Hampi – Solo Backpacking Guide
It was an extended weekend in the month of March and I thought of making a good use of this opportunity to travel. Considering Saurabh was very much occupied, I thought of living my dream of solo travelling for a short trip. Initially, I was considering South Goa for its laid-back attitude and safety but then I changed my mind to Hampi.
Hampi is a very small village in northern Karnataka on the banks of Tungbhadra river recognized by UNESCO. It is 13 km far from Hospet, which comes under Bellary district. It is located in the ruins of a magnificent and ancient town – Vijayanagar. I am always drawn to historical sites to reflect on the past of different places. In terms of how much time I had and distance, Hampi seemed to be a good choice.
So 1 week before I planned to depart, I did my complete research on the safety of woman traveller, the best ways to travel, places to explore, things to do and stay options. Hampi have two main sections – one is the sacred section, which has lots of temples, and the second one is a royal section, which has residential areas, public bath, public areas for the festival and other temples. I booked a decent guesthouse in the market area in Hampi for 1500 a night – Gopi Guest House. And, settled for an AC Sleeper Volvo for an overnight journey from Pune to Hospet. I was thoroughly excited for my solo adventure and was really counting days 😛 . But when the day approached, my heart was sinking with the thought of leaving my husband behind. I was a little concerned about what if I get bored alone? What if I don’t like the place? But my man motivated me to do this.
I reached Hospet at around 9 am. There are many options to reach Hampi from Hospet – by shared auto, private auto, cab, local bus. I chose the cheapest of all for a fun ride – the local bus and it cost me 10 bucks in comparison to 150 for the auto. I took the bus from the bus station. It was half an hour journey in between few villages. On my arrival in the village, I saw the only working and magnificent ‘Virupaksha Temple’ dedicated to Shiva. But I made my way straight to the guesthouse to check-in, which was very close to the temple. Took a bath, had some breakfast and hired a bicycle to explore. You can hire a cycle or a gearless two-wheeler in Hampi at a nominal price. I paid 30 bucks a day for my 3 days. People travelling in groups and looking for hassle-free luxury hire cabs too. But the problem with cabs is that you still have to walk quite a lot to the sites due to small and big boulders spread across the town and cycle seems to be advantageous in that sense.
Anyways, after hiring the cycle I straight went to the Virupaksha temple. It is a very big complex with a beautiful gopuram at the entrance. You have to pay some nominal fee for the camera to click pictures. It was indeed a marvellous architecture with so many devotees flooding in to have darshan of the Shiv Linga. I also met Lakshmi. She is a 28 years old elephant who lives inside the temple complex and is used for temple processions. I found her very docile. If you give her money or food, she ‘blesses’ you by placing her trunk on your head. I spent some time sitting in the complex and moved on because I had half a day to cover the entire temple complex.
Hemkunta Group of Temples:
Next, I went to the Hemkunta group of temples. It is situated on a rocky slope next to the Virupaksha temple. They just ruined with nothing much but was quite peaceful and you get a very good view of the whole village and nearby hills. One important temple of this complex is Saasivekaalu Ganesha Temple. Saasivekaalu means stomach full of ladoos, the idol is a huge monolithic marvel. After resting for a while in the cool breeze, I decided to move on according to my map.
It was time for lunch and I was looking for an authentic Kannada meal and I found one soon. A humble tapri operated by an elderly woman. I had lemon rice, chutney, sambhar and chilli pakora. All for 40 bucks!
I moved on in search of Vithal temple and cycled my way to the ruins of Hampi Bazaar. Hampi Bazaar is a long parallel line of shops where traders and merchants used to sell precious stones, clothes, spices in of Vijaynagar kingdom. I left my cycle at the other end of the bazaar bang opposite a police chowki 😛 (Smart me!). At the foothill of the Matanga hill, I saw a very big statue of Nandi. Without wasting any time I started climbing in the hot afternoon. It was very hot but not more than my determination. 😛 But after some time I felt little lost since there were no signboards nor anyone to ask from, the just plethora of boulders and me. And, suddenly I found one local boy who gave me directions and assured me that I am on the right path. When I reached the top, it was indeed a beautiful view with lots of ruins spread around. Now I started descending to get lost in the mesmerizing Hampi. I spent all of my afternoons, clicking pictures and visiting what all I can. I had to walk quite a lot since I left my bicycle already. There were many temple ruins on the way to the Vithal temple: Achutyarai’s temple, Courtesan’s street, water tank, Kondandrama temple etc. On this route, there were government guards everywhere so it was easy for me to figure out the way since there was nothing else. No shops, no houses nothing! Finally, I reached the temple of the famous stone chariot. It was a huge complex of multiple temples. I spent quite some time relaxing inside the complex. Met with another solo traveller who was riding in the whole of south India on a bike. Exchanged experiences and tips around Hampi. It was a good interaction after a whole day silence for a chatterbox like me.
It was almost evening and I realized that I have to walk back a long way so left this beautiful temple. Late evening I spent running behind the dipping sun to click good sunset pictures. I would recommend catching the sunset from the Hemkunt hill, it gives a very good view. But the guard starts shooing you away exact at 6, for safety purposes I assume. It was a tiring day for me so I decided to eat and sleep early. I wanted to be all refreshed for my day 2 adventures.
