In Hampi, one tends to get overwhelmed with ruins, especially on a long visit. It happened with me too. So after my intensive temple trails, I took it easy for two days. I explored the surreal natural beauty of Hampi on that tiny break and wandered beyond the tiny main village. That was an excellent decision and after two days of doing nothing, I was ready to discover the expansive Hampi Royal Enclosures.
Hampi Royal Enclosures were the perfect finale of my trip
The Hampi Royal Enclosures were the last of the Vijayanagar ruins that I visited and they were the perfect finale of a very satisfying trip. I was in awe of the grandeur of the erstwhile Vijayanagar empire and tantalizing clues of its past kept me going. These clues of Vijayanagar’s wealth were generously woven into Hampi’s integral tapestry and names such as Paan Supari Street left me wanting for more. Although a direct translation, would mean a street dedicated to common betel nut, in reality, diamonds and precious stones were traded there. The audacity to compare such jewels with something so mundane intrigued me and I gladly looked forward to the Hampi Royal Enclosures to get a taste of the lifestyle of its mighty rulers.
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Hampi Royal Enclosures show off ancient urban planning skills
The Hampi Royal Enclosures, much to my surprise turned out to be an expansive stone, stucco and brick complex. Located deep inside Hampi hinterland, the enclosures were accessible via a smooth narrow road which meandered amidst balancing boulders, fruit orchards, and ruins. Signboards announcing various erstwhile royal real estates sprung up at every turn on that road and they showed off Vijayanagar kingdom’s meticulous urban planning. Because of its sprawling nature, following the royal track was not been easy and I wandered all across them in a haphazard manner.
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Aqueducts, palaces, swimming pools, stables, and watchtowers
How do you bring a linear directional sense to a place where a short walk leads to the royal ladies bath; a turn makes you stand in front of a lovely lotus wreathed palace, and you have options of visiting the king’s pavilion, aqueducts, carving rich temples, officers quarters, fortification watchtowers and royal stables? An awestruck Estonian friend of mine once, exclaimed, that in India you can take good pictures just about anywhere, at every step and Hampi Royal Enclosures were a photographer’s delight. So I roamed along the brick red dirt tracks, paused under mango trees whenever needed, peered over remnants of fortifications and watchtowers and stayed wary of bullocks with bells on their horns. Shepherds, goats and rustic life intermingled among the royal remnants in such a most seamless manner, that I almost felt it is a sacrilege to the royal spirits existing there.
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Stop at the pretty Queen’s Bath at Hampi Royal Enclosures
The afternoon, when I went wandering about the Hampi Royal Enclosures, the sky was overcast and cuckoo calls gave signs of an impending rain shower. Humidity reached oppressive levels and fat raindrops caught me unaware. They pelted down from the sky, fast and sharp like a hail of small bullets and I ducked inside the Queen’s Bath for cover. A mid-sized square structure, the Queen’s Bath was in a rundown condition and restoration work seemed to have stopped midway. Catering to the royal ladies as an indoor aquatic complex, a corridor circled a square pool and traditional decorative hanging ledges called jharokhas overlooked the pool. They were intricately decorated with floral friezes and had a seating area dangling right over the small pool. The once gorgeous murals which had once decorated the interiors were badly faded and fat ruby footed doves made nests inside the broken edges. Constructed in a beautiful mix of Indo-Islamic style, it was a lovely place to wait for the rain to stop.
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Check out the lotus blossom shaped Lotus Palace
The rain stopped soon and by the time I reached the Lotus Palace, the sun shone again. The delicately beautiful Lotus Mahal of the Hampi Royal Enclosures was most aptly named and I fell in love with its petal-shaped arched doorways. Located inside the Zenana Mahal area, intricate decorative panels clustered over the doorways in a way, similar to whorls of lotus petals and the pinkish ochre building glowed softly in the sun. A mid-sized structure based on a broad, high platform, Lotus Mahal was probably either a high ranking courtier’s office or a leisure house for the king’s consorts. I preferred to associate its delicate beauty with the royal ladies and just by looking at it, images of veiled faces, tinkling bells, and hushed giggles came to my mind.
