Hampi is an area of 36 sq km nestled in a bizarre landscape of hills and giant boulders. Pottery recovered from the site gives evidence to human settlement here from as early as the 2nd century AD. Once one of the largest trading centres in the world, Hampi reached its peak during the rule of Krishna Deva Raya of the Vijayangaran Empire (1509-1529). However, in 1565, Hampi was attacked over a period of six months by Deccan Sultans, destroying the temples, markets and robbing Hampi of its strategic importance. Thus, the city was forgotten in time by many.
Now, the town of Hampi is small and functions mainly to cater to tourists visiting the ruins. There is one working temple remaining, in Hampi Bazaar, which has a resident elephant, Lakshmi. Hampi is accessed by train or bus via Hospet, the closest transport hub, which is a 20-30 min rickshaw ride from Hampi itself. When booking trains, the station is listed as Hosapete Junction and takes approximately 5 1/2 hours from Goa (Vasco de Gama or Madgaon) although expect some delays. We stayed three nights in Hampi which gave us plenty of time to explore everything without being rushed. We felt this was a good way to do it although you could fit everything into two days if you’re on a tight schedule. Here is our suggested itinerary for three relaxed days:
Activities on this day will depend on what time you arrive. We arrived at 8pm so here I describe what we did the following day.
There are two main places to stay in Hampi, the bazaar with its small maze of streets, and across the river which is more peaceful. If you are in the latter area, you’ll need to get the boat across to the bazaar to explore the majority of the temples (40 rupees each way). In both places, there are plenty of cafes and restaurants so take a leisurely breakfast looking out over the winding river and ask if they’ll pack you a lunch. We used the Old Chill Out in the bazaar who are very friendly and charge 20 rupees per take out item because they pack it in an aluminium container.
Late morning, begin exploring the cluster of ruins closest to the main temple. This is best done on foot as everything is close together and the ground is rocky, hilly and uneven. Wear sensible shoes, take plenty of water and sunscreen. You can go inside the working Virupaksha Temple, but be aware that there will be men around trying to sell you bicycle tours. These are run from the main tourist office inside the temple complex and can be trusted but they can be very insistent if you aren’t interested so stand your ground or just walk away.
After Virupaksha, take the path to the right of the temple entrance. You can either immediately bear right here, over a small step or slightly further up the hill there is a building you can go through to the ruins. Both ways bring you to the same place more or less. There appears to be no sense in the placement of the temples here, they are dotted around the steep hillside. Don’t be worried about missing anything though, if you make your way up the left hand side and down the right, you’ll see everything. Give yourself at least an hour for this area, maybe two if you take it slow and stop every now and then to enjoy the views towards the distant hills. Some of the temples have passages through them, don’t be scared to go inside. At the top of the hill is the largest building with the best views, also very good at sunset if the weather is clear.
When you are finished there, make your way along the main street of the bazaar with the small stalls selling trinkets, jewellery, fruit and snacks. About halfway down take the right turn, you can’t really miss it. After a hard trek up the steep hill, take the road to the left. Round the corner you will find the Krishna Temple. This is well worth a visit just for the carvings that feature on the walls, inside and out, and the many columns. If you are brave enough, there’s an unlit section in the centre of the temple. We did not go in.
Heading back the way you came, take a right back at the main street, towards the monolithic bull (worth a quick look but nothing amazing). Before the end of the road, there is a signposted left turn towards the Vittala Temple. This walk to the temple is beautiful and makes a great place to stop for lunch. At this point, we don’t suggest going into the temple itself because entry costs 500 rupees per person and includes other sights further south but tickets are only valid for 1 day so these are best done all together on day 2. However, the walk is still worth it. Just before the temple coming from this direction is the King’s balance, off to the right. Double back on yourself here and follow the path past the balance. Maps.me is highly recommended if you don’t have it already (an offline maps app that you will come to rely on as a traveller). Along the way there are other small ruins to explore. One in particular was our favourite, marked on the map simply as temple ruins. It’s a small climb to the top but shade and wonderful views await you there. It’s a peaceful place to sit a while and appreciate the strange landscape. Further on you will find the Achyutaraya Temple complex. A fascinating place to see, in the late afternoon the light is beautiful and the palm trees lend a magical, peaceful air. Through the right side of the temple complex is a path that will lead you up to Matanga hill. If you don’t want to make the climb, head back the way you came up the straight path, then left at the end towards town. The climb is manageable with a few stops, depending on your level of fitness. Takes about 20-30 min. Once at the top, take some time to appreciate the 360 degree views over Hampi, the river and beyond. Especially in the evening light, its quite breath taking. There is a small Hindu temple here too and the attending monk will guide you through a short prayer to Siva which involves incense, flowers and making a wish. A small donation is appreciated although not compulsory. Our initial plan had been to stay up here until sunset, however we arrived far too early and weren’t prepared to wait the hour or so, so we made our descent instead down the other side towards town. We were very glad we’d made this decision as the path was not well marked, steep and pretty treacherous in places that in the dusk/dark would have been very dangerous. Please bare this in mind. The path from the Achyutaraya Temple seemed much safer although it isn’t lit in the dark and means a longer walk back to town once you reach the bottom.
