Hampi- Remnants of an ancient era (Part 1)

The decision to spend a weekend in Hampi was a spontaneous one. On a whim, I asked my bestie to join me on a weekend trip. The destination was vague. She agreed, as she always does! Quickly, I did a little research and the tiny signs pointed me towards Hampi. We left Bangalore the following midnight, and due to some mysterious reason, all of Bangalore’s traffic was accumulated in the Majestic- Yeshwantpur junction. Our mighty bus took 2 hours to cover a km of the toll road. Though our ETA at Hospet was supposedly 6 a.m., we arrived four hours later. (Our driver had chosen an impromptu diversion. Spontaneity- A trait, I DID NOT appreciate in drivers).

Now, the ideal place to stay while visiting Hampi is the hippie islands, but unaware of it then, I had booked a hotel in Hospet (a half hr ride away from Hampi). After freshening up, we caught a decent brunch at a local hotel in Hospet. An absence of fellow travelers was clearly obvious as the occupants at each table were either men-catching up on old tales or families having a quite meal. And then there was us- two girls, oblivious (at least, we pretended to be) to all the curious looks shot our way.

An hour later, we found ourselves in Hampi talking to a rickshaw driver who had jumped into our moving bus while it was being parked. He sure was keen on catching a customer, and after a bit of haggling, we agreed for a tour of the city at 500 Bucks (Which, by the way is tad pricey as I later realized). Our auto-driver had sworn to be worthy of the price, or else there was a complete-refund policy (Yeah, right. We all know how that ends).

We started off with Sasivekalu Ganesha (Translation: Mustard seed Ganesha; only because there was another idol which was fairly larger in size, as compared to this), moving on to Hemakunta hill temple complex- a large expanse bearing many temples, with no idols to worship in them (Emphasizes, why the city is now called Ruins of Hampi) and offers a generous view of the Virupaksha temple and its surroundings.

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For miles and miles, you see rocks, boulders, sculptures and trees that have witnessed the glorious years of Hampi. (PC: Madhu)

Built on varying leveled platforms, this art of architecture set in stone, with carvings on every inch is simply astonishing. It seemed to me as if the hill stood like a lone soldier, helplessly watching the catastrophe of a war that laid waste to the land, destroying everything familiar. A carefree evening on these hills, in the company of loved ones watching the golden crown of sunset, talking about life, sipping tea was all I wanted at that moment.I vowed to return, determined to capture every bit of the wondrous smithereens in a sketch.

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Even time pauses here for a moment, imploring Hampi to re-tell its story. (PC: Madhu)

One thing I found in abundance in Hampi, other than the buildings of course, were the brown squirrels, skittering about willy-nilly.

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The Guardian of Hemakunta, savoring his meal- a tasty peanut! (PC: Madhu)

Then on, we paid a visit to the Shiva temple and the partly-destroyed Ugra Narasimha. The original sculpture had a small figure of Goddess Lakshmi, resting on his lap. It was mutilated when the Mughals raided Vijayanagara Empire in 1565 A.D, also marking its downfall.

We met a man, who once was a former member of the archaeological committee. Now, an artist who carved out beautiful sculptures out of Soap. He explained that during the restoration, a few features were added to the sculpture (such as the large distinguishable mark on the chest of the sculpture) an addition made to make the idol more stable.

The second section of the city is the palace ground. One of the major attractions was the Lotus Mahal (a.k.a Chitragani Mahal or Kamal Mahal). A mesmerizing example of the Vijayanagara architecture, built solely to serve the royal ladies of Vijayanagara Empire. The structure was originally surrounded by four Watch towers, of which only three can be seen today.

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Every monument at its best. It’s as if the craftsmen competed against each other and filled every inch with their soul.

The foundation to a queen’s palace (which was never built) can be found near the entrance. An elegant-long building with beautiful domed chambers that once served as an elephant stable, now was being adorned with lights. The reason being- The infamous Hampi utsav. We were visiting only a few days prior to festival, and hence the city was bustling with foreigners and local tourists, while the major attractions were embellished. A stage was being set up for the performances and plays scheduled for the festival. The air was charged up, as actors rehearsed their roles and carpenters busied about, building wooden platforms and beams. We were lucky enough to catch a glimpse of the forthcoming celebrations of a fabled empire.

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Break time! What’s happening around the world?

An archaeology museum laid within the same premises- a treasure trove to all the architectural artifacts, relics, coins, tools, miniature paintings, ivory items, copper plates and several other things from the glorious era of the Vijayanagara Empire.

We then headed out to explore the Pushkarini (temple tank)- an ancient step well, located near the Mahanavami Dibba (a.k.a Dasara Dibba) constructed by King Krishnadevaraya to celebrate his victory over Udayagiri (Modern day-Orissa).Later, our Auto dropped us off at the final location of the tour- Vijaya Vittala temple.

