Friday, November 29, 2013

Historical Hampi - 23,24 Nov - 2013

Lots of things to write about and am attempting a different format of account than my previous posts. My first trip with Bangalore Trekking Club (more about BTC at end of the post). Everything about the trip was wonderful and thoroughly enjoyed the getaway from normal life. More so thanks to the wonderful group of twelve (Chaitanya - BTC guide, Santosh, Chetan, Shruthi, Vaibhav, Sudesh, Shwetha, Saravana, Vijayananda, Madhuri, Ashok and yours truly) . I don't have an inclination/knowledge to fully appreciate the architectural and historical wonder that is Hampi but even to my untrained eye I can say with confidence that this is a must visit place.

Getting Started:
I came to know BTC through a friend, told good reviews and I liked what I saw on their website. The moment I saw Hampi on events, I decided to not miss the opportunity. Most of my friends have done it already or not interested. Such clubs are a boon to introverts like me. After easy and glitch free registration, I reached the pickup point half an hour early. Vaibhav and Sudesh were already there. Within 5-10 minutes Chaitanya arrived and others trickled in. Many had already done events with BTC. I just kept to myself and took it all in, knowing fully that I will be comfortable come Saturday morning. It started with introduction session and by end of it all, I knew all by names and the two days feel like years spent together.

Reaching Hampi:
After a bit of delayed start and adjusting to seats, majority dictated playing of movie. Sleep proved difficult - perhaps going on my own after about 18 months was a factor too in addition to movie and general effect of travel noise. About one-fourth of the road leading to Hampi (350+ km from Bangalore) was in bad shape. On reaching Hampi - thanks to Google maps and localites near Hospet, we were greeted with shouts of whether we needed rooms to stay. It was about 6 in the morning, the bus stand was slowly coming into life. We brushed our teeth there itself to save time as we were to get rooms only after 7AM.

First impressions:
Surrounded by hillocks all around, Tungabhadra river flowing through it, Hampi is thankfully still a village. Tourism has shaped the modern settlement. Scores of room stays, hotels, transport, foreign exchange, ticket booking complete with sign board typos greeted us on most streets past the no outside vehicle restricted gate entry - and ofcourse temples and ruins. Waiting for about half an hour outside room stay, most of us had tea/coffee and apples that Santosh offered. Monkeys quarreling and showing acrobatic skills on cables joining streets, cows roaming on their own pace, dogs, small white insects (similar to ones commonly seen clinging to custard apples), scores of foreigners, a small snake outside neighboring house, reading and commenting on sign boards nearby, among others kept us busy. Come to think about it, that's how we start to lose ourselves in another world to one that we live everyday. No wonder I like fantasy books.

Visiting first temple:
The stay was a neat place with apt considerations for hygiene. By 8:30AM, we were ready for long day ahead. Photography and hot sun dictated our outfits and things to carry. We had masala dosas and pooris at a nearby hotel followed by another round of tea/coffee. We were finally all set to enjoy vistas of Hampi.
Virupaksha Temple:
We crossed a covered chariot, saw colorful saffron adorned godmen, a guy selling drums and other tourists before we could enter. On entering through the tallest Gopuram in Hampi, we were barged with calls to buy photo albums, maps, Hampi guide books and guides, grey and white pigeons - some of them on a barren tree and lots of monkeys - some getting fed by tourists and some snatching items from tourists. Temple elephant had its place to the left,  ticket counter, pooja items and leaving footwear were besides the guarded internal entrance. Crowd was decent strength, not too many to feel overcrowded.

Virupaksha Temple

After getting tickets and paying for cameras, Chaitanya decided to get a guide. 600 bucks for 4 hours. Good deal considering the cost was shared by twelve. I was initially skeptic when the guide started about the history - too much of information. But as the day passed, I felt happy that atleast momentarily I appreciated history, effort and significance of various temples, idols, architecture, etc. Being a large group, one never got to hear all the guide said - some took photos, some roamed around, some listened and some had snacks snatched by monkeys.
The guide told us that this temple (predating Vijayanagar empire) is the only one to survive various attacks by Mughals/Britishers over the years. His favorite dialogue - destroyed, stolen and run-away ;) Belief is that Vishnu's Boar avatar scared away the destroyers. Kishkindha (lies other side of river) is birth place of Hanuman. Monkeys and Pigs are found in large numbers in Hampi. These must be somehow related is my feeling ;) He explained significance of two cylindrical pillars (one of them for feeding monkeys - if I remember correctly) and other devotional artifacts like the three headed bull among others. Mythical creature Yali - combination of Crocodile, Elephant, Horse, Lion, Cow, Snake (perhaps one more) dots pillars in many places as well as was seen in other temples and ruins. He explained in detail the painting on roof, which had lot of detail - don't remember any.

