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Gargi Raychakraborty | Views: 6512

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Posted on: Tuesday , Dec 13, 2011 At 21:58 PM

Hampi - Stones Can And Do Speak!


 

Hundreds of years ago, in a kingdom far, far away, ruled a king who was known for his bravery and kindness. People talked about his magnificent kingdom in far away lands; the mighty king had two queens - sounds familiar?

Ah yes! Thus started the fairy tales, spinning their magical web, about magnificent kingdoms. Well, one outgrows bedtime stories and then school happens to you and the very boring history curriculum spoils all the fun. You have to mug up so much without ever visiting the real place that you feel totally disconnected and as a result - hate the kings, their queens, every man who was ever a part of their kingdom and obviously the poor history teacher!

My interest in historical places started much later in life; somewhere in my mid twenties and since then ‘ruins of Hampi’ has been on my must visit list for nearly a decade.

Till I set foot there, I had no idea that long forgotten tales from childhood. The clouds that float over the ruins, the sun that swathes the land with its golden rays from time to time and the colossal boulders strewn hills that stand solemnly all around you whispers the tale of erstwhile Vijaynagara empire.  

 Just to revive your memory!

Hampi (Humpi or Hampe), a UNESCO world heritage site is situated on the banks of river Tungabhadra and formed one of the core areas of the capital of Hindu empire Vijaynagara from 1336 to 1565.  The kingdom was established by two brothers - Harihara and Bukka and reached its zenith under the rule of King Krishnadevaraya. The empire was finally overthrown by the Deccan sultanate who post capturing and killing Rama Raya in the battle of Talikota, plundered Hampi and its surroundings for months, reducing it to a ruinous state in which it remains. It was never re-occupied.

The ‘ruins of Hampi’ is more of an open museum showcasing history, architecture and spirituality – one can take their pick!

Bangalore - Hampi:

Now that we own a SLR, Hampi started blinking bright on ‘No.1 place to visit’ before the year ended. So one fine morning, late November, we started from Bangalore.

Hampi or rather Hospet (the nearest town 12 kms away) is well connected with rail and roads. We prefer undertaking road trips and honestly it is nice to have your own car to move around in Hampi.  

The distance between B and H is 350 kms which we managed in 6.30 hours with 2 breaks. Bangalore to Tumkur has heavy traffic. The stretch between Tumkur and Chitradurga was awesome; it is a four lane highway, part of Golden Quadrilateral project and reminds you of Hollywood road flicks. Yes, there are also sunflower fields and windmills dotting the horizon to complete the effect! There is Kamat Upachar and 2-3 more such joints on the way, where you can stop for a South Indian breakfast and strong filter coffee.

Once you hit Chitradurga and take right on NH 13, there are loads of trucks plying, and one needs to be rather alert till one reaches Hospet.

  Places to stay in Hampi:

a)      Lots of people prefer staying in Hospet; but then one misses out  on the charms of quaint little Hampi and the magnificent sunrise and sunset.

b)      KSTDC Hotel Bhubaneshwari in Kamalpura (we chose this option; its 3.5 kms from the ruins and has modestly clean rooms and a lovely garden. The rates for semi deluxe A/C room start at 1500/- night, which is quite affordable.

c)      Guest houses/ home stays in and around Hampi Bazaar and across Tungabhadra. One needs to of course take a coracle ride to reach the other side of the bank.

You also have fancy resorts – Kiskinda Heritage and Hampi Boulders to choose from.

 Stones can and do speak!

We were to meet our KSTDC approved guide Lokesh at the hotel foyer at 8.30 am. We had slept well and post a filling breakfast  we were geared up for the tour. I had my printout ready and we had already discussed with Prakash that we needed to tick all that was on my list.

We drove approximately 3 kms on a lovely winding road with lush green fields on both sides; there was a slight breeze and one could spot boulder strewn landscapes at a distance. As the car took another turn, we suddenly came face-to-face with two lovely ancient temples and mammoth boulders strewn all across us. There was a collective hiss from all of us. We were so not expecting to come face-to-face with something so beautiful and vast and gorgeous- all rolled into one!

Hampi catches you totally unaware; you take a turn and suddenly an invisible curtain lifts and transports you back to another time, hundreds of years ago!

Quick info: The Vijaynagara Empire had four main villages (according to our Guide) namely, Hampi, Kamalpura, Krishnapura and Vittalnagara. The architecture a combination of the Chalukyan, Hoysalan, Pandyan and Cholan flamboyant styles is made mostly of the locally available hard granite.

