Vijayanagara was the largest empire established in India around the 15th century. It had enlightened rulers who were devout Hindu but they applied a secular approach in ruling their empire, accepting all subjects as equal and adopting Islam influences in architecture. Hampi was its capital and from here they spread around and conquered territories as far as Odisha. They ruled successfully for about 250 years till they were conquered by the Decca sultans, from around Aurangabad. During these years, especially in the period of golden rule around the 16th century the Vijayanagara rulers raised numerous temples in Hampi, that at the times counted more than 1000 structures.
Hampi was not chosen by mistake. This is the city mentioned in Ramayana where Prince Rama, one of Vishnu avatar – like in the movie – waited and exchanged messages with Sita who was abducted by the Ravana monster of Lanka. How at the time Whatsup was not invented the messages were conveyed by Hanuman, Rama’s monkey general who went back and forth jumping over the straight to Lanka to secure the messages and confirm to Sita that Rama will come to save her.
It’s hard to imagine a better bike ride than in Hampi. You rent a bike and wind you way on dirt roads that snake around a temples decorated in magnificent sculptures, on ceremonial pools used by queens, in religious puskarini, ablution pools fed by long aqueducts that were used exclusively only for ceremonials in temples, through elephant stables and watchtowers, stopping on the way at gigantic statues of Ganesh or Narasimha, also an avatar of Vishnu. And all these surrounded by boulders sitting on each other creating tall hundred meters mountains of boulders around you that entice you to explore also. Only if time would permit.
The temples’ walls have freezes sculpted with the entire story of Ramayana – Hazararama Temple – on three level so if you walk three times around and follow the sculptures you can skip the thousand pages book of the Asian legend.
In the afternoon I crossed the river with a tiny power boat that would be considered unsafe anywhere in the world and I biked to the Hanuman Temple where I had to climb 575 steps on the sweltering heat on South India to get to an astonishing view over Hampi’s temples. From inside the temple the orange figure of Hanuman was piercing through your soul with only one central eye.
The next morning at sunrise I took a walk to Vithala Temple, a winding stroll peppered with other temples and rocks encountering on the way several huge temples that I did not see and knew the day before. Considered the best of the Hampi architecture Vithala is remote and protected from the hoards of tourists. It has in its middle a stone chariot and its column sing if tapped. But the cool thing is that all this can be done by bike that you rent for a couple of dollars a day and just promise to bring it back. No paper needed but this is India. At sunset when the heat is tapering off you can chill watching the sun going down surrounded by hundred of monkeys. They may jump on your back or steal your food, banana as a preference, but at sunset they just chill and watch how the sun goes down, the same as you are.