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How to Reach Hampi
Hampi, a temple town in Karnataka is a UNESCO world heritage site situated on the banks of the Tungabhadra river. Once the capital of the Vijayanagara Empire in the 14th century, Hampi was known to be a wealthy, prosperous and monumental city. Not only was Hampi the world's second-largest medieval-era city after Beijing, it was also India's richest city at the time. The grandeur of the ancient city is still prevalent in the majestic temples and the striking ruins, perched across a craggy landscape surrounded by lush banana plantations. I had read about and seen countless pictures of Hampi. I kept planning a trip and it kept getting delayed due to some reason or another. My family has a tradition of taking a road trip every January. Guess which place I suggested for our trip!
As the ruins of the Vijayanagara Empire are spread over an area of 26 sq. km in and around Hampi, there are 2 options to explore them. If you have limited time then you can cover the more popular/ mainstream sites in 1 day. Whereas, if you wish to soak in the royalty and enjoy the architecture, then a 2 day trip to Hampi is the better option. Keeping both scenarios in mind, I have written about a 2-day itinerary for Hampi. Furthermore, I will be mentioning the sites which can be skipped so that you can squeeze in the important sites in one day.
1. Virupaksha Temple
Dedicated to Lord Shiva, the Virupaksha or Pampapathi temple is the main center of pilgrimage in Hampi. Having been around since the 7th century, the temple started out as a little shrine which was later developed into a vast complex under the Vijayanagara rule. The temple consists of a shrine, a hall with innumerable pillars, three antechambers, courtyards, gateways and a few smaller shrines. The temple has three towers. The nine-tiered eastern tower rises 50 meters and dates back to the first half of the 15th century. Moreover, this tower has been built such that an inverted shadow of the tower falls on the western wall of the temple through a small hole. Ancient India was well-aware of the concept of the pinhole camera! While the northern gopuram has five storeys, the inner eastern gopuram is three storeys high. The temple attracts huge crowds in the month of December for the marriage festivities of Virupaksha and Pampa.
2. Hampi Bazaar
Once a thriving marketplace during the Vijayanagara rule, Hampi Bazaar was a well-planned market area. Located in from of the Virupaksha temple, the bazaar stretches for over 1 kilometer. While in the ancient times, merchants from foreign lands used to sell precious stones, jewelry, silk clothes, today the market still lives on, although it isn't as alluring. The current market has shopkeepers selling handmade jewelry, wall art, embroidered shawls, bags, stone figurines and the likes. Unfortunately, the market was closed down recently so anybody visiting Hampi henceforth can only look at the pavilions and imagine what the market used to look like.
3. Archaeological Museum
The Archaeological Museum, located 350m from Sri Virupaksha Temple, houses sculptures and antiques from different periods. The museum is in 4 sections.
The first section contains two scaled models of the Hampi topography along with monuments and temples located on it. This gives visitors an idea of the relative locations of the sites. the models also display the hills and rivers in Hampi.
The second section contains a large collection of sculptures and idols collected from the Hampi ruins. Most of these artifacts belong to Shiva worship and Veerabhadra cult.
The third section of the museum contains a collection of arms, coinage, tools, metal objects and other artifacts that were popular during the reign of the Vijayanagara Empire. A noteworthy exhibit in this section are documents made of brass and bundled together as a book using a ring.
In the fourth section you will find several antiquities that date back to the pre-historic and proto-historic eras. These objects are the oldest of all exhibits in the museum.
4. Vijaya Vittala Temple
The most popular and the grandest of all structures in Hampi, the Vittala Temple is dedicated to Vittala, an aspect of Lord Vishnu. The sprawling campus features iconic structures such as the main temple, a stone chariot, pillared pavilions, halls and gateway towers. The temple, built in the Dravidian style of architecture, exemplifies the immense creativity and architectural magnificence possessed by the sculptors and artisans of the Vijayanagara empire.
The front of the temple houses a memorable intricately sculpted stone chariot. The chariot is a shrine dedicated to the eagle God, Garuda. Another interesting structure is the maha mandapam, which has the most fascinating and famous part of the temple—the musical pillars. Carved out of a single rock, each of the massive pillars emits a different musical tone. The British, curious to discover the secrets of the musical pillars, cut two of them open. However, they were unable to find any device inside the pillars. The two pillars along with the others are still present for visitors to admire.
An extravagant architectural masterpiece, the Vijaya Vittala temple is the most visited and the most photographed site in Hampi. This place just cannot be missed. It's one of the most spectacular sight in Central and Southern India.
5. Saasivekalu Ganesha Temple
A huge statue of Lord Ganesha, carved out of a single rock is the main attraction of the Saasivekalu Ganesha Temple. The enormous statue rises to a height of 8 feet. This idol is seated in a large open mandapa (hall) surrounded by an open pavilion. If you observe carefully, you will find inscriptions on the pillars made by traders from Andhra Pradesh. These inscriptions are as old as 1200 AD and say that this status was build in memory of King Narasimha the Second of the Vijayanagara Empire. This temple is situated just 700 m away from Virupaksha Temple.