Hemakuta Hills: We started our ‘walk back to past’ with Hemakuta (Hemakoota) Hills. There are two huge monolithic Ganesha images – Kadalekalu (gram seed) and Sasivekalu (mustard seed). The gigantic rgey stone statue is 4.5 m high and is housed with open mantapa in front. The mantapa is singularly classical in its architectural proportions and has tall, slender pillars with ornate carvings.

Approx 100 mts before entering the temple, there is a derelict stone façade on the left. Thinking it must be just-another-stone-ruin, we entered it casually.

OH-MY-GOD!

On entering, we just stood dumbfounded for sometime. All around us were vast stretches of rocky sheets that had pre Vijaynagar era temples scattered all around. The horizon was dotted with some small sized raised platform kind of structures and Lokesh (our Guide) informed that those were used as stages where one performed or sang praise of the King.

We ran around like excited kids who have been left in their favourite playground. Innumerable pictures were taken; I even decided to roam the entire area barefoot. It was my way of feeling one with the people who have walked the same stretches barefoot seven hundred years back. On the top of the hill, there is a three tier, flat roof temple from where you get a bird’s eye view of the ruins.  We spend an hour here and strolled towards Virupaksha Temple.

The magnificent nine storeys east facing Gopuram of the temple, visible from quite a distance is one of the most prominent landmarks of Hampi. Dedicated to Lord Shiva, it is believed to be one of the oldest functioning temple of India. It also has sanctums dedicated to Pampavati and Bhuvaneshwari, Lord Shiva or Virupaksha’s consorts. On entering you get to see Vijaynagar’s emblem carved on stone on your right and as you take few more steps ahead, you meet Lakshmi.- the in house pet elephant.

The temple is huge and needs at least more than an hour for detailed viewing. The mural panel on the central hall and the pinhole camera effect that one gets to see behind the main sanctum caught my interest. There is a dark chamber with a slit in the hall and when the sunrays pass, one can see the inverted shadow of the main Gopuram on the stone wall.

Once you step out of the temple, you come face-to-face with the crowded Hampi Bazaar. History says Hampi was well known for its bazaars; merchants from far away places gathered here to show off their wares. They were well laid out in neat rows, paved with stones, and also included residence for the merchants and stables for their horses.

Few of the stone chambers still exists full of cluttering 21st century shops. They sell turkish pants, brightly coloured kurtas, semi-tacky looking gypsy bags, toys, hand made musical instruments, mineral water and small artifacts’ made of plaster-of-paris which somehow has a stone look. There are innumerable ‘3-rickety-wooden-benches’ kind of eateries, claiming to have a mention in Lonely Planet.

If you keep walking straight, you hit the police station nad the handicraft bazaar which is a dimly lit, long room which has rows of bedsheets, handkerchiefs, gypsy bag, few products made of hand made paper and other sundry items. Not much to choose from, but I did manage a stone chariot replica.

On our way back to the car, we also checked out Lakshmi Narasimha (The largest monolithic statue in Hampi; it is an interestingly carved statue of Lord Narasimha sitting in a yogic position on the coil of seven headed nag, Sesha) and Badavalinga.

 Next stop: Zenana enclosure, Lotus Mahal, Elephant stables:

The secluded, walled area reserved for royal women has a huge bath, massage parlour, sprawling garden and a lotus shaped hall which was the meeting place for the queens. The Lotus Mahal, the main attraction, is a two storied, pastel coloured arched pavilion which is a blend of Indo-Islamic architecture. From the top, it appears like a blooming lotus, giving the palace its name.

The Queen’s Palace (only the basement remains) is located at the middle of this area; measuring 46 x 29 meters, in fact this has been the largest palace base excavated in the Hampi ruins so far.

The elephant enclosure is right next doors and consists of 11 chambers dedicated to the eleven elephants who served only the Royal Family. The chambers are airy, spacious and have beautiful carving. On one side, there are abandoned rooms meant for mahouts and on the other side there was the elephant treasury which is in shambles.

However, some researchers claim, that the entire area was actually Rama Raya’s secretariat; why otherwise would you have stables just next to the queen’s living area!

 IMP: The same ticket which you purchase while entering Zenana enclosure, is valid (only for the same day) for entry at the Vittala Temple and the nearby Elephant Stables. Preserve the ticket.

Hazara Rama Temple:

I remembered this from a story read during my teens and was very excited to finally see it first hand. This is located south east of the zenana enclosure and is much smaller than the other temples indicating that it may have been a private temple for the Kings.

