Lost in Hampi: Exploring the Ruins of an Empire
Updated: May 7
Traveling is an addiction that most of us can relate to. Once we get bitten by the travel bug, we are constantly looking for reasons and inspirations to explore new destinations, be it near or far. One such inspiration led me and my friends Bobby and Ajay to embark on an impromptu road trip to Hampi - The Ghost City, located in Northern Karnataka, India.
While watching the documentary "Mysteries of Asia: Lost Temples of India," we came across the ruins of Vijayanagara, the capital of the Vijayanagara Empire, situated on the banks of River Pampa, now known as Tungabhadra. The city was strategically built with natural defenses, including rocky hills on three sides and the river on the fourth, and flourished until it was laid siege to by the Sultan of Bijapur in the second half of the 16th century. The invaders ravaged the city's temples, burnt down sandalwood palaces, and wiped it clean from popular memory. The city was forgotten, and it was only several decades later that British archaeologists stumbled upon it. Hampi is now a popular destination for history enthusiasts who visit the site to witness the remnants of the past.
Living in the same state, we felt guilty for not having explored this beautiful place earlier.
However, it's never too late to embark on a new adventure. I usually prefer solo travel, as mentioned in my previous post. Still, traveling with friends is always a bonus. I was ecstatic when my childhood friends, who also share the same passion for travel, agreed to join me on this journey. We packed our bags and left for Hampi at 11:45 PM, this was in September 2014, this time is the most suitable period of the year to visit Hampi. Since it was an impromptu plan, we had not booked any accommodation. Upon reaching Hampi, we learned from Bobby's quick search on Google that most recommendations were to stay at Hosapete town, which is 12 kilometers away from Hampi. So, we decided to find accommodation in Hosapete.
I always love trips like this, where we don't have to plan everything meticulously. Traveling with close friends has its perks; we could stop the car anytime we wanted, take pictures, indulge in food, and talk nonstop about any topic under the sun. We were thrilled to explore this new place for the first time, like kids going to a fair.
As we crossed Bangalore around 1:00 AM, we decided to give our travel a theme and named ourselves "Wolf Pack," themed as "Wolf Pack - Trip to Enthralling Hampi." Ajay drove, I navigated, and Bobby fell asleep as soon as he entered the car. Ajay was an excellent conversationalist, and we talked about politics, work, and anything he could discuss, making him a perfect companion for driving at night.
Since we hadn't planned our trip, we decided to take an old-school approach and didn't rely on technology. We only had Hospete in mind, which we found by asking locals along the way. I didn't keep track of the time or distance, but at one point, I saw a road sign indicating we were only 80 kilometers away from Hosapete at approximately 6:30 AM. We arrived at Hosapete an hour later and began searching for lodging. We found two hotels, "Shanbhag Towers" and "Hotel Priyadarshini," but chose the latter because it was more budget-friendly and had a great bar and restaurant attached.
Despite arriving early, the hotel staff was accommodating and helped us with the reservation process. After a quick nap and refreshing ourselves, we headed to the hotel restaurant for breakfast. During our meal, we chatted with the staff and asked for recommendations on places to visit. One suggestion was to hire a local guide in Hampi to learn about the history and not miss important landmarks as the area is quite vast.
After enjoying a filling breakfast, we set out for Hampi. As we approached, we saw the ruins and structures, and for some reason, I felt chills running down my spine.
Upon reaching Hampi near the Virupaksha Temple, we learned that it is a part of the Group of Monuments at Hampi and is dedicated to Lord Shiva, one of the Hindu Gods. The temple was built by Queen Lokhamadevi, wife of Vikramaditya II, to celebrate the King's victory over the Pallava of Kanchipuram. After parking the car, our first priority was to hire a local guide.
While walking past the Virupaksha Temple, we came across some intriguing carvings on the Temple Tower. These carvings were of an erotic nature and were only visible on the outside walls, not on the inside. It is believed that these carvings served an educational purpose during the time they were made. Since temples were visited by a large population, these carvings on temple pillars and walls provided an ideal platform to spread awareness.
