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Old 4th May 2008, 21:25   #1
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Post Hampi: Visiting the Forgotten Empire of Vijayanagara

It has been almost 4 months since we did this trip to Hampi, also known as Hampe. But I didn’t happen to write about it right away because of couple of reasons. At first, I was quite disturbed by what I saw, I wanted to have better understanding of this place and its history. Secondly, I had more than 200 photographs to process and select.

Hampi was the capital of Vijayanagara empire, the biggest empire that ruled the Deccan, or Dakshin Bharath, in other words South India. It was also the richest kingdom in the world during that time, according to contemporary European visitors from Portugal and Italy. Anybody from South India would have grown up hearing stories of Vijayanagara and its most famous king Krishna Deva Raya. Unfortunately, most of these stories are part of legends and folktales; there is very little historical documentation. Even now very little is known about this empire which was forgotten for few centuries until early 20th century.

While I was at Hampi, I bought a historical book on Vijayanagara Empire authored by a British Civil Service officer and Historian Robert Sewell, and first published in 1900. Prior to 20th century, India was hardly known for keeping detailed records of events. Most of our history is known to us from foreign travelers who visited our famous empires and courts. Compare this with Roman history, where you can still find transcripts of speeches made in Roman senate more than 2000 years ago. This book by Robert Sewell is based on the first excavations at Hampi and on the chronicles of Firishtah, Fernao Nuiz and Domingo Paes. The last two are Portuguese while the first one was in Ahmednagar court. There are lots of discrepancies between the chronicles of these folks, often they contradict each other. And they were obviously not unbiased, for example Firishtah always referred to Vijayanagara army as infidel army. The Portuguese had their own prejudices since they were trying to spread their tentacles in India. In other words, one can only glean broad historical brush strokes from these chronicles, otherwise they are full of inconsistencies and exaggeration. In fact, nobody knows the real facts, we can only make guesses.

I took about a month to read this book, not fully finished, but I got the main gist. It got really depressing after some time for it is so different from the pretty picture I had about Vijayanagara Empire. Anyway, this thread is not about Hampi history, so I will get on with the travelogue, but I will add a few historical tidbits along the way.

Originally we were supposed to visit Hampi during Christmas, but the closest Hotel booking we got was in Bellary. Once we learnt about the state of roads between Bellary and Hampi, we quickly changed plans and went to Chikmaglur instead. At the same time we booked a room for 3 days for January in Hotel Malligi, Hospet.

Day 1
We were four including two kids (aged 7 & 1) and we started from home at around 9AM, towards Agumbe ghats. We crossed Agumbe, Tirthahalli, and Shimoga in about 3 hours and started looking out for restaurants for lunch. Between Shimoga and Harihara, we rarely saw a family restaurant. We passed by Savalanga, Nyamati, Honnali and by the time we reached Harihara, our appetite was so dead, we decided to continue all the way and have early dinner at the hotel. The baby was fed with idlies we carried from home, so he was fine, and the older one was content with snacks. The highways we took are rarely taken by holiday crowd, unlike every road that leads out of Bangalore. So there were hardly any hotels or restaurants in these roads other than those catering to truck drivers.

The road between Shimoga and Hospet is nothing great, we encountered cleans roads, under construction roads, bad roads, really bad roads, etc. But the Grand Vitara showed its class and we felt none of the discomforts. This is why we primarily bought a SUV, to handle bad roads on long travels, that part worked beautifully. Very often we came across farmers who were using the state highway as their thrashing machine. They place grain stalkings on the road and expect vehicles to run over them thereby separating the grain from the stalk. While this exercise is harmless to buses and truck, smaller GC vehicles like cars and even SUVs can get hurt by this. I have seen cars disabled by the stalk bunches that got between the tyres and wheel arches. But police and other authorities turn complete blind eye towards this crazy practice, so these farmers think they have the right to do it. They get angry if you avoid the hay and run over from the side. But I do it anyway. At Ittigi, it really got silly. The state highway was blocked and they had shown a diversion. I figured there must be some road repair or festival in the town. After some apprehension, I took the shady diversion that went in front of lots of small houses around the town. And every house had their grain stalk out on the road. By the time I reached the highway back again, I wanted to go back and charge fees for thrashing their grain stalk. What a ridiculous practice at the cost of hapless car owners.

