Kishkindha – Of Myths, Monkeys, and Mystics
I woke up earlier than the alarm clock I set last night. There were no nightmares, or probably I had a dream more beautiful to catch when I am awake. It can be the eagerness of an excitement of stepping into the no-man’s land where I always dreamt to be at. Next stop, Hosepete – where our adventure begins to unfold.
Bags – check. Gadgets – check. Shoes on, we are out of the train. It must be the luggage we carried which gave us away- the moment we set foot on the platform, an auto-rickshaw driver came to us and asked whether we needed a ride to Hampi. The fare he quoted for the 13 km ride was ₹250, which we found reasonable. Off we go, in the tuk-tuk.
We had to stop by an ATM vestibule, as only very few places in Hampi accept plastic. The driver asked whether he should drop us near the ferry terminal or the bazaar. The ferry is to cross the river Tungabhadra, to the other side of Hampi. Most of the restaurants and stays are across the river, as most of the Hampi side belongs to the archaeology department of India. We had our room reservations at Gowri Resorts and we had to take the ferry.
Which is why when the driver told us there are no ferries there now, we had a mild panic attack. If there is no ferry, we would have to take a longer route which spans about 30 km.
Before I could roll my eyes at John on his admirable trip planning skills, the driver speaks again.
‘The river is almost dry in the summer. You could just cross it by foot.’
Well, crossing Tungabhadra by foot is definitely something I could add to my ‘look-what-I-did-in-Hampi’ list.
‘Tuk-tuk' ing from Hospete to Hampi was mostly through barren lands and a few villages. There were a handful remains of ancient structures – probably temples – on the road. When we finally reached ferry point, the driver made a ‘generous’ offer to take us around as a tour guide for Rs.1500. The offer was too generous to accept, we took his number though.
Tungabhadra was mostly dry, naked, showing out her inner rocks with a few strands of streams that remained. A stretch of stone stairs lead us to the river where a lot of pilgrims were around swimming and splashing.
Just as the driver left, another guy who introduced himself as Ramu approached us and asked us whether we need a two wheeler for rent – for the other side of the river. We did. The room we booked was quite far from the river bank and we could use a ride to explore the other side of Hampi.
As we said yes, Ramu took one of our bags on his shoulders and crossed the river (or what was left of it) with us. We leaped from rock to rock and in a couple of minutes, we were on the other side.
The bike rent for a day was ₹300 and the fuel was charged ₹90 per litre. As there were no fuel stations near, we bought two litres of petrol and started our two wheeled safari.
Gowri resorts are in a small village called Sanapur about 3 km far away from the river bank. On our way, one side of the horizon was lined by the magnificent boulders. The myths say these boulders were formed as a result of the huge rocks Bali and Sugriva cast at each other during their legendary fight. Kishkindha, which set the backdrop of countless lores we heard in our childhood, lies in front of our eyes.
After a 10 minute ride through mostly isolated roads and a couple of quiet bazaars, we reached Gowri resorts. The room we booked was actually a hut built on a rock, thatched with leaves and bed on the floor. But as the monkeys had chewed on the electric wires in that hut, the manager of the resort offered us a bigger hut with a beautiful view to the paddy fields and boulder lined horizons.
After a bath and breakfast, we set out to explore Sanapur lake with our bike. The lake was large and there were a few crocodile warning signs. We rode as far as the road took us through the barren lands, spotting a few villagers occasionally.
Though mostly barren, what kept us going was the subtle seductiveness of Sanapur. It almost felt like riding through a desert in search of a treasure chest.
Evening, we went exploring for the unsung ruins in this side of Tungabhadra. The roads took us to Anegundi, a little village which is believed to be older than Hampi.
Anegundi's treasures were breathtaking. Gagan Mahal – an ancient palace which was believed to be built and used by Vijayanagara rulers around 16th century – was perhaps the jewel in the crown. The structure was in ruins, abandoned even in midst of the busy street. What remained was only a small portion of the palace, and it perhaps only retained the shadows of its ancient beauty. But Gagan mesmerized us nonetheless. The Mahal was all empty and it had developed a certain level of eeriness and haunted aura over the centuries through it was sleeping.
For exploring this side of Hampi, we didn’t have a map or a guide. We were following all the interesting sign boards, like the one that lead us to Anegundi. The Jain temple was the next and final stop we made in Anegundi. The stone structure resembled a lot like the mandapas of Hampi.
We knew exactly where we had to go next as the sun was moving to the farthest of the west. It was the driver who took us to Hampi mentioned about the Anjani hills and it’s magnificent sunset view point.
