A humble visit to Hubli

Weekend Getaway

A humble visit to Hubli

Hubli isn’t exactly the sort of place that suggests a peaceful but invigorating holiday. If anything, it is — in the minds of many — a sort of mini-Bangalore, without the exotic locales and aggressively-marketed tourist spots that characterise most popular holiday destinations.

But the town, with its bustling market-ways, quaint eateries and warm locals, is a surprise. Despite most popular notions, it does retain an identity of its own. Apart from that, it also boasts of a location that most holiday destinations don’t; Hubli is strategically located so that it is a three to four-hour drive from a number of nearby spots — such as Gokarna, Hampi and Goa — which makes it the perfect place to spend a week.

We arrived at Hubli late in the night, and were whisked off from the small airport to the Gateway Hotel Lakeside Hubli, where we’d be spending the next few days. Our first taste of the town was quite literal — dinner included a few North Karnataka specialities which were spicy but delightfully flavoursome, and thanks to the hotel’s policy of employing local housewives to help with the preparation, fairly authentic.

Eat street

The town itself, which we set off to explore the next day, was a pleasant surprise. Hubli might not be exotic, but beneath the hustle and bustle of a typical tier-two city was an understated charm. The hotel, strategically located between the main Hubli town and Dharwad, overlooked a serene lake, perfect for afternoon strolls and picnic lunches. The town itself was a whirlwind of chaotic activity. A stroll down Broadway, one of the arterial roads, threw up many pleasant surprises — well-stocked second-hand bookstores, street stalls selling mirchi pakoda, akki roti and the occasional vada pav and vendors selling all kinds of trinkets, including colourful glass bangles and imitation temple jewellery. The pride of the town, so to say, is its sweetmeats. The profusion of sweet shops that dot the narrow lanes of the main town presented a bewildering variety of delicacies, the most popular being the sweet, rich Dharwad peda, something that we indulged in extensively during our stay there.

The following day, we decided to visit Hampi. The temple town, with its fringes of picturesque ruins, is a mere three-hour drive from Hubli. The drive to Hampi took us through a combination of scenic crop-filled fields and minute towns, each with its collection of eateries and restless energy. As we approached the temple town, the road began to dip and pitch and we began to spot ruins in the landscape around it — remnants of the royal enclosure built by the Vijayanagara kings. Portions of the ruins were broken down, but their charming sculpture and old-world charm had stood the test of time. And unlike a majority of Indian monuments, they weren’t cordoned off and characterised by long lines of tourists; the old town was large and scattered enough that most of them were empty, save for a few stragglers, and could be admired at a leisurely pace. We spent a good portion of the day in the royal enclosure, climbing up the steps of the Mahanavami Dibba and tracing the outlines of its intricate carvings, exploring the nooks and crannies of the Queen’s Bath and strolling through a secret chamber — a sort of underground vault, built, we were told, for the king to gather a few trusted advisors and hold furtive counsels. One of the highlights of Hampi is the Vittala Temple, a marvel in stone situated a little distance from the main town. With its cobbled walkways, magnificent central chariot and surroundings structures, it’s the sort of place where many visitors — tourist or otherwise — can spend hours. One of the most famous aspects of the construction is its collection of musical pillars, thin stem-like poles made of stone, which create a clear, ringing note when struck with a knuckle. Just outside the temple is a large tank, with several steps descending to a still pool of water.

Temple splendour

One of the only functional temples in Hampi is the Virupaksha Temple, which is located right in the middle of the town. Mere steps away from the structure are a collection of shopkeepers, stocking out-of-place items like plastic trinkets and postcards of popular film stars. But inside the temple, it’s possible to forget the bustling activity outside. The stone walls are cool and calm and although the temple is functional, it manages to retain a charm that echoes a time that has passed. After admiring its various nooks and crannies, we set off in search of something to eat and again, were delighted with what we found.
Thanks to its perpetual stream of foreign tourists, the small eateries in Hampi have perfected several menus — typical South Indian fare, European breakfast items like pancakes and sausages, Italian pasta dishes and even plates of Lebanese humus and pita bread.

Other locations which are a stone’s-throw from Hubli include Goa, with its ever-popular shacks and water-sport options, and Gokarna, with its slightly more serene atmosphere and sandy, deserted beaches. But for those who don’t want to cram their holiday with one-day trips and package tours, the perfect option would be to stay in Hubli itself, roaming its streets at their own pace and soaking in the atmosphere of the town.

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