As we were about 15 Kms away from Hospet, we reached a junction where the traffic from Bangalore/Chitradurga joins up. The traffic really went up after this point. As we continued further, we hit a traffic snag. We found ourselves behind a long line of trucks. Since this road was a narrow two-lane road, there was not much chance of overtaking the stopped trucks. I am usually a very law abiding driver, so I switched off the engine and waited. After about 10-15 minutes of this, we started wondering, the line hadn’t moved at all. Then, all of a sudden, I noticed this state government bus coming behind me, and it overtook me and sped away on the wrong side at full speed. A little later one more bus did the same thing, and this time I followed the bus. Soon I realized that the truck line was never-ending, it was almost 5-6Kms long. All the way I was driving at 60Kms on the wrong side on a two-lane road. During this one of the trucks decides to join up, but in front of me, I don’t know how he managed not to see me, I guess he just decided to ignore my presence. Thank god for ABS, I was able to brake and maneuver around him. At the end of this crazy drive, I arrived next to the mighty Tungabhadra reservoir, the water body was so huge, I couldn’t see the other end, and it was not unlike seeing an ocean horizon. But I couldn’t get out to take photographs, the traffic around me was so chaotic, it was a dog-eat-dog traffic, and no roads could be seen. Everything around me was literally painted in dull red, basically manganese dirt. Even the roads were fully covered with manganese dirt, couldn’t make out where it started and where it ended. It was a war zone.

Earlier, we had called the Hotel for direction. They had told us to call back once we were next to the Tungabhadra dam. As we called back, we got this direction “Ask anybody around, and they will tell you which way to go”. I asked them “Why can’t you tell me?” The answer “Ho, ha, ha, we are well known here, any boy in the street will tell you which way to go.” With that, we started asking around after few hundred meters, and after 20 minutes we finally landed up in the hotel, which was rather hidden away from the main road. As we checked in they found that our original booking was given away, so they freely upgraded us to a suite instead. So we had two rooms and two TVs which came very handy with two kids. The rooms were OK, not very clean, but very good going by local standards I hear. The food too was average, their continental preparations were much better than their Indian preparations. Lots of foreign tourists were present, apparently they are big into Hampi. Hospet town was unimpressive, it looked dull, and dusty, I think the mining activity has really taken the toll on this place. Sorry if I offended any Hospet native, I am just giving my frank opinion as a first time visitor.

Day 2
We woke up late, tired from the journey, and tired from sleeplessness thanks to the little one waking up few times at night. By the time we all got ready, and the little one takes the maximum time, it was nearly 10:30AM. On the way to Hampi we got stuck at a railway crossing for nearly 20 minutes, I really wonder why one has to block the crossing for 20 minutes. As we started getting away from Hospet, the scenery started improving, in fact we could spy some ancient buildings or sculptures dating back to the empire.
We soon found the Hampi entrance with a big arch and turned left from the highway. Lots of sugarcane plantations around here, we had to travel through couple of them before reaching Hampi bus stand. We obviously wanted to hire an official guide here, but it was already 11:30PM. As we came to a halt, some people rushed towards us offering various items, etc. But one of them calmly showed his government issued ID card and offered to be our guide. When I enquired about the price, he opened a government issued rate card and showed it. Within 10 seconds of interaction, he had impressed me with his calm professional demeanor. No hype, no desperation, no charm, just facts. So we hired him for half a day at the official rate, and he got into the front passenger seat. At first he enquired whether we wanted to see anything in particular, and then proceeded to plan the day, the order of places to visit, etc. This guy turned out to be the best thing that happened to us in Hampi, he quickly understood our tourist requirement and adjusted accordingly.

