Hampi is a town with a glorious past located in the Indian state of Karnataka. In recent years foreign and domestic tourists have flocked to Hampi to explore the magnificent ruins of the capital of the Vijaynagara Empire which are spread over 26 sq kilometers and include approximately 550 individual monuments. The terrain where these ruins are located is characterized by rocky hills as well as the river Tungabadhra which flows through this ancient capital.
Hampi was the capital of the Vijaynagar Empire which was establish largely by two local princes Hakka and Bakka under the tutelage of their Guru Vidyaranya in the 14th century during years 1336 to 1565. Hampi was at that time one of the greatest trading centers of the world and its markets were frequented by merchants from all over the globe. The rulers belonging to this Empire were great patrons of art and architecture as a result of this much building activity took place under their rule.
The Vijayanagar Empire spread over a large area which today encompasses areas of the states of Maharashtra, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh. In 1565 the ruler Rama Raya belonging to this dynasty was defeated and killed by a confederation of Muslim rulers. The town was subsequently ransacked and burnt. It was later annexed by the Nizam of Hyderabad in 1780 having come under the rule of the Mughals in 1689. Today these ruins remain as a silent testament to the imperial might and wealth of the Vijaynagar Empire.
In 1999 the Unesco declared Hampi a ‘World Heritage site in Danger’ due to the construction of a suspension bridge over the Tungabadhra river. The heavy traffic that thundered by on this bridge endangered many of these monuments and ultimately in an effort to conserve these ancient ruins the Karnataka Government decided to take down the bridge in order to protect these national treasures. The taking down of the bridge placed an immense financial burden on the government who decided to do it anyway. The resolution of this problem has yet to solve all of Hampi’s woes. This ancient archeological site continues to suffer until this day the consequences of Urbanization, de forestation, pollution and encroachment. The immediate effect of these destructive elements can be seen in the fading of the natural dyes which were used to color the ceiling of one of the important temples on this site- The Virupaksha Temple. The government has taken a further initiative to aid this conservation by setting up in April 2002 the Hampi World Heritage Area Management Authority which has wide reaching powers and a State Level Advisory Committee.
Myths associated with Hampi
The Hindu epic the Ramayana mentions the kingdom of Kishkindha which was ruled by monkey kings Vali and Sugriva and was believed to have been located close to the site of modern day Hampi. Due to the reference of this land in the Ramayana many of the sites in Hampi are believed to be holy for Hindus. The Malyavanta Hill located on the road to Kampili is believed to have been the abode of Lord Rama and located here is a Raghunath temple with a large image of Rama.
The best period to visit Hampi is during the months of October to March. In these months the weather is a pleasant 24°C (75°F) to 27°C (81°F). Moreover in these months many festivals are celebrated in Hampi as well. This enhances the enjoyment of the tourist visiting Hampi at this time. One such festival which recreates the grandeur of the Vijaynagar era is held in December and organized by the Karnataka Government. This is the largest festival at Hampi and it is celebrated with events featuring dance, music, puppet shows and even rock climbing and water sports. The festival is called Vijaya Utsava or Hampi Utsava. Purandhas Aradhana is held in January and February and is mainly a classical music festival. Yet another festival is the Virupaksha car festival held in March and April. This is the largest religious festival of Hampi during which giant wooden chariot which has the image of the gods and goddesses is paraded through the town. These are but some of the many festivals celebrated in Hampi in addition to the traditional Hindu festivals of Diwali and Shivaratari.
Summers in Hampi can get unbearably hot with the mercury rising to 45°C (113°F) and over hence visiting Hampi in these hot climes is not advisable. The rainy season which lasts from July to October is also not conducive to exploring this magnificent archeological marvel and therefore the best months to explore these delights are from October to March.
Getting to Hampi
Hampi airport is served by one of India’s first low cost airlines Air Deccan. One can fly into one of the major Indian cities of Goa or Bangalore in order to connect to the Air Deccan network. Air Deccan today provides the fastest access to Hampi and links two major tourist destinations Hampi and Goa. There is also an airstrip at Tornagallu in Sandur Taluk which is located at a distance of 32 kms from the nearest town of Hospet and is used by charter services operated by Taneja Aerospace and Aviation which has launched a sight seeing tour service to explore Hampi.
The closest railway station to Hampi is at Hospet 13 kms away from Hampi. The Hampi Express is an overnight service that leaves Hospet at 8.30pm and reaches Bangalore at 6.30 am. From Bangalore this service is also overnight leaving Bangalore at 10pm and reaching Hospet at 7.30 am. Hospet has rail links to the cities of Bijapur, Hubli and Guntakal. There are 10 daily trains and five special trains that serve the Hospet railway station. The trains are operated by the Indian Railways. It is advisable to reserve a berth in advance on these trains before embarking on your travels. Tickets can be reserved at reservation booths and authorized travel agents all over the country. Buying a ticket at the booking office before boarding the train does not assure one of a seat on the train.
The Buses run by the Karnataka State Road Transport Corporation connect Hampi to Hospet by plying at a frequency of thirty minutes all through the day. Hampi is located at a distance of 350 kms from Bangalore. Cars and buses travel to Hospet and Hampi by road on the Indian National Highway (NH14). Taxis also connect Hospet to Hampi. These are usually private taxis which are operated by local operators as well as franchises of international car rental agencies such as Hertz.