After a hearty breakfast at the Gopi Guest House, I headed to the Royal section. It was quite a distance to cover, approximately 5 -7 km. On my way I stopped to visit the statue of Narasimha Vigraha, it is also a monolithic one. Little destroyed but still impressive. Early summers can also be difficult here before I could realize coconut water became my staple here.
Hazaar Rama Temple:
I paddled my way to the royal section. Saw an underground Shiva temple which was actually full of water so could really see from inside. Finally, I reached the Hazaar-rama temple, it is a beautiful temple surrounded by lush greenery. All the walls of this temple are living stories of Ramayana. The garb-griha is made of black stone and has a centre stage like a platform that was for the second queen to dance on. I so liked this temple that I decided to do some reading while sitting on the grass behind the shade of trees.
Next, I went to the public area, which was built for public use during festivals, it had a tank for the public bath too. There used to be dance performances during Dushhera and Diwali, I tried to imagine how it all looked during those ancient times. A little ahead is the Zenana Enclosure, which has a lotus Mahal, elephant stable, and other small temples. It was almost noon and the sun was on its full heat and I headed for another dose of coconut water.
Now I decided to cross the river and move on to the other side of the river. There are two ways of crossing the river – a small motorboat or a coracle boat ride, which is a circular basket boat made of bamboo. It is a traditional handcrafted means of transport. It can take around 4 people at a time. Since I hade my cycle, I opted for the motor one. After crossing I found a lady selling some handicrafts, thought of doing some chitty-chatty with her. Thankfully, she knew Hindi. There I found a local guide and I decided to hire him for half a day. Since it was off-season, it cost me just 200 bucks and I got a cameraman to click my pictures too. 😉
Straight we headed to the famous Anjaneya Hill, which is said to be the birthplace of Hanuman. I had to climb 600 stairs to reach the top! Since it was quite a task I decided to have my staple – coconut water first! There is a Hanuman temple at the hilltop where priests chant Ramayana round the clock. So two priests at one time for 8 hours straight! I found it really commendable and amusing to know this. They also serve food as prasad, so decided to lunch over there. It was a humble daal chawal, sabzi along with pickle. This also gave me the opportunity to talk to the young boys who are getting trained to be a priest there. Most of them hail from MP or UP. It was an amazing wind and sprawling view across Hampi. It is the tallest hill in the area.
After that, I explored the nearby neighbourhood, and also the place, which is said to be where Shabree met Shri Ram. This side of Hampi was really happening, This is where most of the foreigners stay. It has lots of shacks, good food, shopping area, little cafes, which also serve Beer if you like. It was already 5 pm and decided to cross the river considering the boat services stops at 5:30 pm. One thing to notice here is there is only one ATM in this whole area, which was also not functioning for a few days as told by the locals. Another one was approximately 15 km away. So you really have to take care of this thing. The rest of the evening I spent shopping around, there are quite a lot of shops for clothes, handicrafts, books, metal statues, paintings, and jewellery. I decided to dine at a very good restaurant at the back of Virupaksha, I don’t remember the name though. It was a quite happening place with multiple cuisines and good music. I was tired like hell due to two days of cycling but also very much content on what I have explored. This was my last night here. And, I had something to achieve in the next morning.
So I woke up at 5 and it was still dark outside but I had to do that climb to catch the sunrise at the second tallest hill of Hampi – Matanga Hill. The streets were sleepy, I had some chai at a tapri near the bus stand and headed to the hill. To be honest I was a little scared but this was my last chance to climb and see the sunrise from the hill. It was still dark but I saw a couple climbing who had a torch, so I started following them but they were gone in some time. And, the sad part is there is no designated path to climb. It is all-natural. I called Saurabh to engage myself while I climb in the dark and it helped 😛 Slowly, the dark sky started turning blue. And, to my surprise when I reached the top; I saw a lot of people sitting there already. I sat quietly facing east, waiting for the sun to come. There was crisp air flowing, people sitting, doing yoga, and talking. Suddenly it was there! It was the beautiful sunrise ever I saw. I felt so good that I took a nap then and there, while people started leaving as the Sun was rising.
Next on the agenda was to catch Lakshmi bathing in the Tungabhadra river. As I heard, she is been taken for a bath daily at 8:30 am. I was there sharp at that time and there she was! I clicked a few pictures while she was waving her trunk happily in the flowing water. Such a blissful sight J. Then I had some good continental breakfast and headed to the Museum. It is in Kamlapura, which is approximately 6 km from Hampi. But it was worth a visit, it had many things preserved but what I liked most was a complete model of Hampi. It was amazing. Since I had some time in hand, I decided to again go to the Hazara- rama temple. Sat there for some time, chatted with some more local people. Who were very curious to know, where I came from. Few even thought I am a foreigner, considering I didn’t meet any other solo woman traveller. After this, I had a full course thali at a dhaba, which was simple and delicious.
This concluded my trip to Hampi. I packed my stuff and returned to Hospet to catch my bus to Pune. I would like to go back to Hampi anytime and I am sure that I will be amazed by new experiences.
Sorry if this was a very long post but this also suggests that I did leave a piece of my heart at this beautiful temple town. Until I go next time.
Don’t Worry, Be Hampi!