India is a country that constantly surprises me. Over my past 2 trips, I’ve only seen a tiny portion of the country but each place is always drastically different from the last. My first port of call on this trip was Hampi, an ancient city in the heart of Karnataka. I had seen pictures of it online before, but nothing could prepare me for actually seeing it “in the flesh.”
As I walked around Hampi, I would sporadically stop and think to myself, “I wonder if this is what Jordan is like”, “I wonder if this is what Rome is like”, “I wonder if this is what Athens is like.” But, truth be told, Hampi is like absolutely nowhere else on the planet and, of course, has stories all of its own. You need to go there to experience it and learn about it, for yourself.
The closest comparison I could make would be to Bedrock from The Flintstones, or even Jurassic Park. It was so surreal walking around what felt like the backdrop for a movie or a scene from a history book. Huge volcanic boulders, palm trees, rice fields and ancient ruins can be seen for miles. Get yourself to a vantage point (which, by the way, there are plenty of) and you’ll have the best view in the house.
2 Sides of Hampi
Hampi has two main tourist areas- Hampi Bazaar on the mainland and a small island across the river called Virpapura Gadde, affectionately referred to by backpackers as “Hippie Island.” As the two areas are separated by a river, you need to take a “ferry” to get between them. I say “ferry” because I think that word is a pretty generous description of the boat. Take your expectations and lower them down at least 5 points…
The so-called ferry usually runs between 6.30am and 5.30pm and costs 10 rupees. If the ferry isn’t full, you might need to wait or you can take a private boat across for 50 rupees. The private boat is like a big round basket- I took it one time just to experience the novelty of it and felt like Moses floating down the Nile!
Both areas have their charms- Hippie Island is the backpacker hub while Hampi Bazarr is a bit more local. It should also be noted that alcohol is mainly served on Hippie Island but is quite strictly prohibited on the Hampi Bazaar side. (And, psssst- Hippie Island is the place to be for Bhang Lassis, although Ravi Rose’s in the Hampi Bazaar also sells them… but you didn’t hear it from me!) I opted to stay in Hampi Bazaar since it’s the closest to all the ruins. Both sides of the island are full of accommodation, all suitable for budget backpackers!
What Did I Get Up To?
Having taken the overnight train from Hyderabad to Hampi, I was in total zombie mode when I arrived. So much so that I actually spent my first day napping, catching up on blogging and only leaving my guesthouse to eat my favourite Indian dish, malai kofta. #badtravelller
The next day I was obviously well rested but still decided just to take it easy. I made my way over to the laidback Hippie Island where my plan was to hire a bicycle and cycle around some of the ruins lesser frequented by tourists. When I arrived I was told that there were absolutely no bicycles on that side of the island (which was probably BS) and I would need to hire a scooter. I told the guy there was no way I could ride a scooter since I don’t even have a driver’s license (and I also have a severe lack of coordination) but he assured me it would be fine, gave me a 5-minute scooter lesson and sent me on my way- toot toot!
I don’t like to brag much but I was actually pretty good at it! It’s even made me consider finally joining the real world and getting a driver’s license just so that I can hire scooters in other countries, too. Oh, and I should add (to keep my mum happy) that I payed an extra 50 rupees for a helmet which was very sensible of me. (Brownie points, please?!)
If you want to take your life into your own hands and brave the crazy Indian roads like I did (I jest- it was genuinely one of the widest, quietest roads I’ve ever been on…), you can hire a scooter for 150 rupees. I paid 90 rupees for a litre of petrol but I think I probably got ripped off by the guy. I have no clue how much these things cost since I’ve never been a driver! Educate yourself before you go- I got caught off guard since hiring a scooter was never on the cards for me.
Getting around is easy because it’s basically a one way street. Drive to the end of the island, cross the bridge and go right for temples and left to swim in the lake. There’s absolutely no need for a map.
I drove out to the Hanuman Temple, also known as the monkey temple. It’s on top of a mountain and you need to climb up 650 steps to get there but the view at the top makes it all worth it!
There are several other temples in this area and you can even drive further to an area called Annugeundi where there are loads of ancient ruins but a lot fewer tourists than what you’ll find on Hampi City side.
The lake is a popular place for swimming among both international and domestic tourists. I found it quite difficult to find but there are loads of locals along the way- just ask for their help and they’ll keep you right! Oh, and don’t worry, there are supposedly no crocodiles. I forgot my cozzie so couldn’t go for a dip!
After my failed attempt at cycling on, you know, an actual bicycle, I was still determined to fit in a bit of cycling. On my third day, I came across a guy offering bike tours around the main ruins of Hampi so I signed myself right up. However, the cycle gods were obviously against me and we got told (after an hour of waiting on other people to join the tour) that it was too hot to cycle and that we’d be going by tuk-tuk instead. I was pretty annoyed but could not be bothered arguing or signing up for another tour to wait an hour and then get told the same thing again. One thing that I think is really important when you’re travelling in India is to lower your expectations, be flexible and roll with the punches. Trust me, if you don’t you’ll drive yourself insane!
