Thursday, April 26, 2007

HAMPI - VIJAYNAGAR, capital of the kingdom in yore

----- Forwarded Message ----
From: Avinash Manohar
Sent: Monday, April 16, 2007 2:59:18 PM
Subject: Hampi Write Up and Pics...

Hi All,

I recently visited Hampi i.e. Vijayanagar, the capital of the Vijayanagar Kingdom, one of the last great Empires in South India. The ruins of the city are located in Bellary district, Karnataka. This is my story.

Before I begin, I do realize that most of you would happily swallow a cyanide pill than read a History passage. In my defense, I'd like to say that it's concise with a few sprinkles of those dreaded dates, the rest is about the time I spent there exploring this must see place. Give it a shot, read it in its entirety, form a mental picture and then check out the snaps, check how far or close you were.

Being a keen student of History, I'd always been awed by whatever I read about Hampi and the glorious kingdom and dynasties it represented.

For the ones who slept through History class in school and had subsequent nightmares during exams, Hampi is huge but that's not its only achievement. Some books and websites list it as 14 square kilometers while others put it close to 20 square kilometers. Whatever the actual size, it's the thought and planning that went into the construction of this mega city that really counts. The city is nestled in by rocky granite hills, from pebbles to massive boulders, it's all here. Some of the raw material for the wonderful architecture looks like it was sourced from the surrounding hills. You can still see unfinished work at many places, marked by small rectangular cuts which run straight along the rock face; they probably used some kind of primitive tool to then cut clean through the rock and get the desired shape and size.

Apart from the natural cover these hills provided, which kept unwanted visitors out (mainly the soldiers of the Deccan Sultanates to the north); the city also had fortifications and watch towers that ran right round the city, which gave it an additional line of defense. Most ancient cities flourished because it was located to that fundamental human need, water and the proximity to it. Hampi is no different, the Tungabhadra River flows right through it.

Caution: History lesson here – South India is home to many great kingdoms, such as the Chalukyas, Cholas, Pandyas, Hoysalas and finally the Vijayanagar Kingdom. This is not to say there were no other kingdoms; just that none of them acquired territory and power as much as their predecessors. These kingdoms rose, fell and were replaced. The moment a king showed signs of weakness, his throne was usurped by a relative or chieftain who was stronger, shrewder and better able to rule over surviving relatives, other chieftains and the masses; it was a vicious cycle, played over generations and dynasties. When a king was not strong enough to control and hold his territory, especially the borders, it attracted the attention of outsiders, which is what happened. From the year 1296 the Deccan and the rest of the south was ravaged by the armies of Ala-ud-din Khilji, (of the Delhi Sultanate) and his generals such as Malik Kafur. It was under such trying circumstances that the Vijayanagar kingdom was founded in 1336 by the brothers Harihara I and Bukka Raya I of the Sangama dynasty. Under the able leadership of Harihara I territory was gained and consolidated. After the death of the first king, Bukka became king, like Harihara he too was an able and just ruler. By the early 16th century the kingdom had seen a few dynastic changes and some capable and not so capable rulers. In 1509 Krishna Deva Raya of the Tuluva dysnasty took over the reigns of the empire. No other king was as illustrious as Krishna Deva Raya, under his rule the kingdom reached its zenith. The kingdom comprised of present day Goa, Kerala and Tamil Nadu, most of Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh, parts of coastal and southern regions of Maharashtra and Orissa states. It was from Hampi that this vast empire was governed. The city prospered, in its heyday, half a million people called it home. It attracted people of various hues merchants, artisans, musicians as well as chroniclers from far away lands as Persia, China and Europe. One such chronicler was Domingo Paes from Portugal who came in 1522 after having visited the Italian cities of the Renaissance. The city of Vijayanagar, he says, is as "large as Rome and very beautiful to the sight"; it is full of charm and wonder with its innumerable lakes and waterways and fruit gardens. It is "the best-provided city in the world" and "everything abounds." The chambers of the palace were a mass of ivory, with roses and lotuses carved in ivory at the top" it is so rich and beautiful that you would hardly find anywhere, another such."

Personal Thought - How I wish I had a time machine to go back in time and see for myself, the wonder that was Vijayanagar !!!

The beginning of the end for the kingdom coincided with the death of Krishna Deva Raya in 1529, his successors could not keep up let alone better his accomplishments. In 1565 the five Deccan Sultanates joined hands and met the army of Vijayanagar at the battle of Talikota, the Sultanates forces decisively routed the army. The victors quickly set upon the capital and proceeded to loot, destroy and desecrate. From fledgling capital, to a great seat of power and learning, ultimately turn into ruins, Hampi has seen it all.

Getting There

I've wanted to go to Hampi for years, but something or the other used to come up and could not make it. I usually do a lot of planning before going anywhere but this trip was a spur of the moment decision. I had no plans during the long Good Friday weekend, so I headed out with my backpack. The only objective, get there, the rest will follow (and it did !!!). I caught a bus from Bombay to Hubli, then another bus from Hubli to Hospet (the closest town and entry point to the capital), a short trip by rickshaw and finally I was in Hampi, 18 hours after I left Bombay (it doesn't take that long usually, the bus got stuck in a major traffic jam on the expressway plus changing buses and so on). If you do plan to go, it makes better sense to get to Hospet directly rather than Hubli or other connections.

