Some trips are good; others, unpleasant. Some are a disaster; while some others turn out to be memorable. A journey to the ruins of the Vijayanagara dynasty amidst gargantuan boulders, Hampi, in southern India, was both physically exhausting and relaxing. Be it the trek to the Anjaneya temple to view the sunset, or a tiresome (and scary, for an acrophobic) journey atop the Matanga hill for a sublime sunrise, or a coracle ride across the Tungabhadra during the wee hours, this getaway comprised many sights to behold. Sit back, relax, take it all in. Nature at its best—barren mountains, lush coconut trees, serene water of the Tungabhadra—Hampi has all this and more to offer to the travel-weary soul.
The city of Vijayanagara (literally, ‘the city of victory’) was founded in 1336 in the Deccan region of the Indian subcontinent by two brothers, Hakka and Bukka, on the banks of the Tungabhadra, a confluence of Tunga and Bhadra rivers. Islamic invasion was looming large: the Delhi Sultanate was expanding its reach. To ward off invasion, two new states—the Bahman Sultanate, based in Gulbarga, northern Karnataka, and the Vijayanagara empire based at Vijayanagara, with its capital at Hampi, central Karnataka—were formed. While the former disintegrated due to internal strife, the latter flourished. However, the year 1565 saw the downfall of the Vijayanagara dynasty at the battle of Talikota: defeat at the hands of the Deccan Sultanate.
Hampi, the lost city, now re-discovered by travellers aplenty, even students of art, who are sit by the ruins and sketch its magnificence
The comparatively short dominance lasting a little over two centuries was marked by the building of a grand city which stands today in a ruinous state, although the ASI has done its best to restore bygone glory and is carrying further excavations to unearth hidden gems of the period. (For more on the UNESCO World Heritage site, see http://hampi.in/.)
The journey to Hampi is a seven-hour back-breaking, seemingly never-ending journey from the Bangalore airport. Exhaustion produced garbled sounds while reading the signboards: Hiruyur, Hundgud, Hubli, Humnabad, Hosalingpur, Hospet. Monstrous speed bumps, enormous amount of dust, and mammoth trucks pleasantly greeted us at regular intervals. We finally reached Uramma Heritage Home, far removed from the bustling city, late in the evening. Cordial staff, comfortable rooms, fresh home-cooked food, the stay here was pleasurable (beware of the roaches and other creepy crawlies though). The staff was so attentive that when they learnt I am allergic to mustard, they prepared dal without mustard just for me, even though I insisted I could do without it. A special thanks to Siraj and his team at UHH.
Temples of Hampi, gods worshipped then and now
Our days began early and ended late. Exhausted we would return in the evenings, only to begin early, very early, next morning. Naturally, we stole the few nightly hours to sleep like babies! Turns out a spotted cat paid us a visit late one night; we did not have the good fortune (?!) to meet this friend as we battled fatigue and ignored the ruckus created by jumping monkeys on the roof and barking neighbourhood dogs.
Shades of Hampi Bazaar; bottom right: top of Anjaneya Temple, the Monkey God’s birthplace, flanked by a galore of monkeys
Exploring the heritage of the city of Hampi with Ravi, our guide, was a sheer delight. We ‘Madams’ may have driven him crazy but he kept his cool during the blazing days at all times: patient when we were impatient, always smiling even when we turned hangry. Though I’m not sure if some of the structures were indeed built during the Precambrian times; but, hey, I’m not complaining!
Ruins from the top of the Matanga hill
Highlights of the trip:
Walking through banana groves; slipping on wet rocks; huddling inside a coracle; huffing and puffing our way up hills; laughing hysterically when at the edge of a cliff.…
The group was a mix of fun and overbearing women. We even got our customized version of Shashi Aunty! (For the uninitiated, the joke will be lost; but those who know what I am referring to … chuckle chuckle.)
The locals, be it Siraj at UHH, or Ravi our guide for the two days, or Manju and his elderly father who took us across the river in their coracles, were warm and ever smiling.
