Exploring Hampi

7.1487198654.1-stone-chariotExploring Hampi
Hampi, India

Hampi, India

Up early this morning and saw the sun come
up in front of our terrace over the river.
Walked up to breakfast about 730.
A very nice buffet again. I had a
masala omelette and also a boiled egg.
Bob had masala dosa. There was a
good selection. There were lots of
little monkeys up in the trees looking down hungrily, just waiting for the
chance to leap down and snatch something.

Then just after 8 the two hotel cars took
us to get the ferry across the river to the archaeological site of Hampi. The
journey is through miles of rice fields – incredibly green – and also bananas
and through all of the plantations rise piles of yellow/red/orange boulders,
piled up by some river or volcanic eruption millions of years ago.

We walked down to the ferry getting our first
sight of Hampi across the river. Quite
breath-taking! There were people in the
river washing and also Lakshmi, the Temple Elephant, was down having her bath. The ferry is a small motor boat that ought to
probably take about 8 people but manages to squash maybe 20 in. The journey only takes about 4 minutes and
costs 10 rupees. We walked up the ramp
to the first great temple which is to Shiva and is a victory temple, named the
Virupaksha Temple. Most of it dates to
the 7thC but it was developed till around the 15thC. The carvings and the towers are amazing. This temple is still in use today and is the
focus of a massive festival when over 50,000 pilgrims come and a golden chariot
is pulled through the streets with the Shiva lingum inside. The lingam, a phallic shaped stone, which
symbolizes Shiva and his power, is the sacred object. In this case it is a completely natural rock
which was found in ancient times, making it even more sacred and special. Most linga are man made. We had acquired an excellent guide for this
temple and he gave us a very good tour.
I think it is essential to have a knowledgeable guide here because we just wouldn’t understand it
otherwise. The mythology is just so very
different from our cultural mythology and we would miss most of the symbolism
and context.

Anyway, we had a good tour around and then
he fixed us up with 2 guides (one per 4 of us) and we set off in a fleet of
tuks to see more of the ancient city.
There have been dwellings in Hampi since the 1stC but it really got into
its own from about the 7th and particularly in the 14/15th
C. The latter two hundred years were a Golden Age when Hampi had half a million
residents and was one of the great cities of the ancient world. There were
seven markets that served the city and it was rich in gold, diamonds, gems of
every sort, spices, silks and horses.
The gold and gems were sold by the kilo!!!! The city was huge – the size of Rome – with
aquaducts, bath houses, squares,
shopping precincts, temples large and small and palaces. We visited two more
major temples, two to Hanuman, the elephant god, who symbolizes wisdom,
knowledge, good fortune. The statues were lovely, carved out of huge solid
rocks, monoliths. We then visited a
Vishnu temple where he is depicted as a lion headed creature with a snake
wrapped around him.

We saw more ancient market areas with two
storey shopping arcades. Then we moved
away from the religious centre to visit the royal areas. First a visit to the Elephant stables. This was an interesting complex to house the
11 ceremonial elephants. These were not
war elephants (they had another stables to house the 900 war elephants!). Each elephant had a very nice stone stable
with a rear opening to sweep out and a big lawn in front for exercise. The elephant minders had their own quarters,
now a museum of statuary. After visiting
the stables we moved on to the Ladies
Palaces, the Zenana. The last king had
two queens and they lived together in considerable luxury in a special walled
palace quarter. Inside is one of the loveliest
buildings: the Arabic themed Lotus Mahal, which even had its own air
conditioning. Clay pipes carried cold
water around the walls and special tiny valves over the openings delivered a
fine spray of cold water all around. It
must have been fantastic in the hot months of summer. Most of the buildings of this time were made
of cedarwood and these were destroyed by the Muslim invaders of the late 15thC,
the sultans from Hyderabad. These were
not the Mughals who held Delhi and the north.

The women’s palaces were set in lovely rose
gardens, all very pleasant.

Lastly we visited the great temple complex
of Vittala, all part of the Unesco World Heritage site. This is truly huge. The main temple area is fronted by a
kilometer long line of market, on both sides of the road. This market traded in both gems and horses:
Portugese and Arabians. Some of them
were selected for the King and he would pay one diamond per horse.

Inside the temple complex are a variety of
separate temple buildings. There are the usual side halls for pilgrims to rest
and eat. There was an amazing stone
chariot (only 3 in India) in the central courtyard. This chariot is a depiction of the wooden one
used to pull the statue of Shiva in parades.
It was made of seven pieces of stone and has stone wheels that turn on
their axis to give the impression that the stone chariot is moving. Today it appears to be pulled by two
elephants but originally it was pulled by two stone horses, broken back in
history. There are many marvelous carvings
in the temples depicting scenes from Indian mythology and also historical
practices such as dancing, hunting, martial arts, music, horse training,
visitors from around the world and warfare.
The most amazing thing to me, is in the music hall where there are 56
musical pillars. These are made of solid
stone and are of different widths and slight distances apart. When struck with bamboo sticks or with the
fingers, they emit different musical notes.
These pillars would be played as part of a musical/dancing
ceremony.

We moved to the museum and then to the
Queen’s Bath where we set up a picnic under a huge mango tree. Our guide’s wife arrived with a full thali
picnic that she had made herself (she is a chef and gives cookery lessons). We sat on mats under the tree and ate the
delicious food. Even the tuk tuk drivers
came and joined us. There were various
vegetable curries, rice, pickle, papadom and a chapatti. Plus a small rather
sweet syrup doughnut. So much – we
tucked in!

Once our leisurely lunch was over we tuk’d
back to the river. It was about
3pm. Instead of the regular ferry we got
a coracle across. All 8 of us crammed in! Two boys (both under 10) paddled us
over. It was pretty slow and they blamed
our weight for this. In particular they
singled me out as “an elephant”!!!!! All
done with much laughter J. I was insulted! I felt I’d done so well this trip… but
obviously a long road left to travel….

Back at Boulders we had a lovely dip in the
natural fresh water swimming pool. It was
divine. Then at 630 we had g&t’s on
our terrace. The owner of the Boulders
came wandering up from the river. He
said it had never been this low in 50 years and they were praying for a good
monsoon this year. No rain at all in 2
years. A leopard has been about in the
last weeks but we did not see it although we have seen photos of it from other
luckier people. Fabulous. After our drinks we went up to the campfire
area which had been set up for a bbq. We
sat around the fire and had drinks and also chicken tikka, a potato cake, bbq
paneer. All delicious snacks. Then at 8 we went up to the dining room for
dinner. No one was very hungry by then
but we made a good, brave stab at it! In
bed for about 830! Amazing moon and
stars overhead. No light pollution at
all here so the sky at night is just encrusted.

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