I’m so in love with magical, mystical Hampi!
I was living in Goa for over 2 months before I finally got around to visiting Hampi and I wish I had visited before because Hampi turned out to be one of my highlights from 6 months traveling in India.
There really is something magical about Hampi that I just can’t describe, there’s a good reason why this place is very much on the backpacker trail in India.
Perhaps it is the surreal boulder strewn landscape, interspersed by bright emerald paddy fields, perhaps it is the amazing ruins of temples, or the magical stories of myths and legends and gods and goddesses or the surrounding countryside that is almost frozen in time. Perhaps it’s a combination of all these things that make Hampi so special.
Often, when I go somewhere special I fall in love straight away and it was no different with Hampi.
Arriving in Hampi
We arrived late in the day so first we had to find somewhere to stay. There are two areas to stay in Hampi; the Bazaar, which is the village in the shadow of the Virupaksha Temple, or among the green rice fields across the river. Due to Hampi’s UNESCO status there is no bridge allowed across the river so the only way to get across is by a boat that runs from sunrise to sunset.
We just missed the last boat so instead we crossed the river in a tiny circular coracle boat, it was a bit unnerving at first to get in what is basically a wicker basket but as we were spinning round and round through the water as the big orange sun set behind the surreal boulders, I knew then that this was somewhere special.
We found a cheap hut to stay in across the river and crashed out after the journey. There’s no quick way to get to Hampi, it’s either an overnight bus or an all day train ride from Bangalore or Goa, but, wow, it’s so worth the effort!
From the moment I opened the curtains the next morning to this view I fell in love with Hampi!
There is a laid back, kind of spiritual aura, in Hampi that I found captivating. Hampi seems to have a way of bewitching a visitor and casting a spell that makes people linger longer than expected, which is just as well because it takes time to really get under Hampi’s skin.
Of course, you could hire an auto rickshaw and whizz around the main sights in one day but you would be really missing out on the magic of this incredible place.
The more I saw of the scenery the more I was blown away by it – it’s like a cross between the Flintstones and Jurassic Park! With such unique and inspiring natural beauty, it’s not surprising really that Hampi oozes spirituality and is integral to so many myths and legends.
Plus you could never get bored of views like these!
Why Hampi is so important:
I think, to truly appreciate Hampi, you need to understand a little about the history and why it is such an important place.
Hampi features in Ramayana, the Hindu epic. Hampi is known as Kishkinda, and is the place where Rama mets the monkey king Hanuman, who helps him to rescue his wife Sita from the demon who has taken her away to Sri Lanka.
I found that the more you soak up the stories that paint a vibrant picture of the significance of Hampi, the more I fell in love with this place. Learning about the myths and legends, and how they still have a big influence on Indian culture even today, is a big part of better understanding, and gaining a better connection, to Indian culture in general and to why Hampi is so special.
The Capital of the Vijayanagar Empire
Hampi also finds fame and fortune as it became the capital of the Vijayanagar Empire, one of the largest and most important in Indian history. In the 16th century Hampi was a buzzing and important metropolis of half a million people with bazaars thriving in the trade of precious stones and other riches that attracted merchants from all over the world. All this came to an end in 1565 when the Deccan sultanates razed Vijayanagar to the ground leaving just the captivating legends and atmospheric ruins that we explore today.
Exploring Hampi with GoMowgli
To get to know Hampi better we took a day tour with the amazing GoMowgli who run India’s first ever hop off, hop on backpacker bus around the fascinating and relatively unexplored state of Karnataka. Taking this day tour really added to my understanding of Hampi and our guide Megha showed us some secret places that we would never have found alone.
Ancient Rock Paintings
It’s clear to see that Hampi is steeped in history and it was inhabited as far back as 10,000 years ago as we could see on some ancient rock paintings. These were totally off the main tourist track and well hidden, we could only see them when our guide Megha splashed some water on the rock, we would never have found these ourselves or known just how old this place was!
The Virupaksha Temple
Next we visited one of the must see sights in Hampi, the Virupaksha Temple which you can’t miss as the tall gorpuam dominates the dusty little Hampi Bazaar. This is the only temple still in use because, unlike the others, the idol was never destroyed by the invading Deccans.
