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3 Days in Hampi

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:

Day 1

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.

Day 2

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.

Day 3

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…

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6 day Scottish Road Trip Itinerary

“I feel a sort of reverence in going over these scenes in this most beautiful country, which I am proud to call my own, where there was such devoted loyalty to the family of my ancestors – for Stuart blood is in my veins.”

Queen Victoria, journal entry in 1873

This quote represents quite nicely how I feel about Scotland, although my blood is that of the McKenzie’s rather than the Stuarts. I’ve always been proud of my Scottish heritage, with such a large family that I’ve been close to my whole life. Although I did feel slightly uncomfortable walking around the highlands with the name McKenzie and a truly southern English accent!

This trip came about because we wanted to go away for a week to celebrate our anniversary. We debated cheap beach holidays then settled, somehow, on Scotland. A Scottish road trip has been something we’ve wanted to do for a while now, so we thought why not?!  We chose to fly and rent a car rather than drive all the way up from Sussex, seeing as we weren’t planning to dive or anything. That’ll be another trip!

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Day 1

We landed in Glasgow at about 3 pm with only our hand luggage and made our way to the car rental place via the shuttle bus provided.  We got given our car, after they tried to swindle us out of an extra £10 a day for the next model up, and we set off. At home we have an almost 16 year old fiesta so a brand new Citroen C1 felt just fine to us! We also didn’t have a sat nav, only the road map I’d bought so we were doing this old school. Leg one of the journey was to get to Fort William for the night. The drive took about 2 hours and we went through the stunning Loch Lomond National Park and Glen Coe. I made James stop so I could get this shot:

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There was even a little snow up there still! We didn’t stop again and arrived at our Fort William guest house in good time, a lovely little place over looking Loch Linnhe just before you get into town. Being here, of course I had to take James to see Ben Nevis. I climbed it years ago with my parents and sister, so it was nice going back although I’d forgotten that you can’t see the summit from the road, it’s hidden behind the surrounding landscape. We tried to get a table for dinner at the on-site restaurant but they were full so we ended up in a pub on the high street which was wonderful! The Grog and Gruel is a traditional feeling place with a great menu of pies, burgers and haggis, but also pizza and tex-mex food. After a little walk up the high street we headed back to our guest house for an early night ready for the long day I had planned next. Not before we’d taken some photos of the glorious sunset though!

Day 2

This was by far our busiest and, I think, most enjoyable day. Breakfast was huge, with a Scottish cooked breakfast but then also cereal, toast and a waffle maker on the side! Lucky for me James doesn’t like black pudding so I got double helpings all week. We set of at 9 am with our first stop the Glenfinnan Viaduct, more famously known as the Harry Potter bridge. Unfortunately we weren’t there at the right time to see the steam train but it was very impressive nonetheless and we had it to ourselves.

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The structure itself is concrete I believe but the multitude of arches and mountains in the background make it just breathtaking. There is a walk you can do from here to get a better view from the other side but we didn’t have time, we had a ferry to catch!

Next we had to get to the ferry port in Mallaig, a picturesque journey following the railway track. We were there for the ferry to the Isle of Skye, the bit I had been most looking forward to. We left the little port town for our hour crossing to Armdale. The feature image at the top of this post is some of the scenery we had along the way. There’s something so peaceful about layers of mountains fading into blueness like that. It makes you remember how small you are and how insignificant your worries are to the world.

Upon arriving in Skye, we immediately headed north, towards Uig and the mysterious Fairy Glen. This whole island is beautiful with it’s own small mountain range and dramatic scenery. I should say, we were so incredibly lucky the entire week to have glorious sunshine, which made everything so much more inviting. We made it to Fairly Glen by accident actually. James took a wrong turn (which I’d probably told him to take…) so I had to use my phone to get us back on track when I realised we we’d just passed the glen. Even once we arrived in the spot on the map it took us forever to find it. It is not signposted and there were no hoards of tourists to show us the way. To save you time if you ever venture that way, park near the small pond on the right hand side and make your way over the ridge behind the pond. There’s sort of a path, and it will lead you to the glen. When we arrived, eventually, we found circles of rocks that are either meticulously cared for or they are moved regularly. There is also a mound you can climb to get a beautiful view of the whole thing.

The hills here are totally different to the rest of the area. Like they have wrinkles in them, while the surrounding land is smooth. Even when we drove away we could still pick out the place from a distance. Our next stop was the Quiraing. This was a place I’d read about and couldn’t wait to get to. It’s an area in the north east of Skye with some incredible views of the enchanting landscape. We donned our walking boots and set off on what turned out to be a 3 hour hike. But it was so worth it. The path is clearly marked and you begin setting off towards some imposing rock formations, with a stunning view behind you. Then you are led round the back of the mountain for what feels like forever before you start climbing, emerging at the top with a lookout over the sea, my favourite view of the whole trip. The top is a bit marshy, even in the good weather we had so be careful, and there isn’t a well marked path here so just keep heading roughly south until you start to see the descent. From here, you get another breathtaking view of the Quiraing. The descent is tricky and steep, full concentration required.

