Day 2 – Vittala Temple, Stone Chariot and across the river to Anegundi

After spending a peaceful morning walking up the Matanga for the sunrise and on the wet grass around the Achyutaraya Temple the rest of my day would tun out to be quite the opposite! I had to make the most of my time in Hampi and it wasn’t as bad as it may sound. After having the breakfast of Masala Dosa and Chilli/Mirchi bajjis at a local food vendor, I started the day of frantic hopping around with the grand Vittala temple. It was already past 10 in the morning when I reached the Vittala temple and the place was filled with school children, hundreds of them. I spent quite a bit of time there but could hardly get one picture without anybody walking into it. I was also disappointed that the musical pillars were off limits from the public. I knew I would come back at a better time, and left. The only thing I was satisfied with was that I literally got out of my and got a couple nice pictures.

Out of the way to get this
Out of the way to get this
A part of the gopura of the Vittala Temple
A part of the gopura of the Vittala Temple

I had heard of a place called “Nava Brindavana” from someone on twitter and went in search of it. I found it on the map and followed the road to it through green banana plantations. Little did I know that it was on an island on the Tungabadhra river. I quickly noticed that a guy was waiting on the bank with coracle. He wasn’t very happy to hear that I had come alone as he had to row the boat just for me, which he did. On reaching the island he told me that he’d be waiting there and went walking to reach the place. I found an entrance next to a small abandoned building and walked in without any thought. I saw people circling around a few huge Brindavanas. In a few minutes a woman saw me casually walking around and was surprised that I had my footwear on there and a bad hanging over my shoulders. She asked me to get rid of my chappals, leave my bag in a corner and take off my shirt. A young priest saw all this happening and came to us and explained to me that the place was very sacred and they don’t even enter the place without taking a bath in the river. It is from him that I learned that the Brindavanas were for the nine great Hindu Madhwa saints. Brindavans are tombs and also have a place for a Tulsi on the top. I too circled around the Brindavans and sat for while watching the people who were offering prayers with utmost respect. I went and sat peacefully by the river, something I wasn’t able to do at Hampi. I left the place, took the coracle ride back to my motorcycle on the bank. But now I wanted to hop onto the other side of the river, to reach Anegundi.

Luckily, a little distance upstream there was a ferry service to carry me and my bike across the river. I happily sat on the bike and rode onto the deck with a few girls (from Europe, I figured from their language) with their bicycles. On reaching the other side, I was exiting to ride into the ancient place of Anegundi, that was the capital of the Vijayanagara empire before Hampi. It has a history that goes way before the Vijayanagara empire itself. Not only that, it has a lot of ties with Hindu mythology especially with the epic of Ramayana.

It is believed to be the monkey kingdom of Kishkindha that has a mention in Ramayana. There is a hill here, called Anjanaadri, that is believed to be the birth place of Lord Hanuman. I couldn’t climb the hill and rode on to find an old fort on another smaller hill. There is a Durga temple at the fort entrance and it is said that that Vijayanagara kings would come here to pray before every battle. I went past the temple and reached the fort. It seems like a small and frail fort, but it has held against many attacks and stands strong.

I was given a very strong recommendation by a friend to visit a nearby lake called the Sanapur lake. It is actually a reservoir on one branch of the river and is surrounded by hills of huge boulders all around. A coracle ride on the lake was all I needed to calm me down on a hectic day like this one😉.

Now I had to head back to the Hampi side of the river before the ferry service stopped for the day. I had enough time and decided to have something to eat at the “Laughing Budha Cafe” one of the more popular cafes in Virupapura Gaddi. It has a great view of the river and the gopura of the Virupaksha temple.

Now it was really time for me to cross the river and catch that sunset! I went to the Hemakuta Hill right next to the Virupaksha temple. It is a very small hill with many small temples and mantapas sprinkled all over. It offers a great view of some of the ruins and the perfect place to watch a sunset!

Hampi – Day 2 – Sunrise from Matanga and Achyutaraya Temple

I was determined not to miss a sunrise or a sunset for all the days I was at Hampi. Just like the day before I got up early, may be a bit sooner than needed to make sure I don’t miss the sunrise. So I wandered about in the village in the darkness for a while until a tea/coffee shop opened for the day. It was pretty cold that December morning as a sipped my hot coffee.

The plan was to hike up the Matanga Parvatha to witness the sunrise among the hills and the rocks. I rode up to the police station that is located right at the base of the hill and parked there. It was still dark when I started walking up the steps of the hill. But it wasn’t difficult to find my way as the sky was turning lighter slowly. After about 20 to 30 minutes of walking, I reached the top of the hill to find a few people calmly waiting for the sun to rise. Almost all of them were foreigners!

