Royal Enclosures of Hampi | Stories by Soumya

A Walk Through Hampi’s Royal Enclosures

Last Updated on July 26, 2019 by Soumya

Visiting Hampi was a dream-come-true for me. The temples of Hampi especially the Vijaya Vittala Temple and its musical pillars had captured my imagination since childhood. I had imagined Hampi to be this wonderful open-air museum of temples and pillared mandapas. I had hardly ever imagined Hampi to host such intriguing remains of the royal palaces and pavilions of the Vijayanagara empire. The royal enclosures of Hampi were a wonderful surprise for me. I don’t think you should miss them on your trip here.

Do you want to explore the royal enclosures of Hampi, India? Come, take the walk with us and see the many beautiful royal sights that #Hampi has to offer. Starting with an ancient underground temple to a private bath for the kings and queens, Hampi has a lot of interesting monuments. #hampiindia #indiatravel #royalenclosure #lotusmahal #queensbath #mahanavamidibba #hazararamatemple #elephantstablehampi

The Lotus Mahal and the Elephant Stables are usually important components of every Hampi itinerary. And it is true that they were crucial fixtures in the life of Hampi royals. However, the royal enclosures are a lot more than just the Lotus Mahal and the stables. The art and architecture here amply reflect the magic of India – something that will stay with you long after you go back.

Come, let’s have a look at all that you can see at Hampi’s royal enclosures.

As usual, we began our ride with our loyal tuk-tuk driver Ramu who had taken upon himself the task of showing us the beauty of Hampi. After being captivated by the murals of the Virupaksha Temple and enjoying a coracle ride on the Tungabhadra on the second day, we headed southeast towards what remained of the royal palaces of Hampi.

The royal enclosure included the palaces and courts of the kings of the Vijayanagara Empire, residences for noblemen, temples used specifically by the royal family, and a bath and social areas for the queen.

Hampi royal area is unique because of its distinctly Islamic architecture that is not found at any of the temples. This not only shows a strong Mughal influence but also reinforces the experimenting nature of people of those times.

Lotus Mahal at Hampi | Stories by Soumya
At the Lotus Mahal of Hampi – notice the arches and the beautiful carvings underneath

We began our tour at the nobleman’s quarters and then moved on to the underground Shiva temple which held special significance for the royal family. After that, we checked out the Mahanavami Dibba and the Queen’s bath along with numerous other treasures in the royal enclosure. And finally, finished off with a tour of the Lotus Mahal and the Elephant Stables.

Noblemen’s Quarters and Palaces

The noblemen’s quarters are the first set of royal ruins that you will see. This is the section of Hampi that hasn’t really withstood the ravages of time. A lot of what remains is just the foundation.

Climb up the Panorama Platform here to get a spectacular view of the ancient city. A part of me could almost see a bit of Machu Picchu in there. Only this one was much less promoted.

As you glance down from your platform, try to make out rooms for the noblemen and their guests. There are individual rooms, guest lodges, and common eating places. I could only imagine the camaraderie and the revelry the place must have experienced 600 years ago.

Noblemen's quarters at Hampi | Stories by Soumya

Underground Shiva Temple

Next on our list was the Underground Shiva Temple or the Prasanna Virupaksha Temple. This temple was built several meters below the ground and gets filled in with water every rainy season. Wonder how they used it during the rains!

A flight of stairs leads to the main shrine. The main hall or the Kalyanamantapa is impressive. Beautiful carvings adorn the pillars. The inner sanctum is usually filled with water (yes, even on the dry days) and is inaccessible.

There is no logical explanation behind the building of this temple below the earth’s surface. Folklore has it that it was used by the royal family for extremely private ceremonies, away from the prying eyes of the public. Now that’s really intriguing, isn’t it?

Underground Shiva Temple Hampi | Stories by Soumya
Underground Shiva Temple at Hampi

Hazara Rama Temple

A road by the side of Prasanna Virupaksha temple took us to our next stop on the royal trail. It was the Hazara Rama Temple which is located at the crossroads between the noblemen’s quarters, the royal enclosure, and the Lotus Mahal.

