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Hampi – The Ancient City That Speaks – Part 2

 

The skeleton of the ancient city of Hampi expands over a vast area—as far as the eyes can see.

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Walking the passages cut through the dangerous crevices between huge boulders, we were now heading towards the banks of the Tungabhadra river.

Though October to March is considered the best time to visit Hampi, the winter sun of December continued to shine mercilessly on us.

The scorching heat and the dust make a nasty combination of sweat and dirt on your skin. However, if you are with friends, don’t worry, you all will appear equally tanned and covered with the red sand.

Keep your gear ready with these essentials—2 bottles of water per person, a cap/hat, sunglasses, sunscreen, good pair of shoes, some snacks.

We had rented cycles, from the locals—they had set up a small corner, renting two-wheeler on a small lease rate, for the whole day. The cycles did help us on the long stretches of roads linking different stone monuments. The cycles were hired at rupees 150 per person.

Cycling is the most favourable way to discover places in Hampi though you won’t be able to reach all places or trek up dragging a bicycle along with you. Walking on foot comes second, but could be tiring and time-consuming. You could even hire a bike or taxi otherwise. You would still have to walk or trek to see few places that are on the hilltop.

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Things changed quickly. It wasn’t a pleasant experience walking over a massive stretch of rock and carrying our cycles instead of riding them. We parked them in a corner with the hope that nobody would steal them and continued on foot from there.

The labyrinth through the gigantic boulders somehow opened into a stretch of a rock base that descended decently and not steeply into the river.

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Tungabhadra River, Hampi  Picture Credits: Akshayrajsinh Jadeja

Laying our feet in the refreshing and cool muddy water on the slippery and rocky banks of the river, I released a breath of relief. The calm ancient breeze that flowed closer to the water along its ragged banks welcomed me in its territorial land.

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Coracle ride along the banks to ferry you across the river

There was an upturned coracle (a huge circular boat, which has a framework of bamboo sticks, reeds, and plastic sheets)—waiting for its passengers to be ferried to the other side of the river.

The charges for the coracle ride was 500 Indian Rupees per person.

We rejuvenated ourselves with a hot cup of sugary tea in small tea-shop built under the shades of a huge tree.

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After regaining our strengths, we braved the sun to watch the ruins of Hampi, which is scattered over an enormous stretch of the land, belonging to the capital city of the Vijayanagar Empire.

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King’s Balance, source: wikimedia.org

We crossed the famous King’s Balance—of what remained only two gigantic 15-foot tall pillars. The balance was weighed with gold, silver, rubies and all precious things equal to the weight of the king who would sit on the other end of the balance. This was distributed among the priests and the people of the kingdom.

Vitthalla Temple

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One of the entrance gates at Vitthalla temple

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A closer look at the art

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Vitthalla Temple Compound

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Our next stop was the majestic compound of the Vitthalla temple that was surrounded by stone walls on the four sides. We covered a little over a kilometre on foot.

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Temples supported by stone pillars embellished with beautiful carvings. Below, these abandoned temples probably held sculpture of Gods and Goddesses which are nowhere to be seen now.

 

On our way, we saw lifeless ruins covered with dust and vegetation cropping from the unattended corners and gaps of the structures that seemed to be the places of worship in the ancient times.

When we reached the remains of the Vitthalla compound, the area was brimming with people while the architecture lulled us to the huge entrance gate.

We couldn’t take our eyes off the remarkable brick and stone work that offered a glimpse of the life of people who would have at one time lived peacefully under the roof of these ancient structures.

The Stone Chariot

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Vitthalla temple holds in its compound one the most iconic piece of Indian stone art—the Stone Chariot. It may look like a monolithic structure—cut out of a single piece of rock. However, Stone Chariot has been built using blocks of granite rock placed over one another with such dexterity and skill that the structure attracts attention in a single glance.

The Stone Chariot is an imitation of the Konark Sun Temple in Orissa that inspired Vijaynagar’s famous king Krishnadevaraya to build a similar structure in his own empire.

