Discover a Hidden Gem of India
In the state of Karnataka, in Southern India, lies the sacred village of Hampi, a hidden gem of ancient India. Hampi sits at a 460m elevation, and is home to many prehistoric Hindu temples that were discovered around 1800.
Hampi, meaning ‘champion,’ is located near the city of Vijayanagara and was the former capital city of the Karnataka Empire, which was established around 1336 and collapsed around 1646.
Although Hampi is not as well known as other famous archaeological sites, its ruins make it the biggest open air archaeological museum in the world, and it has been classed as a UNESCO world heritage site since 2008.
As soon as I heard about this sacred place, I knew I had to make the journey to experience it for myself.
Two sides of the Tungabhadra river
Flowing down the centre of Hampi is the Tungabhadra river, which splits the village into two different worlds. Most of Hampi lies on the south bank of the river, maintaining its Indian authenticity, whilst the northern bank of the river hosts a more backpacker vibe. Nevertheless, each side has its own unique charm and is a gateway to the enchanting temples that stand under the blazing sun.
Staying on the southern side of the river, there is more of a small village feel where cows roam beside you on the pathways, kids play while their parents sell fruit or make shoes, and local jewellers promote their goods. Every morning and evening villagers fill the streets, making their way for prayer to and from Virupaksha temple, where Lakshmi, the temple elephant, resides.
Set amongst the rice paddies, the northern side of the river glistens in vibrant earthy colours. Sandy coloured boulders stacked upon one another are the background to local cafes and the delicious smell of home-made Indian cuisine. Rice paddies sit peacefully in between, creating a sense of serenity amongst this traveller’s kingdom of culture, intricately carved through the mystic beauty of nature.
Mini temple adventures
Each temple has its own history and requires its own mini adventure. Some temples are greater and more historically recognised than others, but don’t disregard the smaller and less outwardly decorated ones. The temples that I took time to explore were the temples of Hanuman, Shiva and Ganesha.
Hanuman was a Monkey Warrior God believed to have been born at the very top of Anjaneya hill, overlooking Hampi. After climbing 200 steps to get to the top, the temple itself is small and simple but shines with great character. With monkeys roaming around outside, Hanuman still lives up to its name. The mantra chanted by local religious men in their daily routine guided me inside, where I was greeted by a shrine to Hanuman. Pressing one palm into the other at my heart centre, I prayed to Hanuman and in return I received a blessing by a holy man, who pressed his thumb onto my ‘third eye’, leaving a circular mark of red chalk as a bindu. Symbolising Shakti (a female Goddess) power, it signified that I had been to the temple to pray. Stepping out of the temple I was gifted with a small handful of sugar to take away with me.
Starting as a simple dirt track, the pathway to Shiva temple quickly makes its way up from the ground onto a staircase carved into a rock, winding its way up to a platform where a writer’s podium stands. A writer’s podium is a four pillared platform that has enough space for several people to rest. Found commonly in Hampi, these podiums are believed to be points of inspiration for writers and poets, as they are high and overlook the entire village and its surroundings, hence their name.
To reach the temple I ventured past the writer’s podium, towards another staircase carved into the edge of a rock, leading towards the opening of a meditation cave and the Shiva temple on the very peak of the rocky mountain. Standing on the roof of Shiva temple it felt like I was standing on top of the world, seeing nothing but the vast plains for miles.
Waiting for me was a Brahman priest from whom I received another blessing. This time it was a white bindu, symbolising Shanti (peace), after praying to Lord Shiva and dinging a bell two times with my right hand.
Another fascinating temple is that of Ganesha. For Ganesha, it is not so much about the adventure to the top (as it is not very high) but about the astounding and huge statue of a hand carved rock Ganesha that sits inside at 4.5 meters tall.
As I soaked up the wonders of Ganesha and a low bird’s eye view of Hampi from the opposite end of the village, local Indian women in their traditional saris enjoyed the wonders of me, a foreigner in their land.
Travelling back in time to the ancient Hindu world
In all my years of travelling I have yet to find a place quite like Hampi. Set among the vast plains of India, turning your head in one direction makes you feel like you are in the jungle while turning your head in the other direction makes you feel like you are in the desert. It’s not only the temples which took my breath away, or the colours of the sunsets that slowly disintegrate like a shimmer of gold dust, but the uniqueness and raw authenticity of this sacred village and its people, who forever continue to live a life so far away from what we know at home.
Towards the end of my time in Hampi I didn’t want to leave. Embracing new trails of thought about what else is hidden away in the world, I boarded my night bus to Mysore. I continued my journey towards Kerala in search for more golden moments, like that of Hampi.
If you ever find yourself travelling in India, don’t forget to discover the magical experience of Hampi for yourself.