As a person who loves historical and cultural expeditions, Hampi in Karnataka is truly a magical world. This 1000-plus-year-old city is now filled with ancient artefacts that showcase a time of luxury and greatness from the past. I felt like exploring an open museum where every corner tells the story of the rich cultural history.
The early history of Hampi dates back to the Mauryan and Ashoka times. I have read about the unearthing of some writings that prove it. Studies have confirmed that some relics you will see here are from 700-800 AD. Although the early history of Hampi is entwined with multiple dynasties and local rules, the city rose to its zenith when it became the capital of the Vijayanagara Empire in the early 13th century.
The city thrived and flourished during the 14th to 16th centuries in all spheres, and many of the city’s architectural marvels were created during this time.
By the time the Europeans arrived in the 16th century, Hampi was already a prominent centre of trade and wealth. However, the foreigners failed to establish political control over the city since it had been under the rule of powerful kings of the Deccan Sultanates and later the Mughal Empire. But after the dwindling of Mughal influence, the British arrived, and many believe it was a good thing for Hampi, in contrast to many other parts of India.
The British archaeologists took a keen interest and care in preserving the Hampi remains and making them globally known. When you study the history of preservation work done by the British here, you will appreciate the same, even if you don’t approve of anything else they did in India. Like me!
To me, Hampi is a fusion of various cultures and eras. Though the temple constructions showcase the Dravidian and typical Vijayanagara patterns, many other relics showcase the beautiful amalgamation of Indian and Persian architectural styles. Many folklore and traditional songs, some of which you can witness during the Hampi Utsav, confirm such influences in the city’s heritage.
The grand Hampi Utsav, a cultural festival, is held during the month of January. I found the rhythmic beats of the Dollu Kunitha and the graceful movements of the Veeragase dance, to be the most memorable among many performances in the festival.
For those preferring air travel, the closest airport is the Hubli Airport, located approximately 150 kilometers away. I took a taxi to reach Hampi. There are buses also available on this route.
Now, I realize that taking a train could be a better option for many, as from the Hospet Junction Railway station, it is easy to reach Hampi, with regular bus services connecting Hospet to the historical city (14 km).
There are many relics and sites you can visit in and around Hampi. I have selected the following seven, based on their historical and architectural importance.
Virupaksha Temple: This ancient Lord Shiva temple is one of the oldest and most significant structures in Hampi. Its towering gopuram (entrance tower) and intricate carvings make it a true architectural marvel. This UNESCO World Heritage site is probably one of the oldest you will see in Hampi. The construction of this temple is believed to date back to AD 700.
Vittala Temple Complex: You might have seen a Stone Chariot in brochures depicting Hampi. You can see it in real here. Home to the iconic stone chariot and musical pillars, this temple complex showcases breathtaking Vijayanagara architecture. The musical pillars are believed to be able to produce musical notes if you tap on them. I haven’t tried that yet.
Hampi Bazaar: This ancient marketplace, lined with ruins of shops, is a fascinating place to explore and imagine the hustle-bustle of the past. You will find many souvenir shops in the nearby area.
Lotus Mahal: Known for its graceful and elegant design, this two-story structure was once a pleasure pavilion for royal women. I was amazed by the Persian connection in the designs of the building.
Hemakuta Hill Temples: Trek up this hill to witness a cluster of small, beautiful temples and enjoy a stunning panoramic view of Hampi’s landscape. The view from the temple site is breathtaking.
Elephant Stables: A row of grand domed chambers that once housed the royal elephants, showcasing the engineering brilliance of the Vijayanagara Empire. Though it is in a ruined state, you will appreciate its astounding structure and purpose.
Queen’s Bath: This lavish, well-preserved structure is an excellent example of the opulence enjoyed by royalty during the Vijayanagara period.
Many believe that Hampi is good only for cultural or historical travel. Actually, this is not the case. If you have a little extra time and an eye for appreciating rural landscapes and culture, I recommend visiting the following sites.
Matanga Hill: You can climb the hill to see the panoramic view of the Hampi ruins. I will encourage all visitors to take this hike for the view.
Tungabhadra River: The history, even the name Hampi, is connected with the river. A river cruise will show you a different angle of Hampi and its ruins.
Anegundi Village: Cross the river to discover this charming village with its rustic charm, ancient temples, and cave paintings. If you are into anthropology, the cave painting discoveries made international headlines, and it is the first time we got clear evidence linking Hampi with the Indus Valley civilization.
Achyutaraya Temple: Delight in the architecture of this temple, known for its tall, ornate pillars.
Hampi is an open space. You can visit the place any time of the year. But a visit during the cooler months (October – March) will allow you to appreciate the town better. Exploring Hampi involves a lot of walking, so try to come during these months. It is better to avoid the summer and rainy seasons as it will restrict your outdoor activities. Weekends can be crowded, and it is advisable to choose weekdays for your expedition.
I haven’t seen many places in Hampi where you can experience an authentic cultural experience. The best time to see them is during the Hampi Festival held in the month of January. I found some traditional dance forms, such as the Veeragase dance and the graceful Dollu Kunitha, to reflect the region’s vibrant cultural heritage.
You will also get the chance to witness engaging puppet shows and folk theatre performances during the festival that showcase the colourful tales of local legends and epics.
A visit to Hampi is a unique cultural and pilgrim experience that you might not repeat. Hence, it is important to carry home a memorable item that can bring back good memories of your trip to Hampi. Many, like me, prefer the replica of the stone chariot. You can also look for ornaments and temple replicas to collect as a piece of this historical town.
Hampi has some excellent authentic eateries offering northern Karnataka food. I tried Bisi Bele Bath, a spicy rice dish, and Ragi Mudde, a nutritious finger millet dumpling, while I was there. Many consider local snacks like Maddur Vada and Holige to reflect the soul of the place.
I also tried Kokum Juice and Solkadhi, a tangy and spicy coconut-based drink which was refreshing and tasty. I suggest you explore local restaurants rather than those in luxury hotels to encounter authentic Karnataka foods.
Many people ask this question regularly. I believe you should set aside three to four days to see all the ruins, trek the hilltop to see the panoramic view of Hampi, take a boat journey to Anegundi Village, experience art and culture, and taste some authentic Karnataka food. The following is my preferred itinerary for you.
Day 1: Begin your journey by visiting the Virupaksha Temple and the surrounding Hampi Bazaar. Explore the nearby Hemakuta Hill Temples and watch the sunset from the top, painting the ancient ruins with a golden hue.
Day 2: Head to the Vittala Temple Complex and enjoy its stunning architecture, including the iconic Stone Chariot and the enchanting musical pillars. Afterward, visit the nearby King’s Balance and the Lotus Mahal. An evening visit to the market is also recommended.
Day 3: Today, take a coracle boat ride along the Tungabhadra River and explore the riverside ruins. Later, visit the Elephant Stables, Queen’s Bath, and the Zenana Enclosure to experience the royal grandeur.
Day 4: On your last day, take a boat ride to the Anegundi Village to witness its rustic charm, ancient temples, and mesmerizing cave paintings.
Hampi offers some delightful accommodations that blend modern comforts with a touch of historical charm. Here are a few top choices: