For anyone looking to travel to India, Hampi simply has to be put on your list of places to visit. Hampi is a village in northern Karnataka, it’s situated in the ruins of the ancient city Vijayanagara – An UNESCO world heritage site.
If Tomb Raider and The Flintstones bumped uglies and 9 months later they had a screaming bundle of joy, Hampi is exactly how it would look. It literally looks like Bedrock, my girlfriend and I found ourselves whistling the theme tune to The Flintstones allllll the time, I’ve read several people say the same since so it’s good to know we’re not alone.
During it’s prime Vijayanagara was one of the largest and richest cities in the world – roughly 1500 AD. It boasted a population of 500,000 people PLUS an army of 1 million men! Crazy stuff
Vijayanagara met it’s downfall during the Battle of Talikota when the Deccan Sultanates killed, raped and pillaged their way to ‘victory’… The echoes of this battle can be seen in defaced temple statues all over Hampi – they smashed the trunk and belly off of the biggest Ganesh sculpture in all of India, nice guys! (see picture below)
Upon your entry to Hampi you’ll go through the old market ruins – this was once the epicentre of all commerce conducted in Vijayanagara. All manner of things were being traded from gold, diamonds, emeralds, pearls to vegatables and spices.
There was almost zero crime during this period – apparently the traders would simply cover their diamonds, gold etc with a sheet and then come back the next day, remove the sheet and carry on conducting business. I think this is largely due to the fact that criminals were often sentenced to death by elephant in Vijayanagara – they would be tied to the floor and the elephant would stamp them to death, great motivation to lead an honest life if you ask me. Anyway, talking of elephants that gets me on to my first tip:
1 | Get blessed by an Elephant
Lakshmi was the first Elephant I cast my eyes on in India and it was most definitely a special moment. She lives in the Virupaksha temple where she is fed, watered, bathed and generally loved by her minders and all those that meet her. Her neatest trick is to take a ten rupee note from your hand, pass it to her minder and then place her trunk over your head, thus blessing you! It may be a bit of a gimmick to generate extra revenue but it was pretty cool and I won’t forget it any time soon (see the video below).
2 | Climb up to Hanuman Temple
This is a must for any visitor to Hampi. Hanuman temple can be found on Anjanadri Hill – this is on the Anegundi side of the Tungabhadra river. It is believed to be the birthplace of Hanuman, the Hindu monkey god.
It is quite a trek from the ferry crossing at Hampi so once you’re over the river hire yourself a moped for the day – this will set you back about 300 rupees so it won’t make much of a dent on your pocket.
I’m not going to lie to you, the climb is a bit of a bitch – It’s a total of 570 steps to the top and believe me when I say I felt all 570 of them (No I didn’t count them, I am not that much of a glutton for punishment). After about 30 minutes in the blazing 34°C sun I was at the top feeling relieved but covered in sweat and the gooey remains of what was once sunscreen.
The first thing you’ll notice at the top is the view – it is jaw droppingly amazing. You can see for miles over the boulder strewn landscape and you’ll most certainly feel the climb was worth it.
As temples go Hanuman Temple is small but unique. Sitting in the shade admiring the view whilst listening to the Hindu mantras coming from within the temple was special – It was one of those moments that makes you feel like you’re in the midst of an adventure and a long way from home.
There are signs inside the temple requesting people to refrain from taking pictures so that’s why you won’t see any here.
3 | Hire a bike and do a temple tour
I was approached by a tour guide outside the Virupaksha temple about a bike tour and I gladly took him up on the offer. The tour started at 9.30 AM lasting 5 hours and at 450 Rupees it was a bargain price in my eyes.
You will get approached by rickshaw drivers offering the same sort of service but it will cost you more and they are nowhere near as schooled as the official tour guides so I’d suggest that you give this a miss.
Our guide Krishna was very knowledgable and quite a friendly guy which made the day even more enjoyable. Starting at the Virupaksha temple, we headed up to the Ganesh Temple, the Krishna Temple, the underground Siva Temple then on to the Royal Centre where the foundations of the Royal Palace can still be seen. We finished the day at the Queens Bath (picture below) where the Queen once swam in fresh water whilst having rose petals thrown over her – nice for some!
