Virupaksha Temple–Vittala Temple Complex–Narasimha–Sister Stone–Palace Complex–Kamalapuram
Just up from Hampi Bazaar bus-stand, you’ll find Virupaksha Temple, the only sacred complex in Hampi still ‘living’ (still in worship). Dedicated to Virupaksha, an aspect of Shiva, it has two main courts, each entered by a towered gateway or gopuram. The larger gopuram is over 50 m high, and looks incredibly new and gets a fresh coat of whitewash every year, at Shivratri. Inside the temple, look out for finely carved columns with rearing animals. Also for hordes of acquisitive monkeys. If you’re here around 7 am, you can watch Shiva and other resident deities being woken up by the priests.
Walking up along the river, you’ll soon come to Sule Bazaar, ruined rows of arched pillars, where fruit, gems and spices were once sold. Past this, up a low rise, is the King’s Balance. In ancient times, the king established the wealth of his kingdom by sitting in one scale, while his rich vassals poured cash and jewellery into the other. The proceeds went to the temple brahmins. Enjoy the views here, then walk down to Vittala Temple, the finest achievement of Vijayanagar art. Constructed in the 16th century and currently being restored by the archaeological department, this is a delightful complex of structures set within a rectangular courtyard. A few guides are available around the entrance. The main temple is famous for its rearing animals and for its ‘musical’ columns. Each series of 16 columns is hewn from a single granite block, and each one plays a different scale of musical notes or phrases when struck.
There are 250 pillars either side of a central path, which leads up to the Marriage Hall. East of this hall is an exquisite stone car. A faithful reproduction of a real temple chariot (as used in festivals), it is said to symbolise the ancient University of Gulbarga, 300 km from Hospet. The miniature car houses Vishnu’s vehicle, the garuda, and is drawn by a pair of stone elephants. Traces of the original bright paintwork still cling to the wheels. Out of the temple, walk down to Purandaradasa Hall, a low-ceilinged temple down by the riverside. According to legend, a famous 16th-century musician, Purandara, was turned to stone here, for singing a particularly divine song. A tiny figurine of him playing his mandolin is propped against one of the pillars. Opposite, there’s a spectral group of stone pylons spanning the river. These once supported the old stone bridge which linked the two banks. You can cross over Tungabhadra River in traditional ‘coracle’ boats (Rs4 per person), but don’t go swimming in it as whirlpools have claimed a few lives.
Back at Hampi Bazaar, a short walk south takes you up onto Hemakuta Hill. Best views are from the Kadalaikullu Ganesa Temple, notable for its unusually tall columns and huge image of the elephant god. Nearby, another Ganesh image stands with an open hall known as Mustered Ganesh. Off the hill, Badavi Lingam is a massive monolith Shivalinga within a chamber, fed with water from a narrow roadside stream. Next to it is the famous figure of Narasimha, half man, half lion avatar of Vishnu, carved out of a single boulder.
Driving south, keep an eye out for Sister Stone, two huge boulders propped against each other like a pair of Siamese twins. They are apparently two of Shiva’s sisters, whom he petrified after a family squabble. Down at the Royal Palace Complex, you’ll find state archaeologists busily at work restoring the ruins. Walk inside the palace walls to find a large raised dais from which the king observed festival rites, various columned structures (for officers and guards), a roofless subterranean chamber, possibly the state treasury, and various civic buildings and watchtowers. Past these is Lotus Mahal, a beautiful two-storey pavilion with distinctive arches. It was built for the ladies of the court, in a skilful blend of Hindu and Islamic architectural styles. Nearby, there’s a large step-well, extremely wellpreserved, which served as a royal bath. Behind this is the Queen’s Bath, a square water basin surrounded by a vaulted corridor. It was originally covered by a large canopy, supported by four pillars.
This is now gone, and the walls are defaced by graffiti. But there’s nice stucco work, and the remains of a narrow moat. Also fine carvings, mainly monkey figures, on the ceilings of the corridor. The tiny niches in the ceilings were for candles which illuminated the baths at night. Just outside the enclosure, to the east, look out for the largest elephant stables in the world. A row of 10 chambers with high vaulted roofs, they are symmetrically disposed around a central two-storey pavilion. Back at the palace entrance, you can take refreshments at the small restaurant (near the archaeologists’ camp) before driving down to Kamalapuram. Built as a fort with circular bastions, this small town has an interesting Archaeological Museum with many fine recoveries from the Hampi site. Open from 10 am-5 pm (except Fridays) it has a good scale model of the ruins which is useful for orientation, if you’re starting out from Kamalapuram by bike. The museum also sells the useful ASI booklet on Hampi (Rs6).
Hampi has no indigenous crafts. Malligi Tourist Home has its small ‘curious’ shop, which sells Karnataka handicrafts. Aspiration Store in Hampi Bazaar has a wide range of produce from Sri Aurobindo ashram in Pondicherry; marble, silk fabrics, hand-made paper, postcards, even herbal bath powder. Good books to buy here are R. Sewell’s Forgotten Empire and Longhurst’s Hampi Ruins. Though most people get by with Michell and Fritz’s Hampi, issued free at the tourist office.