Post quitting my fulltime job with a travel company, I decided to do a bit of travelling myself. For more than 5 years, I was stuck on a chair, staring at the computer helping clients travel the globe. I loved my work but now, I decided, it was time to make that journey and explore the world myself!
So, one fine day me and two (now!) ex-colleagues of mine took the plunge. They decided to come and visit me in my home town, Belgaum. They were short of time as leaves couldn’t be managed. So we decided to make it a short 02N/03D trip.
How and when?
We decided to take the following route –
BELGAUM to HAMPI: Belgaum – Bagalkot – Badami – Pattadakal – Hospet – Hampi (approx. 310Km.)
HAMPI to BELGAUM: Hampi – Hospet – Tungabhadra dam – Koppal – Gadag – Hubli – Dharwad – Belgaum (approx. 270Km.)
Our day began at seven on a warm September morning last year. We started from Belgaum, Karnataka (my home) in a hired Tata Indigo, a compact sedan. Mom had packed some sandwiches which circulated in the car. Our driver however, wanted a proper breakfast of idli, sambar, coffee et al; so we gave in and made our first halt on a highway eatery. It turned out a welcome toilet break for us! Half an hour later, the driver ‘filled up’ and us ‘emptied’, crossing the green country side budding over red loamy soil we drove towards our first stop, Badami.
Badami is a small town in Bagalkot district of North Karnataka. The main attraction is the Agastya lake surrounded by magnificent caves with beautiful and intact carvings of Shiva, Vishnu and some Jain representations.
The oldest of these caves is said to date back to the 6th century. Across from the caves are the Dattatreya temple and an archaeological museum. We had to go all the way across the town to reach this place as there is no direct access for cars from the caves complex. The museum houses decent artifacts collected from the region whilst providing an insight into the history and geography of this area.
The Dattatreya temple is a small distance ahead of the museum and looked like it was in use. We did not investigate further as the heat was getting to us.
After spending an hour and a half here, we were back on the road by 12 noon. Badami did have decent places to eat but we decided to just drive on as we weren’t too hungry.
Only about 23Km from Badami, it took us around an hour to reach Pattadakal due to the small and bad roads. By this time the sun was turning very harsh and it exhausted the last bit of our energies. As we crawled towards Pattadakal, the scenery from the car window also started changing. The green patches were few and far between. But this was nothing, we realised later, compared to what we would encounter closer to Hampi!
Pattadakal, a town on the banks of the river Malaprabha has a temple complex with the oldest temple believed to be from the 8th century. It is a cumulative of monuments which are mostly in ruins now but an architectural wonder nevertheless. Being a World Heritage Site, it is well maintained with manicured lawns and clean surroundings. Some of the temples are still in use hence removing footwear before entering is advised.
A glass of sweet lemon soda and bag of crisps refreshed us and subdued the hunger pangs we had after our tour of this complex. We spent a good part of an hour exploring it and then some more time lazing around on a bench under the shade of trees.
It was just past three when we finally left Pattadakal for our final halt for the day, Hampi. Travelling further on the state highway for a few kilometers, we turned onto NH13 near Kushtagi. The journey till the national highway was a slightly rough one owing to small roads. Once on the NH13, it was smooth sailing all the way till Hospet. Entering the town just off the highway was again a big crawl with road works, narrow bridges and heavy traffic. This is the closest major town from where one can visit Hampi, about 13Km by road. If travelling by train Hospet is a most convenient base.
As a result, Hospet has a good supply of accommodation and restaurants which cater to the tourists. We however wanted to stay closer to Hampi and hence chose to stay at Hotel Maurya Bhuvaneshwari at Kamlapur. It is the only hotel that is located within the World Heritage Site and not surprisingly is run by the state government. It is quite affordable; has good food and clean rooms. Electricity supply is irregular though, which is the story in the whole area per say. We reached the hotel about half past five and literally crashed in the bed soon after.
After resting for an hour we decided to venture out for dinner. Since the area comprises mostly of tiny villages finding a decent place to eat was a big task at that time of the day. Quite frankly there isn’t much choice either. There was however this one family run place which did stand up to the great reviews we had heard of it. One recommended by many, including my cousin who frequented Hampi umpteen times, we decided to try it out.
A drive through the tiny streets, past some humongous boulders and down a narrow cobbled by-lane, we reached what looked like a banana plantation over a cliff. It was dark as a dungeon, but I felt liberated and much closer to nature. There was something in the air. Using our mobile phone lights we reached the other end of the plantation on a tiny foot track.
