The Forgotten Empire – Hampi

– Preet

Once the wealthiest, most prosperous city, beaten only by Beijing in magnificence, Hampi still hasn’t lost its grandeur in spite of the ravages of time and history. It would be grossly inaccurate to call Hampi a collection of rubble. What it is, is a peek into a grand history of a great empire, albeit a little foggy.

Hampi attracted travellers and traders from all over, particularly Persia and Portugal in the past, and that hasn’t dulled with time as tourists and travellers from all over the world flock there every year to see the ruins and feel time standing still.

Elephat Stables - Hampi

Elephat Stables – Hampi

My experience with Hampi is one of falling for a place the second your feet touch the ground. In Hampi- with its dirt roads, and tiny houses, little shops chocked up with colours, dial-up internet and hardly any cell reception, and the slow paced life of the locals- I felt like I was in a time warp. It was the best detox from the bustle and stress of everyday life, and I hadn’t even asked for it. Once you’ve been to Hampi and walked by the Tungabhadra, you cannot help but leave a piece of you by those banks.

The place is brimming with experiences that it has to offer everyone- from the history buff to the photography enthusiast, to those that seek quiet solitude in nature. One thing missing so far in Hampi however, is a travellers hostel. But there is no need to feel discouraged because beautiful homestay experiences more than make up for it. Staying with the locals has its perks- local knowledge, folklore with dinner, and the warmth of being in a home not a sterile impersonal environment like a hotel’s. There are guest houses as well, with warm hosts eager to show their rich history off. Airbnbs have been popping up all over the two banks of the Tungabhadra, and each has something unique to offer. You can pick your budget and browse on till you find your perfect hideout for the nights. Your days would be too full of Hampi to be spent indoors.


Tungabhadra River and Coracle Boats

Hampi, a UNESCO World Heritage Site  is home to the Virupaksha temple, among others and has everything that survived of the magnificent city once the Sultanate armies were done with it. With colourful lore of how it is named after Parvati and how it was the stage for Parvati trying to win Shiva over, there are hills and tracks that feature in the lore strewn all over Hampi today.  It also is home to an active Adi-Shankara linked monastery. Apart from being culturally bountiful, Hampi is great if you enjoy a good hike. There’s a lovely waterfall, about 3 kilometres from the Hampi Bazar. A small hike through banana groves and across shallow portions of the river and a few hops, skips and jumps away is the Hampi Waterfall. Calm pools of water on two sides and the river gushing on a third, this is an experience you should not miss. Since the hike back it long enough for your clothes to dry in the Karnataka heat, don’t bother carrying a change of clothes but don’t forget to carry enough drinking water. The hike can be tiring and save a few huts, there are no places along the way to get drinking water at.

Located near present-day Hospet, in Bellari district of Karnataka, Hampi is accessible by road, and rail. There was the talk of having flights up to Bellary, but there’s been no word on the progress of that plan yet. Travel within Hampi, is mainly on rickshaws and dongis(coracles,) for when you have to go across the river.

Airbnb was built around the idea of selling the experience of the place rather than a few guided tours, and Hampi is the ideal choice to showcase how experiencing a city and its culture always trumps checking off boxes on a list of things to see. Airbnbs and guest houses are locals opening their homes up to you. The benefits are twofold- while you get to absorb all the culture of the land, the local economy gets a boost and without major alterations in the landscape of this gorgeous city.

Airbnbs, in the absence of traveller hostels, also provide you with the peace of mind of living with verified hosts that you can read about and figure out even before reaching the destination.

Other attractions, you should keep in mind while planning your stay-

  • Vittala Temple
    The 16th-century Vittala Temple stands amid the boulders 2 kilometres from Hampi Bazar. Work possibly started on the temple during the reign of Krishnadevaraya (r 1509–29). It was never finished or consecrated, yet the temple’s incredible sculptural work remains the pinnacle of Vijayanagar art. The ornate stone chariot that stands in the courtyard is the temple’s showpiece and represents Vishnu’s vehicle with an image of Garuda within. Its wheels were once capable of turning. The outer ‘musical’ pillars reverberate when tapped. They were supposedly designed to replicate 81 different Indian instruments, but authorities have placed them out of tourists’ bounds for fear of further damage, so no more do-re-mi.
  • Virupaksha Temple
    The focal point of Hampi Bazar is the Virupaksha Temple, one of the city’s oldest structures, and Hampi’s only remaining working temple. The main gopuram, almost 50m high, was built in 1442, with a smaller one added in 1510. The main shrine is dedicated to Virupaksha, an incarnation of Shiva.An elephant called Lakshmi blesses devotees as they enter in exchange for donations; it doesn’t seem hugely rewarding for the pachyderm, but she gets time off for a morning bath down by the river ghats.This has been a place of worship since the 7th century when it consisted of a collection of simple shrines. In subsequent centuries the complex grew as its sanctum beautifully carved collonaded halls and gateways were added.
Virupaksha temple - Hampi

