Hampi, India - the most beautiful place I've ever been to
Hampi - a surreal landscape
The natural landscape of Hampi is probably one of the most surreal in the world. Its beauty will draw you in and make you stay longer than you planned. As you walk amongst old ruins and enormous rocks and boulders, you can be a part of this rural India where time is understood in more ancient terms. How did enormous boulders the size of houses get piled on top of each other, creating enormous structures? How did these rocks, so powerful, inspiring, and majestic, come to be in many many piles? Every evening a group of fellow travelers and I climbed a particular pile of rocks to watch the sunset. Inventive Indians, 2 or 3 of them, would come to us and offer to sell chai. We sat and drank tea while watching the sunset; in the background were water filled rice paddies interlaced with banana trees and water buffalo; the scene was beautiful and rustic. The ruralness and power of nature in Hampi, with its focus on agriculture, can be seen very easily. It is as beautiful as any place you might imagine on Earth.
It is the rocks that draw the most attention. Their surreal quality is astonishing, wondrous, and clearly powerful. One feels small in comparison to the ancient stature of these rocks. These boulders have been here for millennia, before even humans occupied this planet. That feeling is one of timelessness that you will take away with you and remember. It is the rocks and the beauty that any traveler to Hampi remembers.
One way to see Hampi is to rent a bike. The place isn’t small and a bike will enable you to ride to the Elephant Stables and all over where there are roads or paths. On the main side of Hampi, the side you arrive on by bus from Hospet, is the Hampi bazaar where one can find shops, restaurants, and low budget accommodations. The hotels here do not require advance reservations; they are basic and inexpensive places and you shouldn’t have a problem finding a place. I spent my first night on this side of the river, the main side. The next night I moved to the other side of the river and found a more idyllic, rustic, basic place to stay that was away from the hustle and bustle of other tourists. The place I stayed in is across the Tungabhardra River and about a mile down the path from the river. On the right side is a small hotel that has mattresses on the floor of little huts. Across the road on the left side of the road is a better place that is a bit cleaner, with better mattresses and hammocks. On a warm night it is comfortable to sleep in the hammock. I didn’t ever worry about safety in Hampi even though there were no locks on the doors to the ‘huts’. If you like it basic and rough, stay on the other side of the river. If you need to have a more proper shower and more comfortable living places, then stay on the bazaar side of the river. However, regardless of where you stay, I encourage you to go across the river and explore that part of Hampi. Getting across the river itself is a fun adventure. There is a boat that I call a “basket boat”, probably weaved together from palm trees native to the area. The boat is circular and small. In typical Indian style, the driver of this boat will fit up to 15 kids, squeezed together, or a motorcycle and a few adults. They cram people in when needed. The journey across the river is done by a paddle and only takes about 5 minutes and only costs a few rupees. If you go across the river you are going to see more sights. These include large water buffalo, big creatures the size of large cows that ironically get scared very easily. We humans see big animals and get nervous, but if you raise your hands high into the air and make a sound, these big water buffalos will get frightened, start making nervous sounds, and backing up as if the human would win in a fight. Also across the river is a reservoir and a temple. Following the road from the river until it dead-ends and then taking a left at the T fork will take you to the reservoir. If you go right at the T intersection and walk about 2 miles you will come to the Hanuman Temple, the temple of the monkey God named Hanuman.
The Hanuman temple is on the top of the biggest pile of boulders in the area. There are usually some people hanging out at the bottom of this temple, sometimes selling stuff. Also at the base is a structure where some saddhus stay, (wandering men in search of God), and you might enjoy interacting with them as I did. I also bought a few slices of watermelon. There are stairs that you can climb to get to the top of the Hanuman temple and once you are at the top there is a small temple. Inside the temple there are bells and usually a caretaker. My traveling companion and I participated in banging the bells, making noise more than music, but it is a fun thing to do at the top of the rocks. It is also a great photo opportunity because from the top of the rocks you can see down upon the landscape in all directions. The landscape is dotted with other piles of huge boulders, furthering ones impression that this is a surreal, God created landscape. It is full of beauty. At the top I sat down on a rock and had a rind and another slice of watermelon sitting next to me. A monkey came running by and grabbed my watermelon, and sat boldly near me about 15 feet away. It sat there and ate my watermelon with a mischievous grin on its face. I threw my rind at it and missed. The Hanuman temple is worth seeing because it is the highest pile of rocks in the area and a definite landmark. The monkeys that hang out on top are an intrinsic part of the temple experience. But watch out for your watermelon!
Hampi is not easy to get to if you don’t like long bus rides. You can take a train or bus from Bangalore to Hospet, and then a bus from Hospet to Hampi, not a long one. Or you can come from Goa by bus to Hospet and then to Hampi. You can find the details in any guidebook. I’m here to tell you about my personal experience of living in Hampi for a month and to tell you what I found to be the more compelling aspects of Hampi; information you cannot get from a guidebook. I personally took a 12 hour bus ride from Goa to Hampi.
Hampi is in the Indian state of Karnataka, which occupies central India. November to March is high season, when the heat won’t kill you. Hampi is a World Heritage Site; and it deserves to be so. Definitely put it on your list of places to see when traveling in India. You will come away amazed and inspired!