Thursday, December 30, 2010

Hampi memories 9 - Travel, Stay, Food, Transport and a few closing Thoughts

This is the easiest part. How did we get to Hampi? Where did we stay? How did we ride around?

Since we travelled from Bangalore, we rode the Hampi Express that leaves Bangalore at 9 PM and reaches Hospet at about 7 AM the next day, on the way to Hubli.

A swarm of auto-rickshaw drivers and hotel agents surround you as soon as you get out of the train platform into the parking area. Many of them thrust their business cards at you, very colourful, made of a strange material that appears not to be bio-degradable. So you need to look casual, been there, done that, walk casually past the throng. Some of them follow you, giving you time to get your bearings and sort things out in your mind.

Our reservation was at the Malligi Hotel in Hospet.

We decided that one of the auto-rickshaw drivers from among the crowd that greeted us in front of the Railway Station would be our charioteer. He also offered to drive us around Hampi. So he became our sort-of-guide around Hampi, at least point to point. He also dropped us off at the Railway Station for our journey back. Junior was the navigator, sharing the front seat with the driver.

The Restaurant in the Karnataka State Tourism Development Corporation Hotel Mayura Bhuvaneshwari was a convenient place for lunch, being located very close to the Royal Centre area. A trifle disorganized, but not particularly injurious to health.

Our auto-rickshaw driver-guide also drove us to The Mango Tree restaurant, set among a grove of banana plants.

It was an upmarket restaurant located fairly near the Virupaksha Temple that provided great views of the rocks and the river. From reports on the 'net, it appears that the Mango Tree restaurant has been shut down.

Well, that was a glimpse of Hampi. There are a few sites that we did not visit or did not spend adequate time in. Besides, the Anegundi area across the river remains on the to-do list.

One can only imagine the sights and sounds of about 600 years ago, the engineering skills, art, music, discipline, trade, wealth and fame. Travellers from other countries documented their experiences in the Vijayanagar Empire. Add to that the enmity and greed of the neighbouring kingdoms that led to wars, defeats, and cities being destroyed and abandoned.

Allow me to salute, in my opinion, the trunk-less and tusk-less 'National Animal' of the devastated Vijayanagar Empire.

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We did not know at that time that we would be visiting Cambodia less than 4 months from then. We took a quick look at the ruins of the famed and incredibly wealthy Khmer Empire that existed several hundred years before the Vijayanagar Empire.

The seeds of the Khmer Empire had blown from India about 1,000 years before the Vijayanagar era, driven by the Trade Winds, a peaceful, economic, trade and culture enabled expansion. The Khmer Empire developed along the Tonle Sap lake, along with an extensive irrigation system. The Vijayanagar Empire developed along the Tungabhadra River, aided by a sophisticated irrigation system. The temples in both the Empires were Cities by themselves. The Khmer Empire got reclaimed by the dense, tropical jungles. The Vijayanagar Empire has all but merged with the dry, boulder strewn landscape. Both Empires were victims of greed and war.

From ashes to ashes, from dust to dust....

You may be interested in these glimpses of Cambodia:

Cambodia - Part 1

Cambodia - Part 2 

Cambodia - Part 3 

Cambodia - Part 4 

Cambodia - Part 5 

Happy Travels..!!

Hampi memories 8 - Pattabhirama Temple, Reservoirs and Sunsets

Located away from the main Hampi circuit, near the Museum, is the beautiful Pattabhirama Temple, constructed in Vijayanagar style. The garden outside is, rather surprisingly, well maintained.

The external, multi-tiered Gopuram is elegantly carved.

There are several halls within the temple complex, including a Marriage Hall, a Hall for visitors to stay in, a Kitchen, and other structures. The multi-pillared Central Hall looks out towards the Gopuram.

The pillars are exquisitely carved, resembling those of the well known Vittala Temple. 

The temple complex is being renovated. Perhaps, when done, visitors will get a better idea of the appearance of the Temple as it may have looked 600 years ago.

