The Whispering Boulders of Hampi – Hampi Diaries – Part II
Vijayanagar – the word brings back memories of a kingdom of grandeur. The opulence and magnificence of Vijaynagar Empire during its prime becomes very obvious despite the vagaries of time. The ruins of the Kingdom of Vijayanagar overwhelms you.
Hampi Diaries – Part II
A walk through Hampi Bazaar and squaring off with the Monolithic Bull
We started day two with obeisance to Pampapati at the Virupaksha Temple. Coming out of the temple complex, walking past the bus stand, the spate of tiny shops, restaurants and dingy homestays, we encountered a gate with instructions prohibiting the entry of four wheelers. We walked past the gate into a street which broadened as it moved towards the other end. This was the famous Hampi Bazaar Street. Both the sides were lined with massive stone structures resembling pavilions. This was one of Vijayanagar’s main market place. It is interesting that presently part of this street and structures has been converted into homes by the poor villagers. This is in contrast to the historical affluence of this area which boasted residences of rich merchants and nobles.
About a kilometer long, the Hampi Bazaar Street stretches from the Virupaksha Temple at the west and ends at the foot of the Matanga Hill. We continued walking to the far end where the road ended into a series of broad, long unending steps winding up the hill. Next to these steps, rising up to high heaven was this huge Nandi, the monolithic bull statue. It’s gigantic in proportion and the way it is sculpted is awe inspiring. These artisans of Vijayanagar were definitely at a different level of craftsmanship.
An open platform greeted us nearby. On enquiry we were told that this is the main stage of the annual Hampi festival. Next, we walked into a two storied pavilion hosting a photo gallery, displaying photos of Hampi site taken 150 years ago by Alexander Greenlaw.
We returned to Padma’s, our homestay to fill up the rumbling bellies and invigorate ourselves with a cuppa of steaming hot coffee. After a more than sumptuous breakfast, we decided to do the Kampa Bhupa trail. The guide book mentioned it as one of the fascinating trail routes, passing through rocky terrain, interspersed with green patches of rice fields and coconut trees and strewn with several remarkable monuments culminating at the most gorgeous of them all, “The Vittala Temple”.
Kampa Bhupa Path – the boulder strewn hiking trail
We headed for the Kampa Bhupa Path through a mud road on the left side of the Hampi Bazaar Street, a few hundred feet before the Nandi Statue. This trekking trail was, as mentioned, strewn generously with rocks and massive boulders. The trail runs almost parallel to the bank of the Tungabhadra River. The track also passes under some huge rock formations.
The view on either side of the path was breathtaking. We passed by some of the most beautiful relics, ruins and broken down structures of the kingdom that was Vijayanagar. Walking along the trail we passed through a long winded bathing ghat still being used by the locals.
The peculiarity of Kodandarama Temple
Crossing the bathing ghats, we sighted the Kodandarama temple which has a religious significance locally. According to locals this is the place where Rama killed Vali the monkey king and crowned his brother Sugreeva.
The statues of Rama, Sita and Lakshmana are carved on a huge boulder at the hillside. The peculiarity here is instead of Hamuman it is Sugriva who is seated at the feet of Lord Rama. This is the first monument on your right as you walk the trail towards Vittala Temple end. We bowed to the lord and we took a slight detour to the adjacent small shrines and other ruined structures.
Varaha Temple and the riverside ruins
Continuing in the Kampa Bhupa boulder trails we reached the Varaha Temple, dedicated to the 3rd of the Dasha Avatars “the Boar”. Despite being in ruins as we entered the broken down entrance tower we were enthralled by the beauty and grand design. The temple has been able to retain its amazing wall carvings which spoke volumes of the kingdom’s sculptors and craftsmen. After feasting our eyes on the grandeur we moved left taking a detour to reach the riverside ruins. We were stupified by the Shiv Lingas found here. 108 Lingas in one array was outdone by another with an amazing 1008 Lingas carved on the flat rocky surface. The surrounding area had a few other shrines and ruins of some pavilions.
Sugriva’s Cave, Narasimha Temple ruins and the Two Storied Gateway
Once again continuing on the trek route, passed through a rocky terrain on the left spotted a cave like opening. It’s believed that the monkey king Sugreeva after being driven out of the kingdom his brother by Vali, lived here and hence “Sugriva’s Cave”. Espying a long flight of stairs on the opposite side of the trail, we moved and climbed up to what a hilltop was leading to a porch of the temple.
This was the Narasimha temple. It is also referred to as a Jain temple as the architecture, particularly the roof resembles jain temple architecture. Style wise the temple looks very much like temples of the Hemakuta Hill. Further up on the slopes is a two storied structure. We climbed up and saw a gorgeous panoramic view of the riverside. Just outside the temple campus we came across a tall stone carved lamppost. The view is a photographer’s delight.
Legend of the Kings Balance
Progressing on the trail once again, we passed lush green paddy fields, coconut palms on our left, before passing through a two storied dilapidated gateway, another attraction of Hampi.
The track led to the King’s Balance, a massive stone frame. Two beautifully carved pillars with a support beam resting at the top, an interesting relic of the Vijayanagara Empire. The legend goes that on special occasions, the king used to weigh himself in precious stones, jewellery, gold and silver and donate the same as charity to the priests of the temples. We day dreamed of how life would have been as a priest in the heydays of Vijayanagar while checking out the king’s balance and its surroundings. We were now reaching the end of the interesting Kampa Bhupa trek trail. Our heart, mind and senses were in a different plane after seeing these monumental ruins of a distant past. We were reminiscing and imagining of how the kingdom would have looked like in its glory.
