HAMPI, India (Reuters Life!) - A visit to Hampi, a historical town tucked away among the hills in Northern Karnataka, is a step back in time.
Situated beside the Tungabhadra river, Hampi was an important part of Vijayanagar, the capital of the southern empire of the same name that was one of the most powerful in 14th century India. Hampi is now recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Hampi retains much of its old charm and the center has colorful tents lining stone-paved streets. Cell phones and the Internet don’t work very well here, either.
Trains run from Bangalore, Hyderabad and Goa, and there are daily flights from Bangalore to the nearest airport at Bellary. There are many guesthouses and mid-range hotels in Hampi, and some travelers stay in the nearby towns of Hospet or Kamalapur.
8.30 a.m. - Breakfast at any of the rooftop restaurants near the river, which offer stunning views and fresh food and juices. Mango Tree, Laughing Buddha restaurant and The Goan Corner are all recommended for a relaxed experience.
10.30 a.m. - Put on your most comfortable walking shoes, and stock up on snacks and water before heading to the ruins. Start off at the first of the two Ganesha monoliths, “kadilekalu” or “ground nut” Ganesha, just a km away from the city center. At 15 feet, the monolith is among the tallest in Hampi.
Walk up from there to the Hemakuta Hill which offers magnificent views of all the structures in the historical enclosure. Then walk out through the southern gateway at the top, and down to the “sasivekalu” or “mustard” Ganesha.
12.30 p.m. - Make your way down to the Krishna Temple. The temple used to house a statue of the infant Krishna, which has now been moved to a museum. The temple was partially destroyed during invasions by Muslims armies. The temple boasts beautiful, intricate carvings of Yalis, lion-like mythical creatures. Linger over the carvings at the temple entrance, which remain intact enough to tell stories of war, love, art and culture. Hire a guide to explain the meanings.
1.30 p.m. - Across the road from the temple are seemingly random stone shelters that formed the Hampi Bazaar. The market once surrounded a high street that led to the temple.
2.00 p.m. - Walk further down to the Ugra Narasimha Temple, which was dedicated to the god Narasimha and whose statue -- nearly 7 meters tall -- is the largest in Hampi.
2.30 p.m. - Walk back to Hampi Bazaar for a meal from any of the family-run stalls there or to the center of the town for a typical North Karnataka lunch of roti and curry.
4.00 p.m. - Hire a bicycle for the rest of your trip, or rent a rickshaw, and head to the underground Siva Temple. The sanctum and the core parts of the temple are usually under water, but visitors can walk down to a point along a dry canal bed. For those who don’t like damp, dark places, there is a lawn around the temple which you can walk around during the dry season.
5.00 p.m. - The last stop of the day is the King’s Court. Most of the buildings here have been destroyed, so hire a guide to take you through it. The most noticeable structure of the area is the Mahanavami Dibba, a platform that was built by King Krishnadevaraya in memory of his conquest of Orissa.
5.30 p.m. - Watch the sun set at Matanga Hill or the less steep Hemakuta Hill. Hampi is a quiet town, with almost no nightlife, so dine -- and retire -- early at any of the rooftop restaurants along the river.
6.00 a.m. - Watch the sunrise from atop Hemakuta Hill and then take a ride on one of the boats that cross the river. Check, however, if the dam will be opened that day as the boats are only allowed to ply low waters.
7.30 a.m. - Breakfast at any of the riverside restaurants -- and also pack your lunch -- before heading out to Virupaksha Temple, which is completely intact and at the heart of Hampi. This temple is still used for worship.
8.30 a.m. - Take a rickshaw to the Vittala Temple, the single most important temple in the area and the key to the Vijayanagar empire’s history. The temple is still intact, though the idols in it have been moved to museums. Lining the path to this temple are simple stone structures which are fabled to have formed the gold market. The temple also houses the famed Stone Chariot. All the halls have a series of slender, stone pillars which, in ancient days, musicians are said to have played with sandalwood sticks.
10.30 a.m. - Visit the Lotus Mahal, which formed part of the king’s harem and which is built in the Indian and Islamic styles. There is also an elephant stable and nearby is the Ranga Temple, which is being restored currently. The temple has a slab of Hanuman and is said to be the largest such slab in Hampi.
11.30 a.m. - Head back to the Hazara Rama Temple, the only one at the heart of the royal area. The pillars and the panels are decorated with images from the Hindu epic, Ramayana.
12.30 p.m. - Walk up the road to the Tungabhadra river and overlook the temples on the other side. Have a picnic lunch, sitting on the edge of a lookout point.
2.00 p.m. - Drive out of Hampi to see the Tungabhadra dam, on the other side of Hospet. There are also several gardens at the foot of the dam to relax in before leaving the area.
Editing by Miral Fahmy