Hampi is surely not just another tourist destination! It is a unique experience you will remember and cherish all your life. The simplicity of the locals, the vastness of the region, the luscious paddy fields, the beauty of the mandapa-lines boulder hills, it all enthralls a traveler. Hampi provides something for any and every kind of traveler.
1) Ancient Cave Paintings from the Iron Age: Not many people know about this place. Finding the place is equally difficult if you do not know what to explain to the local guides or autowallahs. The surprising fact is that there is no ASI board guiding you to this place or even an ASI board at the entrance of the caves. You can never ever find this place on your own. People just know of this place from word of mouth. The caves are literally right in the middle of nowhere. The auto driver led us through some village, stopped somewhere with no signs of any human.. just lush paddy fields on both sides bordered with the boulder terrain. He led us through the paddy fields, into the boulders and then after some 10 mins of zigzagging through shrubs and thorns, we reached the caves.
The cave paintings supposedly belong to the Iron Age, approx 1500 BC.
Tip: From Hampi, catch a ferry near Virupaksha Temple to reach Anegundi. Cross the Tungabhadra on the ferry, get down and walk to the auto-stand (around 1 km from the ferry stop), negotiate the places you would like to see in Anegundi and the rate for the auto. The auto driver also doubles up as a local guide. If driver is not willing to guide, please do not go with him. There is no other way to get insights of the local places but from the auto driver. So make sure he is a good guide.
If you plan to travel using your own car, it might take approx an hour just to cross the Tungabhadra as the new bridge is located pretty far away. It is best to park your car in the Hampi main parking lot and then take the ferry to Anegundi.
2) Megalithic Tombs (Dolmen): There are a large number of burial mounds from the Neolithic period on the Anegundi side. The mounds can be found on a hill called Mourya Mane (Sounds really Lord of Rings-ish!), which is around 10 kms from Anegundi. We did not have much time on hand to visit this place but were luck to spot a stand-alone burial site on our drive from Hampi to Badami, at a place near Pattadakkal. It was such an exciting find for us! There was an ASI board but it did not describe the site. A local villager was a care-taker for the mound but she did not understand English.
Tip: Although 10 kms distance from Anegundi might not seem too much, but there is a 2-3 km stretch which you need to traverse on foot. That’s why the locals recommend to spare a full day to see the mounds of Mourya Mane.
3) Unique terrain: The first thing you spot when you enter Hampi is the boulder terrain. It seemed to me as if it was a giant’s playing area, where he had just stacked rocks on top of one another to create these hills! And even though the terrain seems so harsh, with just shrubs and thorn growing on the rocks, you fined the roads lined with banana plantations and paddy fields.
4) Coracle boat ride on the Tungabhadra: This was one of the most amazing parts of my Hampi travel. It’s a must-do, if you are not scared of water. It is one of very few places you can actually take a coracle ride today, though it was the most popular ways of travel in earlier days.
Tip: To get the best views on your coracle ride, take it from near the Monolith Bull. There is a path near the Monolith Bull that leads to a picturesque path through the boulders and to the banks of the Tungabhadra. For a 45 min ride, they charge Rs 300. The rides stop at 6 pm. Be sure to mention that you want to see the Kotilinga Shiva. (Koti means Crore and Linga means the form symbolizing Shiva) For this, you have to get down on the rocks during the ride. It is pretty safe and the rower will guide you on how to balance on the coracle while climbing out. The only thing is, you need to traverse quite a few big boulders to get to the Kotilinga Shiva.
5) Sunsets: Hampi gives you an opportunity to witness the sunset with so many different backdrops, that you would want to stay back just to enjoy the sunsets!
Tip: Although most popular place amongst foreign tourists is Matanga hill, but it takes around 30 mins to climb up. While descending from the hill there are no lights on the path. So you should carry a torch with you. Also try to begin your descent as soon as the sun sets. I found Hemakuta hill sunsets very beautiful, as the sun sets on the backdrop of a hill full of architectural beauty.
Another place I liked was the Malyavanta hill. It gave a beautiful backdrop of the green paddy fields and banana plantations laced along the unusual terrain of boulder hills.
6) Explore India’s rich history: Hampi was flourishing during Krishnadevaraya’s empire. The several excavated bazaars that have been excavated by the ASI, stand testimony to the fact that there was a lot of trade happening right here. There were markets where people used buy and sell precious items like spices, gold, gemstones etc. There were separate bazaars, some even 1 km in length, for trade of each type of item. There was even a horse bazaar!
The mandapas were used as resting places by the traders travelling to these bazaars, and also by pilgrims who traveled to the Virupaksha or Vitthala temples. Some of the temples were even built by the traders who profited due to trade from Hampi.
Tip: The main bazaar of Hampi lies in front of Virupaksha Temple. Till a few years earlier locals were using these as their homes or shops. ASI recently cleared them to maintain the original integrity if the bazaar structure. You can see another huge elaborate market in front of the Krishna Temple. There is another 1-km long market in front of the Vitthala temple as well.
7) Architectural splendor: There is so much to admire that you need at least 3 days to a week to appreciate the architecture and study each structure in detail.
Lotus Mahal: It was built as a summer palace for the queens. The palace has hollow walls, into which the maids used to pour water to keep the palace interiors cool. There were 4 watch-towers surrounding the palace to keep the queens safe, when the king was out hunting or on wars. The palace is unique in another way as it shows three different styles of architecture in layers: Jain, Hindu and Muslim.
Stepwell (Pushkarani): The huge stepwell is exquisite with its geometric pattern structure.
