The Glory of Hampi

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elephant blessing in Hampai Temple

elephant blessing in Hampai Temple

A new day and we board another coach taking us from the Golden Chariot to Hampi which is only half an hour away. This is the former capital city of the Vijayanagara kingdom, destroyed in 1565 by the armies of the coalition of 5 nearby Muslim kingdoms. This UNESCO World Heritage site is so large that you need to use a vehicle to go from one place to another. The monuments, many in ruins are testament to the glory of the Vijayanagara empire, an empire that – at its height – occupied most of southern India.

The independent traveller can use rickshaws to get around. You easily find them waiting at the entrance of the main monuments, or you can even rent one for the day. It’s a cool and heady sensation to travel sitting in the back of a rickshaw as you get refreshed by the wind and it means you get a good view at the same time. The monuments show that this empire had power and wealth on a scale that is hard to believe. A 15th century Persian traveller wrote that, walking through the main jewellers street, he was astonished by the unbelievable profusion of precious stones, diamonds and pearls in the shops. The “wealth” was also to be found in the architecture and the literature that was encouraged under the empire. Today you might refer to it as a renaissance age in India.

carved walls of Mahanavami Platform, Hampi

carved walls of Mahanavami Platform, Hampi

Hampi is set in a desolate landscape of rocky hills along the banks of the Tungabhadra River. There were massive fortifications protecting marvellous palaces, elegantly carved temples, towers, baths, markets, barracks, aquaducts and royal elephant’s stables. To support this there were large water tanks and access was by a stone bridge over the river. Most of the important monuments are located in two main areas, called Sacred Centre and Royal Enclosure. The Sacred Centre is in the northern part of the city along the banks of the river with the Vijaya Vitthala Temple, the top-listed monument of Hampi. The Royal Enclosure is in the south west part of the site and includes royal palaces, baths and those elephant stables. All around stand dozens of monuments and structures that can be identified by the visitor. But there are also hundreds of other ruins non-recognisable by anyone who is not an archaeologist.

Royal Elephant Stables Hampi

Royal Elephant Stables Hampi

The Golden Chariot stays only one full day in Hampi so visitor touring is limited to the main monuments. For independent travellers you could spend days here. It’s a long and fabulous day, well organised to offer the best that this unforgettable site offers.

Usually the first visit begins at Hernakuta Hill, a rocky hill without any vegetation and which is dotted by small temples and monuments. The early morning light gives a perfect view of the massive stones of the temples and the delicate bas-reliefs carved on the round-shaped rocks. A path leads to the other side of the hill overlooking the Virupasksha Temple, the only temple still being a place of worship in Hampi. This temple with its huge gopurams (the main one is 50m. high) and its large courtyards is the place to receive an elephant blessing before going out for a short stroll in the Hampi bazaar. Here, small restaurants and local craft shops await worshippers and tourists alike. A short drive away is the Lotus Mahal, a delicate pavilion reputed to be the King’s Council Hall. There are arches on two levels looking like the petals of a flower opening to the sunlight. The Queen’s Bath and the Royal Elephants Stables are the last stops before a delicious lunch back on board the Golden Chariot.

carved pillars inside Hazara Rama Temple, Hampi

carved pillars inside Hazara Rama Temple, Hampi

The afternoon visits begin in the Royal Enclosure with the vast Mahanavami Platform that overlooks the Stepped Tank, a marvellous upside-down pyramid-shaped tank. Close-by the Hazara Rama Temple has frescoes highlighting episodes from the Ramayana, the ancient, Sanskrit epic. On its enclosurewalls, there are more bas-reliefs depicting ceremonies and processions of horses, elephants, dancing girls and soldiers.

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