All the pillars have several panels on each of the four faces. Carvings are seen from the ceiling to the floor.

Each carved panel tells a story. 

The temple complex is quite extensive, with Gopurams, a large courtyard and many halls. We were the only visitors at that time. A small crew was busy with the renovations. 

Like all advanced civilizations, the Vijayanagar Empire was built around an extensive system of  artificial reservoirs and canals used to supply precious water for irrigation. In addition, the Vijayanagar kings had constructed a network of channels, as well, as we had seen near some of the temples. Considering that this was a dry, rocky area, this was a stunning feat. There were several reservoirs within the Kingdom. The ones we see today had their origins during the 15th Century, if not earlier. We passed one of the reservoirs every morning during our trip from Hospet to Hampi. Note the slightly suspicious look on Junior's face. He was probably wondering what kind of a mess he had gotten into.

Located away from the main tourist circuit, the Malyavanta Hill is well known as one of the Sunset points in Hampi, much like Hemakuta and Matanga Hills near Virupaksha Temple.

The views go around about 270 degrees, revealing the dry, rocky landscape stretching for kilometres.

Like most Sunset Point type spots, the expectations may be higher compared to the views or ambiance. In this case, you get both. An extremely unique point about this spot is that the large Raghunatha Malyavanta Temple has been built on a hill, among and around the rocks. Thereis even a little temple perched way up on the highest rock in the hill.

This is a 'live' temple, with nice music and chanting, however, without the crowds that invariably gather at most easily accessible 'live' temples (like the Virupaksha Temple, conveniently located next to the bus terminus).

The complex is set in a garden amidst the rocky mountain slopes. It was built in the 16th Century. The area is known as Kishkinda. The Ramayana tells us that this was the transit point for Rama and Lakshman on their way south to Lanka.

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Hampi memories 7 - Vittala Temple and the trek by the River

The Vithala Temple represents one of the highlights of Hampi. Dedicated to Vishnu, the temple complex was built over many years around the 15th and 16th Century. The temple consists of several halls, pavilions and temples within the compound, that has a large gateway.

The stone Chariot located in the main courtyard is among  the most well known images of Hampi to have emerged over the years. The Chariot has been carved out of a monolithic stone. Stone horses were present in the front of the Chariot, but were damaged and replaced with Elephants sometime during the course of the years.

A close up of the top of the Chariot reveals very fine carvings.

It is said that the wheels used to move in the past, but excessive movement resulted in damage to the chariot.

The main hall was being renovated, so entry was not allowed. 

There are several halls around the complex, containing many pillars. Each pillar has four to six panels, and four faces. The Kalyana Mantapa (Marriage Hall) is said to contain 100 pillars. 

The Vittala Temple is extremely well known for the 'Musical Pillars' fashioned out of single pieces of rock. Each of the pillars contains exquisitely carved statues and stories.

It appears that the some portions of the buildings need support, and are being renovated.

A close look at some of the sculptures.

The main sanctorium does not have a diety. You can go down a flight of dark stairs around the main structure. Streaks of light come in from gaps in the ceiling. It's extremely dark inside, below the floor level of the main chamber. 

A view of intricately carved pillars. 

Close up view of the Intricate carvings, from ceiling to floor.

The intricate 'little temples' took away my attention, like 'temples within temples', also seen in large numbers along the base of the Mahanavami Dibba.

The outer perimeter contains several towers and a host of smaller halls and temples.

As the sun sets, visitors begin to  leave the Complex, leaving behind them quieter moments within the complex. Outside the complex, the rays of the setting sun light up the granite hallways of the remains of the Vittala Bazaar, yet another centre of trade between merchants from different countries.

The age old boulders seem to be quietly witnessing the passing centuries.

The walk from the Vithala Temple to the banks of the Tungabhadra River is a long one, through an interesting variety of ruins and rocks. The King's Balance is about 5 or 6 metres high. Legends say that the King used to weigh himself against gems on special occasions and distribute the gems to the priests.

