An ancient stone pathway leading through caves and streams. Monkeys sheltering from the rain on a crumbling temple gate. A sage meditating next to a stone companion. And palace ruins dissolving into darkness. These are just some of the magical sights that Hampi has to offer.
We’ve visited Hampi—the ruins of Vijayanagara, the center one of south India’s most powerful medieval kingdoms—three times now, and have always found something new to see (or seen the same thing in a new way).
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Built into the granite hills of central Karnataka state and straddling the Tungabhadra river, Hampi is a 40-square-kilometre treasure trove of ancient temples, crumbling palaces and boulder-strewn natural beauty. Some even say that the ancient city was built on the ruins of one even older—the mythical monkey-city of Kishkinda, home to Hinduism’s Lord Hanuman the monkey god, devoted follower of Lord Rama.
While the majestic Virupaksha temple, and the Vitthala temple with its massive stone chariot and musical pillars, are probably on ever visitor’s itinerary, Hampi has a lot more to offer—regardless of the weather. From riverside walkways with stairs cut into the living rock, and hidden shrines emerging from their lush sugarcane fields, to gigantic boulders in fantastic shapes, and emerald rice fields reflecting the sunrise in their motionless waters, here are some of the sights that have enchanted us over the years.
The old bazaar
The old bazaar of the erstwhile ‘sacred center’ is still the living heart of Hampi, with the Virupaksha temple and the village at one end of the concourse, and the monolithic Nandi bull statue at the other.
From the bazaar concourse, visitors can follow two paths to the rest of the sacred center, one around Mathanga hill and one over it. The path over the hill is rugged, but extremely interesting. At the end of the path on the other side of the hill, and set back from the main riverbank path, is the Achyutaraya temple, with its courtesan’s street and magnificent tank fed by underground pipes.
The path around Mathanga hill runs along the river and—when it rains—through impromptu rivulets. Walking this path occasionally makes you feel like you’ve stumbled into a bubble of time left over from seven hundred years ago!
Along the main road
Follow the main road around Hampi instead of walking through the sacred center, and you will pass some minor temples and other very interesting ruins before reaching the ‘royal center’ of Hampi—containing the royal palace and gardens flanked by their own temples, and the Islamic quarter.
While most of the architectural remains on Hampi lie on the southern side of the river, the northern side has its own charming sights. Tip: To get from one side of the river to the other by car, you will need to cross either at Hospet or Kampli. Don’t let your GPS fool you; the last time we checked, there was no crossing at Anegundi, unless you count the coracle boats ferrying people and motorcycles across.
During one of our visits, we stayed on the northern side of the river at the very basic but fun Gowri Resort, just down the road from the Sanapur reservoir. Our room was right next to a series of rice fields, and the reservoir and its canals offered us some lovely views, both during the day and in the evening.