When we reached the crest of the hill, we were greeted by our first sight of the ruins of the Achyutaraya temple, which is nestled in a secluded valley between the Matanga and Gandhamadana hills that could almost have come out of the Lost World.
The temple was consecrated in 1534 during the reign of the emperor Achyutaraya and dedicated to Lord Tiruvengalanatha, a form of Vishnu, and was one of the last major projects built in Hampi before the city was destroyed.
Even from a distance, you can see the grandiose scale of the structure, with its two large entrance towers leading to the pavilions housing the shrines and inner sanctorum. Here is a close-up of the intricately carved inner entrance tower, which still retains least a feel of its original sculpted grandeur.
After we had walked down to the temple, our guide was eager to show us the Kalayana Mandapa in the northwest of the compound. This was a marriage hall, he told us, and featured some “interesting” carvings that young men would be shown so that they would know what to do on their wedding nights – though given the reported licentiousness lifestyle that reigned in at least some quarters of the city before its destruction I suspect that such instructions were not particularly necessary.
He led us inside and proudly showed us some us some scenes of people and animals in various positions, some of them wonderfully implausible, carved into the pillars, and regaled us with tales of how in its heyday the temple had its own courtesans. No wonder the city fell so quickly when it was attacked, I decided. The people here were way too busy having a good time to worry about minor issues like national security.
Actually, there were only a small number of such carvings in the pavilion; most of the pillars featured more common scenes and animals from traditional Indian mythology.
After our tour of the Kalayana Mandapa, our guide showed us the quite beautiful statues adorning the interiors of the outer and inner entrance towers, which apparently represent the river goddess Ganga, before leading us to the inner courtyard.
Just ahead of us a was a small stone chamber which once featured a shrine to Garuda, the eagle, a rear view of which is pictured above. Behind the shrine was the main hall, which features some absolutely stunning statues and pillar carvings and leads to the dark and empty inner sanctorum.
After leaving the temple, we made our way down the broad expanse of Soolai Bazaar, otherwise known as Courtesan’s Street or more euphemistically Dancing-Girls’ Street because this was where the ladies are said to have lived during the heyday of the empire.
The street is 50 meters wide and about half a kilometer long, but precious little is left of what was reportedly one of the liveliest and most colorful quarters of the city, which according to the literature of the time also housed a thriving jewelry market.
The authorities are, however, making efforts to return at least some parts of the street to their former glory, and we saw hundreds of men and women carrying out back-breaking restoration work – using pretty much the same methods that must have been employed by the artisans who originally built up this area.
At the end of the street, we came to a large rectangular water tank, which is also under restoration. The tank has a pavilion in the middle, which was apparently used to keep images of the god and goddess during the annual boat festival held at the Achyutaraya Temple. Overlooking the tank was a small temple and pavilion.
Now we had reached the end of Soolai Bazaar and were close to Chakratirtha, the holiest bathing spot on the Tungabhadra River, and the Kodandarama Temple, which along with the Virupaksha is one of the few remaining active temples in the Hampi area.