Hampi, perhaps the most amazing place in all of India…
Packed to bursting with rock cut temples, towering piles of boulders, buzzing backpacker enclaves and fascinating history, non-pushy Hampi has everything you need to have a truly fantastic time.
I first visited Hampi nearly ten years ago, when I was nineteen, and I’ve been coming back ever since. Throughout my two years of travel in India, Hampi has always been my favourite place to rest up, recharge and get blazed in Southern India.
Conveniently, it’s easily accessible from both Goa and Bangalore and every year more and more backpackers come to Hampi to soak in the chilled vibes, explore the rock cut temples, hit up the world class bouldering and partying under the stars.
Backpacking in Hampi has well and truly caught on. When I first travelled to Hampi, there was hardly anybody there. Hampi had just about made it into the Lonely Planet and was still a couple of years off being fully developed. Hampi was, in short, a backpackers paradise.
These days, Hampi has experienced wave after wave of development and the entire backpacker scene has been pushed to the far side of the river. Hampi’s fate has been uncertain for years as greedy Indian politicians attempt to steal land and cash in on the influx of tourists but luckily the backpacker scene has remained somewhat untouched, simply retreating further and further from developments on the ‘not so cool’ side of the river.
Historically, Hampi was the capital of the Vijayanagara Empire, a vastly powerful Hindu empire bought suddenly to it’s knees by a confederation of Muslim Kings. Hampi was ransacked following the Empire’s defeat and the many extravagant temples, carved from the huge piles of gargantuan boulders littering the land, were abandoned to the forces of nature.
Hampi has an air of lost glory and yet many of the temples and rock carvings, depicting beauties and beasts, gods and demons, are still in excellent condition. Even if you have only the faintest interest in Indian history, travelling to Hampi offers a fantastic opportunity to soak in a sight of real historical importance.
Where to go in Hampi
Hampi is jam-packed with truly incredible sites and you could easily spend a week or more travelling around Hampi and only manage to see half of them. Hire a moped (150RS a day) and explore away. A few of my favourite places to visit are…
Visit the Virupaksha Temple – This is the oldest temple in Hampi. Virupaksha means ‘the one with the oblique eye’. Lord Shiva who is said to have three eyes is the principle deity of this temple. This temple also has the iconic broken rock chariot. I would suggest wake up early and visit the temple so you can walk or cycle back through the Hampi village and soak in the early morning rural feel of the place. You could also sit in on one of the ceremonies at the temple.
Explore the Anjaneya Temple/ Monkey Temple – Hampi has special importance for the worshippers of Hanuman (the monkey God), as mythical Kishkinda (the monkey kingdom) in the Indian epic Ramayana, was located here. You can see plenty of colourful carvings of Hanuman all around the site. The vibe of the temple is crazy!
Chill at the Lotus Mahal – This is a pleasant deviation from the typical architecture you see in Hampi. Shaped like a lotus, this was where the women folk of the royal family chilled.
Swim at the Dam – Though there are signs hung all around the Hampi dam, warning tourists of the crocodiles in the water, there are actually none. But just to be safe its better to ask the locals before you dive in. You can go for a nice peaceful swim in the dam, the water is beautiful and clear. You could also go for a coracle ride. Coracles are flimsy, round boats found in river-dwelling communities across India. Make sure to ask the coracle guy to point out nice spots for a swim and for cliff jumping.
Check out the Elephant stables – This is one of the few well preserved structures in Hampi. The Elephant Stable is a major tourist attraction so expect a ton of camera-happy tourists to be milling around. The row of chambers was used to house the royal elephants that were used for royal processions back in the day. The stables are huge and well worth exploring…
Watch sunset at the hilltop – It’s impossible NOT to catch an epic sunset when you are in Hampi. Everyday on the top of the ‘Sunset Hill’, backpackers get together to catch the sunset and play some chill tunes on their guitars and didgeridoos. More often than not local children who sell tea at the spot join them and sing along. Its a really beautiful experience. If you want something a bit more peaceful, simply stake out a spot on one of Hampi’s many boulders and enjoy the sunset by yourself.
