Nothing is permanent in this world. Even the glorious empires can be reduced to the ruins.
Hampi, the UNESCO world heritage site, is situated on the banks of Tungabhadra river in Karnataka state. This former capital of Vijayanagar Empire is just 400 kilometers away from my home, but I had never got a chance to range over.
As soon as I got a long holiday early in December, I set out on a Road Trip through the North Karnataka to explore this kingdom of stone boulders are ruins.
Solo ride is always fascinating because it takes you closer to yourself. It teaches you to be all by yourself in your own entirety. You will realize that, you’re all the company you actually need. In the end, you will never feel alone – ever.
02 December, 2016
It won’t take much time for me to switch on a Trip Mode. Usually, I review the whole plan before going to bed a night before. My biological clock wakes me up right on time. Everything seems to happen automatically from my Bed to Bike.
At dawn, my road trip started on the familiar roads. There were arid landscapes, rivers and wind mills along the way. Within few hours I crossed the border of Maharashtra and entered into the Karnataka. The road conditions were not so good until I reached Vijaypura, also known as Bijapur in the afternoon.
Bijapur is known for the historical monuments built during the Adil Shahi dynasty. The city was originally established by the Chalukya of Kalyani in 10th century named as Vijaypura, meaning the City of Victory. The city was passed to Yadavas and later came under rule of Khilji Sultanate in Delhi by the late 13th century. Later in 1347, the area was conquered by Bahmani Sultanate of Gulbarga, when the city was being referred as Bijapur.
Under Adil Shahi dynasty, the Bijapur expanded & flourished. Unlike other Muslim Rulers, the Adil Shahi kings employed Indian craftsmen to work on the monuments.
World’s 2nd Largest Circular Dome..!!
Early afternoon, I entered into the historical city – Bijapur. Before tasting the famous dum biryani, I decided to explore the Tomb of Mohammed Adil Shah, known as Gol Gumbaz. With the help of Google Maps, I located the monument. I parked my vehicle along with the luggage tied on the back seat, as I don’t wanted to carry that inside. The parking guy agreed to keep an eye on it as I didn’t have any choice other than to trust a complete stranger.
After St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, the Gol Gumbaz is largest dome with 124 feet diameter. This wonderful mausoleum of Mohammed Adil Shah, Sultan of Bijapur was constructed, as per the Deccan Architecture in 1656 by famous architect of that time – Yaqut of Dabul, also known as Dabhol, which is a small seaport in the Ratnagiri district of Maharashtra.
To the west of the tomb, there is a well-proportioned and elegant mosque. Although the structure is damaged, its slender minarets, small dome and deep cornices are still spectacular. The mosque was closed due to its unsafe conditions.
Most of the Vijaypura is visible along with the ruins of palaces and defence walls from the top of Gol Gumbaz.
The tomb of the King..
Inside the mausoleum, on the square podium, there is a cenotaph marking actual grave below. With an area of 18000 square feet, it becomes one of the biggest single chamber places in the world. The exact tomb of Adil Shah is decorated with wooden canopy in the middle.
Before entering into the tomb, we have to remove the shoes outside. The grand scale of this marvellous dome can be felt from the inside. The height of the structure is 51 meters and the thickness of the walls is 3 meters. I climbed around seven floors to reach the Whispering Gallery. From there, a small whisper can echoed throughout the dome as much as eleven times. It has been designed in such a way that one can hear a faintest tick of watch across a distance of 37 meters inside the vast dome.
The Whispering Gallery can be reached from all the four side of the dome. As we go up, the views of Bijapur city becomes more elaborate. I was so amazed with the grandeur of this structure that I lost the track of the amount time I spent inside.
As I felt hungry, I found one restaurant to eat the famous Dum Biryani. It was demonetization period and I had a limited cash. Unfortunately, the restaurant was not accepting online payments, so I paid in cash. It was difficult to get the cash because of the long lines in front of the ATM’s.
