Ticket to Hampi

From all the history lessons that I have taken, the name that has remained in my mind for long is Hampi. The description of its wealth and the vastness had always pulled me towards itself. Every time I see a picture of monuments from Hampi, the dream of visiting the place grew stronger. Strange yet, I always visualized these monuments to be on barren lands and any rain could disrupt my mental image of these with green patches in it. Now that the monsoons were nearing and many places in the south would face the rains, I chose an odd, non-seasonal, extremely hot month of June for a two day trip to Hampi. All suggestions were against going in this time, but I was in no mood to postpone the trip further.

I boarded the bus at 9:30 PM from Bangalore on Friday while the Bangalore was beneath the dark clouds entire day. All I could do was to pray for no rains in Hampi at least till I complete the trip. While I had some vague idea about what I would be doing on each of the days, Amy helped me to come up with a more efficient plan.

My constant travel companion in all the trips
Day – 1 : The North Hampi

My bus reached Hospet at 7 AM, a town 12 KM away from Hampi. From here one can hire an Auto Rickshaw, cab or board the government bus to reach Hampi. There are some KSRTC buses from Bangalore which drop you off till the town of Hampi as well. The government bus I boarded from Hospet reached Hampi in just 30 minutes for a ticketed fare of 15 Rs. The route to Hampi passed through sugarcane, rice, and plantain fields. The fields were all plowed and looked as if the thirsty mother nature was waiting for rain. The town somehow had retained a part of its authenticity even in the midst of the fast-growing world.

North Hampi is also known as the Hippe land. It has a very contrasting lifestyle as compared to the Hampi town. The place is filled with cafe and adventure activity centers. People looking for a place to relax in the midst of the fields far away from the hustle bustle of the Hampi choose to stay here.

While I was in Hampi for both, my place of stay Jungle Tree was in the north further deep inside the paddy fields. To reach the north side, one needs to cross the Tungabhadra river on a boat. While the riverbed isn’t so vast in summer, the water is still deep. I walked past the well known Virupaksha temple to reach the ferry point. A trip costs 10 Rs to cross the river and the boat travel to the other side only when a minimum number of passengers are available. So be ready to either wait or pay a higher amount to convince them to drop you off the other side. A simpler solution would be to go with a large group 😛

The owner of Jungle Tree, Mr. Sagar had already called me twice to make sure I had figured out the way to reach. He also arranged for a two-wheeler for my exploration at a cost of 500 Rs for two days. The road to Jungle Tree passed via Sanapur lake which is one of the biggest in Hampi. The curving roads on the edge of the lake and then through the huge paddy field was already setting the mood for the day. The stay was as beautiful and cozy as I had seen it in the pictures and all the staff including the pet dog Bhairava were really humble and friendly.

While my room was getting ready, I had a quick chat with Sagar over the breakfast about the places to explore in the north side. The climate was still hot which forced me to ‘chill’ indoors for an hour or two before I could step out. There was still ample time in hand since there were just 4 major places to see.

First in the list was the Sanapur lake which I had passed by while going to Jungle tree. It’s a lake surrounded by boulders and a major water channel from Tungabhadra dam feeds the lake. One of the sides of the lake offers boat and coracle rides. I chose to skip the ride due to low water levels. The huge collection of water and the heavy breeze sure brings down the heat surrounding the place.

A small waterfall formed from the Tungabhadra water channel is about a kilometer away from the lake. The water isn’t very deep and many choose to take a dip in the water here. The place where the channel meets the river-stream is fierce and offers a mesmerizing view of abstract shapes formed on the boulders on either side of the river due to its force.

It was almost lunch time and I decided to visit one of the cafe. Since it was off-season, most of them were either closed or under a facelift. After gobbling up a bowl of yummy pasta, I headed to explore some of the places of mythological importance.

The north side of Hampi is also called as Kishkindha the kingdom of vanara (monkeys). It is believed to be the birthplace of god Hanuman and a huge number of devotees visit the place every day to offer their prayers.

Pampa lake is about a 15-minute drive from the ferry point on the north side and it is believed to be the place where Shabari an ardent devotee waited for god Rama’s arrival for thirty years. The Pampa lake is believed to be one of the 4 lakes created by God Brahma during the creation of the universe. Other three were Manas, Bindu, and Narayan which are situated in northern India.

Next one was the Vali Parvat a 10-minute drive from Pampa Lake. The hill was home to Vanara king Vali, and a small cave formation believed to be his home can be seen even today. A small fort is built surrounding the hill and houses a temple to goddess Durga. It is said that the empire of Vijayanagar had its capital at Anegundi near Vali Parvat before moving to Hampi, and the kings used to take blessings from goddess Durga before any war. Worshipers visit the place often and tie a coconut to the tree in front of the temple when their wishes are fulfilled. Further walking uphill on the steps takes you to a garden where plants and tree which have their association with 9 planets, 9 goddesses, 12 sun signs and 24 stars are planted and named.

