Hampi: The forgotten capital of Vijayanagara

Vithala Temple, Hampi

Hampi, located on the banks of River Tungabhadra was the capital of the Vijayanagara empire from 1343 to 1565. With river Tungabhadra on one side and hills on the other sides, Hampi proved to be an excellent strategic location to serve as the capital. During its prime, Hampi was the second largest and one of the richest cities in the world. Today all that glory lies in ruins and Hampi is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

When to visit? The best time to visit Hampi is during the annual “Nada Utsav” held by the Government of Karnataka around January. During this festival, the whole city is decked up for a grand cultural extravaganza featuring artists, musicians and performers of the rich Kannadiga culture. If not, just visit during the winter months to eschew the excruciating heat of South India.

Number of Days? Ideally 2 days. However, you can also do a crash 1 day trip and cover the major places.

How to reach Hampi? Hampi is connected through daily bus service from Bangalore and Mysore. Buses ply to Hospet which is around 13 km from Hampi. There are trains to Hospet too. From Hospet, frequent bus service is available to Hampi.

Where to stay? This is tricky and depends on your purpose. If you are visiting Hampi purely for its archaeological value, it is better to stay in the temple side of River Tungabhadra. From here all major points are easily accessible. But if you are going to Hampi for a vacation, you may choose to stay in the opposite bank of the river. That side is more happening and there are movies and jamming sessions conducted in the evening for entertainment. Foreigners who flock Hampi in large numbers owing to its UNESCO recognition, generally prefer this side. Remember you will need to cross the river in a boat as there are no other means. So choose your stay judiciously.

Major attractions of Hampi:

Virupaksha temple

Lord Virupaksha is believed to be the prime deity of Hampi. This is usually the starting point for most tourists. This temple was built around the 7th century. The temple has a huge entrance gate (gopuram). Another notable attraction inside the temple is the inverted shadow of this gopuram formed by pinhole camera technique in a remote corner of the temple. It is a magnificent display of the scientific advancement of that age.

Virupaksha Temple

Vithala Temple:Vijaya Vithala temple (built in 15th century AD) like the Virupaksha temple is a standout attraction of Hampi. The celebrated stone carved chariot in this temple is the cynosure for visitors at Hampi and is often recognized as an icon representing the rich sculptural heritage of the place. The prime deity of the temple is Lord Vithala (a form of Lord Vishnu) and the chariot in front of the temple has Garuda (the mount of Lord Vishnu) in a customary standing posture with folded arms. However, the inner sanctum is empty as the deity has been shifted elsewhere.

The famous stone chariot at Vithala temple

The famed musical pillars are also located in this temple. These pillars are known to produce musical notes which echoed through the nearby hills. It is believed that musicians of Vijayanagara used to strike these pillars with sandalwood sticks producing musical notes and the queen used to dance to its tunes in the natya mantapa of this temple. Definitely an acoustic wonder !!!

Sasivekalu Ganesha and Kadalekalu Ganesha:

These are two giant monolithic statues of Lord Ganesha in the Hemakuta Hills of Hampi.

The Kadalekalu Ganesha shrine is located at the top of the hill. It is a gigantic 15 feet statue situated in the sanctum of a ruined temple. The temple has an open porch in front of it. On the backside of the statue, there is a disembodied hand of Goddess Parvati on the back of Lord Ganesha who is imagined to be sitting on her lap. The sculptor has left the size and greatness of the Goddess to the imagination of the visitors instead of sculpting her.

Sasivekalu Ganesha Temple is located on the southern foothill of the Hemakuta Hills. This statue is built on an open pavilion and is more artistic than the Kadalekalu Ganesha statue. In the idol, a snake can be found tied across the belly of Lord Ganesha. As per the legends, Lord Ganesha tied a snake around his belly to prevent it from bursting due to overeating.

