India’s Amazon for books – pustak.co.in

One more start up – pustak.co.in. This is an India (Bangalore) based online book store start up.

While I am yet to a buy a book online, the book catalogue is very comprehensive and most importantly functional – most titles I searched for are available.

The website is very organized.  Unlike Amazon, it is difficult to get lost here and no other distractions – only books :-). Navigability can be improved – for example there is no “cancel” button on account settings page. It’s not possible to return to main page in case you don’t want to save your changes.

Am sure this will be a successful website to reckon as internet adoption increases in India. While the idea of online book store is as old as .com biz itself, this start up differentiates itself due to the geography (India) it operates. I would love to see books of regional languages also to be available on the website – this makes it easy for people like me who wait to go on my annual vacation to my native place to buy books :-). Huge business potential !!

Btw, per the website itself, the founder & CEO Mr. Anand Rao, is a founding member of Amazon India as well.

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Hampi – Glimpse of a bygone splendid era

I drove to Hampi in Aug 2006 along with family over a 3-night 4-day long week end.  I have been longing to visit this place for quite some time and finally made it. Similarly, I have been longing to write a blog on the same since my visit – and finally found time 🙂

It is going to be an absolutely futile exercise by me to describe the Hampi experience as it can only be felt and can never really be described.

Instead, I will focus on the actual planning for the trip – which can help new visitors.

We started off on Day 1 around 7:00 AM from Bangalore and reached Hospet around 3:30 PM.  There was around 1 hour break in between for late break fast / early lunch @ Kamat Upachar near Sira. The road was not bad but gets narrower once you cross Chitra Durga. So, one has to slow down considerably. There were lots of windmills and sunflower farms we have seen on the way.

Hampi is around 13 km from Hospet. There is only one hotel worth mentioning in Hampi which run by state tourism division – Mayura Bhuvaneswari (Tel: 08394 – 41574). This is the hotel that is closest to the ruins and you can consider yourself lucky if you get a room to stay in this. Else, you will have to stay in Hospet. I stayed in Hospet @ Hotel Priyadarshini and shuttled every day to Hampi.

After check in and slight relaxation, we first went to Tungabhadra Dam. The dam was full at the time of our visit and we enjoyed the sight of water gushing ut with full force from the gates. There is a small garden/park from where one can see the other side of the dam filled with water. One has to walk quite a distance from where one parks the car to the dam gates.

Next, around 5:45pm, we started to Hampi. We were in a dilemma if we should visit Hampi next day morning, but decided to go ahead in the late evening itself to get an glimpse of what is in the offer. Just drove around the periphery and came back to hotel.

On Day 2, started off by 8:00 AM, went to Hampi, booked a guide who showed all places and explained significance of most places. Spent time till evening and returned to hotel. Significant time was spent @ Virupaksha tempe and Vitthala temple. One cannot help but wonder at the architectural marvel of Vitthala temple by looking at the stone chariot and the musical pillars.

Long pillared Ganesha Temple - Look at the length of pillars! - You can see Virupaksha temple tower in the background

Long pillared Ganesha Temple - Look at the length of pillars! - You can see Virupaksha temple tower in the background

Elephants Stable - If Elephants had such grand place to stay, what about the Royal family?

Elephants Stable - If Elephants had such grand place to stay, what about the Royal family?

On Day 3, woke up early by 5:00 AM, went to Hampi to climb Matunga hillock for a sunrise view. Unfortunately, there were too many clouds and the sunrise was not as spectacular as I anticipated, but the view of ruins from such height compensated the loss.

Arial view of Krishna Temple Ruins as seen from Matunga Hilltop

Arial view of Krishna Temple Ruins as seen from Matunga Hilltop

After that, we revisited some of the places like Hazare Rama temple, Mahanavami Dibba – the Royal Court, again at our own pace. One can only imagine how grand that place would have looked when the King Krishnadevaraya held the Court.

Carvings on Compound wall of Hazare Rama Temple

Carvings on Compound wall of Hazare Rama Temple

Towards the evening, we spent some quiet time at the twin stories overlooking the Virupaksha temple before signing off.

Twin Storied Ruins  - How long have they been standing like this!?

Twin Storied Ruins - How long have they been standing like this!?