The 16th century stone architecture hosted Garuda, the mount of Lord Vishnu—but the sculpture is nowhere to be seen today. The chariot rests on a granite base, about 1 feet above the ground with life-size wheels and axle carved out of rock with perfection.

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Picture Credits: Akshayrajsinh Jadeja

Architectural structures have innumerable stories depicted on its walls—the chariot temple and other structures in the Vitthalla temple compound have scenes of war engraved on their walls.

The stone elephants sculptures in the front of the temple that seemed to be pulling the chariot were built to replace broken horse sculptures that stood there before—the remains of their rear including tails can still be seen.

There is a stone ladder in between them, which was used by the temple priests to reach the sanctum for offering prayers to the Garuda.

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The Stone Chariot

It is believed by the people of Hampi that if the chariot moves from its place the world will come to an end. We can just hope that the stone structure stands remains intact and static, as a remnant of the ancient Hampi.

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There are various stone structures around the chariot in the same compound of Vitthalla temple—it may take you around 2 hours to visit each of those in the periphery.

If you wish to know the stories associated with each of these structures and want to go into the depths of the time, you can easily hire guides to show you the place along—these are official tourist guides and have ample knowledge about the magnificent history of the place.

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We have reached the end of this ancient world, next to the Vitthalla temple compound

From here, you could either retreat or move ahead to the remains of the Queens’s Palace, where you could relax and enjoy the evening sun. Oh! and how could we miss mentioning about the Archaeology museum, the treasure house holds the collection of old photographs of Hampi and valuable remnants from the past.

Keep a separate day for the basement of the Queen’s Palace, Lotus Mahal, Elephant Stables including the museum.

Want to know where to begin when you reach Hampi? Here is your tour guide for the first day. 

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Hampi – The Ancient City That Speaks

Day 1

The burning morning sun and the dust agitated by the passing vehicles made me think if I should have listened to my roommate.

“There is nothing in Hampi. What will you do there?”, She had said.

The First Impression

 

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Virupaksha Temple in the far left corner

 

The only bus stand in Hampi seemed like a parking place for private cars. Rows of temporary shops awaited for their customers desperately. Auto-drivers and locals selling small items came like a swarm of bees towards the honey combs except that we weren’t honey combs — we were tourists—new to the place and almost completely lost at where to begin.

How I Reached Hampi From Bangalore

I booked a bus from Yatra.com, but I suggest you book a bus from KSRTC Official website  There may be a price difference of 200-300, but the service is comparatively better and the buses are always on time.

After a 7-hour journey from Bangalore in the rickety sleeper claiming to be a multi-axle, the bus dropped us at Hospete. I quarrelled with the driver as I had booked the bus till Hampi, and he claimed that the private buses weren’t allowed in there. Only when he assured me that he will provide an auto service at his own cost did I retreat.

No Private buses are allowed in Hampi. You either take a share auto or a local bus from Hospete Bus Stand to Hampi.

Always book a multi-axle bus for a comfortable journey, else you will feel each bump on the road reverberate through your body. 

Luckily, I met my friends at the major bus depot at Hospete. From there, we took a local bus to Hampi, which took us another 30 minutes.

City That Once Flourished

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Hampi—an ancient city in ruins—stood before us, silently shouting of its glorious past. People still live there but not as they used to in the 15th and 16th century or even before. There are monumental structures that stand tall and sturdy through the weathering of time, though nobody stays in them. Hampi was one of the richest cities, and a center of trade of horses, gems and arts and culture. If you ever heard of Tenali Raman, and the court of Krishnadevaraya, it was this place where the intelligent Brahmin impressed the king with his witty answers. Under the rein of the generous king, the Hampi, the then city of Vijayanagar under the majestic empire of the same name rose to the zenith.

