Visitors entering the vicinity of Hampi are immediately awestruck and mesmerised by the mighty rocks, hillocks, ancient temples, and monuments in granite spread everywhere. The discovery of a number of rock paintings and hundreds of dolmens indicates that prehistoric humans settled in the caves formed by these rocks. The geological marvels of the region, along with their ecological and archaeological heritage, attract visitors from across the globe. That is why New York Times ranked Hampi second in their list of ‘52 places to go in 2019’, in the world. Hampi rocks because of the rocks surrounding it!
Hampi is located on the Deccan plateau, which is one of the oldest and most stable geographical formations in the world. Part of an area known as the Dharwar craton, this region of the plateau comprises rocks dated to be about 2.5 billion years old. Geologically, these rocks are termed as ‘Younger Granites’ and are spread over a 500 km long and 20 km wide belt running north-south, from the edge of the Deccan Trap in the north till the Ramanagara-Kanakapura area in the south.
The granitic rocks in the area were formed towards the end of the Archean Era of the geological time scale, due to magmatic action leading to the melting of the older gneissic rocks and intrusion. The thickness of this younger granitic complex varies from 5 to 25 km.
These rocks are also sometimes referred to as ‘Closepet Granites’ as they were first described from Closepet (present day Ramanagara, of Bollywood’s ‘Sholay’ fame). Ramanagara, near Bangalore, was called Shamsherabad during Tipu Sultan’s rule and renamed to Closepet after the renowned British officer, a major general, Sir Barry Close (1756-1813), who acted as the negotiator with Tipu Sultan.
Enough of geology! Let’s see what this habitat looks like.
Hampi was the powerful capital of the mighty Vijayanagara Empire that ruled half of India for over 250 years. It is located strategically on the banks of River Tungabhadra, and surrounded by rocky hill ranges, as seen in this view.
As you move in and around Hampi, you are mesmerised by balancing rocks as well as gigantic outcrops. The magnificent Mathanga and Anjanadri hills are Hampi’s tallest rock formations. This balancing rock is on Malyavanta Hill.
Around Hampi, at Anegundi and Pampa Sarovar, the rocky hills look like heaps of round stones placed in a gigantic row.
A number of rocky outcrops grouped together form cavities or spaces inside; such cavities result in caves. This leopard in a cave was photographed using a camera trap.
Caves provide shelter to various life forms such as the Sloth Bear, Leopard, Wild Boar, Pangolin, Porcupine, pythons, and birds, to name a few. This Indian Rock Python is in one such shelter.
As these caves are very narrow, deep and inaccessible to humans, the wildlife prefers to stay in the dark and cool caves throughout the day and come out only closer to dusk. A Sloth Bear emerges from its cave one evening.
This juvenile Indian Porcupine was photographed in its cave using a camera trap.
The Vijayanagara Empire ingeniously built everything using only the locally available Closepet granite. Wherever you go in Hampi’s vicinity, you will come across a number of temples and monuments built in the same granite. Hampi’s Vipurapksha Temple is one such example.
Though Closepet granite is very hard to carve, dextrous hands sculpted it into lovely sculptures, as seen in this carving on Mathanga Hill. Sculptors meticulously cut the rocks and used even the debris for filling walls or lining footpaths; hence, the uniform visual quality of the rocky habitat was retained in spite of the removal of large quantities of stone.
Hampi is a UNESCO World Heritage Site attracting tourists from across the world. Most visit Hampi for its monuments, but a few others visit only for bouldering and rock climbing!
Hampi and its surroundings are recognised as one of the Important Bird Areas (IBA) of India as it provides the finest habitat for a threatened bird – the Yellow-throated Bulbul. It feeds upon the fruits of numerous plants surrounding the rocky boulders. This bird, spread only in a few pockets of South India, is facing threat elsewhere due to granite quarrying, but is relatively safe in Hampi.
As Hampi is a protected area, there is no threat to the habitat from stone quarries. Hence, birds are well-protected in Hampi’s vicinity. A Blue Rock-Thrush is seen on a boulder.
Many birds build their nests inside caves and also roost there. Hampi’s caves shelter thousands of bats.
Some birds, like these Greater Cormorants, also roost on rocks in the Tungabhadra River.
Hanuman Langurs can be commonly seen using rocks for their night shelter, like in this image.
Due to all these reasons, Hampi has been lately becoming a popular destination not only for its archaeological heritage, but also for its natural heritage. This point is best illustrated by the presence of these Spotted Owlets in a ruin at Hampi.