On Day 4, had breakfast, checked out of hotel and started back to Bangalore around 9:30 AM. Reached Chitradurga around 12:00 noon. A pleasant surprise was waiting there. After seeing some sign boards of “Chitra Durga Fort”, we decided to pay a visit to that fort and what a treat it was! It was most spectacular fort I have ever visited. It is absolutely in perfect condition and one can clearly see how the fort walls protect the people inside. There is a gripping legend at the other end of fort of how one old woman killed an entire enemy army one by one. Caution: Take a guide with out fail and remember you need to really walk a lot. Please budget at least 3 hours to visit the entire fort. We reached there at noon and it was blazing sun. Had we known it, we could have timed it well. After the visit to fort, had late lunch in Chitradurga and drove back to Bangalore.

If you are like me, you would be visiting Hampi armed with information you would have gathered on Hampi after reading some books like Outlook Weekend Getaways, travelogues/blogs. So, you should have fair idea that Hampi is a heritage site, a ruined city, list of significant spots to visit etc. In case you are still wondering what to expect in Hampi  –  it is just rocks, rocks and more rocks – of various sizes from a pebble to mammoth boulders – there is little greenery in that area – only rocks fill the vastness – and if you have ear to hear – each rock has a story to tell about the glorious past, the architectural splendor, the grandeur of a by gone era.

Points to remember –

1. Note that Hampi is not a regular sight seeing trip – it is an experience to be cherished. It is really not fun – unless you have deep passion for emptiness, vastness, wilderness, ruins, a little bit of history and plenty of walking.

2. There are just too many points to be seen. As per ASI map, there are at least 83 points to be seen.

Hampi Sight Seeing Spots

Hampi Sight Seeing Spots

Hire a local guide on your first day who will show you most points of interest. Once you got a hang of the landscape, you can visit each point of your interest separately and enjoy at your own pace. To me, Hampi requires at least 5 days to do justice. But most people are not like me and can get easily bored with all the rocks and ruins. So, it is all your interest levels 🙂

3. Temperatures in Hampi can reach to very high levels and it is important to remember this while planning the day. It is usually best to visit Hampi from Oct-Feb timeframe when Sun is not blazing. Any case to beat the Sun, it is better to visit the points early in the day – say like 6:00 AM to 10:00 AM and then start again at 3:00pm to continue till late in the evening. Remember this land is barren and there is NO shade other than what the huge boulders can offer.

4. There are five hillocks surrounding Hampi. They are – Matunga, Anjeneya, Hemakuta, Malyavanta & Rishyamuka. Each one of them has a story behind it and associated legends with them. Remember to trek at least one of them – easiest one is Matunga for a sunrise or sunset. Be extra cautious and go in a group – NEVER venture alone to any of the hillocks. Malyavanta is the easiest to visit as you can drive till the hilltop!

5. Note that across the river Tungabhadra, opposite to Hampi, there is a site, Anegondi, with ruins – which was a part of Vijayanagara Empire. Access to this place is tricky, but do visit this place. Check with locals on how to reach Anegondi. It can be a simple caracole ride across the river at times. Some of the hillocks mentioned above can only be accessed from Anegondi.

6. There is an Archeological Survey of India (ASI) museum near the entrance to Hampi from Kamalapura side. It shows Hampi some 25 (?) years back and current state  – with photos of exactly the same locations from same view points. This indicates the work done ASI to restore this beauty. You will be amazed to see how perfectly ASI excavated and restored the bathing area/water tank near the Mahanavami Dibba. It was covered under ruins till few years back and with out ASI’s work, one would have never known this marvel.

7. There are quite a few monkeys around and they can pose danger if you are not cautious.

8. It is best to drive around in your own vehicle to visit the places. Though bicycles are availale for rent, it can be very daunting to cycle the vast area.

9. Food options are pretty limited. You get some basic stuff like dosa/puri/omlette near the small bazaar outside Virupaksha temple. For lunch, be sure to visit the restaurant at Mayura Bhuvaneswari (near Kamalanagar entrance).

10. Hampi is a photographer’s paradise. Be sure to take lots of rolls/memory cards. Camera can be taken freely to most places (except inside the functional temples) and video can be shot free for all non-commercial uses. There are not many areas in Hampi where you can upload photos. Even if you find one, internet speed will be a issue. It is better to carry extra memory cards (or your laptop to download the photos). Most places do not allow tripods.

Legends of Hampi:

1. It is said that Hampi is same place as what was mentioned as “Kishkindha” – the monkey kingdom of epic Ramayana. Rishyamuka hillock is where Lord Rama met Hanuman – when Rama was searching for Sita in forests. Anjaneya hillock is believed to be the birth place of Lord Hanuman.

2. It is said that the Sultans who finally conquered Hampi had spent 6 months to loot the wealth of Hampi and the killing of people was so brutal that river Tungabhadra was flowing in red color for few months. This has prompted people never to return to Hampi again thus ruining the city forever.