Trip undertaken in Oct of 2012.
After what seemed like an eternity, and after that last trip to Tamil Nadu’s silly hill station – Yercaud, we decided it was time to hit the roads again. The road that went north towards Hampi was picked as our best bet for the simple reason that it would be a very different experience from the beaches, hill stations and water falls that we had been to over the past two years.
Present day Hampi, earlier known as Vijayanagara, was the capital of the erstwhile Vijayanagara empire that ruled most of South India for a better part of two centuries, from the mid 14th century to the mid 17th century. Hampi is situated on the fertile plains of the mighty Tungabhadra river and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, with a lot of monuments and temples constructed during its glorious past still intact in spite of repeated destruction wrought not only by invading Mughals from North India but also by the effect of time and the elements.
From Bangalore, Hampi is around 370 kms by road. Hospet is the nearest railway station or bus stand if you want to go to Hampi. An overnight bus journey from Bangalore to Hospet takes around 7 hours. KRSTC and a lot of private bus operators ply regularly on these routes. If you don’t like the regular Volvo reclining seater, opt for a non a/c sleeper that will cost you around the same and is much more comfortable for an overnight journey. The moment you alight at Hospet bus station, you will be pestered by auto drivers offering to take you to Hampi for around 300-400 bucks. Ignore all of them and head to the local buses that will take you to Hampi for 15 Rs. per head, in half an hour. Alighting at Hampi, you will be faced with another deluge of auto rickshaw drivers offering a place to stay and a 1 day tour of Hampi for 600 bucks. The best way would be to research on your stay beforehand and ask the rickshaw driver to take you there. Lakshmi Heritage Tourist is a stone’s throw away from the Virupaksha Temple as well as the Tungabhadra river and will set you back by around 600 Rs. per night for a basic room with a TV, fan, and no view whatsoever. Not the ideal place for a long stay, cheaper options still abound, but we found it reasonable and also booked 2 rickshaws for around 600 Rs. a day. Be warned that these rickshaws will ply only till around 6 pm and they are quick to raise a fuss if you plan to roam around even a little longer. For longer stays in Hampi, hiring a bike or bicycle is strictly recommended as all the monuments are reasonably distant.
Before you set out to see the attractions however, keep in mind that a lot of facts and stories about the structures will add considerably to your understanding of the times in which they were built. A guide is recommended, but I would say if you get a guide book, nothing beats reading and discovering the monuments all by yourself.
The first place we went to is called the Hemakuta hill. We entered the hill through the second access point, which is near the two Ganesha temples – one called the Sasivekalu (so called because it resembles a mustard seed) Ganesha and the other, the Kadlekalu (bengal gram) Ganesha. Both of them are monolithic structures and offer a vantage point from where you can observe the Virupaksha temple.
The official website says this about the Hemakuta hill:
“Myth has it that it’s on this hill that Lord Siva (the god of destruction) did penance before marrying a local girl Pampa. Siva was impressed by her dedication for him and consent to marry her. On this it rained gold on this hill. Hema in Sanskrit language means gold. The name of the hill thus connects with this legend.
Also this is the place where Siva burnt Kama (the god of lust) with his third (fire) eye. In helping Pampa to marry Shiva, Kama distracted Shiva from his penance. This attracted the wrath of Siva and eventually killed Kama by fire. Later Rathi (goddess of passion and Kama’s wife) pleaded for the life of Kama. Siva brought him back to life but only in character not as a physical being.
Hence a number of temples in this area are dedicated to Lord Siva, the major one being the Virupaksha temple at the north of this hill.”
Next up, is the Krishna temple up the hill ahead. Our auto-driver, also doubled up as a guide and in his halting English, told us about how this temple was built by the great Krishnadevaraya to commemorate the victory of his conquests in present day Orissa.
Opposite the Krishna temple are the grounds for what must have been a massive bazaar in those days. The auto-driver said people from lands outside the Indus valley (Europeans) would come to this bazaar and even precious stones were traded in this bazaar. A rectangular structure on the left of the entrance to the bazaar, the guy told us, was a donation box for visitors.
The bazaar itself consists of corridors built entirely of stone and separated into different columnar structures, or what would have been shops for individual merchants.
There is a stepped tank in the bazaar precincts and in October, there was still some water in the tank.
Further up ahead the road is the absolutely wondrous Lakshmi Narasimha temple which depicts Vishnu in his Narasimha avatar. The official website says this about the temple:
“This is the largest statue in Hampi. Narasimha is sitting on the coil of a giant seven-headed snake called Sesha. The heads of the snake acts as the hood above his head. The god sits in a cross-legged Yoga position with a belt supporting the knees.
Sometimes this is referred as Ugra Narasimha (i.e. Narasimha in its terrifying form). The protruding eyes and the facial expression are the basis for this name.
Narasimha (means half-man’half-lion in local the languages) is on of the ten incarnations (avatar) of Lord Vishnu.
The original statue contained the image of goddess Lakshmi, consort of the god, sitting on his lap. But this statue has been damaged seriously during the raid leading to the fall of Vijayanagara. Even the damaged portion of such a large statue of Lakshmi carved on his lap is missing. Probably it may be laying around in tiny pieces. But the goddess’s hand is visible resting on his back in embracing posture. If you get a chance to go inside this enclosure, it is possible to see the hand of the goddess. Even the nails & the rings on her fingers are so perfectly executed.”
There is a Badavalinga temple to the right of the Lakshmi Narasimha temple, which contains a Shiv Linga that still has water supplied throughout the year by a small canal built in the earlier days.
Just a few distance from the temple, we came across some horses grazing on the land across the temple. They were too camera shy though, the closer I moved to photograph their graceful manes, the farther they moved.
With coconut and guava vendors offering a much-needed reprieve from the oppressive heat, we paused here and took a moment to catch some shade and rest ourselves.
(To be continued…)