"Very deep, very deep is the well of the past. Should we not call it bottomless?" ~ Thomas Mann


Hampi: Dream Crafted in Stone

Monami Guha Das is a voracious reader and an enthusiastic traveler with a passion for historical architecture. How could she help falling in love with Hampi? Photo Gallery of Hampi

stone chariot at Vitthal temple Far from the mad crowded city life, Hampi gave us two days of complete and absolute bliss. The erstwhile capital of the Vijaynagar Empire (14th-17th century A.D.) was like a breath of fresh air. The monuments and the temples are exquisite works of art that need no introduction. The spread and magnitude of the ruins evoke awe and respect. For someone who is perpetually in love with history, Hampi only reinforces that love and passion! As a student of history, that I would fall in love with Hampi is no surprise.

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Achutraraya temple complex But, what made Hampi a lifetime experience was the environment in which the ruins lay scattered. The tall coconut trees, the sugarcane plantations, the innumerable boulders defining the Hampi landscape, the simple village images of herds of cows and goats being led by men clad in typical South Indian style 'lungi', the Tungabhadra River with the coracles ferrying people, created the perfect backdrop for the Hampi ruins. Rustic, quaint, timeless. Untouched, unscathed by the ravages of the modern world. Somehow in tune with the history of Hampi, with an unique and unmistakable character. A solace for the heart, a refuge for worn out souls.

Before the trip we had read up about Hampi. Given the extent of the ruins and the time constraint, planning is of utmost importance. We bought books on Hampi and carried detailed maps of the areas that had to be visited. It helped immensely!

countryside The Journey
As we were residing in Mumbai at that time, we took an overnight bus to Hampi, located in Karnataka, close to the Andhra Pradesh border. It takes around 15-16 hours. Leaving on Friday evening, we were sorely disappointed, when on Saturday morning we got caught in a horrendous traffic jam just before reaching Hospet (the nearest railhead to Hampi). We learnt that this was a regular feature here, the result of the growing importance of mining in the area. We waited in the bus for two long hours with growing impatience as the clocked ticked away. Little did we know that it was the beginning of an adventurous journey for us.

Ignorant of the area and the language, we got off the bus with several locals. Thankfully our co-passengers knew English and ensured that we reached our hotel in Hospet. We stayed at Hotel Maligi in Hospet: excellent facilities, great service and good quality food. They also provide round the clock car with driver for moving around in Hampi.

We travelled in various modes of transport and after a point of time we stopped thinking of the time lost. We realized that the journey itself was an experience we had not expected. And that is the charm of travel. The beauty of the countryside unfolded: village women in brightly colored sarees, performing their daily chores; little boys and girls running to school; herds of cows blocking trafiic and being shooed away; hens running around in courtyards of houses. The entire setting was such a far cry from the brick and mortar we are surrounded with. We travelled on roads which were not frequented to avoid the traffic. As I sit to write about our Hampi experience, this forms an integral part of our memories of the vacation.

Achutaraya temple complex Haunting Images of Hampi

There are several images that have left indelible impressions. They appear like snapshots as I pen them down. One was the view of the Achutaraya Temple from an elevated land on our way to the temple complex. It was the perfect assimilation of history and nature, each complimenting the other.

Even today, although it is has been stripped of all but its stone, the Vitthala Temple still is an impressive sight. The delicate flowers, fearsome beasts, fluid dancers with sensuous curves and mesmerising mandalas have lost nothing of what their creators sought to communicate. In places, remnants of ancient colour still mark the walls. One can only try and guess what it must have been like in full bloom. Virupaksha temple

The awe-inspiring monolithic structure of Laxmi Narasimha, staring down at us; the massive Shiva Lingam with its base permanently submerged in water; the stone chariot at the Vitthala Temple which indeed is one of the icons of Hampi; and the underground 'Pradakshina' of the garbha griha , dark except for the small openings that filter in light. The Matunga hill offers a brilliant aerial view of the ruins and is worth a climb.

Architecture of Hampi

The temple building tradition that dominated the architecture of South India is at its zenith in Hampi. It boasts of a large number of temple complexes with exquisite displays of craftsmanship that are living testimony to the perseverance and skill of the artists. Achutaraya temple, Hazara rama temple, Virupaksha temple, Pattabhimara temple, Krishna temple, Vitthala temple to mention a few. The bas relief works on the pillars of the mandapa reveals the degree of artistic excellence attained during that era.

Other interesting features of Vijaynagar architecture are the presence of secular structures with strong Islamic architectural influences. The Lotus Mahal within the Zanana enclosure and the dominating monolithic structures of Kadalekalu Ganesha, Laxmi Narasimha and Nandishwar are examples.Hampi is a repository of immense artistic wealth, created under the patronage of the Vijaynagar rulers for posterity to enjoy.

teples on Hemakuta Tungabhadra River
The ruins of Hampi overlook the Tungabhdra River. This emphasizes the harmonious blend of the unbridled beauty of nature and man's historical endeavours that create a lasting impression, pervading the aesthetic consciousness of man. Sitting on a boulder beside the river, watching the setting sun cast its last rays on Hampi is a contemplative experience.

The coracle ride on the Tungabhadra remains pleasurable and memorable. Small round boats are used to cross the river. Steamboats with their hideous noise have not yet invaded the peaceful environ here. Hampi is an encounter of a different kind - stepping into the annals of history one is forced to recognize that what survives the ravages of time is what blends with nature and creates a profund impact with its silence and stunning beauty.

Hampi ruins overlooking Tungbhadra Sunset on Hemakuta Hill
My lasting image of Hampi would be the sunset we watched from the Hemakuta hill. The stone structures against the setting sun gave the place a silhouetted look. Our first day at Hampi happened to be a full moon night and we were treated to a picture-perfect lasting image. That evening as we were returning to our hotel passing one monument after another, a thought occurred to me. As night sets in and the monuments are left to themselves, my imaginative sense could feel each of those pillars and stones coming alive. It was the time of the day when they are left to themselves, with their history, free from the ravages of tourists and pilgrims. Perhaps if we could be with them during these hours, they would whisper to us the events that pages of history have failed to capture.

One with the Past
There were so many instances when I just put the camera away as the moments were too beautiful to attempt to capture through the lens eye. Often in our endeavor to do so we miss the real beauty that must be known beyond what can be seen. There were moments when I touched the stone structures, the boulders, the ornately sculptured pillars with my hand in an attempt to reconnect with the past, trying to feel what they had to say about their days of grandeur and glory, trying to convey my awe and appreciation, almost in reverence.

CoracleThis was a rather rushed trip for us. Even though we managed to cover most of the important sites, we were a little sad. Because as I strongly feel, historical places are not to be seen or 'covered', they must be felt in our bones. We wanted to aimlessly roam around the place and allow it to settle in and feel it within us. That is the only way to appreciate history, when we are able to make that connection with the past. And this rushed trip has ensured that we go back again sometime and spend leisurely hours sitting on a boulder overlooking the Hampi ruins and become one with the past and nature.

Travel Tips

  • Best time to visit Hampi is in winter when the sun is not beating down mercilessly. We went towards the end of January and it was already hot!
  • It is easy to reach Hospet (located in the state of Karnataka) by train or bus from Bangalore. We took the overnight bus from Mumbai. Travel by train is preferable.
  • Finally among things to carry: sunglasses, hats and a map of Hampi ruins are a must. Some amount of prior research and study on Hampi before the trip is recommended. And DO NOT forget to carry your camera as the place is a photographer's delight!

Photo Credit: Monami Guha Das

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