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: 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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!).
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.