The empire is long gone. Its relics scattered across a breathtaking boulder strewn landscape once chosen for its impregnability.
Desolate ruins, lacking the antiquity of Egypt, the precision of Inca stonework or the mathematical coding of Angkor Wat.
But Hampi’s stones – those chiselled by man into intricate divine forms, as well as those worn smooth by the elements – whisper stories.
And it is the stories that imbue these ruins with magic. Aided in large part by fleeting mental imagery from a 1970 Kannada biopic on the Vijayanagara empire’s greatest ruler – Krishnadevaraya – that appears to have left as much an imprint on my subconscious as the stories of the famed courtesan of Awadh.
HAMPI, INDIA – HISTORY
The history of the land predates that of the capital city. Much of it intertwined with myth and folklore. The name itself is derived from the legend of Goddess Parvati’s human birth as Princess Pampa, and her long penance to win Shiva’s attention. Hence Pampavati, corrupted to Hampe and Hampi.
Hemakuta (golden hill) gets its name from the shower of gold that is said to have rained upon it on the event of Shiva’s acquiescence. The site of their divine nuptials at the foot of the hill, marked by the sanctuary of the imposing 7th century Virupaksha temple.
Another legend suggests Anegundi, the original capital of the Vijayanagara empire on the opposite bank of the river Tungabhadra, is Kishkinda: the mythical monkey kingdom of the Ramayana, and home of Hanuman (Hanumantha in the South) – the monkey God.
The boulders used by the monkey army in the building of the legendary bridge across the strait (to Lanka), most likely came from here, (the hows of their transportation all the way to the Southern coast, best left to faith).
The region fell into obscurity until 1336, when Hakka (Harihara I) and Bukka (Bukkaraya) – laid the foundation of an empire (at the spot where a hare they were hunting turned around and chased their hound!) whose imperial hold was to stretch across all of South India and upto Orissa towards the North. The history of the sibling founders is clearly yet to be established, although I, (being a native of Karnataka) am naturally biased towards the Kannadiga theory.
It is the stories of this renaissance empire birthed and nurtured in the Tungabhadra valley – of valiant, secular kings and their bejewelled consorts, of bustling bazaars brimming with gemstones, of the loves and lives and art of the people that populated it- that are the most captivating. Almost all pieced together from the observations of foreign visitors.
The most evocatively detailed are those of Portuguese (the colonial power was a natural ally in the common fight against neighbouring Islamic states) soldier Domingo Paes, whose visit between 1520 – 1522 during the reign of Krishnadevaraya, chronicles the zenith of Vijayanagara influence.
“The city of Bidjanagar is such that the pupil of the eye has never seen a place like it, and the ear of intelligence has never been informed that there existed anything to equal it in the world. It is built in such a manner that seven citadels and the same number of walls enclose each other.” ~ Abdur Razzak, Ambassodor from Persia
“In this city you will find men belonging to every nation and people, because of the great trade which it has, and the many precious stones there … the streets and markets are full of laden oxen without count, … and in many streets you come upon so many of them that you have to wait for them to pass, or else have to go by another way……This is the best provided city in the world.[…]” ~ Domingo Paes
“I climbed a hill whence I could see a great part of it; I could not see it all because it lies between several ranges of hills. What I saw from thence seemed to me as large as Rome, and very beautiful to the sight.” ~ Domingo Paes
The glory lasted but a couple of brief centuries. The death knell struck by a confederation of five Deccan Sultanates at the battle of Talikota in 1565. Temples were desecrated, rich coffers plundered, sandalwood palaces razed to the ground.
At the end of the brutal sacking, only the Virupaksha temple – one of few Shiva shrines in this land of Vishnu worshippers, that had existed here in a humbler form long before the arrival of the Rayas – survived inexplicably unscathed. The last Rayas limped along in alternate capitals until the 1660’s*. None possessed the skill or statesmanship to rewrite Vijayanagara destiny.
The ‘City of Victory’ was abandoned. And forgotten. Quite like other glorious cities elsewhere.
Up on Matanga hill, I gaze down at the rows of reassembled pillars of the courtesans’ bazaar, faintly reminiscent of the agoras of Athens. The roofless Achuttaraya temple to the right, nestled in a verdant valley ringed by swaying palms, appears straight out of a (less aggressive) Cambodian jungle. At far left, the Tunghabhadra’s glassy surface shimmers in the weak sunlight as she cuts through the granite outcrops of the city that owes her its name from when she was christened after a goddess princess.
I feel the echoes.
