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Hampi - An Intoxicating Blend
One of the many watch towers arises from a carpet of green. These watch towers were primarily used as military observatories or the posts of guards at special areas. Following the contour of the rocks a little higher we can see a number of four-pillared tiny rock pavilions in isolation. These were used as military lookouts.

Hampi – Mystical, Magical and Enchanting. Ruled by the ruins. The walls that watched over one of the most glorious empires in the past, now stand silent, watching generations and generations of mankind, birds and animals go by. It indeed made us wonder; if the ruins could be so enchanting, how did the city look when she was in the prime of her youth and beauty?

 

A dancing goddess at every door extends the most gracious welcome. Her delicate frame and graceful posture were mesmerizing.

We decided to drive down from Bangalore, a distance of approximately 370 kms, almost a 8 hour journey. October is not really a good time to visit Hampi but we were blessed with unseasonal rains and the weather was pleasant and comfortable as the grey clouds shielded us from the harsh October heat. Rain soaked sunflower fields and glistening petals studded with rain drops gave us company along the way. The air was filled with the typical aroma of rain. We lowered the windows and drove on with rain lashing on our faces.

The sprinkling of raindrops on the sunshine's yellow bade us goodbye.

This weather also gave us an opportunity to gaze a little longer trying to decipher what stories the overwhelming beauty of the ruins had to tell us. This was, perhaps, the only way we could spend more time with this beautiful city even during a sunny afternoon.

Our day with the ruins took us to places like the Virupaksha Temple, Vijaya Vittala Temple, Mahanavami Dibba, Narasimha Temple, Zenana Enclosure, the Mathanga Hill, the Lotus Mahal and the Elephant stable.

Elephants, immensely significant and icons of strength, stand guard at most of the important entrances. The precision that went into the making of these sculptures is breath-taking. The broken sculpture in the front syncs incredibly well with the sculpture at the back. Together, they complete each other.

Each of these places is an architectural marvel, perfectly designed and detailed to such an extent that everything that possibly could have been thought of had been thought of. If the craftsmen who built this city lived now, they would probably have the answers to every single issue in our metros.  

Intricate carvings beckoned to us. This deity appeared to be deep in meditation with a face so immensely calm, he could only make you feel at peace. Ironically this centre statue was the only one with a head. Eight more statues, four on either side have been vandalised and have no heads.

There are guides who can narrate hordes of stories about each place. Of course, the authenticity of their stories are highly debatable. The other option is to buy a guide map and visit these places and that's what we did. Stray away from the beaten path and Hampi is full of sculptures and surprises.  Each stone does have a story to tell, if only we could understand them.

Sitting on the some of those rocks near a monument and drinking in the overwhelming intricacy of the craftsmanship gave an idea of what job satisfaction actually meant. The craftsmen's love for their work poured out of every detail in these sculptures.

It is therefore not surprising that the walls that protected the empires centuries ago continue to protect other inmates who now call these walls their home.  As we looked at the ruins, the rich flora and fauna that thrive amidst them caught our attention. The endemic Yellow-throated Bulbuls are a treat to the eyes in the Mathanga Hills. 

Yellow-throated Bulbuls have their domain in the Mathanga hills. An early morning trek to the top can bless us with the view of the most incredible sunrise. The rising rays catch the flitting wings of these Yellow-throated Bulbuls as the day begins.

Langoors, Painted Spurfowls, Sirkeer Malkohas, Hoopoes and not to forget the innumerable number of Plum-headed Parakeets are all a part of this exotic place. The best part was that these birds were highly vocal. 

Painted Sandgrouse (Male) - The most notorious in camouflage are the Painted Sandgrouse. It takes a trained eye to spot them. Otherwise they remain blissfully hidden right under our nose. The male and female usually sit together with utter confidence in their ability to remain invisible to untrained eyes.

The Plum-headed Parakeets specially seemed to have a built in speaker. Probably, songs of joy are a part of their daily lives.

Plum-headed Parakeet - The walls of the ruins provide the safest nesting place for Plum-headed Parakeets. They are everywhere and are immensely distracting while trying to decide whether to look at the beauty of the ruins or the parakeets.

That would be just what we saw on our unintended birding. On a full day birding session, a drive along the canal to see some more of the Hampi specialities was immensely rewarding. The art of birding lay more in the art of spotting as these inmates chose to camouflage themselves expertly in the terrain. It was challenging, fun and extremely thrilling as most of the times it was only after they took off from under our feet and the breeze from the sudden flutter of their wings swept across our face, did we realise how close to us these intelligent birds we were.

Cormorants, few kinds of waders, Munias, Larks, Francolins, Lapwings (both Red and Yellow Wattled), an incredible number of Parakeets, Peafowls  and  Kingfishers share space along the canal in a state of blissful co-existence.

However the Painted Sandgrouse and  Eagle-Owls rule the roost. They drove us crazy with their camouflage skills. Once we spotted them, it was a different story altogether. We wondered if the rocks have suddenly developed eyes and are scanning us when we realised that an Eagle owl had spotted us long before we spotted it.

Eurasian Eagle-Owl - An expert in camouflage is the Eurasian Eagle-Owl. It is a wonder as to how such a huge bird can so easily merge into the surroundings. It feels as if the the rocks are glowering at us with brilliant orange eyes. That would probably be the only give away to spot this magnificent bird.

Another hot spot some 30 odd kilometres from Hampi is the Daroji Bear Sanctuary. A must visit place, not just for a glimpse of the magnificent Sloth Bears, but also to understand what kind of effort goes into the conservation of these beautiful animals. Right from educating locals about their importance to discarding myths and protecting them from poachers is no mean task. Yet all this has been achieved with a huge success by the local conservationists. The silent mines en-route to Daroji which are being revisited by birds is the testimony to this achievement.

Never having had the opportunity to witness a spectacle of seeing Sloth Bears at such a close range before, it was an experience to remember as one by one they ambled to a spot in the sanctuary . Mothers with young ones, alone or with siblings, excitement was in the air. All the hard work that has gone in setting up this sanctuary could be witnessed in one evening.

Sloth Bears - A couple of young Sloth Bears pose for us at Daroji just before they left to forage.

Hampi is an intoxicating blend of architecture, nature and wildlife. All fitting in so beautifully with one another that you cannot decide where one ends and another begins.

Next time you are there feel the rocks with your hands. Feel the vibes, trust me… they do speak to you... all you have to do is listen.

Tharangini Bala

Tharangini Bala is a designer by profession and a photographer by passion. She loves to travel and is fascinated by nature and all its creations, small and big.



Sugandhi
Very nice article and images emoticon
Posted on 11/2/13 4:57 PM.
Aishwarya
Lovely Tharangini
Posted on 11/6/13 10:08 PM.
Badri
Crisp but comprehensive coverage, Tharangini. I went there once with my five-year old son and just did the bear sighting. Always wanted to go back for the ruins, Mathangi hill and the canal drive - the 'Ecological Destination' book and now this piece make this desire keener.
Posted on 12/31/13 10:57 AM.
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