Hampi the Champi (on)

April 9, 2015
Hampi is an incredible place. The landscape would be an amazing place to visit anyway, it’s piles of boulders precariously balanced on each other look as though they were put there by giants, in actual fact they were formed by volcanic eruptions followed by multiple earthquakes thousands of years ago. But then add to that the fact that there are around 1600 temples and manapas (rest places for pilgrims) hidden around, in between and on top of these boulders makes it magical. There are seven main temples, each with it’s own bazaar (or high street) running off it.
The big temple by Hampi bazaar.
The mustard seed bazaar.
A manapa.
P1260559Amazing detail on the Krishna temple.
We arrived very early in the morning on a sleeper train, rested but pretty edgy from our experiences in Mysore and shaken up by our bumpy buses to Bulakuppe and the train. A tuk tuk driver actually climbed on the train before it pulled into the station and welcomed us to Hospet, which was disconcerting. In our sleepy state we agreed to his price to get to Hampi, only for him to drive us the opposite way to go to the petrol station. Once he’d filled up and picked up his friend we were off into the countryside.
Hampi bazaar is a tiny little maze of streets, exactly what you imagine of a bustling Indian village apart from the fact that almost every building is a guesthouse. We bumped through the dirt streets to our guesthouse where we’d treated ourselves to… Drum roll please… air conditioning!! Woo! Because it was starting to get meltingly hot outside. It was a blessing because Hampi was especially hot and we were both poorly for the next 24 hours, nothing serious, just shaken up from the journeys. So we spent some time watching films in a lovely cool room, punctuated by occasional sweaty power cuts.

When we finally ventured back out, we were refreshed and ready to do some serious sightseeing, having been slightly frustrated to be cooped up in such a beautiful place. We got a bicycle tour of the main temple sights close to the bazaar. It was great to zoom through the landscape and see some pretty mind-boggling temples. We had two stand out favourites, one was a giant Ganesha statue, 6 metres tall, carved out of one piece of rock and housed in a relatively small and dark temple structure so the natural light creeping in is very atmospheric, highlighting the form of the statue. The other favourite was the Queens Bath, within the royal complex, which is basically an incredibly ornate hole in the floor, whose sloping sides are covered in ever decreasing pyramid shaped stone steps. If you’re a fan of geometric pattern you would love it! Soph was gutted that you’re not allowed to climb down for safety reasons. Dammit.

Hampi’s got a classic history of flourishing empire followed by catastrophic defeat. It was called Vijayanagar from 1343 to 1565 when it was strong and successful, with a population much bigger than that of London. However a war with the Sultans in 1565 ended in defeat and the Muslim sultans claimed the city, defacing and burning every temple they found. Therefore, to Hindus now, the Hampi remains are no longer thought of as religious temples because of their disfiguration, but as sacred monuments. And they treasure them and seem to be very proud.
It was great to have a guide, we definitely learnt things we wouldn’t have done otherwise.
Wherever you see a fish on a temple it will point to the nearest fresh water.
Ancient tables had thali plates built in.
Each god or goddess has their own vehicle, in the form of an animal. For example, Ganesha’s is the rat. This statue depicts Ganga, goddess of the river, being carried by her crocodile.
One punishment for criminals in ancient times was death by elephant, which is depicted multiple times on the temple walls.
We also conducted our own bicycle tour the next day. We crossed the river on the 10Rs, twenty second ferry to the more ‘sleepy’ traveller side and hunted for a push bike amid the hundreds of scooters we were offered (Soph was too much of a chicken to brave hiring a moped). It took a while but our search paid off and we cycled the 6km to Hanuman temple and climbed the freshly painted orange stairs to the picturesque temple balanced on the top, with incredible views of the boulder strewn landscape as far as the eye can see. It was beautiful and very hot!
We matched the walls at the bottom!