We started off at the Sasivekalu (Musturd Seed) Ganesha. As they say it is auspicious to start with Ganesha, I guess that is the reason. (Sasivekalu Ganesha | Hampi)

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This idol has a female body on the rear, apparently it is Parvathi, Ganesha’s mother holding him.

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This is the famous Ugra (Angry) Narasimha or Lakshmi Narasimha. There used be a statue of Lakshmi sitting on Narasimha’s lap, but she was destroyed. So now he is Ugra Narasimha, understandably. (Lakshmi Narasimha Temple | Hampi)

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Next was Badavilinga Temple, the biggest Shiv Linga I have seen. (Badavilinga Temple | Hampi)

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Most of these were temples at one time. But there is no worship happening here anymore, so one can walk in wearing shoes. This is because idols that are imperfect or damaged, cannot be worshipped.

Going forward, you will see lots of damaged idols, temples and palaces razed to ground, etc. If you are not aware of the history of Hampi, this is the time to caution you. The Vijayanagara Empire that was founded in 1336 A.D. was totally decimated in 1565 A.D., and the victors spent 6 months in the capital city looting what they can and destroying what they can’t. Every palace, temple and idol was damaged or destroyed. Never in the history of the world was the richest city of its time so thoroughly destroyed that it could never rise again.

Zenana Enclosure or Royal ladies parlour or Harem area. The building is completely razed to the ground, only the stone foundation exists now. (Zenana Enclosure ( the Harem ))

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This area includes a Lotus Mahal or Air-conditioned hall. The ground is cold to a touch even under harsh sunny weather. The pillars of this hall are hallow, and A/C mechanism worked by continuously pouring water through these hallow pillars from above. The water mechanism has been stopped since it damages the building. (Lotus Mahal | Hampi)

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My kids are taking a break at the cool Lotus Mahal.

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The Zenana enclose was heavily guards by eunuchs or female warriors placed in high towers. (Watch Towers | Hampi)

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Right behind the Zenana Enclosure, you can find the Elephant stables.

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The individual stables are huge, they must have had magnificently big beasts. Notice the small door connecting adjacent stables.

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These were the horse stables next to the Zenana enclosure. Not much left from then.

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Right outside the Zenana enclosure, we can see the completely destroyed Pan Supari Bazaar.

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How did they build such a great empire out of nowhere? I had always wondered that because I had never heard of conquests by Vijayanagara Kings towards the south. That is because it never happened, this empire was not built by conquest, but by co-operation.

In 1309 A.D Malik-kafur become the first foreigner to attack south India and he sacked the capital of Hoysala Dynasty that ruled Karnataka. Few years later, Warangal in current Andra Pradesh met the same fate. Decades later as Muhammad bin Tughluk took charge, the entire Deccan was open for him with hardly any opposition. All the small to tiny kings of the south were shaking in their royal boots.

It was at this time, a pair of brothers belonging to the tiny kingdom of Anegundi (Elephant Hole) decided to create a new empire across the Tungabhadra river and called it Vijayanagara. The brothers were Harihara and Bukka. This evoked an instant response and within a decade or so, every kingdom in the south submitted their allegiance to the fresh and upcoming Vijayanagara Empire in return of protection from the marauding northern horde. As regular tribute, every kingdom in the south sent treasure, food grains and fighting manpower to Vijayanagara. As a result of this Vijayanagara Empire become the richest empire in the world and remained so for nearly 230 years.

But they paid a bloody price for this. By playing the mighty wall protecting the entire south, many millions of soldiers and civilians were butchered around Hampi over two centuries. In some cases, five lakh people (mostly civilians) were killed in a single battle, leaving entire provinces depopulated for decades. In the history of entire India, Hampi has seen entirely too much blood, probably second only to Delhi.

