Surreal, stark and yet stunning – you soon run out of words to describe Hampi and its silhouetted monuments, as they stand vigil over time. The magnificent ruins of Hampi dot an unearthly landscape that has captivated travellers for centuries. Heaps of giant boulders perch precariously over kilometers of undulating terrain, their rusty hues offset by jade-green palm groves, banana plantations and paddy fields. While it’s possible to see this World Heritage Site in a day or two, plan on lingering for a while. The main travellers’ ghetto has traditionally been Hampi Bazaar, a village crammed with budget lodges, shops and restaurants, and towered over by the majestic Virupaksha Temple. Tranquil Virupapur Gaddi, across the river, has become a popular hang-out. However, recent demolitions in both areas have seen businesses closed. Direct daily flights to Jindal Vijaynagar Airport, 35km south of the ruins, mean that Hampi has never been more accessible.
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Hampi's most exquisite structure, the 16th-century Vittala Temple stands amid boulders 2.5km from Hampi Bazaar. Work possibly started on the temple during the reign of Krishnadevaraya (1509–29). The structure was never finished or consecrated, yet its incredible sculptural work remains the pinnacle of Vijayanagar art. The courtyard's ornate stone chariot is the temple’s showpiece and represents Vishnu’s vehicle with an image of Garuda within. Its wheels were once capable of turning. The outer ‘musical’ pillars, supposedly designed to replicate 81 different Indian instruments, reverberate when tapped. To protect them, authorities have placed them out of bounds. As well as the main temple, whose sanctum was illuminated using a design of reflective waters, you’ll find the marriage hall and the prayer hall, to the left and right, respectively, as you enter.
The focal point of Hampi Bazaar is this temple, one of the city’s oldest structures, and Hampi’s only remaining working temple. The main gopuram (gateway), almost 50m high, was built in 1442; a smaller one was added in 1510. The main shrine is dedicated to Virupaksha, an incarnation of Shiva. An elephant called Lakshmi blesses devotees as they enter, in exchange for donations; she gets time off for a morning bath down by the river ghats. This has been a place of worship since the 7th century, when it consisted of a collection of simple shrines. In subsequent centuries the complex grew, as its sanctum, beautifully carved colonnaded halls and gateways were added.
At the southern end of Sule Bazaar is the beautiful Achyutaraya Temple, dating from 1534, one of the last great monuments constructed before the fall of Hampi. You approach the temple via two partly ruined gopuram (gateways). The central hall boasts elaborately carved pillars and sculptures, including Krishna dancing with a snake. Its isolated location at the foot of Matanga Hill makes it quietly atmospheric – doubly so since it's rarely visited.
The old bazaar, constructed in such a manner that people on a horseback would be able to shop, without dismounting.
Halfway along the path from Hampi Bazaar to Vittala Temple, a track to the right leads over the rocks to deserted Sule Bazaar, one of ancient Hampi’s principal centres of commerce and reputedly its red-light district. A near-kilometre-long stone colonnade flanking its eastern side is very well preserved. At the southern end of this area is the beautiful 16th-century Achyutaraya Temple.
Northeast of the Royal Centre, within the walled ladies’ quarters, is the Zenana Enclosure. Its peaceful grounds and manicured lawns feel like an oasis in the arid surrounds. The Lotus Mahal and Elephant Stables are found here.
An interesting stop along the road to Virupaksha Temple is the 6.7m monolithic statue of the bulging-eyed Lakshimi Narasmiha in a cross-legged lotus position and topped by a hood of seven snakes.
South of the Royal Centre you’ll find various temples and elaborate waterworks, including the Queen’s Bath, deceptively plain on the outside but amazing within, featuring Indo-Islamic architecture. An open air bath, complete with massage tables and aqueducts, this heritage building gives you a great insight into the life of the Vijayanagar royalty.
The mustard coloured, 8-foot tall monolithic Ganesha hides an interesting story. You will notice a snake tied to his belly and the legend has it that since the Lord overate, he tied the snake to prevent his belly from bursting.
Hemakuta group of temples
Whether these are Jain temples or Shiva temples – it is not certain. But what is certain is that the alluring beauty of the golden symmetrical structures that are enclosed by the Hampi boulders. The best time to plan this trail is during sunset when the rays over these temples create a mesmerising effect – a memory that even now, remains imprinted in my mind.
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Private sightseeing tour as per itinerary
English speaking local guide
Entrance tickets to monuments mentioned in the itinerary
Transport is not included in cost and can be arranged if required on additional price
Expenses of personal nature such as food and shopping
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