If you’re looking to travel in India, Hampi should definitely be on your travel list. This town is known for its beautiful structures in stone with intricate carvings. The ruins take you back to a vibrant temple city rich in history and it provides the perfect backdrop for stunning photographs.
Hampi had been on our list of places to visit for ages. It is now most famous for the stone chariot immortalised on the Indian currency, but there’s so much more to see and do here. Everyone who’s been there raved about the stone carvings and the architectural marvels of all the structures.
Hampi is a World UNESCO Site and the entire town is filled with historical relics—some in good condition, some barely standing. We finally got a window to travel earlier this year and had an awesome trip. Our 6-year-old son enjoyed some of the activities and grudgingly accompanied us to the monuments, but we all had a lovely time.
Hyderabad to Hampi by Road
We drove to Hampi from Hyderabad. The ride became bumpy as soon as we crossed the Karnataka border. We could find no eateries or restrooms on the way so prepare yourself. We saw at least two big food courts that had closed and are in ruins, probably an aftereffect of the Pandemic.
We had packed cheese sandwiches, poha, and snacks for the road that we could eat inside the car. We had a heavy breakfast before leaving and packed snacks on our way back.
There are many small towns and villages en route, so we had to navigate millions of speed bumps and local traffic. Overall, it was not a pleasant drive. We covered the 8 hours drive in 6 hours without stopping.
If you decide to go by train, it’s a more scenic view and a more relaxing journey. You can then hire a car on arrival or use local transportation if you’re up for it. The hotel desk can help you with contacts of registered tour guides and cab services.
Best Time to Visit Hampi
The temperatures stay warm all year round, but from November to February, it is relatively better. The tour of the monuments hardly offers any shade, so if you plan to travel during peak summer or the monsoons then carry protection from the elements and wear shoes with a good grip.
Where to Stay in Hampi
Book your stay on either side of the Tungabhadra River, depending on what you want to do in Hampi. There are lush green paddy fields amongst giant boulders on the northern side of the river, whereas Hampi town is a little crowded and looks like any other city but is close to the main historical sites.
We stayed at Heritage Hampi since it is close to the monuments, which meant we spent less time travelling during the day. The Resort is inside a 4-acre farmland with greenery all around an organic farm within its boundaries. You can buy some of their produce to take home with you. The food was decent, although very similar if you’re eating there for more than three meals.
We had booked a jacuzzi room (although the pipes were faulty, so we couldn’t use the jacuzzi), which was spacious and clean. The swimming pool was an excellent way to cool down in the evenings. The resort had organised short cultural events in the evenings inviting local performers, which was a nice touch.
The luxurious Evolve Back Hampi resort is also on this side of the town.
The northern side of the river is much quieter and is suitable for nature stays and bouldering, but it takes an hour to reach the monuments. Most of the resorts here have shut down due to permit issues, so, if you’re looking for the ‘Hippie Island’ experience, it’ll be difficult to find.
Things to See in Hampi
Everywhere you look, you’ll find some monument worth exploring. I would recommend using the services of a registered guide while you are here. They’ll help you understand what you are looking at and its significance. Plus, they take you to spots you’d miss otherwise, and know all the shortcuts.
We knew we didn’t want to cover a lot on this trip and exhaust ourselves, and our kid. In all honesty, after a while all the stone structures start looking similar. These are some spots we explored.
This is an active temple, and you can see the top of it from most places in Hampi. Just outside the gates, you can see the rows of stone that used to be the old market that were functional till a few years ago. The number of stalls would surpass many malls in big cities today. It’s astounding to see the scale of operations. The structure, herbal paintings, and intricate carvings are impressive.
Laxmi is the resident elephant paraded around to shower blessings on visitors at certain times of the day. Around 35 years old, she looks dull and gloomy. She’ll gladly accept your offerings of fruits and money. In the evenings, she heads down to the river for a shower before sunset and you can walk along with her.