Getting around in Hampi
The most convenient way mode of transport to explore Hampi is by bicycle. Several shops near Hampi’s Bazaar have bikes for hire. Traditional bicycles or the two wheelers like mopeds and motorcycles are an additional mode of transport on Hampi’s roads. The tourism office belonging to the Karnataka State Transport Development Corporation is located in the Hampi Bazaar.
Though the official language of Karnataka state is Kannada, Hindi the national language of India is also spoken here as is English. Many of the temple priests speak English and this is largely due to the tourist boom in Hampi during recent times.
The currency used in Hampi is the official currency of India which is the Rupee. There are several counters offering forex exchange services around Hampi Bazaar.
One must maintain certain decorum in the holy city of Hampi. It is not a beach destination but a holy city and one must be attired appropriately. Cool cotton clothes are the ideal garments to be worn in this hot and dusty city. Imbibing of alcohol is prohibited in the city of Hampi as is the cooking of non vegetarian cuisine. One must respect the diktats of this city.
The architecture of the ancient Vijaynagar Empire contains ruins which depict buildings which built for religious, civil and defensive purposes. While most of the temples were built of granite and have survived the ravages of time unfortunately most of the palaces of the kings were built of wood and have not survived. Listed below are a few of the important monuments of Hampi.
The Virupaksha Temple, Hemakuta Hill
This temple is one of the most important temples in the city of Hampi and it is also known as the Pampapathi Temple. The temple whose history dates back to the 7th century grew in stature from a small shrine into a large complex under the Vijaynagar Empire. The temple has shrines dedicated to Lord Shiva, Pampa and Bhuvaneshwari. This scared temple is composed of ante chambers and pillared halls including an open pillared hall called Ranga Mantapa which consists of 38 pillars which are covered with sculptures. The ceiling of the Ranga Mantapa and the supporting beams are adorned with paintings depicting scenes from the Hindu holy scriptures of Ramayana and Mahabharata and the Puranas.
Sasive Kalu Ganesh (Statues of Lord Ganesh), Hemakuta Hill
The slope of the Hemakuta Hill has two large stone statutes of the popular Hindu god Ganesha. The first statute is the Sasivekalu Ganesh or the mustard seed Ganesh. The statue measures 2.4 metres. This statute which depicts the Lord in a seated pose is carved out of a single boulder and is located in the center of a pavilion called Mantapa. The trunk and the lower left hand of the statue are broken and the belly of the deity is encircled by a snake.
The Kadale Kalu Ganesh
The Kadale Kalu Ganesh located further up the hill is double the size of the first idol and is quite damaged. The idol is seated in its own sanctum with an open pillared mantapa. The pillars which are typical of the Vijaynagar era are intricately carved, square shaped, tall and slender. The location of this Ganesh statute is such that it affords picturesque views of the other monuments of Hampi
Shri Vijayavitthala Temple
This temple is considered one of the most important temples of Hampi. It is dedicated to the Hindu god Vishnu who is believed to be the creator of the Universe. The construction of the temple began during the reign of Krishna Deva Raya in 1513 AD and continued until the fall of the Vijaynagar Kingdom in 1565. The temple is built in the style typical of South Indian temples with an inner sanctum and an outer sanctum. The inner sanctum which contains the deities can be accessed only by the chief priest of the temple while the outer sanctum is accessible by the general public. The architecture of the temple is magnificent. The basement contains intricately carved sculptures which are worth noticing. Also of note are the dancing halls and the 56 musical pillars. These pillars when tapped gently emit a musical sound and are hence called SaReGama pillars after the first notes in Indian classical music. A stone chariot adorned with beautiful masonry work is located at the entrance of the temple.
Hazari Rama Temple
This temple dedicated to Lord Rama is popularly known as the ‘Hazari Rama Temple’. The temple has a large number of bas-reliefs which are narrative in nature and which tell the tale of the Ramayana.
The Kodanda Rama Temple
This temple which is still in use till date is considered an important pilgrimage spot. It is located at the end of Virupaksha Bazaar towards the east of Hampi. A small pathway leads to the temple which faces the most scared bathing spot in the river called Chakrathirtha. According to mythology the temple is built on the spot where Lord Rama crowned Sugriva the King of Kishkhinda.
Several examples of civilian architecture can be witnessed in buildings such as the Zenana which housed the women of the royal family. This enclosure includes the Lotus Mahal and the Queens Palace. All these buildings are built in a style which is a blend of Indo Islamic architecture. The Elephant Stables, the Guards quarters, the Durbar hall are other examples of civilian architecture of this era.
Hotels and Huts
Accommodation in Hampi is of a basic nature. A popular Hotel with visitors is the Hotel Malligi located in Hospet. Information for this hotel can be accessed at www.malligihotels.com. This hotel is one of the most modern hotels in the area. The other lodging options are travel lodges run by the KSTDC such as the Hotel Mayura Bhuvaneshwari. Guest houses and huts are some other inexpensive lodging options. The Huts provide one with the experience of minimalist living. Recently a new resort consisting of twenty luxury cottages has opened at Narayanpet 7 kms from Hampi. This resort is called is called Hampi Boulders.www.nivalink.com/bouldersresort/index.html is the online link for information about this resort.