The Royal Enclosures Hampi Trail to the Elephants stable & Lotus Mahal

posted in: Asia, Heritage, India, Karnataka | 47

With this post, I conclude my three- series of Hampi trails. The first trail took you through the splendors of Virupaksha temple while the second one had its spotlight on the magnificent Vijaya Vittala temple. In all these, I wonder if you noticed that the palaces & mansions of the noblemen were missing. Time to find those – on this third trail of Hampi attractions – one that takes you through the Royal enclosures, Lotus Mahal and more.

Among the palatial ruins of Hampi
Among the palatial ruins of Hampi

This route of the Royal Enclosures Hampi trail tells you the story of how this 14th century Vijayanagara Empire was buried under the sands of time. A lot of what is left is just foundation – the grandeur has got buried under the sands of time. However, even those few which are intact will leave you mystified. This trail is quite unlike the earlier ones and as important in your list of places to visit in Hampi. So, let’s get started!

Akka Tangi Gudda

Lakshmi Narasimha Temple in Hampi
Lakshmi Narasimha Temple in Hampi

The third trail starts from the point where I ended my Virupaksha temple trail. The Lakshmi Narasimha temple with its huge statue was something that I saw as a part of this trail. After you see that, instead of heading back to Hampi Bazaar, all you have to do is continue further on the track. You will see an unusual stone formation marked as Akka Tangi Gudda.  This means “Sisters Stones“.

While it is not a major stop, it signals the start of the third trail towards the Royal enclosures. The peculiarity of these two stones is a legend that goes back to the glory days of Hampi. As the tale goes, there were two sisters who came to Hampi and got jealous of the magnificence of the place. They uttered some bitter words and in turn, were cursed (not sure by whom). The curse turned them into stones that you see.

To me, these stones were like a gateway to a different side of Hampi – a more administrative and royal side. The first major stop of this being an unusual underground temple.

Underground Shiva Temple in Hampi

Entrance to the Underground Shiva Temple, Hampi
Entrance to the Underground Shiva Temple, Hampi

Built a few meters below the ground, this temple is quite unique from the others like the Virupaksha temple and the Vittala temple in Hampi. It does not have any of those grand structures but the uniqueness lies in the fact that the temple is generally submerged in water and one needs to wade through the same to reach the inner sanctums.

Nandi inside the Underground Siva Temple. Hampi
Nandi inside the Underground Siva Temple. Hampi

The fun lies in being able to wade through the water and navigate to see the rest of the place. The reason why this particular temple is flooded is also, not clear. There are inlets and outlets detected but what their actual purpose was – no one knows. The water here is said to be of River Tungabhadra. When the dam along the river is opened, the water level in the temple rises.

Submerged temple sanctums at Hampi
Submerged temple sanctums at Hampi

Besides the temple, the place also served as a Gurukul or a school for the Royal Princes. You can even visit the beautiful Kalyana Mantappa that served as a venue for Royal weddings and holy ceremonies. They say that the famous Vijayanagara King Krishnadevaraya made a lot of donations to this temple.

Kalyana Mantappa at the Underground Siva Temple, Hampi
Kalyana Mantappa at the Underground Siva Temple, Hampi

The place as a beautiful lawn around it and some lovely photographic points. Since it is a little away from the main road, it is not crowded as well. Opposite this Underground Shiva temple is some ruins that look as if they have just been excavated. These used to be the homes of various noblemen. Referred to as Noblemen’s quarters, these foundation stones are all that is left of what might have been some glorious mansions.

Danaik’s Enclosure

Further down the Noblemen’s Quarters is an area that the historians believe to be the administrative or military area. This was possibly where the royal mint was located. If you walk along those ruins, you will find a few platforms that were used to mount elephants.

Mohammedan Watchtower in Hampi
Mohammedan Watchtower in Hampi            Image Credits: Dr Murali Mohan Gurram via Wikimedia Commons under CC BY-SA 3.0

Danaik means a mayor or a commander. This area has remnants of granaries, a dining hall and even a ruined palace. The palace is said to belong the 3rd King – Vira Harihara. You can only see the base with a few aqueducts now. There are only three intact structures here – one is the Mohammedan Watch Tower – a guard tower. The 2nd is a mosque without a dome. In fact, there are intricate carvings that suggest that this might not have been a mosque. And the third monument is Band Tower. This one seems like another watchtower.

Hazara Rama Temple

Hazara Rama Temple
Hazara Rama Temple                                                                                    Image Credits: Arian Zwegers via Flickr under CC by 2.0

“Hazar” means 1000. And no, it is not because there are 1000 Rama idols here. This temple is called so as every panel here has a carving from the epic Ramayana. The Hazara Rama temple must have been the royal temple for it is at a junction of all paths that lead to important mansions and palaces. As per what the guide told us, this temple was used by the King for all his prayers and offerings.

Royal Enclosure of Hampi

Doors to the Royal Enclosure, Hampi
Doors to the Royal Enclosure, Hampi

Huge doors greet you when you reach the Royal Enclosures behind the Hazara Rama Temple. These doors are no longer erect but fallen. The sheer size of these is what makes them impressive. If you have a guide with you, he is bound to share the stone door hinges that are found a little ahead at the actual entrance of the Royal Enclosure.

