Hampi (Vijayanagar) : History. Beauty. Setting. Stone.

Hampi Travel Blog

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A rare moment of overhead cables aiding rather than ruining composition in India (The main gopuram tower of the Virupaksha Temple)

SCENERY :  Why do colours seem so much more vibrant, so much more real in the later afternoon sun?  Putting on their best show before the days curtain call.  Blues seem bluer.  Greens ever greener.  Even the colours of rocks, slow to awaken and bleached bland in the midday heat try belatedly to demonstrate too that they have plumes of various mottled and attractive hues worth your attention.  Strains of gold suffuse the entire scene.  Maybe that’s the trick. 

Sat on top of one of the numberless granite temple pavilion structures that can be found throughout the countryside area of Hampi I'm taking in the evening colours, watching as the Tungabhadra River snakes, splits and flows around the archipelagos of rock and scrub-covered earth that sit within its concourse.

A temple dedicated to Stevie ;P
  Tufts of spine-like grass erupt from along the riverbank and between the gaps in rocks.  At the base of the temple steps beneath me a stone statue of Nandi the bull sits in the long grass sharing the scene with the discarded flip flops, trash and plastic bottles around him.   Down by the motorboat jetty to the right, this morning I had watched as a Saddhu appeared to float upon the river waters.  Perched on one of the low lying river-washed rocks he carefully ground sandal wood paste in his palm and applied his sacred makeup as the river flowed on.

A high pitched squeaking noise pips out with the regularity of a repeat Morse Code message and usurps the sunset silence.  This sound has accompanied my travels throughout India.  I used to think it was the dusk call of a bird until I looked up inside the Virupaksha Temple here the other day and noticed it was one of the little triple-striped squirrel/chipmunk creatures I’ve observed scampering all over this nation.

Inside another temple of the cluster atop Hemakuta Hill, Hampi Bazaar
  Temples and palaces most prevalently.  A taste for the finer life.  I later ask someone (well, actually I have to crudely draw an illustration) and finally they have a name - they are Alilu.  Lively little souls.  Noisy too!  I had watched the silhouettes of two of these hyper-kinetic little fuzzballs chase each other in circles around a temple dome on Hemakuta Hill, overlooking Hampi Bazaar and the Virupaksha Temple on my first evening here.  Flora, fauna and stone share a most charming relationship here in Hampi.

STONE :  The ruins scattered all about Hampi represent the venerable remains of the once great city heart of the Vijayanagar empire.  Founded in 1336 by a couple of Hindu princes (brothers) in an attempt to bring together the interests and peoples of the southern Hindu kingdoms in an act of solidarity and defiance against their threatening Mughal neighbours, by the 16th Century the city-kingdom spread over 650 square kilometres, possessed a population of half a million souls and held influence over the majority of Hindu southern India.

'Temple Symmetry'
  Its strength was the promotion of unity through Hinduism in order to move away from regional factionalism.  Many a heated word was undoubtedly exchanged and plenty a bloody battle fought with the Mughal sultanates, but in the calmer interstices of note-worthy history the peoples of Vijayanagar, thankfully for you and I, instead of twiddling their thumbs, uploading pictures of 'what the last empire did and made' to internet blogs and watching repeats of Friends, got on with building a stupendous spread of grand temples, statues and palace buildings for future generations of unabashed international thumb-twiddlers to 'ooh!' and 'aah!' and 'umm?' at.
I'm sure this is precisely what the rulers of Vijayanagar intended for their great temples ;)
  Gods bless 'em!

But no sadly, the Gods did not.  Well, not or very long anyway in the grand scheme of things.  For by the middle of the 16th Century lots of bickering and infighting ( 'He wanted to watch Friends, but I wanted to watch the Seinfeld reruns!' ) had fatally weakened the empire, internal enmity laying them bare to attack from the external enemy.  Which is precisely what happened, the rejuvenated Muslim forces of the south routing and destroying Hampi in 1565.    

And so too fell another of human history’s many magnificent but oh-so fleetingly flaring Empires.  I wonder sometimes did these people know, from the Maharaja to the serf, what purpose, function and meaning they were actually contributing with their particular threads applied to the coarse woven tapestry of human endeavour?  That purpose ultimately being little more, in grand retrospect, than to litter the world's many landscapes with objects of great beauty and mystery for 21st Century culture-vultures like myself to scurry around being thankful for so many thought-provoking and compositionally pleasing things to take digital photographs of.