Gol Gumbaz is the greatest structural triumphs of Indo-Perso-Ottoman architecture of Adil Shahi Period.
NH50 – From Bijapur to Hospet
The target was to reach Hampi before nightfall, so I left Bijapur right after the lunch. The four lane National Highway was helping me to win the race against time. The huge Alamatti Dam on the mighty Krishna River was along the way.
En route, I stopped for a moment to enjoy the panoramic view of verdant Paddy fields lined by Coconut trees. The Tungabhadra river and it’s canals irrigated these farm lands. These golden hues were perfect sight for any photographer. I took a left on the national highway to enter into the Hospet. Surprisingly, I found an ATM without any queue. One pink note came out of the machine which was enough for 2 days in Hampi.
Darkness had conquered Hampi before me. I saw the shining gopuram of Virupaksha Temple before from the Hampi Bazaar. This pastel painted 9-storied tower is most prominent landmark in Hampi. The lower 2 tiers of this Gopuram is made of decorated stone work.
As, I got a room to stay for two nights, I dumped my luggage & rushed to explore the Virupaksha temple at Night before it’s closing time. Actually Photography was not allowed inside the temple complex but nobody was there at that point of time to check. The Dravidian style temple with decorated Mandapams, huge gopurams and numerous temple shrines has a sacred aura around it. I spent few moments alone there sitting on the verandah.
Virupaksha Temple is one of the oldest functioning temples in India since it’s inception in 7th Century.
3 December, 2016
Climbing the Mathanga Hill was the first thing on my itinerary. Early morning, I parked my bike at the foothills. There were couple of paths leading to the top of the hill, I chose one from the west which has rock-cut stepped ramp over the huge boulders. To get the panoramic view from the top, I scaled up all those boulders. The view of Virupaksha temple and the huge path flanked by the old market and coconut trees was magnificent.
On the east side, the aerial view of Achyutaraya Temple was amazing. Consecrated in 1534 AD, this was one of the last grandiose temple project executed before the fall of Vijayanagar empire. Dedicated to Tiruvengalanatha, a form of Lord Vishnu, constructed by Achyuta Raya, hence the name. Two rectangular concentric courtyards encircled the main shrine in the centre. The temple complex sits in a semi-secluded valley between Mathanga & Gandhamadana hills.
The Mathanga Hill has many mythical stories attached to it. As mentioned in Ramayana, Sugriva along with his warrior general Hanuman took refuge on this hill. I can discern the Anjaneya Hill across the Tungabhadra river in Anegundi.
Mathanga Hill was probably the perfect vantage point to observe the ruins of the Empire.
The Long Walkthrough
On my way back, I met two magicians dressed in saffron and wearing long Rudraksh necklaces. I was amazed by their magical skills. Some of them were pretty obvious but last one was little risky. That guy ate 4-5 stone pebbles & then he pulled them back out of his mouth. The last pebble was very big to swallow. In the end, I felt relieved to see them normal without any injury.
I knew that the day will be very long as I had to cover the whole empire on foot. One backpack with water bottle and a camera, was all I needed.
I started walking among these huge stone boulders. In few minutes I reached on the banks of Tungabhadra, where the Coracles were floating leisurely. The calm Tungabhadra river separates Hampi from Anegundi. We can go to this ambient village by crossing the river in Coracles, the round like baskets, Made of cane inside & outside are covered with leather.
I remembered Hogenakkal waterfall, where I had an amazing ride in these circular boats. These coracles not only carries humans but also their bikes & cycles. The riverside gorge is remarkable for its various clusters of ruins.
Interestingly, Coracles are exactly as it is today as it was five centuries back.
Pushkarini – A Stepped Well
One distinctive feature I observed around Hampi was the sacred tanks known as Pushkarini. These sacred tanks attached to the large temples caters rituals and functional aspects. Most of the Pushkarinis are in ruined state now but still they are Architecturally attractive. The remains of the massive colonnades constructed around this rectangular ponds turned into the object of photography. One such structure was found along Courtesans street on the way to Achyutaraya Temple.