The legend hails Anjani Parvat as the birthplace of Lord Hanuman. 575 steep steps later, we found ourselves atop the hill. This hill is home to a small Temple and countless monkeys. Behind the temple is the sunset point. We found a boulder comfortable to sit on and drink in the beauty of the evening.
The sunset we witnessed was worth every step we had climbed up. The tale on how little Hanuman jumped from here to catch the sun thinking it was a fruit, sounds only believable when you have been here for sunset.
We finally stepped down and headed for finding some much needed dinner. The roads were dark except for the occasional lights of crowded vehicles returning the village labourers to their homes.
Tired as we were, we knew that the adventure has only just begun. We had an entire ancient Kingdom to explore, just across the river, a good night’s sleep away.
Of Hampi’s Hidden Treasure Caskets
The morning brought monkeys to our rooftop. Inside, we tried to make route plans for the day with the travel guide book that we bought from Hospete railway station. But the sheer vastness of Hampi overwhelmed us as we realised that no map could be of help when it comes to exploring it.
We headed out, parked our ride near the river bank and crossed Tungabhadra. A lot of pilgrims were taking bath in the river prior to their morning temple visit. We bought some breakfast from an old lady who was selling idlis and chutney. For ₹10, we got enough deliciousness to fill both of our tummies.
We waited on the stone steps of the riverbank as we heard the temple elephant, Lakshmi would soon be here to take her bath from Tungabhadra. A few minutes later, she arrived accompanied with two mahouts. Just when she found her way to the spot for her bath, a family of pilgrims approached her. We were astounded to see Lakshmi ‘blessing’ each one of them by splashing water on them with her trunk.
The mysteries of Virupaksha temple
After taking some pictures, we walked towards Virupaksha temple. Virupaksha is one of the few temples in Hampi were pujas are regularly conducted. As we stepped in, a guy with a badge approached us and introduced himself as Krishna, an authorised guide from the tourism department. He was conducting a guided tour in bicycles, covering some of the major ruins in Hampi. It costed ₹400 per head including the bicycle’s rent for the entire day. We signed ourselves up for it, and Krishna agreed to meet us again near the temple entrance in 15 minutes. We went inside to explore the temple in the meantime.
The temple is a huge one, with numerous idols of deities inside. As we walked on, a little boy in a school uniform invited us to see the magic shadow in a dark room. Wondering what he meant, we followed him to find an inverted shadow of the temple tower on one of the walls. The only light source to the room was from a small, half-brick sized hole. It must be the pinhole camera effect, but mystery attracts a bigger crowd than science does.
We walked back to the temple entrance to find Krishna waiting for us with three more people who had signed up for the tour. He started with the history of Hampi which you can read here.
Apart from the massive towers (gopuras) which are epitomes of Hampi’s craftsmanship, Virupaksha also boasts the only known three-faced idol of Nandi at its entrance. But as one face of the idol has been broken during the Sultanate attack, it is no longer worshipped.
When we came out of the temple, our bicycles were waiting for us outside. We rode them on to our next destination – the Hemakuta hill.
Hemakuta is dotted with numerous mandapas and shrines. Krishna took us through the shrines, narrating the history of each of them as we walked. It is fabled that Hemakuta is where Lord Siva stayed when he was doing his penance before marrying Pampa. When the decision was made, gold (Hema in Kannada) was showered upon the hill, thus naming it.
Each pillar in the mandapas and temples were adorned with beautiful carvings and the patterns on each one differed. Scarred as they were, the structures stood proud and tall.
The most majestic sight which we encountered there was the monolithic idol of Lord Ganesh in a shrine. The idol was named Kadalekalu Ganesha, meaning peanut Ganesh, as the shrine was built by a peanut merchant. The idol, gloriously illuminated by the sunlight in an otherwise dark room, left us awestruck.
It just took us a couple of minutes in the bicycle from there to reach the shrine of Sasivekalu (mustard) Ganesha, which got named after the mustard merchant who built it. Unlike that of Kadalekalu Ganesha, the shrine here was an open one, built like a mandapa. Broken tusk in his hand and his tummy tied using a snake hinted that this monolithic idol represented Lord Ganesha, just after he tripped and fell while returning from a feast, as the myths say.
Beside the shrine, there were numerous mandapas, each one unique by its architecture. As we walked through their shades, we couldn’t help being dumbfounded about the craftsmanship which had gone into each of the pillars.