It was just 4 PM when I was left with the last place to visit for the day i.e. Anjanadri hill. It is believed to be the exact place where Anjana Devi gave birth to god Hanuman. The tall hill made of huge boulders had a well shaded 575 steps to reach the temple at the top. Took me about 20 minutes to climb them all and there was still ample time to explore the place. Anjanadri offers a bird’s eye view of the town of Hampi and I could spot Vijaya Vithala Temple and Virupaksha Temple I will be visiting tomorrow. The place offers an amazing view of the sunset as it is one of the tallest hills in the area. A mix of green, brown, and yellow patches of field, evenly planted coconut trees and a pitch black road passing through them like a python created a scenic view of the area beneath.

As the time passed by, slowly the sounds started to mellow down, the extreme hot wind was now turning into a cool breeze, the sky started to turn from blue to orange and the sun had started to set. The sky was clear for as far as I could gaze and the sun was looking exactly like an orange indeed. It was one of the beautiful sunsets I had witnessed after a long time.

Sunset at Anjanadri

There was an alternate route to connect to Jungle Tree from Anjanadri which passed through more paddy fields. The route was almost dark but surprisingly not scary. The place was all lit up with colorful lights when I reached. The menu for dinner had a variety of options to choose from. After a sumptuous meal, I had to take proper rest as the next day was going to be longer.

Day – 2 : The South Hampi

I was up and ready according to my plans by 7:15 AM. I had overheard that the first boat from ferry-point back to the south was at 8 AM which I wanted to catch at any cost. After checking out from Jungle Tree with a promise of coming back again, I rushed on my vehicle towards the ferry point. Just when I was 2 KM away from it, I realized that the vehicle was slowing down. In no time I was stuck on the main road with an empty tank in a place where there was no network connectivity. To add to the misery, my Vodafone prepaid plan had expired that day and I was in a deserted stage for a moment. A momentary heavy breeze somehow brought back a weak network connection to my secondary sim and upon calling Sagar from Jungle Tree, he pointed out that there was a local shop selling petrol about few hundred meters away. Maybe my starts were in the right position, the road was downhill and I found the petrol shop in just 10 minutes. There was a slight delay in the timeline, but I had a hair-thin escape. Any trip without at least one of Murphy’s law incident is incomplete.

The ferry was gone and there wasn’t anyone for the next batch. A family of three arrived few minutes later and helped me get my phone connection recharged. They also convinced the sailor to drop us for a fair of 50 Rs per person. I was ready to pay that amount considering the time that I will be saving.

Hampi as seen from the ferry-point

On crossing the river, there were a huge number of auto rickshaw drivers ready to make a day’s deal to show places around. Considering the hot climate it made sense to go around with a roof on top compared to a two-wheeler or cycle. A fellow Raju agreed to show around all places, wait for as long as I want in any location and finally drop me off to Hospet in the evening for an amount for 1000 Rs. Now, this might sound a little on the higher end, but this would reduce a lot of my efforts and make the best of the time I have.

Yummy Aloo-Paratha at Gopi Guest House

After a quick breakfast at Gopi, we headed to the Vijaya Vithala Temple. This is one of the farthest and can be reached both by walk and drive from different routes. The iconic stone chariot printed behind the new 50 Rs currency exists here. King Krishnadevaraya built this temple in the memory of his victory at Orissa. The word Vijaya translates to victory in Sanskrit. Such stone chariots can be found only at Konark temple and Mahabalipuram apart from here. The chariot originally had stone horses driving it which was destroyed by invaders. The archaeological department placed two elephant statues in its place for aesthetic purposes which was found in the excavation. The temple complex consists of a Sangeetha Mantapa at the center which was used for cultural performances. The unique 56 stone pillars of this structure can create musical notes of different instruments.

The other structures in the complex include a Kalyana Mantapa used to perform the marriage ceremony of the gods of the temple, a Bhajan Shala and a Sanctum of god Vithala. The walkway towards the temple has a long lineup of stone rooms which were used as shops to sell precious gemstones and metals. The empire was said to be so rich where these gemstones were weighed and priced instead of a single unit. An entry ticket for 40 Rs. taken here can be used to access multiple such locations in Hampi. A battery operated car takes you till the doors of the temple from the main road for a fare of 20 Rs.

The gemstone Bazar

The next in the list was the Museum. Most of the best-preserved stone and metal artifacts can be found here. A beautiful depiction of the Hampi town created as a 3D model gives a bird-eye view of all places in the vicinity. The collection here is divided as the Shaiva (Shiva followers) and Vaishnava (Vishnu followers) displays which have artifacts built by rulers of a different era. The most impressive collection here is of the coins and they have an arrangement of a magnifying glass placed against each coin to see its detail. There are also pictures of places before and after its excavation showing the extent of restorations done.