Naturally inverted image of front Gopura inside Virupaksha Temple

He then led us to see natural camera built - a small opening in the wall set at 200m from the entrance Gopura - formed inverted image on the opposite wall. Through the backside, we passed a pond nicely reflecting the Gopura to Tungabhadra river. Many were bathing, provisions were in place to change clothes. Boats to carry people and cycles as well as coracles were on both sides of the river. Guide informed us that during August when the Hospet dam was opened, it had flooded till top of steps, very scary to imagine.


Tungabhadra River (runs through Hampi)

Hemakuta group of temples:
After more than an hour, we moved to Hemakuta neighboring Virupaksha. By now, sporadic cloud cover had cleared and time to bring out hats and caps. Lots of temples, ruins and large boulders were spread on small rocky hill. We had first of the many group photos, bit of rest and moved on to Sunset point on top of hill.  After more photos from viewpoint, we went down on the other side of hill towards Sasivekalu Ganesha. On this side, there were lot more tourists including groups of school children led by mean looking and rule enforcing teachers. Plants surrounding the Ganesha monolithic statue gave welcome relief in capturing some macro shots compared to now monotonous temple and its related architectures. 


Hemakuta temples

Krishna Temple:
By 11:30AM, we moved onto the next in list - Krishna temple. It has a ruined gateway undergoing renovation with Bazar and Pushkarani (large area to collect water - a recurring theme in many places) on the opposite side of road. This is another large temple complex but with large damage inflicted. By this time, it was overload of awesomeness for me, didn't have the inclination to explore. After a bit of rest, I circled the temple taking snaps without closer inspection. 


Krishna Temple

Lakshmi Narasimha and Badavilinga:
After about half an hour, we went further down the road - this time surrounded by trees and farmland rather than more rocks to a quick visit to two more spots. Afternoon, our throats dry, most water bottles empty - we couldn't have chosen a better spot. Goli-soda (with different flavors, opened using just a finger) and tender coconut (about 50-100ml small ones, so had two :D) to quench our thirst. Old coins including from Vijayanagara era and other tourists type items were on sale too.


Lotus Mahal, Elephant Stables and small museum:
We took our TT along with guide to next destination - Zanana Enclosure and surroundings. One needs to purchase a ticket, but can be used at multiple places on same day. Guide explained that Queen's Palace was exclusive only to women folk including security in watch towers. The place had well maintained lawn and a beautiful Lotus Mahal. Water spray from pipes was used as air conditioner in those days. We then moved to Elephant stables - an imposing building for 11 elephants. Current tradition of big festivals in Mysore used to be conducted here. Mahuts stay was closeby - currently converted as shrine to excavated idols. We rounded up with visit to small museum - had photos taken in 1800s compared with modern photos side by side, idols among other items. We took leave of the guide - very helpful in suggesting further places too.


Lotus Mahal (with inbuilt provision to circulate water as AC)

Lunch at Kamalapura:
Also suggested by the guide, we went to Kamalapura to have lunch and further visits. We had lunch at a place called Varsha (joked by Santosh that he won't go in not having a raincoat :P). Food, water and place was decent enough to pay 75 bucks for thali. We filled our water bottles too for afternoon session. After heavy meal, exhaustion from largely sleepless night and morning visits many of us just wanted to lie down. But on we went.

Archaeological Museum:
The ticket we got earlier gave us free pass here. Photography prohibition made us miss capturing the awesome model of Hampi built from small stones and other materials. Very realistic, complete with river, lakes, hills and temple towers. Allowed us to visualize the spot we had visited and plan ahead.  The idols, artifacts like swords, inscriptions, coins, stone and metal tools, pottery, etc were too good. A large billboard had evolution of Kannada scripts. Outside, there were more idols placed and a well maintained lawn. We waited for a school batch to move for another round of group photo.

Pathabhirama Temple:
After a small confusion, we reached Pathabhirama temple. A large temple complex, bit similar to Krishna temple. Students from Kannada University nearby were reading/sleeping/gossiping. A very nice place indeed for relaxation and long photo shoots. So much so, an item was left behind and had to be retrieved later.

Queen's Bath, Royal Enclosure and Hazara Rama Temple:
A large trench had us confused and walking all around and asking foreigner the entrance - which lay on the fourth side of square from where we started. After some fun photo sessions and bland PJs we moved to Royal Enclosure. Larger area than previous ones. Mostly open spaces, not sure if any enclosed building were destroyed. Another customary group photo - at the Sabha Mandap (Great Platform). An impressive stone pathway is built for water circulation. Past this is the beautiful stepped tank. Some secret chamber is there too, I didn't visit. We hurried to Hazara Rama temple nearby. Impressive work on granite - welcome difference. Entire Ramayana is depicted inside the complex.

