Continues from the previous blog, ‘The Royal History’
We left Virupaksha temple and the crowd behind. The place where we were now, had really big boulders scattered around. Manjunath asked me to stop the bike and to have a look at one of the popular landmarks in Hampi. It was called ‘Sister Boulders’ in English and in local language, ‘Akka Tangiyara Gundu’. It was two huge, really huge boulders clinging on to each other. The boulder on the right had a perfectly straight cut onto it and the top part of it was kept from sliding down by the other huge boulder. There’s an interesting legend about these Sister Boulders in the folklore. I don’t want you to believe in the story, as I don’t believe in it either. But it’s fun to gather such legends during travelling. It helps us to remember the place longer than those which have no legend associated with them. The Legend also makes the place more interesting even if the legend is utter rubbish.
Well, the story goes like this. According to the legend, these Sister Boulders were once actual human sisters. They had visited Hampi during its most glorious days. Seeing the glory of the place, the sisters got jealous and said something really bad about the place. The reigning deity of the city learnt about these sisters ridiculing the town. The deity lost her temper and in the heat of the moment, the goddess cursed the sisters and turned them into stones.
Further down the road we saw cops standing against barricades on the road. They were stopping every bike and checking registration documents and licence. I was stopped too. I got down and presented my documents to the cop. He took the papers from me and asked me something in south Indian language, which made no sense to me. I looked at Manjunath, hoping that he would translate it for me. He just blinked slowly in a manner suggesting, “It’s alright”. The cop reading the documents asked, “Maharashtra? Mumbai?”. I said “Yes” with a decorative, cheek stretching smile. The cop did not say anything, he just glanced at me from head to toe and handed my documents back to me and gestured, ‘You can go’. I glanced around and saw three local boys making poor faces and pleading to the cop who had their licences. Clearly the boys had some important document missing. A common sight even in Mumbai.
We crossed the barricaded road and I saw stony open ground on the right. Two small structure were making their presence stand out from the rest of the land. These structure reminded me of the Pantheon in Greece. Manjunath told me they were Ganesha temples. The temples are usually built with a cone shaped structure on top, but these ones had a flat roof instead. The Greek influence on the architecture was pretty evident. However the temples were really beautiful. The first temple that I entered was more of a pavilion or a mandapa structure. It was open from all the sides with roof held on top by many stone pillars and a huge, 2.4 meter tall idol of Ganesha sitting in the center. It was called ‘Sasive Kalu Ganesha’. The literal translation of the term means ‘Mustard Seed Ganesha’. And no, it does not mean ‘The Ganesha made up of mustard seeds’. Even I got the same idea when Manjunath translated the term to me. He explained me that in Hampi, the mustard seeds merchants built this temple with the profit they earned in their business. We were walking around the temple when Manjunath was explaining me a unique feature of the sculpture. When we were at the back I noticed a back of a female with her legs folded, carved at the back of the Ganesha. Manjunath said that the sculptor had carved the image in such a manner that Ganesha is seated on the lap of his mother ‘Parvati’. The presence of Parvati against the huge Ganesha made her look inconspicuous.
The next temple, the one which resembled ‘The Pantheon’ in Greece, was called ‘Kadale Kalu Ganesha’. Which meant ‘Gram Seed Ganesha’ and had the same story behind its name as the former Ganesha temple. The Ganesha idol in this temple was 4.50 meters tall and carved out of a huge boulder. The pillars hosts some beautiful carvings with depictions of daily life of common man and various gods and goddess of Hindu religion. The temple is supposedly built in 16th century A.D.
We were at an open restaurant for lunch. Hours of riding and walking around, was taking its toll. I had completely forgotten about the mental note I had made while at ‘Chandrashekhsra Temple’ to get more water, and luckily I had very little water left before coming to the restaurant. I took in countless number of gulps of water while sitting under a hay roof of a small decorative hut of the restaurant. A big granite tile served as a table and two benches across looked like younger twin siblings of the table. I met an elderly Marathi couple at the restaurant, exchanged our travel stories and phone numbers and after about 10-15 minutes of talk with them, I left for my next spot.
We were headed for the ‘Vitthala Temple’. I was going to go to the correct temple this time, all thanks to Manjunath. I’m was glad I took Manjunath along. When we reached the spot, the same tea vendor looked at me and smiled to himself. He must have had guessed why I was back. I wondered, if he knew Hindi or I knew his language then my day ‘Hampi sight seeing’ wouldn’t have had started with a funny mistake.