To be honest, I wasn’t all that impressed with the random “bike” (tuk-tuk) tour that I went on. I was supposed to be touring Hampi with Go Mowgli but, due to strikes throughout Karnataka, the guys weren’t able to make it up to show me around. Having taken tours with them in Mysore, I would definitely recommend this option instead, especially if you want to learn more about the stories behind what you are seeing. Indian history is extremely complex and, with the addition of the millions of Hindu gods, it can be difficult to keep track!
I still managed to see all the main ruins and learn (a little bit) about the history behind Hampi. Foreigners need to pay 500 rupees to see some of the main sights such as Vittala Temple and the Elephant Stables. If you’re a cheapskate like me and don’t want to pay it, you can still see them from the back. Just ask your guide and they’ll keep you right. I felt like I had seen so many ruins that they were all blending into one so was happy to skip it, as long as I could get a photo!
What I Wish I’d Done
One thing I was desperate to do in Hampi was see a beautiful sunset. The main spot for sunset and sunrise in Hampi Bazaar is Mangua Hill- this is also a great vantage point for Vitalla Temple if you don’t want to pay the 500 rupee entry fee. On Hippie Island, you should head for Hanuman Temple. I put off doing the hike until the last night and it ended up being really drizzly that day- not ideal weather for climbing up boulders.
Hampi is also a famous place for rock climbing and there are tour companies that can arrange trips and lessons on Hippie Island. If you want to do this, it’s best to stay on that side of the river. Most of the lessons are either early in the morning or later in the afternoon making it difficult to get back to the Hampi Bazaar.
Where to Stay
Most tourists decide to stay in either Hampi Bazaar or Hippie Island. I stayed at Thilak Homestay in the Hampi Bazaar.
This is a great option for people looking for a bit more comfort, without breaking the bank too much.
My room had air conditioning, hot water and even a T.V so I was quite happy chilling out and getting over my jet lag there. Kishor, the homestay owner was extremely friendly and helpful and made me feel right at home there. I’d definitely recommend it to any looking for a good value mid-range option.
I originally chose this hotel because it has a rooftop restaurant which I thought would be great for meeting other backpackers. Unfortunately, in the low season, Kishor closes the restaurant. Guests still have access to the roof, though, which has an amazing view out over the ruins and the river. However, in high season this is a really popular place and ideal for meeting like minded travellers.
Kishor also has his own restaurant nearby called Chillout in Bamboo which is in a great riverside spot for grabbing some breakfast.
For travellers on a budget, Hampi Bazaar has a lot of basic accommodation in the area with double rooms for under 500 rupees. On Hippie Island you can find some simple huts to stay in for really cheap, too.
Although Hampi Bazaar’s backpacker scene isn’t as buzzing as Hippie Island’s, it feels a bit more local and authentic than the other side. I loved having a great view over the ruins when I woke up in the morning.
Where to Eat
On Hampi Bazaar, I tried out a few different restaurants however, Gopi Restaurant was definitely my favourite! Although they had a similar menu to most of the other restaurants- curries, pizzas, pastas, Israeli food, the service stood out from the rest and it also had a better atmosphere. I ate here a few times and it was always busy despite it being the off season.
Chill Out Restaurant, which is right across the road from Thilak Homestay is another good place to meet other backpackers and have tasty food- I ate here twice and really enjoyed it.
On Hippie Island there are a lot of restaurants, all selling the usual “tourist cuisine.” The only place I tried was the German Bakery, hoping for one of their famous pizzas which were, sadly, sold out- maybe next time!
As Hampi doesn’t have any hostels, meeting people can be a bit of a challenge. Although I don’t always like to recommend it, heading to the places in Lonely Planet is always a good way to meet other people. Finding accommodation with an attached restaurant is also a good shout since most travellers like to hang out in communal areas.
Aside from that, I’d recommend going on tours such as the Go Mowgli city tour that I mentioned before. If you’re really worried about meeting people, head to Goa first where you will definitely meet people who are also heading to Hampi- although that does sound like a lot of hassle!
How to Get There
Most people will arrive in Hampi via Hospet. From here you can either take a tuk-tuk or bus into Hampi. The bus takes 30 minutes and costs 15 rupees. A tuk-tuk is slightly faster but will cost between 150 and 250 rupees depending on your bargaining skills.
Let me know, have you been to Hampi? I barely even scratched the surface so I would love to hear about any other things not to miss! I’ve got a feeling I’ll return again one day….
Disclaimer: I was a guest of Thilak Homestay and have also been a guest of Go Mowgli, too. However, as always, all opinions are my own.