We moved next to the Royal enclosure, one of the largest excavated sites. A tall platform called Mahanavami Dhibba was used as a place for the king to observe the Navaratri celebrations. Built by king Krishnadevaraya, the location has a public pool, water tanks and places for the visitors and commoners for their stay. Each corner of this enclosure has a discrete arrangement of channels for water supply which was drawn from a lake at a distance. Another major attraction in the enclosure is the step-well. Made using fine black stones, it has retained its charm even today.

The Hazara Rama temple is at a walkable distance from the Royal Enclosure. While the exact reason for its name is not known, some believe that walls of the temple have about a thousand carvings of god Rama. I could indeed find many carvings related to different stories and incidents from Ramayana.

We had one more group of places to visit before lunch. Sun was right above my head sucking all the energy out from my body. I was carrying my backpack this entire time because I wasn’t very confident on Raju for its safety which drained me further.

The Queen’s Bath has its walls with a smoothed yellow finish and it is one of the most intact buildings from the era. The structure called the Lotus Mahal has a mix of Indo-Islamic architecture, another intact structure from the time of the empire. This area was exclusively used by the royal women of the Vijayanagara empire and consisted of two separate arrangements for their stay including a small palace in the pool.

The elephant stable next to the Queen’s palace has a vast structure to house more than 10 elephants. Even bigger than this stable was the Mahal built for all the Mahouts to stay. The rulers of the empire had indeed a great interest in owning elephants.

I had my Thali meals at Pink Mango (not to be confused with mango tree). The hotels here have seating arrangements with mattress allowing one to even lie down while waiting for the food to arrive. It was much helpful for people like me who were drained from the walk.

The places next were closer to the center of the town. We reached the well known Narasimha statue after passing through roads with plantain fields on both sides. There was finally some shade after a long time. The fierce statue has its both hands cut by invaders but still stands tall with an impeccable expression. Feet away from this is the Badavi Linga, a Shiva linga installed about 500 years ago. The sanctum of Badavi Linga is always filled with water due to a small channel passing through it.

Next places were the two Ganesha Idols situated on the hill called Hemakuta. The first being the Sasuvekalu Ganesha, a monolith Ganesha statue installed without a sanctum. Another was the Kadalekalu Ganesha, call so because the belly of it resembles Bengal Gram. Going by the second description, I was trying to see if the belly of the former looked like Sasuve (mustard) to justify my assumption.

Before watching the sunset, I asked Raju to wait in the stand while I explore the Matanga hill and Virupaksha temple which are in the center of the town. He seemed trustworthy when he refused to take any part payment and asked to pay only after I was dropped at Hospet. There was a pang of momentary guilt for not trusting this man.

Climbing the Matanga hill in the scorching heat at 3 PM was not a good choice. I had already gulped 7 liters of water but every step was making me more thirsty. I decided to stop climbing after a certain point since my shoes were slippery and the place was totally deserted. However, the climb had its worth by giving me a beautiful view of the town from the top.

I was totally exhausted by now and decided to visit Virupaksha temple and take some rest inside. Even the temple wasn’t spared by the invaders and I could see a lot of deformed statues inside. This is the only temple in Hampi that has ongoing worship of idols from the era of the empire. Do not miss the inverted shadow of the temple gopuram which can be seen at the rear wall inside the temple.

When it was almost the time for sunset, I called Raju to drop me off to Hemakuta. The Hemakuta hill has few more collection of small temples at the top and a good seating arrangement to watch the sunset. When I reached the top, the sun who was merciless the entire day was now hiding behind thick clouds. The wind wasn’t hot and harsh anymore. I just sat on the stone floor gazing towards the direction of the sun who wasn’t going to come out from the clouds that evening. But it didn’t matter. The moment was peaceful. I looked at my left, there were many groups of families and friends relishing the cool breeze. To my right were a dozen monkeys which appeared from nowhere and started to gaze at the horizon silently. For everyone, that moment meant something significant. I laid back and stared at the sky which was turning slowly to orange. A long pending destination was finally captured in my memories.

Raju kept his end of the promise and dropped me to Hospet after dinner and accepted the amount only after ensuring that I was happy with the trip that day. I headed back to Bangalore with a tanned face and bagful of memories to relish.

Map of places to explore in south

PS:

  • While it costs you, it is always good to look for a guide especially at Vijaya Vithala temple and Royal Enclosure since a lot of architectural wonders and the history can only be pointed out by them.
  • The last boat between the south and the north side of the river is at 5:30 PM, so plan your day accordingly.
  • No matter which month you go hydrate yourself properly throughout the day.
  • Have at least one meal at Mango Tree. The place is pocket-friendly and serves amazing food.
  • Raju can be contacted on +918277029068
  • Every day hundreds of travelers add tonnes of garbage to the place. Be responsible and travel green.
  • May-June is not really the month to visit Hampi unless you are OK getting tanned 😛