Our trip started on a bad footing, with us almost missing our flight. In fact, we were welcomed with ‘Gate closed’ sign at the boarding gate however a few fervent requests got us through. Bless their soul, Indigo.
We reached Hubli airport on time after a tiring, hopping flight and got into the pre-booked taxi towards Hospete immediately. The road from Hubli to Hospete was under repairs and we took almost 3.5 hours to reach our resort. Why Hospete? Well it’s the nearest town to Hampi having good hotels.
The first part of our journey from Hubli to Hospete was quite a chore, what with the bad road, the burning Sun and the treeless scenery. However as you near Hospete the scenery changes dramatically and takes on green hues, thanks to excellent water management by means of a dam and water canals. With rice fields on both sides and quite a few coconut trees, the scenery freshens one up.
Finally we reached our destination, our resort for the next 4 days. It was a long journey which started when we left our house at 6.45 am. and reached the resort @12 hours later. It was an early shut-eye as next day was long.
After breakfast, we proceeded towards the first destination, The Vitthal temple in Hampi. When we reached there by taxi and got down, two persons selling various tourism booklets rushed towards us. Since the booklets were of good quality, I proceeded to buy one.
Another person approached us. This was the guide who was offering his services. After a bit of haggling, we finalized the deal and were on the way. Since the temple complex is quite far away from the car park, the ASI has kept a fleet of battery run vehicles. We paid for the tickets of the vehicle ride.
We were advised to buy tickets which would be accepted at other heritage places of Hampi, which we promptly did. The ticket for the heritage sites visit is quite economical for an Indian citizen.
We entered the temple complex which has the Vitthal temple, the stone chariot, the sabhamantapa, Rangamantapa with the world famous musical pillars, kalyanamantapa and utsavmantapa.
The complex is surrounded by high walls and has three towering gateways. The torrential rains of 2019 have had an unfortunate impact on the old structures. Most of the structures are now closed to the tourists and they are barred from entering the structures except one. I was so disappointed when I was told that I cannot tap on the musical pillars to hear the musical notes, which was one of my goals when the visit was decided. However the exquisite carvings all round, somewhat made up for that disappointment.
The incomparable stone chariot is a must-see in the complex and one cannot miss it as it is in the central section of the complex. It is one of the few remaining stone chariots in India, the other two being in Konark, Orissa and in Mahabalipuram, Tamil Nadu. The guide enlightened us that a massive sculpture of Garuda was seated atop the chariot in the olden days, but now it is in ruin. He also told us that the stone wheels were rotating once upon a time but concerned about the wear and tear, the government cemented them to avoid further damage.
The guide explained that when the Great King, Shri Krishna Deva Raya was in Orissa on a War mission, he was fascinated by the Konark Sun temple chariot and decided to get it constructed in his dominion.
Amazingly it looks as if constructed from a single piece of stone, but is actually made up of slabs of granite and the linkages are smartly hidden from the lay observer. Though now closed to the public from entering inside, a stone ladder is observed between two stone elephants flanking it.
The Ranga Mantapa is another attraction and has the renowned musical pillars. As per the guide there were or are, 56 pillars and the notes emanating from them when tapped gently, vary in sound quality. He explained that the British rulers were wonderstruck and curious about the secret of the sound source and they proceeded to cut two of them to check whether anything existed inside the pillars. They found nothing but stone!
The Maha Mantapa is a structure of immense beauty and consists of four smaller halls. Even the ceiling is richly designed.
The sanctum sanctorum of the main temple is devoid of any idol. But even today, the observer can imagine the grandeur of the temple. There is an interesting story attached to the temple and there is a close connection to the Vitthal Mandir in Pandharpur, Maharashtra.
Finally we dragged our feet, reluctantly away from this grand temple, as we had to visit many more sites.
It’s a colossal bath and is believed to have been constructed by King Achyuta Raya for the women of the royal family. It was their private bathing chamber.
The exterior structure is simple, however it has an ornate interior and is built in Indo-Islamic architectural design. It is a rectangular building and consists of a big sunken bath located centrally. The sunken bath is surrounded by beautiful arched corridors and projecting balconies with windows. Though these arched bays are covered from above, the bath itself is open to the sky. An aqueduct or aqueducts brought fresh water to the bath.
After a quick lunch in a good, economical garden restaurant, we were at the archeological museum of Hampi, preferring not to go out into the burning sun immediately after lunch.
The museum has a great collection of exhibits and some of the sculptures are huge. I loved the replica of the overall Hampi topography which is in the centre of the museum.
The Royal Enclosure
The unimpressive entrance to the enclosure doesn’t prepare you for the grandeur inside.
Immediately on entering the enclosure, a great vista opens up before you and it’s as if you have entered a time machine, which has taken you into the past, albeit a ruined one. It’s an open air museum and showcases the architectural excellence of that era.
