By Ankita Sinha
Hampi, the capital of the ancient Vijayanagar empire, is worth a pursuit for a 2-3 days tour. Established in between the hills and the Tungabhadra river, this awe-inspiring town in Karnataka is one of the rare and celebrated treasure-chests of history. The ancient ruins of Hampi are so overwhelmingly rich in history and mythology that it has found a spot in the UNESCO world heritage centers. It inhabits ruins and temples dating back to as early as the 7th century, acting as a powerhouse of mystery and a fantasy-come-true for history geeks. Besides, the Hampi boulders narrate the ages old history of the evolution of earth’s geology, attracting geologists from across the globe.
Though tourism here is hyped up all the year round, the best time for a Hampi tour is between the months of October and March owing to the fantastic weather. You might even get a glimpse of the Hampi Utsav extravaganza if you plan your trip around January or February.
Nearest airport from Hampi is at Bellary, about 64 kms from Hampi and the nearest railway station is Hospet junction, 13 km away which is also a suitable place to book a stay at one of its reasonably charging hotels. Since most of the ruins of Hampi are open for visit only till 6 pm, make sure you plan your days accordingly. The administration provides facility for renting bikes at cheap rates to roam around.
Of all the extraordinary Hampi tourist places, the below mentioned ones not only stand out but also can be explored within a span of 2-3 days.
Sri Virupaksha Temple
One of the oldest temples in India, it’s architecture dates back to the 7th century. Housing the Hindu deity Lord Virupaksha who is also known to be an avatar of Lord Shiva, this temple was built as a small shrine for the religious rituals of local people. However, it got renovated as well as magnified with ornate pillars and gateway towers by the rulers of the Chalukya and Hoysala dynasties. It faced a lot of destruction during the 16th century, and was revamped again in the early 19th century to preserve it as a heritage. The temple experiences a lot of rush and visitors on Hampi tour are let in after paying a minimal amount, which is Rs. 30 for Indians and Rs. 300 for foreign visitors.
Vijaya Vittala Temple
Home to Lord Vittala (the god of cattle and an incarnation of Lord Vishnu), this temple is the largest in all of Hampi, containing within its campus a number of other temples and the ruins of Vittala township. Its prominent attraction is the humongous stone chariot which is exemplary of the architectural ingenuity of those times. Another enigma about the temple are its towering pillars that produce music on touch, owing to the presence of metallic ore and silicon in their composition. Visit the temple at the earliest in the morning for peaceful and unhurried acquaintance with its attractions. Entrance to this temple is Rs. 30 for Indians and Rs. 500 for foreign tourists, however you can use the same entry ticket as the Virupaksha temple for free entrance on the same day.
Hemakuta Hill Temple Complex
The ruins of about 30 temples of peculiar architecture-mostly dedicated to Lord Shiva-sit atop this hill complex guarded by stone walls. A perfect place for history geeks and archaeologists, it is a must visit to complete one’s Hampi tour. According to a legend, Hemakuta hill has seen the burning of the god of Kama by Lord Shiva and Lord Shiva’s marriage with the local girl Pampa, which is also an alternative name for Tungabhadra. The word pampa is also synonymous to the Kannada term Hampe, whose anglicised version ‘Hampi’ is given to the city. The most priceless gem in its thrown is the Mula Virupaksha Temple right at the top, which is also known as the real Virupaksha temple. While the whole area can be covered within 2-3 hours of a stroll, be careful with the trek uphill because the rocks are steep and the path tiresome to tread.
Situated at the crown of the Anjanadri hills or Anjaneya hills, this Hampi temple is about 4 kms from the actual ruins and can be reached by a small boat ride crossing a river, followed by a series of steps to climb. The hills are believed to be the birthplace of Lord Hanuman, thus giving him the name Anjaneya, having a close connection with the events of Ramayana. The priest inside the temple recites Ramayana on continuous intervals in Hindi, listening to which makes you feel pious and at ease. Another star attraction here is the panoramic and ethereal view of the entire city from the hilltop. Besides, watching the fantastic hues of the sky at the time of sunrise and sunset is one of the best things to do in Hampi and makes climbing it worth the effort. A word of caution, however, is to beware of the monkeys that are abundant in this area and spare no chance to rob you of your food. The sheer perfection of Hampi boulders can be witnessed during the hill climb.
