Hampi’s a centuries-old tale of man’s mortality, etched in stone structures that once touched the sky but now lie scattered, cracked and broken. There’s a slice of history everywhere you turn.
My first visit to the village that’s home to the royal ruins of the Vijayanagara empire was way back in the days of my Minolta point-and-shoot. I alighted from the KSRTC bus with two of my friends and was instantly greeted by a Kal Ganesha – a seven foot tall stone carving of The Remover of Obstacles – flanking the bus stop to the right. Quaint little shops selling coconut water, packaged food and water and hats lined the bus station; taxis and autos waited to carry passengers to wherever they wanted to go; old women in sarees led the younger ones, adorned in langa davanis – the traditional Kannadiga skirt, blouse and dupatta attire – and strings of fragrant jasmine in their hair, to Virupaksha Temple from where the melody of prayers drifted. Clanging bells mingled with Bollywood music and shouts of vendors, honking autos and crying children being dragged past little toy stores. The ruins of temples, old-world courts and meeting places stood by silently and watched, letting people go about their business, quietly slipping into the new pace of life. It was like I had travelled back in time. Like I was in some Malgudi Days kind of setting.
When I went back last year, a lot had changed. Hampi had more tourists and fewer ruins. Structures were getting eroded. The stone was finally giving up its battle against the changing ways of the world. If you’ve been planning to visit Hampi, I would urge you to go before it’s too late.
What’s there to do?
My first trip had me going to all the touristy places – the Lotus Mahal, elephant stables, the gold market, Vittala Temple, Hemakunta, Hazari Rama temple complex and so many more. Last year, we drove down and chose to visit the ruins that had no sign of human visitations. There’s no dearth of such places in Hampi – just pick a direction to drive in, and you’re sure to come across non-touristy ruins everywhere, like stray dogs with no home to go to.
Just hire cycles (or an auto – so much more fun! And if the driver’s nice, he’ll let you ride it too) and ride around. Explore at your own pace because there’s lots to see. When you’re done with the market side of Hampi, take a ferry to the other side and explore more.
Eat at Mango Tree. Simple, delicious food made even better by the ambience.
Spend an evening on the hillock that houses Hemakunta. Sit under the Frangipani tree and, if you’re lucky, listen to the locals play ageless, mystical tunes on flutes and tabalas till the moon is above your head and glowing softly.
Discover that life isn’t all money and rush hour and somewhere to go and something to do. Hampi teaches you how to be adrift, without purpose and love it.
If you have a love for photography, you’ll have many affairs with Hampi. There’s visual pleasure everywhere.
Observe people. You’ll see how the non-urban population of Karnataka lives, learn new things about the culture and maybe make a few friends.
Visit the Vittala Temple to experience the musical pillars. They are sheer genius.
Getting there: Hampi’s a six to seven-hour drive from Bangalore, but is also well connected by buses and trains. Should you have difficulties getting reservations on either, travel to Hospet and hop onto an auto from there.
Go if: You love history, culture, exploring, stone carvings, rocky hills and temples. You could go for two days or two weeks, depending on how much you want to see.
P.S: Some of the pictures here were shot with my Minolta. The rest were taken with the Nikon D3000. Even then, the pictures don’t come half close to what the place really looks like.