Hampi today is a quaint little village on the banks of river Tungabhadra, Karnataka. But this simplicity and anonymity is a stark contrast to what it was in its hey days as the seat of the great Vijaynagara empire.
Vijaynagara empire was established in 1336 AD and rose to popularity with its constant efforts to ward off Islamic invasion. The empire also contributed significantly to fine art, literature, music and technology. They had a fairly advanced water management system. Their governance was efficient. They also had a courtesan street, without hurting any public sentiments, unlike today ! Sounds like a perfect recipe for a healthy bustling metropolis.
Hampi was one of the largest cities of the world, in its prime, three times the size of Paris and had an army of more than a million people. Hampi derives its name from the word ‘Pampa’ which is the old name of Tungabhadra river. It was a strategic location surrounded by mountains and a river.
So, when I came to know that the ruins of this place hold so much history within them, it was impossible to resist a visit to Hampi. Also I had seen amazing pictures of their monuments which added to the motivation for the journey. Though it took years of waiting, but I’m glad I finally experienced history in full power, first hand.
Road plan :
An overnight bus ride from Mumbai or Pune to Hospet is all it takes to travel back in history. Really! It’s that simple. Take the sleeper bus.The services are very good.
The United Nations Organization for Education, Science and Culture . So we finally know what’s the fancy acronym that’s synonymous with Hampi ruins. UNESCO aims to preserve culture, nature and history by listing out areas of “outstanding universal value” and decides them based on these ten criteria. This brings these areas on world map of important places which attracts research projects, tourism, funds and recognition for the country.
In reality it means that hampi ruins are well preserved. Cleanliness is maintained. Restoration is in full swing. And commercial properties like hotels and malls and industries are not allowed in vicinity. Which means clean air, greenery all around, less noise, clean river, which adds upto awesome pictures, serenity and calm unmatched by present day civilization worldwide.
The ruins :
The ruins are not exactly ruins. They are full fledged temples and courts, palaces and houses, bridges and roads still standing tall. To me it looked more like a city abandoned in hurry than city faced with slow extinction. The architecture is artful yet efficient. The carvings tell stories from Ramayana and Mahabharata in vivid details. Active restoration work can be seen clearly. This place is surprisingly more clean than other tourist cities I visited, why so is still a mystery to me.
Present life :
One good thing, was that this place is not a cliche commercial tourist destination yet. I think its partly because the government doesn’t allow resorts and hotels to come up easily in the vicinity. Also, partly because it’s a “nerd” friendly place where mostly history buffs and photographers, or hippies in search of a hideout are attracted. Its not a party destination at all. Though some cafes are coming up,but for tourists things are comparatively cheaper.
It was my first experience living in a home stay. Unlike hotels, homestay is a situation where you stay with a local family, not in a commercial guest house. It can be within the same house, or an adjoining room. Can be exclusively for you, or a shared room. I must say that my trip would not have been so awesome had it not been for the warm host family I was lucky to stay with. There was an instant connect with the family of four. The man of the house graciously welcomed me.
Though I was only his second guest ever, he seem to have mastered the art of hospitality like a true gentleman. An ever present smile. Willingness to show the village. Willingness to give suggestions, plan my trip, become my local guide. I soon found myself helping them in household work, playing with the kids, helping them with computer and photography related queries. Even medical consultations for friends and family members.
We had elaborate chat about the life in village on a couple of occasions. I was surprised to learn that he and many other people would only move to larger cities as a last resort. They can give up money but not the peace and simplicity of village life. An intellectual thought in today’s era I must say. My host worked as a health worker in the nearby govt. primary health care center. He was proud of his job. He had pulled his siblings out of poverty since a very young age. From bring a waiter and an ice cream seller to having a pakka house, photography as a hobby, a decent laptop, job satisfaction, and most importantly peace of mind, he had a come a long way.
He had a decent enough job to not worry about the paltry sum that he would get from my staying tariff. he liked tourism as a concept. He had opened his home for tourist s like me because he wanted to meet new people. He wanted to show his culture, his village to new friends he had made. Most importantly, he was not doing it for the money, but for the love of it.
It was a big help to me that he spoke the local language and knew half the villagers in person, so I could happily click pictures where ever I wanted to without hindrance.
Fun on two wheels :
When ever you’re in Hampi I would suggest you to hire a two wheeler for local sight seeing. Now, I would strongly suggest that one should hire a bicycle for seeing the ruins and a motorized bike for the other side of the Tungabhadra river. Do try the “Korakal” boat while crossing the river. It looks like a big basket floating in water. The ride through the paddy fields on a pleasant sunny morning is a pleasure hard to match. Do take time to explore the fields, nearby villages and meet local people.
More than the ruins :
I had come with the mind set that Hampi was all about the ruins and history. I am glad that I did not miss any opportunity to explore the village further. From visiting the banana rope handicraft workshop to speaking with the local farmers. From spending time at the local primary health care center to clicking random street pictures of people it was all fun and satisfying experience. The paddy fields are an attraction in itself. Lush green fields and hills, blue sky and pleasant weather can give any city dweller a jolt of excitement.
The banana handicraft workshop, run by a European female living in Hampi for 30 years now. The woman in the picture is one of the ten workers at the workshop. She is from Nepal
Disappointed taste-buds :
While I was having all the gala time exploring the locality, my tongue was cursing me. The food served at the cafes is too spicy, too salty, tasteless wonder. And its the same in almost all eateries. The best food I had was with the host family. I especially loved the breakfast preparation of soggy puffed rice made spicy, eaten by itself. I can’t recollect the name but would love to have it more often.
Wrap up :
So wrapping it all up, one should go to Hampi if you’re a history nerd, or love clicking the ruins, or love experiencing village life . It is not a place for night life and endless booze. It is a place to embrace calm and peace of mind.
Pro tips :
- Don’t forget to carry a hat, sun glasses, enough loose money.
- Do buy a local tourist guide book and a map, will make life much easier.
- Don’t depend on GPS, there is practically no network in all of Hampi.
- Book a homestay via AirBnB website.
- Book a return bus ticket by GoIbibo.
- My trip excluding food and fuel was just under rs. 4000. for 3 days. So pretty pocket friendly.
- Don’t miss sunset from Hanuman Mandir and Matanga Hill.
- Do venture out in the villages and paddy fields. There is more to Hampi than the ruins.
- The place is reasonably clean, avoid litter at any cost.
- Haggle with the bike rentals, they are a notorious lot.
- It takes atleast three days to see the village leisurely.