Hampi, India: Traveling Back to a Golden Era
By Karthik Rajamani
Boulders and a seven centuries old dam, green fields and a river, mythical beings and folklore, temples and palaces; Hampi is 26 acres of archeological ruins frozen in time.
For those who have been to Hampi, it is a time machine to the past– to someplace in the Indian Kingdom 700 years ago. For the rest of you, in my humble opinion, it should go into your top whatever list of places to see before you die.
A Little History
Like many other places in India the name Hampi is an anglicized version, of the local name Hampe which was the capital city of the prosperous Vijayanagara Empire (translates to Victorious Empire in many Indian languages).
According to one legend, the Vijayanagara Empire was so rich at one point in time that they sold and bought diamonds on the famous Krishna temple market streets- this day equivalent of a flea market.
And according to various historians, archeologists, and local guides Vijayanagara is one of the first empires in the world to mint gold coins for Gopuram of Virupaksha, for everyday commerce.
When you visit Hampi be sure to hire a local guide, for they could tell the history of the ruined city, almost accurately, at the least their stories are definitely fascinating and blend in with the setting.
You can find English speaking guides for reasonable rates at the Government tourism office in the main temple street.
Another side of the river
Hampi ruins are divided into two by the mighty Tungabhadra river (formed by rivers Tunga and Bhadra; and so the name). On the banks of the river is the still worshiped, 1300 years old Virupaksha temple.
You could find flowers and vermilion to chillums and psychedelic t-shirts on the temple street.
The temple’s architecture is so marvelous, that such a structure today wouldn’t be possible even with hi-tech precision instruments and today’s world-class architects.
I would not write about the history of who built the temple for whom and make an otherwise interesting story boring. Two main attractions of the temple: inverted shadow of the temple tower for its indigenous architecture and Lakshmi, the temple elephant; you wouldn’t miss the latter– easy to spot, but don’t miss out on the inverted shadow– it’s a bit tricky to spot.
A ticket for fifteen rupees to the other bank of the river would take you to a different reality – a small self-contained tourist village. I stayed in the much recommended Shanthi Guest House on the other side of the river.
The guest house was neat with green fields and boulder hills surrounded. One of the western tourists there told me “your land is so much giving”, looking at the green all around. I totally agree; no matter how much ever we do to the land here, she always gives.
Getting Around by Bike
The best way to get around Hampi is by bike. You could hire two-wheelers for cheap on either side of the river. The first thing that you should probably do when you visit Hampi is to get a map of the ruins, or else it is very likely that you might miss some hidden treasures.
Sister rocks, Narashima statue, Krishna Temple Market ruins and the pond by it, burned down palaces and mint area, royal bath, giant elephant stable, and a lot of history – the beauty and magic of these places are better experienced than to be read about.
I have a guitar. On average it goes out of tune once in every week, and to tune it to perfection sometimes I need electronic gadgets. Nothing unique about it. It is a simple musical instrument made out of strings and wood. Now imagine a stone, like ten feet tall and 4 feet wide, and if I tell you about 600 years back someone in India sculpted a beautiful sculpture out of the stone, you wouldn’t be surprised.
But if I tell you someone made the sculpture that can produce musical notes several hundred years back, you might think I am making things up to make an interesting story.
I am not making this up. It is still technically possible to make musical notes from the delicately carved pillars of the famous Vitala temple in Hampi. Sadly like many monuments in India, these pillars have suffered damage from curious tourists; so these days tapping on these pillars is not allowed to save whatever is left.
Anegundi is another place of importance near Hampi that is straight out of Indian mythology. This place according to local legend is considered to be Kishkindha, the monkey kingdom from the great Hindu epic Ramayana.
For those of you who are not familiar with Hindu mythology and Ramayana, Kishkindha is the eastern equivalent of the planet of the Apes except that they are far more intelligent and brave beings according to the epic and are being worshiped as Gods in India.
This is one of those few places that exist both in mythology and in science, making you wonder what is what; according to archaeologists, this is one of the oldest human settlements on earth.
In Hampi village, you can find all kinds of restaurants from small homes serving Indian thali to German bakeries. Mango tree on the river bank is a famous place to eat made popular by lonely planet guide books; it is an authentic south Indian food experience.
A word of caution about Hampi
I found some of the locals a little hostile to the outsiders, even if you have dark skin. Incidents like stolen petrol, punctured tires, and torn shirts are common. One of the few things that many guide books get right about Hampi is safety.
History is oftentimes fascinating, and experiencing it is even more so; Hampi is just not history it is an experience, time travel, and a beautiful dream. As I was standing in the middle of the ruins and hearing about its history, I saw a great Indian Kingdom rise to its full might and finally falling into nothing more than sand and stone.
Apart from the experience and the time travel part, I was wondering what it tries to tell us; I think it tells us subtly that nothing can stand against God called Time. We can build great nations, greatest economies, architecture marvels, wise religions and all that, but they can’t stand any longer than the Time itself.
But the difference lies in how the Time is going to tell our stories to our children. Dear readers, I ask you to travel in time (if you believe in it, that is) to the future or simply imagine the future, some thousand years from now, how do see it? Like the way I see Hampi?
Hampi, India, Forgotten in Time
Photos of an iconic place century old by Karthik Rajamani
Karthik Rajamani is a traveler and writer, trying to re-live his travel experiences in his writing.