Oct 15, 2011

Hampi Among Ruins

Our third last destination in India was Hampi, in the state of Karnataka.  Initially it wasn’t on our ‘to see’ list, but after hearing so many people rave about its beauty, we decided to pay Hampi a visit.  As usual, there were many facets to the place, starting with its surreal landscape, then its current state, then ending with our impressions.   

The River Tungabhadra, looking towards Hampi Bazaar area

The landscape of Hampi is usually and appropriately described as ‘surreal’. Surrounding the village on all sides are small mountains made from large boulders—it’s as if the mountains were blown up and what remains is the rubble!  It’s a strange sight, one which is hard to capture in pictures, even if we had a working camera!  The ruins of 14-16th C temples and old palace ruins are scattered among all these huge rocks and throughout the village.  Luckily as the monsoon season has just ended, there is greenery to break up this somewhat bleak landscape with the foliage from the many banana trees, the coconut trees as well as grass around some of the ruins.  As the ruins themselves are scattered in a 26 square kilometre radius, we hired a motorbike to get around more quickly especially as the heat and humidity during the day could get very oppressive.  

16th C Royal Elephant Stables

16th C Stone Chariot, Vittala Temple, Hampi

16th C Queen's Recreation Pavillion

We stayed in the centre of the village, known as the Bazaar area, which was very convenient, but not very pretty.   For the past twenty or so years, villagers have illegally constructed walls and buildings amongst the ancient historic ruins which line the main street.  Most of the land in this area belongs to the Archaeological Survey of India who now wants control of it back in order to properly protect the heritage nature of the site. As such, the illegal buildings have recently been demolished, leaving concrete rubble and remnants in its wake.  It currently resembles a war zone or a disaster area.  But this hasn’t stopped the villagers from setting up makeshift restaurants amongst it all, in the open air.  We are told that the next stage is to remove and relocate the ‘tenants’ who are occupying other parts of the ruins with their homes and shops.  This will occur after the ‘high season’ ends in April 2012 and the people will instead be given parcels of land in another area further away.  When speaking with a restaurant owner in this affected area, he believed that it was a good deal, especially considering he had been occupying this space rent-free!  Behind the main street, many guest houses, many of them new with air conditioning and television, can still be found, along with internet cafes, the usual jewellery and textile shops and more restaurants.

Looking at Main Road, Hampi Bazaar --notice the half-demolished buildings and ad-hoc restaurant tables on left hand side.

The river Tungabhadra runs through Hampi.  We really enjoyed spending time at the Ghats (steps) along its banks near the Bazaar, where we would enjoy a chai or fresh coconut.  There was always something interesting to observe here, especially in the mornings.  We watched the Rajasthan men and women washing their turbans and saris, then holding up each end in the wind as it dried.  We wondered whether their arms got as tired as we imagined!  We watched as Laksmi, the temple elephant got her daily bath in the river at 8:30am.  While she lay on her side in the water, unrestrained, two men and a boy diligently and thoroughly scrubbed her entire body using both a scrub brush as well as an ordinary flat stone.  After 90 minutes, she got up and rinsed her own back by raising her trunk and exhaling the water behind her over the top of her head and back (it would have been a perfect picture, had we had a working camera!)  Then with a cock of her front left leg, her trainer climbed up onto her back, and she strode quickly up the steps and down the street towards the temple.  At one of the small homes across from the temple, they stopped and her ‘make up’ (i.e. her Hindu markings) were carefully applied to her forehead, ears and trunk before she took her place in the temple to bless the faithful who came to place donations and/or bunches of bananas in her trunk (she ate the bananas but had to hand the money over to her trainer).  The life of a temple elephant!

Lakshmi Getting Her Daily Bath

Watching from the Ghats

At present, the water level in the river is fairly low so a motorboat ferries passengers between both sides.  On our last day, we made this short crossing and discovered the more beautiful side of Hampi.  Although there were still many guest houses, most with restaurants attached and a few shops which lined the main road on one side, the green rice paddies on the other dotted with coconut and banana trees made for a very serene landscape.  And of course, the mountains of boulders silently loomed in the background.  This was definitely the prettier area of Hampi to have stayed on.

Maybe because our expectations had been set high, it took a bit longer for Hampi to reveal itself to us.  We spent 3 days in there, and by the end we did start to understand a bit of its popularity among foreign tourists.  But for us, we wouldn’t say that it was among our favourites--maybe we needed to have stayed longer, or maybe we needed not to have active pre-schoolers with us so that we could have better appreciate it!  


  1. I love the way you travel! Watching the elephant bathe must have been so cool for the kiddos to watch!