A GUIDE TO KARNATAKA’S NORTH FACE: HAMPI

The aesthetics of antiquity, the richness of the royalty, the doctrine of the divine, the mystique of the music, the elegance of the ecology—only the rarest places on the planet can claim all of these as its own. It was reason enough for The New York Times to list this Indian village as the second must-see global destination in 2019. Readers, meet Hampi.

The capital of the once exemplary empire of Vijayanagara, Hampi is situated on the banks of the Tungabhadra river in the Bellary district of Karnataka. In ages past, this UNESCO World Heritage site—officially recognised as one in 1986—was known by other names: Hosapattana (meaning, “new city”), Vijayanagara (meaning, “city of victory”), and Vidyanagara (meaning, “city of learning). Further down the history lane, you will find Hampi in the epic of the Ramayana (as Kishkinda). Legend has it that it was here that Rama met Hanuman, who helped him rescue Sita, his wife, from Sri Lanka.

Hampi is an evocative experience of an unusual kind. As you walk along the paths of past glory, captivated by the simple and the spectacular, lost in the legends and livened up by the little things of life, time wanders away the more you dig into it.

Hampi is set against the backdrop of the mineral wealth and cultural renown of Bellary. Once feasting in drama and theatre, the district is home to other prehistoric sites like Sanganakallu, which dates back to the Neolithic period (circa 3000 BC). What adds to the charm of the place is owing to its terrain—hills and forests, deep valleys and rocks.

The mystique of the music: Vijay Vittala Temple.

The Vijaya Vittala temple stands head and shoulders above all that Hampi has to offer. Of course, one could wax lyrical about its magnificent architecture for days on end, but what sets it apart—what makes the Vittala temple one of its kind—is the Dancing Hall.

The marvel of its 56 musical pillars is the mystery of the complex. The fact that it emanates the seven musical notes when tapped is the brilliance of its craftsmanship. In order to achieve this almost-supernatural vibe from what seems like merely carved pillars in a building, they would’ve had to employ engineering techniques some 500 years ahead of their time.

The doctrine of the divine: Virupaksha Temple and Hazara Rama Temple

If Hampi has a history of the sacred, we can trace it all the way back to the Virupaksha temple, on the southern bank of the Tungabhadra river. Many parts of this temple date to almost a millennium prior to the empire. Dedicated to Lord Shiva, it is among the oldest functioning temples in all of India. The intricacies of its nine-storied gopura, leads you to the central pillared hall—known as the Ranga Mantapa. Two mythical lion-like creatures welcome you to behold the mural panel inspired by the epic scenes from the Hindu mythology. There are just a few pieces of this particular form of Vijayanagara art remaining.

Dedicated to Lord Rama, the Hazara Rama temple was once the private temple of the royals reserved for ceremonial use. By name and form, the entire temple is like a fan-art of Rama, with nearly every nook and corner embellished with sculptures depicting scenes from Ramayana. The walls of the enclosure, carved with processions of horses, elephants, dancing girls, and soldiers attired in splendid weaponry, is a thing worth musing over.

The richness of the royalty: Queen’s Bath

As you saunter along the glorious sights of Hampi, it can be easy to miss this colossal bath. Relatively speaking, it has a modest exterior, but as the saying goes, you will do well not to judge this book by its cover. The stunning interior with gracefully-arched corridors and projecting balconies set the scene for the ladies of the court to bathe in perfumed water from the fountains.

The Queen’s bath is no longer as glamorous as it once used to be. But if now, with its aura defiled and dim, we see the signs of awe-inspiring beauty, can you imagine what it would’ve been like?

The aesthetics of antiquity: Lotus Mahal, Elephant stable, and Pushkaranis

The design language of the Lotus Mahal speaks to a peculiar blend of Hindu and Islamic styles of architecture. Once part of the Zenana enclosure—a private space for the royal ladies—it is one of the few structures in Hampi that hadn’t been damaged by the wars. Deriving its name from its symmetrically accurate arches that resemble a flower, this visual treat is one worth adding to your list.

Just outside the enclosure, you will find a rather imposing edifice with grand arches and domes. This is where the majestic state elephants were housed. The suggestions of the elaborate structure are twofold: the significance of the royal tuskers and the fascinating craftsmanship of the era.

Massive water tanks aren’t really words that stoke anyone’s imaginations. But wait, this is Hampi. Excavated in the mid-1980s, these gorgeous structures are crafted to perfection from rectangular pieces of granite.

Hampi is not just a bunch of really old buildings. Much like anywhere and anyone else, there is more to this little village than meets the eye.

If you are willing to be enchanted by its beauty, look no further than the Mayura Bhuvaneshwari for a place to stay. It is the only hotel located within the World Heritage Site area of Hampi. The hotel provides air-conditioned rooms of all sizes and shapes—suite, deluxe, semi-deluxe, and dormitories.

Guests can relish the local delicacies along with a variety of Indian and continental cuisine. The hosts are also at your service for any sight-seeing trips with guides as per your requests.

Getting here:

By Air: Nearest Airport – BIAL, Bangalore (350 KM); Domestic airport – Bellary – (60 KM), Hubli – (166 KM)

By Rail: Nearest Railway station – Hospet 13 KM

By Road: Hampi is well connected with major cities and towns of Karnataka by bus services.