Hampi: Heady Antiquity

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Hampi (50)

Ever since I saw Om Puri playing Krishna Devaraya in Shyam Benegal’s Bharat Ek Khoj as a kid, I’ve had a deep fascination for the Vijaynagara Empire. The last non-islamic superpower of the Deccan that the Bahmanis had to literally collude to dismantle and an architectural marvel that left Portuguese wanderers agape, Vijayanagara has always been alluring and to a certain extent enigmatic to me. So, when I finally packed my bags and set out towards Hampi, the erstwhile capital of the empire and a UNESCO world heritage site at present, I was delighted, my personal crises and ever-increasing existential entropy notwithstanding.

Bangalore to Hospet: A Sandal epic without Swords

Hospet is the nearest railhead to Hampi. Due to procrastination, I failed to book a ticket on the fastest train to that place and hence ended up in a passenger train that not only arrived late but also carried a visible testimony of official negligence. But as someone who has clocked thousands of man-hours with the great Indian railway and as someone who once slept in the corridor between the two toilets in a sleeper class compartment while travelling with an unconfirmed ticket, it was too familiar a sight for me to complain. After a delay of almost an hour, the train finally started moving at around 11 pm and I fell asleep after turning a few pages of Ishiguro. But as always, Murphy was lurking around the corner as I dreamt of a utopian world. As I woke up the next morning, I learnt that our sleepers had been stolen and that was not even the worst part. The person (May his grey cells rest in peace) took one of my sleepers and one of another guy, thus leaving one apiece for us. If that is not enough, both the pieces he took belonged to the right foot. This incident further strengthened my belief that rationality as we know it, no longer holds water in this world. Nevertheless, at around 1 pm we finally reached Hospet, ran barefoot to the nearest shop and purchased new footwear (& I must accept that they were cost effective and very comfortable). After wasting a few minutes at the bus stand, we finally hired an auto rickshaw that agreed to take us to Hampi for INR 150.
Hampi: Hospet Rail Station

Hampi: Defying the assaults of time

After almost an hour of a rickety ride, the rickshaw driver dropped us in front of a hotel that was as innocuously named as “Suresh Lodge” but had an intriguing and macabre fascination for dead dictators as one can see in the following photograph.
Hampi

Nazi symbolism apart, it was a cheap and austere room perfectly suitable for cash starved backpackers at INR 400 per day. It also boasted of an open air restaurant with continental menu at the terrace. The terrace restaurant also offered a good view of the nearest ruins atop rocky hillocks. In fact the whole area is full of large rocks and more rocks. On the other side there is the Tungabhadra River. The area is generally known as Hampi Bazaar. The temple in the midst of the main area is the Virupaksha Temple which is not exactly a ruin but still frequented by the local populace for worship.

Hampi: Virupaksha Temple

After a good English breakfast I first inspected the bank of the river. For someone who has grown up near the banks of virile and masculine Brahmaputra, Tungabhadra seemed extremely serene and harmless although I do not know if that changes during the rainy season. There are a few monuments in the banks of the river too and there is a ferry service to cross the river although none of these options seemed very interesting under the scorching sun.

Hampi: Tungabhadra River

Day1: Astride MacMillan’s Stallion

From Vittorio De Sica to the obscure backpackers, everybody loves bicycles. It is much faster than walking but yet a good exercise and sans any carbon footprint. At Hampi one can borrow cycles at INR 40 per day and roam around and that is what I decided to do. I rode a bicycle after ages, huffed and puffed when I had to pedal uphill, but eventually enjoyed the free downhill rides.

The first notable place that I encountered was the Gopura of Krishna temple, which is partly destroyed but still a magnificent structure with intricately curved stucco figures of warriors, elephants, horses and various deities apparently describing Krishna Devaraya’s Orissa campaign.

Hampi: Krishna Temple

Hampi: Krisha Temple

Hampi: Krisha Temple

Hampi: Krisha Temple

On the opposite side of the temple there is a pond, apparently a water reservoir and a long corridor with a series of unadorned pillars giving the impression that it was a marketplace. At that particular moment, the blazing sun was covered by dark clouds and I managed to get some decent shots. I could also capture a few birds resting on the ruins. I only wish I had a bigger zoom.