Sunrise from Matanga
Sunrise from Matanga

I found myself a nice spot to sit at the edge of rock. I was delighted to see a big temple on the other side down the hill. As I would find out a little later, it  was the Achyutaraya Temple. One of the big temples around Hampi.

Achyutaraya Temple, seen from Mathanga
Achyutaraya Temple, seen from Mathanga

The hill had a small ruined temple at its peak and there was a way to get to the top of the temple too. The view from there was even better! It has one of the best views in Hampi. Three of the bigger temples of Hampi are visible from there, the Virupaksha, the Achyutaraya and the Krishna temples. The Tungabadhra river can be seen snaking it’s way through the rocky valley.

A panorama of the river from Matanga hill
A panorama of the river from Matanga hill

After the sun had risen, people started making their way down. I still hung around soaking in the views!

A small ruined temple on Matanga
A small ruined temple on Matanga

The Virupaksha Temple, it’s bazaar street and the river behind it are visible.

Virupaksha Temple seen from Matanga
Virupaksha Temple seen from Matanga

Even the Krishna temple and it’s bazaar street are visible. But now, it’s bazaar street seems to have a dead end.

Krishna Temple and its bazaar seen from Matanga
Krishna Temple and its bazaar seen from Matanga

After a little time I started walking down on the other side of the hill, hoping it would lead me to the Achyutaraya Temple. It did, after walking along some banana plantations and water canals.

Walking along canals and banana plantations
Walking along canals and banana plantations

The sun was now high enough to light up the half broken gopuras of the temple. There was absolutely no one around. All I could hear while walking on the grass wet from the morning dew, was the chirping of the birds.

Early morning walk around the Achyutaraya temple
Early morning walk around the Achyutaraya temple
The ruined gopuras of the Achyutaraya temple
The ruined gopuras of the Achyutaraya temple

The temple has a lot of space inside the tall outer walls, with pillared mantapas lining them from the inside.

Pillared mantapas
Pillared mantapas

The temple, like other big temples in Hampi, has a wide bazaar street with rows of mantapas lining it on either side. This bazaar is also known as the Soolai Bazaar. The reason I heard for this was that women would be available here to serve, take care of and entertain traders visiting from far off places.

The bazaar of the Achyutaraya temple
The bazaar of the Achyutaraya temple

At the entrance to the bazaar street there is a kalyani/pond.

Kalyani/pond of the Achyutaraya Temple
Kalyani/pond of the Achyutaraya Temple

At this point I was already planning my day ahead. The Vittala Temple was another 20 minutes walk down the same trail but I decided to get back the room to freshen up and leave for the day. So, I turned towards the village and met the river again at another location, a bit more serene and a lot more peaceful! No wonder a priest of the nearby temple choose this location for his morning Sandhyavandana.

A priest's morning Sandhyavandana
A priest’s morning Sandhyavandana

And I was treated to this view, just as peaceful as the river here!

The calm river
The calm river

This marked the end of my early morning walk to Matanga and the Achyutaraya temple. I returned back to my small stay back in the village to freshen up and soon leave to walk along the Tungabadhra river to see the Vittala temple that houses the world famous Stone chariot! Watch out for the next post on that!

Exploring the ruins of Hampi – Day 1

I had arrived in Hampi the previous evening and got myself a small place to stay. I had 2-3 more days to wander around before heading back to Bangalore. I had plans of exploring not only Hampi but also the nearby places of Badami, Aihole and Pattadakal. But I soon realized that I would need a few more days to even get a proper glimpse of just Hampi. I had a rough list of places to visit and things to do in Hampi, and it would easily take me a week to do it all. I made up my mind that I’ll spend all the time in Hampi and kicked off the day with a Hampi style sunrise! Hampi is surrounded by hills of boulders and there could be hundreds of vantage points to spend the golden hour, viewing the sunrise and sunset. But in Hampi there are a couple special spots that have an open view to the east and provide an brilliant setting to watch the sunrise. I planned to visit one such places this morning. I got up quite early but I had to hurry to catch the right moment. I was heading to the hillock next to the Malyavanta Raghunatha temple. It took me a while to find the place and when I finally reached the spot, I knew the clock had ticked and the sun completely above the horizon. It was nevertheless a beautiful view and I sat on the hillock sock it in and to get warmed up after riding fast on a cold December morning.