Queen’s bath is an ornately designed open air pool where the king and his queens used to bathe centuries go. The building has a rectangular framework, surrounded by a water channel, crossing which will take to the insides. At the center of the construction, a circular veranda gives way to a huge empty pool that once used to be immersed in water, fragrance, herbs and flowers. A true manifestation of the Indo-Saracenic architecture, this building has a well-maintained garden just outside it which makes this Hampi tourist place a perfect picnic spot.
Built by the king Krishnadevaraya to mark his victory over Udayagiri, this Hampi temple depicts Vijayanagar style architecture with legendary stories carved on the walls, carvings of the 10 incarnations of Lord Vishnu and images of mythical lions adorning the pillars. The temple used to display the idol of Balakrishna (infant Lord Krishna) which is now an antique at the Chennai state museum. One of the main attractions here is the huge slab in the central courtyard with the story of battle of Udayagiri carved over it. The temple premises is a sprawling campus in itself with huge pillared halls, banana plantations, irrigation tanks, Hampi boulders and several other temples. Spare an hour or two for this shrine as the intriguing structures won’t let you leave without a thorough tour.
Lakshmi Narasimha Temple
This temple houses the largest monolith in all of Hampi and is an unskippable location for a Hampi tour. The 6.7 metres high spectacularly sculpted statue depicts the half man-half lion form of Lord Vishnu, Lord Narasimha sitting on a seven-headed snake. The original structure of which this one is the remaining part also had Goddess Lakshmi sitting beside the lord in embracing position, naming it Lakshmi Narasimha. While half of the statue was brutally destructed during a riot centuries ago, hands of the goddess are still vividly visible if one pays close attention. This Hampi temple is alternatively called Ugra Narasimha because of the ferocious look on God’s face. It falls on the Hampi main road 200 metres south of Krishna temple.
The archaeological museum of Hampi is more of a blueprint of the culture and history of the ancient town of Hampi. A detailed map of Hampi, with all its prominent temples, mountains and rivers greets you at the entrance. The museum is divided into four sections- the first one displaying the Hampi model; the second one elaborating over the structures and idols of Hampi ruins and it gods and goddesses including those of Veerbhadra, Bhairava, Shakti, Kartikeya, Vinayaka, etc.; the third sections gives a view of the literature and economy of Hampi displaying it’s coinage and documentation and the last section is dedicated to the oldest antiques from the prehistoric and the protohistoric period which include figurines, porcelain pottery and stone flanges. The museum charges Rs. 5 as entry fee per person above 15 years of age and can be visited from 10:00 am to 5:00 pm on any day of the week except on Fridays. Photography is banned inside but you can still picture the artefacts displayed in the outer corridors.
One of the most intriguing things to do in Hampi is to explore the Royal Enclosure which actually used to be the headquarter of the Vijayanagar empire. Spread across an area of approximately 59000 sq metres, it once contained around 43 buildings, all of which served either as the residentials establishments for the royal family or for administrative purposes. Though a majority of constructions only have their bases left as the ruins, some of the prominent ones that you would want to visit around are Mahanavami Dibba that hosted the grand Dasara festival in the Vijayanagar empire every year; King’s audience hall where the king used to hear important cases from civilians, Stepped tank used by the royal family for special rituals and ceremonies and the Underground Chamber that fulfilled the purpose of holding confidential meetings.
This tourist spot is pursued by too many visitors of Hampi, owing to its prominence in the Hindu mythology, the aerial view of the town of Hampi and the unearthly sights of sunrise and sunset that it offers. Matanga Hills has too many legends and myths associated with it, including those of Ramayana. Veerabhadra temple located at the top attracts many tourists due to religious reasons as well as the fascinating view from the height. The trail up to the hill is poorly carved and dimly lit, so don’t forget to carry a torch on the way when you include climbing it in your list of things to do in Hampi.
Elephant stables, which is one of the most magnificent Hampi tourist places and the least in ruins, used to be a shelter for the royal elephants in the Vijayanagar empire. It attracts a whole lot of tourists due to its peculiar architecture, which is otherwise Vijayanagar style but also has glimpses of Islamic touch in 5 of its 11 magnificent chambers. All the chambers are symmetric to the center one, with a manhole each for the mahouts to enter and exit and metallic hooks to tie the animal up.