Carving on Mahanavami Dibba, Royal Enclosure Hampi
Carving on Mahanavami Dibba,Royal Enclosure Hampi
View from the top of the Mahanavami Dibba, Hampi
View from the top of the Mahanavami Dibba, Hampi

The first thing that you are likely to see here is a huge platform. This is called the Mahanavami Dibba. This was actually a viewing platform for celebrations like Dusshera. It is a great vantage point to see the expanse of the Royal Enclosure. Though I could only see the ongoing excavations, various foundations of buildings and lone structures like the step well, I could well imagine how grand it might have been back then.

Stepwell in the Royal Enclosure

Stepwell in Hampi
Stepwell in Hampi

This was one beautiful structure. The precise cuts of the stairs and its artistic symmetry bowled me over. One can walk down to the first two levels but beyond the same, is not really allowed. The place was surrounded by a canal system with the ancient pipes. There is a small area near the canals which used to be a washing area for vessels. You can even see some ancient plates and placeholders that were found here.

Aqueducts behind the Stepwell
Aqueducts behind the Stepwell

Public Bath

Beyond the Stepwell, is a huge – and I mean humongous – swimming pool. Referred to as a Public Bath, this is not just in terms of the length but also, the depth. Our guide said that this was not just used for bathing but also, for some water games. Now that I am sure, was an interesting affair.

Underground Chamber in the Royal Enclosure

Between the King’s Pavilion and the Stepwell is the underground chamber that was used by the king for his meeting. Entry to the same is next to the Pavilion. It has narrow steps that lead to some rooms.

Queen’s Bath

Your next stop after the Royal Enclosures will need you to exit and walk to your left. It is a little away from the other ruins but the Queen’s bath is well worth your effort to get there.

Queen's bath in Hampi
Queen’s bath in Hampi

Straight from the Fairy tales and possibly an inspiration for the giant Prefect’s bathtub that finds a mention in Harry Potter, this is a little building that is open to the sky and used to serve as a bath for the King and his wives. The building has a canal around it for the water and as you enter it, lovely little jharokhas or balconies around it. You can see lots of aqueducts that serve as inlets for the water.  One can spot some drainage holes as well within the bath. It is said that the water used to be mixed with fragrance and flowers for the Royal Bath. A flight of stairs leads to the bath area.

If you are up to walking some more, you can hike a little further from the Queen’s bath to see the huge Octagonal Bath. Along the way, you can also, visit the Saraswathi temple and Chandrashekhara temple. You can even see the basements of several palaces here.

Zenana Enclosure

Once you are done with the Queen’s bath and the Royal Enclosure, you will need to head back to the Hazara Rama Temple. Take the third lane that you have not taken so far. This leads to what is termed as the Zenana Enclosure.

The Zenana enclosure used to be an area for the Royal ladies. Here you can see the ruins of the Queen’s palace and the beautiful Lotus Mahal. While all that remains of the Queen’s palace, it is the Lotus Mahal that will awe you.

Lotus Mahal of Hampi

Lotus Mahal in Hampi
Lotus Mahal in Hampi

The Lotus Mahal is one of the most important places to visit in Hampi. The lovely monument with its stunning symmetry is one of the few royal structures that has escaped destruction. It is the Lotus like resemblance that has lent its name to the structure. It is also, referred to as Kamal Mahal or Chitrangani Mahal. The palace was used for recreational evenings by the ladies of the zenana. It is said that the Queen of Krishnadevaraya loved spending time here. A part of this palace was also, used as a council for the King and his ministers.

The lovely monument is a classic fusion of Hindu and Islamic style architecture. It has remnants of the aqua-ducts that used to take water to the different parts of the Mahal and spray around so that the interiors remained cool. There is a small well behind the Mahal that stored water for the same. One can walk around the ground floor while the upper floor is out of bounds. The Mahal has some lovely inscriptions of Lotus on their walls.

Watch towers at the Zenana Enclosure, Hampi
Watchtowers at the Zenana Enclosure, Hampi

Around the enclosure, you can spot a few watch-towers. One of them has steps that can be climbed up to the first floor. It is said that the watchmen here were Eunuchs as this used to be the Ladies area.

Elephant Stables in Hampi

There is a small treasury room, which is windowless at the corner of the Zenana enclosure. One can visit the same whilst here. Right behind the Lotus Mahal are the Elephant Stables. This is the other significant part of the Hampi ruins that you must include in your list.

Elephant tables at Hampi
Elephant tables at Hampi

They are not ordinary, straight lined structures but massive one with domes on them. As evident, the royal elephants were housed here. Walking amidst them made me feel like a midget. While I explored them,  I found quite a few thoughtful inclusions within. Like the metal rungs and small human-size openings- possibly for the Mahouts to enter. Though separate, each of those chambers is interconnected.

A tip here – the entrance tickets to the Zenana enclosure also, includes entry to the Vittala temple. You might want to preserve the same.