Sasivekalu Ganesha

Narashimha statue:

The monolithic  Narashimha statute is again one of the prime attractions of Hampi. Though it is popularly accepted as Ugra Narashimha, it is actually a Laxmi Narashimha statue (the one in which Lord Narashimha is in his benevolent form). This fact is also mentioned in a painted board just by the side of the statue. Due to distortion of the face of the statue and the demolition of Goddess Laxmi, the statue gives an impression of it being Ugra Narashimha. The statue has a canopy of a seven hooded serpent which adds to the mysticism of the statue.

Lord Narashimha statue

Elephant Stable:

Another major attraction in the list of major visiting places at Hampi. These elephant stables are huge and are marked by the different architectural design of the domes over each stable. It is situated in the Zeena Enclosure which also has a small sculpture museum.

Elephant Stables

Underground Shiva Temple:

There is a Shiva temple which has its roof at the ground level and hence is called the underground temple. The floor in the interior of the temple is filled with water and tourists lumber through it barefooted to visit the Shivalinga in the sanctum.

Lotus Palace:

Built in Indo-Islamic architecture style, the palace is a two-storey structure and has archways set in geometric regularity. The palace is one of the structures, which remained undamaged when the city was looted.

Lotus Palace

My Trip Itinerary:

I started from Bangalore in a Volvo bus at 11 PM. I reached Hospet at around 6:30 AM. From here I took another bus to Hampi. Hampi is about 30 mins from Hospet. My hotel (Lakshmi Heritage Tourist Home) which I pre booked from Go Ibibo was very near to the bus stand and the Virupaksha Temple. Checked In, freshened up and I was all set to explore the ruins and boulders of Hampi.

Day 1:

After having a scrumptious Spanish breakfast, I started my exploration of Hampi. I started with the Virupaksha Temple which was very close to my room. Virupaksha temple is one of the very few temples of Hampi where the deities are still worshiped. I kept my shoes in as shoe stand for a nominal fee of Rs.2 and then went into the temple with a Rs.5 ticket. Cameras and mobile phones are allowed inside but clicking pictures inside the main sanctum is prohibited. As a temple, it is just another temple with nothing much to see. However, the inverted shadow of the gopuram was fascinating.

From here I walked through the Hemakuta group of temples to the Kadalekalu Ganesha followed by the Sashivekalu Ganesha and the Krishna Temple. I would suggest not to hire auto-rickshaws and try to explore on your own as much as you can so that you can take your own time and admire the details. Autorickshaw drivers tend to rush you through the sites. However, it would be great if you can rent a bicycle which is available at nominal prices.

Shri Krishna Temple

Then I went to the Narashimha statue and just beside the Narashimha statue is the Badalinga Temple. Inside this temple is a colossus Shivalinga which was easily the largest I had ever seen before.

Badalinga Temple

Continuing in the same road, the next major point is around 2 km away. It is the Underground Shiva temple which falls on taking the left diversion. There are sign boards and nameplates guiding the visitors to all the attraction points. Please follow them while navigating from one point to the other. After that, I went further to reach the Hazara Ram Temple. This is another very important place at Hampi. The walls of this temple have relics depicting various events of the epic Ramayana. These are not in chronological order but nonetheless, it describes many major events of Ramayana. The interior of the temple has ornately sculpted columns and pillars. Then besides the Ram temple is a large courtyard and open avenues which were once used by the king for public audience. The Stepped Tank nearby is another prominent attraction of Hampi.


Stepped Tank

After that comes the Zeena Enclosure. Here is the Lotus Temple and the Elephant Stables. There is a spawning lawn in front of the stables and a small sculpture museum. From the Virupaksha temple to the Zeena Enclosure it took me around 4 hours to meticulously visit all the major places. I would suggest to visit these places on foot and not hire an auto as it would enable you to spend the desired time exploring these ancient structures without any hurry. Then I went to the Queens Bath.  After seeing so many beautiful structures, this place was nothing special.

Then around 3 PM, I hired an auto to take me to the Vithala Temple which was 9 km away. After lots of bargaining, the auto driver agreed at Rs.300 for taking me Vithala temple and then drop me at the Achyuta Rai Temple. The Vithala temple is located atop a hill. Although it is quite easy to reach the top through the road, people still prefer battery operated vehicles. These vehicles are driven by local women drivers and charge Rs.10 for one way trip. Vithala temple is the epicenter of Hampi tourism and the temple has gorgeous carvings depicting various events from the mythology. I would recommend to hire a guide here in order to understand the legends depicted through the carvings.

