In the 1500 BC, the Vijayanagara Empire was one of the biggest empires in today’s Indian subcontinent Region. Specifically in the southern part of India, where the modern day Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh lie. Vijayanagara, which included the region around the Hampi Village including it, was the capital and the biggest city of this very rich and strong empire.
The city of Hampi has a distinct geographical feel, with its rocky terrain along the banks of the beautiful Thungabadra river. Hampi became the religious and cultural centre of the empire. The architecture, the temples, the bazaars of Hampi enjoyed immense popularity in those times. People from all over the world, especially from Persia visited and traded with the empire in huge numbers.
Today, Hampi Village is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It has started to gain immense popularity today both from travellers from India and abroad. Of course, you may have heard of the Hippie Village in Hampi which in the last several years have grown to have a reputation for itself. But if you are not into Hippie stuff, don’t be put off. Hampi Village is a fantastic historical spot, well worth a trip.
Hampi has several things going for it but I would say its unique topography, the stunning architecture and the serene sunrise and sunset are more than enough reasons to make that trip.
Things to do in Hampi
Hampi is filled with historical temples, bazaars, stables, ruins of the palaces, women’s baths and other such ruins of the Vijayanagara empire. One can spend easily a couple of days exploring these sites. You could rent a bike, an auto (tuk-tuk) or a car to go around from one site to another within the Hampi Village.
The main temple here is the Virupaksha temple and the market complex. It is a stunning temple filled with absolute beauty and delights to be discovered. The musical pillars, to dancing Michael Jackson (as our guide called it) to the famous Sun chariot only begins to scratch the surface of what this temple has to offer. One can spend a lot of time here getting lost in the history of it and marvelling at the craftsmanship of the people involved in the temple. You could be transported to the medieval era, imagining the temple complex filled with people dressed in absolute fine silks, dancing and entertaining. The rajas entering the complex in huge elephants dressed to the tee. If you have a little imagination, you can here the music and laughter.
The second main site is the Vittala Temple and market complex beautifully located. Its smaller than the Virupaksha temple but the art work here is splendid. Don’t miss the art on the ceiling of the main temple Praharam/room. Around the Vittala temple is the 3km long market complex which is where the horses were traded as well gold and other metals.
Just outside the Vittala temple is the beautiful Hemakuta hill, dotted with beautiful smaller temples dedicated to different Gods of Hindu. You can spend several peaceful hours amidst these ruins in silence. Sit there wondering what it would be to be a part of living there during those time. Imagine the market buzzing with activity, tradesmen flogging their horses and their wares.
Acchuttaraya temple and market complex seemed a little more deserted than the other two. But it is a huge complex with many interesting ruins and architecture. We walked along the banks starting at the far end from the Chandramowlishwar temple all the way to the Acchuttaraya and from there on to Vittala. I would highly recommend this walk if you are able to. Its an easy walk and easy distance and you can stop by many interesting ruins. Spend your time wandering and wondering around these ruins.
Other temples include the beautiful Hazara Rama Temple, The krishna temple, the Kodandarama and the Pattabirama temples. Each temple has some fantastic architecture and craftsmanship making it totally worth visiting. There is also an underground Shiva temple which is more minimalistic than the other Vishnu temples. And en-route to these temples, you can stop at monolithic structures of Narashima, the Linga near the Krishna temple and the Ganesha monument near the Hemakuta Hill.
Among other architecture, there is the beautiful Queen’s bath, the huge Mahanavi Platform. I could just picture the women bathing or the amazing dance performances held or large meetings held in the secret chambers around the platforms. On the other side of the bath, you see the influence of the islamic architecture as the sultanates of Delhi, Khilji and others reached and attacked the Vijayanagar Empire. Whilst the muslim quarters which includes a minaret and huge quarters are obviously built for the muslim patronages. The Lotus Mahal and Elephant stables which were a main part of the hindu empire itself, shows a strong islamic influence.
2) Sunsets and Sunrises
The Sun rise and Sun set are beautiful anywhere. But they take on a special charm in Hampi. The beautiful brown rocks of the region seem to take on the orange hues of the sun rise and sun set making the whole region glow. And there is such serenity sitting on a hill top, looking on to the rocky regions, the river below dotted with vegetation, watching the sun rise or set.
We hiked up the Matanga hill on the other end of Vittala Temple complex. The hike is not long but can get a little tricky in places as it is very rocky. But is easily doable. We woke up really early as we were staying 10kms outside the Hampi Village. We reached the Matanga hill around 5.15AM. and hiked up. Its dark so a torch is needed and there are no clear signs or routes. It would take roughly about 15 minutes to climb up. There is a small temple up on the hills. We reached there and waited for Sun rise around 6.00 AM. Looking on from the hill, watching the sun rise and seeing the beautiful Vittala Temple Gopuram and ruins come alive was a sight to behold. There is a chaiwaala there if you fancy something warm.
We took in the sun set from the hillock near the Pattabirama Temple. It was truly one of the most magical sunsets I have seen. The beauty of the sunset glow against those rocks was mesmerising.
Hampi’s unique topography makes it an extremely interesting Heritage site. The ruins amidst those rocks; The beautiful Tungabadra river dotted with vegetation and life on its banks; And the lakes surrounding the region, Sanapura reservoir and the birds in the region; Hampi is truly a unique place and once there it is easy to see why it was chosen as the capital.
We skipped the Anjaneya temple and the Hippie village but that could other potential stops/points of interests.
One thing that doesn’t Hampi is the weather. It is very hot throughout and the mercury sores in summer crazily. So plan your travel accordingly so you can get to spend as much time outside as you can, wandering through the ruins. Dec-Jan would be ideal months but also means they are crowded. Oct/Nov-Feb/March are the shoulder seasons and temperatures are still bearable enough if you avoid the afternoons out in the sun. Summer in Hampi can be quite treacherous and difficult to handle.
I hope you get to visit this beautiful heritage village complex, the Angkor Wat of India.