The number 1 backpackers guide to incredible Hampi
Hello, my fellow intrepid travellers, and welcome to my post, the number 1 backpackers guide to incredible Hampi. Here I will be discussing how to get the most out of their time with the minimum spend in what is undoubtedly one of India’s premier tourist destinations. This enchanting corner of the subcontinent has been drawing in visitors by the truckload for decades and with good reason. No matter where you have come from in the country, you will be glad you came.
Hampi was the capital of the Vijayanagara Empire in the 14th century and once housed about 500,000 citizens. Today the ruins of that great era are spread across the breathtakingly picturesque boulder-strewn landscape. Now a Unesco world heritage site, the intricately carved temples will leave even the most hardened travellers’ jaw dropped. That coupled with abundant natural diversity, Hampi can’t fail to impress. Allow for several days to take it all in, as the ruins are spread over almost forty Square kilometres with literally hundreds of monuments to explore.
Broadly speaking, the main sights are broken down into two areas, the Sacred Centre and the royal centre. But there are many beautiful corners of Hampi that are no less grand. In addition to the very obvious historical treasures, Hampi is also famous for its 200 plus species of birds. Also, there is a Sloth bear sanctuary nearby and even an Otter sanctuary. There is a lot to get through so let us jump straight in.
A brief history of Hampi
In its heyday, Hampi was at the epicentre of the Vijayanagara empire and was the second-largest city in Asia next to Beijing and almost certainly India most productive. The Hindu rulers lived a life of omnipotent power and luxury. Hence the grand ruins sometimes carved from top to bottom. Hampi peaked between the 14th and 16th century when the city became one of the most prominent trading posts globally. Buying and selling all manner of goods to foreign markets generated massive amounts of wealth.
The Muslim armies of the north eventually conquered the city. However, it took the combined efforts of five Sultanates and their troops to topple Rama Raya (the ruler at that time) and send Hampi into the pages of history. The Bijapur, Golconda, Berar, Bidar and Ahmednagar all zeroed in on the city and eventually won. If you have ever visited any of these places and seen the size of their strongholds, you will not find it hard to appreciate how formidable an opponent this would have been. In 1565 at the battle of Talikota, it was Rama Rayas last stand, and after six months of plundering, Hampi would be reduced to ruins.
Hampi remained an obscure set of ruins lost in its bewitching landscape until 1800 when Colin Mackenzie, a British surveyor for the East India tea company, stumbled across it and what a sight that must have been. Massive excavations followed, and Hampi once again shot to fame, and in 1986, Unesco declared Hampi a world heritage site and became a national treasure.
Even after Over 500 years since the fall of the city, it is still not hard to visualise what a Grand place must have been. The city has suffered extensive damage and been subject to the ravages of time, yet this place remains magnificent. The Archaeological Survey Of India is doing continuous restoration work to preserve what is left, and your tickets help fund these expensive projects.
The Ticket for foreigners is currently 600 rupees and 40 rupees for Indian nationals, and yes, that’s a huge difference! It is valid for the day and will get you into most of the paid sights, so don’t lose it. It is not reasonably possible to see everything in one day, and I wouldn’t even try. Take your time and soak it all in. After all, you may as well as you would have put in so much effort to get here in the beginning, and there is so much to see.
Not to mention that while walking around, you will have plenty of opportunities to see a little of Hampi’s incredible biodiversity. In truth, tourism around the area has had a significant impact on its wildlife and is a source of controversy between conservationists and local business. For more information on this subject and how you can do your part check out this beautifully made documentary. Now let us look at the two groups of monuments and look at what you can expect to find.
The sacred centre
There are two key sites here the Virupaksha temple and the iconic Vittala temple. The 7th century Virupaksha Temple is both visually stunning and an active place of worship. It is close to Hampi Bizzare, so it is tough to miss given its massive size. The central tower was constructed in 1442 and is beautifully carved from top to bottom.
