Medorian Gheorghiu, a sun-baked Romanian Id met during my wanderings through the town, sat in a small bit of shade next to Hampis main bus stand and chatted with me as we tucked into a meal of rice and coconut curry that wed bought from a nearby street stall.
I have the feeling that nothings changed, he said as we chewed on mango slices after our lunch. I had the same feeling.
When I visited the massive stables where one Vijayanagara king quartered 11 elephants including his prized albino I could picture them snacking on sugar cane and bananas.
While wandering through the ruins, I felt that if I turned my head and squinted just so, Id almost be able to see what it must have been like during Vijayanagars days of glory. In the Royal Centre, the kings private swimming pool bigger than an Olympic-size pool! looked as if it could have been filled with water and ready for lessons and laps the next day. There were dozens of small temples, larger complexes, baths, water storage tanks and statues. By the end of my second day, Id seen so much that I could barely register the magnificence of the Vittala Temple, an immaculate complex of statues and shrines, and one of only three sites in India with a stone chariot (a small temple on a wheeled platform).
This Indian Rome wouldnt last, however. In 1565, an alliance of Muslim invaders known as the Deccan Sultans laid waste to the empire, defacing statues, razing temples and putting the empires citizens to the sword.
For a space of five months Vijayanagar knew no rest. The enemy had come to destroy, and they carried out their object relentlessly. They slaughtered the people without mercy, broke down the temples and palaces, Sewell wrote. Never perhaps in the history of the world has such havoc been wrought, and wrought so suddenly, on so splendid a city.
But even with all their carnage and destruction, the Deccan invaders couldnt erase the grandeur of the place.
Of all the places Ive been in India, I like Hampi the best, said Gheorghiu, who had just spent several months traveling around the country. Its like the fighting stopped yesterday. Now, after spending two days walking through Hampi, I agreed with him.
The din, the smell of spice, the rustle of fabrics, the clink of coins and the creaking of scales, the muffled grunts of the elephants, the stench of the food and the waste and the animals, the press of humanity. It was all hidden just beneath Hampis surface, ready to leap from the rocks like that dog-chasing rabbit 700 years ago.