An early morning train departure from Goa followed by a bus ride got me to Hampi in the late afternoon, where, having checked out the uninspiring accomodation opportunities in the village, I took one of the tiny ferries across the river to the traveller ghetto on the other side (identifiable by an outbreak of German bakeries and the signs offering wifi in even the tiniest cafe). There I checked into one of the many tree-shaded river-side guest houses and got myself a little thatched circular concrete hut, complete with hammock on the porch.
The extensive monuments at Hampi are the remains of the once great capital of a Hindu kingdom, ruled by the marvellously wealthy Vijayanagar kings from the fourteenth to sixteenth centuries. This wealth was derived from a near monopoly on luxury goods such as spices and horses passing through their ports.
Travellers from Europe have left us accounts of the beauty of the palaces and temples here and descriptions of markets full of precious stones and silks. Testament to the thriving economy are the ruins of street long bazaar buildings, some of them with more recent houses built into them, although it looks as those are in the process of being demolished.
The site lies besides a river in a defensible rocky landscape but nevertheless fell to an attacking confereracy of Muslim states from the north in the mid-sixteenth century, after which is was plundered and abandoned.
I spent the morning looking around the ruins close to the river, the highlight of which (and one of the few you have to pay to enter) is the Vitthala temple, which has a stone chariot in front of the main temple, complete with wheels that I gather once turned on their stone axles.
The temple also has famous musical pillars: hollow stone ones that ring with different notes when hit. Centuries of percussion have taken their toll on the carving though, so now there is a security man posted to stop people taking a thwack themselves. I heard one group of tourists selfishly begging him to make an exception for them, as if their momentary experience was worth more than the preservation of India’s heritage. I was pleased to see him hold firm.
After a restorative glass of freshly milled sugar can juice next to an anatomically dubious warning sign about crocodiles, I took a rickshaw to the other, more widely spread, group of ruins further south. After a quick look around the archeaological museum (nice sculpures, disgusting toilets) I wandered around the arid landscaple looking for the main attractions, covered by the same ticket as the Vithtala temple.
They were worth the wander. The most lovely is the Lotus Mahal, in the high walled zenana (women’s enclosure), set in a pleasant garden.
Within palace ruins nearby was this wonderful stepped tank – part of the extensive water management system on the site. I love these – I find the abstract patterns of the steps quite mesmerising.
The temples have a great deal of photogenic stone carving, of which you can find a many pictures in my Flickr stream. I’ll limit myself to just showing you this one:
I had hoped to flag down a passing rickshaw on the road back to the village (as I exited the ruins rather a long way from the village where the museum was) but there didn’t seem to be much traffic. So I sat on a bus stop bench to see what would happen and along came a lovely young man with a scooter who gave me a lift back whilst telling me about his tourism college course.
I got him to drop me off just short, so I could have a quick visit to a famous image of Vishnu, the Narasimha statue. From here one can walk back to the village centre over a huge slab of rock that juts up above the ancient (and still operational) temple in the centre of the bazaar. It was close to sunset and I was tempted to join the groups sitting up there to watch the spectacle, but I didn’t fancy negotiating the rather steep climb down in the dark. I was also worried about missing the last boat back across the river, if it hadn’t already left.
Sure enough, as I walked along the top of the ghat I heard the cry “last ferry” and had to scamper down the steps waving my arms and shouting “wait for me”, to the obvious amusement of the massed ranks of souvenir sellers. And who should I bump into on the other side, but my new scooter-driving friend, watching the sun set.
For the Lego model I decided to build this, the palatial elephant stable, next to the zenana.
Although shortage of parts limited me to building just the middle three units.