It’s hot in the fierce sun and sweat is dripping from our backs. In front of us the rocky landscape of Hampi absorbs the heat and provides little respite from the sun.
We are on our way to the Vittala temple and everywhere we look we see remnants of the old Vijayanagara empire. In the 14th century Hampi was the capital of this vast Hindu kingdom and it was described as a prosperous and wealthy city untill it was defeated by Muslim armies in 1565.
Its history goes back even further though and people identified the area around Hampi to be the monkey kingdom of Kishkinda as described in the epic Hindu mythology of the Ramayana. Nowadays Hampi is a small town catering to backpackers and religious pilgrims that visit the still functioning Virupaksha temple and monkey temple.
Most backpackers stay much longer than planned, because of the relaxed atmosphere, the slow pace of life and the range of activities available. It would take months to see all the ruins and once you get tired of history you could enjoy the outdoors and go hiking or boulder climbing.
For those, like me, that do not have all the time in the world I would say 3 days is the miminum amount of time needed to see the highlights. This itinerary will help you to make the best out of your time in Hampi.
Day 1: Virupapur Gaddi & Anegundi
When making an itinerary for Hampi it is good to realize that the area is dividided by the Tunghabadra river and the sights are clustered around three centers.
Most highlights are at the side of Hampi bazaar with one cluster around the Virupaksha temple and another cluster around the royal enclosure. The other side of the river called Virupapur Gaddi also has some interesting ruins and offers a more quiet and peaceful experience.
To cross the river you can take a boat that leaves frequently once full. Virupapur Gaddi also has some nice homestays, good restaurants and plenty of places to rent a bike.And that is exactly what I would recommend you to do. Driving your motorbike with the wind through your hair among green rice fields is a highlight in itself.
Our first stop was the small village of Anegundi. The Kishkinda Trust is running several projects here to promote rural tourism and to empower the community. The sleepy town remains an off the beaten path destination which is part of its charm and so are it’s green rice paddy’s and palmtrees. On top of that Anegundi has some temples as well.
Durga & Monkey temple
On the way to Anegundi you can stop at the Durga and monkey temple. The temples are still used and a favourite stop for religious pilgrims. The monkey temple or Hanuman temple is of great importance to Hindus because some believe that the Hindu monkey god Hanuman was born here.
Both temples require an effort to climb endless steps to the top of a hill that offers a magnificient view over Hampi. The Durga temple is less high and less crowded, but the monkey temple offers a better view.
The sanapur lake is a nice spot to end your day and watch the sunset. The blue lake surrounded by rocks gets few visitors
Day 2: Highlights of Hampi by Tuk Tuk
The second day we were contemplating whether we wanted to hire a motorbike and drive around ourselves or go with a tuk tuk to see Hampi’s highlights on the Virupaksha side of the river.
We decided that the weather was too hot and treat ourselves on a tuk tuk for the day. This turned out a great decision, because the roads were much dustier and rockier than in Virupapur gaddi. On top of that our tuk tuk driver showed us some temples that were not in our guidebook such as an underground shiva temple and a large statue of Narasimha, the incarnation of Vishnu.
Vittala Temple and stone chariot
The famous stone chariot that is on most pictures of Hampi is in the beautiful Vittala temple. It is a long 2 kilometer walk through rocks and boulders to get there, but it is worth every step you take.
If you want to escape the heat I would advise you to do this early in the morning or the afternoon. Tuk tuks are not allowed to reach the Vittala temple, but if you really don’t want to walk there is a crowded white tourist van going up and down.
The large statue of Narasimha represents an incarnation of the god Vishnu. It is one of the largest statues in Hampi. Next to the statue is a small temple with a big Shiva lingam inside.
Elephant stables & Lotus Mahal
The former royal palace grounds offer some interesting sights. Not to be missed are the elephant stables and the lotus mahal.
Queens bath and stepped baths
Hampi is a dry landscape and the baths must have involved some advanced engineering. Access to clean drinking water remains a struggle for people now and then. The queens bath is a beauty inside, but the stepped baths used by the citizens of the kingdom are no less impressive.
Hazara Rama temple
Last, but not least of our tour was the Hazara Rama temple. When our tuk tuk driver stopped we almost felt we had seen enough for the day. We were wondering whether to drag our tired bodies into the sun again for one more temple.
But this was not just another temple. This was like a book with the detailed carvings on the walls telling endless stories. Elephants marching forward, women dancing, warriors fighting and horses getting ready for battle.
Tip: The Vittala temple requires a ticket that is also valid for the royal enclosure (lotus mahal and elephant stables) and the archeological museum in Hospet. We visited the museum as part of our tuk tuk tour. My advice is that if you have enough time it is worth having a quick look, but not a must see.
Day 3: Virupaksha temple and Ganesh statues on foot
Our tuk tuk tour left us in awe, but also tired and overwhelmed. The virupaksha temple and some ganesh statues are just accross the river from virupapur gadi and we decided to leave them for the next day. The third day we explored Hampi on foot.
Laxmi: the temple elephant
I always have mixed feelings of tourist activities involving elephants. In South India many temples have a temple elephant that hands out blessings to people in exchange for a few rupees.
Laxmi is Virupaksha’s temple elephant and every morning around 8 AM she goes to the river to get a bath. Her caretaker gently washes her and she seems to be enjoying this daily ritual. Still, I feel that a crowded temple is not the place for an elephant.
Virupaksha temple is still functioning and of great importance for Hindus. It is therefore the most crowded of all temples with both people and monkeys. The monkeys are fun to watch, but you should take care if you carry any food items or even just a water bottle.
The monolithic ganesh statues
Behind the Virupaksha temple are two impressive monolithic statues of Ganesh. The hindu god with an elephant head who loves sweets and removes obstacles. Sasivekalu and Kadalekalu Ganesha are an easy walk up the boulders behind the Virupaksha temple and should not be missed.
There are three places where you can stay. First of all there is Hospet which has the nearest railway connection. The town is a transport hub and not very scenic but offers some decent hotels and convenient if you need to catch an early morning train.
The second option is Hampi bazaar. Here you will find yourself right in the centre of everything there is to see. However, there is a constant struggle between the hotel owners and the authorities that rather see the hotels go to preserve the archeological heritage.
The third option is virupapur gadi. You will have to cross the river with a small boat that runs between 7 am and 5 pm. This is the most scenic and laid back location and there are some simple but good guesthouses and homestays.
We stayed at the virupapur gadi side of the river at Chinnie’s home with Airbnb. A nice homestay with a friendly young couple that are very helpful. It’s a pleasant 15 minute walk from virupapur gaddi main street up the hill.
Hampi is in the north of Karnataka. There is a daily nighttrain from Bangalore to Hospet. From Hospet you should take a riksha to Hampi (15-20 minutes). If you stay in virupapur gadi take the boat to the other side of the river. The boat runs from 7 AM till 5 PM.
There are also daily nightbuses From Hospet to Goa or Bangalore. Be aware that even though some offer a pick up from virupapur gadi included in your ticket this means that you will be stuffed with 6 people in a rickshaw for a one hour journey to reach Hospet from where the actual bus departs. It might be more comfortable and quicker to take the last boat (around 5 pm) to the other side of the river and take a rickshaw from there to Hospet on your own cost.
Hospet is a transport hub with frequent buses and trains to places in Karnataka and beyond.
During the day hampi is a very safe place. However, the rocky landscape is also the home of snakes and sloth bears. Therefore it is better not to walk around the ruins at night. If you want to see sloth bears you can visit the Daroji sloth bear sanctuary not far from Hampi.