The 16th-century Vittala temple was never completed before the fall of the city. It is, however, the epitome of fine art. one can not help but stare in wonder at this intricate labour of love. The stone chariot that creates the centrepiece of the temple represents Vishnu’s vehicle. There is an image of Garuda (Vishnu’s classic mode of transport in Hindu mythology that’s half man and half bird) on the inside. The temple is 2 km from the main bizarre and one of my favourite walk in the whole of Hampi.
Another fantastic thing to do is just at the end of the main Bazaar. If you look up, you will see Hemakuta hill. To get there, follow the signs to the top of the mountainside for a beautiful sunset if the weather permits.
The Sule Bazaar, not far from Virupaksha temple, was once the centre of all that trade and believed to be the red light district for this ancient city and why not? It was where are the money was coming in and out of the city, after all.
The royal centre
These sights are quite spread out, so definitely worth investing in some kind of transport to get the most out of your time. Some of Hampi’s most important pieces of architecture can be found in this group.
The queen’s bath is very grand and my favourite part of this group. The Indo Islamic architecture puts it in a league of its own despite it looking a bit bland from the outside.
The Hazarama temple is another example of Vijayanagara craftmanship and is exquisitely carved, making this a delight to visit. The artwork depicts scenes from the Ramayana (one of the sacred Vadas of the Hindu faith.)
Zenana Enclosure is the part of the city that was just for the ladies of high status, hence the high walls. Inside you will find the Lotus Mahal (lotus Palace) and Elephant stables. It would help if you had a bit of imagination to picture what it was once like in its heyday, but still, it is a delight to visit.
The Mahanavami – Dibba is a three-tiered structure that offers some decent views of the countryside, and ironically, that is why it was initially built. It was constructed for the king to observe the festivities in his city, and you can still benefit from that today. Your Ticket also covers the archaeological museum, and it is well worth a visit as it houses a few treasures the looters missed. This list is far from exhaustive, so take your time and enjoy the historical wonders of the Vijayanagara empire.
There are countless monuments scattered around the area, and it would take me all day to list them all. So for all those history buffs interested in this incredible place, check out the Wikipedia page as it is beautifully written and gives a good breakdown of every primary site.
Daroji Sloth Bear Sanctuary.
This charming little place is an 83 square kilometre stretch of scrubland that lies about 20 km from Hampi bazaar. It was declared a protected zone in 1994 with the sole intent of protecting Karnatikas Sloth bear population. These shaggy animals are hard to spot, but this relatively small area has a stable community, making them more conspicuous. A viewing tower is open between 2 pm and 6 pm, where you can observe these shy creatures. The rangers baste rocks with honey, and in authentic Winnie the Pooh style, this lures the animals out of hiding to feed on thair sticky gifts.
You will need binoculars or a camera with a good zoom to get the most out of your visit, as the viewing platform is a long way from the action. When I visited, some domestic tourists were a lot closer, but they would have paid more than you, and permission would be shrouded in Indian bureaucratic red tape. The Rangers were kind enough to lend me their binoculars as they were much better than mine, but I would not count on them. It is better to bring your own.
The reserve was created for bears, but many more animals call this place home, such as the Ruddy Mongoose, Leopards, Monitor lizards, Pangolins, the Star Tortoise, and of cause a wide variety of Hampi’s collection of birds. Both Bears and Leopards often roam around the ruins of Hampi at night, so don’t go for a wander after dark.
It is a very worthwhile excursion for any wildlife enthusiast, as in all my years in national parks. I have only ever seen one of these shy creatures once!
Cost to visit the Bear Sanctuary.
Now for the hard part getting to the park and away again is not easy and close to impossible to do it independently. There are buses, but they are sporadic and stop at the entrance, and that’s several kilometres walk to the tower. You will have to hire a tuk-tuk or motorbike to make it practical. A tuk-tuk is about 600 to 700 rupees, including waiting time.