This is a huge 8 meter high platform and it stands a solitary witness to the grand era of centuries ago. It is three tiered and has a flight of steps leading to the top. Each tier has intricate sculptures which depict the everyday life in those days. We climbed the steps and reached the top where a panoramic 360 degree view of the surrounding area greeted us. This platform was used during the Navami celebrations and one can see the remains of pillar bases which indicate that a huge pavilion once stood in the centre.
This tank is a marvel of ancient engineering and is one of the better preserved structures inside the Royal Enclosure. It is a 5 tiered tank and one can only admire those ancient builders.
Excellent water distribution by means of stone aqueducts is the hallmark of the ancient ruins and and a large section of the aqueducts is well restored. Some sections deliver water even today. One can see a stone aqueduct directed towards the stepped tank, though there is no water now in this particular aqueduct and the water inside the stepped tank is stagnant, residual rainwater.
King’s Audience Hall
This was said to be 100 pillared but only the base remains now. Remnants of a stone staircase suggest another storey above believed to be made of wood.
Though we didn’t venture inside, it lies between the King’s Audience Hall and the stepped tank where the rulers are believed to have held important discussions with their inner circle of trusted aides.
Hazara Rama temple
A temple dedicated to Lord Rama, it is the only temple in the Royal Enclosure. Relics on the walls depict the Ramayana and are comparatively better preserved in the entire Royal Enclosure.
There were other structures nearby which now lie in ruins. One can see ruins of a Shiva temple with a damaged Nandi facing it.
Though the Royal Enclosure may seem an empty area at first glance, it does reveal interesting details upon closer examination. It is possible that wood was extensively used in the construction due to which it was easier to destroy by the enemies. Just outside the Royal Enclosure, the horse stables are located where there is a large stone trough for holding drinking water for the horses.
This building is within the so-called Zenana enclosure, a segregated area believed to be used by the royal women of the ruling dynasty. It is called so, due to its lotus like structure. It seems to have survived the brutal assault on the city when the rulers were defeated by their enemies. It can only be admired from the outside now as the arched windows and balconies are vulnerable to further damage.
This impressive structure used to provide shelter to the royal elephants and is located near the Kamal Mahal.
Behind the elephant stables, two temples are located, in totally dilapidated condition.
Lakshmi Narasimha statue
As you approach the statue from the road and near it, the huge monolith dwarfs you. It is the largest monolithic statue in Hampi, carved from a single boulder of granite. This statue too was commissioned by Krishna Deva Raya and is dedicated to the Narasimha Avatar of Lord Vishnu.
Narasimha wears a beautiful headgear and sits in a cross-legged position. The seven hoods of Adishesha the divine serpent, serve as a canopy over the head of Narasimha. The large, protruding eyes impart a fearsome look.
Located near the Narasimha statue, is the Badavilinga Temple having the largest monolithic Shiva Linga in Hampi and is made of black stone. It has a height of 3 meters. Interestingly, the temple doesn’t have a roof and the sunlight enters through the open ceiling and floods the Linga with light. Of course, the rain water still surrounded the Linga and a water channel flows through the shrine, hence the Linga stands on a bed of water.
Sasivekalu Ganesha temple
It is a huge statue of Lord Ganesha carved out of a single block of rock. It is about 8 feet tall.
This Ganesha is seated and has a snake tied around its stomach. It is said that Lord Ganesha consumed a lot of food, due to which he felt his stomach would burst. So to prevent it from bursting, he tied a snake around his stomach.
Kadalekalu Ganesha temple
This Ganesha is one of the largest in entire Southern India. This is also monolithic and we were able to observe the statue from the rear side of the temple. Even the back of the statue is well carved. But the image imprinted on my memory, are the beautiful fingers which appear so delicate on the huge monolith.
Dedicated to Lord Shiva, it is the holiest and still attracts large number of worshippers. It is a huge complex with a tall tower, reminiscent of all major South Indian temples. It has a large courtyard and we saw an elephant inside, feeding on grass.
The ceiling of the main temple has many paintings of Dashavatar, scenes from Ramayana and the Mahabharata.
An ancient bazaar is in front of the temple and the ancient ruins are still visible.
It is advisable to take a guide at the temple, preferably inside. Then you will be taken to an underground temple, which is small yet impressive.
Another attraction is a dark area on the side, which has only a small window. We didn’t know why the guide is taking us there and followed him halfheartedly. But once inside he asked us to see a wall, opposite to the small window. A pinhole camera effect! We could clearly see the inverted image of the main gopuram on the opposite wall.
By the time we came out of the temple complex, it was almost 5.30 in the evening and we were totally tired. The hemkunta hill is situated nearby and one should not miss it, but our tiredness did not allow us to climb up the hill and we returned to the resort to plan our next day.