Hampi Travel Guide: Exploring Some of India’s Best Ancient Ruins
One of the main reasons I chose to return to India and focus on the south and central regions of the country was to visit Hampi. I have a bit of a ruins fetish (probably not the right term) and I felt Hampi would fulfil my desire to explore ancient temples, decaying palaces and all those other little things that make up your typical historic city. Hampi, the former capital of the Vijayanagara Empire, is also firmly on the backpacker trail, which means you have your fill of western food and conversations with fellow travellers. After a week or so of travelling in South India and being pretty much the only foreigner in the places I visited, I needed it!
Places to See in Hampi: Touring the Ruins in an Auto Rickshaw
I visited Hampi in May, which meant unbearably hot temperatures. In normal conditions I would have rented a bicycle or walked around the ruins, but I managed to find a couple of other travellers to share an auto-rickshaw with and it turned out to be a great option. Below is a quick look at the main places of interest in Hampi.
Sri Virupaksha Temple
Our first visit was a small set of ruins with views over Sri Virupasksha Temple. You can walk all the way down the hill to the temple, but we didn’t fancy the walk back up! There lots of little things to see in this area and it was a nice start to our Hampi rickshaw tour. From this spot you get a feel for the surreal, boulder-filled landscape that the Hampi ruins are located in. We visited the actual temple at the end of the tour – it was alright but not my favourite spot in Hampi. It dates back to the 7th Century and is apparently one of the oldest functioning temples in India. It must have had plenty of repairs over the years as it doesn’t look that old!
This temple has some of the best carvings you’ll see in Hampi – the detail is impressive and there is heaps to see in the small complex. I don’t know much about what any of the carvings mean (and I’m too lazy to research it) but if you’re anything like me then just seeing them will be enough!
Laxmi Narasimha Temple
This statue of Lord Narasimha (a half man, half lion incarnation of Vishnu – I can occasionally be bothered to look things up) is the largest monolithic statue in Hampi and is worth a quick look.
The Underground Temple
It’s a bit of a stretch to call this temple “underground”, but it is in quite an interesting location and it’s a nice place to walk around. One of the people I was with was given an impromptu “tour” of the temple by a seemingly kind old woman but she eventually got the bill. I ended up talking cricket with some men outside the temple – if you know anything about cricket you instantly have something in common with the locals (men especially).
Some Other Ruins
I’m not sure what this little group of ruins is called but we stopped there on the way to the Royal Enclosure. I love this kind of barren landscape scattered with various relics of a long-forgotten time (exploring ruins is one of my favourite things to do when travelling). We had it all to ourselves too, which is always a bonus.
The Royal Enclosure
This group of ruins is one of the most interesting places to visit in Hampi and easily one of the most popular. It was hardly overrun though, and we explored the area in relative peace (if you ignore the searing heat). There are some old palaces and various other buildings, but the real highlight is the Elephant Stables. It’s a unique looking building and, as you can probably guess by its name, it used to house the royal elephants. There are also some more temples and ruins past the Elephant Stables – we continued to walk for a while but the heat thwarted our efforts, so we turned back quickly.
Hazara Rama Temple
Hazara Rama Temple is full of carvings, including horses and elephants. Some would say this temple looks very similar to others in Hampi and you may not need to see them all, but I find it hard to get tired of looking at places like this, no matter how many I’ve seen!
This private bathing space of the kings and queens (not King of Queens — that was a horrible American sitcom) is located close to the Royal Enclosure and is included on most Hampi ruins tours. It’s an interesting enough place and you can see it all in a few minutes. On a hot day it’s also a good place to get some shade.
Vijaya Vittala Temple
If you’ve ever seen photos of Hampi chances are they were taken here. Vehicles can’t drive right up to the temple so you either have to walk down a long stretch of road or shell out for the provided transport (which is probably really cheap). We opted to walk and it’s a good idea to do that at least one way as there are some ruins to see along the way.
The Vijaya Vittala Temple complex is large and there are several temples and towers full of detailed carvings. The real highlight is the stone chariot, the “captain” of the Hampi ruins. It’s surely the most photographed spot in Hampi and it deserves all the attention it gets. I had to wait around for a few minutes to get an unobstructed photo, but I reckon if you visit in high season you’d struggle.
Believed to be the birthplace of Lord Hanuman, who seems to be part monkey part man, this temple at the top of a steep hill isn’t much to write home about. The view from the top is great if you can stomach the climb though and is apparently a good place to watch the sunset. It’s on the other side of the river so it’s a bit hard to get to if you’re staying in the village.
Other Places to Visit in Hampi
There is so much to see in Hampi and you’d need to spend at least a few days there to see everything. You’ll also find lots of small ruins scattered around that you can easily stop at. There isn’t a lot to see on the other side of the river – I explored a bit though, including a trip to Anegundi. It was disappointing as the palace there was closed and there wasn’t much else to see. The nature around Hampi is special but it’d be a lot more inviting to explore in more agreeable weather!
Hampi Travel Guide: Tips and Details
- Where to Stay in Hampi: There are heaps of guesthouses and hotels in and around Hampi. The small town (Hampi Bazaar) has a few but the other side of the river seems to be the best place to stay these days. There are lots of guesthouses lining the river – most of them are rough though and won’t suit all kinds of travellers. I stayed at Mowgli Guesthouse and the staff / food were awesome but with no aircon and scorching temperatures I could only last a couple of days before seeking some more comfort. You can easily cross the river on small boats (very cheap) — boats stop running around 5.30 pm though so make sure you don’t miss the last one or you’ll be forced to undertake a much longer journey. I ended up staying in Hospet (the town you’ll pass through when arriving in Hampi) and I found a very comfortable hotel for around 900 INR.
- Ticket prices: You’ll only have to buy two entrance tickets in Hampi – one for the Royal Enclosure and one for Vijaya Vittala Temple (500 INR each for foreigners). Keep the tickets as they also get you into other places.
- Getting Around Hampi: Hampi is made for bicycle exploration, as long as you visit at the right time of year (October to March). If you visit in the hot season like I did (April – June) you’ll want to travel by auto-rickshaw. I think we paid around 800 INR for the day, which is very reasonable if you have a few people. Chances are your driver will also give you some background information on the ruins / the Vijayanagara Empire.
- Getting to Hampi: If you’re coming from Goa you can catch a bus or a train – bus seems like the best way to go as there aren’t many trains plying this route. I arrived from Mysore – I caught the Hampi Express (you can catch it in Bangalore as well) which left in the late afternoon and arrived in Hospet early in the morning. Hospet is around 13 km from Hampi – you can catch a bus to Hampi or bargain with an auto-rickshaw driver. Many drivers offer cheap trips because they are going to Hampi anyway, but they’ll obviously try to sell you a tour once you arrive.
Did you enjoy my Hampi Travel Guide? Are you planning a trip to Hampi? Let me know in the comments below!