Among one of India’s most surreal natural landscape lie the enigmatic ruins of Vijayanagar. Literally translated as the “City of Victory”, the ruins of Hampi have seen better days. Once upon a time, it was a dazzling Hindu capital of one of the most important South Indian empires, until a six-month Muslim siege during the 16th century left it utterly destroyed. Today, only stone, brick and stucco skeleton structures of the flourishing city survive. These ruins have withstood the test of time and have resulted in Hampi being a glorious combination of monolithic deities, crumbling palaces, abandoned sculpted temples, and artificial water tanks. Towering temple spires called gopurams pierce the magnificent skyline and some of the original irrigation systems of the Vijayanagar are still used today.

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hampi is by tungabhadra river

Tungabhadra river runs through Hampi

The powerful Vijayanagar Empire which created this city

Although the earliest historical settlements of Hampi date back to 1st century AD, the area rose into prominence under the rule of the glorious Vijayanagar dynasty of India. Its powerful kings prospered from 1343-1565 and showered Hampi with fantastic temples, ornate palaces, bustling bazaars, and well-planned irrigation system. Protected by natural defenses of rocky hills on three sides and a river on the fourth, Hampi thrived until the 16th century when it was laid siege by the Sultan of Bijapur. A powerful Muslim invader from a neighbouring province, the Sultan and his army ravaged the temples, defaced the statues, and burnt down the sandalwood palaces in an attempt to wipe out Hampi from the face of the earth. They were pretty much successful and a very violated Hampi slipped through the cracks of time until rediscovered by a team of British archaeologists.

stone chariot in hampi

Hampi bears the glory of Vijayanagar empire

Hampi has one of India’s most evocative ruins

Relics in Hampi, lie scattered at every step, between each blade of grass, among rocky nooks, and jut out from the river edges in the most surprising way. The preserved towering gopurams of the ancient temples look oddly out of place among the ruins of the palaces and ornate monolithic statues peep out from most unexpected places. You can expect them to be roughened underneath your feet, harbouring drying laundry by the ferry point, providing sun shade near the modern police station, reflecting on silent pools among grazing grounds of the massively horned buffaloes. and unraveling as far as your eyes can go. Hampi is one place where a dead civilization takes precedence over the living and man-made relics vie with the natural beauty of the site for importance. Although it is hard to choose between the two, it cannot be denied that Hampi is the perfect blend of archaeological ruins with the surreal beauty of nature. In fact, the Vijayanagar ruins’ unbelievable aura would not have been the same without the region’s rocky topography and the Tungabhadra wilderness would have been overlooked without the archaeological grandeur.

Hampi has evocative ruins

Balancing boulders and Tungabhadra river of Hampi

Hampi today is a charming global village

The little village, which is the jumping off base for the beautiful ruins and the modern civilization seems extremely puny in contrast to the area’s larger than life past. Traditionally known as “Pampakshetra”, Hampi is coined from the old name of Tungabhadra, which is Pampa. It was also called Kishkindashetra and Vijayanagar before the anglicized version of the Kannada word “Hampe” stuck on. It is a lively global village, which is tucked away amidst a surreal landscape, spectacular ruins, and a beautiful river. Yoga schools, cafes, souvenir shops, motorcycle rentals, and rock climbing outfits pockmark the village and a tranquil Daroji Sloth Bear Sanctuary border it on one side. The Hampi Bazaar was traditionally the main travelers’ hub.

Hampi is very popular with Indian and foreign travelers

With the quintessential Indian heart

It is a typical Indian village, complete with broken dirt roads, deplorable filth, friendly people, and a relaxing pace. The Bellary district, which encompasses the ruins, is as horrid as it gets and the crater filled roads, lack of infrastructure, and facilities plague the tourists. Interestingly, the region being mineral rich is not really cash poor, yet the money for development never reaches down to its assigned projects. Thus Hospet (Bellary’s main town) continues to remain in a pathetic condition and nearly every Hampi visitor flock to the village’s sprinkling of guesthouses for accommodation. The more peaceful Virupapur Gaddi, across the river, can be reached with one of the funny coracle boats and is also very popular.

The village is charmingly Indian with a global hippie vibe

My Hampi trip in a nutshell

In spite of all its loveliness, my Hampi memories are bit obscure. Too many beautiful moments overlap each other. Incidentally, Hampi marked many “firsts” among my travel trials and using a social networking site to seek fellow travelers was one of them. A lovely old British lady too befriended me there and the three of us (me, her and the fellow Couch Surfer) had a blast. Whether it was trying to fight off sleep at early morning yoga sessions among the ruins, sailing down basket shaped coracle boats down Tungabhadra River, running away from a creepy masseuse, getting lost among crocodiles and sloth bears in the dark or simply riding through endless stretches of sugarcane fields and balancing boulders on rickety motorcycles, my Hampi memories are all about my friends. So stay tuned for more of my loveliest travel memories from Hampi, Karnataka.

Hampi has a surreal landscape of balancing boulders.

A coracle boat in hampi

And coracle boats dotted Tungabhadra river,

With some fantastic nature

And glorious ruins.