Travel special: There's a legend in Hampi's every nook and cranny

Sagar Joshi takes a weekend trip to Hampi in Karnataka, and returns dreamy-eyed

Perhaps it is a good omen that I begin my Hampi trip at the base of the Hemakuta hill and take the blessings of the Sasivekalu ganesha. My guide, P Hussen, points to the eight-feet tall monolithic statue, and says if we look at it from the rear, it looks as if Ganesha is sitting in Parvati's lap."

The Lotus Mahal at the Zenana Enclosure at Hampi. Pic/Sagar Joshi
The Lotus Mahal at the Zenana Enclosure at Hampi. Pic/Sagar Joshi 

There is no nook or cranny in Hampi sans legend. Some ruins of the erstwhile Vijayanagara empire are as old as 1 CE, and in golden sunsets and sunrises, they all come alive.

We move toward the hilltop, and are greeted with a splendid panoramic view of the ruins. This hill, too, is steeped in myth. Hussen tells us that people believe it rained gold when Lord Shiva decided to marry a local girl, Pampa, after seeing her devotion for him. Hussen adds that 'Hema' in Sanskrit means gold, hence the name. This hilltop is dotted with pre-Vijayanagara temples dedicated to Shiva.

The pachyderm's devotion
'It's massive', is my first reaction to the Virupaksha Temple when Hussen points out its nine-storeyed gopura. The temple, dedicated to Shiva, is believed to be one of the oldest in the country (7th century CE). Its highlight is the pachyderm, Lakshmi, who offers prayers to the temple's deity by standing on her hind limbs every day.

Gods and demons
No trip to Hampi is complete without stepping back in time at the Vittala Temple. Dedicated to Lord Vithala, an incarnation of Lord Vishnu, the temple complex is Hampi's architectural highlight. The majesty and craftsmanship of the numerous halls and shrines on the premises mesmerises me.

However, the very beauty of the place seems to have become its bane. Most tourists climb or lean against monuments to click selfies. A security guard chides a group of college kids off the stone chariot. I am alarmed, but Hussen is unaffected. He says it is a daily affair and requests usually fall on deaf ears. I leave Hampi with awe, and a prayer that it survives the ravages of time.

Stay: Homestays abound in Hampi, but if you are looking to pamper yourself, you could live at the Hyatt Place Hampi, less than an hour's drive from the ruins.
Eat: Drop in Mango Tree, a must visit for every traveller.
Getting there:
By road: 739 km from Mumbai vis NH4; by train: Mumbai to Bangalore to Hospet; by air: The Hubli Airport is the closest to Hampi
Travel tip: Instead of boarding a train for Bangalore City Junction, board one from Yelhankha station

(The writer was a guest of the Hyatt Palace Hampi)

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