Essential Travel Guide for Visiting Hampi in Karnataka

The Evocative Ruins of One of India's Greatest Hindu Kingdoms

Hampi Ruins

TripSavvy / Faye Strassle

Laid-back Hampi was the last capital of Vijayanagar, one of the greatest Hindu kingdoms in India’s history. The area has some amazing ruins, intriguingly intermingled with large boulders that dot the landscape. It's a must-visit destination in India, and an incredible energy can be felt there. Plan your trip with this Hampi travel guide.

History

Emperor Krishna Deva Raya built many temples and other structures at Hampi during the powerful reign of the Vijayanagar Empire in South India, from the 14th to 16th centuries. The flourishing capital was regarded as the center of South India, and its vibrant marketplace was one of the largest trading hubs in the world selling all kinds of goods to foreigners.

Hampi was naturally fortified by hills that protected it from invaders approaching from the north and south. However, its glory finally came to an end in 1565 when the five allied Deccan Sultanates of Bijapur, Bidar, Berar, Golconda and Ahmednagar succeeded in defeating ruler Rama Raya (the son-in-law of Krishna Deva Raya) in the Battle of Talikota. Six months of subsequent plundering reduced Hampi to ruins. Sadly, its grandeur was never able to be reinstated.

Hampi's ruins were discovered in 1800 by Colin Mackenzie, who became the first Surveyor General of India under the British East India Company. Extensive excavations followed, and are still being carried out by the Archeological Survey of India. In 1986, Hampi was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Location

Hampi is located in central Karnataka, approximately 350 kilometers (217 miles) from Bangalore in South India.

How to Get There

The nearest airports are Bellary/Ballari (two hours away) and Hubli (four hours away). From there, you'll need to arrange bus or taxi transportation.

Alternatively, the closest railway station is in Hospet, about half an hour away. Overnight trains run to Hospet several times a week from Bangalore and Goa. Buses also operate from Bangalore and Goa, as well as from Mysore and Gokarna in Karnataka, and will drop you in Hospet. The train is definitely more comfortable and preferable though. From Hospet, you can take a bus or auto-rickshaw to Hampi. The local buses are frequent and inexpensive, and better than a long and dusty auto-rickshaw ride.

Hampi
Michele Falzone/Getty Images

When to Go

The best time to visit Hampi is when it's cool and dry, from November to February. In March, the weather starts getting unbearably hot.

If you enjoy local color and culture, make sure you go during the three-day Hampi Festival (also known as the Vijaya Utsav). Dance, drama, music, fireworks, and puppet shows all take place with the ruins of Hampi as a backdrop. This popular (and crowded) festival usually happens in November but has been moved to January in the last couple of years, so it's wise to check the dates with Karnataka Tourism beforehand.

In March or April, the Virupaksha Car Festival is held to mark the annual marriage ritual of the gods and goddesses. It's the largest religious festival in Hampi.

Hampi is also a good place to celebrate the Holi festival in South India, in March.

How to Visit

Hampi is ideally explored on foot or by bicycle, so it's important to wear comfortable shoes. Hiring a scooter is also an option.

The main group of monuments (including the Vittala Temple, Elephant Stables, and Royal Center) requires an entry ticket. The cost is 600 rupees for foreigners and 40 rupees for Indians. The ticket also provides entry into the Archeological Museum. The Vittala Temple is open from 8:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. daily. The Elephant Stables, which once housed the royal elephants, are open from 8:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. daily. Get there as early as possible to beat the crowds.

The surrounding ruins can be explored at leisure and there is no charge.

A guided tour is helpful to uncover Hampi's extensive history. Options offered by Travspire include a full-day heritage tour, half-day tours including stories from the Ramayana narrated by a local guide, and a six-hour village tour of Anegundi and surroundings. There's also a tourism office at the Virupaksha Temple, where you can hire guides and bicycles. Lakshmi Heritage Tourist Home has decent quality bicycles for rent near the temple too.

Do note that meat and alcohol aren't available in Hampi town as it's a religious place. However, both can be obtained across the river in Virupapur Gadde. Ferries depart riverside near the Virupaksha Temple.

There aren't any ATMs in Hampi. The closest ones are in nearby Anegundi and Kamalapura. It's a good idea to make sure you withdraw the cash you'll need while in Hospet.

Hampi Ruins
TripSavvy / Faye Strassle

What to See and Do

Hampi's ruins stretch for just over 25 kilometers (10 miles) and are made up of more than 500 monuments.

Most striking is the Vittala Temple, dedicated to Lord Vishnu. It's situated amid boulders on the southern bank of the Tungabhadra River not far from the center of town, and represents the culmination of Vijayanagara temple architecture. Its main hall has 56 pillars that, when struck, make musical sounds. To the east of the hall is the iconic Stone Chariot. Most incredibly, its wheels can still turn!

The Royal Center, where Vijayanagar rulers lived and governed, is another must-see. At its core is the ornate Hazara Rama Temple, with panels of intricate sculptures featuring regal processions of elephants, horses, musicians, and warriors.

The ancient traditional water tanks, or step wells, are another highlight in and around Hampi. Their aqueducts carried water all over the city. The Stepped Tank at the southeastern side of the Royal Enclosure is particularly impressive. It remained covered by mud and sand, with a mound on top, until about 20 years ago.

In the Main Bazaar, the towering Virupaksha Temple is still actively used for worshiping Lord Shiva. The temple existed in a much smaller form before the Vijayanagar Empire, perhaps as early as the 8th century, making it one of the oldest structures in Hampi. The temple is open from sunrise until sunset, and there's a nominal entry fee. Allow at least an hour and a half to enjoy it.

Hampi is also renowned for its monolithic sculptures. Some, such as the Kadalikelu Ganesha in a temple on Hemakuta Hill, are as high as 15 feet tall. What's really remarkable is that one misplaced chip when carrying out the sculpturing would've caused the granite rock to fall apart. There are beautiful sculptures on rocks alongside the river, which were prototypes of those inside the temples.

Sunrise and sunset over the village, viewed from atop the central Matanga Hill, are truly magical and not to be missed.

If you have time, take a ferry across the river to Anegundi and explore the ancient structures there as well.

Crossing the Tungabhadra River in Hampi
sonatali/Getty Images

Where to Stay

There are two main areas to stay in Hampi -- near the bus stand and Main Bazaar, and on the edge of paddy fields across the river in rural Virupapur Gadde. The lively Main Bazaar area is packed with cheap guesthouses, shops, and restaurants. Budget accommodations at Virupapur Gadde are preferred by hippies and backpackers who want to spend time chilling out. Many people choose to spend a couple of nights in each place to experience their different atmospheres.

Hampi's upmarket properties are all located out of town. Here's the pick of Hampi hotels and guesthouses for all budgets.

What Else to Do Nearby

If you're into wine, don't miss visiting award-winning Krsma Estate vineyards, about two hours north of Hampi.

A side trip northwest of Hampi to the heritage sites of Badami, Aihole, and Pattadakal is worthwhile to see monuments and ruins from the Chalukya Empire, which ruled there between the 4th and 8th centuries.

East of Hampi, Bellary Fort is another Vijayanagar Empire monument from the 16th century. Tickets cost 300 rupees for foreigners and 25 rupees for Indians.

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