I’m not sure if Hampi is best described as an alien landscape or a prized photograph from the National Geographic collection but I certainly felt as though I wasn’t meant to see it. It’s one of those places where photo’s just seem far too surreal to ever picture yourself amongst it.
After 13 hours by train and bus over flat and relatively dry land, huge mountains of boulders appear out of the plains in the distance. The roadsigns read Hampi 12 kilometres and as it counts down the stacked orange boulders seem to surround the road, the bus is now following the road that winds in and out of these huge formations and excitement wells amongst Hampi’s first-timers and return visitors alike.
Although the boulders are all naturally formed it appears as though they’d been carved and stacked by a giant master sculptor and each piece glued into place to stop them rolling down the mountainside to the surrounding villages and rice paddies.
After a short stroll through the bazaar and a river crossing you come across the dirt road that’s home to a group of guesthouses with very little to distinguish amongst them, almost all of them have an in-house restaurant with cushions on the floor surrounding low-lying tables serving local Indian food as well as an Indian take on Italian, Chinese and Israeli food.
After you’ve stuffed yourself with as much Malai kofta or ‘Italian Lessange’ the real adventure starts. Cover yourself in sunscreen and start walking in just about any direction and you’re sure to find yourself at the foot of one of these boulders. A laborious hike over cacti, thorn bushes and boulders will have you stumbling upon ruins that – excusing the proximity to the town – would have you believing had been unseen since the day the Vinayanagara civilisation collapsed some 400 years ago .
Atop the mountain of boulders opens up to 360 degree views of Hampi and the surrounding lie of the land. It sprawls in all directions with similar mountains of delicately stacked boulders and you can trace the run of the river by the coconut and banana trees and rice paddies that surround the fresh water. The paradoxical play between the greenery surrounding the river and the orange/reds of the boulders reminds you of something out of a Dali painting.
Perhaps Hampi’s most famous mountain top temple is the Hanuman Temple or Monkey Temple. It’s a 5 kilometres out of town and upon reaching the foot of the boulders you are met with 600 dauntingly uneven steps that snake around and under the boulders before opening up to a small temple surrounded by 50-100 monkeys and on a busy day, an equal number of tourists, backpackers and devotees. It offers a 360 degree view of the land around and the boulders, sunset and monkeys make for amazing photo opportunities. Bring some bananas for the monkeys but keep them well hidden until you’re prepared to part with them-they’ll quickly disappear. You’ll split your sunset between here and the sunset jam, a drum circle on top of boulders just outside of the main street (ask around and people will be able to tell you where it is). Check it out here.
I must warn you though, Hampi is a trap. You’ll roll into town with the intention of a 4 or 5 day stay and wake up 2 or 3 weeks later still wandering if you really need to leave. The only thing that dragged me out of Hampi was that I had a friend waiting for me in Goa and that didn’t take long before I convinced him to come back to Hampi.
Don’t Worry, Be Hampi