The Virupaksha Temple is famous because it was the place that the Hindu god Shiva and this wife Parvati were married and Megha really brought this to life, explaining the story behind it and all the meanings behind the rituals and the carvings in the temple.
She also showed us lots more little quirky aspects of this temple that we would never have noticed on our own like the secret underground temple, unusual because it is dedicated to both Shiva and Vishnu, and in a small room all the way at the back of the temple you can see an inverted image of the temple’s main gorpuram on the wall – they call it India’s first pin hole camera!
You can still get a blessing from Lakshmi the temple elephant (if you give her a 10 Rupee note) and you can also watch Lakshmi get her daily bath in the river each morning.
The many ruins of Hampi Bazaar lie scattered around among the boulders like a huge, surreal giant open air museum. Often it’s easy to forget that its the 21st century, Hampi is still so untouched by modernity and this allows your imagination to really run wild and image this place as the bustling market place and important town it once was.
A Thousand Lingas
We climbed and jumped across the rocks to discover another secret – thousands of lingas (the representation of Shiva) carved into the rocks. We also noticed the other temples all around, the notches cut into the rocks and the Nandi that locks across from the other side of the river guarding the Shiva lingams.
We sat on the rocks and spend some time just contemplating and being mesmerized by the incredible scene before us. After a cooling coconut and a chai we continued to the Vittala Temple.
The Vittala Temple
The highlight of Hampi’s temple architecture is the famous Vittala Temple. Even though it was never completed this temple still contains the most incredible. elaborate sculptural work and the famous stone chariot, which apparently used to be able to move.
The Vittala Temple is also famous for the reverberating musical pillars, however to avoid damage, tourists are no longer allowed to play the musical pillars but if you have a guide they should be able to show you and also bring the meaning of all the intricate sculptures to life too.
With so much to see, it’s impossible to see it all and soak it all in on one day
You can also take an auto rickshaw to explore the further away sights in the Royal Enclosure, like the Queens bath, Lotus Mahal and the Elephant stables. Climb up to Hemakuta Hill and discover 2 large Ganesha statues and a huge 6.7 m Vishnu carved out of a single boulder with a head of a lion and a body of a man that lays under a 7 hooded serpent. Go in time to see the sunset over Hampi bazaar with the impressive gopuram surrounded by the stunning landscape all around.
Take time to wander alongside the river through the boulder strewn landscape and perhaps hang out for a while with a Sadhu (holy man) in a cave.
And across the other side of the river, you can rent a motorbike, drive through the amazing scenery, cool off in the lake (I’m pretty sure the crocodile warning signs are just a scare tactic)
You can also visit the less explored ruins of Anegundi, still part of the UNESCO site but with very little tourists, Anegundi means monkey kingdom and Hamuman, the monkey god who plays a big role in the Ramayana, was thought to have been born here.
But what ever you believe, there’s no denying that climbing the 600 or so steps up to the Hanuman Temple at sunset and watching the sun go down across amazing views over the stunningly surreal scenery would give even the most atheist a special spiritual feeling.
That’s just what magical Hampi does to you! Go, linger for a while and soak up all the history, magic and myths and fall in love. I’ll be back again for sure!
How to Visit Hampi
How to get to Hampi
Hampi is located in Karnataka, roughly between Goa and Bangalore. From Goa you can take an overnight bus or my preferred option is to take a train from Margao. It takes about 8 hours and you will travel over India’s second highest waterfall – Dudhsagar Falls! From Bangalore you can also take an overnight bus.
Where to Stay in Hampi
Once in Hampi you can find cheap accommodation either in Hampi Bazaar or cross the river and chill out in cute huts with views over the green paddy fields. A good option in Hampi Bazaar is Gopi Guest House but remember, no meat or alcohol is served on this side of the river. I absolutely loved the super cute huts and gorgeous rice paddy views at the Mowgli Guest House or check out Shanthi Guesthouse for a more upmarket option the Kishkinda Heritage Resort is a bit further back from the river but has a water park.
Tours of Hampi
Hampi is a great place to spend lazy days chilling out and soaking up the scenery but you can make your visit even better by understanding more about the myths and legends of this magical place. I took an excellent day tour of Hampi with goMowgli (who also run India’s first backpacker hop on, hop off bus) which I would highly recommend and then explored on my own for several more days.