Hampi is situated in a semi-arid area of northern Karnataka. All you can see in your vicinity are stretches of huge chunks of rocks. Little vegetation has turned the air dusty, and the sunlight scorches mercilessly through the already dwindling shade. The only relief to the eyes is the water of Tungabhadra River that traces a snake-like path between lower rocky terrains. On either side of the river, the intricately cut out rocks have astoundingly taken the forms of temples, gateways, deities, animals, and other innumerable structures. These designs and carvings emanate and highlight the cultures and traditions that would have otherwise been buried with time.

After walking for a while, the sun felt warmer and took a toll on our imagination, wavering it to the wildest corners. We guessed that Hampi got its name from its range of hills that looked like the hump of a camel. Hampi was originally called as Pampi, which was the old name of Tungabhadra River.

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Centuries ago this place would have been pleasant—fed by the swollen river, surrounded by lush with the days much cooler and the sun not so harsh on the people who belonged here. Children would have played amid the rows of tall stone pillars, engraved with pictorial descriptions of wars, horses, courtesans and deities. Women clad in sarees, would visit Virupaksha temple for early morning prayers, with a plate full hibiscus, banana and coconut to be offered to Lord Shiva. Horsemen would stand patiently for the traders, watching sturdy bunch of horses to be bought and sold.

Virupaksha Temple

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We started with one of the giant structures visible around. The Virupaksha temple—which was a prominent landmark in Pampi back in the 15th-16th century—has two huge courtyards with a giant gateway connecting them. This nine-storey entrance gate of the temple was a master stonework of constituting of sculptures at every level. Few of these  figures that stood high displayed eroticism similar to the monuments of Khujrao in Madhya Pradesh. It could have offend any person with staunch believes and an orthodox approach. From a second perspective and the claims of the history and the culture of the place, fertility was considered auspicious and not derogatory .

The Mortals

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One must walk barefoot inside the temple and pay at the ticket counter near the entrance if they intend to take photographs. The open temple courtyard has pillars on the both sides of the walkway. On the left, they had kept an elephant to amuse visitors. She was trained to collect money from them and pat their heads with her trunk, as a form of blessing. I lost the count of people who took selfies with the elephant, who was mindlessly munching on the eatables they provided to her. I stood there for long and waited for the people to disperse. I stared at the she-elephant and conveyed to her, how sorry I felt for her, to be away from home, here, surrounded by some silly people, asking for her blessings after enslaving her. I thought she might feel grateful that she is not their God—’They’ would have faced torments if ‘They’ lived among us. It was as if she understood me and brought her head closer towards me. I gave the 34-year-old a gentle pat of assurance and wished her a good life ahead.

The Gods

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The temple hall had stone-carved lions on the outer side of its pillars. One could look up to find the ceilings display rows of beautiful murals—it reminded me of the typical South-Asian gods and goddesses with slender eyes and sensual gestures.
The Shiv-Ling, confined to a small space inside the main enclosure, was barely visible. The walking area around the temple had its roof covered with rock slabs, which blocked the sunlight. It was quite dark and cold inside. While circumventing the temple, when we switched on our cell phone flashlights, we noticed hundreds of tiny bats hanging quietly on the ceiling of the walkway without our knowledge. In fret, we quickly circled the temple in the dim light coming from the cracks between the rocks slabs above us and hurriedly came out from the other end.

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The bright sunlight welcomed us again. There were people and monkeys everywhere. The former offered prayers to the deities at the functional temple whereas the latter got all the blessings in the form of food. We walked further to reach an open space and found a few rock statues silently basking in the sun. There was also to an algae-struck pond, probably a reservoir but, thankfully, it was devoid of any human waste. The rear exit of the temple courtyard opened to a mini market along the Tunghabadhra River. A few people—mostly men—went down the step-way to take a dip in the shallow and rocky waters. Not so far from the river stood few changing rooms for the ease of the visitors though the men didn’t seem to make use of them.

Slightly tired, we sat there under the shade and waited for the time to pass and the sun to relax. Fruits were readily available along with things like jewellery and decorative items —it was sold by the locals along the roadside. I went past them like a raven attracted to their glitter. But, then, I wanted to meet the elephant again and traced my own steps back.