Bouldering in Hampi
Hampi used to be a bouldering mecca only for those in the know but not anymore. Hampi has exploded in popularity amongst climbers and many travel to India specifically to check out Hampi. Make sure to take an experienced climber with you if you are new to this since Hampi rocks can be pretty tricky. November and December is the best time of the year for bouldering in Hampi. Its better to avoid the rainy season. Make sure you have the right gear before you venture out. You can usually hire bouldering mats from your guesthouse and go climbing on the amazing piles of rocks littering the area.
Marijuana in Hampi
Hampi is pretty famous for it’s blazed backpackers enjoying the cheap and plentiful weed that seems to be pretty much everywhere in Hampi. It’s easy to find, just avoid smoking in the main town or you may find yourself having to pay a bribe.
Camping in Hampi
Hampi has plenty of great accommodation options but if you’re feeling adventurous, it is also a great place to camp at. One great spot, among plenty of others, is Matunga hill. Here you can set up shop with absolutely no problem. It is a great spot for sunset but an even better spot for sunrise! Do check around with the locals before you camp in other places since there are a few sites that are off limits on account of being temple property.
Where to stay in Hampi
Most of the budget friendly accommodation is on the far side of the river, it costs 20RS to cross the river by boat (boats run till 6pm), and a few of my favourites on either sides of the river are…
Gopi Guest House – If you want to stay on the temple side of Hampi, this is a great option. It is very close to all the temples. You could stay here for a night and then cross over to the other side.
White Elephant Guest House – This is located on the backpacker side of the river and is surrounded by lovely paddy fields and the famous Hampi boulders. A chill place to stay at for a couple of nights.
Murali Guest House – A cozy little property run by a very friendly family, this place has clean rooms, good food and give motorbikes on hire.
Kishkinda Heritage Resort – This gorgeous property is right on the banks of the Tungabhadra river. It is spread over acres of paddy fields and beautiful hills. Though it sounds expensive, it is actually pretty cheap. If you want to just kick back and relax for a bit, this place is perfect!
Apart from these, there is also Mowgli Guest House and Nargila Guest House which are not the cleanest but are bloody cheap!
How to get to Hampi
Hospet is the nearest railhead and there are trains from both Goa and Bangalore. From Hospet, it’s a mere thirty minute tuk tuk journey to get to Hampi, you then need to cross the river and find a backpacker friendly place to crash. You can catch a bus from Gokarna all the way to Hampi itself.
Books to read on Hampi
Hampi: Discover the Splendours of Vijayanagar – As you know, Hampi is one of the greatest heritage sites in India. There is an exquisite collection of monuments that lie scattered across this alluring place. This book is a great insight into the history of Hampi.
Golden Boulders – A great climbing guidebook for Hampi. Bouldering enthusiasts might find this book helpful.
Love and Death in the Middle Kingdom – The story of forbidden love between a sixteenth-century Vijayanagara courtier and a Persian traveller, this book is an intriguing insight into the taboos and beliefs of ancient India.
Berlitz: India Pocket Guide – Discover the ancient sites of Hampi and other heritage sites in India through this great guide.
Here are some more amazing books to read during your Hampi backpacking trip.
Stay in Hampi for free
So Hampi has captured your soul and you want to stay a little longer? Perhaps one of the best options for backpackers wanting to explore Hampi long-term is to get a job teaching english. TEFL courses open up a huge range of opportunities and you get to chill in this incredible place for as long as you want. To find out more about TEFL courses and how you can teach English around the world, read my in-depth report on teaching english abroad.
A gear checklist I swear by! Make sure you check this out before venturing out for a backpacking adventure…
Get insured before backpacking Hampi
Even if you are only going on a short trip, you should always travel with insurance. Have fun on your backpacking adventure but please do get insurance – take it from someone who has racked up tens of thousands of bucks on an insurance claim before, you need it. Especially if you are going to be bouldering in Hampi.
As a wise man once said, if you can’t afford travel insurance, you shouldn’t be travelling – so be sure to get your backpacker insurance sorted before you head off on a backpacking adventure! Travelling without insurance would be fucking stupid. I highly recommend World Nomads.
Even if you don’t get insurance with World Nomads, Please do get some sort of insurance from somewhere, there’s lots of decent options online.
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