09-Oct-2007

Hampi 1


Hampi has been on my list of places to see for a while now. So the long 18-hour journey from Chennai to our resort in Anegudi was something I did not really mind. Actually, ‘resort’ would be an overkill to describe Shanthi Guest house. It was modeled on the sparse shacks found in South Goa and Gokarna. The circular room had two beds, one cement shelf and an attached toilet. The taps supplied murky water. We tied hankies to the tap to filter out the chunkier dust. Through the two day stay, Z and I shared the bathroom with an interesting snail-like creature. It looked like a lazy lump of a creepy crawly till it decided to take action. Then it would unfurl itself and sprout two antennas and keen eyes and slither away to a more convenient place. Notwithstanding the encounter with nature, Shanthi turned out to be as peaceful as its name suggested. All huts had a comfortable swing outside and on all sides we had gardens, farms, river and rocks. At walking distance we discovered an eatery called Laughing Buddha that provided amazing continental food, fresh juices and yummy deserts.


Eight of us were making the trip to Hampi and we were arriving in batches. By Saturday night, seven of us were present. On Sunday morning, we were up and about early to have a hearty breakfast and then catch the ferry to Hampi. Anegudi is across the Tungabhadra River from Hampi. A short ferry ride helps passengers commute. However, if it is pouring and the water is too high, you will end up doing a 50 km road trip to Hampi. We were lucky that the rains took a breather during our stay.
Most people go around the Hampi ruins on cycles or mopeds. Given the group’s general level of inability to handle these, we settled on a combination of using local autorickshaws and walking. We had mapped out the city into two parts. Day one was to be focused on the Queens Bath, Royal Enclosure and all structures near these two. Day two would be dedicated to Vithala Temple and the monuments on the three km walk from there to Hampi Bazaar. SM, traveling by bus to Hampi called us to say he would be late and would join us at whichever point we were.

Hampi architecture borrows heavily from various styles – right from the Dravidian temples of the south to Konark temple of Orissa with a smattering of Islamic architecture thrown in. This is not too surprising since the Vijayanagar kings had made their conquests in all regions. The kingdom was founded by two chieftans, Hakka and Bukka back in the 1300s. After this there were a slew of Muhameddan attacks, largely to plunder. The new dynasty which sprung up after these heists reached its zenith under King Krishna Dev Raya in the early 1500s, finally petering out sometime in the 1700s. The most impressive thing about the site is the number of monuments that seem to exist and are in a reasonable state of preservation. The Vijayanagar kings obviously spent a lot of their time building structures that 21st century tourists like me would gape at and admire. Today the site is a World Heritage Centre under UNESCO. This is reflected in the general upkeep of the buildings and the obvious effort at maintaining pretty gardens in all places.

We began our journey at the Queens Bath. The Vijayanagar kings had a particular fetish for plumbing and any books on the empire tend to mention the glorious water tanks, aqueducts and bathrooms built in this era. The Queens Bath could not have been built by any other race. Large and intricately carved, it could have ensured ablutions for an entire harem. After going berserk clicking snaps, we moved to the Chandrasekara Temple and the Sarasvati Temple, both built in the sixteenth century. This circuit ended at the Octagonal Pavilion.

The next stop was at the Royal Enclosure. Located in an area of 59000 sq mts, the compound walls enclosed forty three structures comprising an aqueduct (but of course), a huge eight metre high pavilion called Mahanavami Dibba that allowed kings to watch the Vijayadasami celebrations, various underground chambers, ruins of palaces and sundry buildings. The Stepped Aqueduct was a highlight. Carved from the delicate Schist stone (that is more amenable to carvings than the sturdy granite used everywhere), there were a series of large steps and small steps within them, all culminating into the water.

After being shooed away by the alert security guard from actually entering the tank and using the steps, we set off to explore the underground chamber. It was pretty dark and emerging into the daylight was a bit of a relief. Unfortunately, a ten year old kid had continued to remain in the chamber. AT generously volunteered DA’s torch to the kid’s dad to facilitate a rescue. The dad smiled gratefully, called his wife to join the endeavor and suddenly the rescue mission became a full fledged family bonding tour. AT smiled sheepishly at an irritated DA.

