Hampi, now a laid-back village in southern India, was once the last capital of Vijayanagar, one of the greatest Hindu kingdoms in India’s history. The area has some amazing ruins, intriguingly intermingled with the large boulders that dot the landscape.
The ruins, which date back to the 14th century, stretch for just over 25 kilometers (10 miles) and are comprised of more than 500 monuments. The most striking monument is the Vittala Temple, dedicated to Lord Vishnu. Situated amid boulders not far from the center of town, its main hall has 56 pillars that, when struck, make musical sounds. The Royal Center toward Kamalapura and south of Hampi, where Vijayanagar rulers lived and governed, is another must-see.
Getting to Hampi
Hampi is in central Karnataka, approximately 350 kilometers (217 miles) from Bangalore in southern India.
The closest railway station is in Hospet, around half an hour away. Overnight trains run to Hospet several times a week from Bangalore and Goa. Private buses also operate from Bangalore and Goa, as well as from Mysore and Gokarna in Karnataka, and will drop you in Hospet. From Hospet, you can take a tuk-tuk (auto-rickshaw) to Hampi. There are also frequent, inexpensive local buses from Hospet to Hampi.
Visiting the Temple Ruins
The best time to visit is from November to February. In March, it starts getting unbearably hot. The surrounding ruins can be explored at leisure and there is no charge.
The Vittala Temple is open from 8:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. daily. Get there as early as possible to beat the crowds. The Elephant Stables, which once housed the royal elephants, are open from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily.
Tickets for the main group of monuments (including the Vittala Temple and Elephant Stables, and Royal Center) cost 500 rupees for foreigners and 30 rupees for Indians. The tickets also provide entry into the Archeological Museum. Allow about three hours to see the architectural and historical highlights of the temple grounds.
The towering Virupaksha Temple, a focal point in the Main Bazaar, is open from sunrise until sunset. Dedicated to Lord Shiva, it existed before the Vijayanagar empire and is one of Hampi's oldest structures. It's also the only functioning temple. The entrance fee is 2 rupees, plus a 50 rupees camera charge. Allow at least an hour and a half to enjoy the temple.
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 takes place in November but has been known to be moved so it's wise to check with a tourist office before.
Hampi also holds a Purandaradasa Aradhana classical music festival in January/February each year to celebrate the birthday of Purandaradasa, a poet who lived there. In March/April the largest religious festival in Hampi, the Virupaksha Car Festival, takes place to mark the annual marriage ritual of the gods and goddesses.
Where to Stay
Hampi does not have luxury hotels yet some find staying there charming. If you want to stay at a place with luxury amenities, Hospet is a better choice, particularly with the four-star Royal Orchid Central Kireeti located there. For a super luxurious stay, try the Orange County Hampi Resort, in Kamalapura, which resembles an opulent palace.
Simply furnished guesthouses are plentiful in Hampi. There are two main areas to stay in Hampi—near the bus stand and Main Bazaar, and on the other side of the river in Virupapur Gadde. The lively Main Bazaar area is packed with cheap guesthouses, shops, and restaurants. Virupapur Gadde, with its rural laid-back environment on the edge of paddy fields, attracts plenty of backpackers. Many people choose to spend a couple of nights in each place, due to their different atmospheres.
An incredible energy can be felt at Hampi. The sunrise and sunset over the village, viewed from atop the central Matanga Hill, are truly magical and are not to be missed. Take a comfortable pair of shoes with you as some of the ruins can only be accessed on foot and you’ll need to walk quite a distance in order to explore them. Alternatively, renting a bicycle is a popular way to get around.
Consider taking a ferry trip across the river to Anegondi and exploring the ancient structures there. If you're into wine, don't miss visiting award-winning Krsma Estate vineyards, about two hours north of Hampi.
Meat and alcohol aren't available in Hampi town as it's a religious place. However, both are available across the river in Virupapur Gadde.
There are no ATMs in Hampi. The closest one is in Kamalapura, about 10 minutes away, but it's a good idea to make sure you withdraw the cash you'll need while in Hospet.
A guided tour, like the ones offered by Travspire, is worthwhile as Hampi has a lot of history to uncover. Options 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.