The entrance is 50 rupees for Indians and 300 rupees for foreigners. Plus 500 rupees for parking (no joke!) It is still well worth the money to see these furry beasts in their natural habitat in all reality.
Karnatika otter reserve
Further upstream from Hampi, there is a designated stretch of water that is now dedicated to preserving the local population of Smooth Coated Otters. The protected area runs for about 34 kilometres, and it is a refuge for wildlife. Numbers of Smooth Coated Otters are under pressure from the damming of the river, and the local fisherman sees them as a direct threat to their livelihood.
It is very unclear if there is any cost to enter the reserve and if there is any infrastructure. To access the area, get the public bus from Hospet to Bijapur, and it is just outside of town. I saw four otters in the river while in Hampi, so I can confirm there is a healthy population of these elegant fishermen. Even if you don’t get to see the stars of the show, there would be plenty more wildlife to come and see.
Birding in amazing Hampi
If I were to write a post entitled a backpackers to guide to incredible Hampi and not mention the opportunity to go birding in one of India’s hotspots, well, that would be just rude, wouldn’t it? There are plenty of birds that can catch your eyes here. For serious birders, the prime goal is to find the critically endangered and endemic Yellow-Throated Bul Bul.
For the more casual visitor who wants to enjoy the splendour of the natural world, parodically crane your head up to the trees and enjoy the kaleidoscope of colours. There are over 200 species for you to marvel at, and even those who are not keen on birds will still undoubtedly be impressed at the diversity.
To make sense of what you are seeing, either get a book or get in contact with the Kishkinda trust in Anegunde. Despite there being no formal anything on their website about birds, apparently, they offer information.
There is a book available in town on the birds of Hampi, but to save money, get a field guide to the whole subcontinent. Alternatively, I find Kolcuttabirds.com to be very informative. Because the odds are once you take a look at how beautiful the wildlife is, you will want to know what you are looking at.
Bouldering in a timeless landscape.
As soon as you get close to Hampi, you begin to be aware the whole area is like a big bowl of stones. It is prime bouldering country, and there are many quality companies to show you how. I have read complaints about the lack of safety equipment, but they seem to have everything you get in a climbing wall in England.
Even if you are only mildly interested in climbing, the views would be amazing. Quite frankly, it is the only way you would be allowed to see those views is with a guide as the hills are full of dangerous wildlife, and there have been incidences of the occasional mugging. The police won’t be thrilled to find you wandering around here alone.
There are several companies, and I will provide links to some websites. Before committing to anything, look at the reviews, look at the prices, etc. and make your own judgment. There seems to be a fair bit of competition in the bouldering world. Some of the better companies I have found are:
Tom and Jerrys: they seem to offer just about everything from tuk-tuk tours to multi-day climbing jaunts. The prices are clear, and the reviews look good.
The Goan corner: This is a hotel with a restaurant and climbing school. Again they seem to offer every conceivable service needed for a top-class stay in Hampi.
Both of these companies are in the main Bazaar and are not far from each other. For serious bouldering enthusiasts, I have found a bouldering website in Hampi that covers a decent amount of information regarding how to get the most out of your bouldering experience while you stay here.
Getting a bite to eat in Hampi.
I want always to be honest with my readers and don’t want to say something that is not true. In the guide books, the restaurants all claim to be selling multi-cuisine food. That really means a carbon copy of one menu to another selling the same pizza and pasta kind of menu. I am not a fan of this kind of food, so it is tough for me to give an honest and positive opinion. Hampi Bazaar is right next to an active temple, and that means the food is vegetarian and meat is strictly off-limits.
Don’t get me wrong, as a backpacker, it’s always lovely to get your coffee with breakfast, but it is hard to find tasty Indian food in the main Bazaar. There are a couple of ok places to find local food, but it is mediocre at best, in my opinion. If you do find anywhere pleasant to eat, let me know in the comments section provided. I am sorry I can’t help more. I did eat in several places, but the food seriously underwhelmed me, and I don’t want to write something just because. But who comes here for fine food anyway?