Hazara Rama Temple, outside of Zenana Enclosure. (Hazara Rama Temple | Hampi)

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You see sculptures of female warriors who protected the royal families.

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The story of Shravan Kumar from Ramayan depicted on a single slab of stone.

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A magnificent sculpted pillar.

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A cracked beam supported by modern stone pillar.

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By this time I knew one thing about Vijayanagara empire. Civil engineering wasn’t their strong suite, they built everything in stone, even roofs and walls. The self weight of the material is very high and it is so hard to shape.

Checkout the stones in the neighbourhood.
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I agree it was the easiest building material they had available, but it must have been incredibly hard on their labour force to shape and carry stones in such a hot weather.

To be continued…
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Old 4th May 2008, 21:47   #2
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Nice writeup Samurai.
I intend to visit this place sometime.
By the way, isn't Badami also nearby? How come you didnt go there?
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Old 4th May 2008, 21:54   #3
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Samurai,

WOW !! That is an awesome post. Brilliant pictures and narration.
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Old 4th May 2008, 22:01   #4
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You should be very brave to visit hampi , this time around . Wasn't it hot ? .Good side would have been no tourists around - Better Pics .
Nice pictures there .

Last edited by black12rr : 4th May 2008 at 22:02.
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Old 4th May 2008, 22:39   #5
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Fantastic photos Samurai. And great narration too.

Hampi is one of the best places in Karnatka for a tourist but one should have a knowledge of History to appreciate the monumental effort it took to build such a fantastic city in a short frame of time - Two centuries and two decades. The ruins are the indicators of what a great city it was once upon a time. IMO, one will appreciate more if the entire area is covered leisurely then an express visit.

-Harshavardhan
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Old 4th May 2008, 23:01   #6
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Nice. I'd lasted visited Hampi some decade ago. Good to see most of the structures still standing.
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Old 4th May 2008, 23:02   #7
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After all the 'hype' surrounding Hampi, these photos are a let down. I'm disappointed. No wonder this so-called empire didn't last very long. What is so wonderful about these structures that cannot be seen anywhere else in South India, or their equivalent in North India too?. My observations, sincerely.
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Old 4th May 2008, 23:11   #8
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Good writeup Samurai. Its interesting and sad to see the anecdotes about our history. Its very sad that we have LOST lot of our capabilities...

1. What happened to Aryabhatta, our Solar knowledge, Textile weaving techniques etc.

2. Rajendra Chola invaded Malaysia, Thailand etc.. Where did our naval capabilities disappear afterwards.


3. And many more..

I guess, lot of it was lost due to infighting and treachery. I hope we teach about these failures to our younger generations too!
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Old 4th May 2008, 23:18   #9
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Samurai

i was also so depressed reading that book, i stopped it half the way. Farishtay existred some 150 years after Hampi was destroyed. Robert Swell's book was mostly based on the chronicles of two porchugese travellers( these are available is actual form) and Swell correlated them with farishtay's version.

Sri Krishna Deva Raya actually ruled for just 20 years between 1509-1529. more than half the time he spent on wars. he went upto modern cuttack to defeat Gajapati's of orissa along the present day andhra coast. he has donated handsomely to Tirumala temple and also Simhachalam temple in Vizag (very big emerald necklace was donated by him to this temple later in 1980 it was looted by thiefs by killing temple gaurds)

One can see the bronze statues of krishnadeva raya with wifes and also his brother Achutaraya at tirumala temple just after the main entrance

The Tenali Rama ( Actually Ramakrishna) existed in his court.

the entire book of robert swell is available freely on the net.
A Forgotten Empire: Vijayanagar By Robert Swell-Book 1 Chapter 3

