Beyond the Open-Air Museum

Published on: 20/07/2019

Hampi Dawn

Dusk in Hampi – Photograph: Nicholas Rixon

Hampi is not your run-of-the-mill travel destination. The ruins of the Vijaynagara Empire cast an eerie beauty over this quiet town making even the most impassive tourist believe in time travel.

The five-tiered gopuram (gateway) of the Vitthala complex, the royal elephant stables, the sweet-sounding pillars of the Sangeetha Mandapam, the sprawling royal palace, the fractal architecture of the 7th century Virupaksha Temple, have all stood the test of time transforming Hampi into an al fresco museum.

Whether you’re a history lover or not, Hampi’s architectural wonders capture the imagination. But there is more to this sleepy town than the majestic remnants of, what was once, the world’s second-largest city in the 1500s.

Dayspring to Eventide

Start your day by catching the sunrise on the banks of the Tungabhadra River. As dawn approaches, the first rays of sunlight make their presence felt by trickling through the grey cloud cover. The village folk are just about to break their slumber. The only company you will find are the friendly dogs of Hampi, and mynahs whispering among the dark trees.

The ferry service, that takes travellers from one bank to the other, draws to an end as the sun is pocketed by the clouds. Hampi’s vista is drenched in a purple hue, and from a well-placed boulder, one can make out the outline of the towering Virupaksha Temple, the stone staircase leading to the embankment, and the still waters of the Tungabhadra reflecting the age-old structures.

P.S: Matanga and Anjaneya Hill offers panoramic views of Hampi and are brilliant sunrise/sunset points.


Dawn in Hampi – Photograph: Nicholas Rixon

Coracle Adventure

The village of Sanapur, 4kms from Virupaksha, is not the usual tourist destination. This makes Sanapur Lake the perfect excursion if you want to get away from the crowds.Whether you rent a cycle or decide to take a hike, the journey is a memorable one as you pass through beautiful banana and paddy plantations. As you reach the banks of the Sanapur Lake, the first thing you notice are the floating coracles that resemble giant coconut shells. For a nominal fee, you can take a ride in this round, wickerwork boat on the tranquil waters of Sanapur Lake. The surrounding boulder landscape, the clear blue skies and the gentle, clockwork motion of the coracle make this a unique Hampi experience.

Books and Food

Hampi is dotted with curio stalls, hole-in-the-wall bookshops and tiny restaurants. As I explored the by-lanes of this town I managed to pick up a rare, dusty copy of Robert Sewell’s A Forgotten Empire. There’s nothing better than exploring the ruins of Vijaynagara while reading about its past glory.

While in Hampi, don’t forget to try the local cuisine that includes dosas, savoury paddus and fluffy appams. Every restaurant has their own variety of rasam (soup) filled to the brim with fresh vegetables. Try the south-Indian thalis for lunch if you want to get a feel of the region’s culinary fare.

Last but not the least, the townspeople make any trip to this open-air museum even more memorable. Whether you’re asking for directions, need a lift to a nearby spot, or simply in the mood for a passing conversation, the inhabitants here are attentive, always ready to help, and proud of their historical and cultural heritage. In a nutshell (coracle-shell?), Hampi offers an unforgettable holiday.


Nicholas Rixon

Nicholas Rixon's work has appeared in The Indian Quarterly, Scroll, The Statesman, Hindustan Times and The Assam Tribune, among others. He currently lives in New Delhi and is working on his debut collection of short stories.

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