Getting a nights rest in Hampi.
From November to February is the best time to visit. If you decide to come at this time, it is wise to book ahead by phone or online. I came at this time without booking, so I can confirm you will have to take whatever beds are available in whatever guest house and not your chosen place. I was grossly overcharged for a bed until a room comes up in the location I wanted.
There are two main places to stay in Hampi. One is Hampi bazaar, and most travellers stay here. There are many options, and guest houses offer a cosy and well-organised stay. The significant advantage of staying here is it is close to the bus stop and cheap to get to and from the area. If you come in the rainy season, it stands to reason choose one with mosquito nets to keep the wildlife out.
The other area for backpackers to stay in is Virupapur Gaddi, which is just across the river. The guesthouses around here tend to attract more long term stays and are popular with those travellers who just want to “chill out.”
Across the river is the fortified village of Anegundi. This place predates Hampi and is considered part of the archaeological site. This place is way more relaxed and authentic. However, this tends to be more expensive, and you will have to negotiate how to get there. The significant advantage of staying out here is that it is a far cry from the bustling tourist ghetto that is Hampi bazaar. Once you are here, access to the sacred centre is just a short boat ride away.
Getting around Hampi
Hampi is very spread out so you will need some form of transport to appreciate it and you have a few options available. You can hire a bicycle for around 150 to 200 rupees a day. It is an excellent way to explore at your own pace, but the heat can be gruelling, so try and set out early and take plenty of water. You will find this a useful method if you want to spot wildlife as you are not moving so fast.
Another option is to travel by rickshaw, and this is a no-stress way to experience Hampi. The advantage of this is they all tend to know the best spots that you would probably miss by yourself. Expect to pay between 800 and 1000 rupees for the whole day. The price will ultimately depend on the time of year and your bargaining skills.
You can also hire a motorbike to visit at your own pace. Check the bike first for damage to save any discrepancy when you go to pay. Expect to pay anywhere between 200 and 450 rupees for a days hire, depending on the bike. This price does not include petrol, and most bike hire shops will sell this to you for around 100 rupees a litre.
For those well-heeled travellers, you can hire a car, and that will definitely be more than 1000 rupees a day. With this option, ask around to get the best deal you can. The advantage here of cause is if you have AC, you won’t feel like you are on slow bake as it gets sweltering in the summer.
Also, an important note is there is still no ATM in Hampi, which will cost you to get to and from one. It is 3km each way to the nearest ATM from the bazaar and will cost you 100 rupees at least. If you don’t want to pay, you can wait for the bus, but this will be very time-consuming. Alternatively, you can make sure you have all the cash you need before you arrive.
Getting there and away from Hampi
Hampi is connected by local bus only from Hospet. The bus stops at the railway station so it is convenient and this service is relatively frequent.
There are both public and private bus connections to Gorkanna, Bangalore and Mysore from Hospet city centre.
By Rail, the nearest station is Hospet junction. Train number 17603 runs from Hyderabad. Train number 16592 runs from Bangalore, and train number 18048 runs from Vasco De Garma (goa) to Howrah in Calcutta. Try and book this in a government office to get the tourist quota to ensure a seat.
For more information on travelling around India, see my post on the subject. It is packed with tips and tricks to help you ease your way around this vast country.
Summary of my post Backpackers guide to Incredible Hampi.
Any trip to south India would be incomplete without a trip here, in my opinion, and for an excellent reason. This place is a historical treasure with stunning wildlife, and to cap it off, it is set in some of the most beautiful and iconic landscape subcontinents. There are so many reasons to come here, and you seldom find someone who does not recommend a visit. So go and check this beautiful place for yourself.
So this wraps up my number 1 backpackers guide to incredible Hampi. Let me know how your experience was and if I can help you further with any advice, then leave your comments in the section provided, and I will do my best to help. Happy travels, my fellow intrepid travellers and until next time.
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