Hampi is a surreal mix of nature’s jaw dropping beauty and magnificent architectural ruins. It is impossible to separate the 2 and I had often wondered how Hampi must have looked before the Vijaynagar kings had scattered the region with their wealth. Their relics are found all over the place and over the years, they have seamlessly and integrally woven into the area’s natural tapestry. After my initial 3 days of bouldering, floating down Tungabhadra on coracle boats and laughing over funniest “Danger” signs, I had finally started exploring Hampi’s ruins.
Site of the glorious Vijaynagar city, Hampi’s beautiful ruins which spread over 26 kilometers, can be divided into various categories. The old capital had been surrounded by several lines of fortifications, whose existence can still be seen today and apart from civil, religious and military monuments, the city had beautiful palaces and tanks. While most of Hampi’s ruins belong to the Vijaynagar period, a handful of them date back to earlier dynasties. Vijaynagar ruins had specialized in exquisite carvings and rock faces containing sensual motifs, floral wreaths, deities and symbols had dotted on both sides of the river. My guesthouse had been located right in front of the towering Virupaksha Temple and nearly everyday I had woken up to it’s elephant’s tinkling bells.
Still functioning and fairly large, Virupaksa is considered as one of India’s oldest active temples and is said to predate the Vijaynagar period. Its towering gopuram had been my personal favourite and I had loved watching it get silhouetted against Hampi’s twilight sky. Situated right on the bank of Tungabhadra river, Virupaksha is famous for an ancient temple wall pin hole camera, which projects an upturned silhouette of the main entrance. Erotic carvings weave along its walls and the temple is a beautiful sanctuary of spiritual seekers. The complex includes several shrines, monolithic statues and columned porticoes and pealing bells, chants, dance recitals and lively tourists fill the interiors.
I have spent a few rainy afternoons there, while returning from my morning yoga class and the glimpses of various faces and costumes from various parts of the country had always filled me with joy. The temple in my eyes had been most welcoming, almost like a mother, beautiful, complacent and soothing. Its oily coated smooth interiors had been comfortingly dark and the holy sanctum had given peace to everybody irrespective of region. Many hushed footsteps had softened out the ancient stone walkways and it had not been unusual to see brilliantly decked up Rajasthani ladies in anklets and petticoats, walking in groups behind men sporting rural Maharashtrian signature white caps.
Flower, incense and vermilion sellers had shops inside the temple and pious,peace loving south Indian men had bought flowers for their sedate wive’s braids. The inner sanctum had been a peaceful womb and temple elephant too, albeit for a few pennies, had blessed everybody. He had been another of my Hampi favourites and every dawn I had waited on my terrace every to see him fetch water from Tungabhadra for the residing deity. Tungabhadra river bank had been a cornucopia of colours, goods and smiles and everyday I had spent a substantial amount of time there. Lined with gnarly old trees, stone bathing ghats and colourful vendors, I had loved walking along the Tungabhadra banks.
The temple elephant evidently had loved it too and he had always ambled by past flower, coconut, banana and religious knickknack sellers in a majestic pace. He too, like me, had paused a few times on his route, visibly distracted either by aromatic steaming idlis or omnipresent pesky monkeys. Both had been found abundantly all over Hampi and while the monkeys had been a bit of a bother, the breakfast ready fresh idlis (steamed rice pancakes) had been a foodie’s joy. Coupled with crispy dosas (thin crepes made from lentil paste), creamy coconut chutney and piping hot coffee, Hampi morning meals had been refreshingly light on the pocket.
Lillian had introduced me to yoga at Hampi and while the classes had been held in most peaceful setting, I had not looked forward to them much. Hampi lanes had been lined with souvenir shops, quirky cafes, motorcycle rentals, tour operator’s offices and yoga institutes. Some had advertised ayurvedic massage and spa services, along with beauty works and after a session with a creepy masseuse, we had both given them amiss. The prospect of practicing yoga among the ruins had excited us and we had spent many peaceful (sleepy) starts of our days among broken mirror still stone pools, drooping banyan tangles and ancient rocky edifices. Our Hampi mornings with its early yoga starts had called for siestas and after 3 days of the routine, we had made up our minds to explore old Vijaynagar capital too. So thus had began our Vijaynagar exploration of an ancient city, so magnificent, that till today its glory overrides the presence of modern Hampi which continues to pale in its shadow.
RESPONSIBLE TRAVELING-BECAUSE I CARE