*The Rayas continued to hold large tracts of land across South India, including the three mile strip acquired by the East India Company in 1639, to set up Fort Saint George, the core of Madras City (present day Chennai where I live).
HAMPI TRAVEL TIPS
DISCLAIMER: My visit was made possible by EVOLVE BACK HAMPI. The Urge To Wander is part of the affiliate programs of some of the resources mentioned on these pages and will earn tiny commissions from qualifying purchases without any extra cost to you. Your support is much appreciated. Full Disclosure policy.
By Air: Hubli is the closest Airport to Hampi (163 km. Approx. 4.5 hrs by road).
By Train: Hospet Junction is the nearest train station. (12 km 30 min by road). It is connected to several cities including Bengaluru and Goa. Journey time from Bengaluru is around 8hrs. Train tickets are a challenge to snag in India at short notice. Make sure you book well in advance.
The most convenient way to get to Hampi is to organise a private transfer (343 km 5.45 hrs. hospet is about 30 min shorter). Most hotels/ guesthouses will be able to arrange transfers from Bengaluru or Hubli.
Hampi is also accessible by bus from a number of destinations in South India. Check routes, timetables and ticket prices on Redbus.
BEST TIME TO VISIT HAMPI
Mid December to mid March is ideal. Summer months are hot across much of the lower plains of India. June to mid September is monsoon season. While rains ease somewhat by September it is best to visit in the cooler months if photography is a priority. January and february are the best for those famed sunsets. Do note, however, that rates for the star hotels nearly double from 01 October to 30 March.
GETTING AROUND HAMPI
Private vehicles or taxis are easily organised by your accommodation once you get there. Those on a budget can hire motorbikes. It is quickest to cross the river by public boat, but you’ll need a vehicle to get around on the other side.
WHERE TO STAY
Evolve Back Hampi is a great option and is minutes from the temples by car which makes it easy to take a break midday when the heat is at its worst. Read my review here. Or look for more options to suit your budget.
55 thoughts on “Hampi, India – The Echoes of Glory”
Parvati was very much a part of the Pune scene in Maharashtra. You’ve made me homesick with this one.
Ha, you must plan a return visit to India then! Thank you very much for reading Ian 🙂
I have read many write ups about Hampi, I was even there myself once, but nothing made me feel this way.. Such a wonderful read..
Aww, you made my day Swarnali! Thank you very much for reading and taking the time to respond. Much appreciated 🙂
deeply impressive, well organized and powerful details…
Thank you for your kind words dear Mihrank! Have you travelled much around India?
Amazing landscapes, ruins and stories Madhu. The elephant stables must be the model for the elephant house at Sydney zoo although it’s much less grand! The carvings are beautiful, and so is the Tungabhadra. In the middle of amazement at all these beauties, I’m also amazed at the absence of people. Thank you for a visit to a place I’d love to see in person.
Pleasure to have your virtual company Meg 🙂
September end is shoulder season, so that might explain the lack of crowds. Which was a good thing. But I hadn’t realised that the sun doesn’t often make an appearance during this season, which was a huge disappointment since I didn’t manage the iconic sunset and sunrise shots I had hoped for. The tradeoff was more comfortable walking weather.
I’m pragmatic enough to settle for comfort above beauty – I think!
Thank you for reading Rabirius.
Wowow .. It looks beautiful. . I feel that our nation has so much history and so much to show the rest of the world ..yet we fail to do so..
I also wonder how it has survived and people have not taken over as with a lot of historical places across the country. .
People HAD taken over much of the site Bikram. Many have been relocated since it came under the aegis of UNESCO. But the funds allocated in 1986 are yet to be disbursed, and since their value has considerably eroded, further relocation is proving complicated. Who knows how much more lies unexcavated beneath the surrounding villages!
Madhu Hampi in my opinion is best heritage site in south India which is quite scenic too. Love the place and your post
I agree Arv. There are lot of older, finer temples around, but as a site, I doubt there is another that captures the imagination quite like Hampi.
That’s my point too! 🙂
So many legends I’d never come across if I didn’t come here! Beautifully told, as ever, Madhu. Sending hugs! 🙂
Ha, the legends make this experience Jo. Glad you enjoyed it. Thanks muchly dear friend 🙂
We visited Hampi and it remains one of the great experiences of my life!
Hampi certainly is special. I was surprised by how much I enjoyed it and cannot imagine why it took me so long to get there! Appreciate your reading Jadi. Have a great day.
