7 reasons why Hampi is the world's largest open air museum

On the banks of Tungabhadra River near Hospet in Karnataka, lies Hampi, where the ruins of the great Vijayanagara Empire can be found today. Founded by Hairhara and Bukka, the empire fell by 1565 to Muslim sultans. Even though the once proud city of victory lies in ruins today, it has a sense of timelessness. It was referred to as Kishkinda during Ramayana era while in modern times Jackie Chan and Mallika Sherawat starred in the movie “Myth” with Hampi as the backdrop! You can call this UNESCO world heritage site as one of the world’s largest open air museums.

Hampi Guide

Remnants of the Vijayanagara Empire can be found all around Hampi. There are more than 30 prominent sites which will take anywhere from a week to 10 days to visit. I am listing out a few highlights that can be covered over 3 days.

A fantastic way to explore Hampi would be on a guided motorcycle tour all the way from Bangalore. You could ride a Harley, Triumph or Royal Enfield. Visit Bewitching ruins trail to Hampi and Badami.

Hampi Guide, #1, Virupaksha Temple

The magnificent Virupaksha temple is a good place to start with. It is from the Hoysala period and is the oldest temple in Hampi. The temple tower has eleven storeys and goes up 165 ft in height. The river Tungabhadra flows inside through a canal. Some prominent landmarks inside the compound are the pilgrim rooms, ancient marriage hall and temples of Pataleswara, Muktinarasimha, Suryanarayana, Laxminarasimha and Mahishasuramardini. Before leaving the premises, do visit the back side of the temple and take the steps up to a dark chamber. You will find a shadow of a perfectly inverted image of the main tower made by light coming from a hole in the eastern wall.  A pin-hole camera in action from ancient times! 

Virupaksha Temple, Hampi Guide

On the way back from Virupaksa temple you can visit the Hampi Bazaar. Its 35 yards wide and nearly 800 yards long and was a throbbing market place.

Hampi Guide, #2, King's Balance

King’s Balance has an interesting origin. This is a huge stone frame east of Purandara Mantapa. A stone beam is placed on two pillars of stone. Legend has it that the generous Kings of Vijayanagara used to weigh them with gold and gems and distribute it among the poor.

King's Balance, Hampi Guide

Hampi Guide, #3, Vijaya Vittala or Krishna Temple

Vijaya Vittala temple is probably the grandest masterpiece around. It is constructed on a polyhedron foundation. Right at the front is the world renowned stone chariot made of rough quartz. You will spot figures of soldiers, hunters and even foreign visitors like Portuguese and Arabs etched on the chariot. The musical pillars of the temple are probably one of the greatest work of art by mankind. There are about 40 of the original 56 pillars still standing. Striking each pillar by knuckles produces sound from a distinct Indian classical musical instrument.

Krishna Temple, Hampi Guide

Hampi Guide, #4, Badavi Linga

Badavi Linga is the biggest of all lingas in Hampi. It is made of black stone and rises 12 feet in height. A canal passes through it and hence it’s always in water.

Hampi Guide, #5, Ugra Narasimha

You can find the biggest idol of Hampi, a few feet from Badavi Linga. Ugra Narasimha is 22 feet in height and was carved by a Brahmin during Krishnadevaraya’s time. The serpent with open hood at the back of the head leaves a great impression.

Ugra Narasimha, Hampi Guide

Hampi Guide, #6, Elephant Stables

Another must-see site is the elephant stables. Eleven of them are inter-connected with small doors

Hampi Guide, #6, Coracle ride over Tungabhadra

You can finish your Hampi trip with a ride in the Tungabhadra on a coracle. Its real fun sitting on these circular baskets and sipping in the evening breeze and setting sun casting a radiant image on the turbulent waters.

Coracle ride, Hampi Guide

Not many know about a sloth bear sanctuary near Hampi. A visit to Daroji Bear Sanctuary is a good idea as it is just 15 kms away. More than a hundred Sloth Bears are living in this sanctuary. If you are lucky you can even spot Leopards, Hyena, Jackals, Wild Boars, Porcupine, Pangolins, Star Tortoise, Monitor Lizard, Mongoose, Pea Fowls, Partridges, Painted Spur Hen and Quails.

Getting to Hampi

Hampi is 364 kms from Bangalore. Hospet which is 12 kms away is the nearest bus and railway station. There are many hotels in Hospet to stay. I found Krishna Palace (08394294300) really a fine place to camp. The rooms are comfortable and well maintained, service is great and food at the restaurant is also good.

A novel  way to explore Hampi would be riding from Bangalore on a Harley, Triumph or Royal Enfield. Visit Bewitching ruins trail to Hampi and Badami for details on guided motorcycle tours and experiential tourism from 5 Senses Tours

Precautions at Hampi

It can get very hot during the summers and it’s advisable to carry hats or umbrellas while visiting this open air marvel.

While visiting the bear sanctuary, wear natural dark colored clothes. Avoid white and light colored garments. Carry binoculars and cameras. The best spot for getting a glimpse of the bears is from the watch-tower on a hillock as this faces caves where they reside.