Gopuram of Vithala Temple

After completing Vithala temple, the auto driver dropped me near a huge incomplete monolithic Nandi bull. From here there are stairs leading to the Achyuta Rai temple. This temple is perhaps the last consecrated major temple before the downfall of the mighty Vijayanagara empire. You can also trek the Matanga hill from here and get a 360 deg panoramic view of the Hampi city as well as an enchanting view of the sunset. However, I preferred avoiding the trek after a long tiring day and decided to spend the twilight period on the banks of River Tungabhadra. As it became dark, I returned to my hotel after having the dinner.

Day 2:

After covering the ruins in the temple side of the Tungabhadra river on the first day, the second day was to explore the opposite bank. There aren’t many major attractions on this side. The most popular place in this side is Kishkinda, the ancient kingdom of the monkey king Bali and later his younger brother Shugriva. It is also believed to be the birthplace of Lord Hanuman which makes the place sacrosanct for Hindus.

I started around 9 AM after completing my breakfast. To reach the other side you will have to cross river Tungabhadra in a boat. They charge Rs.10 per person and an extra Rs.10 for carrying large luggage bags. You will need a vehicle to explore that side as the places are scattered and far from each other. There are bikes, scooty and mopeds available at standard prices. I rented a scooty for the day at Rs.300. First I went to Kishkinda.

There is a temple (commonly called the Monkey temple)  atop the Kishkinda hill. To reach there you need to ascend 575 steps. Although it’s exhausting to climb these steps, the view from the top compensates it and makes it really worth. The trail is steep, the steps are uneven, and there’s no shade. Carry water. There are monkeys at the top of the hill, so don’t carry fruit or snacks unless you plan to feed them to the monkeys. On reaching the top there is a small ancient temple with a natural statue of Lord Hanuman smeared with orange vermilion. There were priests chanting mantras and performing rites. You can go around the temple and get an excellent view of the boulders of Hampi, the lush green paddy fields, coconut groves along with the city and river Tungabhadra.

Kishkinda Temple ( The birthplace of Lord Hanuman)

After that, I went to a few other ancient temples like the Durga Mata temple, Ranganathaswamy temple, Gagan Mahal etc. However, these places aren’t of much significance and you may choose to avoid them. Then I went to the Sanapur Lake. This place is a hidden gem of Hampi. As you drive to it, you won’t get any trace of its existence unless you reach very near and get surprised by its size and beauty. Clean blue waters, few visitors, no trash, no nagging sellers around, this is a place to find a few hours of peace. There are coracle boats. In spite of signboards warning people not to go into the water, you can find people swimming and trying cliff jumping. Overall it’s quite a serene and relaxing place. Below is a video of the Sanapur lake in Hampi:

After that, I returned to the hotel, packed my stuff and after lunch, went to the bus stop to board a bus to Hospet. From Hospet, I went to the Tungabhadra Dam. There are buses plying to the dam from Hospet very frequently with a nominal ticket price of Rs.7. If you have time try visiting this place too. Along with the dam, there is a musical fountain show, a small zoo and a park in the vicinity. After all this, I returned back to the Hospet bus stop where I boarded my bus back to Bangalore.

Hampi is one of the most visited places in the country and was long on my bucket list. So one more place ticked. Hope there are many many more exciting trips waiting. If you have been to Hampi and want to share your experiences or for any queries please comment below.

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Smiling Kate
Smiling Kate
December 25, 2015 11:22 am

i have been there all the way from Russia. Hangoutttttttt. Good place.. Nice jamming session. Loved it !!!!!!!!!

January 15, 2016 1:17 pm

Nice place.. Had a good time there..

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[…] I wrote a post on Hampi after my 1st visit in 2015, read it here: Hampi: The forgotten capital of Vijayanagara […]