Sunday, November 27, 2011

Trip to the Vijayanagar Empire: Hampi

Since loads of folks have asked me about the trip, thought would finally stop being lazy n jot down some stuff about our trip back in time to the Vijayanagar empire, Hampi. This trip was an amazing experience thanks to Sreya and Anindya who invited us along. Didn't really expect much after our numerous beach holidays but getting history lessons turned out to be surprisingly fascinating and truly exceeded our expectations. It was interesting to go back in time to hear the stories of the Vijaynagar empire, the legacy they left behind for future generations, and of course Indian mythology as depicted in the carvings. It truly is a vast contrast to the fast-paced technological world that we live in today.

To get there, you can either take a train to Hospet and then hire autos to get around. Most of the auto drivers also serve as guides and will take you around the heritage sites. Or if you do not want to be dependent on local transport, you can drive down from Hyderabad or Bangalore. We drove down from Hyderabad, so took the ORR onto the Hyd-Bangalore expressway and then the route we followed was Jadcherla, Mahboobnagar, Raichur, and Gangawati. The roads were pretty good till Gangawati. After that we took a detour to Kampli till we finally reached Hospet which is the nearest town to visit Hampi. It's around 6-8 hrs drive from Hyderabad depending on your driving speed.

Our trip begins: Sunrise on the Outer Ring Road, Hyderabad

There are plenty of hotels to stay in and around Hampi. However, based on reviews we shortlisted Hotel Malligi which is the only 3 star hotel there. The rooms are clean and nice and the restaurants in the hotel serve non-vegetarian food which was a plus for 4 non-veg bongs in what was primarily a vegetarian town. The hotel also has a pool which is a godsend coz after sightseeing in the heat all day, it's the perfect way to unwind and chill.

Accommodation at Hotel Malligi

There are several other hotels where you can choose to stay such as the Hampi Boulder Resorts and Laxmi Golden Beach Hotel but getting there may be a challenge as you need to cross the river and get there by boat. So that option was ruled out for us as we were driving down and had the car with us. Also, if it rains, it may not be accessible and easy to move around so that can be a criteria you can keep in mind while choosing your hotel.

Now about sightseeing, there is loads to see and do. The ruins of the Vijayanagar empire are stunning and set amidst picturesque settings of rolling hills and banana plantations. However, it is important that you get a good certified guide who can also narrate the history of the place and recommend what you should see or not see based on your preference and time limit. We hired a qualified guide recommended by the hotel who customised the itinerary for us and sure had a fabulous time hiking across the ruins, forests and even sailing down the river on the coracle to discover more interesting facets of the Vijayanagar empire. If interested in the services of a guide, you can contact Manjunath at 09448975862. Since there is alot to cover at Hampi, will list out a few places that you can try and fit in your itinerary:

Mustard Ganesh, Hemakuta Hill, Virupaksha Temple and the Bazaar: These are all in the same location within 2-3 kms walk so listed it together.

This picture depicts Lord Ganesha (also known as Ganapathi or Vinayaka) who in Hindu mythology is famous for his love for food. One day he ate so much that his tummy almost burst, so he caught a snake and tied it around his waist as a belt. On this statue you can see the snake carved around his waist. Also he holds the goad, pasha (noose), and his broken tusk. The hand which holds modak (a kind of sweet) is broken and was reconstructed by the Archaeological Survey of India. According to inscriptions found nearby this pavilion was built by a trader from Chandragiri (in present day Andhra Pradesh) in 1506 AD, in memory of one of the Vijayanagara kings – Narasimha II (1491-1505 AD). The view at the back is also interesting. It depicts Lord Ganesha sitting on the lap of his mother Parvati.

A panoramic view from the base of the Hemakuta Hill.

On our way to Hemakuta Hill.

The backdrop of the Hampi Bazaar (Market) and Virupakshi Temple.

Vittala Temple complex: This area features the famous stone chariot or ratha which is itself a miniature temple, carved out of a single rock, to resemble the temple chariots or rathas in which temple idols are traditionally taken out in procession. It also features the 56 'Musical Pillars', which reverberate with music when tapped, the 9m tall statue of Lord Ganesha along with the 'Nobleman's Palace'.

Stone Chariot in the courtyard of Vittala Temple which was inspired by Konark's Sun Temple

Carving of Lord Vishnu on one of the pillars of Vittala Temple. You can even view the partial hues of the colors which still remain

Lotus Mahal, Queen's Bath and Elephant's Stables:

The Lotus Mahal which was a palace for the queen that had among other things, pipes with running water.

This is the elephants stable to house the ceremonial elephants of the royal household. The domes are of various types such as circular, octagonal, fluted or ribbed in design. The area in front of them was a parade ground for the elephants, and for troops. The guards' barracks are located right next to the elephant stables.

Coracle Ride:

One needs to sail down the Tungabhadra river in these ancient traditional, tiny, round bamboo boats - Coracle to view more ruins of the Vijayanagar empire. You can also take a coracle ride to Anegundi another historical place which we could not cover in this trip.

Reached our destination to cover the second leg of our trip. Was the first one to get off the Coracle. The others posing for a pic. :)

Tungabhadra Dam:

The barrage at the Tungabhadra River

When you visit the Tungabhadra Dam, you can go all the way to the lighthouse at the top where you get some fabulous views of the river. In the evenings, there is also a musical fountain show at the garden adjacent to the dam but I would not recommend it unless you want to enjoy some cheesy filmi kannada n hindi music. :)

Another place highly recommended for a unique dining experience is the Mango Tree restaurant. It is built around a mango tree facing the Tungabhadra river and to reach it you need to cross a banana plantation. The food is vegetarian but they do have a wide spread from continental to Tibetan to north indian dishes. You can dine seated on bamboo mats on the floor with food served on low stools while watching cattle graze on the banks of the river.

After 5 hrs of trekking through the ruins, we were hungry, thirsty and tired...and then began a short trek to reach Mango Tree for some lunch.

This was the view from where I was seated. Cattle grazing and the river Tungabhadra in the background.