After finding a guide for a fixed fee of 1500 Rupees per day, we began our tour of Hampi starting from the Virupaksha Temple and its nearby structures. Our guide, Mr. Gurumurthy, was very knowledgeable and well-versed in the history of Hampi. He was also helpful with taking pictures. If anyone is planning to visit Hampi and needs a local guide, they can contact Gurumurthy at + 91 94815 66709.
Around the Virupaksha Temple, there are structures from the Jain period such as Hemkut Jain temples, Ratnantraykut, Parsvanath Charan, and Ganigatti Jain temple. Most of the idols are missing from these structures. The Hemakuta Hill that surrounds the temple is one of the best places to see the sunrise and sunset, and it's a favorite spot for photographers. Another great place to watch the sunset and sunrise is the Matanga Hill.
At this point, we were starting to feel a bit tired, but I have to reiterate that Hampi is truly a paradise for photographers. There's so much to see and capture that it can be overwhelming to know where to start or stop. We kept asking Gurumurthy about different things we noticed and he always responded with a smile and a wealth of knowledge.
As we descended Hemakuta Hill, we arrived at the next significant location on our Hampi tour, the "Kadalekalu Ganesha." This is the largest statue of Ganesha, the son of Lord Shiva, in southern India, carved from granite. The name "Kadalekalu" means Bengal gram or chickpea, as the belly of Ganesha resembles the shape of this legume. If you walk around the idol, you can see a hand holding or supporting the statue from behind. It is believed that this could be an artistic representation of Ganesha's mother Parvathi holding him from the back, but this is also a popular belief. Additionally, it is said that some people tried to cut open the tummy of the statue in search of treasure, and you can still see the cut stone in front of the temple!
Now we started heading towards Gopura – Krishna Temple, on the way we met some localities – took some pictures, visited naturally formed Caves.
Krishna Temple – This temple was built during the reign of Krishnadevaraya after his successful campaign against Gajapatis of Orissa, the temple is in the abandoned state – This was abandoned after the fall of Vijaynagara empire. Krishna temple bazaar has been excavated through the last decade, and restoration work is still in progress
After exploring the Krishna Temple, we proceeded towards the Lotus Mahal. As the name suggests, the Mahal is in the shape of a lotus flower. Our guide, Mr. Gurumurthy, informed us that the Lotus Mahal used to be a place where the royal ladies used to gather and socialize. It also served as a meeting point for the King and his ministers. There are several other monuments located in the vicinity of the Lotus Mahal.
On the way to Lotus Mahal, you'll come across a building that our guide explained was used by the finance team of the King for storing coins and other valuables. It's interesting to think about the history of the building and how it was used during the time of the Vijayanagara Empire.
Some more from the group Monuments of Hampi…......
Great! finally arrived at the Massive Elephant Stable, which is one of the least destroyed structures in Hampi. This impressive structure was used to house the royal elephants and has a total of 11 domed tall chambers. The central chamber is especially impressive and decorated.
The Stepped Tank, a recently discovered structure, stands out from other tank constructions in Hampi with its unique features. Made of finely finished black schist stone blocks, it is radically different from the rest. Interestingly, the tank seems to have been constructed elsewhere and then brought to its current location for assembly. Each stone block was earmarked for this purpose, with some even bearing sketches by its architects. Although its purpose is not entirely clear, it is believed to have been used during religious ceremonies by the royals.
After taking a break by the tank, we engaged in a discussion with our guide Gurumurthy about the other nearby structures. We were amazed to learn that every structure in Hampi has a unique story associated with it, and exploring the ruins allowed us to feel enlightened about the history and transported us back in time.
