After having lived for almost a decade in Karnataka – and having spent some of those years teaching middle school history – I finally made it to the UNESCO World Heritage sites at Hampi this year. We experienced Hampi as it basked in its post-monsoon glory: the beautiful waters of the Tungabhadra and the lush landscape were green and alive with birdsong and hovering dragonflies.

Hampi’s landscape, with the Tungabhadra Canal.

Hampi’s landscape, with the Tungabhadra Canal.

Walking down the cobbled paths at Jungle Lodges and Resorts’ ‘Hampi Heritage and Wilderness Resort’ with my binoculars and camera hanging around my neck, I took in the surroundings with each step – the boulders, the tall grass, and the tiny wildflowers. A slight but sudden movement caught my attention and I couldn’t believe my luck! A pair of Painted Sandgrouse sat by the path, blending perfectly with the browns and greens, flattening themselves to the ground as they tried to make themselves invisible to me.  

Pathways in the JLR campus leading to the cottages.

Painted Sandgrouse

This was only the first round of hide and seek with the creatures of Hampi. On the dusty paths of Daroji Bear Sanctuary, we saw a pair of Painted Spurfowl hurriedly cross the road, Barred Buttonquail disappear into the undergrowth, a lone Star Tortoise amble along the road, and Sloth Bears that seemed like black boulders which had come to life!

Star Tortoise

Gnarly, gorgeous neem trees line the temple complexes at Hampi – hiding, holding, and revealing birdlife and stories of the past. Laughing Doves chuckled every now and then, punctuating the moments we spent admiring the ornate sculptures and architecture. A Monitor Lizard basked atop the King’s Balance, merging with the grey stone, while a Signature Spider found a corner to weave its web. Carved into the stone are people and creatures, still but moving, telling stories. Horses, elephants, birds, snakes and mythical creatures adorn the walls. I wonder if a screeching parakeet overhead is what inspired the carving of a parakeet in stone.

Monitor Lizard

Monitor Lizard

Signature Spider

Walking along River Tungabhadra, we passed by a big banyan tree which bears the burden of people’s wishes, with colourful little bundles of cloth tied to its branches in prayer. A little way ahead, we stopped to devour idlis and chutney ground under a peepal tree at Hanumanthappa Hotel, named after a monkey-god. Langurs, herons and wagtails gave us company as the river flowed by – a reminder of how our lives intertwine with more than just human beings.

Wish Tree

Our last morning was misty and sunlit, surrounded by the gurgles of White-browed Bulbuls and the endemic Yellow-throated Bulbuls. The bulbuls flew in and out of scrub patches, briefly resting on rocks glinting in the morning sun. At long last, we encountered a magnificent Rock Eagle-owl along the Tungabhadra Canal, wearing the same browns as the stones and the boulders behind it, playing an effortless game of hide and seek.

Yellow Throated Bulbuls

Yellow Throated Bulbuls

Rock Eagle Owl

In Hampi and in the stories it holds, you cannot miss how nature and culture come together. Still cradling within its contours the story of the Vijayanagara Empire, Hampi is an amazing city, one that was lost and found. I cannot wait to return, perhaps in another season, to discover the other wonders it has been hiding in plain sight.

Hampi ruins