Aqueducts: The stepwell used to receive water through a channel of aqueducts built by the co-founder of Hampi, Bukka. The series of structures, albeit smaller, resemble the Roman aqueducts.
Pinhole camera: Krishnadevaraya was supposed to be a man religion and science alike. You can find evidence in the construction of the Virupaksha temple gate. The temple gate has been built at a such a distance, that inside the temple there is a point where you can see the inverted shadow of the gate! We basically have a pin-hole camera here.
Secret chamber: There is an underground section in the Royal Enclosure, where the walls are made of black stone. This is where the king is supposed to have had secret meetings with his spies. No one could see each others’s face and there is no place to hang lanterns or lights as well. Even today (although the ceiling has given way), if you want to traverse out of the chamber, you have to use your left hand to guide you out. You can easily get lost and end up where you started.
Musical pillars of the Vitthala temple: The Vitthala temple was built for Krishnadevaraya’s younger queen who loved to dance. The pillars were built in such a way that when they were struck, they produced various musical notes. The musicians used to sit and play on the pillars and the queen used to dance. Tourists and not allowed to enter the temple any more, nor touch the pillars, to prevent further damage.
Where has the King’s palace gone? When you reach the Royal Enclosure, you will find the base of the palace carved in stone but no walls. The reason you can’t see any palaces is because they were made of sandalwood (to make living in such harsh temperatures bearable). Sandalwood provided cool interiors even during sweltering afternoon heat. But during Muslim invasions, the palace was burnt down, leaving only the stone base we see today.
8) Plethora of temples: Shiva was worshiped in Hampi before Hakka and Bukka setup their empire. Since they were sergeants of the Hoysala empire, they brought with them the practice of worshiping Vishnu as well. Virupaksha temple is a Shiva temple, whereas Vitthala is a Vishnu temple. You will also find Jain temples. These existed since long back before Hakka and Bukka arrived.
Interesting Fact: Out of the total 80+ temples in Hampi, only 3 temples are used for worship today. The other temples were either partially destroyed or the idols were broken by the Muslim invaders. As per Hinduism, a broken idol cannot be worshiped.
9) Embrace Indian Mythology: Hampi and Anegundi are supposed to fall in the Kishkindha region of Ramayana, the place where Hanumana was born. In Anegundi you will find mountains named after Hanuman (Anjaneya Hill – where he was born), Sugreeva Hill and Vali Hill.
A temple near Pampa Sarovar is supposed to be the place where Shabari lived. Shabari was an old lady who prayed to meet with Lord Rama in her lifetime. Rama, during his quest to find Sita, met her some 60 kms from this place. Shabari fed him wild berries, but to make sure that she only gave him the sweet one, she first took a bite from each berry and the offered to Rama.
Chintamani temple: As per locals, the famous duel between Vali and Sugreeva took place here.
Tip: From Sugreeva hill you can see the old bridge that was supposedly used centuries ago for crossing the Tungabhadra. The bridge is not functional now and lies on the river floor as a pile of boulders.
10) Long-stay destination for foreign tourists: It is the only place in India where I have not seen Indian tourists. Most Indians I saw were locals from around Hampi who were visiting the Vitthala or Virupaksha temple to offer prayers. There were hardly any Indian tourists apart from the two of us.
Tip: For long-stay, Anegundi side of Tungabhadra provides more options.
11) Stay in an Indian village, very comfortably and with more than basic amenities.
Tip: Stay on the other side of Tungabhadra, in the village of Anegundi. Every evening each local village guest house screens a different popular Hollywood movie, using a VCR and a projector.
12) Amazing locals: Most people here know Hindi and are fully conversant in English, owing to the large number of foreign tourists who come and stay for weeks here. The kids too are comfortable speaking in English. The locals the value of tourists for their village and treat them with a lot of love.
13) Mix of International and Local cuisine: I was a bit disappointed as I did not get to try many local food options in the village restaurants. This was obviously because of the dearth of Indian tourists. In Anegundi, I got to try some good local cuisine, and a special local paratha. When I heard paratha, I felt it would be a Malabar Paratha or Lachcha Paratha, which is found in Southern India. But this was something similar to what North Indians call a Kachori (Similar to Stuffed Pooris but crispier)!
For international tourists, there is no issue of food. You find the restaurants stocked up with Nutella, Baked Bean cans.. and the menu features pancakes, English egg dishes and even desserts like Banofee Pie! In Anegundi you can actually find separate Israeli restaurants, because of the huge number of Israeli tourists!
14) Rock Climbing: For the adventure-seekers, Anegundi provides rock-climbing options. Well the area is full of boulders, go figure!
Stay: You can choose to stay at one of the village guest houses, either in Hampi or Anegundi. If you have your own vehicle and want to stay in a hotel, then the nearest hotels are in Hospet city (12 kms from Hampi). Hotel Hampi International is a good hotel.
Sight-seeing: If you have your own vehicle, just hire a guide in Hampi. Else you can hire an auto rickshaw on a full or half-day basis. There are cycle tours conducted every day from the Virupaksha temple entrance. For Anegundi, it is best to cross the Tungabhadra on a ferry and then hire a full-day auto-rickshaw. The rickshaw driver doubles up as a guide. Coracle tour is a must.
Food: Mango Tree restaurant is the most popular restaurant in Hampi. Most restaurants here have lower seating option only, but Mango Tree also has a few tables and chairs. The cold coffee and the Banofee Pie at Mango Tree were amazing.
Others: Carry a scarf or hat, as it can get really hot and sunny during the day. Try to start early in the day and take a break between 1 and 4 pm. That is when the sun is the harshest. Stay hydrated at all times.