Hampi - Friday 3 - Tuesday 7 July 2009
We reached Hampi fairly late in the day and so were relieved to quickly find a place to camp. I think Hampi must see a fair few overlanders as they told us that other people with cars like us had camped there. So we camped in the main parking area and walked through to Hampi Bazaar the main centre of Hampi full of shops and thankfully a few restaurants still doing business. We had a late super of Tibetan Momos and hit our bed!
Next morning we were quickly the focus of a lot of attention from the local kids. Obviously tourism has hit here as they asked for a) rupees b) chocolate c) chips (crisps) d) chewing gum and finally e) pens!!!! All repeatedly and in rapid succession. Mercifully they finally gave up and went back to their cricket game!
The people here are very friendly but seem to be extremely poor. Where we camped that night a lot of families seemed to be living camped out in bits of old temples - which are everywhere - there were pigs dogs and chickens running around as ever. There was also a toilet and bath complex - where you could have a shower after making a pilgrimage to the temple - but the 3 rupees charge to use the toilet was obviously too much for a lot of people and we saw many people going to the toilet out in the open-5 metres from our car on one occasion! What with this and the fact there were a great deal of mosquitoes around - for the rest of our time in Hampi we found another camp spot a bit further out of town - thus also dodging the pen seekers!
The first view of Hampi blew us away and we wandered around in a daze looking at the amazing surroundings. As I said people live in the old temple ruins everywhere and even the police station is housed in an old temple! Hampi is situated just next to the ruins of Vijayanagar which was once the capital of a huge Hindu empire. Founded in 1336 it hit its peak in the 16th century and then came to a sudden dramatic end in 1565 when the city was ransacked and destroyed by Muslims - some Deccan Sultanates. Though the invaders obviously made an effort to destroy as much as they could thankfully a vast number of beautiful buildings from this time remain and this is what we spent the next few days looking around.
The Kingdom numbered over 500,000 and covered an area of 43 sq km. The sites are quite spread out but can be divided roughly into 2 sections - the Sacred Centre -containing the temples around the bazaar and the Royal Centre to the South around Kamalapuram village. The whole thing is set amongst a natural background of stone boulders which are enchanting in their own right- all in all it's amongst the most scenic places visited on the trip so far.
The Virupaksha Temple is in the centre of Hampi bazaar and is one of the oldest buildings in Hampi with a 50 metre high gopuram build around 1442. We had a quick look around and briefly met Lakshmi the friendly temple elephant. On the way out we came across the blessing of a vehicle - a new truck in this case. The entire extended family were here to see this as the Priest blessed the vehicle so it would travel safely. As noted before with India's driving any help is a great idea!
We decided to hire a guide with auto rickshaw to get an overview. It is quite a hike to walk around the temples a lot of people cycle and we saw one village load on a pilgrimage in the village's only new tractor!!
Anyway along with our auto rickshaw we got as guide a young man Muffu. T his proved to be a very good move he was really well informed and went out of his way to ensure we got a lot out of the trip. If you're in Hampi and need a guide we'd really recommend him - he can be contacted on +91(0) 9481566703.
The entirety of this World Heritage Site is overwhelming- over 3,000 separate sites- so obviously it's hard to be too detailed after just a brief look! So by way of an overview only - the Vittala Temple - housing its musical pillars and the impressive stone chariot was really interesting as were the 2 statues of Ganesh both carved out of a single piece of rock.
The Lotus Mahal a pavilion in a mixture of Hindu and Islamic styles and the ornate elephant stables which housed 11 elephants in beautifully carved stables were also highlights. We saw an underwater lingam - Badabi Lingam- the largest in India several feet under water as it is located over a spring which produces water all year round. It is good luck if you can get a coin to land on it but ours all missed!
The many market places some with public bathing areas allowed you to imagine this place in its heyday. There was a very sophisticated system of water viaducts which fed the bathing areas. The Queens's bath was an elaborate affair- the pouring water was mixed with sandal wood powder and she was guarded by an all female guard specifically trained up for this purpose. We missed getting pictures of this for some reason but the King's bathing area and the public baths were along the same lines!
The carvings everywhere were amazing - many of gods, the monkey god Hanuman featured heavily as his birth place is just across the river the site of another temple. We never got there but we saw plenty of his descendants around - we had to fight to keep them off our breakfast a few times!
The carvings we particularly liked were those concerning everyday life in the Royal Palaces. There were many of dancers, musicians elephant's horses and camels. The horses were Arabs a result of trade with the Arabians who you can see in the carvings had different outfits. Also the carvings of camels prove how much trade was carried out with the far north. All in all it was a fascinating area as impressive in its way as Angkor Wat and really worth seeing.
We visited another temple down on the river. Apparently a scholar and excellent Sitar player - Sripurandarasa - used to sit here and play in the 1540s. He became a major star of his day and when he died this temple - with a carved relief made of him -was built in his honour. We were lucky to see this as in a few weeks time it will be covered by 10 metres water when the rains begin. A lot of people were paddling down in the river so having lived in Darwin we were a bit worried by the "Beware of the Crocodile" sign. Our guide assured us there weren't actually any crocs (they've all been eaten) but it made me a little nervous!
Everywhere there are carvings of fish and crocodiles amongst other animals so obviously they were once here in abundance!
The whole area was very lovely and as well as flowers we saw beautiful birds butterflies brightly coloured lizards and frolicking squirrels everywhere.
One particularly nice spot was "the Mango Tree" a vegetarian cafe (as it is such a sacred area most places here are vegetarian) set overlooking the river. You sat on bamboo mats and it was a really nice relaxing spot. We were amazed by the pictures showing it in August 2006 - when the whole area was flooded. The river level is very low this year apparently and as mentioned above some of the areas we walked over are usually underneath water. There has been a lot of press coverage here concerning how late the monsoons are this year which has caused a lot of hardship - as ever particularly to the farmers.
There are many travelling magicians, fortunetellers & magic men all keen to have their pictures taken - for a fee of course! There are also a lot of local people selling all sorts in the markets -carvings, "genuine" coins and fruit and vegetables.
We loved Hampi and would really recommend it for a visit but after a few days we had to move on. The infrastructure here isn't great and as the power seemed to be off more than on it was hard to get our camera charged or do much more on the website which had been the plan whilst there, so I'm now struggling to catch up!
On our final morning we were just packing up when a guy - Jishnu- on an Enfield motorbike approached us. From Kanyakumari in the South he is an Indian overlander and had just completed a trip to Ladakh and Kashmir. As this is where we plan to head next we very eagerly picked his brains and he was a wealth of information. Thanks Jishnu !
So on Tuesday 7 July we sadly left Hampi and headed on to our next destination in our next state the City of Pune in Maharashtra.