But while exploring the Royal Center of Hampi, I stumbled upon another perfectly eurythmic stepped well. That was the most intact and beautiful structure I found in all those ruins. The green water was still there inside the well. The access was restricted for tourists to prevent it from further damage. The water in it was filled by aqueducts, very similar to the ones used by the Romans. The Archeologists found pieces of it and then restored it by piecing the step well back together.
The geometrical symmetry of the Pushkarini is mind-blowing and visually appealing.
Achyuta Raya Temple
While walking on the Courtesans street flanked by the ruins of colonnades probably ruins of ancient market, I can see the monolithic structure of main entrance still standing tall. There are two huge ruined towers before reaching to the main shrine. Unlike Dravidian style, the temple towers are very much shorter.
The Cloisters enclosing main shrine of Achyuta Raya Temple were are in good condition as compared to the outer pillared verandah. I was alone left there, experiencing the bygone era of grand courtyards, carved pillars & huge towers. The main temple includes Antarala, Garbhagriha, Mahamandapa & Rangamandapa.
The maintenance work was in progress in outer courtyard. Much of the temple structure is restored by Archeological Department of India. I went further back of the Achyuta Raya temple to visit a small temple dedicated to goddess Kali.
Actually the Achyutaraya Temple is dedicated to Lord Tiruvengalanatha, an incarnation of Lord Vishnu. Later on it came to be called after the king in whose reign it was built in.
Every Stone has a Story
Hills of bare rocks borders the territory of medieval imperial capital of Vijayanagar Empire. Here in Hampi, look around in every direction, you will see stone boulders and ruined structures. Even smallest of the temples are constructed with awe-inspiring design patterns.
On my way to the famous Vittala Temple, I stopped by the Narasimha Temple which had a two-storied gateway. Built on a rocky slope of Gandhamadana Hill, this temple is devoid of any shrine. However the Vaishnava Iconography is carved over the temple walls. The stepped pyramidal roof is reflects the Jain architectural style. The architectural style is knows as Kadamba predates that of Vijayanagara.
Moving ahead, I entered into the not so well maintained Shiva temple where various incidents from the Ramayana are carved on the stone blocks. The scenes depict the war between Rama and Ravana. The Archeological survey of India is restoring most of the ruins, hence, the numbering is given to the blocks to identify the sequence.
The visual representation of epic stories on the stones were spellbinding, making these historical events atemporal.
Inside the Vittala Temple complex, one amazing structure grabs attention quickly and that is a Stone Chariot. It looks like a monolithic structure, but actually it’s made up of many giant granite blocks. Two small elephants are positioned in front of the Chariot, with a stone ladder in between to access the sanctum. Four giant wheels are attached to this chariot are sculpted with axis and even brakes.
I was exploring the sprawling campus of Vittala Temple, originally built in 15th century, many successive kings enhanced the temple complex over time. It has compound walls, gateway towers, halls, pavilions and many temple shrines. The temple is dedicated to Vittala, an aspect of lord Vishnu, has a sanctum devoid of any idol.
Archaeological Survey of India is working to renovate the collapsed ruins of this glorious capital. Vittala temple, epicentre of attractions in Hampi, has a main central hall in collapsed state without any roof. The newly carved cement pillars and intricately designed ceiling blocks are ready to fill the gaps.
The iconic stone chariot of Hampi is featured on new 50 rupees indian currency notes.
Vijaya Vittala Temple
Not only most visited but Vijaya Vittala temple complex is most photographed monument in Hampi. The temple complex houses many beautiful structures which will make you to admire the art of the ancient empire. One of the structure is ornate Kalyan Mandapa, which has intricately decorated pillars having beautiful sculptures of gods holding the embellished ceiling. Another one amazing structure has 56 musical pillars, which can produce musical notes when tapped.