Thank you for the virtual wander around this incredible site, Madhu…..I’m unlikely to be able to visit in person. And, as ever, you give us a very interesting and informative read
Glad you enjoyed this Sue. Some places inspire me to write better than others 🙂
Ahh this post brings back some good memories of Hampi. I didn’t know that this place existed until 2008 when my cousin bought me a GEO France magazine with the story of Hampi as one of the featured articles. ‘The Lost Kingdom’ it said. And a photo of a local boy donning a Hanuman (known as Hanoman in Indonesia) costume caught my attention, as well as the boulder-studded hills all over the place.
Our visit to Hampi last year was a big detour from our itinerary in India. But I’m glad we decided to stick to the original plan, instead of missing Hampi altogether. It surely didn’t disappoint. I’m glad finally you made it there this year, Madhu!
I am glad too Bama. I can’t imagine why it took me so long, considering I am a native of Karnataka. Now I can’t wait to drag Ravi back there 🙂
Lovely, thoughtful, insightful post! I loved it!
Thank you Michael. Appreciate your visit and lovely comment.
Love the rocky landscape as well
Oh, gorgeous, gorgeous shots, Madhu! And I especially love your beginning. I could feel you there, here the whispering. 🙂
What more can I ask for Riba, but for my readers to feel what I felt! Thank you for your beautiful comment 🙂
Very impressive! The pictures are amazing! Thanks for sharing.
Thank you for reading Cecilia. Have a great weekend.
Hampi is one of my favourite places in the world. Thank you for the trip down memory lane!
Most welcome Veena. Happy to have stirred fond memories. Did you visit Aihole, Badami and Pattadakal as well?
I have visited and enjoyed Badami as well as Belur, Halebid, and Sravanabelagola, but I never made it to Aihole or Pattadakal. I’ll have to add them to my list for my next visit to India!
It’s unlikely I’ll get here, so I enjoyed my trip with you even more. Thanks for bringing me this part of the world so beautifully, Mahdu.
Thank you for hopping on board Janet 🙂 Have a fab weekend yourself.
What an extraordinary place. I felt quite swept back in time Madhu, imagining it as a city with merchants and traders from all over the world. Beautiful soft photographs. I love the kind of photos you can get on a grey day without the harsh shadows and glares of bright sunlight.
Those ruins are special Alison, more atmospheric and evocative than I expected them to be. Or perhaps we have more fertile imaginations 🙂 Glad you like the photos. I was hugely disappointed that the sun never made an appearance in all our time there, and that I didn’t get to capture the golden glow I had seen in other galleries. I am hoping to return with hubby – I went with my sister – in Jan/Feb when the light is supposed to be optimum. Fingers crossed.
How fascinating a history. The carvings are very lovely. We wanted ro get Hampi while in India the last time but did not manage to get their due to time constraints. So thank you for the vicarious visit. Just lovely photos too.
The stories, the pictures, the history and the words… they all transported me back in time. Fabulous post Madhu. I have been wanting to go to Hampi since AGES and this post has given me the wanderlust pangs. Really. Love the carvings. Thanks for re-evoking the wish to visit Hampi 🙂
A terrific accounting and photos to whet the appetite to learn more, visit someday.
I love this place… I have not been back in a long time but it’s nice to see it has not changed… great post, thanks
A glorious post, Madhu! Of all the places Bama and I visited in our month-long sojourn through southern India, Hampi was a clear favourite. We were both struck by the scale of the architecture, which reminded us of Ancient Greece because of the abundance of pillars and the strong horizontal nature of it all. I can still remember the sense of wonder that I felt when we had our first glimpse of Achuttaraya temple after coming over the crest of Matanga Hill.
The centuries-old accounts of foreign visitors give us such a fascinating glimpse of Hampi’s golden age – they make me wish someone invented a time machine so we could see its glory firsthand.
Wishing you a happy Diwali with your loved ones!
These are some of the prettiest ruins I’ve seen! Too often, their significance is lost on me. I’m not great at visualizing, so I need the ruins to be captivating “as is” without me understanding what once stood.
Absolutely beautiful… Those ruins seem to still speak to us… in many ways, and voices. Past is a legacy in itself… Wishing you well. Aquileana 😀
The pride of karnataka …
Thank you for this voyage in Time and Space…
Thank you , It’s really great effort in visualizing the Hampi…. Great place.
Wow – beautiful temples… I wonder what it would be like to visit when they were first built. Happy new year!
Dhanyavad Madhu for the virtual trip. Hope all is well with you?🙏🏻