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Om sans Shanti: Gokarna-> This Way

The famous Om beach in Gokarna is a stretch of coastline that is separated from Kudle beach by a rocky terrain. Somewhere, a trail without a noticeable direction or sign board leads to Om beach. Every time we asked for directions from someone, they pointed everywhere except the sea. There was a ferry to take us there, but we decided to trek and get lost.

We chose a path and started trekking over the hills, to the other side of which lay the Om beach. It is called so because the beach line traces a shape strikingly similar to Om — the spiritual sign in the Hindu religion. After climbing a set of stairs that were in no-so-good condition, we found ourselves in wilderness amid tall trees and dangerous slopes. The sea was always in view—we were walking around a hill to reach the other side.

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The beach was spell-bounding! It was more crowded than Kudle, though not too much. No lazing here—people buzzed around—in restaurants, shops, in waters, and on the beach. Many localities were selling hand-crafted jewellery, fruits, and coconut water. Few tourists basked in sun, some in lungis, others in bikinis—the former ogling at the latter. The scene wasn’t a comfortable one I would say—a few people blinded by their surged testosterones, passed lewd comments at the foreigners— they didn’t give a damn, probably because they didn’t understand the language. But, I found it embarrassing and disgraceful to belong to the same place as those pervert men.

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It was quite sunny on that part of the land or maybe we felt it that way. I laid a piece of cloth over the hot sand and took out an Umbrella (thank God I carried one) to sit under it. It was awkward but the shade felt good. I dared not think of entering the water, containing wild animals, in their excited states.

A drunkard came quite close to a lady who was basking in the sun nearby. She was reading a book and in between braving the waters to get some cool. We thought of warning her, about the not-so-safe zone she was in, as the drunk man was muttering something, which even we couldn’t understand. Few other men came to pacify him and engrossed him in a conversation, as we patiently watched what’s going to happen next. She didn’t even budge—the lady continued her routine and after she was content, got up to walk away. All this while, we were preparing ourselves to jump in, if the things went wrong. But, as soon as the woman walked away, we too calmed our nerves and moved to a safer zone to rest. It was sad to witness such a drama.

We found a much descent place to rest, after which I gathered some courage to get into the now ‘safe waters’.

The shore at Om beach steeply slants into the sea. Believe me when I say that ‘the waves took me in’. It was scary! My heartbeat surged as I felt the land beneath my feet incline towards the sea. I am a bad swimmer. Yes, I swim, but only in shallow waters—as much as my height, which is a little above 5 feet, and with no waves in it. As the waves pulled back, I struggled to fixate my feet over the ground. I breathed heavily with every wave. I tried to laugh it out, but my lungs shuddered with the water going wavy above my neck and sometimes inside my mouth and nose. My fear of water came haunting back. The waves were strong and pushed me in the direction of some rocks nearby. The moment I thought I will lose it, I hurriedly flapped my way back to the safety of the shore and breathed air.

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It was so warm in the afternoon that I used my towel and my much-loved Umbrella to hide from the sun. Some foreigners who were basking and happily getting tanned in the bright sun, gave us surprised looks.

I wanted to go home to the Kudle beach, after a rough day— The Om sans Shanti (Peace). So, we trekked back but through a different route this time, which was out of the trail.

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On the way, we saw a few hidden restaurants, where two men, who just didn’t seem they were in present, rested in their arm chairs and lazily looked out at the sea. In between some throat-clenching climb caught hold of us. From a high altitude, we could watch the sea almost 40 feet below us, hitting huge rocks with fierce aggression. It turned out to be a tough climb that could send us straight down if a rock wasn’t up there to prevent us from a fall or slip. With our hearts in our mouth, we braved through it but never looked down!

We got a signboard warning us to beware of robbers. It was relieving because that meant we were back on the trail! After a physical and mental adventure, tanned and tired, we reached home—we reached back to Kudle beach. If you want to know more my experience at Kudle beach, here it is.