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Published: December 17th 2019
Hampi, described as a fantasy world of rocks and ruins, lies in the south Indian state of Karnataka, on the banks of the Tungabhadra River. Now a laid-back ancient village which sprawls over both sides of the river, Hampi was once the last capital of Vijayanagar, one of the greatest Hindu kingdoms in India’s history.
The magnificent ruins of Hampi dot an unearthly landscape that’s captivated travellers for centuries. Heaps of giant boulders dot kilometres of undulating terrain, their rusty hues offset by jade-green palm groves, banana plantations and paddy fields.
The nearest airport to Hampi is at Belgaum 270klm away, and the nearest railway station, where we finally arrived this morning, is at Hospet, 13klm away.
Auto rickshaws filled the parking area outside the railway station, but we had secured ourselves a driver within two minutes from stepping down from the rain. They wait on the platform and approach travellers as soon as their feet hit the ground. Competition for a fare is fierce here, same as it was in Hyderabad.
Our accomodation, Clark’s Inn, was further away from Hampi than I thought, certainly not within walking distance, so we negotiated with our rickshaw driver for
a few hours of sightseeing later in the day . We needed a shower and breakfast before considering going anywhere.
So at 11.00am we find him waiting outside our hotel, with suggestions on what to see today. We’re happy to have him organise our day, he’s the local after all, and knows the best way around.
First stop was Vittala Temple and the stone chariot. We had a hot dusty walk down a gravel road from the parking area, to reach the temple complex. A couple of electric people movers passed us, I know now how we’ll be returning. We passed an ancient stepwell which was full of water along the way, something we would have missed if we hadn’t walked.
This temple is one of the few paid sites in Hampi, our ticket cost R600 ($12.30), and will also get us into the Elephant Stables and the Museum opposite our hotel, as long as they’re all visited on the same day.
This 16th century temple was never finished or consecrated, yet the temple’s incredible sculptural work is the pinnacle of Vijayanagar art today. The ornate stone chariot which stands in the courtyard is the temple’s
showpiece. Originally there were horse sculptures pulling it and sections of their hind legs and tails can still be seen behind the elephants, and the wheels were once capable of turning.
There are lots of smaller temples dotted around outside the complex, how many you see depends entirely on your energy levels and how far you want to walk. Everywhere you look archways, tiny temples and pavilions can be seen nestled amongst the rocks.
We lined up and waited for the electric people mover to get us back to the car park. Next stop was the Lotus Temple and Royal Elephant Stables.
The glorious Lotus Temple is within the Zenana Enclosure, a segregated area that was used by the royal women of the Vijayanagar Dynasty. The name is given to the palace because of the shape it resembles. The central dome is also carved as a lotus bud. It’s one of a handful of buildings in Hampi not damaged or destroyed during a Mughal attack on the city in 1565. This area was well tended with lawn and gardens, though we couldn’t enter the temple due to restorations. A few minutes walk from here are the royal
elephant stables, a long and very impressive structure fronting a large lawned area.
Built in the 15th century, these stables provided shelter for the royal elephants. The intricate design and details of the structure, indicate the importance that was attached to the elephants of that time. The structure is an elongated building with eleven domed chambers, each large enough to accommodate two elephants, and these are interconnected with large arched doorways.
All the chambers have high ceilings and a small opening at the rear from where the mahouts could enter and exit. A secret door which opens onto a staircase to the roof exists in the central chamber, but I couldn’t find it, not even a crack in the brickwork.
After leaving here we were dropped back at the hotel. We needed some down time, and some air conditioning, so our driver will be back to collect us at 5.00pm for a hill top sunset.
We headed to Malyavanta Hill, where a small 16th century temple is built around a huge boulder. The views from here were breathtaking, thousands of boulders strewn across the landscape, banana plantations, palm trees and rice paddies. I have never before
seen a terrain such as this, it was like landing on a different planet.
A fabulous way to end the day. We headed back to our accomodation and plan on eating in their dining room tonight. Tomorrow our driver will be back to collect us for another busy day...
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