Hampi: Ancient Market

Hampi Landscape

Hampi Ruins

Hampi old market

Hampi: Water Tank

The next stop was the Lakshmi Narasimha or Ugra Narasimha temple. Apparently it was a temple with the statue inside it. But as of now only the statue remains. Nevertheless, the animated expression of the Ugra Narasimha is priceless and makes it perfect for a manga adaptation. Another nearby monument is the Badavilinga temple that houses a large Shiva lingam (A phallic representation of the deity).

Hampi: Lakshmi Narasimha

The next major monuments that I visited were the Queen’s bath (now deserted but my imaginations ran wild) and the Mahanavami Dibba (A pyramid like structure somewhat reminiscent of the Meso American edifices with flights of structures on all sides and apparently used a pavilion by the royalty). I also found the famous stepwell where flights of stairs are designed in triangular patterns. Overall, it seemed that these people had perfected the water supply system. But I think the grandeur and mystique of this location was somewhat compromised by newly curated garden and flowers.

The next steps were the Zanana Enclosure (The compound for royal females, which would have been inaccessible for laymen in those times) and the Hazarrama Temple with sculptures depicting various events of the Ramayana. By that time, it was already dark and I had to give the museum a miss and rush back to my hotel. I visited an interesting place for dinner but more about it later.

Hampi: Zanana Enclosure

Hampi: Queen's Bath

Hampi: Mahanavami Dibba

Hampi: Mahanavami Dibba

Hampi: Stepped Tank

Day 2: More of the same

The next day I continued in the same fashion. First I ventured into the nearby areas on the banks of Tungabhadra. The bank is also covered with rocks of various shapes and sizes. I passed through a narrow alley where I encountered an ascetic who was materialistic enough to ask for coins. I surveyed the riverbanks, saw local boats that look like oversized saucers, climbed up a hillock near Malyavanta Raghunath temple to get a panoramic view of the entire Vijayanagara and also visited the famed Stone Chariot at the Vittala Temple. I also got a few decent pastoral landscapes minus the ruins. Later on I visited the Hazarrama Temple as well as the Elephant Stable. As I feel that the description would feel repetitive after this point, I would let the pictures do the talking for the rest of the day.

Hampi: Tungabhadra River

Hampi: Tungabhadra River

Hampi: Ascetic

Hampi: Tungabhadra River

Hampi Landscape

Hampi: Malyavanta Raghunath

Hampi: Malyavanta Raghunath

Hampi: Aerial view

Hampi: Vittala Temple

Hampi: Electric car

Hampi: Stone Chariot, Vittala Temple

Hampi: Vittala Temple

Hampi: Vittala Temple

Hampi: Horses near Vittala Temple

Hampi: Vittala Water Tank

Hampi: Elephant Stable

Random Titbits: Of deceptive restaurants, Gali Durgappa and the mysterious drummer woman

Hampi offers an interesting cocktail of medieval heritage and traditions and cosmopolitan services primarily geared towards luring foreign visitors. When I first entered the popular New Shanthi Restaurant, I was taken aback by its surreal lighting, whimsical décor and Salvador Dali graffiti. The menu was continental enough with Italian, Mexican and Chinese options although mostly the Vegetarian versions. Being a place surrounded by temples, it is hard to expect otherwise. While for a vegetarian like me it was a no issue, some people may have a reason to complain.
At night I preferred to try out another place. I noticed a sombre looking place called Durga Huts which looked deceptively mundane. But nevertheless, I decided to check it out. A narrow flight of stairs took me to the second terrace and it was a completely different world altogether. A very Goa kinda ambiance, mood lighting, full of foreign tourists, continental menu and a band of esoteric and eccentric musicians… it had everything one could ask for in a dull evening. One of the musicians came and introduced himself. He was Gali Durgappa, who owns a shop of musical instruments and comes to play at this place at night. I wasn’t sure but whether he plays for money or out of passion but his music was something I’d never heard before. The troupe had a variety of drums and an oboe type instrument that he claimed to be of Australian origin. But even more bewitching was a white woman who just joined in on request but played like a woman possessed. She kept me spellbound for two consecutive nights. But I could not even get a photograph of her as my battery drained out at the most inopportune moment (Yes Murphy again!).

