Day #61 Pit stop in Hampi
It took great sacrifice to get to the medieval looking city of Hampi for just a one day visit. It required 11 hours by bus to get there in the morning and we were leaving the same evening to Bangalore for another 8 hours before flying to Kochi. Hampi came highly recommended by Alex, Antonio’s brother. He also had travelled the world a few years ago and Hampi was one of his favourite stops in India. We were really curious of what we would find there!
As we walked out of the bus it felt like we were dropped off in a different world, at a different time. We were standing in a dirt road, surrounded by hills of giant granite boulders, ruins of old Hindu temples and monuments with vibrant green vegetation filling the empty spaces. Later, we came to find that coconut trees, long rice paddies and abundant banana plantations were ever-present in this landscape as well. It felt like an oasis. So different, it is hard to describe.
Hampi was once the capital of the prosperous Vijayanagara Empire that was established in 1336 by prince Harihararaya. The empire came to its prominence by fighting off islamic invasions and in just a few centuries, it grew into one of the largest Hindu empires in Indian history. It brought Southern India to new heights in both technology and fine arts. By the 16th century, Hampi was the world’s second-largest medieval-era city after Beijing. It was a thriving metropolis of about 500,000 people, with busy bazaars taking part in international commerce. All this, however, ended in a stroke in 1565 when the empire suffered a major military defeat by a coalition of Muslim sultanates. Hampi was conquered, pillaged and destroyed leaving it in ruins up until today. Spread over 4,100 hectares, Hampi's ruins became a UNESCO world heritage site. There are some 3700 monument ruins to explore in Hampi such as forts, temples, royal and sacred complexes, pillared halls, water structures and much more!
When we got to the heart of Hampi also called the Sacred Centre, we had to find a place to leave our backpacks and decided to rent a moped so we could cover all the major sights of Hampi in a day. The Sacred Centre is around the Hampi Bazaar and is mainly a safe haven for backpackers during these days. The moped we rented caused some good laughs throughout the day. The moped's model was called Heavy Duty XL Super :) but, it had nothing of "super" or XL, we rather looked like an old couple on top of an electrical bike. The most funny part was its hilarious sounds: when beeping it sounded like a hoarse duck and whenever using the blinkers it would do a loud sound like the siren of a construction truck in reverse gear!
The first ruins we visited was the beautiful Virupaksha temple. I loved the many smaller temples it contained and how well preserved it was. A marriage ceremony was taking place in the main temple which made the ambience all the more special. We witnesses an unfortunate episode however: an old local lady who had an epileptic attack, fell and hit her head very badly against the stone floor. When we found her, she was laying face down and we thought she might be dead. People had gathered around and a little girl (not more than 4 years old) was crying desperately next to the lady which seemed to be her grandmother. My heart shrunk to the size of a pea. I wanted to help but I couldn’t get myself to get closer fearing what I might find. Instead, I went and tried to comfort the little girl who was left alone. Antonio on the other hand, was quickly active on the scene. He helped the woman get up and assess the damage. She had dense blood clots running down her cheek and seemed very disoriented. He gave her some water to drink and wash her face but the injury in her head seemed really serious. We were extremely worried by seeing the depression in her skull and insisted in her going to a hospital. Sadly, things work very differently in India. Not only was it hard for her to understand us but the other locals that had gathered were saying she would be fine, leaving her to rest in the sun and telling us to do the same. We felt useless. Eventually a man who claimed to be her son came and promised he would take her to the hospital later. I still think of that lady sometimes and can only hope she recovered safely.
We went on with our morning visiting the other scattered ruins around the temple, some of them containing huge monolithic sculptures of Nasimha and Ganesh. We then continued to the Royal Centre of Hampi where a number of major sights stand such as the Queen’s Bath and the impressive Mahanavami-diiba, a 12m-high three-tiers platform with intricate carvings that was used as a royal viewing area during festivities or religious ceremonies. Arriving at the top of the platform, I was stupefied by the numerous ruins all around. It felt like we were in a movie!
We decided to go and visit Hampi’s waterfalls before lunch so we could take a refreshing dip. When we got to the parking lot we weren’t expecting for the waterfalls to be so hard to find. It took us nearly 30 minutes walking to get there. We had to go through a rich banana plantation field and then walk through and around the big boulders that surrounded the river until we reached the powerful waterfall. Fortunately, a local had seen us arrive and offered his help for us to get there which, apparently is very common otherwise no one would find the place!
We left the highlight of Hampi for the end of the day: the beautiful Vittala Temple which, stands at about 20 min drive from the Bazaar and has curious masterpieces such as the stone chariot whose wheels once turned. The complex was beautiful but we were in a rush to get to the "Monkey Temple" for sunset. The Hanuman Temple, also referred has the "Monkey Temple" because of the hundreds of monkeys that inhabit it, offers great panoramic views over the Hampi region but requires a 570-step climb up the Anjanadri Hill. In order to get there we had to cross the river via ferry, which was actually a small boat. We were squeezed inside with our moped along with another 4 scooters and its passengers! It was a fun ride and the sunset view from the temple was unbelievable!! We felt absolute peace while there.
We had a 1 hour drive back to the centre of Hampi and it was already dark. The lights of our moped weren’t exactly the best ones, we couldn't roll at more than 45kms/h before it sounded like it was going to die on us and we weren't sure whether we had enough gas to make it home! It was an adventure that topped off a full and gratifying day in Hampi but we managed to get to our night bus to Bangalore on time.
Next stop, Kochi, Kerala!