Sunset at Hemakuta Hill:
We dropped few places to reach sunset view point by 5:30PM. Already scores of foreign and Indian tourists had taken up spots. Many were trickling in. Monkeys lined up on edge of the hills, ready to pounce on unguarded tourists. Some of us climbed onto first level of gateway, others went down and further close ( :P ) to sun on the western side. It was nice to rest, waiting for the sunset after a hectic day of self-inflicted pain :D
And wasn't the pain worth it - best sunset I have seen. Too good a viewpoint - hills, ruins, pillars, birds all adding to effects.


Sunset from Hemakuta Hill

Fun doesn't stop till sleeping time:
Sky darkened quickly by the time we reached bus stand in TT. Impromptu round of chilli-bhajjis. More than tongue burn we got finger burn trying to rush for just fried bhajjis. After another round of tea/coffee, we finally reached the home stay for brief rest. Sitting on dirty rooftop (due to frequent power cut), Madhuri's kind distribution of tasty besan laddus and other snacks satiated our hunger further. She can definitely start a sweet shop. Anthakshri soon started - lots of classical as well as item ones, as often happens - letters (र,है,न) came frequently and posed problems. We were abruptly interrupted by Chaitanya to go for dinner - with promise of continuing later but never happened x( :P
Dinner at Mango Tree restaurant. We sat on floors flanked behind with cushions. Good music but low volume. Food decent but nice ambiance. Lots of talk.
Fun got better - 11 (10 effectively - 2 players sharing :P) of us played Uno (2 packets mixed) with Chaitanya choosing to not participate. Shruthi took the onus of explaining rules patiently, with lots of tricks and suggestions. After a trial round, we stopped at four rounds as we shouted so much to receive two warnings from nearby rooms. Though I was so bad to be placed 7th place, I was solely responsible in deciding eventual loser in 4th round :(

Sunrise at Matanga Hills:
We slept around midnight, with alarms set to get ready and leave by 5AM to sunrise point. I woke twice in the night having dreamed that something went wrong with the alarm I had set. Finally woke at 4:30AM to Vijayananda's alarm. By 5:15AM, we were all set for the small night trek to Matanga Hills. Wasn't so cold as it is that early in Bangalore. 
About 20 minutes to climb the hill, easy one considering steps for most part. But need someone to know the path beforehand to avoid deviations. Atop, we took another group pic, I am so tired of mentioning that :P. Lights from Kamalapura and other places around were pleasing to eye. As dawn approached, other tourists arrived. We could see the river, Achyutaraya and Virupaksha temples from top. 

Pushkarani near Achyutaraya - from Matanga Hills

As with sunset, monkeys lined up all around the edges of the hill. For a long time, they were trying to snatch things but at some point, a slightly handicapped one attacked a foreigner unprovoked. The foreigner had no handbag or snack or camera or anything - thankfully it was just a scratch before people shooed it away.

Cloudy sunrise

Clouds and mist prevented us from seeing sunrise - disappointment, but the short trek was worth in itself. We did take hazy pics once sun broke through scattered clouds high above rising point and followed it with another group pic. Nearby the base, there is a big monolithic Nandi.

Rented Cycles for first half:
We reached back to home stay by 8AM. After freshening up, vacating and breakfast (same place as Saturday, Dosas and Pooris were better this time along with Chutney, Sambhar and Cauliflower curry), by 9:30AM we were selecting cycles. It was to have fun riding rather than convenience of covering places. Shruthi got moped with Madhuri as pillion. We first kept our extra baggage in TT by which time the day was burning hot compared to Saturday. I wished aloud that if it rains, it will be good.

Underground Shiva, Chandikesvara and Kadalekalu Ganesha:
By 10:30AM, we reached the underground Shiva temple. Many were riding a cycle after loooooong years. Most cycles had some or the other minor issues. Mine had peddles necessarily rotating with wheel, so in downhills I had to pull my legs over the bar to allow peddles to rotate with wheel's speed or as I realized later to use breaks and go very slowly. Most of us were huffing and puffing by the time we reached Shiva temple - ups and downs and humidity being a major factor.  The Shiva linga is submerged in water, but years of stagnation and fishes gave bad smell. A group of foreigners waded through it nevertheless, spoiling Chaitanya's wish to capture a still water shot. We rested for sometime, a group pic with cycles and moped before we started back the way we came.
The next stop was supposed to be Kadalekalu Ganesha. But on the way, we saw moped parked outside Chandikesvara temple, so we stopped and went in. Only to realize the moped wasn't ours :P. It was a small temple with base stones intact and upper bricks in ruins. After the brief visit, we stopped by the goli-soda and tender coconut wala of the previous day. We got smart and picked our own big (among available ones) tender coconut this time :P. And soon we reached Kadalekalu Ganesha, having to park our cycles in hot Sun. Spent some time photo shooting amidst intentional hands and legs popping in the frame. Chetan was made to wear three caps and he readily obliged a photo with it. Kadalekalu Ganesha was another monolithic idol.