Sunrise near Malyavanta Raghunatha temple
Sunrise near Malyavanta Raghunatha temple

The Malyavanta Raghnatha temple is, as the name tells, a temple for Rama. It is said that Rama with his brother Lakshmana lived for 6 months in this place waiting for Hanuman to return with the whereabouts of Sita.

Malyavanta Raghunatha Temple
Malyavanta Raghunatha Temple

After taking a look around the temple itself, I head back to the place where I was staying. The man who owned the place was eagerly waiting for me and he came up to me as I opened the lock. I was surprised when he asked when I was going to vacate the room. I had arrived the previous night and I was being asked to leave early the next morning. The lady of the place entered the scene while I was trying to convince him to let me stay for another day. Apparently it was the tourist season and international travelers pay a lot more than I would. She just made her point clear and left. I had no other option but to leave but not before a shower. I had a hard time finding a place that served a normal south Indian breakfast. Most of the places cater to the needs of international travelers, and almost every major cuisine is covered! Finally I found a stall in one of the narrower streets, selling dosas. I had a couple to keep me going for the first half of the day. I had a lot of walking to do and that in the hot sun. Just before I left the village to explore the ruins I was offered stay at a smallish but clean place for a rather small price. It was worth just to leave my bags for the day and to freshen up after a walk in the sun. So I took it and head out without my baggage.:) Basically (as far as I know), there are five major temples in Hampi, and numerous smaller shrines around these centers. All of these major temple have bazaar streets, each was well known for certain goods. They are the, all too well know, Virupaksha Temple, the ornate Krishna temple, the Achyutharaya temple, the Hazara Rama temple and the Vijaya VIttala Temple. I planned to visit the Hazara Rama temple that day and rode there stopping at the underground Shiva temple on the way. I had imagined it to be a cave like structure, but is built below ground level by digging up the area for the temple. I next stopped at the Hazara Rama Temple, parked my bike near a sign that said Pan-Supari Bazaar. I later found out that it used to be a market where spices were traded.  The temple was private to the royal family and marks (one of) the entrances to the royal enclosure that housed the palaces, a mint, a kalyani (sacred pond) with a temple for a goddess, a huge platform (The Mahanavami Dibba) to host celebrations such as weddings and festivals, and many more structures than I could see in a day. The temple isn’t huge by Hampi’s standards but its importance is obvious from it’s location. The walls of the temple are carved with many episodes of the epic of Ramayana and hence the name. Below are some of the images I captured at the temple.

At the entrance of the Hazara Rama Temple, heads of sculptures chopped off
At the entrance of the Hazara Rama Temple, heads of sculptures chopped off
Hazara Rama Temple
Hazara Rama Temple

 

The images of the young and grown up Krishna together
The images of the young and grown up Krishna together
The Vimana of the hazara Rama Temple
The Vimana of the hazara Rama Temple

I could see huge fort walls from behind the temple and curiously walked out of the temple complex and into the royal enclosure. There were several tall and thick fort like walls surrounding the enclosure. They were crumbling at many places, may be they were brought down during or after the many wars. Of the many buildings that once stood within the area only their basements survive. Also the water ducts to supply fresh water to the palace and temples are visible. I walked through the palace figuring out where the doors would be and trying to imagine walls and roofs. There are places that were probably administrative offices and the royal court. There is a high platform from which the king would deliver speeches. I turned around from the temple complex and walked to the Kalyani, with small aqueducts leading to it. I got curious about the aqueducts and followed one of the many lines. It disappeared behind a big fort wall. I think the water was somehow lifted from the river into these canals. And that also led me towards the King’s bath, which looked like a modern day swimming pool, except it was deep throughout. Obviously the water supply system was connected to the pool too. In fact, there was an extensive network of aqueducts and canals of various sizes throughout Hampi. Some of them were even underground! They were used to supply water for irrigation , to the temples, ponds, palaces and may be even to the household.

The King's royal bath
The King’s royal bath

The last thing I saw in one part of the Royal enclosure was the Mahanavami Dibba. It is a huge platform with multiple levels that was used for celebrations and performances. It was built by Krishnadevaraya to commemorate his victory over the empire of Udayagiri (Orissa). It is said that the celebration of the 9 day festival of Navarathri and also royal marriages used to happen here.

There was another part of the royal enclosure that seems like it was mostly dedicated to the queen. It enclosed a small palace for the queen, of which only the basement is left. It also encloses two of the most popular monuments of Hampi, the grand Lotua Mahal and the huge elephant stables. The Lotus Mahal, built with a good mixture of Hindu and Islamic architecture, has open space at the ground level and is said to have been used by the queen for dancing and other performances, in private. It also has some space at the first level with ornate windows. Unfortunately it was locked up.