The rest of us had wandered onto some steps that lead to nowhere. One of the prominent features of Hampi architecture is the amount of defacing and destruction that had happened during various invasions. The steps had originally led to a hall supported by pillars. All that remained now were the sockets on which the pillars had been mounted.

Adjacent to the Royal Enclosure was the Hazara Rama temple, meant for private worship by the kings. Built in the 15th century, this temple had carvings of stories from the Ramayana. It was quite exciting trying to identify what scenes the panels depicted. Behind the temple were the ruins of the palaces of Krishna Dev Raya and Harihara. There was a mosque, standing out in contrast to the architectural styles of the temples and a band tower that looked similar to the mosque.

By now the midday sun and the tourists were beginning to fray our nerves. There was still no news from SM.


The final sightseeing stop for the day was the Zenana area. For some strange reason, you needed to buy tickets to enter this area. As usual Indians had to pay a measly ten rupees whereas foreigners had to pay USD 5 or the equivalent of INR 250 (Notice clever automatic exchange risk hedging mechanism). Z with her ultra-fair Parsi looks was questioned for the hundredth time in her life about her nationality. While the rest of us mused on lofty issues like India ’s racial diversity, Z was not looking too happy being brought forth like a performing monkey to utter a few words in Hindi.


This area housed the famous Lotus Mahal. With a South Indian style base and Islamic walls and roofs, the structure had an air-cooling mechanism where royalty chilled out. Beyond this were the elephants stables and the royal treasury (don’t know how that possibly ended up in the Zenana). After a while, stone fatigue began to set it and we decided to call it a day.


We walked gratefully back to our two autos and five minutes into the journey discovered that one of them had run out of petrol. This did not cause particular consternation to the auto drivers. The driver with the fuel rich auto stuck his leg out and pushed our auto with it. The motor was powering both autos and the groans of the autos plus driver was considerable in hilly areas. Suddenly the propelling auto braked and I cried out ‘stop stop’ to our auto. Z and AT, my co passengers burst into laughter and pointed out that our auto really would not go on a wild rampage on an empty tank. It slid to a graceful halt when momentum slackened.


We were finally put down close to the Ganesha temple and given directions to our lunch venue. Half of the team was keen on seeing the nearby Krishna temple and wandered off. AT discovered an adrenalin rush shooting pictures of the Ganesha Temple . Z and I were the only ones left and had to find our way to the Mango Tree restaurant through the Ganesha Temple . Ten minutes later we were not closer to finding a path. Spotting AT, we walked up to him only to hear a gushing ‘isn’t this fabulous?!!”. Realising AT’s direction sense, if any, would not be used in this enterprise, we wandered off again towards a potential exit path. Ten minutes later, we were retracing our step and looking at us AT cried out again ‘isn’t this fabulous??!!’. The sun was obviously not flagging his spirits. Calmly breathing and counting up to ten, we invited AT to our exploratory team. Eventually we discovered a path through some trash that emerged into the back of the Virupaksha temple. Shooed away by scandalized priests, we made our way to Mango Tree.


The Mango Tree finds mention in every guidebook on Hampi. The food is nothing great but the ambience makes up for it. The open-air restaurant is located in a series of steps constructed on a hill side facing the Tungabhadra. You can watch the river while you eat under the canopy of the mango tree. All of us sunk into our wonderful seats and dug into the meal. Halfway through, SM finally made his entry into the trip and tossing his bags aside after a sixteen-hour journey, joined the attack on food.


By evening, I mustered the energy to lie on Shanthi guesthouse’s famous swings and read a book while consuming various snacks. The sky was glowing pink and the insects of the evening were beginning to emerge. A lizard chasing them lost its balance and fell by me. I was too relaxed to do anything more than push it away. Sunset, book and food. Bliss.


Dinner at the Laughing Buddha was yet another winner. Over olive Zivo and Spitzels and various other yummy dishes, we played Taboo. When it was quite dark and late, we returned and went of to sleep dreaming off ruins and kings and rivers.

1 comment:

Avi said...

Neat and Thanks for your comments.

TC - Avi