For Bigger Shiva Linga visit Tanjore Brihadeswara temple alsocalled Big temple and also Gangaikonda cholapuram in Tamilnadu
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Old 4th May 2008, 23:22   #10
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Quote:
Originally Posted by nickatnite View Post
After all the 'hype' surrounding Hampi, these photos are a let down. I'm disappointed. No wonder this so-called empire didn't last very long. What is so wonderful about these structures that cannot be seen anywhere else in South India, or their equivalent in North India too?. My observations, sincerely.
It was bigger than Rome at that time. it was spread over an area of 26 Sq Km
he has not yet put the pictures of the temple's ruins and also the water circulation/ pipes system

Visit the Vittala temple and see the musical pillers

One can see most of the structures from Google earth
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Old 4th May 2008, 23:37   #11
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Quote:
Originally Posted by rkg View Post
It was bigger than Rome at that time. it was spread over an area of 26 Sq Km
he has not yet put the pictures of the temple's ruins and also the water circulation/ pipes system

Visit the Vittala temple and see the musical pillers

One can see most of the structures from Google earth
Well. Rome is still a functioning city. This place is not. And, the architecture is not unique. Nothing that one can't find anywhere else in South India. Where does the myth end and reality begin?.
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Old 4th May 2008, 23:43   #12
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Hampe is considered the ultimate city of ruins, and most of the ruins are yet to be identified or even excavated. There are lots of underground buildings whose signs are visible, but no work has been taken up. The digging has to be done by highly trained archaeology teams, illiterate construction workers won’t do. Funding has been a major problem I hear.

Here is a site, nobody knows what it used to be…

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At this point we decided to take the lunch break. We asked the guide to lead us to a decent restaurant. He took us to Hotel Mayura Bhuvaneswari, a hotel run by the state tourism agency ( KSTDC). The only three star rated hotel in Hampi. But take these stars with a pinch of salt. While waiting for food, my son and I tried to find a toilet. We found it alright, but under repair. In other words, this so called 3 star hotel didn’t have a working toilet for the customers. Instead we were pointed to the next building, a hostel of some sort. It had some pathetically maintained toilets, we got in and out very fast from that place. What is it with toilets at tourist places in India, one almost has to rent a room to avail a good toilet. It is like they are almost ashamed to provide toilets in public places.

After lunch we took off to another part of Hampi, the see the river side ruins.
The grand way to the Vittala Temple, notice the bazaars on both sides. This is where the traders from all over the world used to come and stay. A kind of free hotel for traders I suppose.

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The King’s Balance. The king used to weigh himself with gold and other gems for donating to priests. (King?s Balance | Hampi)

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You can also see the two storied gateway beyond the King’s Balance. There is a trekking path that goes all the way to Kodanda Rama temple. (Two Storied Gateway | Hampi)

The Purandaradasa mantapa, the platform on the extreme right side. The founder of Carnatic music and one of its most important composers was a contemporary of the great Krishna Deva Raya, and he composed and sang most of his 75,000 compositions here. (Purandaradasa Mantapa | Hampi)

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The ancient stone bridge over Tungabhadra river. (Ancient Bridge | Hampi)

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This bridge connected Hampi to Anegundi.

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The Matunga Hill, this hill is visible from everywhere in Hampi, almost acts like a lighthouse. This hill has been mentioned in Ramayan, this is where Hanuman was born and where Sugreev was in exile. Vaali couldn’t enter this place due to a curse from Rishi Matunga. Anybody remembers the story? (Matanga Hill | Hampi)

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Between the river and Vittala temple, one finds this curious building. Guess what, it was the Mall, the shopping center.

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Rayagopura. This is another curious building around the same place, an unfinished tribute to Bukka, it was never completed in the first place. (Rayagopura| Hampi)

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Then we entered the Vittala temple complex which houses many buildings. (Vittala Temple | Hampi)

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Notice the portuguese rider on the left-most horse.
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The famous music pillars, each of these pillars sound like a different musical instrument. Now public are not allowed to experience it firsthand. Only VIPs get that privilege now. This is because the pillars started to deteriorate under constant trashing from the tourists. No pillar is similar to the other.

