Legend has it that when the Portuguese traveller Domingo Paes visited Hampi, he exclaimed, “What I saw seemed as large as Rome, and very beautiful to the sight best provided in the world.” Eminent writers, artists, and travellers have marvelled at the ruins of Hampi that evoke visions of their past grandeur and opulence. It has always been a preferred destination of foreign travellers who have extolled its legendary wealth and beauty.
Currently, the once-proud city of victory is sadly a city of neglect. All is not ‘swachh’ in the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Hampi, which incidentally was recognized as Best Tourism Village in 2023 in the Bronze Category along with 35 other villages in India.
“Facilities for tourists are pathetic. There is a crying need for amenities like hygienic public toilet facilities,” says Ravi Menon, vice president Karnataka Tourism Forum (KTF) and managing director, Arjun Tours and Travels. He adds, “Prompt action was taken when this was brought to the notice of the Union Tourism Minister G Kishan Reddy during his visit to Hampi in 2022. Currently, JSW group has stepped in to provide public toilets near Virupaksha Temple as part of their Corporate Social Responsibility.”
Ravi continues, “No aggressive efforts are being made by the government to market Hampi, along with other architectural gems like Badami, Aihole, and Pattadakkal. A few months back, KTF hosted ‘Romancing the Stones’, a familiarisation trip to showcase ‘Hampi and Beyond’ to 30 leading travel agents from across the country.”
There are problems galore for the tourists, local residents, and hoteliers in Hampi and its vicinity. As Sripada, the managing director of Mallige Hotel, says, “The current tourism scenario in Hampi and neighbouring villages is appalling. Hampi lacks basic infrastructure such as approach roads and adequate quality accommodation to suit every wallet.”
New construction around the site is strictly regulated. According to the Archeological Survey of India (ASI), the 100 m radius around protected monuments is ‘prohibited’ which means there can be no new construction work under any circumstances, 200 m beyond that radius fall within ‘regulated areas’, where any construction needs approval.
“Covid-19 and the Ukraine war has led to the number of foreign tourists visiting Hampi dwindling. There is also a fall in chartered or package tours over the years. Access to clean drinking water has always been challenging to authorities. The scattered stacks of garbage are an eyesore. The lack of proper solid waste management systems and the surging tourist vehicular movement are also major concerns,” lists Sripada, adding, “Even as neglect haunts the architectural gems, there is no coordination among the various agencies like ASI, Hampi World Heritage Area Management Authority (HWHAMA), and the local self government to solve the problems.”
With bus travel made free for women in the state, there is a surge in the number of tourists visiting Hampi on weekends, says Shama Pawar, the founder of The Kishkinda Trust for promotion of cultural industries and creative economies. “Hordes of people come to Hampi on buses as it is not only a heritage site but also a revered pilgrimage centre. Due to its sanctity, weddings are performed here. Tourists who arrive by buses cook on the road side, leaving plastic wrappers and bottles strewn all over the place. This has resulted in rampant littering, including non-biodegradable material. Now, with safety and hygiene being given importance, it is imperative that steps be taken for proper garbage disposal,” says Shama, who is also the convenor of INTACH, Anegundi.
During World Environment Week in June 2023, Jindal SAW Limited initiated a series of environment awareness programmes, including a cleanliness campaign at the Tungabhadra Bathing Ghat in Hampi by collecting waste from the river bank. The collected waste was transported using a tractor, ensuring proper disposal and preventing further pollution of the scenic Tungabhadra River.
Community participation in consultative processes and decision making are woefully lacking, according to Joyatri Ray of Equations, a research, campaign, and advocacy organisation that encourages people-centred forms of tourism. “Local communities are entirely excluded from the process of planning and managing the heritage areas. The people of the region are an integral part of the cultural heritage, which is as important as its architectural heritage. Conservation is not only about architecture, but has to be people-centric, who should be considered as living heritage,” says Joyatri.
The Hampi Utsav, an annual government-sponsored extravaganza, is not promoted nationally and internationally, and is more like a local mela. As the Utsav is not widely publicised, no international tourists come exclusively for the Hampi Utsav — if they are present in the state, they attend it. There are no fixed dates for the Hampi Utsav, it is decided according to the availability and convenience of the Ministers concerned. The Tourism Department should start a calendar of events and chalk out a plan for publicity, advertisement, and travel and accommodation arrangements for the fest. The Utsav should display the local flavour and include the participation of local artists.
“There was a proposal to start a Craft Tourism Village in Anegundi in 2021, under the aegis of the Union Ministry of Textile with the cooperation of NGOs. Eight crafts villages were taken up under ‘Linking Textile with Tourism’ to promote craft and tourism in India. The Karnataka State Handicraft Development Corporation (KSHDC) was assigned the charge of executing the project. However, no headway has been made,” laments Shama Pawar.
There are problems galore facing the residents of Anegundi which has always been identified with Kishkinda, the land of Vali, Sugreeva, and Anjaneya. In fact, one of the hills called Anjanadri Hill is known as the birthplace of the much-revered Hanuman. Besides the lack of sanitation and medical facilities, local residents in Anegundi face issues of illegal land acquisition.
Chandra Reddy, an organic farmer and documentary coordinator based in Anegundi, puts forth a few suggestions. “What Hampi and its neighbouring villages need are effective and sustainable solutions to the problems plaguing the residents. “The local populace should be sensitised to the benefits of tourism to the local economy and employment. To popularise the concept of personalised holidays, home stays should offer meaningful local experiences so that tourists can immerse themselves in the destination. Agri-tourism will help farmers diversify their activities and supplement their income,” says Chandra.
All pics by Susheela Nair.
Susheela Nair is an independent food, travel and lifestyle writer and photographer contributing articles, content and images to several national publications besides organising seminars and photo exhibitions. Her writings span a wide spectrum which also includes travel portals and guide books, brochures and coffee table books.