After enjoying the winds from Hemakuta’s sunset point for a while, we went back to our bicycles again. A little farther along the road was a Krishna temple, our next harbor. On the way, we stocked ourselves up with bottles of water as Hampi gets very hot and humid in the month of June.
The Sri Krishna Temple
As we approached the temple, we could see some structure which looked a lot like a couple of long rows of stables. But our guide explained that it was the ancient Hampi market. It was large and well built enough to put present day markets to shame.
The inside of the Krishna temple was nothing if not stunning. The stone and rock pillars with intricately carved out details, the stone paved temple floor, the huge mandapas and the sculpted murals in the entrance tower were sights which we could behold for a lifetime. The sand coloured structure radiated splendor under the bright sun.
Badavi Linga and Lakshmi Narasimha
After the temple, we went on to see a couple of shrines which are being restored now. One was the Badavi Linga, shrine of Lord Siva built by a poor lady (Badavi). The idol is still worshipped as it wasn’t scarred from the Sultanate attack.
Right beside this shrine was the Lakshmi Narasimha temple. The idol here testifies to the laudable skills of its makers from centuries ago, and it is not without reason this idol often represents Hampi’s temples in history books.
We had to ride about 2 kms to reach our next destination, and it was not much of a cakewalk under Hampi’s sun. But allured by what we had seen so far, and in the reverie of what was yet to be seen, we pedalled forward.
The Underground Temple
It was the underground Siva temple which became our next haven. Though the temple wasn’t actually built underground, it had to be excavated as it got buried by the sands of time over centuries of neglect.
The temple had an outer wall covering the inner sanctum. But what left us spellbound was that we could walk around the inner shrine through what seemed like a dark tunnel. There were corridors inside the temple which were absolutely dark even at high noon. As it was murky, it had become the home for a colony of bats. The air inside was stale, but we were enthralled regardless.
The Palace’s Treasures
After lurking inside for a while, Krishna took us to the palace compound. Very little remained of the ancient palace, but it detained much more wonderment than what we presumed.
The enclosure looked more like a vast ground than a palace. Not much remained over the ground than the traces of the palace’s foundation. Krishna walked us over to the stepped tank inside the complex. What we had seen in numerous movies, now was just in front of us.
The tank was almost scatheless, built in slightly darker stone than rest of the place, and in perfect symmetry. The tank was guarded and we weren’t allowed to descend down the steps. Near the tank, an array of huge flat stones with a circle engraved were put on display. These are believed to be the food plates used by the king’s army. Krishna claimed that each one served one soldier each, but it was hard to believe as one such plate could easily carry enough food for about ten people.
Krishna showed us the underground secret chamber used by the king and his men. The chamber was very well engineered that it was built by soundproof stones, and had ensured free air circulation. There was also a huge dias in the complex and a ground infront, were the celebrations and executions took place. The platform had detailed carvings, and some of those depicted how the criminals were executed.
Zenana enclosure was the next place we visited. Zenana meant feminine and this was were the Queen and her maids stayed, and no men were allowed inside. The enclosure had a vast green lawn and inside it stood the Lotus Mahal. In stark contrast to the rest of the structures in Hampi, the Mahal was built in Mughal and Person architecture, with a hint of South Indian art. The Mahal was used as a summer resort and inside its walls, pipes carrying cold water were embedded to keep the interiors cool. We were not allowed to go inside the Mahal, as the structure was very delicate and had to be well preserved.
There was also a watch tower inside the enclosure. It was guarded by Hijras as men were not allowed inside the compound.
Behind the enclosure were the elephant stables which provided shelter to all of the king’s elephants. They were constructed with such craftsmanship that they looked more like a palace than mere stables.
Her Majesty’s bath
The last place were Krishna took us was the Queen’s bath. From the outside, the bath looked just like an elaborate palace, but in the inside was a huge pool, which was waterless now. There were well adorned windows on the sides of the pool which were made for the queen’s maids to drop in flowers as her majesty took her royal bath.
After collecting his fee and suggesting that we should visit the ruins of the Vittala temple on the banks of Tungabhadhra, Krishna left. We bicycled slowly back to where we had started to find some food. We feasted on some sambar rice from a local eatery near Virupaksha temple, and the meal was simple yet delicious.
We wandered through the streets near Virupaksha in the hope of buying some souvenirs. There was an old lady who was selling coins which she claimed was from the Vijayanagara period. But as there was no way of verifying the authenticity of the coins, we thought better than to buy them. We settled for an antique looking lock and key set and some post cards with pictures of Hampi’s main attractions.
