When the Tour took them to where the ruins reflect and echo age-old splendour, like veins run and thrum with tales beneath their hard skin weathered by rains, the sun and the winds…
Where even stones sigh, in the sheer joy of storytelling. Hampi, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. A land of crystallised timelessness.
The journey from Bengaluru began nice and early the morning of the first day of the Tour, as the group drove on Asian Highway 47 (National Highway 4) and then on a single-lane National Highway 13 to reach Hospet just after noon. They checked-in to the hotel and were treated to sumptuous lunch, post which they rested for a while and later gathered for a round of formal introduction, a briefing on things to look forward to during the course of the Tour, and on the different genres of photography they would try out in Hampi.
All the participants had the necessary photography gear, which would make trying all genres of photography easier. Soon after the briefing, they left Hospet for Hampi, to visit the places listed on the first evening of the Tour itinerary.
To begin with, the Tour participants, along with Toehold Skippers Neeta Shankar and Venkatesh Katta, visited the imposing Lakshmi Narasimha statue at the Southern side of the Hemakuta group of temples, which also happens to be the biggest statue in Hampi.
The participants were given suggestions and valuable inputs to make creative images using their ultra wide-angle lenses. They also created images of the statue with starburst effect using sun as the source of light, and used foreground objects to enhance the subject. The group also tried out various low angle shots to capture the best perspectives of the monolithic structure.
The daunting statue stands as a heart-rending example of man’s ability to both create and destroy. The idol of Goddess Lakshmi is missing from Narasimha’s lap, a consequence of the ruthless pillage that went on for months.
The group then moved on to the Badavalinga Temple, where the Shiva linga rests in all its majesty. It is also enclosed in a small space and thus became an interesting subject for the participants to again learn how to use ultra wide-angle lenses. They made stunning images, some in colour and some in monochrome.
As the sun was about to set, the Skippers wanted to rush the group to the Hemakuta Hill to behold the grand scene. It’s fascinating how certain events that recur relentlessly still amaze us with their sheer celestial magic and kindle our fecund imagination.
On their way, they stopped to capture the adorable statue of Kadalekalu Ganesha. The setting sun behind the temple gave the participants a great opportunity to try out silhouette shots, and starburst effect at that place too.
As they spent enough time photographing the idol, they witnessed the sunset from the Hemakuta Hill, where participants learned how to make artistic sunset pictures. Several foreground subjects such as temples and boulders gave ample room for creativity, all of which more than justified the status of the Hemakuta Hill as one of the most sought after places in Hampi to watch a sunset from.
Post sunset, the group headed back to the hotel to freshen up, regathering at 8:30 p.m. for a session on some important features of photography, after which they had a delightful dinner and called it a day.
The next morning, the group wanted to watch the sunrise, and hence they ventured out to Matunga (Or Matanga) Hill, which has its immense presence opposite to the famous Virupaksha Temple, the principal and the oldest temple on the south bank of the Tungabhadra River. Standing on the apex of the hill, they marvelled at the grand display of the soft morning light.
Matunga Hill is also one of the best places to experience the aerial view of the all the ruins around. The participants were able to shoot various types of sunrise images, and were able to make stunning aerial views and striking panorama shots. The tender early morning light was perfect for photographing the historical town from different perspectives.
The group then climbed down the hill to explore the surrounding areas, including, the Achyutaraya Temple and a step-tank (Pushkarini). The temple is built in a valley created by Matunga and Gandhamadana Hills. Since the temple is quite in an off location from the regular tourist track, it gave the group a good opportunity to photograph the place without much crowd in and around it.
The step tank is a delight to watch and photograph. It contains the almost-invisible shivers of the waters. Calmness befalls you in all its abstraction when you consider the simple geometry involved in constructing these tanks, which are called Pushkarinis.
With the day getting warmer, the participants went back to the hotel in Hospet for breakfast, and decided to meet again at 12:30 for a brief session to discuss a few more aspects of photography with the Skippers. Skipper Neeta Shankar discussed several guidelines with the participants for creative compositions, reference and relevance, importance of symmetry in architectural photography, rule of thirds, and usage of filters, all of which would go on to be a set of valuable inputs for the rest of the Photo Tour.