It is believed that the Hazara Rama temple was the center stage for all royal ceremonies because of its proximity to all royal sections of Hampi. This was probably the private temple of the royal family.

Hazara Rama temple is special because of the exquisitely-carved bas reliefs that adorn the temple walls. Stories from the epic Ramayana are depicted all over. I could feel a strong resemblance of the architecture to that of Khmer temples of Cambodia. Maybe there was some lost connection. Who knows!

The Royal Enclosure

Further south from the Hazara Rama Temple lies the Royal Pavilion or the Royal Enclosure. The enclosure was fortified and housed as many as 43 royal buildings for use by the king and his courtiers.

Mahanavami Dibba

The most remarkable building within the royal enclosure is the Mahanavami Dibba or the platform for the celebration of festivals.

A three-tiered pyramid, the Dibba possesses outstanding carvings of royal animals, soldiers, battles, and state festivals. As you climb up the stairs to reach the top of the pyramid, you can stand back and admire the delicately-carved friezes. Monkeys play in forests, birds dance, men and women go about their daily lives, and soldiers battle for their lives – all on the stone friezes of the Mahanavami Dibba.

The Secret Chamber

This is the most interesting bit of Hampi’s royal enclosure – a secret hideaway for the king!

The secret chamber is an underground room where the king is believed to have hidden from his enemies and held clandestine meetings. Today, you can see a flight of stairs leading down to it. The secret chamber does not quite seem like a secret anymore. But I am sure it would have been pretty discreet in the good old days.

King's Secret Chamber Hampi | Stories by Soumya
The King’s Secret Chamber – A must visit on your trip of Hampi’s royal enclosures

Stepwell and a Public Bath

You will also see a stepwell (called a Pushkarini – catch another Puskarini at the Vijaya Vittala Temple) within the royal enclosure. Stepwells in Hampi were typically built near temples and used for ablutions by devotees. This one, however, was used for the private purposes of the royal family. Nearby is a huge public bath that was probably used for aquatic sports.

Have you visited the stepwells of Gujarat in India? Read on to find out why you must visit them at least once.

Queen’s Bath

Our next stop was the Queen’s private bath that is located further southeast of the royal enclosure. It is in a secluded area which seems about right given its purpose. However, it is quite far away from the Zenana Enclosure or the Queen’s palace. This means the queen and her ladies would have walked nearly 20 minutes to get to their bathing place.

The Queen’s Bath is one of the most Instagrammable places in Hampi even though it does not quite look like it from outside. Islamic arches and ornate balconies are found in abundance inside.

The bath is 6 feet deep and has stairs leading to the bottom. It is surrounded by carved balconies, each with a set of three windows. Even though it is called the Queen’s bath, it is believed to have been a pleasure complex for the king and his wives and not just restricted to females. That probably explains the proximity of the structure to the king’s palace.

Zenana Enclosure

After finishing with this beautiful bath complex, we traced our steps back to the Hazara Rama Temple and walked northeast to reach the Zenana Enclosure (the ladies section). This is an important part of Hampi’s royal enclosures because it houses the lovely Lotus Mahal and whatever remains of the Queen’s palace and the treasury.

No idea why the treasury was within the Zenana Enclosure. Not much of it is left now apart from some very rudimentary remains. However, there are many watchtowers in this part of the royal enclave. Perhaps to be used as lookouts for thieves, robbers, and enemies.

The watchtowers looked so unique, each standing tall against the blue sky. I could not help but take many pictures.

Lotus Mahal – The jewel of Hampi Royal Enclosures

The Lotus Mahal is the prettiest monument within the Zenana Enclosure and within the whole of Hampi. No doubt, it forms a beautiful Instagram backdrop.

This monument looks very classically un-Hampi because of its Islamic arches and lotus-like appearance. It does not have the typical Hampi pillared mandapa or the mythological carvings. Yet, the Lotus Mahal is beautiful in its own way.

