A city of well-preserved temples, palaces, elephant stables and elevated viewing points; the remains of a wealthy 14th-16th century empire scattered over 350 square kilometers of sparsely populated countryside; the vibrant Virupaksha temple, still being used and worshipped in by thousands every year. All this lies on the banks of the Tungabhadra river that flows, deceptively serene, nearby. Swimming in the still flowing waters is strongly discouraged by large signs that warn of treacherous whirlpools and undertows caused by the rocks in the water. The signs forget to mention a further disincentive, the occasional crocodile that floats sluggishly by.
Domingo Paes was a Portuguese traveller who visited the Vijayanagara Empire around the year 1520.
About the ports under the rule of Vijayanagara, Paes writes: “The said kingdom has many places on the coast of India; they are seaports with which we are at peace, and in some of them we have factories, namely, Amcola, Mirgeo, Honor, Batecalla, Mamgalor, Bracalor, and Bacanor.
Writing about the irrigation, “The land has plenty of rice and Indian-corn, grains, beans, and other kind of crops which are not sown in our parts; also an infinity of cotton. Of the grains there is a great quantity, because, besides being used as food for men, it is also used for horses, since there is no other kind of barley; and this country has also much wheat, and that good. This country wants water because it is very great and has few streams; they make lakes in which water collects when it rains, and thereby they maintain themselves.”
About the marketplace, he writes “Going forward, you have a broad and beautiful street, full of rows of fine houses and streets of the sort I have described, and it is to be understood that the houses belong to men rich enough to afford such. In this street live many merchants, and there you will find all sorts of rubies, and diamonds, and emeralds, and pearls, and seed-pearls, and cloths, and every other sort of thing there is on earth and that you may wish to buy. Then you have there every evening a fair where they sell many common horses and nags, and also many citrons, and limes, and oranges, and grapes, and every other kind of garden stuff, and wood; you have all in this street.”
About the city “The size of this city I do not write here, because it cannot all be seen from any one spot, but I climbed a hill whence I could see a great part of it; I could not see it all because it lies between several ranges of hills. What I saw from thence seemed to me as large as Rome, and very beautiful to the sight; there are many groves of trees within it, in the gardens of the houses, and many conduits of water which flow into the midst of it, and in places there are lakes; and the king has close to his palace a palm-grove and other rich-bearing fruit-trees.”
“This is the best provided city in the world, and is stocked with provisions such as rice, wheat, grains, Indian-corn, and a certain amount of barley and beans, MOONG, pulses, horse-gram, and many other seeds which grow in this country which are the food of the people, and there is large store of these and very cheap; but wheat is not so common as the other grains, since no one eats it except the Moors.”
Hampi’s ruins are today a UNESCO World Heritage site and well worth a visit. It might be best to reserve 2 or 3 days for the visit, because of the extent of the site, the magic of the rocky landscape, and the many beautiful views along the river. There is also a sloth bear sanctuary nearby.Coracles and small boats are available for tourists who wish to cross the river to see the ruins on the far side.