Closeup of Ugra Narasimha statue in Hampi, Karnataka, India

Photo diary: Magical sights of Hampi

An ancient stone pathway leading through caves and streams. Monkeys sheltering from the rain on a crumbling temple gate. A sage meditating next to a stone companion. And palace ruins dissolving into darkness. These are just some of the magical sights that Hampi has to offer.

We’ve visited Hampi—the ruins of Vijayanagara, the center one of south India’s most powerful medieval kingdoms—three times now, and have always found something new to see (or seen the same thing in a new way).

About Hampi

Built into the granite hills of central Karnataka state and straddling the Tungabhadra river, Hampi is a 40-square-kilometre treasure trove of ancient temples, crumbling palaces and boulder-strewn natural beauty. Some even say that the ancient city was built on the ruins of one even older—the mythical monkey-city of Kishkinda, home to Hinduism’s Lord Hanuman the monkey god, devoted follower of Lord Rama.

While the majestic Virupaksha temple, and the Vitthala temple with its massive stone chariot and musical pillars, are probably on ever visitor’s itinerary, Hampi has a lot more to offer—regardless of the weather. From riverside walkways with stairs cut into the living rock, and hidden shrines emerging from their lush sugarcane fields, to gigantic boulders in fantastic shapes, and emerald rice fields reflecting the sunrise in their motionless waters, here are some of the sights that have enchanted us over the years.

The old bazaar

The old bazaar of the erstwhile ‘sacred center’ is still the living heart of Hampi, with the Virupaksha temple and the village at one end of the concourse, and the monolithic Nandi bull statue at the other.

Hampi_OldBazaar_Pillars - Magical sights of Hampi
Storehouse columns
Hampi_OldBazaar_Colonnade - Magical sights of Hampi
Bazaar columns along one side of the concourse
Hampi_OldBazaar_Langurs - Magical sights of Hampi
Grey langur monkeys gambol among the ruins
Hampi_OldBazaar_MiniatureElephants - Magical sights of Hampi
Miniature carved elephants jostle for attention
Hampi_OldBazaar_Gypsy - Magical sights of Hampi
A banjara gypsy shows off her wares
Hampi_OldBazaar_Langurs2 - Magical sights of Hampi
Grey langur monkeys go about their business

Also read: The forgotten Paigah necropolis is a must-see in Hyderabad

Mathanga hill and the Achyutaraya temple

From the bazaar concourse, visitors can follow two paths to the rest of the sacred center, one around Mathanga hill and one over it. The path over the hill is rugged, but extremely interesting. At the end of the path on the other side of the hill, and set back from the main riverbank path, is the Achyutaraya temple, with its courtesan’s street and magnificent tank fed by underground pipes.

Hampi_MathangaHill_RecliningVishnu - Magical sights of Hampi
A tiny temple with its roughly carved reclining Lord Vishnu
Hampi_MathangaHill_VirupakshaTemple - Magical sights of Hampi
A view of the Virupaksha temple’s gopuram, or gateway tower
Hampi_AchyutarayaTemple_PublicBath - Magical sights of Hampi
The tank next to the courtesans’ street
Hampi_MathangaHill_HardyTree - Magical sights of Hampi
A hardy banyan tree grows in an unlikely crevice
Hampi_AchyutarayaTemple_Gate - Magical sights of Hampi
The Achyutaraya temple entrance from the inside

Also read: Millenia back in time: The magnificent temples of Madurai and Tanjore

The riverside path

The path around Mathanga hill runs along the river and—when it rains—through impromptu rivulets. Walking this path occasionally makes you feel like you’ve stumbled into a bubble of time left over from seven hundred years ago!

Hampi_RiversidePath_Walkway - Magical sights of Hampi
The stone walkway along the swollen river
Hampi_RiversidePath_BanyanTree - Magical sights of Hampi
A banyan tree with good luck charms tied to it by passing worshippers
Hampi_RiversidePath_Sage2 - Magical sights of Hampi
A sage rests along the riverside path
Hampi_RiversidePath_Kingfisher - Magical sights of Hampi
A white breasted kingfisher waits out the rain
Hampi_RiversidePath_Sage1 - Magical sights of Hampi
The riverside sage and his stone companion
Hampi_RiversidePath_HorseAndTemple - Magical sights of Hampi
A pony enjoys the drizzle on the riverbank, with the Virupaksha temple’s gopuram (gateway tower) in the background
Hampi_RiversidePath_Snacks - Magical sights of Hampi
Piping hot snacks offer a respite from the rain

Hampi_RiversidePath_VirupakshaTemple - Magical sights of Hampi
The Virupaksha temple stands guard over the swollen river
Hampi_RiversidePath_Steps - Magical sights of Hampi
Stone stairs carved into the bedrock and leading through a rain-fed rivulet
Hampi_VitthalaTemple_Langurs - Magical sights of Hampi
Grey langur monkeys try to take shelter from the rain on the entrance arch of the Vitthala temple
Hampi_VishnuTemple_Lions - Magical sights of Hampi
Carved lions at the Vishnu temple near the end of the path

Along the main road

Follow the main road around Hampi instead of walking through the sacred center, and you will pass some minor temples and other very interesting ruins before reaching the ‘royal center’ of Hampi—containing the royal palace and gardens flanked by their own temples, and the Islamic quarter.