Next to them are another set of buildings that are referred to as the Guards Quarters. These too, have escaped the ravages of time and are currently used to display the archaeological finds of this massive UNESCO Heritage Site – Hampi.

With this, I conclude my tri-part series on Hampi. Following these three trails will allow you to capture all the important places to visit in Hampi. Besides these, there is also, an offbeat Hampi trail which takes you to the other bank of Tungabhadra. If you have around 3 days, you can include that too, to your Hampi list. Like I always say, one visit might not seem enough for this ghost town. Every subsequent visit will allow you to find a new treasure here. I still am digging up some – I wonder if you have one that I am yet to explore. If so, please do let me know for I would love to visit that.

If you loved reading this one, you will enjoy my first Hampi trail through Virupaksha temple and the 2nd one along the stone chariots & musical pillars of Vittala temple. Also, check out my offbeat Hampi trail on the other side of Tungabhadra.

On how to get to Hampi and travel tips on places to stay in Hampi, please refer to this post

 

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47 Responses

  1. Ami Bhat

    Thank you Indrani – It was indeed a great trip. But I still would want to go again and discover what I may have missed 🙂

  2. Vyjay Rao

    The Lotus Mahal and the elephant stables are one of my favourite sights here. Lovely post and stunning photos.

  3. 2traveldads

    This is my new favorite Hampi post. The submerged area and corridors are so cool! I seriously cannot wait to visit!

  4. Ajaya Kumar Rout

    A beautiful Read on Hampi.Beautiful pictures too.Hampi fascinates a lot of people due to its rich architectural heritage.It’s unfortunate that I didn’t make it to Hampi even during my two years of stay in Bangalore.Now I am feeling the urge to visit Hampi again.

  5. Kevin Wagar

    Ami! Every day you’re opening my eyes to more and more spectacular places in India! The step well and submerged temple look incredible!

  6. Gearoid McSweeney

    Not sure I would want to wade through that palace, particularly if I had seen one of those spectacled cobras you referenced in an earlier article. However, I really enjoyed the photos, especially the one of the deep well. I had seen many photos of it over the years, but now I know that it is in Hampi. India remains on my long list, but in the meantime, I have added Hampi to the ‘must see’ places if I ever do manage a trip. Thanks.

    • Ami

      Ha ha. Those cobras are not here, but in the forests. 😀 Am sure you will love Hampi. Maybe you should bump India up your list 😉

  7. Mellissa Williams

    What an amazing experience – The Lotus Mahal looks particularly wonderful. What amazing architecture! I must admit I’ve never heard of Hampi before, but can see why it’s a must visit and a UNESCO world heritage site

    • Ami

      It is quite a popular destination here but away from the regular Golden triangle. Hence, it tends to get missed by the foreign tourists. Now that you know, hope you can get here.

  8. Stevo Joslin

    We love Hampi! It’s so nice to see these sights again. I didn’t know the story of the sister stones. Glad I didn’t have anything negative to say about the temples! But who could, they are all so beautiful! The elephant stables are definitely a sight to behold and something you have to see to believe. They are so big and so detailed, it boggles the mind. Now I want to visit Hampi again. Thanks for sharing!

    • Ami

      Trust me Stevo, one visit is not enough. Hope you can get here soon and enjoy it all over again.

  9. Lisa

    Wow! What an interesting story about Akka Tangi Gudda! And I just love the uniqueness of the Underground Shiva Temple, sure it was super fun to make your way through the water! Seeing the Queen’s bath as well as the Octogonal Bath would definitely be top of my list (not only because I’m a huge Harry Potter fan! ) Stunning pictures!!

    • Ami

      Oh, you will love that bath. And am sure you will picture it as the Prefect’s bathroom. Hope you can visit Hampi soon. Cheers

  10. Astrid Vinje

    There are so many unique places to explore in India. Hampi looks amazing. I would love to walk through the Underground Shiva Temple. I’ve never visited a temple with water running through it! And the stepwell looks interesting too.

    • Ami

      This was my first encounter with an underground water filled temple too. And kind of intriguing too. Hope you can come here soon to visit Hampi and see the wonders for yourself.

  11. Jim Whittemore

    Leaning more and more about Hampi each and every day!
    Can’t even begin to fathom what it would have looked like
    back in the day with the Elephants there!

  12. Mansoureh

    I have no idea about these places before reading your post. Interesting post. Floating temple sounds interesting to visit, but I am wondering if there is any way to remove the water. Water doesn’t ruin the temple structure?

    • Ami

      Apparently, it does not. The stone is quite water resistant. To think it has been this way for centuries. Thanks for stopping by

  13. TravelwithMindscript

    This is a great blog.I am pretty much impressed with your good work.You put really information.

  14. Anshul

    Hampi was the first solo travel destination I had visited. I love Hampi, even after spending 45 days in 2013, I still think that I need to see more, experience more. Lovely blog post

    • Ami

      Wow…that would have been amazing…45 days. And yes, am sure you still want to see more.

  15. Keshav Padvi

    wow, so much information in one post. it helps me to plan my hampi trip and now i know what to explore in hampi. Thank You Ami.

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