Vijayanagar’s Jewel – Vijaya Vitthala Temple
Little did we know that, the best was yet to come. A little tired after all the climb up and down various monuments, we pushed ahead. At the end of the pathway was a arched entrance gate to a monument. For all we had heard about the Vittala Temple, we thought it was going to be a huge let down. We slowly entered inside and were just blown away by the beauty inside. All adjectives in all the languages will not hold a candle to the beautiful architectural wonders inside the complex. The Vittala Temple is arguably the grandest of all temples and monuments in Hampi. The immense creativity and architectural excellence has to be seen to be believed. If the Taj Mahal is a work of art, then the Vitthala Temple is a work of gods. Nothing less. The temple complex has many halls, shrines and pavilions. Each of these structures is a beauty in itself. The main attractions here include
The Maha Mandapa or the main hall of the temple whose ornate base, pillars and ceilings are decorated with beautiful sculptures, carvings of warriors, horses, swans and several other ornamental designs. It is just mindboggling. We were dazed when we came out of the hall.
The Stone Chariot, dedicated to Garuda the mythological carrier of Lord Vishnu, a stunning piece of architecture, a richly sculpted temple shrine designed in the shape of a chariot. The wheels of the chariot were once functional and could be rotated.
The Rang Mandapa is renowned for its musical pillars. When the pillars are tapped gently musical notes emanate from them. There are a set of main pillars and several sets of minor pillars inside the Mantapa. The main pillars are designed as musical instruments. These pillars emit different musical notes from the representative musical instruments. The notes emanating from these pillars vary in sound quality depending on whether the instrument is a percussion, string or wind instrument. The musical pillars inside the Vittala Temple complex was carved out of huge single pieces of stone. Tapping the musical pillars to emit musical notes is prohibited.
The Main Temple lies beyond this hall of pillars. Beautifully carved ceilings greeted us with some pillars portraying different sculptures when viewed from different sides. We spent what seemed like ages, lost in history, gazing at the sculptures, the walls, the ceilings, mesmerized and stupefied by the sheer magnificence.
We stepped out reluctantly like drunks from a tavern, totally dazed, lost for words. What a day it had been. We already were ruing our decision to spend only three days at Hampi. So much beauty, majesty and grandeur in the first day of our tour and we had just covered a few of the monuments.
Dedicated to a legendary poet – Purandaradasa Mandapa
We turned back towards a small open pillared pavilion at the river shore near Vittala Temple dedicated to the legendary poet Purandaradasa who lived in Hampi. We were told that people perform religious rituals here. The madapa is at the edge of the Tungabhadra and during monsoon the river many a time submerges the mandapa.
We retraced our steps through the trail passing through the greens and the rocky terrain, passing the Sugriva Caves, the Varaha Temple and moved right walked past the Kodanda Rama temple to the Coracle point in front of the bathing ghats.
Coracle Ride – a view of beautiful monuments and beautiful moments
On a whim we took a coracle ride and trust me it was a unforgettable experience. Coracles are circular shaped country boat. A huge floating basket is a more appropriate description. They take you up and down the river. Domingos Paes a Portuguese traveler who visited Vijayanagar in the 1520s has recorded this mode of ferrying in his account of Vijayanagar Empire.
It was a very thrilling ride up, down and across a sea of boulders. There were many scores of carvings on the rocks and boulders, some in places seemingly inaccessible. Perhaps these boulders were once part of temple structures destroyed by nature or vagaries of time. Maybe they were smashed by the marauders who sacked Hampi post the battle of Taliakotta. Lost in the timelines of history we were brought back to reality when the boatman said “sir, trip over”. The ride we took was for about 45 minutes costing Rs 200 apiece. If you visit Hampi don’t forget the coracle ride. If you have time please do a longer trip. It’s worth the money. The sights you get to view and tales spun by the boatman are an added bonus.
By now it was evening, we decided to rest nearby and admire the scenic beauty around. The sun slowly started dipping in the horizon and an amazing drama was being played in the celestial space. The sky lit up in orange shades.
Not wanting to miss a spectacular show from a ringside seat, we hurried along quickly, past the boulder strewn trail, raced through the Hampi Bazaar to reach Hemakuta hills.
Sunset on the rocks – the tourists’ favourite Hemakuta Hill
This is one among the best places in Hampi to see the sunrise and sunset. From an enclosure near Virupaksha Temple we climbed up the Hemakuta hills. At the top, the hill looked a vast rocky sheet with undulations. Lying strewn around the hill was large number of temples, archways and pavilions. A cluster of temples dedicated to Lord Siva adorned this site. Hemakuta has the largest number of pre Vijayanagara temples too. The high point of the climb was the aerial view of the Krishna Temple, Sasivekalu Ganesha, the twin monuments of Lakshminarasimha and Badavi Linga shrine. The view of the Virupaksha temple from here is breathtaking.
The large boulders on the top are so precariously balanced. You feel that they may roll down any instant and smash into the Virupaksha temple down below. As we were getting awed by the panoramic view from the hilltop and imbibing the beauty sip by sip, the celestial play overhead was reaching its zenith. The sun set in a myriad of beautiful colours, silhouetting the monuments and temples. We along with the numerous others just stood agape, as the sun disappeared into the far horizon, dipping below the skyline. A hush of silence greeted the scene and as dusk approached, the sentry whistled for people to climb down and exit the hill.
Retreat of the valiant
Having skipped lunch to squeeze in more time for visiting the monuments, we found our stomachs grumbling. A hop, skip and jump took us back to Padma’s (our homestay) a stone’s throw away. Plates of hot snacks and a steaming cup of coffee temporarily sated the whining stomach. We rested on the open terrace of the homestay, watching dusk turn to night, before a marauding army of mosquitoes defeated these Vijayanagara warriors, and sent them scurrying for cover to the rooms.
This is the second part of the Hampi Diaries. Please click on the below link to read the next part.
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