At Hampi, the past comes alive. Whispering winds, magnificent ruins, races and scents of a bygone era all linger fresh here. And they virtually transport you to a world of kings, battles and long forgotten marvels. Welcome to the world’s largest open-air museum- Hampi, Karnataka.
Hampi was the capital city of magnificent Vijayanagar Empire. Founded by Harihar and Bukka in 1336, it fell to the rulers of Northern India in 1565 after the battle of Talikota, and subsequently lapsed into decline and abandonment.
The once-proud city of victory is now a city of desolation. However, the ruins of these historical monuments have stood the ravages of man time and still evoke memories of regal splendor.
Amidst an awesome boulder-strewn landscape along the banks of the Tungabhadra River, Hampi was one of the glittering showpieces of India’s might in the 15th century. There were opulent palaces, marvelous temples, massive fortifications, baths, markets, aqua ducts, pavilions and stables for royal elephants. The city’s merchants traded in diamonds, pearls, fine silks, brocades, horses and much more.
Most of the important structures and ruins are located in two areas, which are generally referred to as the Royal Centre and the Sacred Centre. The Royal Centre contains structures that seem to have been primarily for ceremonial use.
What to see
The largest enclosure in Hampi, the King’s palace includes two major platform structures, an underground chamber which must have served as a treasury or private audience hall, several minor platforms and double fortification walls, besides other interesting architectural elements.
Dedicated to Lord Shiva and his consort Pampadevi, this is the only temple here that is still used for worship. Parts of the temple predate the Vijayanagar Empire. The temple, with its nine-storied gopuram, towers above the other structures at Hampi. The ceiling of the Ranga Mantapa is beautifully painted with scenes from the epics and puranas.
Two Ganesha images (Sasuvekalu and Kadalekalu) can be seen on the slopes of the Hemakuta Hill. One of them is enclosed in a temple with unusually tall pillars, while the other is in an open hall.
The awesome 6.7m high monolith depicting the man-lion form of Vishnu is seated on a seven-hooded serpent.
Located next to the Lakshminarasimha statue, the Badavalinga is 3m high and stands permanently in water that flows through an ancient channel.
Vijaya Vithala Temple
The Vijaya Vithala Temple is Hampi’s crowning glory, with a magnificent stone chariot standing in the temple courtyard. Equally impressive is the large Ranga Mantapa with 56 musical pillars that resound with musical chimes when struck.
An imposing edifice with arched entrances and many domes that once housed the magnificent state elephants.
The stepped water-tank, excavated in the mid 1980s, was originally a part of the palace complex. Almost lyrical in its beauty, the tank is a tiered structure crafted from rectangular pieces of granite.
This visually appealing structure has two levels, with open pavilions at the bottom and balconies above. Highlighting the fusion of the Hindu and Muslim styles of architecture, the Mahal derives its name from its beautiful, geometrically-arranged cusped arches that resembles the petals of the lotus opening to the sun.
Hazara Rama Temple
The royal temple reserved for ceremonial use, the Hazara Rama Temple is embellished with bass relief’s depicting scenes from the epic, Ramayana. The walls of the enclosure are richly carved with friezes depicting processions of horses, elephants, dancing girls and soldiers attired in splendid armor. Inside, four exquisitively sculpted granite pillars add to the beauty of the Ardha Mantapa.
Equally impressive is the massive Mahanavami Dibba, where the kings of Vijayanagara Empire once sat upon their gem-studded golden throne and watched processions pass by. The structure is also embellished with densely carved bands of horses, soldiers and depictions of various aspects of courtly life.
Though the exterior may appear simple, the interior is stunningly ornate, with graceful arched corridors, projecting balconies and lotus-shaped fountains that once spouted perfumed water for the ladies of the court.
Just across the Tungabhadra River is the fortress town of Anegundi, pre-dating the Vijayanagara Empire and its capital city. More ancient than Hampi, Anegundi lies in the mythical kingdom of Kishkinda, ruled by the monkey-king Sugriva of Ramayana fame. Anjanadri Hill, near Anegundi and its tranquil environs are dotted with forgotten temples and fortifications. The dilapidated Huchppayana Matha Temple, near the river, is worth a peek for its black-stone lathe-turned pillars and fine panels of dancers. The other places of interest are the sacred Pampa Sarovara, Aramane (a ruined palace) and the Ranganatha Temple.
There is also a handicrafts centre at Kishkinda, Anegundi where local womenfolk create works of art with the support of an NGO.
Planning your visit
Bangalore, the capital of Karnataka, is well connected to different parts of the world. Several international airlines operate direct flights to Bangalore. The city serves as a gateway to various destinations in Karnataka including Hampi, which is easily accessible from Bangalore by road and rail.
Airlines operating to Bangalore
Lufthansa German Airlines- 5 times a week from Frankfurt.
Srilankan Airlines- Daily from Colombo.
Malaysian Airlines- Twice a week from Kuala Lumpur.
Singapore Airlines- Thrice a week from Singapore.
Gulf Air- Twice a week from Bahrain.
Royal Nepal Airlines- Twice from Kathmandu.
Air India- Daily- connections from Europe and East Asia.
Indian Airlines- Regular flights from Singapore, Bangkok and Middle East.
Domestic carriers like Indian Airlines, Jet Airways, Air Sahara and Air Deccan connect Bangalore to all major cities throughout the day.
Hampi Express (daily) Departure from Bangalore- 2215 hours.
Arrival at Hospet- 0750 hours.