Hampi – India's Lost Empire

Hampi – India’s Lost Empire

With over 1,000 monuments cast over gigantic boulder-strewn hills, the ruins of Hampi whisper imperishable tales of worship, grandeur and destruction.

This is Karnataka’s irresistible artifact of a time once buried and since rediscovered. Mythical Hampi survives today as the outstanding archaeology of Vijayanagara, the imperial ‘City of Victory’ and the most powerful kingdom in Medieval India.

Allow your imagination to excavate the Sacred Town and the Royal Enclave. You are thrown back into panoramic regal pavilions, hilltop temples, and vast octagonal baths, carved to indelibly storyboard great myths of the time.

The Legend of Vijayanagara

Archive accounts of visitors from Persian envoys to Portuguese horse traders and Italian travellers include marvelling impressions of the 15th century city.

Persian Ambassador Adul Razzaq records, “the City of Vijayanagara is such that the pupil of the eye has never seen a place like it, and the ear of intelligence has never been informed that there existed anything equal to it in the world.”

Other vivid reports tell of riches so great that the city’s market places would “trade diamond and sapphire stones like vegetables.”

Vijayanagara is Hampi’s forgotten kingdom

The Vijayanagara empire spanned 1336–1565 and saw the rule of four dynasties within that time.

Hindu empires were often easily divided and conquered, but Emperor Krishnadevaraya presided over the kingdom at its zenith to administer a golden era between 1509–1529.

Celebrated as the ‘King of Kings’, Krishnadevaraya won 14 battles to aggressively expand the empire across India, establishing new religious complexes and forging lucrative trade routes for spices, cotton and horses.

By the late 16th century, the Vijayanagara empire was finally overthrown by surrounding Deccan sultans. Islamic rule administered widespread vandalism, looting and eventual abandonment of a kingdom left to ruin.

Archaeological recovery has slowly begun to unearth the site since the turn of the 20th century and continues today.

Now you can climb Mayan-style steps to stand aloft the windswept King’s Audience Hall, before burrowing underground through green soapstone passages to the elephant stables.

Decoration of imposing festival stages are once more exposed, boasting masonry of social life demonstrating camels, wrestlers, Turkish traders and huntsman brandishing bows.

A Mythical Monkey Kingdom

Hampi is known as the birthplace of Hanuman, the Hindu Monkey God and hero of the epic Ramayana poems.

Hanuman is believed to have bought rocks from all over India here to Hampi to build a bridge over to Sri Lanka, where he sought to save Sita, the kidnapped wife of the God Rama.

The so-called ‘Monkey Kingdom’ remains home to bundles of prospering monkey troops today. Galloping Langur monkeys chirp and squeal in choreographed relay between Banyan trees, over rock flats and onwards through the valley.

Pilgrims Worship at the Virupaksa Temple

Hampi attracts streams of pilgrimage tour groups, with followers from Rajasthan, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh and India afar, travelling great distances to pay homage.

Enter Virupaksa through the gopuram gateway tower, where owls take nest inside. The Gayatri mantra jingles on loop whilst devotees receive a blessing to the back of their head from the trunk of the paint daubed temple elephant.

1509 ceiling murals of the Bhagavata histories tell the life and times of Lord Krishna inside.

Find yourself childishly following the comic book-style tales of Krishna and his friends. Spot him hiding in a tree having stolen the abandoned clothes of female bathers from the riverbank!

Meanwhile Kalki, the tenth incarnation of Vishnu and the protector of good, rides gallantly on horseback, next to the multi-headed Brama ‘The Creator’, who flies by the wings of a swan.

The Matanga Hill Pilgrimage

Follow the steps of massive rock off-cuts and carved out granite footholds up Matanga Hill.

The chirp of the jungle sounds louder from above and swallows catch a zephyr to swoop close to the boulder face.

Gentle echoes of the drum-led procession below attract attention. Followers, like a multi-coloured army of ants, head towards the Durga temple for a sacrificial ceremony.

Spiralling higher and careful to keep your safe footing, hear a melodramatic movie soundtrack wailing love songs in the local Kannada tongue. You know that the temple peak is nearby.

The hilltop finally opens up the full range of the fantastic Hampi valley vista. Be greeted by a smiling priest inviting you inside the temple for a blessing before the sun sets.

Up here in the golden light, you look back towards Hospet Town over the Royal Enclave to the south. The silhouette of a retired watchtower stands on the shoulders of a tall boulder outcrop.

Survey as far as the eye allows before haze swallows the horizon.

Hampi Rediscovered

Hampi is the sacred treasure of a grand kingdom incarcerated by history and then swallowed by an extraordinary landscape.

This Ancient City captures you hostage at the gates.

India offers a different aspect of her personality for every traveler to the country. Match India’s rhythms to your heart, its colours to your mind, and discover an incredible travel experience that is truly yours alone.

More from this series

This page was paid for by Ministry of Tourism, Government of India. The editorial staff of CNBC had no role in the creation of this page.