(Meet Hanuman) Muju []
  I thank you once again Man and your Fates.  Though I am sorry my enjoyment came at the cost of so many lives, beliefs and non-union affiliated labour hours.  But we all must accept that the only kingdom that will truly last and outlive all others henceforth is the Kingdom of the Camera... and that too will come to pass when we as a species, teetering and tottering, do too.

SCENERY : If you hug the east, north, north east flow of the Tungabhadra River ( 'No swimming, Deadly Whirlpools!' the rock face exclaims) you will pass the Nine-to-Five Baba (as I dub him for his ‘working‘ hours) who sits in the rock passage before a stone carving of Shiva, a collection of five 1 Rupee coins arranged auspiciously before him in an attempt to mystically bum a few more of them from you.

   Beyond Baba you will pull back out into daylight and a most wondrous scene of the daily life that continues to lend as much beauty to the surface areas of Hampi as its history saturates it foundations with.

Backed by the Kodandarama temple surrounds (one of Hampi's several temples still retaining a healthy reverence and usage for the contemporary population) and ghat steps, a plateau of rock tapers down into the river waters.  Broad and entirely exposed  to the sun all day long this is where the villagers come to perform their ablutions (much soap sudded and scrubbed with skilful modesty under sari, dhoti and lungi) and to wash their clothes.  A whole busy community of colour and chatter populates this rocky ground any time of daylight passing.

(Vittaliya) Muju [
  Clothes, washed, beaten and lain out, dry quickly in the heat stored up in the rock's surface.  Women and their friends, or husbands and wives stand and lift the cleaned, bright saris up into the breeze that cuts the river curve here.  Beautiful colours streaming out behind them.  Like butterflies unfurling their birth-dampened wings and colours to the world for the first time to allow the sun to carefully kiss them dry.  These colours complimented by the clothes, jewellery and turbans they variously wear already.  Groups of women sit on the rock chattering and endlessly combing coconut oil into their hair.  Once more those beautiful jet black braids, often shot through by age with rich veins of silver.

Herded lines of goats and cows pass along the ghat platform and clatter their way up the stone steps.

Vijayanagar Door Stopper
  Regularly passing trains of livestock.  Traditional circular coracle boats ply the river waters to the various temples in the vicinity for locals and tourists alike.  A principle means of transport in an area where bridges, ancient and modern, have all collapsed into the water for one reason and another.  Even motorbikes, two at a time plus me and six locals, are ferried across on these shallow bamboo woven water craft should you wish to cross to the northern village of Anegundi.  Some lie upon the washing rock with their bellies to the sky, black beetles, freshly tarred for water-proofing and drying with the saris.

STONE :  There is a lot to see in Hampi whether you consider yourself a connoisseur of history or architecture , agro-culture or just life and lush scenery in general.

Tree in the Vittalya Temple grounds
  It's possible to relax in the presence of History here, something not so true of the too-often-compared Angkor archaeological park in Cambodia where you must be in and out of the park by set times and certain of the temples, to quote my travel pal Yves, feel 'like human termite mounds' these days such is the site's justifiable popularity.  The reason most people come here of course are the ruins of Vijayanagar though - to throw in one guidebook cliche - they might not be the reason you stay.  Sometimes a good long while.  A week could easily slip by here just breathing little pieces of all of the above in.  Little pieces of scenery and peace and stone.  That curious beautiful calm, formed by a grand absence, which is sad in many ways, and that is often left in the wake of ancient History.
Lady strolls around the ceremonial hall chamber of the Vittalya Temple

To employ another cliché, observational this time, is to say that the landscape around Hampi is 'littered' with ruins.  A wholly appropriate term this time being as they appear strewn with a wild historical abandon for miles and miles around.  A temple dropped here.  The remnants of a bazaar over there.  Some pillars and statues stood proud and alone on top of a rocky outcrop.  How ever did it ever get there and why?  But of course this is the effect of history again.  Through its many erosions, cohesion is lost along with many of the stories to be told.  It’s hard to imagine what this great kingdom, or this epicentre of it, must once have looked like.  But Hampi had once been a powerfully beating heart of international trade and commerce and its many long, long avenues of granite pillared bazaars show just how many people and merchants must once have thronged here when now only monkeys and tourists roam.