Walk around to the river banks for a refreshing feet dip while sipping some tender coconut water. If you happen to be here around sunset, you’ll be riddled with mosquitoes, so carry a repellant.
Vijaya Vittala Temple
The temple is about a kilometre from the parking area. You can choose to walk or hire an electric cart to take you there. A ticket must be purchased for entry, which is also valid for the Lotus Palace and the Museum. It costs Rs 40 for Indian Citizens and Rs 600 for foreigners.
As you get closer to the temple, you will see rows upon rows of granite pillars that used to be the marketplace. The scale of it is mind-boggling. It’s a testimony to the vivid life that centred around temples.
The temple itself is an architectural marvel with its ingenious musical pillars. These solid rock pillars are carved in a way that each pillar emits a different note when gently tapped. The main temple has been cordoned off because visitors threw rocks at the pillars to make them ‘sing’. This is why we can’t have nice things!
Of course, the main attraction here is the stone chariot. Here too, the wheels that used to rotate had to be cemented to the ground, and the structure cordoned off because people kept trying to rotate the wheels and damaged them. Why do people feel they need to make a mark by being destructive?
The engineering, creativity, and precision that went into making this temple are astounding. The carvings depict stories from the Ramayana, and some of these stories kept our son entertained.
The Queen’s Bath
This is a quick stop to see the occasional bathing area of the queen, where she hung out with her friends to just gossip and chill. It is also an excellent place to take pictures as it is mostly empty and the lighting is superb during the day. On the lawns, we found some baby monkeys splashing in the water puddles that were made while watering the plants.
Mahanavami Dibba and Pushkarni, the Stepped Wells
The Dibba is a large platform from where the king watched processions and performances happening in the town. You can climb the high ornate stairs to get to the top for a good view of the surrounding area. There’s a smaller staircase from inside that is easier to climb.
Next to it are the remnants of the ancient aqueducts and the beautiful stepped well. No one can enter the wells anymore, though. Some of the artefacts found around the area have been displayed here, like the heavy granite plates used to serve food during special occasions.
The Royal Enclosure
These are a set of structures that were part of the Royal Compound. The Lotus Palace stands out and looks graceful with a lovely breeze passing through it. You can no longer go inside but just crane your neck and look at the design from the bottom of the stairs.
The elephant stables just ahead are set on a lush lawn and are spectacular. It’s an excellent place to take as many pictures as you want. You are bound to see at least a few Instagram husbands hard at work here.
This smaller temple complex is currently covered in scaffolding for repairs. You can still enter and see the beautiful carvings that start right from the entrance gate.
When you drive by with the Krishna Temple on your right, you will reach the Hemkunta Hills. These hills have scattered monuments and temples. You can cover as many as you want in one go. There is parking available near the Sasivekaalu Ganesha statue. If you walk up a little further in the evening, you will reach the sunset point, which offers panoramic views of the city with boulders and mountains on the horizon as the sun gently sets.
This 15 feet giant is housed in a snug little temple and was carved out of a single boulder.
If you explore a little around it, there’s a cave between the large boulders behind the temple that leads you to a fantastic viewing point from where you can see the Virupaksha Temple complex. It is also called the Peanut Ganesha as it was commissioned by a peanut merchant.
Lakshmi Narasimha Statue and the Badavilinga
This is the largest monolithic statue in Hampi and stands at almost 22 feet. Right next to it is a Shivalinga enclosed behind bars. Water is always let in, so the base of the structure is immersed in water as a channel runs through it. This quick stop won’t take more than ten leisurely minutes.
The best time to see this monolithic statue is just before sunset. The setting sun behind it gives the statue an ethereal glow. From here, it’s a short walk to the sunset point.
Things to Do in Hampi
At the end of the market in front of the Virupaksha Temple is the monolithic statue of Nandi. A path takes you to the river for a coracle ride to the ancient stone bridge. The waters were calm, so we had a relaxing ride early in the morning around 8am. There was no one else till much later, so we got a leisurely tour.