While I was busy in taking photographs, I met a bunch of kids from local school. These curious children wanted to take pictures from my camera. I showed them how to take photos from dSLR camera. It’s rare for me when someone enthusiastically wanted to take my photos.
While coming back to the city, I had explored monuments along the way. I have seen the King’s Balance, a 15th-century stone scale that supposedly weighed the king against gold that he gave to the priests. Then I moved towards the riverside to see Purandaradasa Mantapa. I had stopped by the Sugriva’s cave to imagine the Ramayana era’s incidents. Next was the Varaha Temple, which was abandoned by the tourists. Then I crossed the stone boulders to reach the bike parking concluding my long walk.
The Vijaya Vittala Temple complex is most visited and photographed location in Hampi.
The Royal Centre
Now that the North East side was explored, I moved further down southwards to the Royal complex where the Kings of the Vijayanagar Empire lived. First thing I saw was a huge Queen’s Bathroom. The ruins of an ornate and historic bathing chamber, which were used by the King and his wives also has an outdoor pool. I never imagined of such an elegant bathroom could ever exists in that era.
I advanced my conquest towards the Royal Enclosure. The first structure standing majestically was Dasara Dibba, also known as Mahanavami Dibba. The front of the Mahanavami Dibba is decorated with carvings of the elephants, horses and host of other things. It is an elevated square stage situated in Royal enclosure, probably used to celebrate ceremonies. These dexterously carved sculptures & ornamentations depicts many things from royal ceremonies to foreign convoys.
Most of the structures in royal enclosure were reduced to the ruins except a stepped well, Pushkarini, which was restored later. But the buildings in Zanana Enclosure, where royal women used to live were still standing beautifully. Most beautiful secular structure inside the Zenana enclosure i.e. women’s quarter is Lotus Mahal. The exact function of this mahal is not known but it could be a socializing area for the royal women. This two-storied non religious structure is made of lime mortar and brick composition.
The style & design of Lotus Mahal is an inquisitive blend of Islamic & Indian architecture.
Until the Dusk
Just behind the Zanana Enclosure, there are domed buildings used to park the Royal Elephants known as Elephant Stables. These 11 domes are interconnected with the middle dome bigger and more decorated. Metal hooks can be seen inside. Also there are small manhole type openings for Mahouts.
I explored the adjacent archaeological museum which has a collection of various stone design patterns. Then I went ahead to see the ruins of Parshwanatha Temple and Vishnu Temple, until I met with a dead-end.
The last structure I visited in Royal Complex was Hazara Rama Temple, a 15th century temple having intricate carvings depicting animals, deities & people. It was getting dark and I still had many places to cover on my map. I got my bike and started riding back to the Hampi Bazar.
The Ugra Narasimha statue was on the way, so I decided to visit this monument. The protruding eyes and facial expressions justifies the name. Narasimha is sitting in cross-legged yoga posture on the coil of seven headed Shesha Naga. Interestingly, the original statue had image of Lakshmi sitting on his lap, but it was damaged seriously during the fall of Vijayanagara.
Ugra Narasimha Statue is the largest statue among the group of monuments in Hampi.
4 December, 2016
Due to lack of time, I explored Hampi without rest from dawn to dusk. I didn’t want to skip a single monument mentioned on the map I purchased from a little boy in Hampi Bazar. Half of the empire I had traversed on foot even though the cycling option was available. The last monument I had visited the day before was a grand Sri Krishna Temple before going to disappear into the darkness. Then I had a nice dinner in Mango Tree restaurant.
Again I visited Virupaksha Temple in the morning, because I wanted to see the Inverted Gopuram which is reflection of 9-tiered Rajagopuram. That was a magical phenomenon because the light is not passing through any other media to produce inverted shadow.