History and Grandeur disrobed by Time's ravages.
  Their own tourist-tat filled bazaar stalls in Hampi centre, it’s only economic pulse these days, a laughable sham by comparison.  Historical purpose repeating itself as mockery.    

SCENERY : I'm taking a lunch break.  I've stopped by the river again with a good strong breeze rustling my now getting-over-long ginger locks.  I'm at Geeta's Riverview Restaurant.  As I await my intriguing sounding 'sweet momos' I sit and watch as a couple of the long-tailed grey langur monkeys sit upon the boulders that flank the river.  An audience for its meandering music.  They suddenly argue about something and start to dash about in the lush long green grasses with great alacrity.  Bounding their impressive four-pawed bounds, tails flailing behind them.

Goat Girl and her herd :)
  Monkeys being chased by long grey cobras.  My sweet momos arrive.  Deeeeelicious!  Five delicately hand-crafted pastries.  Served hot on a banana leaf, their pale gold casings stuffed with a pounded mixture of ghee (butter), sugar, crushed cardamom and coconut.  Mmmmm... this little monkey's happy right now :)

STONE :  The first of Hampi's two considered main archaeological attractions is the Vittala Temple with its 'top postcard moment' fabulous stone chariot and supposedly musical columns.  These latter I now know to be off bounds to the public having semi-accidentally trespassed to give 'em a ‘flick’ but getting me ass whistled off the temple for my troubles.  ’What?!  My friend Gray was allowed he said and he was here only three months ago!’  The little vandal sulks.

Colour swatches and kid
  I can confirm they ain't that musical anyways!  Even with access to the main ceremonial pillared hall, the kalyanamantapa, now off limits it's an impressive temple complex to stroll around seeing what carvings and figures you can find etched upon pillars and crouching in shadowed corners. 

The second main site is the large area to the south of Hampi's main bazaar area (where you'll likely stay unless you cross the river at greater expense) referred to as the Royal Centre.  A large area of now mostly open grassland once populated by vast complexes of royal, civil and military compounds but now mostly just bearing the trace remains, a sketch of stone walls that look like phantom-foundation lines sketched on an architect's board for a city that is to soon to become rather than one that once was there.

"Do the Snake Stomp dance!" : an ancient Vijayanagarian tradition... possibly.
   Certain palace buildings and fortification towers remain and the area is heavily populated with temples and structures which still stand in excellent condition.
Bare in mind that both of these sights are covered by the same 250 Rupee ( £3) entry ticket, and that ticket only being valid for the day of purchase meaning you must squeeze everything into that day unless you're happy to pay the fee again.  With this in mind many people hire either bicycles, motorcycles or rickshaws to get around and, certainly where bicycles are concerned, this is probably the best means of seeing the main sights of Hampi in one day at leisure.  That said, being a bit un-bike-like and a man of my feet I can confirm that with an early(ish) start you can quite easily take in everything you will want to see in one day on the trot with time to spare for comforts and calm.
The elegant Lotus Mahal (detail)
  Just take lots of sun block and water!

SCENERY :  Vast banana plantations stretch away to the south of Hampi.  Clearly a cash crop for the area.  Carts hauled by grand long-horned bullocks and laden deep and heavy with the green unripened promise of these golds to come trundle along Hampi's roads often.  To the north, on the far side of the Tungabhadra River the land is given over to large areas of rice paddy field.  Irregularly shaped shallow basins of mud filled with channelled irrigation waters that reflect the tall coconut palms and the labourers that tread their shallows.  As I slip and stumble along the thin earth walls that separate the paddies, one man lightly 'thwacks!' the rumps of two large white bullocks with red pom-poms dangled from their foreheads and encourages their plough-dragging progress with calls of 'Aiieee!! Aiieee!!'.

'Banana Co.'
  Another man trudges through the ankle deep mud, dragging his mattock behind him which he will then use to cut and heft large sopping clods of earth the colour of his very own skin from the bottom of the paddy up onto its walls to strengthen them.  Further on, heavy sacks of new rice plants are delivered from head to shoulder to ground, cut open and their contents thrown in bundles that land roots down every time into the paddy basins, later to be separated and planted out one by one by sun-darkened women whose spines, miraculously, have not given out on them after so many seasons so sowing. 

