Spellbound: Unravelling the Mystery of Hampi, India

Spellbound: Unravelling the Mystery of Hampi, India

Straddling the Tungabhadra River, India’s ancient
village of Hampi
beguiles with bustling bazaars, otherworldly boulders and
mysterious monuments that date back to the Vijayanagara

Hampi is the City of Ruins. It’s a place as revered in India as
the country’s many ancient religions. To head here is, for many
Hindu devotees, a once-in-a-lifetime pilgrimage.

Following a quick bite of curry, I pay 400 rupees for a
sleeper-class ticket from Mysore in southwestern India to the
sacred city 544km north. Resting my head on a silk shawl, I fall
asleep to the resounding whirr of an overhead fan and the fervent
chatter of fellow travellers.

It’s early morning when I awake as the train passes through
Karnataka, and already the sun is toasting the land – a dry,
deserted plain stretching as far as the eye can see. My thoughts
uncloud, partially stifled by the aroma of golden dhal and the
sound of vendors pitching back and forth through the third-class

Bleary-eyed after a 13-hour journey, I bundle out of the train
in Hospet. It’s here that I meet Prakash, a local man, who beams
from ear to ear and starts his rickshaw with a rusty splutter.

We dash along to Hampi, musical notes of the near-broken radio
jostling with the turning wheels of our vehicle. Our arrival in the
city bazaar is an assault on the senses – much as it would have
been in ancient times when merchants traded rich and fragrant
spices for a wealth of gold. In the streets, bleating goats
scavenge for scraps of chapati as the locals wash curry-drenched
bowls at the roadside. Energised by the chaos, I watch as
motorbikes zip between plodding cows, churning up clouds of

After rolling to a halt, we hurry inside a tiny room where idli
(savoury rice cakes) are served with tangy chutney and potato
curry. Hustling bodies rest for a minute, lapping up mouthfuls over
steaming cups of chai. It’s not long before we’re off again,
hurtling past religious devotees to the banks of the Tungabhadra
River. At the ghats, Lakshmi the temple elephant bathes with a
local mahout as young girls dally about – their jasmine-scented
braids in soft apricot light – and I putter across to Virupapur
Gadde, Hampi’s so-called “Hippie Island”.

I’m greeted by an idyll of rice paddies and coconut palms.
Sipping on fresh sugarcane juice, I watch scampering monkeys before
heading towards the ruins. Between climbing Hemakuta Hill to admire
the views of Sasivekalu Ganesha shrine and visiting the surrounding
forts and temples, I befriend Radhesh. Through his stories of
prosperous kings and the Moghuls’ destruction, I begin to unravel
the history of this otherworldly land.

Hungry from all the exploring, I wander beneath a canopy of
banana palms to join Radhesh in his humble home for lunch. Its cool
stone floors and tiny windows keep the furnace-like heat from
spilling inside. I chop chilli peppers as Aishwarya, Radhesh’s
wife, skillfully spins roti while her young daughter crawls on the
floor with curious charcoal-lined eyes. There’s no place for
cutlery here; as in most parts of India, egg curry and curd raita
is pinched between the fingers and scooped into the mouth with
exceptional ease.

I leave as the sun dips behind Hampi’s rocky crags and boulders.
The city fills with a symphony of bells which ring within the walls
of Virupaksha Temple. Birds soar beneath golden clouds, dodging
chaiwalas as the aroma of cardamom drifts from their stalls down
into the valley. Hampi is an enchanting land, and I have fallen
under its spell.