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A couple of days at Hampi
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pramodbiligiri
First off, I am surprised that I hadn't visited Hampi earlier. It is probably the best place of historical interest that Karnataka has to offer! I don't think even Mysore compares to the vast ruins of 16th century Vijayanagar empire. It's also very well maintained.

On the first day I took the help of a govt. appointed tour guide. We went around on a TVS XL (Rs.150 per day) and covered whatever is accessible by road. On the 2nd day I finished the rest by a combination of walk and bicycle (Rs.40).

There are numerous temples, and palatial complexes. Also bazaar streets where gold and diamonds were reportedly sold. The Vijayangar empire reigned from 14th to 16th century, reaching its peak in 1509 when Krishnadevaraya ruled and disintegrating a couple of generations after him, due to attacks from the neighbouring Bahamani sultans. The temples have suffered serious damage and palaces destroyed due to these attacks.

Of historical interest
- I was surprised to see so many references to Portuguese and Arab traders in the sculptures. This should have been before Vasco Da Gama's time, so the land route through Central Asia played a major role. Arabian horses were in great demand. A Portueguese traveller named Domingo Paes is frequently cited. Need to read up on him.

- This was a main battleground for Hindu vs Muslim rulers and you can see the remnants of that. Even now the Vijayanagar empire is invoked in popular culture as a great period for Hindu religion. It is probably a pilgrimage spot for Hindutva types. I myself don't believe religious beliefs had much to do with those conflicts. My guide was telling me the Muslim kings ransacked the capital for 6 months after the conquest!

- This had to be a very rich kingdom to be able to build all that. And the bazaars were supposed to sell gold and diamonds in the open market. They were known to export spices also. An economic history of that period would be interesting.

Virupapura Gaddi (island): Another reason to visit Hampi is this small and peaceful island which is full of tourist resorts. Foreign travellers come and take up residence here for days on end. I had lunch at one such place and all around were cottages. I spotted one firang lying in a hammock strumming a guitar. On the roads you will find more of these people driving around in two wheelers and generally relaxing. It's like a cheap man's Goa.

Hampi is recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage site and the Archaeological Survey of India has made great effort to preserve it. Major excavations and research have happened even in the last few decades. But a silly thing is the differential entry fee for foreigners and Indians (10:1 ratio) for the non-free sites. On one side the ticket advertises Incredible !ndia, the Indians profess to believe in an emerging India, and here we're embarrassing India. I see 2 ways out of this: The next generation of ASI bureaucrats will realize this is socially unacceptable a la child marriage and wife-beating and change the policy. Alternatively, since nationalism is all the rage nowadays, we will create a National Council of Something Something that will allot more funding to nationally important sites and get rid of this pettiness.

Temple towns conjure visions of unearthly hours, long queues, loud loudspeakers, dress codes, small South Indian eateries and overall full gaji-biji. Hampi is nothing of the sort. I had good Italian and Chinese food on both days, including omelettes and delicious dessert. This grainy video is from a restaurant which is literally a stone's throw away from Virupaksha temple and is full of foreigners and serves a range of cuisines. And I mean literally.

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