STONE :  The grand moments of Hampi are grand indeed.  The impressive gopuram towers of the central Virupaksha temple.

Peace and calm at one of Hampi's water tanks.
  The famous stone 'chariot' of Vittala already mentioned.  The incongruously carved 11 domes of the royal elephant stables (believed to be so anyway) and the many arched elegance of the dainty Lotus Mahal (Lotus Palace).  Fabulously sized monolithic statues of Ganesha (the elephant-headed god of good fortune and lots of other lovely stuff), Narasimha (a powerful lion-headed incarnation of Vishnu) and Nandi the bull (Lord Shiva's sacred animal vehicle) can be found at various points of Hampi bazaars immediate surrounds.  Temple carvings throughout the landscape will endlessly reward your inquisitiveness as you step deeper and deeper into the now age and indifference beleaguered sacred sanctums.  A pocket torch would be a good idea folks!  Gods, animals, Apsara dancers, bas-relief vines (representing the entangling complications of life) clambering up granite columns from which often leap forth fierce and fabulous creatures; half-horse, half-man or lion headed, many fanged and all of the imagination.
A Shivaite Saddhu performs his morning ceremonies amidst the Tungabhandra's flow.

Also so many, many moments of more decayed but no less intriguing historical collapse.  Hampi is possessed of a staggering array of historical ruins, 550 or so all told (did I mention that already?) only 60 or so of which hold UNESCO World Heritage Site protection status.  India is a country which must balance its priorities for the future carefully, given its available resources and population, so some neglect of History's ghosts and architectural bones is understandable, if sad to see.  Restoration done hurriedly, cheaply and badly is as good as a final death blow as far as heritage architecture is concerned ( 'Hello China!'), and things are sometimes best left alone without such 'efforts'. 

There's a certain charm sometimes to viewing the broken bodies of our past.

Man tends his fresh green rice sprouts.
  Though it's sad to know it will soon go - existing thenceforth only on the memory cards and blog sites bequeathed of the Kingdom of Camera.  Grandeur torn open.  The stuffing popping out of its burst seams.  Greatness lain a little bare.  A little too far beyond repair.  Abandoned goods in History's dusty attic.  You feel slightly shameful looking up at the long lines of dancing gods and Apsaras that once ran arm in arm in carved finery along the eaves of all these temples but whom all now have lost their heads and whose bodies have been cracked and broken away to reveal the cheap red clay bricks at the heart of their creation.  Flashes of these bursting through the remaining time-worn grey plaster like bleeding wounds of Vesuvius victims.

Away from show stopping rocks (or those that are no longer) though the beauty of Hampi as an experience of history is the calm relationship it shares with the landscape and that it shares with you.  Step away and stroll along the river for a while, startling flocks of waders as you go.  Watch the coracle boats drift along the river as you sit upon the gigantic toppled granite pillars that once formed a vast bridge across it, destroyed by historic monsoon floods.  The stone 'floor' of Hampi is pitted with little 2 foot square slots where these columns once nestled strong and firm like pieces of a puzzle. 

Find yourself a 'private' temple far from the madding crowds of teeming screaming navy-blue skirt and trousered and sky-blue shirted school children carted in by the endless coach load for several of the days I am in Hampi - a consequence (I believe?) of the UN International Childrens Day.

One man and his mattock reflected in rice paddy.
  Some of my favourite moments in Hampi are pressing my back into the shade of a granite-roofed bazaar of stone columns, entirely alone with history and nature, all three of us quietly pursuing our own agendas.  Mine being to read or write a little sat besides one of the several water 'tanks' that still hold ground water to this day, creating beautiful little oases for stone-fatigued eyes and thirsty birds alike. 

SCENERY :  And it's in this kind of reflective mood of contentment again you find me.  Still sat atop that granite temple roof with Nandi the bull below and the Alilu still squeaking away - they don't stop and once you pick up on it, it's a sound that's hard to ignore!  The sun still going down, teaching the colours their true nature on its way.

