Photo by Apadegal
Once the centre of the Vijayanagara Empire, the ruins of Hampi are captivating. The miles of remains deserve days of exploration, and are an essential stop during any trip to Southern India. The area is walkable, but in the summer sun it’s best to explore on bike or hire a rickshaw.
The History of the Ruins of Hampi
Five hundred years ago, the city of Vijaya Nagara, found in the modern-day state of Karnataka, was home to half a million people: at the time this made it the second highest populated city on earth. It was the capital city of the Vijayanagara Empire, who for several centuries controlled all of Southern India. At its peak the city was the glorious jewel of the empire, complete with lavish temples and luxurious palaces.
After centuries of prosperity, the city was devastated in 1565 by an alliance of neighbouring Islamic kingdoms, the so-called Deccan sultanates. Following the loss at the battle of Talikorta, the city suffered months of destruction, having its treasures looted and its temples burned to the ground. The local population mostly fled, and the city became a shadow of its old self.
What’s the Deal with All the Rocks?
Part of Hampi’s charm is the surreal landscape created by the many piles of huge boulders. If you believe Hindu mythology, the ruins of Hampi stand upon what was once a great monkey kingdom, of which only these boulders remain. However, scientists have an answer too: these are a natural phenomenon, the result of millions of year of erosion. As well as giving the ruins of Hampi an out-of-this-world feel, they were the perfect resources for the builders and sculptures of Vijayanagara. Even today, you can still find 500 remaining monuments across the sprawling ruins of Hampi.
Temples to Explore
There are many temples to explore in the ruins of Hampi. Most noteworthy is Virupaksha Temple, in the sacred centre of Hampi, very recognisable thanks to its carved entrance towers (gopurams). It dates back centuries before the Vijayanagaran Empire, and yet is still in use today; it’s the oldest functioning temple in India and is in fact an important religious sight for Hindus. Also still in use is the Kodandarama Temple, well worth a visit for its several statues carved out of a single boulder.
There are too many other temples to list: the Krishna, Vittala and Ramachandra temples are just several, while the Lotus Mahal complex is popular too. You can explore the area of days, still encountering wonderful relics. You can also check out the grand elephant stables, which used to house the imperial family’s herd of elephants. While none are kept there nowadays, if you’re lucky you might see Virupaksha Temple’s elelphant Lakshmi: she bathes at 8am and she’ll bless you with a kiss if you give her owner a coin!
And Finally… Sunsets
After a day (or more) of exploring, find a perfect spot to watch one of Hampi’s famous sunsets. Hike to the top of Matanga Hill to see the rocks and ruins lit in myriad colours. Don’t let the crowds put you off: as you cast your eyes over the vast ruins of Hampi, you can imagine how the view would’ve looked when Viyayanagara had more than double the population of Paris!
If you’re intrigued by the ruins of Hampi , you’ll have the chance to visit if you join the India’s Cup 2017, an adventure rally through Southern Indian. Beginning in Chennai on April 22nd, the minimal assistance rally will head South through Tamil Nadu, then travel up the Malabar Coast towards Goa, passing captivating historical sights, stunning views, and of course incredible roads, along the way.