Karnataka: Exploring magical Hampi
If you visit Karnataka whatever you do don’t miss Hampi!
Situated 436 km from Mysore is the enchanting tiny town of Hampi. We met a bunch of travellers and locals in Goa that told us not to miss it so we decided to go for it and see for ourselves why its loved by all who have visited.
Hampi is utterly unique, and its landscape is unlike anything we’ve ever seen before. The town itself and its surrounding areas have been likened to the Flintstone’s town of Bedrock or the red planet in our solar system – Mars.
Martyn said he felt like he should be reenacting Matt Damon planting potatoes on Mars in the 2015 science-fiction blockbuster the Martian, and as we gazed in awe at the giant boulders balancing precariously on top of one another I expected Barney Rubble to jump out at any moment.
Imagination aside, the area was once the capital city of the Vijayanagara Empire which ruled Southern India for over 200 years starting in the 13th century. After a Muslim coalition of sultanate armies invaded in 1565 the empire and its spender fell into ruin and was destroyed, it remained largely ignored until 1856 and it was finally rebuilt then reestablished as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1986. The area is important to archaeologists and historians as the area was in use as previous cities and empires before the Vijayanagara period; artefacts have been found and date from around the 2nd century CE, and the area is still being excavated to this day.
Now you can spend many, many days in the area exploring the ruins and marvelling at mother nature’s boulder masterpiece.
How to see Hampi
The ruins of the former empire and its phenomenal landscape cover an area of 4,100 hectares (16 sq miles) so you will need some sort of transport to reach the majority of the ruins, temples, and viewpoints. But you do have several options on how to see the sights:
We chose to travel around Hampi with a rickshaw tour for two days and we are so glad we did it! Our driver Ramesh, took us to many places in the area to see many of the main temples, Hippy Island, Hampi Bazaar, Hanuman’s temple, to the river and lastly to see the sunset. If you do decide to choose a rickshaw tour, your driver will not be able to come into the temples with you as they aren’t an official government guide, but our driver took us to a smaller temple where he could go inside and gave us a mini history lesson. We also got to listen to him playing the amazing stone instruments that are built into the structure of a smaller temple ( That I can’t remember that name of!). You can see these instruments at the bigger Vijayavitthala temple but you aren’t allowed to touch or play them. We also were taken to some pretty good places for lunch on both days; Green restaurant and Catering being our favourite.
Even though we took the rickshaw option, we still felt exhausted but happy after each day as there is so much walking involved in the ruins and temples! Taking a rickshaw was the best option for us in terms of budget, time (we only had 2 full days in Hampi), and for the beautiful shade! We decided against the guide as although we find ancient history absolutely fascinating, we were really there to marvel at the nature and landscape around us so seeing it and stopping regularly to see the views and local life was amazing. ( We did get our dose of history from a visit to the Archaeological Museum in Kamalapura too, which is worth a trip there if you have the time!) Although I’m sure you can find great guides in Hampi.
Cost for 2 x full days = 2,000 INR (you can haggle lower with some drivers but we were happy with Ramesh and our tour!)
Rent a Guide
We were offered the chance to go on a walking tour with a guide to the main temples to have a history lesson on Hampi’s past at our hotel. Most guesthouses and hotels will be able to put you in touch with a guide if you would like one. Or find many recommendations for guides on the Hampi TripAdvisor for here.
Rent a motorbike if you fancy making your own adventure and exploring the sights. We saw several foreigners braving the sun and travelling around on a motorbike. Several places in Hampi will rent motorbikes to foreigners.
If you are a keen cyclist you can rent a bicycle and cruise around the sights of Hampi at your own leisure. Bear in mind that during the latter part of the winter season (winter season: October to March) it does get very hot in the area so make sure you have plenty of water, sunscreen, and breaks or choose another option to get around.
What to see in Hampi
One thing that topped our list and one thing you cannot afford to miss in Hampi is a sunset. The sunset we saw atop a hill close by to the Virupaksha Temple overlooking the nearby valley was one of the most epic sunsets we’ve seen in 15 months, and because of me, we’ve seen a lot of them. There was plenty of space to grab a good spot and Martyn managed to film it on his GoPro (check out the vlog here). We weren’t the lonely ones as many people came to see it, as well as about 20 monkeys fighting on a giant boulder.
The Temples and Royal Attractions
Another activity that would be pointless to miss if you came to Hampi is seeing the incredible Hindu temples and ruins from the Vijayanagara Empire. A few of the temples are still functioning as temples such as Virupaksha Temple from the 7th century. This temple is one of the most popular and frequented temples visited by worshippers and tourists alike, they even house an elephant that nearly flattened me (but that’s a story for another time). Hanuman Temple sat atop the huge Anjanafri hill is another popular and beautiful site to visit, it offers spectacular views of the boulders and rice paddies. Although you will getting to the top as it takes over 550 steps to reach it!
We also visited the Vijayavitthala Temple famous for its stone chariot and other sculptures, and the Badavilinga Temple temple as well as another five others of which I, unfortunately, didn’t write down the names of, but there are just so many to see in the area!
