Our progression through India has moved from big city Bangalore , to the smaller Hubli and now the village of Hampi. We came to this area to view the numerous delicately carved buildings and experience the more peaceful side of India. The city was once the capital of the Hindu empire. At its height the city contained over 500,000 people. The city has been reduced significantly and the few residents that stay survive on tourists and agriculture. Away from the hustle and craziness, we were surrounded by banana groves, sugarcane and five hundred year old ruins of the past empire.
The most prominent of the ruins is the enormous 50m Virupaksha Temple from 1442 that protrudes from the edge of the city. Exploring the temple we were startled by a horned bull that roamed freely in the complex. He posed for a silhouette. Outside the temple we walked up the rock hillside to see the temple and town at night. Every surface of the temple is coverd with ornamentations and figurines of gods and animals. There were real monkeys too! They climbed up and down the the tower, relaxed and watched over everyone in the bazaar.
In the morning we ate some of the best food so far in India. We ordered two plates filled with idli (rice flour cakes), fried green chiles and gundpangala (rice porridge ebleskivers) served with coconut chutney and sambar. The dumplings we firm and moist with perfect little pores to soak up the rich sauces. We stepped away from the cozy outdoor shack; we washed our hands from the adjacent spigot and began our trek along the old Hampi bazaar. These buildings are centuries old, but through use as a modern bazaar it became a bit dilapidated. The colors were vibrant on either side of the road providing a rainbow-like entry to the temples.
Our first sacred sight was enormous monolithic bull (Nandi) carved from the hillside. We clambered up some rocky steps to another small temple. We leaned towards the gate to view the statute inside when a small bony woman jumped out and dotted our heads with a bright pink fingerprint. We gave her some rupees that immediately caused a scowl to her face (we don’t know the going rate for these things). We hurried off trying to dodge the bad karma insults. The Achyutaraya Temple sits in a small valley that was nearly tourist free. We explored the temple, several gates and auxiliary buildings that led to a vast grass filled plaza. We weave our way through the herd of goats that had taken over the Sule Bazaar. Both sides of the plaza were lined with simple stone buildings that once served as a great shopping center.
Next to the bazaar was a beautiful reservoir that provided great reflections of the ruins. The heat was excruciating, but the water looked a little to slimy even for me to swim. Sweating in the midday heat we arrived at the Vittala temple. This temple is about 3km from Hampi with amazing carvings and engravings nestled into every surface. The building columns were beautiful single pieces of marble that elegantly tapered and separated into four filigree posts. Outside the temple is a stone chariot that supposedly was operational at one time. We walked along the river and found some boys operating a sugarcane press, a perfect spot for a refreshing drink.
We continued to be awestruck by the glamorous carvings throughout each set of ruins. There were elephants, monkey gods (who supposedly originated in Hampi) and thousands of stories to document their religious history. The ruins in Hampi are exquisite, but they are spread throughout a large area. We walked most of it, but if you are going to Hampi print this map because it will be the best guide you will have.
The walk to the historic Royal Center turned out to be longer than expected. We expected to find a trail to the south of Achyutaraya temple. We walked through the mud and grass until the dead silence of the banana plantation informed us that we probably should not be there. We backtracked, and spotted a temple in the distance. Carmen jumped on my back and together we made it through a bog, then a carefully laid out steps of rocks to hop and in no time we found the Krishna Temple. With a landmark we could then make our way on the road to our real destination. The Royal Center was basically the Forbidden City or (Topkapi Palace) of Hampi – an enormous complex of buildings, servants and concubines for the emperor. We first visited the Queen’s Bath with elaborate lattice marches. Walking through the walled city we passed cows that were colorfully decorated from a recent festival. Further on we explored the Hazararama Temple then continued north to the jewels of the Hampi Ruins.
The Lotus Mahal is one of the more spectacular and fundamentally beautiful buildings that I have seen in a long time. It feels very natural and simple like the flower it mimics. The building glows with an elegance that would be valued in any modern building today, but this one is five centuries old. The Elephant Stables nearby are also grand with many repeating arches and domes. The empire that ruled in Hampi was grand, an now these buildings quietly bake away in the sun. It was very calming to wonder through the Royal Center imagining the city that once lived and the people that one walked and seeing these exact buildings.
We had a wonderful time in Hampi. It was an exhilarating and exhausting two night hop from Hubli. We were transferred into a whole other world of curved stone architecture, grand abandoned bazaars, and a small village. The people were nice, the animals cooperative even though a bit invasive, but the magic of the place and the scenery will remain with us forever. And those gundpangala…I will be dreaming about those for some time.