If you’re offered to have fresh Thali brought to you at the end of the tour I’d suggest taking the opportunity. The food was home cooked, fresh and delicious – sitting next to the Queens Bath under the shade of a tree made it all the more special.
The bike hire is included in the price of the tour – You’re able to keep your bike after the tour has finished so I’d suggest riding over to the Lotus Mahal and Elephant Stables to check them out. There is a small entry fee but the ticket allows you entry to the Vitttala Temple (this is a must see) during the same day so make sure you head down and check that out too – After dropping the bike back the walk from Hampi Bazaar to Vittala takes about 20 minutes through some of the most amazing scenery you’ll see in Hampi.
4 | Hire a scooter on the other side of the river
The experience of winding through the quiet countryside roads whilst watching the world go buy for a mere 300 Rupees is not to be sniffed at. There is something great about seeing people go about their daily business in another country – People are generally a lot friendlier in the more rural areas, and you really get a feel for it when people wave and say hello (or Namaste) as you ride on bye.
There are various temples (including Hanuman Temple) that are only really reachable by use of a moped or car so I’d say this is more of a necessity than a tip.
I heard there were some great opportunities for rock jumping and swimming on the other side of the river so headed out for the day in my swim shorts hoping to make the most of it after climbing up to Hanuman Temple. After riding for a fair while we stumbled across Sanapur Reservoir – Unfortunately we found it a bit late in the day so the chance of a swim was out of the question as we needed to get the bikes back, but whilst there we saw signs that said: “DO NOT SWIM – BEWARE OF CROCODILES” so this may have been a blessing in disguise.
5 | Watch the sunset on the rocks
All over India you will hear people say “Shanti Shanti” – This means peace, a sunset is the perfect way to feel real appreciation for this expression.
Just to the left the Virupaksha Temple you can make your way up to a great spot for watching the sunset. Try and find your own boulder and take in the view.
Shortly after the sun went down we were joined by 4 local boys that were trying to peddle their sticker collection, they were harmless and once we made it clear we weren’t interested we had a bit of a laugh with them. Indian children are so curious and it can be quite endearing – they left with some of our foreign currency and argued amongst themselves over who had done best out of it, to the demise of the boy who had 50p and not a pound like the others, sorry :o/
- Stay on the other side of the river – Though I had a great time I have heard various people suggest staying on the other side of the river (the opposite side to the main temple side) as there is more going on in the nights.
- Don’t miss the last ferry – The ferry stops at 5.30pm-6.00pm. So if you get stuck on the other side of the river from your hostel or guest house your options are to either pay to go over by coracle at an extortionate rate or an equally expensive 1 hour taxi ride to the nearest bridge and over.
- Pack decent sunscreen – This goes without saying really but I burnt like mad for two days in a row because I had cheap sunscreen that just melted off me. You’ll spend all day in the sunshine with little shade at the temples and you will definitely feel it.
- Buy an Iced Mocha from the Tibetan Kitchen – You won’t be disappointed. I’m sure it wasn’t very good for me but I’m willing to take the hit!
- Beware of wrong un’s at Hospet Junction – We arrived at the train station just before day break which is always un-nerving in Indian train stations but felt relatively safe as there were a few smiling faces about. As we were waiting for our train to Madgaon we had two homeless looking boys about 14 years old hanging around us, as one of them approached us a policeman on the platform came over and shouted, one of the boys through a rag on the floor in front of me then proceeded to pick it up and run across the train tracks away from the policeman – Apparently the rag was laced with some Chloroform type of drug and he was trying to drug me and nick my stuff. Close call or what!
- Check out Hampi Roof Restaurant – I visited this place a few times on the evenings I spent in Hampi – They do a great Thali for about 100 Rupees, the drinks are dirt cheap, they play good music, it’s chilled out and it has good WIFI… what’s not to like about that!
Hampi is like no other place: The way it looks, the kindness of the people that live there, it’s history and it’s rugged beauty. Since I’ve been on the road I’ve met several other backpackers that have mentioned that they were thinking of going and each time I’ve taken the opportunity to explain why they should.
I hope this post has maybe inspired you to give Hampi a try, you won’t regret it!