I had heard about Hampi a couple of years before I had moved to Bengaluru and also that it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. When I moved to Bengaluru about 2 yearsago, many friends suggested me to visit Hampi as they knew that I am a travel bug and I like to explore new places. However, no one had mentioned to me that Hampi is also the mythological Kishkindha Nagari of Ramayana. This I got to know from our guide when I reached Hampi. There are different schools of thoughts regarding the exactness of the place. Many say that the town on the other side of the river Tungabhadra is actually Kishkindha Nagari. However, considering that the history of Kishkindha goes back to 7000 years while Hampi is just about 500 years old, I will go by both the school of thoughts as they are adjacent to each other located at stone’s throw distance.

To the non-starters, Kishkindha Nagari is one of the important place in the Indian epic of Ramayana which is worshipped by many. As per Ramayana, Kishkindha is the monkey kingdom of Sugriva where Lord Rama stopped over for some time during his exile period while on the way to Lanka Puri during his search for his wife. The mythical Kishkindha is believed to be located on the bank of the Tungabhadra river. In the war against Ravana, Kishkindha was Rama’s ally. It is at this place where Rama supported Sugriva in his fight with Bali. While on the way to the sanctuary, we could spot lots of ruins. The known history of mythological Kishkindha Nagari goes back to the year BC 5125.

Finally we started for Hampi on a Saturday morning. We left from Bangalore around 7.30 am and reached Hampi around 2.00 pm. The total road distance is about 350 kms.The road till Chitradurga which is about 200 kms from Bengaluru is part of Golden Quadrilateral that connects Bengaluru with Mumbai. The stretch of the road is 6-laned on most of the part and thereby the drive is very smooth. At Chitradurga, we took right on to Bijapur Road and had to cover about 150 kms. In this stretch of the road, the speed tends to slow down.

This apart, one can go to Hampi by train or bus or air and there are multiple options. There are many overnight buses especially sleeper buses from Bangalore to Hospet which take about 8 hours. The buses from Mumbai and Chennai typically take 14 hours. Nearest air connections used to be from Hubli or Bellary... however, there are no commercial flights operating to/from these airports at this moment. Various airlines have been flying to these destinations over a period of time and take periodic decisions to start or stop the service depending on the load factor. Considering that, the nearest airports now happens to be either Bangalore or Hyderabad, both about the same distance. This apart there is a direct overnight train from Bangalore called “Hampi Express”. The timing of the train are well suited for the tourists especially for those who plan to take connecting flights.

We reached Hospet around 2.00 pm and headed straight to Hotel Malligi on JN Road. This is one of the very old hotels in town though recently they have added a new block couple of years back. It was recommended to me by couple of friends as it provides good ambiance and family atmosphere. As I was traveling with family, I preferred to go by this option rather than trying any other untried option. The hotel offers rooms starting from Rs.1,000/- per night... overall a decent hotel especially if you are traveling with family. The only catch is that if you call them or check on their website, they will only tell you about the rooms starting with tariff of ~Rs.2,500/- per night.

I came to know about another good hotel on one of my subsequent visit… Royal Orchid Central, Kireeti. The hotel is ideally situated near Hospet railway station. It is about 5 minutes walk from the station. Good place to stay with nice ambiance. One can even plan a family vacation trip there.

The following are the main places to see around Hospet:
1. Hampi or The किष्किंधा नगरी
2. Daroji Bear Sanctuary
3. Tungabhadra River Dam

After taking rest for couple of hours, we went to Daroji Bear Sanctuary which is about 20 kms from Hospet and is known for sloth bears. The sanctuary is spread over 55.87 square km. The sanctuary was exclusively created for the preservation of Indian Sloth bears. Government of Karnataka declared part of Bilikallu reserve forest as a Daroji Bear Sanctuary in October 1994. Mythologicaly, when Rama’s army crossed Hampi en route to Sri Lanka they met Jambavantha, the bear, who then joined the army. It is at this place where Rama supported Sugriva in his fight with Bali. While on the way to the sanctuary, we could spot lots of ruins some of which were still being excavated.

Once inside, we had to buy the entry tickets. As we were in car, the entry ticket for the car is Rs.500/- apart for individual ticket of Rs.50/- per person. After buying tickets, we had to drive further inside the sanctuary for about 4 kilometers to reach the watch tower. When we reached the watch tower around 4.30 pm, there were many people sitting and waiting since afternoon to spot the bears. But when we reached, bears had just appeared few minutes earlier and those people sitting there were frantically clicking the pictures. From this perspective, we felt that we were lucky as we did not had to wait for them. May be they were waiting for us to come before coming out of their hideouts.

We could also spot the bears but they were quite far and we really had to make an effort to spot them... may be we should have carried binoculars with us. Still, it was worth a visit there as we could spot them ultimately. There was a pair but people told us that on many days it is normal to spot a group of them. Irrespective of all other things, I must say that the view from top of the watch tower was really spectacular and panoramic. We just felt like sitting there to absorb the scenic beauty around. Finally, we started back for hotel as it had started raining and our Day-1 at Hospet come to an end.

Next day, I got up early in the morning around 5.00 am and decided to go out for a stroll before starting for किष्किंधा नगरी. When I stepped out of hotel, I saw a small but very beautiful Jain temple across the street. I could not resist going inside.

