintance Hari, in Bathery drew up the map to get to Hampi and gave a word of caution; that it is wise to avoid unsafe, night journeys as much as possible. If this is in any case unavoidable, ensure that you travel in close range of the truck groups. Anti-social elements roam the area, and it is better to not fall prey to their whims.

The wild dogs at Nagarhole

Hampi: A saga in stone
The sights on the road to Hampi. Photo: Praveen Elayi

From Kutta on Kerala's border, the 35 km drive is through the Nagarhole National Park. Sights of deer, peacocks, and packs of wild dogs. Photography by getting down from your vehicle is strictly prohibited in the forest zone. Terrano's excellent ground clearance was a blessing in many places. The off-roading on the roads with bigger gutters went pretty smooth too. Though with the addition of a 4 wheel drive option, the experience could have been even better. Another 300 km drive via Holenarasipura, Tiptur, Hiriyur to reach Hampi. The tree-lined roads all through, makes the drive pleasant despite the hot weather. By midnight, we reach Chithradurga and camped there for the night. We set out for Hampi in the wee hours of morning.

A city in Stone

Hampi: A saga in stone
Driving into Hampi. Photo: Praveen Elayi

Hampi used to be the capital of the Vijayanagara Empire in the 14th century. When the Mughals arrived, the Vijayanagara Empire was one of the largest city in India, spanning Maharashtra, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh. It was during the reign of King Krishnadevaraya, that Hampi gained prominence both artistically and culturally.

During the Battle of Talarikota, the warring Deccan Sultanates defeated the Vijayanagara army. The capital city was plundered, its population massacred. Treasure hunters ransacked its palaces and temples for months. What remained was a ghost city with ruins of statues, bridges, structures, pillars & chariots. It would no doubt take months to walk around and see the whole of Hampi. Some of the major spots of interest are;

The Vittala Temple

Hampi: A saga in stone
A look around Hampi. Photo: Praveen Elayi

Vittala Temple is the most elaborate architectural splendour in Hampi. The sprawling temple campus has a large compound wall, gateway towers, and marriage hall, meeting pavilions, festival hall and other smaller temples. Krishna is the presiding deity here. The marketplace where the sale of precious stones and horses happened is located on the way to the temple. A beautiful temple pond called Pushkarni is towards the right. The vehicle is allowed entry only 1 km away from the temple, you may have to walk the rest of the way that leads to the temple.

Hampi : A Saga in stone
Walking around Hampi. Photo: Onmanorama

Once you take a ticket of Rs.20, and cross the entrance, you can see the signature spectacle of Hampi – the majestic stone chariot. The chariot that once used to be pulled by elephants is immovable, but the wheels can be moved freely. The highlight of the Maha-Mantapa that is close by are its richly carved giant monolithic pillars. The outermost of the pillars are popularly called the musical pillars. These slender and short pilasters carved out of the giant pillars emit musical tones when tapped. But now the tapping is banned, for the sake of preservation. Stories say that the Britishers tried to cut up the pillars to check if there was something inside that made the musical sounds. The torn pillars can be seen even today. Intricate carvings cover every inch of the walls here. Outside the Mantapa, one can see the Thulabharam scales, and the 2 storey structure raised on granite pillars. Walk along this way to reach the banks of the river Tungabhadra.

The Pampa of Karnataka

Hampi: A saga in stone
Walking around Hampi. Photo: Praveen Elayi

The river Tungabhadra has since long been a trusted aide to the city of Hampi. Pampa is the ancient name of the river Tungabhadra. The word Hampi is generally held to be a later Kannada form of the term Pampa. Other ancient names include Pampa kshetra, Kishkindha kshetra or Bhaskara kshetra. The ancient Kishkindha of the Ramayana is believed to have been located somewhere near present day Hampi. The river is replete with crocodiles, so think twice about wading in the waters. A memorial built in the name of the poet Purandaradasa is situated on the bank of the river. You can ferry across the river in a coracle or a floating basket to see the Chandramouleshwara Temple.

The Queen's Bath

Hampi: A saga in stone
Walking around Hampi Photo: Praveen Elayi

In the olden times, bathing may have been equivalent of a festival, to have such a humongous bath! A bath that is as big as a home. Inside the enclosure there is a 1.8 metre deep brick lined pool, which is empty now. Surrounding the pool is a veranda built in an Indo-Islamic hybrid style, and a special platform for musical kutcheris. Close to this are the elephant stables and the famous Lotus Mahal. This most probably was a socializing area for the women folks in the royal family. Also known as Chitragani Mahal and Kamal Mahal, this is one of the beautiful structures that were left undamaged during the siege of the city.

Hampi Bazar, underground temple, a raised pedestal from where the king could view the festivals, secret rooms where the king had classified discussions, numerous temples, a statue of Narasimha carved out of a single stone, a Siva lingam and countless other artefacts can be found in Hampi.

Everything in Stone

Except for food, everything else in Hampi seems to be made of stone. The plates of the army, the vehicle carrying water for the horses, water channels, and doors are all fashioned out of granite. The place is teeming with tourists and foreigners in various modes of transport, on cycles, on mopeds and so on. As for the natives, they don't look up to Hampi like the outsiders. Land encroachment is quite common here and so are goons. After the express visit we decided to head back, though there still is plenty more left to see.

Bullock cart zone

Hampi: A saga in stone
Driving out of Hampi: Photo: Praveen Elayi

The Hampi – Chithradurga, Highway 13 is some kilometres away. Along this road there are many dirt tracks that lead to Bellary. The town nearest to Hampi is Hospet. After visiting a 500 year old, meticulously planned city like Hampi; Hospet turns out to be rather boring and disappointing. Most of the sign boards along the road are in Kannada, so it is safer to depend on GPS to get back on the highway.

The village sights from the Terrano, throws up different perspectives of life and somehow you can't seem to get over the mystique of Hampi. Random imagery of wars, chariots, beautiful queens and the Tungabhadra flowing like an all-knowing sage makes me drowsy. The Terrano races back to Kottayam via Mysore.