You can opt for a 30 or 60-minute ride. On the long ride, you can step out and explore some of the ruins on the banks. We opted for the short ride and still had a good view of the structures. The rocks have been peculiarly transformed because of the reservoir water that floods the whole area when they open the dam gates in the monsoons. The driver will also spin the basket you’re sitting in, which our son enjoyed immensely. Look out for the fishes jumping up to the surface. We even spotted some otters sunbathing on the shores.
In the monsoons, the dam waters flood this area and rides are not allowed.
Atal Bihari Vajpayee Zoological Park (Hampi Zoo)
This is a relatively new attraction in the town, and parts of it are still being built. At first, we were hesitant to visit, knowing the condition of most zoos in India. However, this place is better planned with much larger open spaces for the inhabitants, at least by zoo standards. The lion and tiger enclosures are much larger and in different parts of the grounds. The inhabitants looked healthy, although most snoozed under a tree in the afternoon sun. There is a large variety of species here
Private vehicles are not allowed inside. You can opt to travel by tour bus or rent their jeep for five people. The park is closed on Tuesdays.
Where to Eat in Hampi
We mostly ate at the resort since it was convenient. Moreover, sitting in outside eateries in the evenings would mean a constant battle with mosquitoes. The buffet spread at the resort wasn’t spicy, as we prefer, and had a good variety. However, eating there everyday for three days got a little monotonous.
Mango Tree, located near the Virupaksha Temple complex, offered some scrumptious vegetarian food. Their lemon and mint cooler was refreshing. We had the thaali and pizza while lounging on cushions.
One of the days we ventured to the northern side of the river and ate at Whispering Boulders. It is set amid lush paddy fields and getting there was a beautiful drive, especially on a hot summer’s day, to see the greenery all around. The greenery is, of course, dependent on the harvest season.
Coconut water is available everywhere and are lifesavers in the hot sun. Sugarcane juice is a treat. We loved the stalls in front of the Narasimha Statue.
Hampi with Kids
Kids usually are not interested in historical temples and relics, especially if they have to walk a lot in hot and humid weather. We saw some couples with very young kids and babies, and none of them were enjoying the trip.
We decided to make this trip once our son was 6 years old and could understand a bit of what he was seeing. We also had to make sure to keep him entertained. We would point out some of the carvings and funny stories behind it, like Krishna hiding the women’s clothes or Hanuman teasing Ravana by lengthening his tail. We also let him use the camera and take pictures and videos, or collect sticks and stones in a bag.
We kept all the monument visits till before lunch. After lunch, we rested and used the swimming pool and games room at the resort.
The coracle ride and the zoo were also fun for him.
Things to keep in mind
- Check the distance from your hotel to the places you want to cover to avoid an increase in commute time
- It is hot even in the ‘winter’ months, so carry a hat, scarf, sunglasses and double-walled steel water bottles that’ll keep your water cool
- Some places require you to remove your footwear when you enter. Wear socks to protect your feet from the heat and dirt
- Wear good walking shoes to avoid slipping on smooth boulders
- Carry mosquito repellant. We like Dr Zach’s
- Carry plenty of cash in smaller denominations. Except for the resort, no one accepts credit/debit cards. UPI payments are accepted in some places, but network connectivity is an issue
- Start your day early to avoid the crowds and heat
- Don’t try to cover everything in one trip. Select a few then add or subtract depending on how your day is going
- I wouldn’t recommend this trip for young kids. It’s too hot and boring for them unless you include a few activities they’ll enjoy
- The monkeys and langurs keep their distance and are non-threatening, but do not get too close, tease them, or throw things (even food) at them. They move about in much larger groups than you
- Be mindful of the structures and rules in place to protect them. Definitely do not deface anything
- We used and liked the services of Parashuram (Approved Tourist Guide) Contact: 9449119485 / 9448340655
- If you’re looking for a vehicle to take you around, Sikander Baksh comes recommended. You can reach him at +91 96635 48019
- The Good Life with IQ has a more detailed blog post on the routes and places to stay