No hills or hike trails to wander through, no beaches to tan your day away and no food or shopping ‘must haves’. Yet Hampi has an unfiltered charm that has been attracting backpackers across the world to its discovering.
So a bunch of us (friends) argued for almost two months over deciding a place of common interest for an extended weekend. Despite all votes to Goa, some mystical force had us book tickets to Hampi. Thanking that force and breaking down the arguments for Hampi.
- The rustic boulder strewn landscape on one side and bright paddy fields on the other makes for beautiful views, for the eyes and for Instagram of course. These heaps of rocks almost look like carefully arranged pebbles by a child. Contrary to popular belief, these are not a result of volcanism, but were once a part of gigantic granite monoliths. What we see today is the result of weathering and erosion over millions (or billions) of years.
- It is an UNESCO world heritage site, capital of the historic Vijaynagara empire. Now, ruins of temples, palaces, markets and a dozen architectural styles.
- The history behind the place – Vijayanagara during the reign of King Krishnadevaraya was the 2nd largest city in the world at the time and one of the richest and also the last great Hindu kingdoms. During the 15th and 16th Vijayanagara was destroyed and looted by the Mughal Sultanates over 6 months to reduce it to ruins it is now.
- It is also believed to be erstwhile Kishkinda, the Monkey kingdom of Bali and Sugreeva and the birthplace of Lord Hanuman and an important site in the story of Ramayana.
- The Tungabhadra river divides Hampi into two sides. One with all the temples, ruins and the other (Hampi Island) with a diametrically opposite vibe. So there is something for all sorts of travellers.
- If all that is not enough it has the most important thing for any vacation – a calming pace
How to Reach
The only way to reach Hampi is via Hospet. We took a direct bus from Mumbai to Hospet from where you can take a rick to Hampi which is just 15 kms away. Here are the other available options
- Fly to Hyd or Blore and take overnight Bus to Hospet
- Train from Mumbai to Hospet (takes almost 21 hours)
- Drive down from Blore or Hyderabad. There is a terrible patch of almost 50 kms from Hyd to Hospet, which makes the drive quite a challenge.
We reached the Hampi Island by 12 pm after a 16 hour bus, half an hour rick, 10 min boat journey and a 10 min walk. Rest of the day was spent lazing around and soaking in the unrushed vibe of this side of Hampi. The first evening here had us witness the ‘best things to do in Hampi’. We discovered this sunset point which was a 10 min walk from the guest house where locals and tourists gather around every evening for a Jam session.
The beautiful sunset, the view of the serene landscape and an almost psychedelic live music was one moment from the whole trip I would keep going back to.
This was our ‘stick to the itinerary’ kinda day. All the ruins and temples are on the other side of the river and boats are available from sunrise to sunset. So you must return by 5:30pm for the last boat. The boats and rick guys run quite a monopoly here and overcharge you, but sadly there is hardly any other choice of commute. We hired a rickshaw for 4 hours and the driver doubled up as a guide. Although his answer to most of our questions was ‘it is just a monument’.
The first site we visited was Vijaya Vitthala temple. Built in the 15th century during the ruling of king Krinshndevaraya of the Vijaynagar dynasty, this is one of the largest and most famed structures of Hampi. Although this temple was never completed, it is home to some extraordinary craftsmanship and the famous stone chariot.
Next we visited the Queens bath and the Lotus temple. Honestly, these two were quite a disappointment after having seen the Vijay Vitthal temple. If you don’t have a lot of time and patience, you could skip these.
What should not be skipped is the Pushkarni which is right next to Dasara Dibba. Dasara Dibba is huge heighted platform that was used by the king to view the royal processions during the festival of Dussera.
Pushkarnis are ancient tanks that get its name from the rectangular steps looking like a flower from top. You’d find such Pushkarnis close to most temples as they were used for bathing before prayers. There are pipelines made out stones, broken canals, remains of a two storied palace and another Rama temple, all in the same vicinity. Stand at the top of the ‘Dibba’ and feel a tiny part of this huge civilization that once was.
Managing pictures without the flood of tourists took most of our day. To catch the boat in time, our iterniary spilled over to the next day.
One tip – don’t go by the local people’s suggestion on places to visit. They might end up sending you to the ‘touristy’, crowded sites which are assumed to be most famous. Hampi has layers of storytelling experiences in every corner which are best discovered with an open mind and imagination. We ended up finding the least crowded places to be the most interesting ones.
Lakshmi Narsihma Statue
It is the largest monolith statue in Hampi with a height of 6.7m. The Mughal vandalism has left the statue with a damaged face giving it an angry look and hence was misunderstood as Ugra Narasimha when in fact it is a Lakshmi Narasimha – goddess Lakshmi’s right hand embracing the Lord visible but her statue missing.
There is another huge monolithic structure is of Ganesha with a huge round stomach resembling Bengal Gram.
Spice market/Hampi Bazaar was another of my favourite places. No archaeological marvel as such, the market has some of its parts completely destroyed while some stand solid to almost have you imagine hawkers settling down and countrymen shopping in those lanes.
The first temple you’d see as you as enter Hampi, on the banks of the Tungabhadra river. This is one India’s oldest temple dating back to the 7th century.
Places to Eat
The demarcation of the river becomes even more prominent for the foodies. Stay on the temple side for local vegetarian cuisine or travel to the other side for non-vegetarian food and hippie cafes.
Mango Tree – Mentioned on top of any food blogs about Hampi, it is a decent place flocking with all Indian and International tourists. Good ambience, good food, buttermilk to kill for after the scorching heat. Overall, overrated.
Almost all cafes here have a very elaborate menu offering Israeli, Spanish, English, Chinese, Thai and Indian cuisine. They make their own versions of whatever the menu states, but its all nice.
Gouthami – They boast of organic produce. The food, service and ambience all gets a thumbs up from us
Laughing Buddha – Go here for the view of the river, preferably in the daylight
Mowgli – This is where we stayed and had almost everything on the menu. I have 4 pages of bills to prove that! Try their hummus and falafel plate, thanks me later.
Good to know
- Pack light, there is some walking required through tiny lanes which are not friendly for dragging suitcases
- Not so great network – all cafes claim free wifi but they hardly work
- It is hot almost at all times, better to carry comfortable cotton clothing
- Reading about history and mythology can really helps
- We missed out on the Coracle ride, add that to your list
Back in time, back in pace, if that adds up as a perfect vacay idea, Hampi is the place to be.
Another one of my bucket list! What’s next?