Once upon a time @ Hampi

Hampi was always in the list of places I wanted to visit. Trust me, its not really bad to get lost amidst the ruins of temples and forts for a couple of days. At least it is definitely better than aimlessly walking along MG Road & Brigade on a noisy weekend. Carvings on stone are at times better to look at than the overexposed hot-bods of the garden city. Though not in full agreement with the previous statement, six of us decided to put Hampi for the weekend.

Hampi is interesting from two different angles. It was the capital city of Vijayanagara empire during its golden ages. Its a pity to see all the glamor and glitz of such a wonderful place destroyed and demolished. Time is in fact a great 'leveler'. But the ruins that survived the onslaught of time (and the barbaric attack of the enemy armies) speak volumes of the glorious past. Apart from the historical importance, Hampi has a place in the mythological space as well. It is supposed to be the monkey kingdom of Kishkinda where Hanuman, Sugreeva & Bali lived once upon a time. There are artifacts and structures strewn across Hampi which talk about stories of the Ramayana - from the place where Sita dropped her jewels when Ravana abducted her to the hill where Anjana gave birth to Hanuman.

There can also be a third angle of interest for the Evolutionists. If Hampi is in fact the monkey kingdom and you are talking about monkeys who used to walk upright and who could communicate with human beings (not to mention the unusual powers they had), then you are possibly talking about the missing link between 'Homo Eructus' and 'Homo Sapiens'. The elusive transition species...? If you are a Creationist, don't get mad at me, it is just wishful thinking.

The gang - Abhilash, Manu, Latheesh, Siril, Sivakumar & myself - got together near Majestic bus station by 8:30 PM that Friday evening. Inspite of all the planning & communication, Siril managed to miss the inter-state bus station and waited at the inter-city bus terminal for almost half an hour. If I tell you now that he was the live-wire of the whole trip, don't you misunderstand..!! The trip had an auspicious beginning when we realized that our bus to Hospet is canceled. Thankfully we were asked to board the next bus. We reached Hospet by 6:30 in the morning and a connection bus to Hampi was waiting outside the bus station. After a half an hour journey we finally reached Hampi. The bus station is right in the middle of the ruins, some 200 meters from the Hampi Bazar. By the time we had a cup of tea from a nearby shop, arrangements had been made for our night's stay. We found some decent accommodation close to the bus stand.

Hampi does not have any luxury hotels or resorts; but got quite a few modest home-stay-like setups. After a quick bath, we proceeded towards the cycle shop to rent bicycles. In Hampi the ruins are spread across 25 sq. km. and if you are a serious visitor who wants to visit as many of them as possible, the most reliable way to travel is by bicyle. Four wheelers can get you to a limited number of spots and two wheelers might prove a burden if you plan to cross over to the other side of river Thungbhadra. Cycles are available at reasonable rates (Rs. 40 per day) near the main street. We got our 'mean machines' and set out to explore Hampi. The ruins are mostly concentrated in two different locales - The Sacred Centre and the Royal Centre. Our plan was to cover the Sacred centre on the first day and the Royal centre on the second.

We started with the Hampi Bazar. This is a long street with the Virupaksha temple towards one end and the Monolithic Bull towards the other. Once upon a time there used to be shops on either side of the street selling precious stones, imported clothing, rare medicines and what not. Even now there are shops, just that they sell samosas, chai and tourist maps of Hampi.... so much for civilization..!! The Virupaksha temple is one of the oldest functioning temples in the country and we decided to go the other way. If I write about each and every monument we visited, this is going to be a mini novel. So I will restrict myself to minimal descriptions of the places.

By the time we reached the monolithic Bull, we were all enjoying the bicycle ride. Soon the D80s, the Handicams and the 100mm -500mm lenses crawled out of the bags on to Abhi & Lee's hands. The pillars and corridors all around the place were looking beautiful in the sunlight. After a few group photos and experiemental shots we regrouped and moved towards Thungabhadra river. The road towards the river was in fact the starting point for our Sacred Centre trip.

You have so many options once you reach the river banks - take a coracle ride downstream towards Kodandarama temple or walk along the banks visiting the 1008 / 108 shiv lingas and then towards Vithala temple or take a right and go towards the Achyutharaya temple.We decided on the third option.

Achyutharaya temple, though dedicated to Lord Venkateswara, is known by the name of the king who built it. After seeing the sprawling temple complex we had to agree that it was quite befitting to give the temple the builder's name than the deity who had no part in building the beautiful structure. There are two compounds here, an outer one with a wide 'Courtesans Street', beautiful pillars, bathing pond and the inner compound with all the shrines. There is also a majestic gateway between the two compounds. The cameras were working overtime to pixellate some of the beauty around. There were quite a few mules walking all around the place giving an ancient touch to the setting. We spent quite a lot of time there - partially to admire the beauty of the architecture and partially to admire the beauty of some of the other visitors, which was quite a rarity at Hampi except in the most popular places.

After walking along the river side for quite sometime and having a late lunch, we returned to the room to take a quick break. We had heard quite a lot about watching the sunset from Mathanga Hill and did not want to let it go. So we started our climb by 4:30 as we wanted to reach the top early enough to capture good vantage positions. It took us a while to reach the top but the clouds played havoc and all we could see was a scarlet sky, the after-burn effect. Three of us stopped midway an enjoyed the company of numerous monkeys who were on a family outing @ twilight zone. The others who climbed all the way up did lose their way and had tough time tracing the way back.

All of us were tired by then. A great Israeli dinner - falafel, shakshouka, hummus - did bring the smile back on faces. We thought of sleeping early, to rise early the next morning and catch the sunrise from Matungs Hills. But the night turned out to be a battleground of ideas in no time and sleep kept a safe distance seeing the commotion. More about it later..!!

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