Hampi – History’s Little Nook (Pt. 1)

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Nothing, I reiterate, NOTHING prepares you for Hampi. Sure, you’re expecting 14th-century ruins of a massive empire that once captured the imagination of the entire world and stands peerless, then and now. But you’re still expecting ruins. So this oddly but magnificently, well-preserved city leaves you stumped. Hampi is hardly what you call ruins. Decade-old structures are in worse states of disrepair than this 26 sq. km stretch of temples, palaces, and stunning beauty.

Hampi is history’s hometown, located in the North of Karnataka in South India. There’s a temple for every bend in the road, each one with its very own story and distinction. Countless little four-pillared monuments perch precariously on the tips of impossible-to-reach boulders, making you wonder how did anyone ever get up there, let alone build quaint little stone structures? Wall carvings tell elaborate stories of a progressive era where people were lead not by prejudiced thinking, but by one of adventure and achievement. Hampi isn’t a seen-one-seen them-all kind of place. Being at the right place at the right time matters, in order to experience the capital city of the great Vijayanagara Empire like King Krishnadeva Raya once did.

Ideally, you should give Hampi at least three days and monsoon/winter are the best times to visit. Summers are terribly hot, and there’s a lot of walking involved in Hampi. Even on the most pleasant of days, a hat, sunglasses and a bottle of water are always a good idea. The earlier you start your day in Hampi, the better. Don’t even think of giving the guide a miss. Their stories spin in the features, the contours, the colours, the court sessions, the triumphs, the details of a glorious past of which only the bones remain. Be sure to ask them for their license when you’re approached by them.

Hampi still remains a relatively unknown destination. The first few names that spring to mind when you think India are Goa, Kerala, Pondicherry and Delhi. Nestled geographically in Karnataka and metaphorically on time’s beauty chest, this article gives you a couple of tips on how to make the most of your Hampi visit.

Over the next two days, we found out that capital of the erstwhile Vijayanagara Empire, in every way, lives up to its sobriquet as the world’s largest open-air museum. The ruins of recount tales of favourite queens, sieges, secret chambers, eunuch guards, lotus shaped palaces, sandalwood halls and will hold you captive for a while. Hampi is also the cradle of mythical lore and is believed to have been the birthplace of Lord Hanuman, the monkey god of the Ramayana fame. It was the backdrop of the Shiva-Parvati union. A kingdom that was once larger than Rome, time continues yet, its love affair with the place.

For example, you simply must catch the sunrise from the Matanga Hill. All of Hampi comes alive in powdered gold before your eyes. Dusk is the best time to be at the Vijaya Vittala Temple. The sun’s dying rays turn the entire temple complex to gold. I’m not talking in metaphors. The stone catches the light just so, that as the evening falls, it’s like the sun plays Midas, reminiscing about a time, history remembers as the Golden Era.

It’s not for nothing Hampi captured the imagination of traders and poets alike. Once the place where Arab, Persian and Portuguese travellers oft dropped anchor at, to trade in silks, spices, jewels, cottons, diamonds and horses. A stroll through the now-empty bazaar stretches is a must. Hampi was defined by its seven landmark temples, each of which are flanked by their own bazaar or marketplace, where they traded in everything – the aforementioned cargo, included. There even used to be a courtesan bazaar, fancy that! And you must pay homage to the times bygone with a visit to the Royal Enclosure, which again, will take a good part of your day.

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