Far from the mad crowded city life, we had two days of complete and absolute bliss at Hampi. The erstwhile capital of the Vijaynagar Empire (14th-17th century A.D.) was like a breath of fresh air. Certainly, the monuments and the temples are exquisite works of art requiring no introduction. And the spread and magnitude of the ruins was awe-inspiring. For someone who is perpetually in love with history, Hampi reinforced that love and passion! As a student of history, that I would fall in love with Hampi is no surprise.
Hampi was a lifetime experience. It was enhanced by the environment in which the ruins lay scattered. The landscape was defined by the tall coconut trees, the sugarcane plantations and the innumerable boulders. Moreover, we were drawn by the simple village images of herds of cows and goats being led by men clad in typical South Indian style ‘lungi’. Finally, we recall the Tungabhadra River with the coracles ferrying people. It was the perfect backdrop for the Hampi ruins. Totally rustic, quaint, timeless. Untouched, unscathed by the ravages of the modern world. The environment it was completely in tune with the history of Hampi, with its unique and unmistakable character. It was a solace for the heart, a refuge for worn out souls.
Before the trip we had read up about Hampi. Planning is of utmost importance considering the extent of the ruins and our time constraint. We bought books on Hampi and we carried detailed maps of the areas that had to be visited. That helped us immensely!
We were residing in Mumbai at that time, so we took an overnight bus to Hampi. The town is located in Karnataka, close to the Andhra Pradesh border. It took 15-16 hours to reach. We left on Friday evening. But we were sorely disappointed, when on Saturday morning, we got caught in a horrendous traffic jam just before reaching Hospet (the nearest railhead to Hampi). We soon learnt that this was a regular feature here. It is a result of the growing importance of mining in the area. We waited in the bus for two long hours with growing impatience as the clock ticked away. Little did we know that it would be the beginning of an adventurous journey for us.
We were ignorant both of the area and the language. When we got off the bus with several locals our co-passengers who knew English ensured that we reached our hotel in Hospet. We stayed at Hotel Maligi in Hospet: the facilities were excellent with great service and good food. For moving around Hampi, they provided round the clock car with driver.
We travelled in various modes of transport. Consequently, after a while our impatient mindset bound to the clock changed and we stopped thinking of the time lost. Soon we realised that the journey itself was an experience we had not expected. And that is the charm of travel. The beauty of the countryside unfolded: village women in brightly coloured sarees, performing their daily chores while little boys and girls ran to school. Interspersed with herds of cows blocking traffic and being shooed away. And hens running around in courtyards of houses. Indeed, the entire setting was such a far cry from the brick and mortar we are surrounded with. We travelled on roads not frequented to avoid the traffic. As I sit to write about our Hampi experience, this forms an integral part of our memories of the vacation.
Haunting Images of Hampi
There are several images that have left indelible impressions. They appear like snapshots as I pen them down. One was the view of the Achutaraya Temple from an elevated land on our way to the temple complex. It was the perfect assimilation of history and nature, each complimenting the other.
Even today, although it is has been stripped of all but its stone, the Vitthala Temple still is an impressive sight. The delicate flowers, fearsome beasts, fluid dancers with sensuous curves and mesmerising mandalas have lost nothing of what their creators sought to communicate. In places, remnants of ancient colour still mark the walls. One can only try and guess what it must have been like in full bloom.
The awe-inspiring monolithic structure of Laxmi Narasimha, stared down at us. While the massive Shiva Lingam with its base permanently submerged in water The stone chariot at the Vitthala Temple which is one of the icons of Hampi had us mesmerised. And remembered still is the underground ‘Pradakshina’ of the garbha griha , dark except for the small openings that filter in light. The Matunga hill offered a brilliant aerial view of the ruins and was worth the climb.
Architecture of Hampi
The temple building tradition that dominated the architecture of South India is at its zenith in Hampi. It boasts of a large number of temple complexes with exquisite displays of craftsmanship that are living testimony to the perseverance and skill of the artists. Achutaraya temple, Hazara rama temple, Virupaksha temple, Pattabhimara temple, Krishna temple, Vitthala temple to mention a few. The bas relief works on the pillars of the mandapa reveals the degree of artistic excellence attained during that era.
Other interesting features of Vijaynagar architecture are the presence of secular structures with strong Islamic architectural influences. The Lotus Mahal within the Zanana enclosure and the dominating monolithic structures of Kadalekalu Ganesha, Laxmi Narasimha and Nandishwar are examples.Hampi is a repository of immense artistic wealth, created under the patronage of the Vijaynagar rulers for posterity to enjoy.
The ruins of Hampi overlook the Tungabhdra River. This emphasizes the harmonious blend of the unbridled beauty of nature and man’s historical endeavours that create a lasting impression, pervading the aesthetic consciousness of man. Sitting on a boulder beside the river, watching the setting sun cast its last rays on Hampi is a contemplative experience.
The coracle ride on the Tungabhadra remains pleasurable and memorable. Small round boats are used to cross the river. Steamboats with their hideous noise have not yet invaded the peaceful environ here. Hampi is an encounter of a different kind – stepping into the annals of history one is forced to recognize that what survives the ravages of time is what blends with nature and creates a profund impact with its silence and stunning beauty.
My lasting image of Hampi would be the sunset we watched from the Hemakuta hill. The stone structures against the setting sun gave the place a silhouetted look. Our first day at Hampi happened to be a full moon night and we were treated to a picture-perfect lasting image. That evening as we were returning to our hotel passing one monument after another, a thought occurred to me. As night sets in and the monuments are left to themselves, my imaginative sense could feel each of those pillars and stones coming alive. It was the time of the day when they are left to themselves, with their history, free from the ravages of tourists and pilgrims. Perhaps if we could be with them during these hours, they would whisper to us the events that pages of history have failed to capture.
There were so many instances when I just put the camera away as the moments were too beautiful to attempt to capture through the lens eye. Often in our endeavor to do so we miss the real beauty that must be known beyond what can be seen. There were moments when I touched the stone structures, the boulders, the ornately sculptured pillars with my hand in an attempt to reconnect with the past, trying to feel what they had to say about their days of grandeur and glory, trying to convey my awe and appreciation, almost in reverence.
This was a rather rushed trip for us. Even though we managed to cover most of the important sites, we were a little sad. Because as I strongly feel, historical places are not to be seen or ‘covered’, they must be felt in our bones. We wanted to aimlessly roam around the place and allow it to settle in and feel it within us. That is the only way to appreciate history, when we are able to make that connection with the past. But this rushed trip has ensured that we go back again sometime. And that we spend leisurely hours sitting on a boulder overlooking the Hampi ruins. Surely, we will become one with the past and nature.
- Winter is the best time to visit Hampi because the sun is not beating down mercilessly on you. We went towards the end of January and it was already hot!
- It is easy to reach Hospet (located in the state of Karnataka) by train or bus from Bangalore. We took the overnight bus from Mumbai. Travel by train is preferable.
- Finally among things to carry: sunglasses, hats and a map of Hampi ruins are a must. Some amount of prior research and study on Hampi before the trip is recommended. And DO NOT forget to carry your camera as the place is a photographer’s delight!
Photo Credit: Monami Guha Das