Other points of interest in term of historical architecture are the remains of the royal palaces and monuments built by the Kings of Vijayanagara. The stunning Lotus Mahal is an Indo-Islamic structure created for the Queen to keep her cool in the summer months as was built with an air cooling system. Next to the Lotus Mahal is the Elephants Stables where you guessed it, they used to keep the royal elephants. Within the royal centre is also the Queen’s Bath which used to be filled with water directly from a nearby lake. It’s a beautiful building too.
You can read up on the history of the temples, ruins and royal palace here.
We popped into the Archaeological Museum to soak up a bit of the fascinating history that has dominated the region for centuries. The museum itself isn’t huge but it still holds lots of valuable information about the temple ruins from the epic Vijayanagara Empire, as I mentioned before, as well as other snippets of history from even before this period. It is located in the village of Kamalapura which is a ten minutes rickshaw or motorbike ride outside of Hampi. Find out more about the museum here.
Ramesh took us to a quiet spot on the banks of the Tungabhadra river that had nobody around on the first day of our tour. All you could hear was the water flowing and the occasional birdsong. You can go swimming in the river which many people come to do, but we just dipped our feet in, enjoyed the sun, and gave rock-stacking ago. It was so calm and quiet that we even saw a baby Kingfisher! It was bliss and I could have stayed there all day.
Hippy Island is where you’ll now find the main bulk of guesthouses, restaurants and shops. From Hampi Bazaar you can get a ferry across but we were told that this does stop sometimes in the evening if that’s the case you can pay a local to row you across in a basket-style conical boat. We had lunch on Hippy Island at one of the cheap and cheerful restaurants with semi-average tourist food. But we were opposite some beautiful lush green rice paddies. The shops here mostly sell the usual tourist things as well as lots of clothing, jewellery, and wall hangings but we saw a few unique items as well as the odd foreigner selling beads as well. I also picked up a couple of pieces of jewellery. Be wary of the orange-clad ‘holy’ men that walk around asking for pictures and where you are from. These guys are all over India but even if you refuse to be in a picture, as I did, they will still try to entice you with ‘No Miss, you do not have to pay..’ You do, but they dress it up as a present or a ‘donation’ afterwards.
Hippy Island is a great place to hang out if you have more time in Hampi, and next time we go we’ll stay over there instead.
Hampi Bazaar is right next to the main Virupaksha Temple but it has recently undergone a huge change in terms of business. The government decided Hampi had to too many tourists and wanted to preserve its UNESCO World Heritage status so they decided to tear down several guesthouses and shops that had taken up residence in the area. There are still a few here but from what we’ve heard its vastly changed. But its still interesting to see the tiny streets and the temples nearby.
Conical boat rides
These giant basket-looking boats float up and down the river in Hampi and you can join in for a ride if you want to. If you do get a tour or make your own adventure you can stop and hop in a boat and be rowed down the river. It’s quite amazing how many people they can fit into one boat.
Make your own adventure
With so much to see in Hampi, you could easily stay here for several weeks or months and take it slow. The boulders go for miles and there are several smaller villages to explore along the way. Why not go completely off-grid and see the magic of Hampi for yourself?
Where to stay
Located in Kamalapura, a short drive from Hampi make Varksha Hotel a great place to reach the nearby town and its attractions. In terms of pre-booking hotels or guesthouses in advance in Hampi, it isn’t easy as there isn’t much online, at all. Most of what we found online was in Hospet which is 13km away. We arrived the in the evening from Goa and were concerned that it was too late to get a ferry across to Hippy Island so we decided to stay at Varsha Hotel to have two full, uninterrupted days of adventuring and not moving to a different hotel each morning. As I mentioned before in terms of the government crackdown, many guesthouses near the bazaar have been removed, nowadays most budget-friendly accommodation is located the other side of the river on Hippy Island.
Varsha Hotel itself is on the pricer side of £20/$28 per night (This is a maximum budget for a room per night for us ok!) but we loved our stay. The room was better than expected, and that rarely ever happens to us. We had a spacious double room with a comfortable bed that I almost needed a ladder to get on to. There was cable tv, which isn’t ever a necessity but it was still appreciated, and a bathroom with hot water. Even the wifi worked. Adjoined to the hotel is their restaurant Mango Tree which does good food and the staff understand ‘no dairy’ requests, although it does mean the menu then becomes limited to three dishes but still, there’s a choice! Staff are lovely and helpful in both the hotel and restaurant.
Check out their availability on Agoda here.
Getting there and getting away
The nearest train station to Hampi is located in the town of Hospet 13 km away. It’s easily reachable by a cheap rickshaw ride and only takes about 15 minutes.
Or check with travel agents where you are for bus timetables and availability and several bus company runs trips to Hampi/Hospet.
We had 2 full days in Hampi, and we wish we had longer! I can see why some travellers end up not leaving the town for several weeks/months. If you want to immerse yourself in the peace and quiet in one of nature’s most stunning landscapes then don’t skip Hampi!
Peace + plane tickets ✈