6. Hemakuta Hill Temple Complex
The Hamekuta Hill Temple Complex is without a doubt, my favorite spot in Hampi. The cluster of ancient temples, archways and pavilions is situated just 200 m from the Saasivekalu Ganesha Temple. Some of these temples dates back to 9th to 14th century and thus belonging to the era before the Vijayanagara Empire was founded. This hill is one of the best places to watch the sun go down. Besides, this hill is much easier to climb than the nearby Matanga hill.
Legend has it that Lord Shiva did penance before marrying a local girl, Pampa. Shiva was impressed by her dedication for him and thus consented to marry her. On this day it rained gold on this hill. Hema in Sanskrit language means gold. The name of the hill thus connects with this legend. Hence a number of temples in this area are dedicated to Lord Shiva, the major one being the Virupaksha Temple at the north of this hill.
Get here at least an hour and half before sunset. The place will be empty for you to click photographs. As sunset gets closer, the place will be swarming with tourists.
1. Queens' Bath
Start your second day at Hampi with a visit to Queens' Bath. The ornate structure, spread across 30 sq. m has a large sunken open-sky bath in the center. The rectangular bath is surrounded by a big verandah, extended balconies and carved domes. The balconies are decorated with tiny windows and supported by lotus bud tipped brackets. The ancient unassuming building is an epitome of the luxurious life of the royal families.
The bath, although it's named as Queens' bath, was used by both Kings and Queens. In fact, it served as a royal pleasure house. From here, you can move on to the Royal Enclosure and the Zenana Enclosure.
2. Dasara Dibba
Also known as the Mahanavami Dibba, the Dasara Dibba is an itricately carved stone platform located 650 m from the Queen's Bath. It was build by the King Krishnadevaraya after his conquest over the kingdom of Udayagiri, present day Orissa. The platform is about 12 m in height and played a prominent role during the Navaratri celebrations. The King used to sit atop this platform and watch the celebrations in the form of march pasts, sword fighting wrestling and royal processions. This is the first stop inside the Royal Enclosure.
3. Stepped Tank
Stepped Tank of Hampi or Pushkarni is located just 190 m from Dasara Dibba. A pushkarni is a sacred water tank that is usually attached to a temple. This tank is located inside the Royal Enclosure and is said to be used by the royals during religious ceremonies such as rituals, cleansing and during rites of concretion. The ornate tank is constructed out of finely finished blocks of black stones and displays architectural beauty. The mason marks on the individual blocks of stones mark the direction of flow of water. This tank is a sight to behold and cannot be missed when in Hampi !
4. Hazara Rama Temple
Beyond the stepped tanks, 700 m away lies the resplendent Hazara Rama Temple. The small yet elaborately carved temple is dedicated to Lord Rama. It was once the private temple of the kings and the royal family of Vijayanagara. The relationship between the temple and the royal family is depicted in the reliefs covering the outer surface of the compound walls. They portray pictures of elephants, horses with attendants, military contingents and dancing ladies.
The most stirring feature of the temple is that the walls of the temple carry the entire story of Ramayana carved on stone.
5. Lotus Mahal
The Lotus Mahal, at a distance of 500 m from the Hazara Rama Temple is located inside the Zenana Enclosure. This enclosure was the residential area of the queens. Only lady guards and maids were allowed inside this area. The Lotus Mahal is named such due to the top view of the structure, which resembles a lotus flower. The picturesque palace is a two-storeyed building which is a fine example of Indo-Islamic architecture. The palace is surrounded by trees and a grassy area, making it a scenic site.
6. Elephant Stables
A stone's throw away from Lotus Mahal lies the Elephant Stable. This impressive long building with a row of domed chambers was used to ‘park’ the royal elephants of the grand Vijayanagara Empire. The whole building looks symmetric with respect to a central hall. The tower of the central hall resembles that of a temple shrine. However, the domes to either side of the central dome are alternately of Islamic and Buddhist style. All the chambers have high ceilings and have a small opening at the rear from where the mahouts could enter and exit. There is a central hook embedded in the ceiling of the central dome which was most likely used to hook the elephants. Also noteworthy is a hidden staircase which is used to reach to roof of the building. The guards' barracks are located next to the elephant stables.
7. Malyavantha Raghunatha Temple
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Approximately 4 km from Zenana Enclosure and 4.5 km from Vijaya Vittala temple lies the Malyavantha Raghunatha Temple. According to mythology, Rama and Lakshmana were looking for a shelter during the monsoon season. Rama aimed an arrow in the Malyavanta hill direction. Hence, Rama and Lakshmana stayed here till the monsoon rains are over, before they marched to Lanka along with the army of vanaras. The temple complex is typical of any temple in Hampi. Further along the temple, an archway leads towards a cliff of boulders from where you get a panoramic view of Hampi's open fields. This spot is perfect for taking pictures and idly enjoying the sunset.
One Day Hampi Itinerary
If you have just 1 day in Hampi, visit only the following Hampi attractions:
- Virupaksha Temple
- Vijaya Vittala Temple
- Queens' Bath
- Royal Enclosure
- Dasara Dibba
- Stepped Tank
- Hazara Rama Temple
- Zenana Enclosure
- Lotus Mahal
- Elephant Stables
- Saasivekalu Ganesha Temple
- Hemakuta Hill Temple Complex
If you have some time to spare, visit the Malyavantha Raghunatha Temple. All of these are doable in one day if you start your day early.