We turned left from the ‘Gejjala Mandapa’ and came to a ground which had two open domed structures. Some people were seated inside and few were hanging around. Two women in uniform stood on the opposite side. Soon a two cart EV (Electric Vehicle) came into sight from the direction of the Vitthala Temple. Manjunath told me that we have to catch this EV, it’ll take us to the Vitthala Temple. The first EV was full. We got our seat in the next EV which arrived in just 5 minutes. There were total two EVs making rounds of the temple. The EVs were driven by only female drivers. The women managing the EV facility were not only doing their job nicely, but were also handling ill-behaved passengers very well.
The EV made it’s way out of the waiting area. Without making any noise the EV was on it’s way to the temple. I had a glimpse of the ‘Gejjala Mandapa’ going past from behind the fence and the morning memories flashed back. I pictured myself exploring the Gejjala Mandapa in the morning while other tourists were travelling in the same EV on the same morning. My eyes squinted, I realized I was smiling. The EV was moving on an elevated flat road. Few tourists were walking while others were cycling their way towards the temple. The route had small ancient ruins on both sides of the road. It was a great sight to observe these ruins from a slowly moving EV. After a slight turn a big tree came into view. Another EV, full of passengers, went by in the opposite direction. I knew that we are going to get down at the tree as I saw passengers near the tree eagerly waiting for our EV to arrive. Soon the grand entrance of the Vitthala Temple came into view.
The entrance of the temple said a lot about what is beyond it. Vitthala Temple is declared as one of the ‘World Heritage Sites’ by UNESCO. And I could see why. Just being there, transports you into a different era. While observing the entrance I saw a group of Americans chit-chatting. One face among them was familiar. “Hey man, it’s good to see you again. How are you doin?”, we both said the same thing almost instantaneously while shaking hands. It was Aditya again. He had just come out of the temple and waiting there to catch the next EV back. He told me how beautiful the Vitthala Temple is and built up my curiosity of the temple even more. We talked for a while, exchanged our experiences during the day. Before leaving I thanked him for his advice to take the bike across the river in a ferry.
As soon as I crossed the entrance, I was mesmerized by the sheer beauty of the place. I’m feeling little apprehensive writing about this place as I doubt my ability to express the grandeur of the place in words. No matter how long I kept looking at the entire view before me, I knew I could not capture the entire view in my memory. I could see many beautifully carved temples and carvings were in great detail. The open courtyard between each of these temples, the detailed carvings, proportions of the monuments were amazingly perfect and beautiful. Acoording to Indian mythology, Vitthala is believed to be an avatar of Vishnu. I saw a lone tree with a twisted trunk and a scarce presence of leaves, standing in the courtyard. This tree must have had witnessed the history of this place. I was imagining again. All the tourists walking in the courtyard turned into a 15th century crowd, wearing traditional clothes and jewellery. The place looked much more beautiful than it did a moment ago. I heard a faint voice of guy besides me wearing striped full sleeve shirt and a trouser. Manjunath was explaining me the history of the place. We were at a stone sculpture which looked like a chariot, with a pair of two wheels making their presence prominently visible. This chariot was in front of the temple. Manjunath told me that this was the famous ‘Vitthala Stone Chariot’. I remembered seeing photos of this chariot many times in the past. It was also called the ‘Garuda shrine’ because it houses an image of Garuda (Eagle), the vahana (vehicle) of Vishnu. It had two stone elephant up in the front, pulling the chariot and in the upper deck there was a small enclosure where the deity was kept once. Manjunath told me there used to be one more smaller structure on the top of the chariot which now lies on the ground few meters away from the chariot.