The waters of the Tungabhadra course over many large fallen stones and pillars of locally quarried granite - ruins of former temples and bridges.
  Lizards skitter everywhere.  Some golden backed.  A little more lively in search of heat now the stones are cooling.  A large flock of goats - I count sixty or so - are trampling and chewing their way slowly along the grassy plateau that runs to meet the river.  The sound of their dry-grass chewing sounds like a winter fire crackling in the hearth from up here. 

A shepherdess of indeterminate age watches over them, occasionally throwing skilfully targeted pebbles to encourage out-flanking goats back towards the fold.  She raises her right arm in mock-threat of switching them with a stick she does not possess and the pear-green resin bangles upon her forearm clatter towards her elbow.  ‘HEY! HEY! HEY!’ she shouts at them repeatedly.

A butterfly unfurls its newborn wings to dry in the sun.
  The sound rickshaw drivers use around here to get your attention.  Herding tourists.  Her skin so dark it merges entirely with the deep plum-purple dye of her bodice that is enswathed with a salmon pink sari, itself bordered with ochre flower patterning.  She carries a small metal stack-Tiffin canister in her left hand.  A bored dog mauls an item of clothing, discarded or left to dry, whilst Nandi the statue looks on, ignoring him and the Alilu now scampering around him and time continues to tend his temple.  

Stevie_Wes says:
@ Riya : Yo Sarkar, how's things from afar? Maaaan, I've been a naughty boy and not on TB for a long old time. Ummm, that's very sweet of you. With 3 years of post-travel 'normality' now clogging my veins and brain I can't imagine I'm capable of writing more than a business e-mail. India is so very much the muse that I miss. Ought to get my arse back over there really... at which hypothetical point in the future I hope very much one day to find myself in exactly the same destination at exactly the time as yourself and then we can compare notes for real. Until then - "Happy scribbling!"
Posted on: Jun 10, 2013
msarkar2810 says:
I pray to god that we never visit the same destinations, Steve. Your blogs make mine look humdrum. :-/ Not a pleasant feeling.
Posted on: Feb 10, 2013
Stevie_Wes says:
Thank you so much Kumiko (and all) -Hampi and its surrounding areas should fill you up with rich and wonderful images and experiences that linger long in the memory. A beautiful slice of an incredible country!
Posted on: Oct 17, 2010
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A rare moment of overhead cables a…
A rare moment of overhead cables …
A temple dedicated to Stevie ;P
A temple dedicated to Stevie ;P
Inside another temple of the clust…
Inside another temple of the clus…
Temple Symmetry
'Temple Symmetry'
Im sure this is precisely what th…
I'm sure this is precisely what t…
(Meet Hanuman) Muju [www.mujuworld…
(Meet Hanuman) Muju [www.mujuworl…
(Vittaliya) Muju […
(Vittaliya) Muju [www.mujuworld.c…
Vijayanagar Door Stopper
Vijayanagar Door Stopper
Tree in the Vittalya Temple grounds
Tree in the Vittalya Temple grounds
Lady strolls around the ceremonial…
Lady strolls around the ceremonia…
History and Grandeur disrobed by T…
History and Grandeur disrobed by …
Goat Girl and her herd :)
Goat Girl and her herd :)
Colour swatches and kid
Colour swatches and kid
Do the Snake Stomp dance! : an a…
"Do the Snake Stomp dance!" : an …
The elegant Lotus Mahal (detail)
The elegant Lotus Mahal (detail)
Banana Co.
'Banana Co.'
Peace and calm at one of Hampis w…
Peace and calm at one of Hampi's …
A Shivaite Saddhu performs his mor…
A Shivaite Saddhu performs his mo…
Man tends his fresh green rice spr…
Man tends his fresh green rice sp…
One man and his mattock reflected …
One man and his mattock reflected…
The waters of the Tungabhadra cour…
The waters of the Tungabhadra cou…
A butterfly unfurls its newborn wi…
A butterfly unfurls its newborn w…
The 9 to 5 Baba is not in office…
The '9 to 5 Baba' is not in offic…
husband and wife and sari and wind
husband and wife and sari and wind
Tending to clothes and hair beside…
Tending to clothes and hair besid…
The miracle of coracle - bikes and…
The miracle of coracle - bikes an…
An Anegunda village scene
An Anegunda village scene
Ladies labour in the rice paddies …
Ladies labour in the rice paddies…
photo by: sky69