Hampi_PalaceComplex_EveningTank - Magical sights of Hampi
One of the many exquisite interlinked stepped tanks in the palace gardens
Hampi_AlongTheRoad_UgraNarasimha1 - Magical sights of Hampi
The Ugra Narasimha seems to lurk behind the gateway to his shrine
Hampi_PalaceComplex_HazararamaTemple - Magical sights of Hampi
A waterspout at the Hazara Rama (‘thousand Ramas’) temple
Hampi_AlongTheRoad_Forgotten - Magical sights of Hampi
A forgotten concourse
Hampi_PalaceComplex_Relief - Magical sights of Hampi
Court scenes carved along the staircase leading to the top of the royal audience platform
Hampi_PalaceComplex_StoneGates - Magical sights of Hampi
The fallen stone doors to the royal palace gardens
Stone elephants guard the entry to the palace gardens

Also read: In the shadow of elephants in Valparai

The other side of the river from Hampi

While most of the architectural remains on Hampi lie on the southern side of the river, the northern side has its own charming sights. Tip: To get from one side of the river to the other by car, you will need to cross either at Hospet or Kampli. Don’t let your GPS fool you; the last time we checked, there was no crossing at Anegundi, unless you count the coracle boats ferrying people and motorcycles across.

Hampi_Hanumanahalli_HillTemple - Magical sights of Hampi
A hill temple along the road
Hampi_OtherSide_Aqueduct - Magical sights of Hampi
The remains of Hampi’s ancient aqueduct
Hampi_OtherSide_Doggie - Magical sights of Hampi
A doggie investigates us
Hampi_OtherSide_Fields3 - Magical sights of Hampi
A view from the middle of a rice field

Hampi_OtherSide_Fields1 - Magical sights of Hampi
Rice fields along the road
Hampi_OtherSide_Fields2 - Magical sights of Hampi
A farmer tends his rice fields
Hampi_OtherSide_Fields4 - Magical sights of Hampi
Rice plants in their standing water
Hampi_OtherSide_FloodedPath - Magical sights of Hampi
A rain-fed rivulet invades the rocky path
Hampi_OtherSide_Tirumalapur - Magical sights of Hampi
The fast-moving river at Tirumalapur
Hampi_MobileHaystack - Magical sights of Hampi
A mobile haystack (there’s a tractor under there, somewhere)

Hampi_Anegundi_RiversideStorehouse1 - Magical sights of Hampi
Anegundi’s riverside storehouse
Hampi_Anegundi_HuchhappayyaTemple - Magical sights of Hampi
The Huchhapayya temple at Anegundi
Hampi_ViewFromDurgaTemple - Magical sights of Hampi
The view from halfway up the hill to the Durga temple
Hampi_GraniteWall - Magical sights of Hampi
The granite hills of Hampi make for excellent natural defenses
Hampi_RiverCanal1 - Magical sights of Hampi
A farm in the middle of nowhere
Hampi_Anegundi_RiversideStorehouse2 - Magical sights of Hampi
The storehouse built into the riverbank at Anegundi

Also read: The ancient rock formations of Fakhruddingutta

The Sanapur reservoir

During one of our visits, we stayed on the northern side of the river at the very basic but fun Gowri Resort, just down the road from the Sanapur reservoir. Our room was right next to a series of rice fields, and the reservoir and its canals offered us some lovely views, both during the day and in the evening.

Hampi_GowriResorts_Sunrise1 - Magical sights of Hampi
Sunrise at Gowri Resort
Hampi_GowriResorts_Room - Magical sights of Hampi
Outside our room at Gowri Resort
Hampi_GowriResorts_Farmers1 - Magical sights of Hampi
Farmers get ready to tend their fields
Hampi_RiverCanal2 - Magical sights of Hampi
A bridge over a small irrigation canal off the Sanapur reservoir

Hampi_RiverCanal3 - Magical sights of Hampi
Water under the bridge on the main Sanapur reservoir outflow canal
Hampi_GowriResorts_Farmers3 - Magical sights of Hampi
Farmers hard at work: the tractor churns the mud (and blares music), the men plow furrows, and the women plant seedlings
Hampi_GowriResorts_Farmers2 - Magical sights of Hampi
The farmers taking a break
Hampi_SanapurReservoir_Dam - Magical sights of Hampi
The secondary dam of the Sanapur reservoir, with the Kishkinda resort and waterpark to the right
An evening coracle boat ride on the Sanapur reservoir
The main dam of the Sanapur reservoir at sunset
Godzilla fossilized during his afternoon nap?

The Sanapur reservoir at sunset
Rice fields seen from a hill at the Sanapur reservoir

Also read: Things you need to know when planning a road trip to Hampi from Hyderabad

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