We came to a gathering of three-four huts, out of which one was The Mango Tree. In the dark of the night, not much was visible except the inside of the hut, which felt very warm and homely. It was lit with lanterns giving a very cosy feel. The food was again a mixed variety from basic south Indian, Punjabi paraths to Italian pizzas and pastas. We had lemon rice and parathas. Loved it! We were back in the room by 9pm and in bed by 10pm!
The next morning, after a satisfying breakfast of idli’s and coffee we set off to explore the ruins of Hampi. Since we already had a hired vehicle, we chose to do this tour of the ruins in the car. The other options are either to hire a bicycle, a two wheeler or an auto rickshaw. We also hired a guide as this was our first trip here. His knowledge proved invaluable to truly appreciate the history of this city which was the capital of the Vijaynagara Empire between the 14th – 16thcentury.
Mostly in ruins, Hampi was during this time a very prosperous and important trading center. The guide explained that the traders came all the way from China, Magolia and even farther away to trade in rubies and diamonds. After the invasion by the Bijapur Sultan though, there was extensive damage to the city and its monuments. The main palace made entirely of sandalwood was burnt. Rumour has it, that it took more than 5 months for the flames to completely die down. Not surprisingly, all that is left of the palace is its foundation and a high platform built of stone. It is a bit of a climb up the platform but the view is amazing. Somehow, I couldn’t help but feel a deep sense of loss looking at the flat surface ahead which at one point would have been a stunning work of art and abuzz with hectic activities.
The other invigorating monument for me was the Vittala Temple. With its musical pillars and intricate carvings, this complex was something out of the ordinary. This complex also houses the stone chariot that has come to be a very famous symbol of Hampi. The major must see sights we could pack in were Virupaksha Temple, Hampi Bazaar, Monolith Bull, Lakshmi Narasimha temple, Big Shivlinga, Vittala Temple, Royal Enclosures, Queen’s Bath, Zanana Enclosure ( Lotus Mahal), Elephant Stables, Achyut Raya temple, Statue of Lakshmi Narasimha, Virupaksha Temple, Mahanavmi Dibba, the Stepped Bath.
A thrilling activity was to experience the river more closely. We hopped in one of the local’s coracle and spent half an hour gliding on the water. It was surreal to say the least to float among the boulders. In the evening just before sunset our guide suggested we visit the Matanga Hill. The view from the top of the boulders and ruins strewn wherever the eyes could see summed up the entire day in that one moment! As the sun was setting on the ruins of this once vast Vijaynagara Empire, I realized it was time for us to leave as well.
We wrapped up the day with another sumptuous dinner at The Mango Tree. As I lay on my bed, spending my last night in Hampi I had mixed feelings. Physically I was drained owing to the heat and all the walking. But my mind was still processing the huge amount of fascinating information it had gathered throughout the day!
The next morning after breakfast we set out around 9am from the hotel. This was our day to return home. Our trip was however, not yet over. En-route we halted at Tungabhadra reservoir. All this while we were on a trip which focused solely on culture and history but visiting the dam brought us back into the modern world.
Constructed on Tungabhadra River, it is a very big project. It serves many purposes from irrigation to electricity generation. The facility is just outside Hospet, off NH13. It has a decent garden, built mainly to beautify the place but the reservoir itself is an engineering marvel. There are other attractions like a small aquarium, zoo, musical fountain etc which were strictly ok. There isn’t much eating choice either except shops selling dry food items and water.
After about an hour and a half of exploring the dam and gardens around it, we left for Belgaum. The return journey was smooth as we took the National highway via Gadag and Hubli-Dharwad. Again we did not stop for lunch and were home by 6pm.
- For a second or third or any visits after that, a guide is not necessarily needed. After the first visit you get the general idea of the history, politics and geography of the place. Unless you are someone who is keen on all the facts and dates etc, you could pass this one off.
- I am glad we didn’t cross the river to Anegundi. I had read reviews of it, and I wasn’t too excited to see the place with whatever little I knew. (Goa is a better version). Moreover I dint feel like ruining the magic of Hampi!
- Spend more time here, for sure! At least three nights, so as to explore at a slow pace and enjoy the calm of Hampi.
- Here is a great read on the sights around Hampi.
- Coracle ride is a must – I am glad we did it!