Winter in Hampi: 36c, blue skies and sunshine and more sunscreen than you’ve ever seen in your life.
We pre-arranged a touring day with Raj from a local tour company, and met up with him shortly after watching the morning elephant washing ritual on the banks of Tungabhadra River. Raj had organised wheels for us (3 motorcycles and a tuk-tuk) to move about between monuments and we managed to cover quite a bit of the Vijayanagaran empire area.
The Hampi shrines and memorials contained in the UNESCO world heritage site are a sub group of the broader Vijayanagara ruins. Most of these were built between 1336 and 1570. The notable exception is the Virupaksha Temple which is a 7th century Hindu temple. The area contains various examples of civil, military and religious architecture and includes the Sacred Centre, the Royal Citadel, Hemakuta Hill Temple Complex and Zenana Enclosure.
We kicked off at Sasivekalu Ganesha monument - an open pavilion with a statue of the Hindu god Ganesha carved from a single rock, before heading to the Vitthala Temple complex further east and near the river. The temple is thought to have been constructed around 1422-26 and probably remained in use until the Vijananagaran empire fell in 1565.
We took a coracle (leaf boat) out on the Tungabhadra to get to some out of the way temples but the water current was against us for part of the way. To reduce the strain on the heart of the poor soul who had the misfortune to ferry us about, most of us alighted the waterlogged craft and went cross-country for a bit.
Except Flashie, who stayed put and gave a cheeky royal wave on her way by. As Flashie is wont to do.
We returned to Vitthala to collect our wheels and headed to the groovy sounding Coconut Groove for a bit of lunch. Nestled among the ubiquitous palm trees, the little restaurant offered a respite from the heat and fantastic tasting food, as well as some strange drink that looked like 700 Aspros dissolved in water and didn't taste much better. Fortunately, none of us woke up in a bath of ice missing a kidney, and we were able to continue on to the Royal and Zenana Enclosures for more touristy activities.
Our first stop was the brilliant Lotus Mahal - a blend of Indian and Islamic architectural styles that marry together quite well. Almost all of the detail and ornamentation of the structure is on the outside, leaving the interior quite plain. It's in the Zenana Enclosure, a separated area used by the imperial ladies of the Vijayanagara Dynasty, and is one of only a handful of buildings in Hampi that escaped destruction when the city was ransacked in the 1500s.
We had a wander around various ruins in the Zenana Enclosure including the watchtowers but a highlight was the Elephant Stables, which as their name might suggest, were rather large. I still managed to bang my head on a doorway. It's just a special skill I have.
Our final destinations for the day were the Lakshmi Narasimha Temple and the Badavilinga Temple. The Lakshmi Narasimha Temple is a representation of the fourth incarnation of Lord Vishnu (he just can’t get enough of that reincarnation lark) and is almost 7 metres tall so it's a pretty impressive sight. Sadly time, weather and vandals have wrecked various parts of the statue and the roof, so it's open to the elements. This number was carved from a single granite boulder.
The Badavilinga Temple contains a very large linga, the base of which is permanently submerged in water. A linga is a sacred Hindu symbol that is often shaped from stone, mud, wood or metal and can be found almost anywhere in India. From specially built temples to roadside shrines, the shape is thought to represent a phallus and is a symbol of Truth. This linga is large enough for a person to climb on and our guide explained it as representing strength, vitality and energy.
I suspect our guide brought us here as a final destination because after spending 7 hours criss crossing various parts of Hampi with him, we had all run out of strength, vitality and energy and could feel beer calling.