“After 6 months of travelling, this is the most beautiful place I have visited in India”
“It’s one of my most favorite places on Earth”
“You have to go to Hampi, its awesome”
These are the kind of raves I have been hearing for a while now from travellers for Hampi. I got a chance to go there last month after visiting Mysore for its famous Dasara (more on that later). The route to Hampi was decent, a bit too long for my tastes. Mysore -> Bellary -> Hospet -> Hampi totaling about 15 hours in different buses. So when I finally reached Hampi I was wondering what I would find there. Firstly I realised that in all the raves the travellers hadn’t been clear about what I would find there and secondly there was the chance that it was just over-rated.
Getting down finally in Hampi from the local bus, I looked around. I had already seen some beautiful fields, hills and ruins as I was approaching the place. Just across the bus stand you see the Virupaksha Temple – the founding temple of the Vijayanagara dynasty. Its actually not a ruin but a well maintained temple complex.
And you see a bustling and colorful bazaar street And you see nothing else – a empty dusty road with couple of carts selling small trinkets. A lot of people rush me – do you want a home stay? do you need a rickshaw to take you around the ruins? buy my guidebook! Apparently there used to be a bazaar street here but that has been demolished since the whole area has been declared heritage, so the tourism department is trying hard to keep it the way it was(is) and yet create a tourist attraction.
So all in all my initial impression was kind of mixed – I could see beautiful scenery and ruins to explore but where is the town? Where is a bustling bazaar which gives a distinct flavor to the place? I could see a little way off a bunch of hotel blocks. All 2 story, quaint little buildings so I headed off there. The ‘free wi-fi’ signs everywhere were a pleasant surprise but only to realise later that Vodafone/Airtel are just not available within the hotel. (The tourism department hasn’t allowed rampant mobile tower construction which I think is good). With these mixed reactions I entered the town but at the end of my 3 days I thought the place was fantastic! Here is what you will find in Hampi, and why it will probably delight you completely!
From the moment you enter Hampi you can see picturesque ruins dotting the surroundings. On tops of the far off hills, on the street side, the river bank and the Virupaksha Temple tower is visible from almost every where. Some of the rocks lying around have carvings on them making you realise that they are part of so much history.
The place takes on a surreal feel as history blends with the present.
I usually gravitate to the water spot in any place, I guess this is because I have grown up very close to the sea in Mumbai. Sitting at the riverbank at Hampi with the ruins scattered in and around the river was a lovely experience. Families giving a ritual bath to their infant in the auspicious waters of Tungabhadra, a man trying to swim in the swift river current, groups having a great time taking a dip in the cool water, hawkers selling their wares – the riverbank is full of activity. Boats pass from one bank to the other, to and fro, as there is no bridge, probably another effort by the tourism board to keep the place as is.
Traditional coracal boat can be taken from one side to the other for 50/- one journey, at least thats what they charged me. Group boats are available for 10/- per seat. Some kind of weird stuff happening in the boat management because there are three different boat services. One coracal and two group boat ones. Each of these has specific routes – you can only take them from a particular spot to a particular spot. Funny.
I was guided to see some of the ruins when I get free time (I was working most of the time, as I am a digital nomadic traveller) but I decided first I want to go on a long walk to get the lay of the land. I was in for a pleasant surprise, especially cause I had visited Ranganathittu Bird Sanctuary near Mysore a few days earlier and hadn’t seen too many birds. I crossed the river to the opposite bank, Virupapur Gadde and the view of the farms, hills was magnificient. There is a small region of reserve forest with a lake and fields around it. Its so picturesque! The birds were a complete surprise! Egrets, sparrows, kingfishers, cuckoos, bee-catchers, fly-catchers were all as common as crows are in the city. I also saw a hoopoe – which was such a delight and a myriad of other birds I am yet to identify. It was brilliant. I walked with a big smile on my face.
“Nice to meet you”
The locals were interesting. A lot of them had learned some English. So the typical conversation goes like “Hi, I am <name>” holds out the hand to shake.
Me: Hello <shakes hand>
“Nice to meet you”
Me: Hahah nice to meet you too!
After this they may ask other questions in broken English but the above two sentences everyone knows pat. One lady with her two daughters – all carrying a bundle of sticks on their heads. Even her daughter started a similar dialogue with me. I of course replied happily and the girl was so stunned she dropped her bundle of sticks. heheh I also met the funny, con artists the Magic Babas who started talking in a similar manner – maybe the government has English classes for them? Lots to find out here about their place management.
