Hampi: A world of rocks and ruins, carnivals and carvings
Notoriously difficult to get to, and with a lack of decent hotels, the archaeological site of Hampi hasn’t made it easy for visitors to enjoy – until now. With the opening of Evolve Back Kamalapura Palace, the area finally has a luxury hotel to base yourself from while exploring this fantastic site. Having eagerly anticipated the launch, we made our way from cold and rainy London to hot and dusty Hampi the week of the official opening.
Hampi, also known as Vijayanagara, was the capital of the Vijayanagara Empire (1336 – 1646), and in its day, was one of the richest and largest cities in the world before it fell to the Deccan Sultanates. The site also has many links with the Hindu epic, the Ramayana. It is said that Hampi was the site of Kishkinda, the mythical kingdom of the Monkeys where Hanuman first meets Rama and Lakshmana.
What remains is a sprawling scenic ruined city, containing a multitude of temples, monuments, avenues, statues and palaces, all set to a backdrop of running rivers, lush sugarcane fields, swaying palm trees and the famous boulder-strewn landscapes.
The site is split between two different ‘centres’ – the Royal and Sacred – each home to an amazing array of different structures. To do Hampi justice you really need two full days, especially when it is a 5 hour drive from Bangalore or any major city. Both centres are very different – the Royal centre has a range of unusual, understated but beautifully carved monuments. My favourites were the Elephant stables, the stunning Lotus Mahal and the Hazara Rama Temple – which we visited at sunset. Others of note include the Stepped Tank and the Mahanavami Platform.
In contrast the Sacred Centre is home to the visually commanding Virupaksha and Vitthala temples, the latter which we took a coracle ride up the Tunghabhadra River to reach. The best views over the Virupaksha complex are from the top of Hemakuta Hill, which was well worth the steep climb.
I was also lucky enough to have been blessed by a temple elephant at Virupaksha Temple.
Hampi is a site of enormous historical significance, but for me, in a similar vein to the site of Angkor Archaeological Park in Siem Reap, the landscape and natural beauty makes the complex even more special; a real visual feast for the eyes. I would recommend taking your time exploring, and getting lost, rather than frog-marching from one site to the next. As of now, the lack of infrastructure has always made Hampi difficult to get to, so free of large hordes of tourists. This may not continue for long, so I urge you to go now!
We arrived the week that Evolve Back Kamalapura Palace opened and, although a bit of building work was still going on, this is a fantastic property and a complete game-changer for the area. Based on the design of the Royal Enclosure’s Lotus Mahal, the main building has lotus shaped arches and floats over an enormous water body which reflects beautifully at night. A selection of villas come with private pools, the restaurant serves very good Indian and European fusion food and two large swimming pools cater for both adults and children. A highlight was dining under the stars on the hotel’s main terraces, looking out over the beautifully lit grounds below.
Although not a luxury hotel by any means, we also loved Boulders, a simple property located within absolutely stunning rural scenery. Rooms look out onto the dramatic boulder-strewn landscape and flowing river below, white butterflies follow you to breakfast and wildlife sightings are frequent.
On leaving Hampi, instead of returning by car to Bangalore, we headed to Hubli via the archaeological sites of Aihole, Pattadakal and Badami.
Known as the cradle of temple architecture, Aihole historic complex is made up of around 120 temples which date from the 6th – 12th century, built by the Chalukya dynasty on the site of their first capital. Very few temples or monuments that remain from ancient times in India pre-date this; for me it was interesting to feel that we were at the ‘starting point’ of temple building, and to trace everything else I have seen from this beginning. The Durga temple is the most famous of all, but the entire complex is worth visiting. The sculptures found within the Durga temple compare in scale, and beauty, to Mumbai’s Elephanta Caves.
Pattadakal was thought to be the religious centre and coronation site of the Chalukyas and is a very pretty complex comprising of 9 shrines. A mix of active temples and monuments, I loved exploring the sculpture of the inner walls of the temples, which illustrate well known myths and fables.
Also a capital of the Chalukya period, Badami has to be one of India’s most scenic archaeological sites. A series of 6th century rock-cut cave temples, a 16th century Muslim tomb (Adil Shahi), Agastya Lake, surrounded by ghats busy with local life and a crumbling hill fort make this a typically Indian, and fabulous, mishmash of eras, forms and styles.
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