Day 3, part I, A Walk In The Past

14th December, 2015


Exploring the Ancient Ruins Of Hampi

     I had planned to leave for exploring the ancient ruins of Hampi by 8 o’clock because by that time the boat ferry in the river starts. But while coming back from the lakeside the night before, Sheikh asked me to witness a beautiful sunrise by the same lake. This chap was a great help. Being a local resident, he knew all the beautiful spots of the region.

     By 6 in the morning, me and Sheikh rode towards the lake. The beauty of the place in the morning was breathtaking. When I rode along the canal I felt a sudden chill in the air. I saw the same three boulders sight when I reached near the lake. Sheikh asked me to ride further down the road. There was a small wall built on both sides of the road. I parked my bike there and sat on the wall to witness a  beautiful sunrise. As I sat on the wall a noticed a simple mono colored painting of a little kid peeking from the edge of the wall. Seeing my curiosity for the painting Sheikh said, “We receive lot of tourists at this place mostly from Israel, and most of them happen to be artists. So they leave their masterpieces as a memory on the boulders or walls in this region. You’ll find many such paintings here”.

     After admiring the painting, I sat back on the wall. I could see hills made up of numerous boulders before me and also calm waters of the lake and reflection of the morning golden sky in it. Sun was about to peek from behind the hill anytime. There was a great silence in that place. I tried to take in the view as much as possible. The place was unbelievably beautiful and experiencing a sunrise from such a place was a rare opportunity. The golden sun finally rose. I saw many fragments of the mighty sun twinkling in the lake water. The entire scene was painted in only golden and blue color. It was indeed one of the most beautiful sunrise I had ever experienced in my life. My trip was going to offer me more of such amazing sunrises but I was unaware of it just then.

     Soon Mohin came to the spot on his moped. He stood there with us for a while. Then Mohin and Sheikh started speaking in their local language. They had decided to jump into the lake water from the wall where we had sat few minutes ago. They said they swim in this waters very often. They took off their shirts and one by one dove into the lake. The water entering into the lake from the canal had considerable force to it. Without any efforts the water was pushing them towards the shore. We saw two guys coming near the shore in a round boat. Since the lake water was shining with the sun, I could see only black silhouettes of them. Mohin had told me that these round boats are called ‘Korakel’. One guy got down from the boat with his bag. It was Aditya. He was returning from his camping by the lakeside. We greeted each other and exchanged our experiences of the meteor shower. He had a great camping experience at the lake. He told me that if he knew that I was also interested in the meteor shower then he would have invited me for the camping last night. I had missed a good opportunity. We talked for a while then shook hands and wished each other a good day.

     By 8 am I was riding towards Hampi. I had had my breakfast at the guest house therefore I was all set to go without food for next couple of hours. I had to catch a ferry from a town called Annegundi. I reached the ferry spot just in time. The ferry was very small. I saw it coming towards the riverbank. I was first in the queue of the motorbikes. The bikes in the ferry that came from the opposite side, one by one got down and followed the road. One of the three boatmen stood outside to help the motorbike get down from the boat. When the remaining passengers also left from the boat, the boatman signaled me to come ahead. The passage was very narrow. In order to get into the boat I was supposed to get the bike in the boat with rear wheel first. I had no idea where to turn the bike. The boatman did not speak Hindi or English. From his gesture I understood that he wanted me to get my bike on a metal plate that was kept on the bank near the boat. He told me to keep the bike on side stand. The boatman then tilted my bike and turned it in a one swift movement. Now my bike’s back was facing the boat. The boatman asked me to sit on the bike, he then pushed my bike slowly into the boat. I was maintaining my balance by pushing the ground with my feet. Another three bikes boarded and then 5-6 passengers entered. The boat started, took a full turn and started moving on the opposite side at a very low pace. The water was shallow as I could see the riverbed. Both sides of the bank was covered in long grass. The passage made for entering the boat was the only piece of land that was cutting it.

     I got down from the boat and rode on a bumpy road that connects to the main road towards Hampi. Just before connecting the main road I saw a small ruin. It was carved into a rock and many pillars. Though it was very simple structure I could not make out exactly what it was. It had a tall rock base and number of pillars supporting a flat rock ceiling.

     Mohin had given me a small tourist guide book. As per the map on the tourist guide, I would first reach Vitthala Temple. After riding further down the road I came near an open ground on the left side which was covered with long mesh fences. A small tea shop had a bunch people sipping hot tea around it. I asked them about the Vitthala temple. They spoke in their local language and asked me to park the bike near the tea stall, and directed me in the direction of the temple. I was told that the Vitthala temple was one of the most beautiful structures in the entire Hampi. I walked through the bushes and came across what looked like a small temple. I climbed up the steps. The structure was open from all sides. Stone pillars supported the conical dome on top and there was a square fire altar in the center. It must be a sacrificial altar, I guessed. I thought this cannot be Vitthala temple. Unfortunately, the tourist guide did not have any image of it either. I observed the carvings on the temple. Many gods were carved onto the pillars and the entire structure was ablaze in fresh morning sun rays. There was a small hill just behind and the actual Vitthala temple was behind that hill. Which I came to know later in the day. I also learnt later that the structure where I was, was called ‘Gejjala Mandapa’.