There are plenty of options for dinner, many of the restaurants have floor cushions meaning you can relax there all evening.
For your second day of temple visiting, we’d recommend hiring bikes as the second area of ruins (Royal Centre) is several kilometres away. There are plenty of places to hire from with prices at 150 rupees for a standard bike with no gears, or 200 for one with gears. Try to get your bikes before 11am or they may all be gone. We had to get one of each due to availability and James’ gears did not work… So be careful and test the bike before you ride away on it. If you’d rather join a bike tour, the price is 450r per person including bike hire and covers most of the places that we did on this day, also includes lunch. We chose not to, to save money and as long as you have some sort of map, you will be fine to go on your own. The ride is quite pleasant, particularly towards the end where the road takes you through some fields (if you plan the route with maps.me). Once in the Royal Centre, you can visit things in any order you wish. Leave a couple of hours to see everything. The paid attractions here are the Lotus Mahal and Elephant Stables. As previously mentioned the 500r you pay to get into these also includes entry to the Vittala Temple. The grounds around the Lotus Mahal are manicured and trees provide shade for sitting if you wish. There are also toilets (10-20r depending how charitable the attendant feels) and cold drinks available in the parking area just before you reach the ticket booth. If you fancy a bit more of a walk after seeing the elephant stables, there is a path leading behind them with a few other ruins dotted along. We had to duck into one to avoid a rain shower.
Once finished at the Royal Centre, you can cycle the few extra km to the Vittala temple to make the most of your ticket. This is listed as the must see Temple in all the guide books and certainly doesn’t disappoint. There are also some buildings to see on the outside which are somewhat interesting if you have time/can be bothered. From here, your choices are to cycle back the way you came along the road, or cycle/walk the bikes along the riverside path that you did yesterday. The second option is much shorter but not all suitable for cycling so it’s your choice. We took the road and as we reached town, our progress was stopped by the festival procession that was happening that evening. Our visit to Hampi exactly coincided with the yearly Ustav festival (beginning of November), meaning that the area was a lot, lot busier and more crowded than usual. The procession started at the Krishna temple and ended at the main temple, with hundreds of people lining the street to watch the musicians and dancers dressed in typical Indian costumes. It was fascinating to witness, although difficult to move through with the bikes. After finally making it back to the bazaar and returning the bikes, we headed up to sunset point behind the Virupaksha Temple.
Depending on your travel plans in and out of Hampi, you may wish to switch day 3 with day 1 or combine it with either day if you only have 2 days.
For our final day, we took the boat across the river and hiked to the Monkey Temple. In hindsight, we should have just hired a tuk tuk to take us or rented a scooter because it was a long way over a large hill with a not very well marked path. In some places there was no path at all. But it was an adventure and we made it there in one piece. There’s then the small matter of 575 steps to climb to the temple. We were thoroughly exhausted once we reached the top. The views however make up for it and the few monkeys that we saw were very entertaining. One stole a bottle of Fanta from a young girl and worked out how to unscrew the top and pour out the liquid so it could drink it. As always when around monkeys, keep your belongings inside your bag or in your pockets, somewhere they can’t easily take them! There is a working temple up here but if you want to go inside, make sure your knees and shoulders are covered. I always carry a thin scarf in my bag for times like this.
Another traveller that we met said he’d visited the Monkey Temple at sunrise because his overnight bus had arrived at 5am so his tuk tuk driver took him there on route to Hampi. His photos were spectacular so like I said, you may wish to change up the order of the days dependant on your plans. We managed to get a tuk tuk back to the boat crossing and decided to stay a while in one of the restaurants looking over the river to the main temple. This side of the river is much more peaceful and if we ever go back we’d definitely stay there.
We’d booked a sleeper bus to Bengaluru from Hospet that didn’t leave until 11pm so we spent the rest of the evening hanging around in our favourite restaurant, the Old Chill Out until it was time for our taxi.
Although we had a lot of down time, this suited us and meant we could take things at our own relaxed pace in the 30+ degree heat. Hampi should certainly feature on any travel plans to Goa or backpacking through India. Although we visited at a really busy time, we could see how the rest of the year it is so peaceful that at times you could not see anyone for hours. If you are so inclined, we heard that you could also go bouldering/rock climbing. The landscape is perfect for this and they even hold competitions at times.
After now 3 weeks in India, Hampi remains one of our highlights. The fascinating history and detailed carvings everywhere will long stick in my memory, not to mention the inexplicable boulders visible across the site. How they arrived there or were formed like that remains a mystery to me. A quick google search reveals it is due to millions of years of weather erosion, but it is still amazing; like giants put them there…