Hampi (Vijayanagar) : History. Beauty. Setting. Stone.
Hampi Travel Blog› entry 244 of 268 › view all entries
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Herded lines of goats and cows pass along the ghat platform and clatter their way up the stone steps.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!!'.
STONE : The grand moments of Hampi are grand indeed. The impressive gopuram towers of the central Virupaksha temple.
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.
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.
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.
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.