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One can choose between availing a government facilitated utility vehicle (at a fair price) or taking a good ol’ walk uphill, for about a km to reach the main entrance of the Temple. A ticket bought to enter the palace grounds, also can be used to enter the Royal temple. But, being the goofball that I am, I lost it somewhere on the road and had to buy it again.

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Not the only goofball here! (PC: Me)

Vijaya Vittala temple is the Taj Mahal of Hampi. The amount of effort, craftsmanship, creativity and art that is poured into every inch of the ensemble is exceptional. The stone chariot is an artistic marvel in itself, and bears a striking resemblance to the stone chariot situated in Konark Sun temple, Orissa (Incidentally, Krishnadevaraya was fascinated by the aforementioned chariot whilst his war against Udayagiri and thus, ordered an establishment of one such chariot in his own empire). The musical pillared temple is yet another marvelous contribution of the Vijayanagara Empire. Among the other structures are the shrine of the Goddess (a.k.a Devi shrine), Maha Mantapa (a.k.a Sabha Mantapa/ congregation hall), Ranga Mantapa, Kalyana Mantapa (marriage hall), Utsava Mantapa (festival hall).  Even in the middle of such loud ambience, I found a moment of tranquility in the Vittala temple, by the closed gates watching a horse graze peacefully. The winds whisked away my thoughts with their stories about distant lands.

The sunset point, at the Matunga Hill is one of the most sought out places in Hampi. But, we neither had the stamina, nor the will to mount a hill!

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Gateway to heaven. Care to venture? (PC: Madhu)

On our way out, amongst many children who sold photographs /postcards of Hampi, I met an adorable little boy- Abhi (Abhishek).

As it was the deepavali weekend, all kids had the week-off, ergo a golden opportunity to earn some extra cash. At every major tourist hub in Hampi, we’ve been pestered by children to buy postcards. (I for one ain’t a fan of it, but a friend of mine- an old soul, loves postcards for souvenirs). Unlike other children, Abhi didn’t badger us. Instead, he politely requested us once, took one look at our camera and before we could respond, uttered bashfully “Okay, thank you. We don’t want it” in an attempt to imitate every other tourist. His quick wit intrigued me, so I struck up a conversation with him, examining the postcards. A moment later, a family walked past us, as Abhi walked along with them. The older woman spoke kindly to him, laying her hand on his shoulder. I watched them walk out of sight; surprised that he would leave behind a stack of postcards in the hands a total stranger. (What if I ran away with it?)

Few minutes later, he returned with a grim look on his face, stating “She just wanted to feel good about herself by talking to me, but had no interest in the postcards”.

Smack! Truth slapped on the face.

I felt sorry for him, but at the same time wanted to convince him that the world is not all black & white!

As we walked back to Virupaksha temple, vaguely in the route of Kampa- Bhupa’s path- a walk along the rocky, boulder strewn trail by the banks of river Tungabhadra; Abhi opened up about his family. A drunk-abusive father that he resents, a mother-struggling to make ends meet, a sister- who’s quit college and is expected to be married off soon. The society burdens us all with its expectations and here was a boy sharing the burden of his family, trying to earn a little to ease the lives of the living. His dream? To become an engineer one day, move to the city and earn good money. I realized, this is the dream of most children in Karnataka who live in villages or rural areas. Their dreams- our reality. Yet, here we are trying to escape it. I wonder, if it’s the lack of imagination or support that refrains children from dreaming large, colorful, powerful dreams- that means something to them, instead of choosing the regular career path.

A moment of a beautiful sunset graced us at the banks of Tungabhadra, while fishermen rowing coracle boats made their way home. En route, Abhi pointed out a fascinating spot, one that contained neat piles of stones. Apparently, it is a belief that by doing so, one’s wishes would be granted.

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A castle of wishes! (PC: Madhu)

We parted ways at the temple. He followed a supposed customer, and I took a tour of the Virupaksha temple. It boasts of a huge elaborate structure with an inner sanctuary, a large courtyard, an open pillared hall, 3 ante chambers, a stable for an elephant- a delightful little creature who accepts coins from your hand with his trunk and in return plants a kiss on your head, as a blessing.

At night, the monuments of Hampi are lit up in shades of multicolored lights, intensifying the beauty of its intricate carvings. Seated atop the Hemakunta hill, we watched the mystifying dance of the lights on various structures, as the sky full of glowing stars reminded us that this wasn’t a city in ruins, but a testament to remnants of a grand era!

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Abracadabra! (PC: Madhu)

Until next time,
The Hippie Soul

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