     With confusion in my head, I went back to the tea stall and asked the vendor again if the Vitthala temple was in the same direction where I came from. He did not understand what I said. He understood the word ‘Vitthala Temple’ and looked at my hand that was pointing in the direction from where I walked back there. He shook his head said ‘yes’. I did not say anything. I was still confused. I thought I saw the most magnificent structure in Hampi and didn’t find it to be really that magnificent. The tea vendor kept looking at me as I started my bike and rode away from there.

     After a 10 minutes ride I saw a sign, ‘Welcome to Hampi’. Further down the road there were directions to go to various sites of the ruins. The first sign I saw was pointing towards Chandrashekhara Temple, Saraswati Temple and Ashtakona Snan Ghar (Octogonal Bath). Tar road ended and muddy bumpy road started. I reached an old carved beautiful gate of the Chandrashekhara temple. The entry of the gate structure had about a 12 feet long stone structure as a base which had beautiful carving and a passage to pass through to the other side. On top of the base structure there was another tapering stone structure with many gods carved onto it which had turned black over years. The base was golden colored rock with no signs of wearing.

     I entered the temple ground section and took a good look at the temple. The temple was built strong with attractive proportions. I walked around the temple to observe the carvings. I saw an old lady wearing blue saree and end of the saree covering her head. She looked at me and smiled. She started speaking to me. She was telling me something about the temple but I did not understand her language. I spoke to her in Hindi and she realized the communication problem. She started speaking to me with gestures. She asked me to have a look of the temple from inside. I was about to remove my shoes near the steps but the lady signaled me to go in with shoes. With what she said I understood that she was trying to say that there are no idols in the temple. The inside of the temple was beautifully carved. The sanctum where the god would be placed in it’s time was now a dark room. With an blink of an eye, I imagined myself standing there in the 15th century. The inner sanctum was lit with many torches hung on the temple wall. People with strange costumes and strange ornaments entered from one side of the temple. Offered the offerings to the idol, bowed before their god and left from the other side. The sanctum looked glorious in it’s glorious time. With another blink I was back in the present day. I came out of the temple and saw the old lady again. She was smiling at me. She again told me with her gestures to go in left direction, there’s a ‘Saraswati Temple’ and ‘Ashtakona Snan Ghar’ in that direction. These were the only words I could make out from what she said. I waived my hand at her and said ‘Thanks’. She waived back with both her hands which looked more like blessings.

     I came out of the temple grounds. And started walking in the direction pointed by the lady in the temple. The nearest monument was still about a half kilometer away. I was walking on an open empty land. My imaginative mind again sprang into action. I imagined crowd of people walking around on the open plane of the ground. In it’s glory day this kingdom of ‘Vijayanagara’ was ruled by the king ‘Krishnadevaraya’. And was one of the wealthiest empires in India in those time. I imagined a crowd moving on horses, camels and bullock cart. I had seen a painting depicting the wealth of this empire in the 15th century. I was using the same painting to imagine the lifestyle of people of this region. Another blink, and I was in the present. I looked around. I was walking on a barren land. The Sun had moved higher in the sky and air was getting hotter. Absence of wind made even trees look rock solid. The only things moving in the vicinity were me and my shadow. I looked around and saw no living soul anywhere around me. I was aware of the presence of the old lady in the temple grounds though. I took out bottle from my bag gulped down some water. I realized my mistake. I should have had brought more water with me. I made a mental note to buy a bottle of water before moving to the next site.

     I was at the ‘Ashtakona Snan Ghar’. It was a public bath facility built in an octagonal shape, hence the name. One has to climb down the steps to reach the water. There was no water there now. Series of rock pillars supported octagonal ring on the top. It was hollow from center allowing a view of the sky to those taking a bath. Saraswati temple was a small structure near the Snan Ghar. I came back to the Chandrashekhara temple. The old lady was missing. I rode my way back to the main tar road.

     The next road signed pointed in the right direction towards ‘Queens Bath’. Well, the name was seductive, so I turned right. I came near a beautiful and well maintained garden. The lush green lawn, big and wide trees and beautiful flowers were emphasizing the presence of a small structure in the center. It was ‘Queen’s Bath’. I read the details of this structure on a sign board standing in the garden. Few people were hanging around in the garden area. I entered inside, there was no one except a lady sweeping the floor. I saw many changing rooms inside. In the center was 15 square meter wide and about 2 meter deep bath facility. Windows with beautiful arches overlooked the bath. I resisted the temptation to imagine this place in it’s glory days. The narrow stone passages built to carry the water to the bath facility was neatly carved out and in the bottom there were holes to flush out the entire water.

To Be Continued…

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