Rain spoils cycle ride:
We rode next towards Vittala temple complex. We had to wait in Hampi Bazaar street as Shwetha's bicycle had issue and Santosh got a replacement. We spent the time riding simply, taking pics and Vijay did a video shoot too by interviewing us. Once everyone was together, we moved on and stopped at a bend near the river bank to ask for further directions. It turned out be 1.75km from that place and moped couldn't go that way as even cycle had to be carried at some points. After deliberations, rain decided the course for us. We didn't want to risk getting our phones/camera drenched, nor wanted to separate the group. The drizzle stopped soon and we returned the vehicles. 40 bucks for half day and 50 for whole day is decent transport option for those not having own vehicle or wanting to enjoy ride around Hampi.

Back to Kamalapura:
The way to Vittala on road is a long deviation via Kamalapura. We decided to have lunch there before proceeding. This time, we found the KSTDC complex suggested by the guide. It is a spacious place with stay rooms/dormitories available. One can actually plan Hampi tour starting from Kamalapura.
There was a buffet system too, but we opted to order our own dishes. Decent food again, but water wasn't good. So we had to get price hiked mineral water bottles and couldn't fill our already empty bottles that we were carrying. I even managed a short nap before purposefully woken up by Chetan and asked in Kannada if I was sleeping :-/

Vittala Temple:
We reached Vittala by 1:50PM. It was clear that we won't be able to cover the temples in our plan and then go Kishkindha too. It was okay with us as we had covered lot more places than original itinerary and its a well known fact that atleast a 4-7 days is needed to properly visit all places in Hampi. Outside vehicles are allowed only upto a parking lot from where it is about a kilometer to the temple. A battery powered open four-wheeler can be used to reach (ticket is Rs 10), but we opted to walk instead. It was good idea, except I forgot my cap in TT and suffered under the hot Sun.
There are small complexes on the way (obviously we stopped at the first one to take a group pic) and also a Pushkarani. We decided to visit it on the way back when it would be cooler - sadly that was not be. Some had defied Chaitanya though and visited, lucky fellows :P. We stopped in the shade of tree for some rest, it was that hot and we were tired too. Lots of open pillars lined on both sides of the road, possibly for a market but never finished. It was 2:30PM by the time everyone was in. This is another temple requiring ticket (can be used in other places like the museum).

Outside Vittala Temple

Famous Stone Chariot of Hampi


The famous stone chariot seen whenever Hampi is advertised is housed here. Musical pillars sadly is closed to visitors currently. We spent close to an hour here. Awesome carvings in addition to the two famous attraction. We even spotted a foreigner (Swedish if we are to believe Shwetha) explaining to either fellow tourists or actually a guide residing in Hampi. I took the opportunity trying to capture others in casual moments, just as Santosh and Chaitanya had been doing all along.

Kings Balance, Stone Pillar, Varaha Temple:
After another round of tender coconut (same principle of picking our own ;) ), we started towards Varaha temple. The day just got hotter, stones and hills all around making it rather hellish, despite the river flowing to our right. It took half an hour to reach Varaha, passing Kings Balance and Stone Pillar on our way. We spent about 10 minutes, most of it relaxing on the temple steps.


Courtesan Street and Achutaraya Temple:
Just beside Varaha, runs the courtesan street leading to Achutaraya temple. There is a Pushkarani to the right and open standing pillars on both sides, very similar to Vittala. After copious snaps to capture the walls reflecting in the Pushkarani and yet another grand group photo with pillars, we reached Achutaraya by 4:30PM. We could see tourists in Matanga hills, their talk carrying to us as noise. As usual, another round of photos, this time Shwetha providing the fun as Devi,etc. I laid down to sleep, but couldn't and instead took snap of roofs and markings. There are two strange stones with almost perfect concentric circles drawn with hole in center. Our imagination went as far as describing it to have been used as landing spot of UFOs :D

Pushkarani (A recurring theme outside many temples in Hampi)

Sunset by Tungabhadra River:
We cancelled another of our plan to see sunset from a hill in favor of sitting by the river. In retrospect, I think most of us would agree this panned out better than a repeat of sunset from hill. It was doubtful that we could have reached the hill in time too. 5PM already when we trekked a bit down the bankside. A tree, the sun, Virupaksha Gopura, river, its grassy bank and hill formed a picturesque landscape.
Till 5:50PM, we spent on boulders, enjoying our last vista, trying various modes and angles to capture the landscape. Though it would have been nice to take boat or coracle to other side of the river, it perhaps will entice us for repeat visit ;) Bliss it is to sit there and quietly enjoy.