A delicious lunch later, the group gathered at 3:30 p.m. to head out to Hampi. Waiting to be admired was the architectural spectacle, Vittala temple. The wind roams wildly in the spacious pillared halls of this temple and the extravagant array of carvings and sculptures on the pillars leave you mesmerised. The musical pillars, partly ruined due to the unmindful curiosity of the visitors over the years, still remain mysterious, because no one has really discovered how they produce musical notes.
Another majestic piece of architecture that left them enchanted was the famous stone chariot, which also happens to be the symbol of Karnataka Tourism. Arguably the flagship tourist attraction of Hampi, the stone chariot is in reality, a shrine built in the form of a chariot that contained the icon of Garuda (Lord of Eagles), the vehicle of Lord Vishnu (of whose avatar is Lord Vittala).
With beautiful evening light helping the eye of the cameras, the place provided an ideal setting for the participants to use their imagination and make creative pictures. They also made use of filters and most of them made time-lapse videos of the human activity at the place.
With the light slowly fading and having shot enough pictures, the group exited the temple complex to go to the river bank and try making slow shutter speed pictures of water at Purandara Mantapa. Post sunset, they travelled back to hotel, to meet again at 8:30 to do a review session of photographs made by the participants. The images were reviewed thoroughly by the Skippers, who gave participants valuable inputs to improve on certain aspects of photography.
Darkness started to fall, cloaking the world quietly, and the participants tucked themselves to bed to sleep in the lap of yet another night.
Hospet was happily soaking in the rain the next morning, and the Tour participants could leave for Hampi only after breakfast. Although they wanted to go to the Tungabhadra riverbank, they chose to go to the Krishna Temple, because going to the riverbank after the rains was risky due to slippery stones.
The Krishna Temple used to house the figure of Balakrishna, or Lord Krishna as infant, which now rests in the State Museum in Chennai. The carvings are particularly impressive with the mythical lion on the pillars. The foyers to the generous temple hall are adorned with remarkable carvings of elephant balustrades.
After making some evocative pictures of the Krishna Temple, the group moved on to photograph another pushkarini, where the participants were guided in the process of making images using reflections on the surface of water, and to capture the beauty of the temple pillars from a few unique angles.
Then they went to Queen’s Bath where participants photographed in an enclosed space again, trying out various compositions. They were also aided with the techniques of portrait photography since there was a good amount of diffused light owing to cloudy conditions at the time.
A good amount of images were made at the Queen’s Bath and the group headed back to the hotel for lunch, deciding to meet later in the afternoon for the remaining part of the exploration of the ruins.
This time, when they left for Hampi again, the participants and the Skippers visited a much bigger pushkarini in the royal enclosure. Since half of the tank was immersed in water, the full beauty of the step tank wasn’t visible. At this venue as well, participants tried time-lapse photography.
The next destination to be photographed was the Zenana Enclosure, which includes the Lotus Mahal and Elephant Stable. Zenana Enclosure was an isolated area that was reserved for the royal women. Lotus Mahal, in its geometrical perfection, was the perfect subject for participants to make images that highlighted symmetry. The Elephant Stable was captured through fish eye lenses and its expanse was captured in panoramic shots.
When the sky was throwing tangerine tantrums as the sun was setting, the group left for the hotel. They gathered at 8:30 p.m. for a session on street photography and portraits, and also discussed with the Skippers several topics such as metering and white balance among others.
On the last morning of the Tour, with calm and pleasant weather accompanying the group, they went to Hampi to capture all the human activity on and around the river bank. Participants tried out photography using ultra-wide-angle lenses again and made imaginative images with foreground objects while capturing their subjects of interest.
They went on a coracle ride on the calm waters of the Tungabhadra River to take pictures of the monuments that are built on either side of the river. During their journey on the coracle, they found the perfect opportunity to understand how to make motion-blur images. The very act of spinning the coracle was a thrilling experience for the participants. While some of them managed to make some images, the others braved their spin-phobia. Once they made pictures to their hearts’ content, the group went back to the hotel to pack up and leave.
At the end of the Tour they had learnt a lot, but the most important lesson: Hampi is one of those places where the elements of history, art, mythology and architecture can leave you contemplating on the ever-inexplicable human condition of creating and destroying. That’s how the stones in Hampi melt your heart.