Having called on Mumbai and Goa, Vince travels inland to Hampi where he discovers the ruins of a centuries-old city amongst spectacular rock formations and jungle. He also comes face to face with a wild and savage animal…
The overnight bus from Goa to Hampi would have been just fine if it was from Los Angeles to San Francisco. Or from any place to another place within a country that has roads that don’t make you feel like you’re on a “Don’t Drink and Drive on Mars” commercial. It was 12 hours of pure misery, but we finally made it to Hampi at 6am, delirious as all hell. After a little sleep and some food, we ventured out to find out:
Hampi is really, really amazing.
Hampi is the main contemporary village within the ruins of Vijayanagara, the former capital of the vast Vijayanagara Empire that ruled most of Southern India between the 14th and 16th centuries. Currently, the village itself is essentially built right into ruins; just a really small cluster of guest houses, small shops, and restaurants. It’s definitely a tourist-fueled town, but its relatively remote location keeps it from being completely overrun… by humans at least… more on this later.
The village itself isn’t much to write home about – it’s the surrounding natural and historical beauty that’s the draw. Towering over the village is the tower of Virupaksha Temple which stands at the end of what used to be a long bazaar filled with vendors and shops, but has been closed for a little over a year now. Because it’s located adjacent to the village, Virupaksha Temple is sort of a home-base-landmark of the ruins, but it’s just a fraction of what remains of the former empire. The the surrounding area is extremely expansive, teeming with ruins from the former civilization, and allegedly home to over 1,000 temples (some large, some tiny). Additionally, the topography of this region served as a natural fortress; giant boulders form ridges, mountains, and walls for kilometer after kilometer, filled in by lush green jungle as far as the eye can see. Even without the fascinating ruins, the natural beauty of this place is itself enough to make a trip very worthwhile.
The first afternoon, my Swiss friend Sascha and I walked directly away from the Virupaksha Temple for about a kilometer, over a boulder ridge, and came upon the Achyuta Rayas Temple ruins that were completely deserted. It was eerie to stroll around these beautiful ruins at sunset with not a single person in sight or earshot. Not that crowds of people necessarily ruin (pun intended) a site-seeing experience, but it’s a moment to appreciate when you can enjoy a centuries-old temple and bazaar by yourself. This is a good area to explore when you’re first getting your bearings in Hampi as it’s just a 15 minute walk from the town.
The next day we took a bike tour that was offered through the Hampi “tourism office” (that’s a generous title for this place), which is located within the Virupaksha Temple. Going to a tourism office sort of makes a traveler feel like they are going against some kind of code, but I’ve learned that in some places you have to take the most legit option you can find. I figured the bike tour couldn’t be as good as the ones I’ve heard about in Barcelona (…ahem…), but we figured what the heck, right?
Five hours, eight liters of sweat, and 3,000 calories later we had completed the Tour de Hampi. It was just over 400 degrees (Celsius) in the shade and we powering up some serious hills, while our guide, Hanuman, cruised slowly ahead on his Royal Enfield motorcycle; he had to “save his energy for talking!” To be fair, Hanuman was the man. If you’re ever in Hampi, look for the little man in an orange shirt and orange hat at the tourism office – he won’t disappoint.
I can only imagine how incredible this metropolis used to be! At its peak it had around half a million people, and the volume/spread of the ruins supports that estimate. Although there are really cool ruins in the immediate area around the village, it’s definitely necessary to get out (on a bike, motorbike, or rickshaw) and explore the surrounding landscape. We saw: the Nandi Shrine, Sri Krishna Temple, Uddhana Veerabhadra Temple, Chandikesvara Temple, Queens Bath, Pushkarani ruins, Underground Siva Temple, and more. We definitely only saw a fraction of the ruins of this vast former empire.
Later that evening, Sascha and I climbed the highest point in the area, Matanga Hill, which sits a little less than one kilometer opposite of Virupaksha Temple. The view from small Veerabhadra Temple at the top is quite possibly the most beautiful view I’ve seen in my life. Obviously that’s impossible to quantify, and means nothing to you, dear reader, but I can’t think of any way to put it into words without sounding trite. The sun sets out past Virupaksha Temple, while behind you the shadow of Matanga Hill slowly moves over long stretches of dense jungle, broken up by stretches of boulder ridges. Off to one side, the Tungabhadra river glistens and bends behind the little village. Forgive me for waxing poetic here for a sec, but this is the type of view that would inspire Rafiki to hold Simba in the air and call every animal on the continent to gather in reverence. I’ll tell you what – just do yourself a favor and Google image the hell out of Hampi [Editor‘s note: you can start by checking out this album on On The Road’s Facebook page!]. Wanna get married there? Yeah, you and I. This is me asking you. Hit me up on twitter.
Speaking of love and beauty and friendship, we ran into a hilarious group (or family?) of Indian folks on the way up to the top of the hill who didn’t really speak English but insisted on, and relished in, taking loads of pictures with us. After each picture the little girls would scurry around me and demand to see the picture immediately, followed by giggles galore.
The next morning, we witnessed what has since been dubbed (by me) as…
The Infamous Guerilla Monkey Assault on Hampi of 2013 A.D.
It was a warm, sunny morning that day in Hampi. Few clouds lingered in the sky, the streets of the village were quiet, save the hooves of a passing cow. One might even say it was… too quiet… We sat down for breakfast at a small, outdoor rooftop patio restaurant in the village. Across from us, maybe five meters, a woman was sitting at the opposite rooftop restaurant on her laptop, drinking a lassi. Out of nowhere, a monkey came slinking along the roof line towards the woman, hopped up onto her table and made off with her glass as she cowered in fear, attempting to hide behind her tiny laptop. The monkey invader proceeded up the fire escape with the glass in his arms. He was promptly chased by a restaurant worker. At the top of the stairs, the worker launched a banana at the monkey’s head, which convinced the monkey to drop the glass and take off with the banana. Clearly, this wasn’t the first time this heist-exchange had gone down.
Before long, both rooflines were swarming with a squadron of assault monkeys; they were climbing across power lines, accosting restaurant diners, opening rooftop water tanks, and digging through trash. I seriously saw a little monkey steal a water bottle, open it up and start drinking out of it. I was impressed. Fortunately, the valiant Hampians launched into action, banging trash cans, swatting brooms around and yelling loudly at the little scoundrels. Believe it or not, growing up in LA, my hand-to-hand monkey combat experience is extremely limited. So when one of the little bastards came within striking distance of my table I freaked out, screamed, “oh HELL no!” and ran away. I’d really like to say that in the face of danger I stood eye-to-eye with my miniature cousin and told that little rascal to back down, but, alas, it would be a bold faced lie. There it is, on the record, I got punked by a monkey.
Stay tuned for Vince’s adventures in New Delhi and his visit to the Taj Mahal, before he leaves India and heads to Thailand to continue his Asian Odyssey.