The temple complex on the Hemakuta hill was yet to be explored. I started with the Kadalekalu Ganesha temple having enormous sculptors. Then one by one, I finished all the temple structures. But I was more attracted towards a very small temple on top of the hill. Looks like it was left alone from other grand temples with the two leafless Plumeria trees. Despite being alone in some corner of the hill, this small temple stands gracefully protecting what rests inside. Soon the days will change and Plumerias will bloom with flowers.
Until then, it has to stand still against all the odds. That’s the only way to glory.
Rock-cut Caves of Badami
The ruins of Hampi, I left behind in the morning. I was riding towards Badami, the former capital of Badami Chalukyas, situated in Bagalkot district of Karnataka. At first, the ride was enjoyable on the same NH50, but later the Google suggested to take a detour through various villages. Anyways, within 4 hours of ride, I arrived at the famous caves of Badami.
Badami Caves are a complex of Hindu, Jain & Buddhist cave temples carved out of rocks. It’s a fine example of Badami Chalukya architecture dates back to 6th century. I parked my bike in the parking but security guy advised me to untie my luggage and keep safely in nearby hotel. I saw the mischievous monkeys around and decided to agree with him.
The caves are carved out of soft red sandstone on a hill cliff. This unique landscape had its own impact on my mind. I climbed the series of steps to get into the Cave number 1 which is 59 feet above the ground. There is a life-size Nataraja sculpture on the right side of the entrance with its 18 arms expressing the various dance postures.
Climbing 64 steps more took me to the Cave number 2, which is smaller than the first. Dedicated primarily to Vishnu, this cave is carved out of monolithic stone face in 6 or 7th century.
Early Chalukyas adopted Nagara and Dravidian Style of Architectures.
Around the Agastya Lake
The Cave 3 is the largest and most ornate cave among the Badami cave temples, which was created in 578 CE by Chalukya Mangalesha for the god Maha Vishnu. Executed at ambitious scale, the cave has open verandah & pillared hall with a sanctuary cut into rear wall.
The last Cave 4 is smallest one and dedicated to Jain Tirthankaras, the revered figures of Jainism. This cave was constructed after completion of first 3 caves and sponsored by the Hindu kings. The view of the Agastya lake, from the outside of the cave is astonishing.
I decided to encircle the Agastya lake and explore the temples and natural wonders. The manmade lake with its green water closed by the stone steps. The women were washing cloths into the lake. I walked up to the Bhootnath Temple complex, a cluster of Sandstone shrines built on the eastern side of Agastya Lake. The Bhutanatha temple has a south Indian style mandapam extended into the lake with steps on three sides. The inner shrine was constructed in 7th century during the reign of Badami Chalukyas.
Most of the monuments in Badami shows that the people with various faiths were living in harmony for such a long time. I don’t know what has been changed now a days ??
Nestled atop a cliff, next to the Badami Cave temples, there lies a fort spread across huge area with many scattered shrines. The way to the top starts from a museum where many antiques are preserved. The red sandstone crevasses are so intriguing that many movies like Rowdy Rathore were shot in this area.
The Badami fort dated back to the 543 AD was constructed by Chalukyan King Pulakeshi. The fort was plundered and destroyed by the Pallavas in 642 AD. Under the rule of Tipu Sultan, the fort walls were rebuilt along with several new structures.
While hiking along the Badami fort, I saw an unusual sight in one corner. A Hindu Shiva Temple & a Mosque constructed and standing together for decades. Syed Basha Dargah is one of the best example of religious unity and respect for each others faith.
Reading through the pages of History. Roaming around the capital of Badami Chalukyas, I came across the caves, sculptors, temples, mosques & forts carved into the sandstone rock formations. Natural caves & crevasses formed into the rocks almost looks like mini grand canyon. The calmness of the Agastya Lake & the grandeur of the temple along the shore were spectacular as well as soul soothing.
With such a rich experience, I started my ride towards the present..!!
When I look at these grand structures, I feel the urge of the humans persistently trying to cross the border of time to become immortals in one way or another.