Hampi: New Shanthi Restaurant

Hampi: New Shanthi Restaurant

Hampi: Durga Huts

Hampi: Durga Hut

Hampi: Durga Huts

When I finally packed my bags and returned from Hampi, I was left with two hundred photographs, some mind-numbing experiences, the grief of losing my sleepers and a sense of confusion regarding that woman. But then, what is a trip without an escapade and what is a woman without an enigma?

Hampi Travel Guide

How to Plan a Hampi Trip?

To reach Hampi, first you need to know where it is located and which are the nearest other places to reach from here.  Hampi is located in the state of Karnataka and naturally, Bangalore is the nearest major city and international airport for this place. If you are in India already, it is not that hard to reach.  If you are coming from abroad, follow the following steps in this case…

Sort Your Visa

Sort out your India Visa and other formalities before you arrive. You can use an e-visa service to quickly sort out this issue rather than wasting time on the process yourself.

Book Your Transport

Bangalore is the nearest major international airport. So, if your country has a direct flight to Bangalore, that will be good. From Bangalore, you can book, bus, train, or flight to Hampi (Check the section below). All of these things can be booked online in India nowadays.

Book A Stay

Hampi is a highly touristy area and there are dozens of options. You can also simply arrive and then find a hotel. However, if you are not a hardened backpacker or if it is your first time in India, just book one. Don’t worry, if you are coming from the west, you will find most of the things to be dirt cheap.

Know the Geography

Understand the Hampi Area. Check the map. You will realize soon that it is centered around the river Tungabhadra and monuments are located on both sides of the river. So, don’t just stick to one side.

Arrive & Explore

Once you arrive and settle down, figure out how you would like to explore. You have the option of renting bicycles as well as autorickshaws and private cabs. You can also find local guides to accompany you since it is a huge area and there are far too many monuments to count.

Know Where Else to Go

It is worth noting that a lot of foreign travellers club Hampi with Goa. You can also visit Goa first and then move to Hampi (Buses should be available).

On the other hand, heritage lovers can visit another major archaeological circuit of Badami-Pattadakal-Aihole from here, which are around 140 KMs from Hampi and regular buses are available from here.

The other place frequented by backpackers is Gokarna. It is a beach destination in Karnataka, which is considered to be a less-commercialized and nearer alternative to Goa from Hampi. However, it has also become popular and crowded just like Goa of late!

Karnataka has many other iconic heritage areas that you can explore if you have time.

You can also read my Badami-Aihole-Pattadakal Travel Guide for details.

 

How to Reach Hampi?

By Air

Hampi has a smallish private airport called Jindal Vijaynagar Airport (VDY). It has limited options and there are daily flights from Bangalore and Hyderabad. As far as I know, these are smaller aircrafts.

By Train

For Hampi, You first have to reach Hospet that can be reached by train or buses. You will get enough train options from Bangalore, Goa, and Hyderabad. From Hospet, you will get local buses and autorickshaws to Hampi.

By Road

There are regular overnight buses from Bangalore to Hospet and then you can get local transport as mentioned above. There are also some private buses from Goa and Gokarna that can drop you in Hampi.

 

Accommodation in Hampi?

Hampi has scores of stay options.

Backpacker Hostels

While I have not seen a traditional backpacker hostel in Hampi, some of the guesthouses maintain dormitories, where extreme budget travellers can get a bed for INR 400-600. The best way for finding this is to roam around the town and ask.

Guesthouses & Homestays

There are scores of homestays and guesthouses run by locals all over Hampi and these are the best options to stay here. They are generally pretty affordable and cost between INR 500-1000. You can find these options on both sides of the river.

Luxury Hotels

There is no dearth of big luxury resorts around Hampi and Hospete if you are in a mood to splurge.

Food in Hampi?

Hampi has scores of restaurants. Some of the guesthouses run rooftop restaurants themselves. Since it is very popular among western tourists, menus are also designed in that manner. So, it may be easier to local “English Breakfast” rather than local cuisine. Nevertheless, all options should be available.

Local Commutation in Hampi?

Bicycle Rental

This is the best way to explore Hampi if you are fit enough. Generally, a lot of guesthouses store these cycles and can rent you out. Even if you are not staying in a guesthouse with cycles, you can still ask around at other places. Cycles cost around INR 150 per day. They usually provide a lock with the cycle.

Bike Rental

When I visited a few years ago, there used to be mopeds for hire. It is a slightly more expensive but less taxing way to explore. However, recently I heard of some regulatory issues regarding the bikes but can’t be sure about it.