As most of the area in Hampi is under the archaeology department, there were very less people who had their homes in Hampi. This meant that the shops were closed by twilight leaving the roads deserted. As June wasn’t tourist season, there were hardly anyone in the street even though it was Sunday.
Returning our bicycles, we crossed Tungabhadhra back using the light from our mobile phones. We made it back to the resort after grabbing some dinner, planning to visit Vittala on the morrow. We just had one more day left in Hampi and we planned to make it an unguided tour, exploring the ruins on our own pace. But rest we must, till the sun rises again.
Of Vitthala’s Virtues
We woke up as our third sun in Hampi rose. The thought that this would be our last day at this magical land made our hearts sink, but the places we have to go explore by sunset cheered us up. Vitthala temple was waiting for us, so were the countless ruins near it.
We packed our bags and checked out of our hotel room. We also returned the bike that we had rented from Ramu, as we wouldn’t be needing it anymore. The road we planned to take was not motorable, so the day’s expedition was going to be on our feet.
We had our breakfast from a street vendor, a plate of delicious idlis and chutney, just like last day. We had looked out for food that is exclusive to Hampi but were disappointed on that matter. While the town remained abandoned for centuries, much of the traditions and cuisine were lost.
We stopped by Virupaksha temple first as we felt we didn’t get enough time inside the complex the last day. As we entered the temple tower, we saw Krishna, our previous day’s tour guide. Krishna told us that the temple elephant Lakshmi was inside and suggested we should give her a visit.
Keeping that in mind, once again we walked through the vastness of Virupaksha temple. As it was a Monday, there were only very few people inside. The temple felt a lot more calm and serene without the crowd. We gazed admiringly on the beautiful pillars of the large mandapas inside, and regretted having forgotten to buy a photography permit.
Lakshmi was in one of these mandapas, busy feasting on her breakfast of palm leaves. But when we gave her a currency note of ₹10 as we were told, she was very quick to accept it. She handed it over to her mahout and placed her trunk on our heads for a couple of seconds like she was blessing us. Lakshmi is said to be well trained to recognise currencies as she would not offer you her ‘blessings’ if you give her anything less than ₹10.
We set out to find Vitthala after that. This time we were prepared to beat Hampi’s sun with hats and sunglasses. Vitthala was about 3 kms away and we had to do it on our foot, not an easy task considering the humid weather and rocky terrain.
The way to Vitthala was through the banks of Tungabhadra, and had a number of temples and other royal buildings in ruins. As it was a Monday off season, we both were the only souls on the road. It was like we had an entire Kingdom to ourselves. The ruins were still proud and elegant, we could only imagine the grandeur of Hampi in its days of glory.
The vast bazaars, long horse stables, proud temples – wherever we looked, what we saw was like an image from an exotic postcard. But what we enjoyed the most was the silence. There wasn’t anything to distract us from imbibing the opulence of the place.
There were abandoned and ruined fortresses, with high walls and stone steps leading to them. As this was an unguided tour, we could only learn about the history of these structures from the minimal information the information boards near them provided.
When we neared Vitthala, we came up on a huge structure which we thought would have been a gateway. The information board near said otherwise. It was a balance, in which the kings made offerings to the gods equivalent to their body mass, and hence named King’s Balance.
There were quite a few tourists in the Vitthala temple, which surprised us as we didn’t encounter anyone in our way. But we soon learned that there is another road to the temple which is motorable, and that explained the crowd.
When we entered the temple complex, the iconic stone chariot was what we gazed upon first. No picture could ever do justice to the grandiosity of it, but we tried. The carvings on it were so intricate that the camera failed to capture the details. It was not easy though, as there were always people posing for pictures in front of it.
Vitthala is also hailed for its musical pillars. There was a large mandapa inside the complex which had numerous pillars of varying sizes. Tapping on each one produced a different musical note from the others.
The inside of the temple was decorated by countless murals sculpted onto the walls and pillars. Most of these depicted instances from the Indian epics, Mahabharata and Ramayana. Like most of the other temples of Hampi, Vitthala had a tunnel-like passage surrounding the shrine, but it wasn’t dark like the others.
After resting in one of the mandapas for a while, we walked back. We silently bid adieu to the charms of Hampi as we did. We picked up our bags and had some food from the restaurant. When we dragged our trolley to the bus stand, the streets were already empty. By the time we reached railway station, the first rain of the season poured down to Hampi’s sands. We were taking back with us a piece of Hampi’s magic and a lot of good memories.
Dear Hampi, you have enchanted us. But till we meet again, let us bid farewell.