There were very few devotees inside but the atmosphere was very devotional and saintly. The temple is under renovation and I am sure that post completion of work, it will look even more beautiful. I spent some time moving around inside the temple before moving on to the market side. We started for Kishkindha Nagari around 8.00 am. Before getting out, we got hold of a good brochure about Hampi from the travel desk which had detailed list of various places to be seen inside Hampi as well as good sketch map of the place with marking about places. This was very helpful during the day while we moved from one monument to another. I will advise to get hold of a good map of the town before starting as it is spread over the area of 16 sq kms and the map will help in planning for the day.

While entering Hampi, we hired a guide which is a must if you are visiting the place for the first time. After negotiating for a while, we settled for Rs.800/- for 5 hours. My suggestion will be that before you close out on him, do a chit chat with him for some time and ask some questions. It will help in judging whether he knows about the place well and is sufficiently knowledgeable. Do look at his ID card as well.

Though there are abundant places to see in Hampi but if you are on shoe-string time budget, then you can prioritize on the following main places:
1. Virupaksha Temple - needs about 60-90 minutes
2. Mahanavami Dibba (Stepped Tank)
3. Vitthala Temple, including famous stone chariot – needs about 120-150 minutes
4. Pattabhi Rama Temple – needs 30 minutes

We started with Virupaksha Temple. The temple is devoted to Lord Shiva who is also known as Virupaksha and the known history of the temple dates back to 7th century. The temple complex got additions and grew during the reign of Vijayanagara rulers especially King Krishnadevrai and later. However, after the demise of Vijayanagara kingdom in 16th century, lots of things from the campus were destroyed over the period of time before renovation and preservation started in 19th century. The temple has sanctum where regular prayers happen. Don’t miss to see the pin hole camera effect wherein you can see the inverted shadow of the entry gopura. You can step out of the back gate and walk about 100 meters to touch Tungabhadra river waters or to take a boat to cross over to other side of Kishkindha Nagari. When inside the temple complex, be careful about the monkeys. Though they are friendly but do snatch away the things from your hands especially the eatables. While entering the temple, keep the eatables inside your bags. Few on the monkeys are very fond of water bottles and it is an interesting sight the way they open the bottles and drink water from it.

After Virupaksha temple, we started moving towards Vitthala Temple. On the way to temple, we briefly stopped at Krishna Bazaar, Mint, Kings Guest house, Queen's bath, Stepped Tank, Lotus Mahal and Jain Temple.

Vitthala is another aspect of Lord Vishnu. Vitthala temple is one of the largest temple of that period and was completed around 1529 AD. This temple is an architectural marvel and is spread over a large area. The place is rich with lots of historical remains all around giving you a nostalgic feeling. Vitthala temple is the one place where even 1 day is too short. The temple complex is huge and it has got lots of things to cover. It also has famous stone chariot as well as you can see the Anjaneya Hill on the right side across the river Tungabhadra. There is a small temple on the top of the hill for which you will have to climb about 600 steps. According to some people, Hanuman was born on Anjaneya Hill.

Vitthala Temple is also famous for its pavilion with hundred pillared musical pillars which when tapped in a particular way generate music. This reminded me of Nellaiappar Temple at Tirunelveli which is also famous for its musical pillars. This is one of the place at Hampi where you would want to spend most of your time and if you like history and architecture, I would say that even 2 full days could be less. We spent couple of hours there and then started back as my daughters were getting restless to go back due to scorching heat on that day.

We were in the wind-up mode for our day as it was already around 4.00 pm and it was terribly hot outside with a bright sun still looming large. We had already spent many hours outside in the sun hopping from one monument to another. When we looked at the map, we realised we had not been to Pattabhirama Temple. When we asked our guide, he told us that it is on the far side and not many tourists visit that temple. We, however, insisted on visiting the temple. He also mentioned that they generally do not take tourists to that temple.

Frankly speaking, the temple was not too far from the Hampi town... just a 4-5 kilometers detour. It is located on the road leading to Daroji Bear Sanctuary where we had gone the previous day. While hiring the guide, specifically insist on going to this temple else the possibility is that they will not take you to this temple and you will miss on one very important landmark.

Pattabhirama Temple was built around year 1540. The temple has a huge complex with a large courtyard which reminded me of Meenakshi Temple of Madurai and the Nellaiappar Temple of Tirunelveli. When we were inside the temple complex, we could spot only few people sitting inside the temple in one corner taking afternoon nap but hardly any tourists.

Although, the temple is being maintained by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI), the temple still looks like being a very good structure that could last many more centuries. However, one look at the floor of the courtyard and we could notice that all is not well with the temple. Floor tiles are coming out of the surface in various parts of the temple. It seemed as if this continues the whole floor tiles could come out very soon in next couple of years.

Finally when we came out of the temple complex, I did not come out feeling good about this temple and the state it is in. It gave me a sinking feeling that the structure is dying. It left me wondering, though I am not sure of the rules and laws surrounding “heritage” declared sites, if the temple can be opened for the public to do the prayers and worshiping. This way the temple will get worshipers visiting it regularly which will result in it being getting maintained the way Meenakshi Temple of Madurai & the Nellaiappar Temple of Tirunelveli are being maintained. My experience says those temples are in much better maintenance state than Pattabhirama Temple... may be a debate needs to start on this subject.

We wound up our trip of Hampi or Kishkindha Nagari after this. However, I feel that the place is so rich with history splashed all across that one needs to visit the place couple of times or be there longer before one can fully absorb this place. I am looking forward to my next trip... may be around the time of annual Hampi Festival.