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The famous stone chariot with moving stone wheels.

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Most of the Vittala temple buildings under the evening sun. Parting shot for the day.

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After this we decided to call it a day. We paid the guide for half the day and booked him for the full next day.

Some of you may be thinking, it must have been cool to run a large empire with allegiance of the entire south India. But let me tell you, it was no picnic. Being part of the royal family was a hazardous occupation. Throughout the history of Vijayanagara, whenever a king came to power, the first thing he did was eliminate competition. That means either killing or blinding brothers, cousins and uncles who may be next in line for the throne. They mostly preferred blinding, the compassionate kings used to send their competition to far away provinces or just put them in prison.

In fact, Krishna Deva Raya was destined to be blinded. But the prime minister Timmarasu had realised that Krishna would make a great future king, so he presented goat’s eyes to the previous King to assure him that Krishna has been blinded. Soon that king died and Krishna came to power, becoming the greatest of Vijayanagara kings. Once Krishna came to power he sent all his opponents to prison or to distant province.

However, it is ironic that two decades later Krishna at death bed ordered Timmarasu and his sons blinded because he was told that they may be plotting against him. Then he makes his formerly imprisoned brother Achyuta raya King, who was basically incompetent and thus began the decline of Vijayanagara.

To be Continued.
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Old 4th May 2008, 23:53   #13
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Very well written travelogue Samurai. And great photos too.
Which hotel did you stay at? At Malligi or at KTDC or at some other hotel?

Hospet has been ruined by the iron ore mining. During monsoon every water body turns into red. Also that time the TB dam will be full and literally you cannot see the other end of the reservoir. You actually see waves lashing out at the road that leads to the dam sluice gates. They also open all the shutters on Aug 15 - but a huge crowd gathers there on that day.

I have been to Hampi several times while I was at Hospet and enjoyed the trips every time I went - especially in the cooler months.

I am planning to take my family there now some day.

Last edited by pjbiju : 5th May 2008 at 00:02.
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Old 5th May 2008, 00:05   #14
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That was a well written travellogue backed up by some good pics. Good work Samurai and thanks for sharing !
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Old 5th May 2008, 00:06   #15
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Quote:
Originally Posted by amitoj View Post
By the way, isn't Badami also nearby? How come you didnt go there?
Badami/Aihole is at least half a day of drive away, we were on tight schedule.

Quote:
Originally Posted by normally_crazy View Post
WOW !! That is an awesome post. Brilliant pictures and narration.
Thanks, hopefully I can finish it same way.

Quote:
Originally Posted by black12rr View Post
You should be very brave to visit hampi , this time around . Wasn't it hot ?
I am not that brave, check the first line of the travelogue.

Quote:
Originally Posted by harshavardhan View Post
Hampi is one of the best places in Karnatka for a tourist but one should have a knowledge of History to appreciate the monumental effort it took to build such a fantastic city in a short frame of time - Two centuries and two decades.
Exactly, that is why I couldn't bring myself to write the report until understood the history better.

Quote:
Originally Posted by nickatnite View Post
After all the 'hype' surrounding Hampi, these photos are a let down. I'm disappointed.
Well, I apologize for my photographs, I am no professional. Under the harsh sun I couldn't do any better.

Quote:
Originally Posted by nickatnite View Post
No wonder this so-called empire didn't last very long. What is so wonderful about these structures that cannot be seen anywhere else in South India, or their equivalent in North India too?. My observations, sincerely.
That is a very careless comment. This empire singlehandly protected the south for more than 200 years like a firewall, while shedding enormous amount of blood. This empire hardly saw any peaceful period during the whole time.

Quote:
Originally Posted by nickatnite View Post
Well. Rome is still a functioning city. This place is not.
Did anybody spend 6 months systemtically destroying rome? If you are genuinely interested in understanding Vijayanagara empire, read Robert Sewell's book at the link provided by rkg.
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