The Lotus Mahal
The Lotus Mahal

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The Lotus Mahal
The Lotus Mahal

The Queen’s enclosure has a tall watch tower with windows at multiple levels.
And this was locked up too. Only the pigeons enjoyed the view from the top!

A tall watch tower near the Queen's palace
A tall watch tower near the Queen’s palace

A gate near the tower leads to the well preserved elephant stables. It is huge, big enough to hold about a dozen elephants and their mahouts/guards. This too has a big Islamic influence in its style.

The huge elephant stables
The huge elephant stables

It was about time for lunch and I had enough walking around in the sun for the day. So I decided to hit one of the cafes on the other side of the river in Virupapura Gaddi. I took the motorboat across the river and head to Shesh-Besh and chilled out there till evening. The cafes of Hampi are perfect to relax after a tiring day. I couldn’t miss the last boat back to the Hampi side of the river and left the Gaddi. The sun was about to set as I was waiting for my boat.

Just before the sunset from across the river
Just before the sunset from across the river

On reaching the other side I hurried to the Hemakuta hill. This is a small hill right beside the Virupaksha temple. It is sprinkled with many temples, many of which are quite small, and matapas. The place is great for catching the sunset, and unfortunately I had missed it! But I hung around to soak in the beautiful colors.

One of small temples on Hemakuta Hill
One of small temples on Hemakuta Hill

Hampi – Day 1, Arriving to witness the beauty of dusk

If you want to be moved by an imperial medieval city, that was once the capital of the entire Indian peninsula, you must visit Hampi. But be sure to bring all the imagination you can muster, because the city is in ruins. You will need to soak in all that is left of this once majestic city, all the stories of the kingdom of Vijayanagara, the mythology of the surrounding area and build a picture using your imagination. And I can bet, you will be left wishing that you were alive there at the height of it’s glory.

I had little idea of what to expect of Hampi when I started riding there one morning from Bangalore. I had seen pictures and heard stories, but I didn’t carry that baggage with me. I wasn’t even sure of going when I went to bed the previous night! But leave, I did, on my humble little motorcycle. It was the familiar road till Chitradurga and I had to leave the comfort of the four-lane highway and turn towards Hospet. I had read horror stories of this road and had still went anyway. The road isn’t very bad, it is worn out in patches but the huge trucks were more difficult to tackle as the road has just two lanes.

I reached the town of Hospet in the evening and just before entering I was amazed at the huge Tungabadhra reservoir and the sun hanging just over the water line.

I stood there for a moment and left straight for Hampi hoping to catch the sunset. I did reach Hampi before it was dark but I had missed the sunset and only left to see this view!

Arrived in Hampi this evening and treated to this view! #hampi #sunset #travel #india

A photo posted by Shreyas Goes (@shreyasgoes) on

After sitting to this view with the silhouette of the gopura of the Virupaksha temple for a while, that is where I head next. Virupaksha is the most popular temple in Hampi. Dedicated to Lord Shiva, known here as Virupaksheshwara, it is believed to be the oldest here and the deity is worshiped everyday. It is one of the most sacred temples in India. Hampi is also known as “Dakshina Kaashi”, the Kaashi of the south. Like Kaashi (Varanasi), it sits by a sacred river, the Tungabadhra. The river was known by the name of Pampa in the epic of Ramayana and must have been it’s earlier name. Pampa is also the name of Parvathi the consort of Lord Shiva.

Even with lots of people walking in, the temple maintained a calm atmosphere. I walked past the temple elephant, Lakshmi, as she was blessing people with her trunk and entered the shrine. Fortunately I didn’t have to wait in a line quickly got to see the linga. I hung around for a while listening to a guide talking about the paintings on the ceiling of the mantapa and left to find a place for the night.

After failing in my attempts to book a place in Hampi before getting there, I went around the village looking out for the names of guesthouses I remembered. When I actually got there, I was surprised to see that almost every house was converted into a guest house with a cafe on the roof. I did find a simple room for a nominal price. It too had a cafe on the roof, with free WiFi!:) I had my dinner there, walked around the streets to get a feel of the place and finally hit the sack hoping for a good 2 – 3 days of exploring Hampi.

Sorry for not sharing many pictures in this post, I cannot wait till I share all the (pretty) pictures I shot on a new camera I got last month. So, watch out for the next few post that will soon follow!