Coldplay, much too much Coldplay; no more until they release their next album!
Here’s the itinerary I followed:
Drive from the Bangalore airport to Uramma Heritage Home. Reach by 7 pm.
Rest and gear up for the next day. Dinner at UHH.
Tip: Try not to miss the range of quiches offered by Café Noir right outside the Departures gate at the Bangalore airport. I tried Quiche Lorraine (and a Feuillete au Porc, a pork puff) loaded with ham and bacon and cheese and goodness and sprinkled with a pinch of chopped, fresh parsley. Perfect beginning after a delayed flight!
Breakfast for two: ₹800.
Post breakfast, walk down to the river bed. Take a steamer across the river to start a day-long walk through the ruins of the once magnificent city of Vijayanagara.
Begin with the Sacred Centre, the complex that houses the most number of temples. Visit the only active temple in Hampi, Virupaksha Temple. And the impressive temples of Krishna, Achyuta Raya, and Vitthala.
Lunch at the ever-buzzing Mango Tree slipped in for the afternoon. Then walk through the very colourful Hampi bazaar. Further, climb to view the sunset from Anjaneya temple, birthplace of Hanuman.
Return to UHH by evening. Unwind, have a relaxed dinner, and doze off.
Tip: Try the buttermilk at the Mango Tree, very refreshing (₹80). This is a vegetarian restaurant (seating is Japanese style, on the floor), the only ‘non’-vegetarian offered here is eggs. Serving Israeli food, try the shak-shuka and the falafel platter. Hampi Bazaar does not have anything different to offer than what is available at all tourist places. The glittery clothes, leather slippers/bags, junk/silver jewellery primarily caters to the foreigners. Try the berries the locals have to offer outside the temples (₹10 per packet). Coconut water (₹30 per coconut) is found almost everywhere (best way to beat the heat).
Meal for two: ₹500.
Leave at 5 am and reach the river bed. Ride the coracle across the Tungabhadra and proceed to climb the Matanga hill for a beautiful sunrise.
An early start today. Leave the comfort of your beds at 5 am for a coracle ride across the Tungabadra. Trek to the top of Matanga Hill to get a bird’s eye view of Hampi, and the ruins at sunrise.
Reach UHH back for a quick breakfast and leave within the next hour to continue the sightseeing. Visit a few more sites.
Then take the motor boat across the river for a relaxed lunch at the Laughing Buddha.
A motor boat will take you back to Hampi Bazaar from we continue on to see the Royal Centre (landmarks: Queen’s Bath, Mahanavami Dibba, Baoli, Hazara Rama Temple, Zenana enclosure, Elephant stables), Narasimha Statue.
Exhausted, reach UHH by evening. Relax and prepare to leave the next day.
Tip: The Laughing Buddha (serves non-vegetarian) has more cats than our two-legged counterparts. Be careful where you step, you may land on a furry tail! The momos here are dry and filled with garam masala(!): can easily be skipped. The pancakes are good, so are the pizzas. Their version of a schnitzel is deep-fried
Meal for two: ₹500.
Bid farewell and drive back to the Bangalore airport. Reach by the evening and take the flight back home.
Hampi has no direct connectivity of flights or trains. The nearest airport is Hubli (although the Bangalore airport [350 km/7 hours approx. to Hampi] is more accessible from other cities) and the nearest railway station is Hospet. Taxis and buses are available from these places. You can also hop on to a direct overnight bus from Bangalore. Within Hampi, cycles and bikes are available on rent; autorickshaws are also available to take you to the points of interest. However, nothing beats exploring the small town on foot.
I flew down from Delhi, so it was a ride from the airport, hence the quiche. The roadmap can be found here: http://hampi.in/bangalore-to-hampi.
Perhaps late December (max. will still touch 35 degrees Celsius) when it will not be as HOT as the rest of the year.
One can reach Uramma Heritage Home at http://www.urammaheritagehomes.com/uramma-cultural-residency.
All photographs © Madhula Banerji