This is a place of punishment carried out by the kings in the past for those who were found to be cheating in revenue funds. Every year, a cabinet meeting was held, and anyone found guilty was punished publicly by beheading. While this may seem gruesome, it serves as a reminder of the strict measures taken by the royalty to maintain order and justice in the kingdom.
The structure below is a colossal tank, which could have been used as a bathing place or even a swimming pool for visitors who visited the empire during those days. It is truly enormous.
We explored the major structures in and around the Lotus Mahal before continuing our journey towards the Vittala Temple. The Vittala Temple, dedicated to the Hindu God Vishnu, is a well-known ancient monument in Hampi situated near the banks of the Tungabhadra River, previously known as the Pampa River. The highlight of this temple is the Chariot and the musical pillars. It was constructed during the reign of King Devaraya II. Along the way to the temple, we captured some stunning views of the surrounding area.
A suggestion for your visit to the Vitalla Temple Complex would be to also consider stopping by the Achyutaraya Temple Complex. It is relatively less crowded compared to the popular Virupaksha and Vitalla Temple complexes, and definitely worth a visit.
We have finally arrived at the much-awaited Vittala Temple Complex, which is easily recognizable from a distance due to the magnificent chariot structure, one of the major attractions of the temple. This stunning architecture is considered to be one of its kind, with only three such chariots found in India - one in Orissa (Konark Temple), the second in Mahabalipuram (Tamil Nadu) and this being the third one. Unlike the wooden temple cars used in temple festival ceremonies, the chariot at Vittala Temple never moved. However, its four wheels made of granite probably moved around its axle, and there was a dome-like superstructure over it, which is now missing. You can still see them on the first-ever photographs of Hampi taken in 1856 by Alexander Greenlaw.
The Large Mantapa in the Vittala Temple Complex is renowned for its musical pillars, which are often referred to as the Saregama pillars due to the musical notes they produce when tapped gently. Visitors can experience the unique sounds produced by these pillars, adding to the charm and appeal of the complex.
Near the Vittala Temple, there is a 5-meter tall structure known as the 'balance'. Also called Tula Bhara or Tula Purushadana, the king used to weigh himself with gold, gems, silver, and precious stones, and distribute them to the priests. This was believed to have been done during special ceremonial seasons like solar or lunar eclipses. The balance has three loops on top, into which it actually hung, and one of the pillars features the image of the king along with his consorts.
By this point, we had explored most of the major sites in Hampi. We even skipped lunch in order to see everything on our list and managed with snacks and fruits sold on the streets. However, covering the entirety of Hampi in one day is practically impossible as our guide, Mr. Gurumurthy, explained. There are always new discoveries being made in the region, and it would take a lifetime to truly know it all. We realized that we would need to come back to visit the places we missed. As the sun began to set, we made our way to the nearby Tungabhadra River to watch the sunset.
Whenever we embark on a journey, the three of us make it a point to take one photograph that will serve as our cover picture. On this trip, our guide Mr. Gurumurthy took an amazing photo for us that we will cherish forever.
There were three monuments that we had missed earlier, but our guide suggested we visit them on the way back to Hemakuta Hill, near Virupaksha Temple where we had parked our vehicle. As the sun was setting, we decided to call it a day after visiting these structures:
The Lakshmi Narasimha Statue in Hampi is a magnificent sculpture, considered to be the largest in the region. Narasimha, the fourth incarnation of Lord Vishnu, is depicted in a seated position on the coils of a giant seven-headed serpent known as Sesha. The serpent's hoods form a canopy above Narasimha's head. The god is shown in a cross-legged yoga posture, with a belt supporting his knees. Originally, the statue also included an image of goddess Lakshmi, Narasimha's consort, seated on his lap. However, the statue was seriously damaged during a raid that led to the fall of the Vijayanagara Empire.
The Badavilinga Temple in Hampi houses the largest monolithic Linga in the region. The Linga is located next to the Narasimha statue and is enclosed in a chamber with an opening in the front. The Linga has three eyes carved on it, symbolizing the three eyes of Lord Shiva. The temple gets its name from the legend that says it was commissioned by a poor peasant woman, hence the name "Badva," meaning poor in the local language.