By now it was about 5 pm. I’d really wanted to climb to see the Old Man of Storr but we just didn’t have time. You can get a reasonable view of it heading south from the Quiraing to Portree but if you stop at the marked car park, you can’t see a thing unless you actually do the walk. In the main town of Portree, we stopped for dinner. At least one fish and chips meal is obligatory on any Scotland visit. My final activity for the day was to go and watch the sunset from the Neist Point Lighthouse, the westernmost point on the island. Everything in Scotland is much further away than you think it’s going to be because of the tiny single roads everywhere. Passing points become your best friend in an attempt not to lose the deposit on the car squeezing by other vehicles, but this slows you down incredibly. We arrived at the car park with probably about 10 mins to spare and I literally ran to find a good viewing point. We didn’t have time to get to the lighthouse itself which is another 20 minutes or so walk away, and with the amazing weather, it seemed everyone else on the island had the same plan as me so the crowds were pretty large. It was a beautiful place, I just wish we hadn’t been so rushed.

Not only was it a mad dash to get there, it was also a mad dash to make it to our hostel and collect our key before the office shut. And now with it being dark, the roads became even more treacherous. James was amazing, driving as fast as he could with my dodgy directions, getting us to the hostel only 5 minutes late. Thankfully the guy knew we were coming so he’d waited, but he did not seem impressed. We slept very well that night, so exhausted from the day.

Day 3

The next morning we had breakfast at a lovely little cafe across the road with wonderful coffee and gorgeous mountain views. Our first stop this day was the Fairy Pools in south west Skye. This was more than worth the drive. The walk is as long as you choose to make it although the best views of the pools are a little way up. The river is winding and so pretty, with crystal clear waters. I couldn’t resist taking a paddle, the water was so cold, my feet were numb within 2 minutes! If you only have time to do one thing on the Isle of Skye, I’d highly recommend going here. It’s the perfect family walk too.

Then we set off back towards the mainland over the Skye Bridge with our next stop being Eilean Donan Castle. This was the busiest place we’d been to so far, with several tour buses. But listed as the most beautiful castle in Scotland, we couldn’t really drive by so close and not visit. I’d done very little research about this place before we arrived so I was stunned to learn that in the 13th century, this castle was owned by my ancestors, clan McKenzie/MacKenzie! It was very surreal walking where they’d once walked.

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From Eilean Donan, we headed towards Gairloch on the west coast. Our drive took us partly along the Coastal Road and was so pretty. Surrounded by mountains, Lochs appearing as if out of nowhere as you turn a corner and barely a single car on the road, we felt as if we were in the middle of nowhere, which was exactly the aim of this road trip. The drives between each destination were as much part of the fun and we made several stops along the way to admire the views.

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That night, we’d booked into one of the only hotels we could find in the area, the Gairloch Hotel. It was the strangest place. From the outside it looked amazing, then you walk in and it’s like stepping back into the 90s. All the decor was outdated, and our room was at the end of a long, winding corridor like something out of a horror movie. The room itself was nice and big and clean, but the TV was a tiny 10×10″ thing and the bathroom had some loose fittings. Dinner was an even stranger experience, there were three things to pick from the menu which were then brought out to us within 5 minutes. The waiter also tried to tell me I was ordering wrong by asking for wine before the food…

Needless to say we got out of there as soon as we could and took a walk along the beach to the pub down the road. The walk along the road would have taken about 10 minutes, we decided (after a bottle of wine) to climb over the rocks which took considerably longer and was much more fun. And there was the bonus of another sunset.

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Day 4

Day 4 our goal was to get to Inverness. On the way we stopped at two waterfalls and Loch Ness. There are plenty of gorges across the central highlands and the waterfalls that come with those are all free to visit and worth the time. The two we saw had suspension bridges over the river for a good view of the falls.

Just outside of Inverness we stopped at Loch Ness. We ended up parking in a little village that was actually quite a way from the loch. It took us about half an hour through a little residential area and a woodland to reach Loch Ness. Even once we got there, there wasn’t a great deal to see. Despite being the most famous loch, it’s not the prettiest, it’s just one of those things you have to see. That evening we walked into the city from our guest house. We went to take a look at the castle and wandered round the cobbled streets before ending up in a Chinese buffet restaurant (I know, I know). After eating, we walked into a small pub, full of locals that all stared at us when we entered. It was a nice place though, good for people watching and very amusing when a french couple came in to try whiskey for the first time.

Days 5 & 6

Our last two days were spent in the two national parks, the Cairngorms and Loch Lomond. Overall we preferred the Cairngorms. It felt like a bigger space, more wild with more to see. We visited Loch an Eilein, a beautiful walk through peaceful pine forest.

In the Loch Lomond national park, we climbed Ben A’an, a fairly arduous walk for people with our low fitness levels. The view from the top is stunning though, overlooking Loch Katrine.

On our last morning, the day of our actual anniversary, we went to Loch Lomond itself, and walked around the grounds of Buchanan Castle. A lovely way to end our tour. Scotland is an amazing place and visiting slightly out of season in May, meant that we had almost every place we visited to ourselves, adding to the feeling of vastness you get everywhere you go in the highlands.

Although we spent about the same as if we’d gone abroad, exploring your own country is so important and we’d thoroughly advocate anyone to do it.