Route 3 – Hampi’s inner circle of royalty
Let me start Series 3 by telling you a truth I lived – nothing prepares you for the magnificence of Hampi. Even though I read up on experiences of others and saw picture of Hampi monuments, the actual Hampi visit left me mesmerized. I am a sucker for all places historical but Hampi left me asking for more.
If the Sacred Center and Riverside ruins were breathtaking, the royal center is absolutely mesmerizing. We started the Royal Center with a royal bath 😉
1) The Queen’s bath
The name certainly piqued my daughter’s interest. Anything related to queens and princesses – bring it on ! As we enter the building, we come upon a big open pool in the middle with verandah all around it and balconies projecting towards the pool.
The balconies are decorated with tiny windows. While the brick lined pool is empty today, in its hey-day, perfumed water with flowers filled this pool. It is not at all difficult to imagine, inspite of the ruined structure, the laughter of the queen and her friends on a hot summer day enjoying the perfumed cool water.
The dome roof of the verandah are equally intriguing. Each dome is unique in its design !
A big water canal encircle the Queen’s Bath from outside. Our guard informed us that it housed venomous snakes who were unleashed on any intruder who dare walked upon the bathing royalty.
2) Zenena Enclosure
Further down the road from Queen’s bath is the Zenana Enclosure. As the name suggests, this was a secluded area for the royal women. It is a sprawling compound. Our guide informed us that this sprawling compound housed palaces of the 2 queens – the King’s first wife and his favorite. The Queen’s palace, where only the basement is visible now, was the first queen’s residence. This is apparently the largest palace base excavated in Hampi.
The palace of the favorite queen is pretty non existent now. When the two royal ladies had to meet, they would choose a neutral venue – the Hawa Mahal or Lotus Mahal !
3) Lotus Mahal
Hawa Mahal or Lotus Mahal is the most prominent building in this enclosure. It is also probably the most photographed and preserved.
The archways and the balcony along with the central dome resemble a half opened lotus bud, hence the name.
It was kept cool using aqua ducts. A well behind this building is said to be the source of the cooling water. The entire area is now made into a sort of open garden with sprawling green lawns and you can see visitors catching a few winks under the shade of trees.
You can spot three watchtowers in the area. It is said that the eunuch soldiers stood guard to the royal ladies in the enclosure.
The path to the other locations like the Elephant Stable, Guard’s Quarters and a few other temples’ runs through the center of this area.
4) Elephant Stables
Elephant Stable is another major tourist attraction in Hampi. The first glimpse is quite breathtaking. Huge expanse of green grass and then this long row of 11 domed chambers to ‘park’ the royal elephants !
Metal hooks, to tie the elephants, can be seen in the center of the inside roof. At the rear of each hall are small openings for the mahouts.
5) Guards Quarters
Located right next to the Elephant Stable, these were probably a ceremonial building. Both the elephant stables and the Guard’s Quarters share a common courtyard. Currently, this is used to store the stone sculptures from the ruins.
6) Hazara Rama Temple
This 15th century temple was undoubtedly of royal patronage, given its location at the heart of the the royal center. The first thing that strikes you, on seeing this temple, is the outer walls decorated with relics of Rama, Krishna and portrays Dushera festival procession of horses, elephants, attendants, soldiers and dancing women.
Another characteristic feature is the long row of carvings of Hindu mythology, Ramayana along the walls. These carvings are the reason for this temple gets its name Hazara Rama (a thousand Rama).
It is worth noticing that while the walls and exterior of this temple is quite ornate with relics and Ramayana stories, the inside is quite stark except for the 4 beautifully carved columns at the temple’s main entrance.
In front of the temple, you can see the Pan Supari (Beatle nut) Bazaar.
7) Underground Siva Temple
This temple dedicated to Lord Siva is built many meters below the ground level, hence the name. I had read that to reach the sanctum and the core parts of the temple, one had to wade through water. For this reason too, I was looking forward to visiting this.
For starters, it was as dry as a bone. So that out of the equation, it was a pleasant enough visit – especially as it is believed to be one of the oldest temples in Hampi ! The architecture is believed to be of 14th century. Its uniqueness lay in the fact that it was below ground level and hence cool. A series of wide large steps lead you to the sanctum and the inner parts of the temple.
The main hall in front of the shrine is huge with massive pillars supporting the roof.
You can see the lamppost actually protrudes through the roof, which lends to a belief that it was not completed. There is a beautiful lawn built around the temple. The crowd was considerable less as it is a little off the beaten track.
8) Royal Enclosure
This was the seat of power of the fallen empire. Its first glimpse reminded me strongly of the World Heritage site of Nalanda ruins in Bihar
Before we enter, we are treated to a view of the huge stone doors to the Royal Enclosure. Apparently the elephants were employed to operate these.
The most imposing and intact structure in this area is the platform from where the king would watch any display or festivities. It is also known as the ‘Dushera Platform’, Dushera being a major festival and accompanied by a procession.
The view from atop the platform gives you an idea of the grandness and expanse of the Royal Enclosure.
You can see the stepped tank and the overhead water canals around it. The symmetry of the step well is quite fascinating and a lady guard was given the difficult task of watching no one get close to the steps. Probably as a safety measure against over zealous tourists and photographers tumbling into it !
Adjacent to this is another tank used as a bathing area.
The kids loved the huge swimming pool style tank, replete with a toddler pool. I could well imagine the mixed sounds of adults and kids enjoying the cool water in the hot Hampi sun.
Further down, we spotted the underground chamber and entrance to the same. The king had access to 6 such underground passage and it was a well managed secret which one he would use at any point !
9) Sister’s stone (Akka Tangi Gudda)
These are two gigantic boulders leaning against each other. You will find them on the left side of the main road when you go from the Underground Shiva Temple towards Hampi village square. The folklore goes thus. These two sisters were visiting Hampi and they made fun of the place. A curse turned them to boulders – the very object of their ridicule !
Link to other Hampi article in the series (in case you missed these)
Route 1 – Exploring Sacred Center
Route 2 – Exploring the riverside at Hampi
Things you may want to know before the travel (Travel tips)
- Getting here and other tips from my first blog
- Zenana Enclosure is one of the few places in Hampi where entry ticket is needed. The same ticket is valid (for the same day) for entry at the Vittala Temple and the nearby Elephant Stables. Keep the ticket safe
- For Indian citizens the entry fee is Rs 10. Children under the age of 15 are admitted free. For other nationals, admission fee is Rs 250 (USD5). Photography is not charged
- All the other monuments in this route have free entry and photography
- In front of the Queen’s bath is a parking slot and a paid public toilet facilities, the only one in this area !
- Underground Siva temple closes in the evening by 5:00 pm
- Royal enclosure is a wide-open ground with no shelters and requires a good walk as bicycles etc have to be parked outside. Try to visit in the evenings or early mornings
- Wear sensible walking shoes and be generous with that sunscreen