Sculpted friezes, depicting Ramayana, covers every inch of the outer wall. Inside the temple there are black granite pillars exquisitely carved and had images of Krishna, Mahishahsur mardini (the Bengali in me was pleased with this) and also that of a break dancer! Break dance, in those days!!

James Brown, now I know that you didn’t invent it J

We were famished (at least I was) and Lokesh decided to take us to a place called Hotel Ashoka near the main bus stop. Hotel Ashoka is beyond definition - It was the most dingy place where I have had food in the last decade. I will still NOT recommend it to anyone.

From here on, we headed towards Vittalnagara (Vittalpura) & Vittala Temple:

 For me, this place is what made the Hampi trip so endearing (apart from running around barefoot on Hemakuta Hills). A similar winding road with plantations on both sides take you towards Vittalnagara; once you pass by main entrance to the village/ town and cross the stone house of the gatekeeper of the erstwhile town, you seriously wish that instead of a car you were riding a horse! The winding road takes you through a completely deserted town till you reach a point where cars are allowed to park.

You can either walk for ten minutes or board a battery operated vehicle (rate Rs 10/ person),that takes you to the epicenter of Hampi’s attractions – The Vittala temple.

The Gopuram of the Vittala Temple is severely damaged, but once you enter the courtyard, you are struck by the sheer beauty of the structures. The stone chariot takes its proud place in the centre of the courtyard and I stood transfixed next to it for some time – it is a sheer piece of art! The wheels used to move earlier, but now they have been fixed because tourists would manhandle them. There were few art students who were intently doing water colour/ pencil sketches and I loved some of their work.

The temple, dedicated to Lord Vishnu houses a Kalyan Mantapa (marriage hall) and a Maha Mantapa. The main highlight of the MahaMantapa is its richly carved giant monolithic pillars. The outermost of the pillars are popularly called the musical pillars. These slender and short pilasters carved out of the giant pillars emit musical tones (can be heard till a distance of 1.5kms) when tapped and they also reproduce the sound of various musical instruments. The technology behind how the music emanates it is still a mystery; the British did try finding out by neatly cutting two of those pillars (they are now found in Chennai museum) but they did not succeed in their quest!

The irony is that touching them has been barred. Guess why? Indian tourists being what they are, they had been damaging what had been left untouched by the marauders years back. It is such a shame.

There is simply too much artwork all around, each pillar has and interesting story. I think, one needs at least 5-6 hours to grasp all that is there. There are points in the courtyard, from which you get a good view of Tungabhadra and after loitering around for some more time, we headed back.

 The clouds had darkened in the horizon, and we went back towards Hampi to visit Mahanavami Dibba (and watch sunset): This was the last leg of the day’s tour.

King Krishnadevaraya constructed this in commemoration on the victory over Udaygiri (now in Orissa). Legend is that the king used this platform to watch the army march-pasts, war games, aquatic sports, shows of the royal animals, musical performances and also the most important Navarathri celebrations.

From a distance this looks like an ordinary elevated square stage. As you go close, the details emerge. The whole structure is made as a giant square structure in three layers. There are mainly two stairways to reach the top. On the top there is nothing special to see except the great views all around it; honestly I have not seen such a large undisturbed view of the sky for a long, long time. Mornings or evenings are preferred time of visit, as this vast enclosure does not have shades.

There is also a large Puskarini or a step tank close by.

 

We returned dog tired to our hotel and spent the rest of the evening chatting, guzzling drinks, discussing the places seen and revisiting it through the snaps clicked.

Ruins of Hampi is “I-cannot-really-put-it-in-words” experience. It is truly a traveler’s paradise; every turn springs a surprise, every monument hides more than what they reveal. The mammoth boulders that forms the ruins stands the test of time; they stand testimony to the high level creativity of the artisans and the highs and lows of the various dynasties that were once a part of the magnificent Vijaynagara empire!

My two bit suggestion to the ASI:

a)      Can there be more toilets? And a compulsory rule that states that children should not be seen relieving themselves on the road? I mean, are we all not supposed to treat heritage sites more seriously than an open lavatory?

b)      Maybe the ticket prices should be increased so that you do not have unruly crowd trying to spoil what is left? Or maybe more security?

The return journey was peaceful. The sole highlight was the lunch at Hotel Aishwarya Fort @Chitradurga. Finger licking good food. I recommend to everyone who travels by Chitradurga to stop there.

 FYI: Guide Lokesh: +91.944.821. 2579


 

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Gargi RayChakraborty Gargi RayChakraborty lives in Bangalore(Karnataka) and is interested in Reading, painting, intellectually stimulating...

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