Used by the queen and her friends for social purposes, the Lotus Mahal was located in a very picturesque location amid lush green gardens. The two levels of the building have a number of open arches giving the Mahal a very airy and breezy appearance. Definitely, a place to relax.

You are not allowed to climb up to the pavilion but you can take pictures from all angles and get some amazing shots. And if you wish, you can take a nap under the trees here. Sometimes much need in the Hampi heat.

Elephant Stables

As you walk to the right of the Lotus Mahal, you will see another watchtower marking the end of the Zenana Enclosure. Beyond it, lies the stable for the royal elephants.

The Elephant Stables is impressive and resembles a pearly necklace rather than an animal shed. There are a number of tall domes each beginning with an arched door. There are small rooms for mahouts too. Quiet the home for the king’s favorite pets.

Elephant Stables of Hampi | Stories by Soumya

Finishing off my trip of the Hampi Royal Enclosures

Our trip of Hampi’s royal enclosures ended at the Elephant Stables. The tour gave us tonnes of insight into the lives of kings that lived 600 years ago. Have you taken a peep into the lives of the Hampi royals yet? Do let us know in the comments below.

Apart from all the royal monuments that I wrote about in this post, you can see and do a lot more in Hampi such as take a coracle ride on the Tungabhadra or listen to the musical pillars of the Vijaya Vittala Temple. Or you could take a day trip to the UNESCO heritage site of Pattadakal. Don’t forget to check out our extensive posts on Hampi and nearby. Here are some of them.

Top things to do in Hampi
Admiring the frescoes of the Virupaksha Temple
Listening to the musical pillars of Vijaya Vittala Temple
Taking a coracle ride down the Tungabhadra
Having a fulfilling lunch at Mango Tree, Hampi’s favorite restaurant
Exploring the beautiful temples of Pattadakal
A short trip to the cave temples of Badami

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Soumya is an acclaimed travel writer who has traveled to 30+ countries and lived in 8 while pursuing her passion for history and culture. Her writings have been published in BBC Travel, Architectural Digest, National Herald, and many more. She loves exploring world heritage sites and has a deep affinity for everything ancient, especially the lost civilizations of Mesoamerica!

20 thoughts on “A Walk Through Hampi’s Royal Enclosures

  1. Hampi’s royal enclosures look amazing! I love the carvings and the Queen’s bath is so beutiful. Thanks for bringing me there wth your photos and story.

  2. We haven’t been to India yet, but it is definitely on our list. Saving this post to remember this place. It looks so impressive and like a pretty large complex! Thanks for all the details!

  3. The old architechture is amazing, Im so jealous that you have been there. I’m a bit of a nerd when it comes to buildings and the history and folklore.
    Great post!

    1. I am a nerd too. That’s why I feel so much at home at these ruins. Come on over. We will see them together.

  4. This just brought back memories of my trip to Hampi. The royal enclosure and Zenana enclosures really bring to life the urban setup of the great Vijayanagara empire. It’s not the architectural grandeur , but the meticulous planning of the city that attracted traders and travelers from all around the world that blew my mind. Excellent photography.

    1. Yeah, that’s an excellent way of putting it. So true that they could plan so meticulously hundreds of years back.

  5. What a neat temple. I love the unique Islamic influence and that there is an underground temple. Also love the elephant stable since I’m so used to puny horse stables. Great share.

    1. Thank you. Yeah the Islamic influence gives these places an exclusivity that is not found anywhere else in Hampi. These stables are huge. You should come see them.

  6. This part of Hampi always intrigued me. Pity it was all destroyed but it always gets me wondering how grand it must have been. p.S: i have a feeling that JK rowling got her inspiration for the prefect’s bathroom with the Queen’s bath 😉

  7. Wow! There’s so much Hampi! Such amazing artwork and architecture. I do hope to visit some day. Thanks Soumya for sharing it’s stories.

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