A visit to the enchanting UNESCO world heritage site of Hampi is a rite of passage for many backpackers, who flock to its boulder fields and freshwater swimming lakes. It’s an oasis of calm in chaotic India, a hippie hideaway providing welcome respite from the choking smog of Mumbai, the modern metropolis of Bangalore and the hardcore raving of North Goa.
Hampi feels like you’ve set foot in an Indiana Jones set – eerie ruins and temples overrun with monkeys sit beside enormous boulders balanced precariously on top of one another. Whilst it’s easy to loose days here just kicking back with a masala chai in one of the chilled out cafes, there is plenty to see and do here too.
Hampi certainly isn’t the easiest place to get to but it’s well worth the trip. I took an overnight bus from Mumbai to Hospet with my new travel buddy, Jason. Sometimes you end up travelling with people purely because they’re heading in the same direction and it’s a happy marriage of convenience. But I struck gold with my new backpacking companion – he may not be the chilavarous bag-carrying-type but he made the rough night bus experience infinitely more tolerable. We collided with pot holes and bashed our heads on the ceiling, got yelled at by the inexplicably aggressive driver and spent the evening watching a raunchy Bollywood film beneath a scratchy blanket.
Night buses are an experience in themselves and you can’t claim to have travelled India without sampling a bone-rattling journey on an ‘AC Volvo’. If you’re lucky, like we were, you’ll be treated to clean-ish bedding, onboard wifi and Bollywood films playing on a flatscreen TV. If you’re unlucky, you’ll spend 12 hours listening to screaming children, shuddering beneath over zealous air con and enduring infuriatingly regular stops at the side of the road for no apparent reason.
After 12 uncomfortable but eventful hours, we arrived in Hospet. Sleep deprived and sweating, I struggled to retain my composure as a swarm of tuk tuk drivers descended upon us. We managed to haggle their 400 rupee starting price down to 150 but were then duped at the ferry crossing, where we handed over 100 rupees before realising the fixed price was in fact just 10. But the minute you step off the boat at Virupapur Gaddi, all these hassles will feel like a distant memory… my eyes bulged as I took in the dramatic rock formations and lush rice paddy fields sculpting the surreal landscape of this hippie hangout.
We hadn’t booked anywhere but finding a room is easy enough, even in high season. For 600 rupees we bagged our own en-suite hut at Golden Beach Resort, an attractive collection of rooms with their own swinging seat and porch set perched on the edge of a paddy field and with a backdrop of more boulders behind.
If you walk straight (towards the giant rock formation) and cut right again through the paddy field, you’ll reach the 3 best accommodation options in town – Goan Corner, Manjus Place and Secret Place. Definitely advisable to book ahead for these. Goan Corner is a bit too hectic for my liking but a fun and sociable spot to get breakfast (try the banana porridge). Regardless of where you stay, you’ll have a similar experience and there really isn’t much to pick between places.
Accommodation sorted, here are my top 10 things to do in Hampi:
- Hire bicycles or scooters and ride out to the Monkey Temple. Share a communal feast with Hindu worshippers or just find a shaded spot to admire the view of the arid landscape.
- Jump off the big boulder in the lake or spend the afternoon swimming and sunbathing in this boulderous jungle. Grab a coconut or fresh juice before hopping back on your bike.
- Explore the streets of Anegundi, where local children will accost you for a rupee and wizard-faced old men will wave. There are some lovely ruins here too.
- Discover the hidden temple in the caves on route to Anegundi village. Look for the coconut vendor on the right before you turn off to the village and ask him where the temple in the cave is. The cool cave is a welcome break from the searing heat of Hampi and it’s fun to try and work out how to get to the top.
- Set off early to explore the ruins and Hindu temple on the Hampi Bizarre side of town. The best way to do this is hiring a tuk tuk for the day and getting him to ferry you around. We paid 500 rupees for half a day with our man, Mosquito.
- Watch a movie. Lots of cafes and restaurants screen travel-themed films and old classics. Just another great reason to lie horizontal really.
- Drag yourself off the floor cushions and go bouldering. There are various outfits offering lessons or if you know what you’re doing, hire a crash mat and head out into the hills
- Get your vinyassa flow on. Early morning and sunset yoga and meditation classes are advertised in every café and street corner.
- Agree to some awkward photos with Indian tourists. We got accosted at every temple and ruin by Indian tour groups wanting photos. I feel like it’s bad karma not to comply, especially given the countless photos I’ve taken of Rajastani men in turbans or little old wrinkled ladies in their colourful saris.
- Watch the sunset and listen to the sound of drum circles and didgeridoos as you perch high on the boulders of Hampi. Soak up the good vibes over a warm cup of chai (bought from pushy children making money after school) or take your own cold kingfisher from one of the cafes. After sunset, have dinner at the Reggae Café, my favourite spot for food. Not much reggae gets played but their aubergine curry and cashew sauce chicken kebab are UNREAL.