Apparently not all outsiders are nice, I saw two extremely obnoxious western girls completely ignoring the locals and seriously misbehaving.
In Hampi firstly narcotics is a problem. I saw some foreigners making cigarettes and smoking them in front of everyone on the riverbank. The above two western girls were extremely obnoxious. Secondly, apparently in certain season some type of foreigners come in which are totally crap type. They wear the most minuscule stuff which is just not appropriate for India. Many of the guys roam around shirtless – wtf!! These often do not have the most basic sense of respect and propriety when they enter temples and other such places.
In fact I know of the better foreigners who leave Hampi when these kind of crowd increases. So I was concerned about this. Despite all the demolitions – there seems to be no check on the foreigner behaviour and narcotics usage.
This was so much fun! Renting a moped for 150 or so a day (petrol additional) and just riding onto the beautiful roads. There are many places to go around Hampi – secluded ruin spots to see, nearby villages, Daro – bear sanctuary and so on. What really got my eye was Kishkindha ruins.
Kishkindha Ruins @ Anegundi
I don’t know much about Vijayanagara kingdom because it was taught in history text books (zzz) but Kishkindha was in the Ramayana Story books (yay). So I totally want to see structures of the times of Ram, Sita and Hanumanji!! So Anegundi was where I headed to! Anegundi is a small village about 6kms from Hampi. You can take a rickshaw to the village but the best way is by moped!
Anjaneya Hills where Hanumanji was born was the highlight of the trip. Sadly I was on the verge of a full on sunstroke so couldn’t spend proper time there but still glad I visited. Two monks were reading the Ramayana non-stop, 24 hours for years! The positivity of the place was mind-boggling!
Another reason to go to Anjaneya Hills is for the view, it gives a 360 panoramic scene.
Will write a more detailed blog post about Anegundi later!
Met a Nirmala Niketan nun there who works at a school for orphan kids. Plan to visit her on my next trip. 🙂
Every morning at 8am the elephant, Lakshmi of the Virupaksha temple is bathed. It was lovely to watch this huge animal sitting there so docile-ly being scrubbed and scrubbed 🙂
I just wish the tourists weren’t so touristy. They need to do more to blend into the place so they can really experience it.
Nearest city to Hampi is Hospet, about 30 mins away. Good buses from Hospet to and back from Hampi are available every 15 mins at the bus stand. You can also take a rickshaw or private vehicle.
Overnight buses to Hospet directly are available from Bangalore/Mumbai and possibly other places as well. There are few so you need to book in advance. I couldn’t get tickets when I tried to book one day earlier.
Bellary & Hubli are the other two cities you can head to from Hampi via Hospet. You can only take local buses or private vehicle. From Bellary/Hubli you should easily be able to get a good bus to most nearby metros. Train are also available from Hospet, but since tickets in them are tougher to book last minute I hardly ever go by train. You can try to get a good train if you are booking early on.
A lot of guest houses in Hampi. Finding a place shouldn’t be a problem – but you should be able to get free wi-fi (as most mobile networks won’t work well). Most of these guest houses have restaurants and sit outs you can order from. A lot of rooftop restaurants are also there.
If you are on a budget trip then I have been told by many reliable sources that very good places – individual huts are available for 200/- or 100/- on the other side of the river at Virupapur Gadde.
If you a first time solo traveler and want to stick to something reliable then Rocky Guest House or Thilak Guest House are there near the Temple.
Most of the restaurants serve Italian, continental and Indian foods. Some serve Tibetan and other exotic cuisine. Since I am a veggie and I don’t have onion & garlic I stuck to the restaurant at my hotel. I did try out the Mango Tree which is supposed to be really good.. and it was fairly good. The overall food is good but homely. I mean its not like a professional chef preparation. It tasted like my own cooking which is good enough.
So I hope this blog post gives you some idea of what Hampi’s all about. There is so much to do, that depending on your interests you can find the right balance of activities to have an awesome time!
Let me know if you have any questions, will try and answer to the best of my ability. As for people looking to find offbeat places to visit in Hampi… I spent only 3 days there, most of the time went in working, but I did make some friends there. Let me know if you want to connect with one of these friends who might be able to suggest offbeat places.