To be honest, Day 1 at Hampi left me a little underwhelmed. The Zenana Enclosure and the Elephant Stables are maintained rather like parks with open grassy lawns and trees, so in the evenings they are full of perambulating couples and hordes of chattering school children.
The dusty parking lots are packed full of giant Volvo buses, each of which regurgitate dozens of people carrying various plastic items which they plan to leave behind at the sites. If you carry a DSLR, people will ask you to take their pictures. We even had one school girl who wanted to pose with our car as a prop. She even borrowed my sun glasses and straw hat.
The next day though, Hampi compensated us and how! We left our hotel before dawn, much to the astonishment of the staff, to make it to the famous Vittala Temple at sunrise. Indeed, this is how Hampi is intended to be seen. Having parked our car in the dusty parking lot, carrying our backpacks with a few snacks and liquids, we started the long walk to the temple. The sun was just rising and the dawn colored the rocks along the way a gentle orange. The air was just slightly crisp, and a pleasant breeze accompanied us all the way.
We took the long route, walking along the river bank, and this is the route you should take. It is like stepping back in time, looking around you, the place looks preserved exactly like it would have been in its hey day. Except for the occasional moped, you can walk along pretending that you are a citizen of Vijayanagar. There are plenty of monkeys, keep an eye on your belongings.
There are coracles which will take you across the river to the other side, just like in the old days. From the pillared hall above the coracle boarding area, you can see the ancient collapsed bridge which connected the 2 banks. Further ahead, as the pathway slopes upward, you can see the Virupaksha Temple in the distance, easily noticeable as its ivory colored form standout among the rocks and boulders.
All along, there are little temples, buildings and pavillions, all mostly unmarked, free to be explored. They are good places to stop and take a drink of water and have a nibble. But please carry your garbage with you. Plenty of lizards and small birds like wagtails, bush chats and robins will keep you company as you walk along. Keep your self hydrated and fed at all times, I got a tad dizzy on our way back to the car and gave K quite a scare. :)
There was an old lady who collected flowers from the old Frangipani tree and did a pooja of a small temple which had a idol installed inside. Possibly some one like her back in the day, would have done the exact same ritual.
Sadly within ten minutes, my reverie was broken by a guide who had appeared like a genie and would not take no for an answer. He spoke only kannada and gave me ( K happily pleaded ignorance and left me to my fate ) a full tour. In a way, it was a good thing to take a guide there, being a large temple complex, theres lots to see.
The buildings though are in a poor state of preservation, the carvings are not very sharp and many are broken. The Musical pillars were wonderful to hear. He also helped interpret some of the carvings, identifying people, gods and explaining context. Finally a couple of Caucasians entered the temple and the guide took off like a rabbit after greener pastures.
On our way back we saw the Kings balance, almost by chance, standing by itself near some neem trees, surrounded like everything else in Hampi by lots of boulders. You'll notice at the left pillar's base there is a small carving of a Man, a Woman and a child.
In the evening, we saw the Lakshmi Narasimha Temple. You'll notice that lakshmi is no where to be seen in the photo above. Thats because she left, and took some of his hands with her. You'll also notice that the lord looks like he is untangling wool going by the band between his knees. The original statue installed by Krishnadevaraya had Lakshmi sitting on his lap with her arm affectionately behind him. The statue was broken during the attack on the capital during the invasion by the Bahamani sultans in 1565 A.D.
Near the Temple, is the Badavi Linga which is enclosed in a tiny chamber and protected by the powers that be, by a grilled entrance to make it hard to photograph. Its base is covered by murky water and it is built over a canal. Which explains why its base is always flooded. Its size is massive and the One rupee coin near the pink flowers gives an idea of scale.
Another place that should not be missed is the Stepped Tank, which is a must see for the photo opportunity it provides. It is located near the Mahanavami Dibba which is like an open ground with a large stage and lots of steps.
Shadows are important when taking these photos so better to do it when the sun is in a position to be casting them. Below is a photo of the very nice Sadhu we met on the walkway in the morning. A man who had truly renounced worldly goods, he did not ask to be paid in turn for allowing us to take his photo. He looked mildly amused when we showed him the pictures and we paid him anyway. A far cry from the not-so-genuine holy man we were to meet on Day-3. Stay tuned!
Must see Monuments in Hampi