Discover the Magic of Ancient Hampi in Karnataka
An Unofficial Wonder of the World?
As our bus from Hospet Junction rolled and wound down a dusty track towards Hampi we had no real preconceptions of what to expect which made it even more incredible when we caught our first glimpse of this truly magical place. We’ve heard some people refer to Hampi as an unofficial wonder of the world and as mountains of boulders started appearing on the horizon we certainly gazed through the bus windows in wonder!
Hampi wasn’t somewhere we had planned to visit or even really heard of before we actually got to India. We began to hear stories of this mysterious place through that wonderful backpacker grapevine and knew we just had to go and see it for ourselves!
Luckily our route from Chennai down through Tamil Nadu and up through Kerala and Karnataka would take us just where we needed to be to catch the overnight Hampi Express from Bangalore! Hampi is a little out of the way for those only intending to head to Gokarna or Goa which is probably why it’s still relatively unheard of on the big tourist trail but this makes it even more special! For those who have the time to get off the beaten track then Hampi really rewards you!
Arriving in Hampi
The closer the bus winds down into tiny little Hampi, the more and more obscure the landscape becomes; with boulders balancing precariously all around you and ruins of ancient temples popping up on every corner. The bus drops you at the only bus stand in Hampi, directly opposite the impressive Sri Virupaksha temple. As you step off out into the open you quite literally feel like you’ve stepped into a film set…apart from the swarm of auto drivers which unfortunately hasn’t been avoided here – it’s still India after all!
Something to note is that Hampi is split into two halves separated by a small river; Hampi and Hampi Island. Both sides are equally as charming and have much to explore but we opted to stay on the much quieter Hampi Island side.
We made our way down to the river where we were greeted with a flurry of activity and colour as women washed their saris, men and children played and bathed and the local temple elephant was having her daily bath! You can either take a small boat across the river or just go for it and wade across!
We had been warned by a friend that the boatmen often completely overcharge so we took the adventurous option; rolled up our trouser legs and took the plunge into the cool water! Across safely we walked up the hill to find the famous backpacker haunt Goan Corner. We followed a dirt track around the corner and eventually came out into a rice paddy with Goan corner in the distance.
Walking through those bright green rice paddies, surrounded by hills made up of thousands of cascading boulders and the sun just rising so that everything was tinted gold we knew Hampi would be one of those places we would just never want to leave!
How to Explore All of Hampi’s Magic;
Here are all the things that you shouldn’t miss if you travel to this mesmerising land!
Stay Amongst the Rice Paddies;
Both sides of Hampi have a certain Indian charm about them and we had planned to spend a few nights on each, however, we soon got too comfortable relaxing amongst Hampi Islands emerald rice paddies and palm trees!
It’s obviously a personal choice on which side of Hampi you prefer but we totally fell in love with the chilled vibes and stunning sunset points Hampi Island has to offer!
We stayed at the backpacker famous Goan Corner where its impossible to stay and not feel totally relaxed or make tons of new friends! It has double rooms, or camp beds on an open air balcony so that you can sleep under the stars, plenty of hammocks and an awesome restaurant!
Sunset & Sunrise From the Boulders;
In the centre of Hampi Island lies sunset point which, as you may have guessed, is perfect for catching the huge red Indian sun setting over the boulders and rice paddies below! The path up into the boulders is well trodden and pretty much everyone gathers up here on a nightly basis and we can see why! The view is spectacular and as some of Hampi’s longer standing residents begin their drum beats and guitar tunes you are treated to an atmospheric and completely unique sunset every night!
Equally as beautiful from up on the boulders is sunrise. You have to clamber a little further over the boulders until you have a view across to the other side of Hampi Island but it’s well worth it. Position yourself on one of the many perches and wait for the sun to make its ascent. The landscape here is unimaginable and like nothing we’ve ever seen before.
The sunrises and sunsets here are absolutely breathtaking and some of the best we’ve seen in the whole of India! We spent so long up on the rocks at sunrise just soaking up the other-worldly atmosphere and wishing we could stay up there forever. It was a moment we will never forget watching as the rocks and boulders changed in colour and the landscape below began to awaken and twinkle in suns rays.
