Monday, December 14, 2009

Ruins that have a soul – Hampi, Karnataka, India

I was standing amidst the ruins of Krishnadeva Raya’s capital of Hampi. I had plans to explore this world heritage site over the next couple of days by walk, on cycle and on a coracle.

Hampi lies beside the Tungabhadra river, 13 kms from the nearest industrial town of Hospet and about 350 kms north of Bangalore.

It is a 500 year old historic site made up of rocks and boulders, but more importantly it is the remnants of a rich, skilled and evolved civilization that flourished here.

My first stop was the Virupaksha temple that lies at the western extreme of Hampi and on one corner of the Hampi bazaar. This temple, unlike the rest of Hampi is still in active use and devotees come to offer their prayers to Lord Shiva.

A short walk from the Virupaksha temple takes one to the banks of the Tungabhadra river where one can take a coracle boat ride or stop over at the nearby Mango Tree restaurant, a multi cuisine restaurant.

After offering my prayers at the temple and ambling through the bazaars, I stopped at a small shack to taste the native Lingayat lunch. The lunch consisted of Jowar rotis, Brinjal (egg plant) chutney, some rice, spicy onion sambar and butter milk. Lunch was a simple affair, but it was definitely appealing to my taste buds.

After lunch, I walked to the monolithic structures of the Lakshmi Narasimha temple and the Badavalinga temple. Both these monoliths are huge. The Lakshmi Narasimha is in semi ruin stage, while the Badavalinga, immersed in water still maintains itself.

Next, I visited the Mahanavami Dibba, the place where a huge auditorium used to exist. Upon climbing the steps of the Mahanavami Dibba, I was treated to some great views of the entire rocky vicinity.

On the base structure of the Mahanavami Dibba exist a lot of carvings and drawings. My guide told me that they depicted the various activities that happened in those days, for example, trade with neighbouring states, community gatherings, folk dances, etc.

Nearby was a very well designed and ornate pond cum bath house. The four sides of the pond are identical in style.

This bath house is connected by a huge system of aqueducts that used to carry water from a nearby water store. The aqueducts are designed in such a way that water flows into the bath house under the force of gravity.

Next, I walked to the Zanana enclosure, which houses the very pretty looking Lotus Mahal. The entire enclosure epitomizes the Indo-Islamic style of architecture.

There are watch towers on all sides of the enclosure, but most of them are in ruins.

In a nearby building, relics and artefacts are on display. These are either pieces of the ruins or discoveries from the excavations.

The Zanana enclosure also houses the elephant stables. Each stable has been designed in a way to allow maximum light, continuous air flow and for easy cleaning ability.

The entire area wears a nice green look and I guess the credit should go to the Archaeological Society of India for taking such good care.

It was late evening when I walked to the Vittala Temple that is situated near the banks of the Tungabhadra river.

This temple is one of the more famous spots of Hampi. The entrance gopuram of the temple is in ruins, but most of the other parts have either survived or have been restored by ASI.

As soon as I entered, I laid my eyes on the exquisite horse chariot that is similar in design to the Horse Chariot in the Sun Temple of Konark in Orissa, built by the Kalinga dynasty.

Then came the turn of the musical pillars, the jewel in the crown of the Vittala temple. The musical pillars, when struck at different places, produce melodies that sound like musical instruments or the sound of flowing water, etc.

Currently, the musical pillars are not allowed to be touched as they have become fragile through mis-use by the tourists.

The sun was setting by the time I finished visiting the other areas of the temple. Just before sunset, I rushed to the banks of the Tungabhadra to catch the sight of the orange skies.

The next morning, I rode to the Tungabhadra bridge that has been under construction for years, put myself and my bike on the large coracle boat and crossed to the other side.

From here, I rode to the base of Anegundi. I parked my bike here, grabbed a quick banana snack and a tender coconut drink and began my bike to the top of the Anegundi hill.

There is a hanuman temple on the top. But, the main aim of this hike was to admire the entire city of Hampi, the Tungabhadra river, the paddy fields and overall the rocky horizon from a decent altitude.

And, when I reached the top, I was speechless as the view was beyond my expectations. The entire horizon dotted with boulders and rocks stood out proudly and the Tungabhadra seemed to meander calmly by its side.

The ideal tourist season to visit Hampi is in the winter, but the soul of Hampi can be felt even during the sweltering summer months as these ruins ooze imagination all year around.

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