Autorickshaws & Cars

You can always hire an autorickshaw or a car to roam around. You will have to bargain with them to bring down the rates. Nowadays they charge INR 800-1000 per person.

What to See and Do in Hampi?

Hampi Bazar & Around

If you are going from Hospet, you will first reach the Hampi Bazaar on the southern bank of Tungabhadra. This side has all the major Vijayanagara Era monuments such as Virupaksha Temple, Krishna Temple, Elephant Stable, Mahanvami Dibba, Malyavanta Raghunath Temple, Ugra Narasimha Statue, Vittala Temple & Stone Chariot etc. It will take the whole day or even more to explore these.

Hippie Island, Anegundi & Around

You can cross the river (boat service available) and visit the northern part. This area also has many scattered temples all over the place. Especially Anegundi was the older capital even before Hampi. A hike to Anjaneya Hill (Monkey Temple) is a noteworthy activity here. Also, there are some prehistoric rock-art scattered around this area. On the other hand, the area nowadays known as Hippie Island is the area which is more popular among western backpackers as general tourists do not often venture into this area. If you want to relax and stay for several days, you can come directly to this side.

Trekking, Hiking, & Bouldering

As you might have realized from the photographs above, Hampi is full of rocky hillocks and it is possible to hike around these hills too. However, Hampi can be hot and sunny and I suggest you try this only in the winters or in the rainy season. Similarly, bouldering has also become popular here of late.

Tungabhadra

The river Tungabhadra is a constant presence here. Boat rides around the river are regular activities. You can also try coracle rides (small round shaped boats). There is also a park built around the Tungabhdar Dam a few KMs away from Hampi.

Best Season to visit Hampi?

There is no particular season to visit Hampi but I felt the heat even in late October/early November when I visited. So I can say that prefer winter over summer has given a choice. However, the rainy months can also give you something extra, in the form of greener pastures and dramatic sky. So, ideally, go for November to February or July to September.

Phone & Data Connectivity

Most regular services should work and you should have no issues regarding connectivity. Also, a lot of guesthouses and restaurants will have Wi-Fi.

For a more detailed and practical post on exploring Hampi, read these Hampi Tips by Tom.


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Jitaditya Narzary

Is a traveller disillusioned by the familiar and fascinated with the unknown... and of course the founder of this blog.

50 thoughts on “Hampi: Heady Antiquity

  • 2011/12/05 at 6:12 pm
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    Nice post, sorry to know about the slippers. I always plan but never made it to Hampi. U have now inspired me.

    Reply
    • 2011/12/05 at 8:43 pm
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      Thanks Jayanta… you should definitely visit it… enough options for a photographer…

      Reply
  • 2011/12/05 at 8:17 pm
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    interesting.. nicely narrated and wonderful images..
    on my wishlist

    Reply
    • 2011/12/05 at 8:43 pm
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      Thanks Magic… did a post after such a long time!

      Reply
    • 2011/12/06 at 8:24 pm
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      Thanks lama

      Reply
    • 2011/12/06 at 10:10 pm
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      Hi sir… have been through your blog which is pretty informative… I have a lot of ground to cover!

      Reply
    • 2011/12/06 at 10:15 pm
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      Sure Gerard… let me know if you need any help…
      & GQ make a dream couple…

      Reply
  • 2011/12/06 at 10:07 am
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    Superb in depth account and the pics make it all the more enthralling! I would surely love to be here someday…

    Reply
    • 2011/12/06 at 10:11 pm
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      Thanks Arti… and yes you can take a break from the Himalayas and explore the South for a change 😛

      Reply
    • 2011/12/06 at 10:16 pm
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      Thanks a lot Umeshji…

      Reply
    • 2011/12/06 at 10:21 pm
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      Thanks Arun…

      Reply
  • 2011/12/06 at 11:47 am
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    Immensely liked the pics !! My desire to visit Hampi gets stronger!
    You are a very good photographer, however one suggestion – please tone down the HDR a bit, sometimes it looks too dramatic for comfort 🙂

    Needless to say, am glad that I landed up here. Following you.

    Reply
    • 2011/12/06 at 10:25 pm
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      Thanks Puru…
      Thanks for the Likes & follow…
      I havn’t used HDR but applied a bit of effect in Picnik as the originals came out a bit soft… I din’t like them either but was too lazy to do it again!

