By Nirupama Rajan
One of the dreams of almost every young Bangalorean is to travel solo to at least a few of the places that Karnataka is famous for attracting tourists to. While choosing one option from this seemingly unending list of places is no small feat, if you have managed to narrow it down to Hampi, here are a few pointers that I hope will make your trip an even better one.
Whether you are a history buff looking for answers in the intricate stone carvings of this rocky wonderland, a writer hoping to find your voice in the stories that have unfolded here or merely someone looking to experience solo travel and see what all the fuss is about, everyone who visits Hampi is sure to find something very valuable to take back with them. While it is humanly impossible to detail all the places to visit and things to do while you’re there in one article, here’s my pick of the lot. Remember always when traveling, that it is never about how many boxes you check off of your ‘list of attractions’, but about what you take back from the ones you do experience, even if they are just one or two.
The easiest option by far is to take a bus from Bangalore to Hospet. Both KSRTC and private companies offer plenty of these in sleeper, seater, AC and non-AC versions that cover the approximately 350 kms in 7-8 hours. Alternatively, you could take one of the several trains running from Bangalore to Hospet Junction. Hospet to Hampi is a distance of less than 15 kilometres and there are several government buses, private operators and autos that will help you cover this last bit of your journey there. You could also make a road trip of it and drive there in about 8 hours from Bangalore.
If comfort is a priority, I’d recommend staying in Hospet and making the trip from there to Hampi every day. I, for instance, stayed at Hotel Malligi in Hospet and I couldn’t have asked for a better experience. They have great rooms, several culinary options for vegetarians and non-vegetarians and a great spa to top it off. If you are looking for something a little more rustic or if you’re on a tight budget, Hampi itself offers several quirky albeit simplistic hotels near the main temple and on Hampi island (known as Viruppapura Gaddi locally, it is accessible by a quick boat ride across the Tungabhadra river). A favourite among many travellers is the Mango Tree hotel near the main Virupaksha Temple.
Travel while there
In getting to Hampi and traveling while there, I used almost every conceivable form of transport- government buses, private buses, taxis, private autos, share autos, scooters, mopeds, motor boats, coracles, bicycles and even one of those golf cart-like battery cars! Autos will always be around and I can’t stress this enough. Hospet to Hampi can cost you between 200-300 rupees by auto depending on the time of the day, and travelling from one spot to another inside Hampi will cost you roughly the same. For about 700-800 rupees, autos will drive you to several prime locations one after the other. You could also rent bicycles for as little as 150 rupees a day- this I figured is most efficient as it is inexpensive and also lets you navigate the many narrow mud roads. While on Hampi island, you can rent scooters and mopeds for about 200-300 rupees a day to cover the large distances from one spot to another; keep in mind though that you won’t be allowed to take these across the river. The river can easily be crossed using the ferry service or on coracles- an experience you definitely shouldn’t miss while there.
However, even with all these options, I would personally recommend walking as much as possible. Walking elevates your travel experience to a whole new level and nothing – no, not even cycling – can give you that feeling. Hampi is the kind of place where you can look closely at a random rock lying at the side of the path and chances are, you’ll find a centuries-old carving on it; there’s just so much you miss out on when you’re not walking. Moreover, walking encourages you to veer off the beaten path, once again leading to several wonderful discoveries on the way. With every step you take, Hampi tempts you into taking one more, drawing you further into its intricate web of ancient stories.
Now this is a tad problematic. While you’ll find bananas and tender coconuts all over, finding actual, reassuring food in Hampi can be a little challenging. Of course, there are several restaurants both on Hampi island and near the Virupaksha temple, and while locals are highly likely to offer to share their food once you befriend them, if you are a fussy eater, it’s highly advisable to carry fruit or packed food with you. Beware of the monkeys though, they’re everywhere and will do anything for a few morsels!
Major historical sites
Where does this one begin and where does it end? Suffice it to say there are well over a hundred historical landmarks in Hampi and even if you stayed for a month, you wouldn’t be able to spend as much time as you’d want to in each of them. The most prominent one would be the Virupaksha temple, originally built well before the Vijayanagara Empire that brought Hampi its fame. It’s a great idea to start exploring Hampi outwards from this focal point. Around this temple, you’ll find the Jain Hemakuta temples and the Ganesha temples, as well as the Krishna Temple and Krishna Bazaar. A long walk along the river from the Virupaksha temple will take you to the Vitthala temples, which is also the site of the famous stone chariot, hall of musical pillars, king’s balance etc. A little distance away is Kamalapura, and in and around this area, you will stumble upon the Zenana Enclosure, the Lotus Mahal, Elephant Stables, the Queen’s Bath, the underground Shiva temple and so on. The Hazara Rama Temple is also a short walk from here. There are information boards at almost every site, but carrying a book along won’t hurt. You could also cross the river and visit the temples on Hampi island (note that the distances here are fairly large, so it’s a good idea to rent two-wheelers). All of these only form the tip of the iceberg that is Hampi; there are many sites that you will discover only once you go there and several others still being excavated and explored. Anyone can find something new and valuable in Hampi!
Other things to do
My favourite things to do in Hampi by far were to just keep walking or riding and stumbling upon great views unexpectedly in places that are completely off the tourist path. Mathanga hill near the Virupaksha temple and Anjanadri Hill (supposedly the site of Kishkinda, the monkey kingdom in the Ramayana) on the island provide unbelievable views of the sunrise and sunset and people flock to these points at these times. The museum at Kamalapura is full of artefacts and information boards- this one is a must for history buffs. There are several, chilled out restaurants with a shack-like feel on the Hampi island that you could unwind in towards the evening. Also visit the Daroji Bear Sanctuary and the Tungabhadra dam if you have any time left. Talk to locals, and they’ll probably give you ten more things to do and if you have an extra day, take a cab and visit Badami, Pattadakal and Aihole- these sites are several hundred years older than Hampi and offer a whole new perspective of history.
Other things to keep in mind
Fending off guides and autos will probably be your biggest challenge, especially if you want to explore all by yourself- remember that it’s perfectly okay to do so, even if the guides insist that you won’t understand anything without their guidance. Talk to locals wherever possible without intruding upon their privacy- they will let you in on so much more information than you would get otherwise. Make sure you have one of those guide books, maps or postcard packs; it makes navigating and asking for information much easier. Wear comfortable shoes to make walking easy. There aren’t many places where you’d have to take them off anyway. Visiting Hampi during the off-season is just as much fun as the December-January period. Consider the rain and the heat though- the heat in Hampi can be really taxing. The sunrise and sunset views may also be elusive during the monsoons. Remember to carry water and food, but beware of monkeys. Most importantly, lose the phone and the headphones- it’s the only way you can truly lose yourself here.
Solo travel is what you make of it. It goes beyond the place you visit or your form of transport; no amount of reading up will prepare you for the actual experience; so sure, read up on all the articles you can find, or read none- the important step is to actually take that leap. Solo travel gives you the freedom to discover things on your own terms- that is the most enriching bit, so gift yourself the courage to do that.
Feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any queries regarding solo travel to Hampi, especially as a woman.