The beauty of Hampi’s landscape is unparalleled. Mammoth granite boulders artfully litter to horizon as far as the eye can see with sporadic temples piercing the sky reminding one of Hampi’s grandiose history. The boulders are residue from a prehistoric volcano, however the Hindu’s believe that they are the remanence of two brothers earth shattering fight for the surrounding Kingdom.
The magic with which the Kingdom of Hampi began is still ever present and very much palpable. It is the largest Heritage site in India spanned over 70 Kilometres with multiple temples, monoliths and one very special elephant. It has been one of Karnatika’s most elusive yet sought after tourist destinations since the 1960’s. Hampi is compiled of two sides, Hampi Bazaar and Viru Pam Gadi which are spilt by the Tungabhandra river. If you can spare the time (which you should) it is best to spend time on both sides of the river. A local will tell you that it will take at least a month to truly see all of Hampi has to offer, and I am inclined to agree. Alas for most travellers with money and time constraints and the rest of India calling this is unrealistic.
Here are a few pointers on how to see the very best and as much of Hampi Bazaar as possible in a small time scale.
A relatively well made push bike will set you back around 30 rupees for the day and as mopeds and motor bikes are banned on Hampi Bazaar side of the river this is your best option. Of course the heat is an issue, but the early mornings and dusk in Hampi are exponentially stunning. And apart from the first hill our of Hampi Bazaar the roads are pretty much plane sailing. Bike tours are also availible for around 450 rupees. As someone who typically doesn’t like organised tours (I’m stubborn that way) I have to admit defeat here. The ruins are incredible but without some form of guidance by the fifth temple distinguishing rock from interesting artefact in the hot sun can become a tricky task.
Renting an autorikshaw for the day is also an option, however they can charge you anything from 400-750 rupees and you will almost certainly have the pressure of an added tip at the end.
Both bike and autorickshaw tours are easy to source. Prepare for serious hassle upon arrival as literally everyone will ask you if you want one as they know how spread out Hampi is. We found our tour guide waiting at the entrance of the Virupaksha temple after talking to him for a while and agreeing the time and price we decided to go with him. He organised our bikes and a home made traditional lunch was on the cards as well. The tour lasted from 9am to 1pm and covered many of the major sites including the haunting underwater temple (a highlight of mine) and Ashok himself was extremely knowledgable and passionate about his Hampi. The tours aren’t exactly official but nothing in India really is.
Upon your arrival in Hampi if it was anything like ours you will be accosted by people trying to get you to stay in their guesthouse. We didn’t book ahead and if you are going in low season I would advice you to do the same. Booking online is almost always more expensive than showing up. In fact it is just always more expensive as upon arrival you can haggle your price and avoid third party charges. Being able to see the room before you buy is also a plus as traveller stories of misleading photographs and mice being found in the toilets aren’t unheard of. We were originally hesitant about our choice as when looking online it seemed that everything was booked out, however once we arrived we realised it was a different story. When you walk through the town people will try and take you to their own establishments, just tell them you have a room and walk away. You want to be able to find one you like for yourself to avoid high charges and dirty sheets.
We had the privilege of staying in Nestra’s Guesthouse. The guys who run it are as chilled out as the place and the rooms are super clean and cheap. You have the option of rooms with or without bathroom and double or single. Their top priced room we got for 450 rupees… you can assume the rest of the prices for yourself. The best thing about Nestra’s apart from the guys that work there it’s super relaxed restaurant on the roof over looking the river. They will cook you pretty much anything from fresh and have large range of juices and lassis (these ones are normal, for bang lassis tourists head to Ravi’s Rose rooftop.)
Something to note about the religious state of Hampi is that alcohol is illegal. Most places however will have beer in the fridge you just have to ask for it. The police know, the people know and the bribes go to the right people. The system works well and everyone benefits… it is very typically Indian.
The highlight of staying in Hampi Bazaar for me was the animals that seem to rule to streets. Cows graze freely and sleep in the middle of the roads while monkeys cause havoc to peoples wifi and steal the bananawalla’s goods. It makes my soul so happy to see man and beast living in such close proximity and such harmony. The Queen of them all undoubtedly is Lakshmi the temple elephant. She lives in Virupaksha, the only working temple in Hampi, where people bring her offerings of coconuts, bananas and money. She wears no chains and bathes in the river when she chooses. The use of animals for tourism is something I am very strongly against and I would never argue that it is right this magnificent creature is not free. Sadly there is no getting around this fact and Lakshmi has a sweet deal in comparison to most elephants especially in South East Asia where almost all the working elephants you see tourists sitting proudly upon their backs have been tortured into pacivity. Lakshmi is worshipped and will bless you if you give her money (if you're a tourist it must be over 10 rupees, she knows.) Meeting her was an honour and a dream come true to be able to be so close to something so naturally perfect. Long live Queen Lakshmi.