Trails and tales – Places to visit in Hampi
My trip to Hampi was courtesy Orange County Hampi and I went on a guided trail to some of the places to visit in Hampi. This post focusses on the ruins of Hampi, places near Hampi, monuments of Hampi and stories of these monuments.
My heart skips a beat as I enter the portals of the ancient city of Vijaynagar, popularly known as Hampi today. I can feel the excitement pounding inside me. Even after five trips, Hampi has this effect on me. Nostalgia is mixed with awe as I remember my first trip as a 20 year old when I came here as a mass communication student on a photography tour.
It starts raining as I drive through the town. The town has drastically changed in just two decades. It is not just the transparencies on my old analog cameras that have been replaced by smart memory cards of DSLRs and smartphones. My sepia toned memories of this sleepy hamlet is now replaced with the vibrance of a bustling tourist destination filled with travellers, historians, hippies, backpackers and even a few colourful characters .
Hampi was my first ever travelogue when I moved to Bangalore as a media professional two decades ago. It was a feature that I did for a lifestyle show on Star Plus when we covered the Hampi festival or utsav .
I have written several articles and features for publications and even featured it on my column in The Hindu . I am also fascinated by places near Hampi – Anegundi, the mythical Kishkinta of Ramayana and Daroji known for its sloth bear sanctuary are my favourites. The city has lured me five times and yet, I feel like I have barely explored the places to visit in Hampi.
Orange County Hampi- an edifice personifying luxury
I am here in Hampi on invitation from Orange County Hampi, a palatial luxury resort, located just ten minutes from the main city centre. It is an ode to the Vijaynagar Empire in stone – a monument by itself replete with fortifications and pillars. The gates stand formidable like a gateway to a citadel.
A palace stands , elegant and yet opulent. Water bodies like little canals and ponds fill the eye reflecting the beauty of the monuments. The Jal Mahal or the pool villas are an epitome of luxury. Another palace inspired by the Lotus Mahal houses a restaurant and the spa.
The delicate arches, the soft light, the muted shades, the elegant carvings – they all paint a picture of grace and gives you a fleeting feeling of living like a princess. Although the resort itself is an amalgation of design elements inspired by different palaces, you almost feel like an architect from the Vijayanagar era has put his signature on the monument.
Along with a guide, I decided to explore some of the trails designed by the resort and listen to the stories behind them. Temples, forts, palaces, tanks and reservoirs, caves, aqueducts – these are some of the places to visit Hampi among the ruins.
Raya Trail of Hampi
The story of Hampi begins with two brothers – Harihara and Bucca, popularly known as Hakka Bukka who founded Vijaynagar Dynasty in the 14th century under the guidance of a seer, Vidyaranya who was from the Sringeri Shankaracharya mutt. There are many legends regarding how and why Hakka Bukka founded this town, then known as Vijaynagar or Vidyanagar.
Standing in the Royal Enclosure, I was staring at the ruins of the Hakka’s Palace, probably one of the first palaces to be built here. There are several palaces here built by different kings, Krishnadevaraya being one of the most famous.
Every stone here tells a story . I sit among the ruins as my guide Hussain creates this pen picture for me. The horses came trotting as Krishnadevaraya, a wrestler par excellence used to wake up in the wee hours of the morning and practise in his Akhada. The swords clashed as the clinks echoed in the silence.Perhaps he prepared for battle everyday but his day began after a bath at the Hazara Rama temple close by. The temple stands today and is one of the places to visit in Hampi while you are on the Palace or Raya Trail.
The ruins are the remnants of a powerful empire which ruled India for over 200 years and even contained the kings of the Delhi Sultanate. The thick walls that enclose them hold towers, turrets and temples. There is an underground chamber that fascinates me. Mahanami Dibba is a poetry in stone carved every inch with sculptures. If you want to see the social and cultural life of the people during the era, look at the carvings – from wrestlers to musicians, dancing girls to kings and queens – you get a glimpse of Vijayanagar of that period.
But it is not the palaces of the many kings that grab my attention. It is the majestic Elephant Stable. Sitting in the lush grass, sipping a tender coconut water, I ask myself, if the stables for the elephants were so grand, how magnificent the palaces would have been if they had withstood the onslaught of time.
We walk around. The palaces of queens and nobles are scattered around in the ruins. The Lotus Mahal stands out in the crumbles. The Queens Bath is another favourite. There are several monuments in ruins here which are among the places to visit in Hampi. I travel beyond the realm of the ruins and walk around .
There are old rock cut cave temples, crumbled walls of old temples, pillars and towers, dried up reservoirs and tanks, old creaky pipes carrying water across the town, stepwells and octagonal wells. Standing there and looking at the crumbles of one of the richest dynasties of India, I am completely overwhelmed.
Temple Trail of Hampi
The temples of Vijayanagar are scattered everywhere amidst the boulders. Built by various kings, some of them were almost like a settlement by itself, with markets and dwellings around. But the main temple – one of the places to visit in Hampi, the Virupaksha temple dedicated to Shiva is older than the city itself. Hampi’s mythical origins starts with a legend between Shiva and Parvati, referred to as Pampa. Virupaksha is referred to as Pampapathi or Pampa’s husband. Under the influence of Kama or the God of Love, this is where Shiva met Parvati or Pampa . However Shiva in anger burnt Kama and the legend lives on even today at Hemakuta Hill, where I am standing right now, gazing at the Virupaksha temple between the boulders.
There are several shrines around in Hemakuta Hill, one of my personal favourites among the places to see in Hampi and each of them narrates a story of its own. The Krishna temple is one of the most beautiful places to visit in Hampi, with sculptures carved all around it. The markets around are silent .