Sasivekalu Ganesha is a large monolithic statue of Lord Ganesha, located on the southern slope of the Hemakuta Hill. The statue is about 2.4 meters tall and is known for its unique depiction of Ganesha with a snake tied around his belly and a bowl of sweets in his left hand. The name "Sasivekalu" means "mustard seed" in the local language, and is attributed to the large size of Ganesha's belly, which resembles a mustard seed. The statue is believed to have been built during the reign of King Krishnadevaraya and is a popular tourist attraction in Hampi. After visiting this statue, we planned to call it a day and return to our hotel.
Our day at Hampi came to an end and we expressed our gratitude to our guide, Mr. Gurumurthy, for the vast knowledge he shared with us. Despite having covered a lot of ground, we still felt the desire to explore more. So, we decided to spend some extra time on top of Hemakuta Hill to enjoy the sunset and capture some beautiful photographs. With two more days ahead of us, we began to plan our itinerary.
As we concluded our day at Hampi, I couldn't help but reflect on the fact that we had such amazing places close to Bangalore where we grew up, yet we had never made the effort to come and explore them. Nevertheless, we were thoroughly enjoying everything that the place had to offer - from its rich history and art to its breathtaking scenic beauty. The sunset in particular had left a lasting impression on me, it was simply beautiful and I found myself lost in its beauty.
As we made plans for the next two days, we decided to head back to our hotel to rest and freshen up before reassembling for dinner at the attached bar and restaurant. Our plan for the following day was to head to Pattadakal, Aihole, and Badami, and we were looking forward to what promised to be an exciting two days of exploring more of this stunning region. More details about our upcoming tour will be covered in a separate post.
If you're planning a visit to Hampi, here are some helpful tips:
The best time to visit is between October to February when the weather is cooler. Avoid visiting during the summer.
The nearest airport is Hubli, which is approximately 140 km from Hampi. You can fly to Hubli and then take a taxi or bus operated by Karnataka State transport. Buses take around 4-5 hours to reach Hampi. Check the timings on websites like www.ksrtc.in and www.redbus.in.
The train stops at Hosapet/Hospet junction, which is very close to the place where we had our accommodation. Trains run several times a week from Bangalore, Hyderabad, and Goa. Book your train tickets from IRCTC website https://www.irctc.co.in. Other websites like makemytrip.com and yatra.com also take train reservations.
You can also reach Hospet by bus, which operates daily from Bangalore, Mysore, and Gokarna. From Hospet, you can reach Hampi on a local bus.
If you're driving, it's around 350 km from Bangalore. Drive till Chitradurga on NH-4, take a right turn on NH-13 towards Sholapur till Hospet, and then drive another 13 km to reach Hampi. The direction towards Hampi is well-marked.
It's recommended to hire a moped, motorcycle, or bicycle while in Hampi to move around easily unless you enjoy walking. Bicycle rental costs around 150/day, and a moped could be more or less around 250-300 per day.
For guides, you can contact Gurumurthy at +91 94815 66709 or Rama at +91 94491 19485.
For accommodation, it's recommended to stay in Hospet due to accessibility to the railway station, better hotels, medical stores, clinics, etc. You can find a wide range of hotels from budget to expensive ones on websites like www.Booking.com and www.trivago.in.
Cheaper guest houses are available across the river in "Virupapur Gaddi," also called Hippie Island. However, it's not recommended for short visits since there is no road access from the archaeological site Hampi. The only way to reach this place from Hampi is via the river, which might be too risky if the water levels are high. There is road access via an alternate route which is 40 km away. It's only recommended if you intend to stay longer in Hampi for more than a week and explore all nearby places and need cheaper accommodation. Otherwise, it's recommended to stay at Hosapet/Hospet.