      Reply
    • 2011/12/06 at 10:34 pm
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      Thanks a lot Team G Square… & yes Hampi requires more than one trip…

      Reply
    • 2012/06/13 at 6:57 pm
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      Fantastic! The unnamed phpogorath was an elaborate water canal system. Don’t know if you saw the structures opposite the Hazara Rama temple but we had discovered porcelian and fine ceramic pottery there; it used to be the king’s palace.

      Reply
  • 2011/12/06 at 5:19 pm
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    amazing pics and amazing description,,awrdy spoken to a frn of travling to hampi

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    • 2011/12/06 at 10:35 pm
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      Thanks Alka 🙂
      & yes you shouldn’t miss it…

      Reply
  • 2011/12/07 at 10:51 am
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    i havent been to hampi & so want to.
    great captures. esp loved the pic of the lock
    nice write-up too

    Reply
    • 2011/12/07 at 5:15 pm
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      Thanks Sujatha… u should definitely visit it once…

      Reply
    • 2011/12/08 at 4:19 pm
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      sure u did 🙂

      Reply
  • 2011/12/09 at 7:06 am
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    Very well described, both in the words and the picture. Couldn’t find the pathetic pictures though. Keep shining.

    Reply
    • 2011/12/09 at 3:08 pm
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      Thanks a lot Subhorup 🙂

      Reply
  • 2011/12/10 at 1:13 pm
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    Amazing photographs! Didn’t read the content, but I have always wanted to visit Hampi. Gr8 snaps!

    Reply
    • 2011/12/12 at 1:25 pm
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      Thanks Naveen… in case you need any guidance in visiting you can read the content 😛

      Reply
    • 2011/12/26 at 6:29 pm
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      Thanks JD….

      Reply
  • 2011/12/26 at 2:02 pm
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    Don’t you think you were a bit self-deprecating calling your photographs pathetic. Loved the write up and the photos, especially the monotones.

    Reply
    • 2011/12/26 at 6:39 pm
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      Thanks Malini… I was expecting more epic outcomes 😛

      Reply
  • 2013/08/08 at 2:10 pm
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    Pointers for budget accommodation please for solo traveller…
    And bike hiring aspect..where and how?

    cheers
    kamal

    Reply
    • 2013/08/08 at 2:50 pm
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      budget acco (INR 400-500) should be available in the Hampi Bazaar area…
      cycle and mopeds should be available for hire at pretty low costs everywhere…

      Reply
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  • 2016/01/13 at 12:14 pm
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    A gr8 guide 4 d backpackers. ….loved 2 follow.
    Would surely visit
    N photography z quite gud actually

    Reply
  • 2016/03/29 at 12:22 pm
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    Its a very informative blog with amazing pictures of the weekend getaway Hampi. The name Hampi also means “champion”. With various places to visit in Hampi, Hampi continues to be an important religious centre. Thank you for sharing it.

    Reply
  • 2016/05/22 at 8:40 pm
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    Beautiful article and a well described experience of the trip. I am planning a trip in the coming month. I would like to know one thing in particular. Is it safe to camp in tents on any of the hill tops? Probably for one night? Just to cut down on the expenditure further??

    Reply
    • 2016/05/23 at 8:20 am
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      Thanks Deepak… I think some people do it but not sure if you need any permission for that or not…

      I do not think safety is an issue, there is nothing to worry about…

      Reply
  • 2017/03/12 at 2:59 pm
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    Nicely written. It brought back my memories from the trip. I was totally in awe of this place when I saw it for myself. It’s a good sign that Hampi is now getting its due. More and more people should travel here.

    Reply
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  • 2018/08/17 at 3:50 am
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    Hi Guys,

    Hope you are all doing well!!!

    Firstly I would love to thank all the users who have share their valuable comments
    Recently I have been to Hampi and I would like to share my experience here with people of similar Interests. I have explored a new place named after Cobra Mountains. Please refer to the following video link here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4lY-cvspXsY&feature=youtu.be (Cobra mountains secret hangout spot)

    I would definitely say this spot would be worth spending time while you mesmerize looking at sunset view.

    I got to explore cobra mountains in hampi with the help of service guy who was polite and hold a great character in helping visors exploring places in Hampi.

    Best,
    Samrat Reddy

    Reply

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