The skeleton of a two-storeyed gateway building lies very close to the King's Balance. 

The landscape got desolate as we walked along mud paths and rocks. A series of stone columns can be seen, which, we are told is the remains of  a bridge that once spanned the river, joining Hampi and Anegundi. The construction of a 21st Century bridge was attempted, but it collapsed in 2009. Anegundi is reputed to be even older than Hampi, as an inhabited area.

Those who are familiar with Carnatic Classical Music would undoubtedly have heard of Purandaradasa. Back in the days before the TV era, All India Radio used to be our only source of musical exposure. From memory, the composer mentioned the highest number of times was certainly Purandaradasa. Considered the 'Grandfather of Classical Music', Purandaradasa is known for having composed 75,000 songs. (Source: Wikipedia). He lived in Hampi for many years, and is said to have spent much of his time composing songs in a stone building on the banks of the Tungabhadra River. The building is now known as the Purandaradasa Mantapa. 

The trek continued on a base of solid rock, radiating an immense amount of heat, though it was the end of December. Several gateways, pillars and temples dot the area.

The Narasimha Temple (which I gathered from a map, since there are no signs) sits on the slopes of the hillock that climbs up sharply at this point.

After walking a few kilometres from the Vittala Temple, it is time for a short rest, and subsequently for an always welcome, 'Excuse Me' tender coconut drink.

The walk has been lovely, though. The landscape became seriously hot and rocky, with no end in sight.

The Varaha Temple, built in Vijayanagar style with an entrance and a courtyard, but now without any dieties, stands along the path towards the River.

Unexpectedly, a look towards the left reveals what would have been another marketplace. This area turns out to be Courtesan Street. The Varaha Temple is located at one end, near the river,  while the more well known Achyuta Raya Temple is located almost a kilometer away at the other end, towards the town.

Shells of the traders shops are located along both sides of the long street. I was trying to count. How many Bazaar's have we seen so far?

A humble looking, unmarked  temple is located nearby, dedicated to Vishnu, called the Rangatha Temple, also known as the Vishnu Temple. We did not go inside but chose to sit outside and gather our thoughts. I read later that there is a large statue of a reclining Vishnu inside the temple.

The dusty and rocky path winded on along the river. A sadhu was nonchalantly sitting on the blazing, hot rock. Ouch..!! He lifted his hand in a little gesture, and wished us well.

By then we had started wondering whether we have lost our way, and for how much longer might we continue to wander clueless among the boulders. Large boulders had suddenly appeared. At the end of a climb up narrow flights of stairs carved into the rock, past a few temples nestled between giant boulders, a Vijayanagar-era Bazaar like area suddenly appeared.

The double-storied stores looked very familiar. We've seen this recently, have we not?

I believe that not micro-managing travel has its plus points. Not walking around with a guide is great fun, adds significantly to the excitement. A lot more 'aha' moments are experienced, based on some basic reading about the monuments. So we had actually walked from the Vittala Temple, past the Tungabhadra River, and had reached the Virupaksha Bazaar opposite the Virupaksha Temple. Well..!!

Looking around, I saw a statue that I had read about, but had no idea where it was located. The Monolithic Bull. So, there it was, finally. I gravely and knowledgeably announced to the family "There's the Monolithic Bull." Like I was an authority on the monuments of Hampi. 'Oh', they said, with a fair amount of respect in their voices and looks. Actually, I had done a wee bit of virtual exploration, but the names of temples and places had only left my mind in a haze. A few names stood out. One of them was the 'Monolithic Bull', carved out of a massive rock. Being housed in a double storied pavilion, the Bull must be over 6 to 7 metres tall. Fortunately the attackers did not find any tusks and trunks to cut off. It looks strangely undamaged.

We walked along the Bazaar street, away from the Monolithic Bull, taking a few photographs along the way. As we reached the end, a quick look back showed the abandoned state of the once flourishing Vijayanagar Bazaar.

It's time for a late lunch by the River, passing the Virupaksha Temple complex on the way.