Hampi – up close with the surreal ruins of a vibrant city

Photos: Samyuktha

Surreal, stark and yet stunning! Words cannot express the beauty and grandeur of Hampi, the erstwhile capital of both ancient and medieval kingdoms.

As one walks through the valley, you cannot help but wonder whether time actually moves slowly in this boulder-strewn landscape of formidable hills, lush vegetation and skeletons of once mighty temples and watch towers.

Located in the southern Indian state of Karnataka, Hampi is now recognised as an UNSECO World Heritage Site. The history of this majestic city ruins dates back to the ages of the Ramayana where it was mentioned as the capital of Kishkinda. The city later donned the role of being the capital of the mighty Vijayanagara Empire. The city rose to its zenithin the 13th century, until it was seized, plundered and razed by the confederacy of Deccan Sultanates in the 15th century.

What draws you to the ancient city of relics sprawled across the banks of the river Tungabhadra is the sheer magnitude and expanse of it all. The delicate and detailed work on each pillar, roof and every part of each monument shouts out the imagination and dedication that was achieved centuries before and the sort of perfection that even the most modern equipment fails to achieve. Walking amidst the ruins one cannot help but invoke the time traveller within, as you try to picture how this city would have been.

The monuments in Hampi can be classified as palace architecture and sacred architecture. Although most of the temples are now inactive, certain ones like Virupaksha Temple are still functional and devotees arrive to offer prayers. It is one of the most ancient temples in the world that still is active. The temple has an unremitting history dating back to the 7th century. This also serves as the famous stage for the Hampi Chariot Festival. One cannot neglect the advancement in city planning that the people of that era has shown, especially the ruins of the shopping complex that is near the temple complex.

Hampi Bazaar Complex, which is part of a larger palace arena, was one a well-known market place that spread more than one kilometre. The pavilions that adorn the path are mostly two-storied decorated with beautiful carving. Although not as active as it was in the bygone era, a small marketplace is still active here. The great platform here is a unique monument that stands within the enclosure of the Royal Centre; it is also mentioned as the House of Victory, where the king used to witness the celebration. It is a three-tiered structure with diminishing stages. The most attractive feature of the structure is not the size but rather the carvings and sculptures that adorn it. It gives you a glimpse of the day to day of the people, their culture. In fact one could read out the life of Hampi through these walls.

One of the most iconic spots of Hampi is the stone chariot located at the Vittala Temple, known to many as the picture that appears on the Indian rupee note. This is the most extravagant show piece of Hampi, built as a sprawling campus of halls, pavilions and temples. This Dravidian complex showcases an amazing array of intricately carved granite pillars and awe-inspiring halls. The heavily ornate corbels and beautifully crafted sculptures of animals and gods all have their own story to tell. The most iconic amongst them is the stone chariot dedicated to the legendary Garuda. Although, it appears as a monolithic structure, in reality, it's built from several granite blocks. The joints being beautifully masked by the carving that adorns the chariot.

Another marvel is the Hazara Rama Temple. although it is not as large as per the Hampi yardstick. The most striking feature of the structure is the boundary wall that depicts the pages of the epic Ramayana.

The best time to visit Hampi would be November as you could also be witness to the colourful and vibrant Hampi fest. But there is a perennial influx of tourist to this place.

Be sure to visit Hampi if you are a history buff, art lover or someone who wishes to explore the diversity that India projects. It will definitely be an experience of a lifetime.

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