I spend quite a lot of time exploring rabbit holes on the Internet. During one such adventure, I stumbled across a long forgotten book— Hampi Ruins by Albert Henry Longhurst. I’ve always been interested in history and this book offered a time travelling experience; much-needed respite from the dreariness of my everyday life. During my first visit to Hampi, I was struck by the intricacies of the architecture, and I wandered the ruins daydreaming about how it all must have looked when these structures were documented all those years ago.

In a way, archaeological texts are a window into the past. Hampi Ruins is exactly that. Longhurst, who was appointed Superintendent of the Southern Circle (Archaeological Survey of India) in 1913, had the opportunity to explore Hampi well before it became the travel attraction it is today. The first part of the book is a condensed history of the Vijayanagara Empire; but the book really comes into its own in the second part with full plate negatives of Hampi’s majestic structures and inscriptions, and Longhurst’s brief notes as an art historian. In his preface to the second print run in 1925, Longhurst writes, “bromide prints are available to the Public at one rupee each…” I, for one, would have loved to get my hands on these prints.

Gateways

Gateways were a major architectural feature of the Vijayanagara Empire.

Longhurst begins with a grainy plate negative of the Talarigatta Gate, on the road that passes northwards towards the Vitthala Temple. This important gateway built in the Indo-Saracenic style used to be one of the main riverside entrances to the capital of the Vijayanagar Empire. As the name suggests, it was most probably a toll gate.

The Domed Gateway in East Hampi is another standout entrance. While a number of structures in Longhurst’s negatives do not look the same today, the Domed gateway still does, along with a carving of Hanuman in the guard-room. It is the only gateway in Hampi that still retains its domed structure and it is closest to the royal centre.

hampi

Talarigatta Gate

 

If you’re in the area, then you shouldn’t leave before exploring the nearby Bhima’s Gateway. Situated between the domed gateway and the Ganigitti Jain Temple along Kampli Road, Bhima’s Gateway contains carved remnants of the eponymous Hindu god, and a panel depicting Draupadi tying her hair. This gateway is rarely visited and travellers can spend their time taking in the rich carvings on the walls, just like Longhurst did all those years ago. 

There is something about walking through an ancient gateway in Hampi. I spent more time than I should have gazing at Longhurst’ plate negatives and thinking back to my time among the ruins of Hampi. Those gateways are fragile-yet-riveted reminders of an empire that was second to none. Walking through those gateways today can be more than just a touristy experience. We are walking the same dusty paths that travellers, merchants, and everyday citizens walked through centuries ago. That, in itself, makes a strong case for travel not just for the sake of taking a break, but for reasons that are far more emphatic. 

hampi

Bhima’s Gateway

 

The scanned 1917 copy of Hampi Ruins has clear markings of bookworms tunnelling through the yellowing pages, scuff marks by readers who had the pleasure of holding the book in their hands and browsing through the hazy black-and-white photographs. And as I did the same, I realised that the main gateways of Hampi are what I enjoyed the most—while I was there and while I was reading the book—because it felt like I was crossing the threshold into a world so far removed from my own, and it felt like an adventure I would want to repeat, over and over again.