We had decided to get started early to beat the crowds and the sun. The Laughing Buddha guys had to be woken up from their slumber when we landed there for breakfast and to their credit managed to rustle up a good breakfast with all sorts of leftover stuff. As usual we consumed the yummy and calorie heavy Nutella (possibly one of the world’s most divine food additives) sandwiches and pancakes.
Our transport for the day was a giant ‘Vikram’, a mutant auto that could seat all eight of us, as long we did not mind the sundry body parts hanging out of it. We went straight to Hampi’s greatest wonder, the Vithala Temple.
Built by Krishna Dev Raya, this temple is the pinnacle of Vijayanagara art. The temple is constructed largely using granite. The main mantapa has 56 musical pillars that produce various sounds. Played together, they served as the King’s personal surround sound stereo system. Today the main Mantapa is in a state of ruins and modern day concrete slabs reinforce a lot of the structures. Visitors are not allowed into some of the parts and are not encouraged to tap the musical pillars. Our enterprising guide showed us a few sounds on the pillars of adjoining structures. It was dazzling listening to stone sounding melodious.
Apart from its musical abilities, the temple also had other interesting features. Some of the carvings were three-dimensional. One carving for instance looked like a bull when seen from the left and like an elephant when seen from the right. There are various panels depicting stories of the legends and also pictures of life back in the 15th century. The temple, like other Vijayanagara architecture, borrows heavily from all sources. The most unexpected element is the roof that curls up like the South East Asian Pagodas, with dragons present on some of the walls. Some of the panels depict pictures of Chinese and Arabic tradesmen entering Hampi. It is certainly worth hiring a guide who can show you the intricacies.
We walked about for a while excitedly tapping the musical pillars and admiring the art work on the granite slabs. From there, the walk back to the Hampi Bazaar is about 3 kms. On the way, there are several famous structures. We were thrilled to see the Kings Balance where the king used to weigh himself and give out the same measure of gold or food to the villagers when he felt generous. Guess the citizens must have felt jubilant getting an unexpected tax refund. The Kodandarama temple is also nearby. Hampi is famous as the spot where Rama killed Vaali in the famous battle back during the Ramayana days and the Kodandarama temple is a commemoration of this event.
The walk can get quite perspiring if it is a hot day. Having foolishly forgotten my cap, I was finally forced to borrow an umbrella and spent the rest of the day looking like a teacher in a small village in Kerela, a fact which was pointed out mercilessly by AT.
The Hampi Bazaar is flanked on one side by the Virupaksha temple and on the other by a Monolithic Bull. The Bull’s statue had attracted other animals like monkeys and dogs. As we got closer to take a snap, the lot of them started growling slowly to enforce their territory. We quickened our pace and began the walk to the other end. Going by the stone pillars, it was obvious that the area had been a bazaar back then too. Life seemed to be going on, with new shops having sprung up to replace the old ones. AT, SM and I had fallen into step and we soaked in the colourful atmosphere, debating about various things. Suddenly an old gentleman appeared from nowhere and after politely waiting for us to finish our conversation, gave us a polite sales pitch. He ran a book cum handicrafts cum mini toiletries shop. AT followed him into the bookshop, mesmerized and began to browse through all books on Hampi. I twiddled my thumbs for a while, poking at the new stylish bottles in which mundane stuff like mosquito repellant was being sold. SM seemed to have found a syringe serving as a ink filler fascinating. We decided to ignore the fact that we were already 45 minutes behind our original schedule and had no clue where the others were. After all what is a holiday if you do not browse old book shops. Eventually AT bought one and then decided to buy copies of Khalil Gibran’s The Prophet for the two of us, gushing about its philosophy.
Hurrying our pace marginally, we checked the Virupaksha temple, had coconut water and then decided to make our way back to the jetty wondering if we would meet the others there. And just like that from afar, we could see familiar looking clothes crossing the river in a boat. We waved like mad and could see the others gesturing us to come. The boat turned around and began to make its way to our side of the shore. Racked by guilt, the three of us broke into a run and clambered down the steps, landed in the boat breathless and squirmed when we found out the others had been waiting atleast forty minutes for us.
After reaching the guesthouse, it was time to bathe, pack, check out and make one last trip to the Laughing Buddha for lunch. The Bombay guys were planning to stay in Hubli that evening so they would not have to leave early for the next day’s flight from Hubli to Mumbai. So after crossing the river again, the rest of us had pretty much nothing to do. We took turns to explore the bazaar, which befitting its status as an international tourist destination had the ubiquitous Kashmiri Emporiums. After a while, AT wandered off to get a foot massage, the other three decided to recheck the shops and I volunteered to look after the luggage. Parking myself at the foot of a shop, I could occasionally look up from my book and catch sights of a small town life. The sun began to set, lighting up the Virupaksha temple and giving it grandeur not evident in the daytime. And I watched life go by.
It was time for us to pack up and go to Hospet to catch the train. Hospet station was not too exciting, which was particularly sad since we were hoping for a good dinner. A cart salesman told us about a small shop selling lemon rice and curd rice. After a while he came to us and updated us again on the availability of dosa on the platform. He seemed to get as much pleasure giving the news to a very hungry AT as AT got from hearing the news.
All of us were quite tired from the trip and just when I thought we would wisely go to sleep, a heated debate on the merits of Mumbai vs Delhi began. One by one the lights in the other compartments went off and the only other passenger in ours was trying to give obvious hints for us to shut up (such as ‘can you keep the noise down’). We quietened and decided to keep the discussion for the next trip. After all, you need to have an excuse to plan the next one!