The underground Shiva temple, another popular temple among the places to see in Hampi is filled with puddles of water. But the monoliths fascinate me – the Lakshmi Narasimha, the Badavi Linga, the Sasivekalu Ganesha and Kadalekalu Ganesha.
Sitting near the Nandi statue, I look at a kingfisher looking for a quick snack.
Tungabhadra trail of Hampi
This is my personal favourite of all the trails. The Tungabhadra is the very lifeline of Vijaynagar. Every great dynasty begins on the banks of a river and the kings of Vijaynagar created aqueducts, canals, tanks, reservoirs, stepwells across the city.
Even today, some of the old canals still remain. Walking along the banks of the river, I stop to see the mountains stacked with boulders – each one of them seem to speak to me as they stand still, precariously on top of each other, like Lego Blocks. The rains have abated and the sun slowly seeps in. The silence is overwhelming.
Hampi is not just associated with Shiva and Parvati – it is where the Ramayana comes alive. While Kishkinta was across the river, the temples are scattered amidst the rocks. There is the Kondanda Rama temple, an old Hanuman temple but what fascinates me is Sugriva’s cave, one of the places to visit in Hampi.
This is where Sita dropped her jewels when she was abducted by Ravana and Sugriva hid them right here. The rocks create an interesting pattern and my guide Hussain says that Sita’s saree borders are believed to be etched here as she was dragged away by Ravana.
There is another beautiful temple – built by Achutha Raya that lies wrapped in silence. Sitting by the boulders which are the remains of another market, I look at the dry well and the hillocks flanking it and am absolutely lost in a world of my own.
Vittala temple trail in Hampi
Walking along the river, I cross the Purandhara dasa mandapa, where the famous carnatic musician composed songs and sang them. If you have grown up like me, learning carnatic music, then one of the first Geethams is dedicated to Virupaksha and creates imagery of Hemakuta Hills.
But the trail eventually leads to the most beautiful and musical of all temples – the Vittala shrine, one of the must see places to visit in Hampi. Designed like a chariot with musical pillars and carved every inch with ornate sculptures, Vittala is my personal favourite among all temples in Hampi. It had its own bazaar too, like other temple complexes.
But the tulabhara or the King’s Balance is what fascinates me. And in a small little corner, the king stands carved in stone. I am presuming it is Krishnadeva Raya but he could be any of the rulers of this mighty empire which ended in the infamous Battle of Talikota after a 200 year old reign
If Hampi is a cradle of one of the oldest and powerful empires of India, then it is Anegundi, the mother kingdom across the river where it all began. Pampa Sarovar lies here in absolute silence, with a crocodile in a lake near by, giving it company. It is also believed to be the Kishkinta of Ramayana.
And Hukka and Bukka apparently were serving in the kingdom of Anegundi before crossing the river to establish Hampi. There are forts, ancient gates, palaces, temples but I am fascinated by Hakka and Bukka’s aqueduct, one of the places to visit in Hampi which stands amidst the ruins.
The rains start tumbling again as Hampi weather gets very moody. My brief stay at the erstwhile capital of the Vijayanagar empire is almost coming to an end but I want to linger for a while. The ruins have so many more stories hidden beneath them. The coconut trees sway in the evening breeze, a coucal calls, the banana plantations dance to the tune of the wind, a broken turret stands out amidst the boulders, a rock agama dashes into the bushes, a toothless old lady poses for me , a shepherd herds his goat , a couple of horses graze in the grass while the nomads gaze upon and the sisters of Hampi- the two boulders stare at me as I leave the town , hoping it would call me soon.
Places near Hampi
There are many more experiences in and around Hampi and places near Hampi that I would like to visit and revisit. The rock cut prehistoric caves with paintings near Anegundi, sighting sloth bears in Daroji, bird watching – especially the endemic yellow throated bulbul..the list just goes on.. I need to come back again to see some of the places to visit in Hampi.
The best time to visit Hampi is winters between October and March, however I have been between July and September as well during the monsoons . It can rain however a bit heavily at times here.
Getting to Hampi – Hampi Express
Although we prefer driving from Bangalore to Hampi which takes about six hours, the first time I got here is through Hampi Express, a train that stops at Hoskote, 13 kms before Hampi. Taxis and autos will take you to your hotel .
The Hampi Festival is an annual three day function which happens in winter every year. I saw it for the first time two decades ago and had covered it for a television channel as well.
I also recommend that you visit Hampi on a regular day so that you can soak in the silence. Although you can stay here forever, a minimum of four days is required just to see the main places near Hampi. What are the places to visit in Hampi that you will like to recommend ?
There are several guest houses, homestays, bed and breakfasts, hotels in Hospet, Kamalapur and Anegundi. However Orange County Hampi is the only luxury resort in Hampi.
This post was written in partnership with Orange County Hampi, a luxury resort in Hampi who had hosted me for a couple of days in their palatial property and had organised the trails for me. The rooms here are priced in the range of Rs 25,000 – Rs 50,000 and they are ultra luxury resorts.
My suite, overlooking the thorny shrub forests had even a private jacussi in it. But the priceless experience was at the spa.After a hard day of trekking the boulders of Hampi, I would spend hours in silence at the elegantly designed restaurant in the resort, designed in a palatial style with little rivulets murmuring around, while an elephant, probably a tribute to Lakshmi, the temple elephant looks upon us.
Munching on some delicious, traditional South Indian cuisine that tickles my taste buds, I feast on not just dosais and idlis but local flavours that probably remind me of my grandmother’s recipes. There is contemporary and continental cuisine for those who crave for the same but I would anyday choose the payasam to the tiramisu.