- By: Anjali Tolani and Divya Gogri
At a time when crowded destinations conjure up fears of exposure to infection, serene Hampi— the former kingdom of the Vijaynagar Empire and a UNESCO World Heritage Site—reassures us with infrastructure that allows for social distancing.
The destination has slowly acquired an air of luxury—stunning hotels stand amidst ancient ruins, a unique boulder-filled landscape and grand temples, a museum and more.
We answer the questions that are uppermost in your mind: Is it safe to travel to Hampi? Are there enough measures being taken to ensure social distancing? What are the protocols being followed?
Is the destination largely coronavirus-free?
While it is impossible to classify any destination as COVID-free, the district of Bellary (where Hampi is situated) has the situation under control (only 700 active cases for now), and the administration and citizens are taking adequate measures to contain the virus. Karnataka’s Department of Tourism has come up with strict protocols for tourists, transporters and accommodation providers, and travellers are being required to file self-declaration forms.
So, why travel to Hampi?
- Because you can discover an era lost in time
Austere yet elaborate, Hampi was the last capital of the great Hindu kingdom of Vijayanagara. Its fabulously rich princes built stunning temples and palaces between the 14th and 16th centuries.
Persian and European travellers have immortalised Hampi’s grandeur in their writings. So have modern-day authors.
The serenity of this historical town continues to abide. Hampi is not a destination where you will be brushing past India’s teeming crowds. On the contrary, it transports you to an era defined by wealth, opulence and magic.
- Because you can luxuriate at its hotels
Evolve Back Kamalapura Palace is a microcosm of the palaces of the Vijayanagara empire. Located four kilometres from the World Heritage Site, with rugged forests and boulders forming its backdrop, the hotel is a luxurious oasis.
Situated in the centre of a 27-acre property and surrounded by cultivated greenery, Evolve Back Kamalapura Palace, Hampi is not your usual luxury hotel, it is a fortress. There are only 46 suites with two restaurants and sufficient common areas. Zenana, the most hedonistic suite in the main palace building is inspired by the Queen’s quarters, with separate living, dining and sleeping areas.
Managing Director, George Ramapuram, says, “With the implementation of our new hygiene protocols, we have taken all possible steps to provide a safe environment for you and your family to enjoy a memorable holiday. These protocols have been formulated in consultation with the best of public health experts.” All high-risk touchpoints in the vehicles that transport people from the airport to the hotel, and then to the ruins, the rooms, room amenities, restaurants and public spaces inside their resorts will be sanitized thoroughly.
Other premium and luxury hotels in Hampi have ensured similar government-laid protocols. Uramma Heritage Homes has four heritage homes, ranging from private villas to guesthouses, of varying prices. Large rooms feature handwoven carpets, teak furniture and colourful fabrics and tapestries.
Shivavilas Palace hotel is surrounded by the village life of Anegundi and the many discoveries along the mighty Tungabhadra River. The river runs like a leitmotif across the town, surrounded by hills and ancient temples, bazaars, and remains of royal pavilions and platforms.
- Because it is well-connected
Hampi is well-connected by road/rail/air. Air is the most convenient mode of travel and there are daily direct flights from Bangalore and Hyderabad to Vidyanagar Airport. The UNESCO World Heritage Site is located at a 45-min drive from the airport, a tiny one built by Jindal Steel, who has major investments in this region.
But if you rather drive, as most people are likely to do shortly, Hampi is a 320km drive from Bangalore. The roads are excellent and the journey should take you about five hours if you can leave by about 6 am. The destination is also well-connected by rail at the Hospet Railway Station. The most popular train, the Hampi Express, starts from Mysore at 7 pm, stops at Bangalore at 10 pm and reaches Hospet at 7 am.
Because there are the ruins to explore
(P.S: Due to the pandemic, the rules and regulations will be as per government norms).
A leisurely walk up the Hemakuta hill ends up at the treasure trove of pre-Vijayanagara Shiva and Ganesh temples, and a 3-meter high monolithic shivling of the Badavilinga Temple. The summit of the hill looks down on a rock-strewn landscape and sublime sunsets.
The old Vitthalapura Bazaar leads to the famous Vijaya Vittala Temple, renowned for its intricately carved stone chariot, described as the jewel of Hampi. The shrine is dedicated to Garuda and you can see a representation of it on a blue 50 rupee note. Expect a lot of Instagram-worthy pictures at this architecturally stunning structure.
Every stone in Hampi narrates a story. Five hundred years of history, and a glimpse into the life and times of the Rayas (Maharajas) of Vijayanagara, can be explored on this trail. Stories like how Krishnadevaraya began his day with a bath at the Hazara Rama Temple (Temple of a Thousand Ramas), and how he practised swordplay at the akhada.
Among the many palaces, ruins, the Lotus Mahal and the Queen’s bath, stand a series of magnificent buildings.
The Hanuman Temple
Sitting atop Anjaneya Hill, the temple is said to mark the spot of Lord Hanuman’s birth. An ascent of 575 steps takes you to the top. Though the actual temple is not ostentatious, the climb is worthwhile for the spectacular views of the surrounding countryside.
Coracle ride on the Tungabhadra
The region on the other side of the Tungabhadra is referred to colloquially as the Hippie Quarter. This is the only surviving Hippie Quarter, besides the one in Manali. Home to several foreigners, it emits a bohemian vibe.
Travellers can be seen lounging on mattresses at a restaurant and taking in the views of the Virupaksha temple across the river.
Hampi Museum Kaladham brings alive the archaeological imagery of the erstwhile kingdom through a multimedia presentation. The elements converge to present Vijayanagara from myriad perspectives. Armed with 3D glasses, you can virtually wander through the ruins of Hampi.
The Archaeological Museum can be visited on the way to some relatively isolated sites (like the Pattabhirama Temple) towards the southeast end of the Hampi ruins. The museum contains an immensely useful exhibit to a novice visitor: Two scale models of Hampi’s topography, with monuments located on it.
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