I had not booked a room in advance but as it's the off season, there were plenty of cheap guest houses available, they don't follow fixed pricing; you have to haggle, expect to pay between Rs 200 to Rs 300 per day for a double bed and attached bath. The room I stayed in had no TV, no hot water, no AC, basic amenities but clean.

Tip - The concept of Maximum Retail Price is alien to the shopkeepers there. You'll end up paying more for water and other commodities.

I freshened up and went about the place. The first thing that caught my eye when I entered the town was the impressive Bistappaya Tower, at least ten storeys tall, think of it as the Eiffel tower of Hampi, behind the tower is the Virupaksha temple. Religious services are still conducted there and the main reason Indians visit, after my walk around the temple compound; I walked down to the end of the main boulevard. As such you don't need a guide, just wander and sooner than later, you'll come across a monument. There are signboards everywhere. I ended up near the bank of the river where I came across these huge boulders, quite a sight, the serene river (contrary to the board that said beware of whirlpools) and the setting sun, didn't think of the scenic beauty of the place till then, took a few snaps before I returned to my room. Rested a while and stepped out for dinner, made a few enquiries about restaurants in the area and went to this place called Mango Tree, apt name as it's literally under a huge mango tree. Neat ambience and reasonably priced, they offered many types of cuisines from Israeli, Continental, Italian, Indian etc. I ordered an Indian Thali and Lassi. After the meal, walked around the town; there is no night life per se, just a few restaurants, internet cafes and souvenir shops, reached my room and hit the sack exhausted with all the traveling and walking around. Woke up a few times during the night to wipe the sweat off, in spite of sleeping right under the fan, figured out why it's the off season.

Surprisingly I woke up early the next morning relaxed and rested. I was keen on exploring the other parts of the city. There are a few options to do this, you can hire a cycle, a motorcycle or walk. Since I'd already done the walking around part and far too lazy to cycle around the vast city, I decided to hire the bike, the hitch, I didn't know how to ride a motorcycle, so I settled for the next best thing, a small automatic transmission bike, little bigger than a cycle, kick started the thing a few times, managed a couple of rounds and set out to the furthest point on the city map, still not fully aware on how to avoid becoming a statistic on the one lane road, used by Trucks, Cars, Bullock Carts and Pedestrians alike. However, five kilometers down the road and I felt like I was a veteran, a Valentino Rossi if you will, put the pedal to the metal, my need for speed limited only by the low cc of the bike, the crisp cool air rushing past, music from my walkman, a lit smoke, ah the Joy I felt and then some part of the bike fell off. It made a clanging sound as it hit the road, which shook me out of the trance; it took a couple of seconds to comprehend what had just happened. My Moto GP attempt ended right then and there. Thankfully, it was just a small part of the guard which had fallen off and not some essential component. After this reality check, I meekly submitted to the intended speed, around 10 kilometers per hour.

Soon the sun was beating down harshly; it got real hot and sweaty, one thing that you need to carry with you all the time is water, lots of it. I don't recollect how many empty bottles I left behind in the room.

As mentioned earlier, being spread over such a large area, you're bound to find something, at times in clusters, while others are solo structures. Temples, Royal Enclosures, Palaces, Entry Gates, Water Tanks, Stables, Bazaars. Some preserved with minimal damage, while others like skeletons, with only the framework surviving. I roamed from one relic to the other, wherever the little bike could manage, dirt track, asphalt, sometimes reaching the same place I'd been to before as most of the roads are inter connected. I really did not mind visiting the same place again, there was so much to see, fantastic layout and engineering, the sculptures which adorn the temple walls and other structures, done by deft hands leaves you spellbound. In the midst of all this, the bike ran out of fuel, had to push it all the way to the petrol pump for a refill. The exercise did not deter me one bit, went straight back to where I left off, I wanted more; such is the effect of the place. Sadly the place is still under threat from modern day vandals; those D.K. loves S.N. types, who see nothing wrong in professing their love by etching on the walls and sculptures.

After spending most of the day under the hot sun, went to the archeological museum, where on display are some of the statues, coins, copper plate inscriptions, etc which have been excavated over the years. In addition to all this, the museum also houses a scale model of Hampi, with all the sights neatly arranged per their location. It was around 3 PM when I left the museum. In order to start early and explore, I had skipped breakfast and then lunch but now the hunger pangs were too much to ignore, stopped at a local hotel and had a bite.

Rode back into town, had a quick shower and tea and went out again on the bike, although this time I did not venture out too far, just the temples that were located close by. By the time I returned to my room, it was close to 7 PM, endured the half hour power cut, had a light dinner and slept off, replayed all the day events in my dreams. The last morning of my stay there was uneventful, just walked around the river bank and visited the stunning Achyutaraya and Vithala temple compounds. The stone chariot at the Vitthala temple is quite something, exquisite workmanship and not to be missed.

Walked all the way, up hill, down hill, not even sure if it was the same path I had come by, anyway it didn't take me long to reach the guesthouse, checked out and reached the bus stand to start my journey home. By the next morning I was back in Bombay. I had spent three days in Hampi and enjoyed every bit, as with most of my trips, I was totally cut off from the rest of the world, no email, no newspapers, and no TV, Hampi was my world and it was just great.

I'm totally awestruck by the place, I long to return and spend a few more days at this so very magical place.

Well, that's the end of my story, check out the snaps. If you need any info or something, please revert.

Take Care All
Note - Some of the pics warrant a full view, please click the magnifying glass icon / full size link to do so.


The average man, who does not know what to do with his life, wants another one which will last forever.
- Anatole France


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