Happy in Hampi: an insider guide to Goa

Thanks to the lovely writer Rosalie Cruz, who spent the past few months in Goa, experiencing all that life had to offer there. You can find her online on Facebook.

sanapur lakeThe experience of arriving in Hampi in Karnataka State next to Goa, after a ten hour, slightly bumpy bus ride in the dead of night is one that you will likely never forget. I know I won’t. The bus journey itself was unremarkable. The group I was travelling with chose to go by sleeper bus for the convenience since taking a train would mean a costly taxi ride to the bus station and another rickshaw trip from the town of Hospet to Hampi since the latter does not have a train station. The bus would take us straight into Hampi. After ten hours, we had arrived and I was excited to see the Hampi my fellow travellers raved about.

A Firm No

I was the first one of our group to exit the bus. I wish I had been the last. Having that many men shout and pull at you in different directions trying to get you to hop on their rickshaw for a tour of the city or down to the river is an intimidating experience for even hardened travellers. I learnt that day that a firm “no” will go a long way in India. At the time, I was so overwhelmed I nearly missed the stunning scenery around me. Nearly.

Dawn at Hampi

The first thing you see as you step out of the bus and manage to get past the group of drivers is the police station. There’s nothing special about a police station or so you might think, but this one is housed in what appears to be very old ruins of a building that was once part of the city of Vijayanagara. The city was once the capital of an empire with the same name.

Up, close and personal with Hampi

Behind the police station, a range of tall hills constituted solely by massive boulders made a stunning visual. Hampi is nestled between the complex of ruins of what was once one of the greatest cities in the subcontinent (it’s said that in the 1500′s, more than 500 000 people lived there) and the ruin complex is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. If you’re looking for a landscape photographer’s dream destination, you’ll find it here.
Hampi landscape

After checking in and getting some breakfast (arrival was at about 7am), we rented some mopeds to explore all that there is to see in Hampi Island (also known as “across the river”). It was easy to see that there was no shortage of things to do on this side of the river.We had been told that the best place to stay in Hampi is across the river since there is very little happening in the town at night-time and the tiny boat that ferries people between the riversides stops at 6pm. So we made a booking for a guesthouse on the other side of the river. We made our way down to hop on the ferry only to realise that the distance from the bus stop to the river does not warrant a rickshaw ride at all. Since it was my first time on a rickshaw, I didn’t begrudge the driver the fifty rupees I paid him. On the way there, I caught a glimpse of the imposing Virupaksha Temple, a Hindu temple built in honour of Virupaksha, one of the many forms of Shiva. It became one of the ‘must-sees’ of this trip.

Hanuman Temple

I particularly enjoyed the Anjaneya/Hanuman Temple. Although the 600 step climb up the hill to reach the monkey god’s temple (which I attempted in the blistering Hampi sun) is a somewhat less attractive prospect, the views of the valley as you make your way up will take your mind off the heat. The sunset here is also renowned to be worth the sacrifice. Surrounded by the wondrous beauty of the scenery and the mischief of a bunch of playful monkeys, it’ll be a memory to treasure.

Mopeds_best way around Hampi

Despite all the wonderful things we saw on the island, Hampi town and the ruins of the Vijayanagar city is where the culture and architecture fan in you will truly feel like you’ve arrived. The many ruins of the city are spread across a 25 km radius and are best seen by renting a bike or motorcycle. Walking is also possible but with the hot a dry climate and distances of 5km dividing some of the structures, not to mention the climb required to see some of the buildings, I found the motorbike option to be the best one. A close second favourite is Sanapur Lake, a large body of water surrounded by beautiful rock formations of piled up boulders. At some point, the crowd that is drawn to the area will congregate here for diving off the boulders into the cooling waters of the lake (rumour is that there are crocodiles but I couldn’t see any and they haven’t scared off the tourists) and chill out with other travellers with the same idea. The sunset here is the most magical I have ever seen. On that side of the river, you’ll also find a small waterfall, a handful of temples spread across the countryside and the Pampa Sarovar, a Hindu sacred pond filled with lotus leaves.

Musical Columns

In Hampi town and around the ruins of Vijayanagara, there are quite a few ‘must-stops.’  Hampi bazaar is the heart of the town and is dominated by the Virupaksha Temple (also known as the Pampapathi temple). With its 160-foot (49m) high tower entrance, statues of Shiva and shrines with of the erotica statues, this is place where you could easily spend half a day. The bazaar is a great place to shop for textiles, jewellery and fill up on delicious street food.

Virupaksha Temple

Perhaps one of the most impressive monuments of Hampi, Vithala Temple is bound to remain on its visitor’s minds. It is a thoroughly sculpted building with, ornate pillars and breathtaking carvings. The structure is also renowned for its musical pillars. The group of 56 pillars carved in stone produce an echo of a note when tapped. The back lawn of the temple displays an impressive stone carved chariot with rotating wheels.

Capital of a rich empire

No doubt Hampi is known for its many beautiful temples but it’s impossible to forget that this was once the capital of a rich empire. Kings and Queens lived lavish lifestyles here and as a memento of those times, there are still a handful of buildings that remain, telling stories of greatness. To call out a few: The Elephant stables (a majestic structure with 11 domed chambers for the royal elephants), the Queen’s bath, swimming pool to the royal family (part of the Royal Enclosure, the rectangular building with a  veranda inside wrapped around a square tank 6 feet deep) and the Zenana Enclosure (four buildings – the queen’s palace, two watchtowers through which the ladies of the court kept an eye on the outside world and the Lotus palace, a two storied palace that resembles a lotus flower and served as the meeting place for the royal females).

Hampi sunset over the lake

I left Hampi four days after arriving, feeling that I had not seen or explored half the secrets and treasures of this magical place. The city is beckoning me to return and I think that you Purple Travellers out there should add Hampi to your travel wishlist.

Read more about Rosalie’s Insider Guide to Goa here. All images via @ Rosalie Cruz

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