A daytrip to the town of Melukote

It had been on my mind for a long time, I wanted to visit Melukote. I have a kind of fascination towards old towns, especially the religious centers, perhaps because they are some of the best preserved glimpses into the past. Melukote is one such town in the Mandya district of Karnataka. It has been a religious and learning center for centuries with the temples of Vishnu in the forms of Cheluvanarayana Swamy and Yoganarasimha Swamy. Although the origins of the town are lost to history, it rose to prominence during the 12th century when Ramanujacharya came and stayed here for over a decade spreading the Srivaishnava tradition. It is believed that many of the Mandyam Iyengars (who had migrated to Mandya from a place near Tirupathi earlier) followed Ramanuja to Melukote and many of them settled here.

I was in Mysore that weekend and decided to visit Melukote on a Sunday. It is just 50 km north of Mysore and for a change, I did not ride there. I comfortably sat beside my grandmother while dad drove us slowly on his first drive outside Mysore on his first car! As we neared the town, the temple on the hill was clearly visible from the road.

Melukote ( Melu = High, Kote = Fort ) sits on an elevated area formed by some of the oldest rocks. There are two main temples in the town both of Vishnu. The temple of Cheluvanarayana Swamy is at the heart of the town, while the Yoganarasimha Swamy temple is perched on top of a rocky hill. The town has a lot of old stone buildings, small ruined temples and ponds/kalyanis. Most of the houses prominently display the ‘Shanka’ and ‘Chakra’, the emblems of Lord Vishnu and the ‘Naama’, that probably represents the Lord himself.

A typical house in Melukote with the Shanka, Chakra and the Naama
A typical house in Melukote with the Shanka, Chakra and the Naama

We visited the Cheluvanarayana Swamy temple first. The temple has several shrines and many beautifully carved pillars line the mantapas.

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This was the most intricate of all the pillars.

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After the pooja there, we walked out and soon found our way to the base of the hill and the start of the steps to the second temple. The path starts with a big kalyani or a pond. It is surrounded by mantapas that were built as resting areas for the visitors and pilgrims.

The kalyani and the temple on top of the hill
The kalyani and the temple on top of the hill

Even though the sun was reaching its highest by now, almost the entire way up was under the shade of the trees. While my parents and granny were a bit slow, I took the time to take a few pictures of the temple and the surrounding areas.

The gopura seen while climbing up the hill
The gopura seen while climbing up the hill

There are many old crumbling structures by the steps that are proof of how old the place really is, but they add to the allure of the place.

Luckily the temple wasn’t crowded and we quickly finished our darshana and pooja, and went behind the temple to take a look. The view from behind the temple is great as it overlooks the surrounding green fields.

A panoramic view of the surrounding fields
A panoramic view of the surrounding fields

It was just about time for lunch when we reached the base of the hill again. But I made my folks wait for a while there as I took a quick walk half way around the hill to checkout the other side. There is a fort like wall that goes around the hill and a rear entry with a tiny pond and a mantapa.

A panoramic view of the hill showing the fort like wall
A panoramic view of the hill showing the fort like wall
The rear entry with a small pond and a resting area
The rear entry with a small pond and a resting area

The Iyengars, among many other things, are know for their incredibly tasty food. And with almost a town full of Iyengars it wasn’t hard to find a place for a delicious and filling lunch. One such and the most popular of places is the ‘Subbanna mess’. They serve great food at a house. I had the puliyoggare (tamarind rice) and sweet pongal, both the variations, sugar and jaggery.

From there we made our way to one of the popular spots in Melukote. It is an unfinished structure that looks like the base of a huge gopuram. It goes by the name of ‘Rayagopura’. It has tall pillars carved all the way to the top.

The four pillars of the Rayagopura
The four pillars of the Rayagopura
The doorway decorated with carvings typical of temple entrances
The doorway decorated with carvings typical of temple entrances

By now we were all quite tired and looking forward to the ride back. I took the last few pictures and we were on the highway.

An old abandoned building, one of the few that we spotted
An old abandoned building, one of the few that we spotted
A seemingly abandoned kalyani
A seemingly abandoned kalyani

On our way back, we (pre-planned by dad) stopped by an ‘aale-mane’, the place where sugarcane juice is turned into jaggery. The people working there were kind enough to let us in and show us around. We even bought a couple of blocks of jaggery before we left.

Boiling sugarcane juice
Boiling sugarcane juice
Thick juice poured in to casts to make solid jaggery
Thick juice poured in to casts to make solid jaggery

It was a calm drive back home to Mysore. We had missed visiting a lake on the way, the ‘Tonnur Kere’ due to lack of time, and I hope to ride around there soon.

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