Gallivanting in the Deccan During the Lockdown

Getting itchy feet has become common given the circumstances in 2020, the annus horribilis. Amidst the prevailing COVID-19 pandemic across the world and the resulting lockdown, the possibility of travelling has been bleak for the past few months. However, since June, the doors have been opening for places like Karnataka and other south Indian states for tourism. To the relief of explorers like myself, the reopening of tourist spots nudged me to test waters. Alas, it was not the moment to explorer-flex as it was not merely me who was stuck at home in the lockdown period. My family was eager enough to escape the tormenting lockdown period by taking a weekend trip (at the least). After maintaining a stiff-neck and engaging in altercations and skirmishes, I decided to make it a family-trip and brought out my atrophied travel planning skills into action and began planning the most-awaited weekend trip of the year.

Planning a weekend trip with your family is not an easy task. A family is a group of people with varied interests and when it comes to planning a trip, each one has an opinion. Caught in the dilemma of catering to each person’s interest, I started googling for places that fulfils all the criteria. A place that could engage the history-buff, the amateur architect, the ardent devotee, the aspiring photographer and the potential “traveler” of my family was indeed hard to find. While I was expecting ‘404 Error Place Not Found’, it appeared on the screen of my decade old laptop. Re-adjusting my reading glasses, I looked at the page to find Hampi on it. Of course! Hampi is the perfect destination for the weekend trip with my family. It is a historical town that is imbibed with enchanting architecture that includes centuries-old temples. It is also a photographer’s paradise and a perfect “off-beat” spot for a potential traveler. So, the place was finalized to be Hampi. But, do dilemmas end in a family? We were arguing over how to reach Hampi. The fantasizing potential traveler wanted to hit the road by bike. The amateur historian wanted to go by train. After considering all means of transport, we came to a consensus to go by train and then by bus as there were no direct trains to Hampi. All I could do was to be grateful for reaching a consensus. So off we went to Hampi for the weekend!

Hampi is a historically significant place that used to be the capital of the erstwhile Vijayanagara Empire. It is located in the state of Karnataka and at present it is known for its preserved ruins of historical structures like temples, baths, forts etc. The UNESCO recognized World Heritage Site is located near Tungabhadra River and is a well-known site for archaeological research. Surrounded by three hills namely, Anjaneya, Malyavanta and Matanga, this place is a famous pilgrimage site as well. Hampi is situated 60kms from Bellary district. Reaching Hampi can be tiring but it is worth the effort. Tourists usually stay in Hospet-nearest town to Hampi-from where all attractions in Hampi can be accessed. The best time to visit Hampi is from October to February as the temperature is pleasant. Hampi can also be visited during the monsoon season. Try not to visit during summer as it is ever-ready to roast you. But, I like Hampi’s summer as well. The scorching sun gives an indescribable glow to the monuments. (I got an indelible glow called sun tan when I visited Hampi in summer!) Traditional Kannada cuisine is a must-try whilst in Hampi. If possible, try to go on a cycling tour to the attractions in Hampi as all of those are located close to each other.

Vijaya Vittala Temple Dedicated to Lord Vithhala, this temple was built in the 15th century. This temple is considered one of the largest temples in Hampi that survived numerous attacks and calamities. Lord VIthhala is an incarnation of Lord Vishnu. The famous stone chariot which is considered to be the icon of Hampi is located in the premises of the temple. The huge stone pillars, the compelling stone gopuras or towers, the mandaps or halls made of stone and the stone-made sanctum sanctorum are what characterises the temple. Visiting the temple, I was able to visualise the glorious past of the temple. The long road that leads to the temple is a road not taken these days except to visit the temple. But, looking at the stone mandaps located throughout the route that might have been built for the public to rest, the dried-large bath that must have been used for drinking water and other purposes and the large stone mandaps within the temple that would have catered thousands of people at a time, I was able to easily comprehend the importance of this temple in the past which is deserted at present. Vijaya Vithhala temple is a must-visit attraction in Hampi.

Virupaksha Temple Virupaksha temple is believed to be the oldest temple in India. The Hindu temple was built in the 7th century and is dedicated to God Virupaksha, an incarnation of Lord Shiva. This temple is notable for its inscriptions. The temple was initially a shrine that was extended and built as an enormous structure during the rule of Vijayanagara Empire. The temple is a holy place of worship that is one of the significant places to visit in Hampi. It attracts a huge number of pilgrims from all over India and from across the globe. Speaking of which, the friendly confabulation with a few Dutch cyclists on my way made me add the cycling trip in India into my bucket-list. The temple has imposing structures like huge halls supported by numerous pillars and there are three antechambers in the temple. Of all the entrances to the temple, the one in the eastern side of the temple is the largest. The temple is surrounded by mandaps which showcases the activeness of culture and traditions in the past. The mandaps also embellish the temple with its elegance and beauty.

Queen’s Bath Queen’s Bath is an interesting and enchanting architectural marvel in Hampi that must not be missed while visiting Hampi. Queen’s Bath served the purpose of being a pool for royals, especially the royal women, to take baths. The Queen’s bath is located close to the royal enclosure. The heritage site is rectangular in shape and is surrounded by ornate balconies each having a set of three windows. The pool has no ceiling and is six feet in depth. The stone steps that lead to the bottom of the lake are closed by chains at present and the guards are surprisingly strict about getting down the stairs. The structure has moats on all sides that might have been used to prevent common people from entering the area when the royals were taking a bath. The 30 square metre structure is a great piece of architecture that can easily take you back in time.

Hampi definitely cast a spell on all of us! We were able to cover all the attractions within the weekend we had and never once did we have to hurry or leave a place amidst the tour to cover other attractions. We made use of auto-rickshaws, cycles, taxicabs and even buses for the sight-seeing that made us connect with the locals and it felt like the real way of travelling. We tried out different restaurants and experimented with street-food, some of which can be counted as experiences of a lifetime. Overall, Hampi definitely succeeded in catering the needs and expectations of my family. A remarkable weekend getaway, a pleasure jaunt to the countryside of Karnataka is definitely an area an avid Indian traveler must remember to visit. In our case, the difference in language added to the place’s allure. You sit there, amidst the ruins of the quondam imperial capital, imagining its erstwhile glory and appreciate your insignificance in the vast universe. Returning to the present, you wistfully rue the vacuum of the place which was once as vibrant as any city in the Orient. Such an experience feels essential not just for an adventurous person with an insatiable wanderlust, but also to any human being. It prods you to think and think deeper about the world and you. It leads you to understand yourself in a more profound fashion than you ever imagined possible.

-Prasanna Aditya (Freelancer)

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