Hampi: Rock of Ages

Hampi. One of our favorite stops on our last journey through India and a place we were excited to visit again. Surrounded by a vast area of smooth, terra cotta-colored boulders, Hampi has a charm that's hard to beat, and, while India is packed with beautiful ancient monuments and historical sites, none possess the surreal environs that Hampi hunkers down in. World Heritage Hampi owes its lunar-like landscape to millions of years of volcanic upheavals followed by millions more of erosion. Scattered amidst the hundreds of thousands of boulders are ancient temples dating back more than six centuries. At that time, Hampi was a booming metropolis of over half a million inhabitants with thriving markets and more than its fair share of impressive places of worship. These days it's a traveler magnet for those both foreign and domestic (this was not the scenario ten years ago however). Luckily, Hampi's sights are spread over a fairly large area, and if you're willing to venture off the beaten track just a bit, you can easily escape the crowds and find a place all to yourself- maybe your own private temple.

Greater still than the recent surge in tourism, the biggest change that happened to the town of Hampi is the town of Hampi. During our first visit, the main 'street' that stretched from Hampi's heart- the imposing Virupakshu temple all the way to Matanga Hill, was inhabited by the town's population who lived in the ruins of the kilometer long bazaar that flanked the road on either side. Sometime during the past few years, the Archaeological Survey of India devised a master plan for the area which designated all of Hampi's ruins as “protected monuments”. Due to this rash decision, the townspeople were forced to abandon their homes, and these once beautiful stone-chiseled homes and shops that gave Hampi much of its prior charm, are now abandoned and lay in heaps of rubble. Many of the inhabitants have relocated their businesses and homes to the streets behind where they once lived, and many more have moved to neighboring towns a few kilometers away. But people come to Hampi to see the temples and soak-up the surroundings. At least those haven't changed.

Getting around Hampi by coracle

The temples and ruins are as plentiful as they are breathtaking. The skill and craftsmanship that it took to construct these architectural wonders is mesmerizing. The details within them are mind-blowing, and it was all done with basic hammers and chisels. The apex of Hampi's achievements is probably best represented in its Vitthala Temple. This is one of the few sites that require an entrance ticket, but the 250 rupees is well worth it, and it will also get you in to the Lotus Mahal and Elephant Stables if visited on the same day.

Inside the courtyard of the Vitthala temple

Hampi isn't all just temples and boulders though. There is so much life that happens in this tiny area- it's almost a microcosm of India itself. Domestic pilgrims and tourists set up make-shift camps along the roads; they bathe and do their laundry along the ghats that line the river. Hampi's living temple is forever buzzing with excitement and its resident elephant gets her daily bath daily at 8 am. There are also many brilliant street food stalls serving up tasty dishes and hot chai. We spent five days re-exploring this area and loved every minute of it (except maybe for the bedbugs on night one).

39 hours on public transport.



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