Postcard Sunset click ;)

Snacks and return to TT:
Ofcourse we were hungry and a stall nearby the temple atop steps leading from the river was just what the doctor ordered (thanks Ravi Shastri for the cliche :P) We had Mandakki (puffed rice) and awesome tea/coffee as darkness settled in quickly. I played songs on my phone while returning, which was soon shut in favor of gossip on various topics - effects of 'kyun ki saas bhi kabhi bahu thi' on Hindi development in Karnataka to how most people have obsession on something to books and what not. When we crossed Vittala temple and nearing Pushkarani, fireflies adorned both sides of the road, twinkling like small stars. Some came very close to us too. Reminded me of Sakleshpur.

Dinner and feedback session:
Finally, there was no more walking and visiting left. We stopped at another KSTDC hotel on the highway to Bangalore. Got glimpse of Ind-WI ODI with around 40+ to get, didn't wait to watch knowing we were going to lose. We got table set for us outside in the lawn, even though it was cold it gave us privacy and isolated us from disturbing others by our excited talks. As we were quite early on the return to Bangalore, we ordered late and also instructed waiter to not rush our delivery :P
Chaitanya conducted a feedback session - a first in my experience on trips. Everyone gave our opinion, mostly positive with few complaints and ideas to improve. Chaitanya was gracious in accepting flaws and outlined some of future BTC plans. In my view, the way BTC operates is simply awesome from what I gather on website and facebook page. And definitely suits my need - visit places I haven't so far just because I didn't have company. Being non-profit organization and cost shared equally among the participants, very cost effective option to visit places like Hampi. Hopefully, I can go when Chaitanya plans Belur and Haleibedu trip :)

Those little magical moments:
Loads and loads of memories from just two day trip. Made me realize how mechanical most day to day life is passing by me. But ofcourse, who ever can really and in absolute truth spell out the workings of life? :-/
Well here are some little moments that I will cherish reading years down the line than any of the architectural wonders of Hampi. Isn't it wonderful to be free of the masks we wear everyday and be yourself with strangers?
  • Chaitanya's way of making introduce ourselves - remembering others names became a theme during the trek, with many graciously asking when forgetting. We pulled Shwetha's leg everytime she forgot or christened Vaibhav as Vivek, Saravana as Sarvan/Saravanan and me as Sumit
  • The jet exhausts criss-crossing the Hampi skyline - mostly early morning and evening
  • The way conversation starts by reminiscing our previous experiences - Ashok's bike ride Bangalore-Kanyakumari-Gujarat-Ladakh-Delhi was so good to hear and inspiring. At sunrise point, I was telling how we were denied sunset but saw awesome sunrise in Kodachadri. But then forgot the name of falls we crossed. During breakfast, some discussion came up and Chaitanya finally reminded it to be Hidlumane falls. 
  • "Destroyed, Stolen and Run away" dialogue by the guide
  • Playing Antakshri under starlit sky while munching snacks and ofcourse playing UNO
  • Shruthi's forgetful moments - one was leaving hat in Pathabhirama and later retrieved.
  • The way cows and dogs seemed to follow Santosh and Shwetha at many places and many jokes made about snake and other creatures to scare Shwetha during Matanga climb
  • Santosh distributing apples and cucumbers and sweets from Madhuri. The salted dried Amla was very useful on Sunday to reduce our thirst.
  • Santosh for patiently trying to explain basics of manual photography. I managed to take first manual pics on my camera, some of which I will agree came better than auto mode
  • Vaibhav and Sudesh always ready to get info on the net - sunset and sunrise timings very useful. Also, many had maps on phone, helpful around Hampi
  • Recollecting good old DD ads like Vicco/Cadbury/Ujala/Nirma/etc, Mile Sur mera tumhara, TV shows like Byomkesh Bakshi/Junoon/Suraag/etc
  • And last but not least, awesome old song collection played from Santosh's phone on return journey to Bangalore. Happiness.
Clockwise: Little cormorant, Rose ringed parakeet, Pigeons, Large grey babbler, Cattle Egret, White browed wagtail (IDed by my colleague Krishna)

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