Marvel at the massive Elephant Stables
The domed Elephant Stables were next and the huge multi-chambered structure stood at the one end of a covered enclosure. Big banyan tree clusters surrounded the neat lawn and a small museum marked its other edge. The stables were beautifully preserved and each chamber seemed big enough to house two elephants. The series of pachyderm housing was broken by a large ceremonial chamber and it was probably used for animal roundups. The stables were the last place I visited in the Hampi Royal Enclosures and after that, I bade the glorious Vijayanagar kingdom goodbye. It was also my last evening at Hampi and I headed towards the Matanga Hill to catch the perfect sunset.
Bid goodbye to Hampi with a sunset at Matanga Hill
Matanga Hill thankfully empty and tranquil. The beautiful vista of boulders, green sugarcane fields, and a glittering river stretched ahead and momentarily, the sight was all mine. That moment remains till today as one of my most precious travel memory and with the setting sun lighting up the Vijayanagar capital in golden hues, I turned my back to Hampi.
The Hampi Royal Enclosures Trail
This trail explores the royal residences and urban spaces of the erstwhile Vijayanagar kingdom. As mentioned in my post, I wandered without a map, but following a trail will help you explore this widespread area better. The Hampi Royal Enclosures are also located outside the main village periphery and most people prefer to bike or scooter there. You can also hire a private tuk-tuk for the Royal Enclosures tour. This trail is inspired by Ami Bhat of Thrilling Travel and you can check out here excellent guide here. Though you can dedicate an entire day to this part of Hampi, most people explore it in one morning or afternoon. The noon sun can be strong, so it is advisable to go there in the morning. You can combine the Royal Enclosures with either the Virupaksha or Vittala temple trails.
- Lakshmi Narasimha Temple – The massive monolithic Lakshmi Narasimha statue is one of the highlights of Hampi. Today no trace of Lakshmi is seen, except a bit of her hand around his waist, and this is visible on close inspection. Made at the time of Krishnadevaraya (~1528), it is awe inspiring. There are remnants of a canopy, which once housed the sculpture.
- Badavi Linga – Another monolith, this is called the ‘Badavi Linga’.
- Underground Shiva Temple – Just 4 minutes away from Badavi Linga, this Shiva temple is unique. Built at a few meters below ground level, the main sanctums of this temple remain submerged and one has to wade through them.
- Gurukul and Kalyana Mandapa – The school for the royal princes and the beautifully decorated Kalyana Mandapa (for hosting wedding ceremonies) are located next to the Underground Shiva Temple.
- Nobleman’s Quarters with elephant mounting platforms – This is close to the Shiva Temple and has remnants of a granary, palace, and a few aqueducts. A few watchtowers are also located here.
- Hazara Rama Temple – This temple is located at the junction of palaces and important mansions. The king supposedly was a patron of Hazara Rama Temple. Famous for exquisite bas reliefs of 1000 Rama figures and stories from Ramayana, this is a “must visit site” of the Hampi Royal Enclosures trail.
- Mahanavami Dibba – This is located inside the actual site of the Royal Enclosures. Marked by ongoing excavation work, Mahanavami Dibba is a huge platform which was probably used by the king for viewing festive celebrations.
- The Stepwell – Surrounded by an ancient canal system, the stepwell of the Royal Enclosures is beautifully symmetrical.
- Public Bath and Underground Chamber – While the public bath is like a massive stone cut swimming pool, the underground chamber was used by the king for his secret meetings. Located next to the King’s Pavilion and the Stepwell, it is accessed by a narrow flight of steps.
- Queen’s Bath – A very very pretty place, this will transport you to the romantic days of the kings and the queens.
- Lotus Palace inside the Zenana Enclosure – The royal ladies enclosure once had the Queen’s Palace and the Lotus Palace. Not much of the Queen’s Palace remains. The well preserved Lotus Mahal, on the other hand, will take your breath away.
- Elephant Stables – Rows of domed elephant stables lie right behind the Lotus Mahal. This is another “must see sight” of Hampi.
Don’t forget to explore the lesser-known attractions of Hampi
Bhojanshala is one of the lesser known gems of Hampi. On a lane just off the main road, there are remnants of a long channel, with a row of plates on each side. They are made of stone and are believed made for ordinary citizens. When the king announced a feast, the Bhojana shala seating arrangement was used for serving the masses. People sat on either side and men/women walked in the channel, serving food. You can also find pre-historic art in Anegundi in Hampi. Check out this post for more details.
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