Virupaksha temple – Hampi

  • Sule Bazar
    Halfway along the path from Hampi Bazar to Vittala Temple, a track to the right leads over the rocks to deserted Sule Bazar, one of ancient Hampi’s principal centres of commerce and reputedly its red-light district. At the southern end of this area is the beautiful 16th-century Achyutaraya Temple.
  • Elephant Stables
    A grand building with 11 domed chambers where the state elephants once resided – each chamber has a small opening where mahouts once entered. The stables are accessed via the Zenana enclosure. There’s a free sound-and-light show here at 7 pm, weather permitting.
  • Zenana Enclosure
    Northeast of the Royal Centre within the walled ladies’ quarters is the Zenana Enclosure. Its peaceful grounds and manicured lawns feel like an oasis amid the arid surrounds.
  • Lakshmi Narasimha
    An interesting stop-off along the road to the Virupaksha Temple is the 6.7m monolithic statue of the bulging-eyed Lakshmi Narasimha in a cross-legged lotus position and topped by a hood of seven snakes.
  • Nandi Statue
    At the east end of Hampi Bazar is a Nandi statue, around which stand some of the collonaded blocks of the ancient marketplace. This is the main location for Vijaya Utsav, the Hampi arts festival.
  • Achyutaraya Temple
    At the southern end of Sule Bazar is the beautiful 16th-century Achyutaraya Temple. Its isolated location at the foot of Matanga Hill makes it quietly atmospheric, doubly so since it is visited by few tourists.
  • Queen’s Bath
    South of the Royal Centre you’ll find various temples and elaborate waterworks, including the Queen’s Bath, deceptively plain on the outside but amazing within, with its Indo-Islamic architecture.
  • Daroji Sloth Bear Sanctuary
    About 30 kilometres south of Hampi, amid a scrubby undulated terrain, lies the Daroji Sloth Bear Sanctuary which nurses a large population of free-ranging sloth bears in an area of 83 sq kilometres.
  • Mahanavami-diiba
    The Mahanavami-diiba is a 12 metre-high three-tiered platform with intricate carvings and panoramic vistas of the walled complex of ruined temples, stepped tanks and the King’s audience hall. The platform was used as a royal viewing area for the Dasara festivities, religious ceremonies and processions.
  • Hemakuta Hill
    To the south, overlooking Virupaksha Temple, Hemakuta Hill has a scattering of early ruins, including monolithic sculptures of Narasimha (Vishnu in his man-lion incarnation) and Ganesh. It’s worth the short walk up for the view.
  • Archaeological Museum
    Boasts a fine collection of sculptures from local ruins, plus neolithic tools, 16th-century weaponry and a large floor model of the Vijayanagar ruins. There’s a fine photographic record of the site dating back to 1856.
  • Krishna Temple
    Built in 1513, the Krishna Temple is fronted by an apsara and 10 incarnations of Vishnu. It’s on the road to the Virupaksha Temple near Lakshmi Narasimha.
Krishna Pushkarani - Hampi

Krishna Pushkarani – Hampi

  • Lotus Mahal
    A part of Hampi’s Zenana Enclosure, this delicately designed pavilion was supposedly the queen’s recreational mansion.
  • Hazarama Temple
    Features exquisite carvings that depict scenes from the Ramayana, and polished black granite pillars.
  • Underground Virupaksha Temple
    This temple is at a lower level than the surrounding structures. It’s on the west side of the Royal Centre.
  • Ghats
    There are stepped bathing ghats just north of the Virupaksha Temple.
  • Hampi Heritage Gallery
    A photo exhibition on Hampi’s history and architecture.

With many expats having settled down in Hampi over the years, and many more visiting every year, the cuisine of Hampi is dynamic, and is always morphing and growing. There are a large number of eateries serving the local cuisine of Karnataka, the Mango Tree being an iconic example. Although the original mango tree was struck down by lightning, the restaurant continues to serve luscious south Indian cuisine. With most of these restaurants growing their produce locally, food is delightfully flavourful and fresh. Gowthami Guest House jumps out when you think “farm local.” There is a lot of Israeli and German restaurants and little bakehouses to check out as well The Israeli Laffa, the German bread and the rum balls are supposed to be pretty delicious. And there’s always that little shawarma joint to tee you up nicely anyway.

Suggestions of places to stay at, in case you don’t want to go through the effort of perusing yourself-

Some of these might be easier to access, and closer to the Bazar if you choose to take the ferry across the river. If you wish to avoid river crossings however, you might have to drive a few minutes around to go around to the bridge.

Hampi is one of those trips you definitely need to take once in your life. It’s an experience that keeps giving. With so much to explore, your days will be filled with wonder and excitement. Once you’re back in the evening, watch the sun go down and the sky and the river turn a bright orange and vermilion, plug yourself off and let yourself get transported back in time.

Happy travels!


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