Up in front of the chariot was a monument with hundreds of slender stone pillars, sculptures of horses, lions and many other mythical creatures. The pillars of these monument were called music pillars. There was a sculpture of a woman, in front of each set of pillars, holding a particular musical instrument. Hitting on the pillars produces the sound of the instrument held by the sculpture of the woman in front of it. Unfortunately I did not get a chance perform my musical recital as the monument was closed for repair works. We walked around the courtyard observing many magnificent monuments such as Devi shrine, kalyana mandapa, utsava mandapa, a hundred pillared mandapa. We came across a small room which had two stone blocks in it. Manjunath told me that the famous idols of Vitthala and Rukmini which are in Pandharpur, Mahrashtra now, were once stood on these stone blocks. During invasions of Muslim emperors, these idols were shifted to Pandharpur, at their current place. When I was back in Mumbai, I tried to find out if the story of the Vitthala-Rukmini idols in Pandharpur was genuine, but came to know that there are lot of stories associated with the origin of the idols. But since it’s widely known that the Vitthala was south Indian, the story told by Manjunath made more sense to me, hence I believed it.
After spending about an hour and half, we walked out of the temple. Stepping out of the temple felt like stepping out of the history and stepping into the present. We took the EV to go back. That was it, the last site of my day in Hampi ruins. It was a memorable day. I knew right there and then that I’d be returning to Hampi once again. There’s just so much to explore here.
I dropped Manjunath at his place, took a ferry to cross the river and was back at the Guest House. I sat in the restaurant area with Mohin and Sheikh and told them all about my experience. I was sipping a cup of hot tea. Mohin told me that he’s born here and yet has explored only seventy percent of Hampi.
“That’s why I’m coming back here again in future”, I told Mohin while taking the last sip.
“You are always welcome Sir”, Mohin replied with a smile.
“Sir, do you want to go to the Sunset point? Lot of Israeli people go there for the evening meditation. It’s really a beautiful place and you can view entire Hampi from up there”, Sheikh said.
I thought about it and was surprised that long hours of walking and sight seeing in Hampi ruins didn’t leave me exhausted. I had tremendous energy still left in me. A trek in the evening sounded like an exciting idea. There was still an hour left for the sun to paint the sky red. Meanwhile I just relaxed in the restaurant area.
The two Israelis at the Sunset Point
I parked my bike at the base of the hill. We started the trek. Sheikh was leading the way. The route going up was very narrow. We walked trough thick shrubs. I noticed many small stones painted in white, may be to show the route for the new comers. We reached on the top within half an hour of trek. The top was a flat rocky surface. On my right I saw a cave like formation. A huge boulder sitting on top of smaller boulders on either side gave it a cave like appearance. This cave was open from two sides. One side which we entered from and other side opens into the cliff. The boulder on the top was close to the ground making it impossible for grown up adults to stand. Sheikh and me sat inside and observed a beautiful view visible from the opposite side of the cave. We could see small villages down and other hills.
We came out of the cave and walked further ahead on the top. I didn’t see anyone meditating there. We did see few people sitting there and enjoying the view. Sheikh and I found a good spot near the cliff and sat there. The view was beautiful. I could see the Sun close to the horizon, many small villages, The Virupaksha temple and many other monuments of Hampi ruins were visible in the distance, slowly dissolving in the evening mist. I spotted few ponds down below. Presence of water on this landmark was as refreshing as water drops on vibrant flower petals. The whole scene was painted in red. Very soon the Sun cast its last rays of the day and disappeared behind a mountain. The moon was moving on the same trajectory. Presence of an old tree against the mixture of yellow, red and blue color of the sky was looking dramatic. Soon the celestial show was over. It was getting dark. Sheikh and I were about to leave when we met two Israelis who were walking back down. We said Hi to each other and exchanged smiles. They wore loose clothes. One of them asked me where I was from. After answering, I asked them the same and came to know that they are from Israel.
“So, how’s your experience in India?”, I asked them.
“Man, what can we say. India is a great country. We just feel at home every time we are here. Here people shower so much of love on tourists. The hospitality that we experience here is just incredible. We just keep coming back here whenever we get a chance. Thanks to this great country. And thanks to you two too, coz, you are Indians”, One of the Israeli guy spoke from the heart.
“Wow, thanks for saying that, I really appreciate that, enjoy your stay”, I said. I was feeling overwhelmed and proud after what I heard from this guy.
“Ok, guys, it was nice speaking to you. We need to make a move, it’s getting dark now”, said the other guy.
“Ok, bye, See Ya”, said Sheikh and I repeated after him.
After a while Sheikh and I also started climbing down from there. We met few guys who were pitching a tent and making arrangements for cooking in the same cave, we had been into while coming. It was pitch dark. Climbing down on a torch light was little difficult and took us one and half hour to reach down on the road where my bike was parked.