Hire a Moped & Explore the Island;
You can hire a moped on Hampi Island very easily and very cheaply. The only condition is that you can’t take it off the island and across the river which is fine as there is so much to explore on Hampi Island itself. We drove around for a whole day; exploring the waterfalls, numerous ruins, temples and viewpoints scattered everywhere. You don’t even need to ‘visit’ anything in particular, simply just whizzing along through the extraordinary landscape is truly enough! Just go and see where it takes you!
Whilst you have use of a moped we do recommend visiting the Hanuman Temple. It’s situated up a gruelling 600 odd steps but we promise you its well worth the hike! Even 200 steps up the view is insane so you can imagine what it’s like from the very top! Take time to enjoy the scenery from every angle and if possible catch a sunset or sunrise from up here – simply breathtaking! Just remember not to take any food – the monkeys up there are very naughty!
Chill in Laughing Buddha Cafe;
If you’re done with exploring then another thing Hampi is famous for is relaxing. This surely has to be one of the most chilled out places in India – so much so that you plan to stay two days and end up staying a week! Once you’ve hit your chilled out zone, the Laughing Buddha cafe is the perfect place go. With tons of pillowed booths, great views of the river and delicious food including salads, pittas and falafel you can easily spend all day here!
Sample the Bakeries;
Hampi Island has also taken in the India wide tradition of being home to German Bakeries! Don’t ask us why this is a thing we think it’s random too but oh are we happy it is. These bakeries serve the most amazing cakes, pastries and croissants! They’re addictive!
Tour the Ancient Ruins;
Hampi dates back to the 14th Century when it served as the capital city of Vijayanagara Empire. It is one of the most famous ancient metropolises in India and due to its multitude of temples, monuments, palaces and market streets it has now been recognised as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The main side of Hampi is home to the majority of these ancient ruins and is a fascinating place to explore and take a step back in time.
You can easily spend a whole day exploring this side of Hampi but as everything is very spread out its best explored with a moped or through a tuk tuk guide. There are hundreds of tuk tuk drivers here all hustling to take you around so just make sure you haggle hard and if you can go in a group it makes it a lot cheaper! Either way it’s worth it – Hampi has so much history and you’ll be amazed at just how many impressive, intricately carved and well preserved structures tiny Hampi is home to!
Visit Sri Virupaksha;
Any visit to Hampi can’t be complete without a visit to the huge Sri Virupaksha Temple. It is undoubtedly Hampi’s centre point and for good reason!
Sri Virupaksha is thought to be one of the oldest temples in India and is dedicated to Lord Shiva. The intricate outside stands tall in the distance from any viewpoint in Hampi and it’s interior is simply sprawling!
Muse Hampi Bazaar;
As you wander the small lanes and alleys of Hampi’s main bazaar it’s clear that tourism has taken somewhat of a stronghold on the shops here. But, we can somewhat let this off as the products on sale are mostly traditional and local handicrafts like leather bags, woven scarves and clothes as well as lots of Tibetan jewellery shops. It really is a shoppers paradise!
Eat at Mango Tree;
Mango Tree is hard to miss as its often found with a long line of people outside just waiting to get a seat! Mango Tree serves up fantastic food both Indian and Western in a quirky setting! It’s walls and ceilings are draped with colourful materials and the majority of the restaurants tables are floor level so that you can sprawl out on cushions and get cosy whilst waiting for your food. We highly recommend the Special Thali; it comes with so many different tantalising flavours to try and the portion size is nap-inducing!
Witness It For Yourself
Getting tips from other travellers is always great but you can never really be sure until you see a place for yourself whether you are going to like it or not. Hampi was one of those rare occasions where the place completely lived up to the hype and even exceeded our expectations. It seems this place has a certain magic about it that can’t really be put into worlds but that draws in everyone who comes here.
Better Get There Quick…
Unfortunately, Hampi’s spell is in jeopardy as, due to its numerous ruin sites and historical importance, it’s now a UNESCO World Heritage site. Fantastic in terms of preservation of these special monuments but not so fantastic for the people who already live here and have built their livelihoods here. We were told that the government are set to bulldoze everything within a 7km radius to make it an official UNESCO areaa which means part of Hampi bazaar has already been destroyed and Hampi Island is set to be next. The owner of Goan Corner told us it would soon be flattened, including her home which sits on the grounds, and that she would not receive any compensation. Unfortunately it seems this special place, the people here and it’s sleepy way of life may not be around for much longer.
We hope this isn’t the case but we urge you all to visit Hampi soon before it’s captivating magic is broken!
C & J x