Hampi Part One: Temples, thalis and tuk tuks

Bit of a mammoth update this time so I’ve had to split it onto two posts. There’s just so much to write about beautiful Hampi..

We arrived here bright and early on Monday morning after a surprisingly comfortable overnight bus from Goa to Hampi. We’d booked the bus as a last resort because the train was full and had fully prepared ourselves for a nightmare journey after everything we’d heard about long distance travel in India. In the end, we had a pretty comfortable double bed with a privacy curtain on the top bunk and, despite a very long six hour gap between toilet stops and rolling over each other every time the bus hurtled round corners, we actually managed a few hours sleep. Not bad for £8 – fingers crossed the next one is as good.

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Arriving into Hampi was amazing. As we pulled into the bus stop, we could see the ruins on the hilltops in the distance, while monkeys raced along with the bus over the roofs of the local shops and tuk tuk drivers sipped chai and calmly watched us pull in.

Needless to say, the moment we got off things changed drastically.

Jamie managed to be the first one off the bus and stepped out just in time to avoid a flood of drivers running towards us. By the time I got off, I had to do some body surfing down the stairs.

To keep things simple, we hopped in a tuk tuk and headed down to the river to cross over to nearby Virupapur Gaddi. We had arrived into Hampi at 6am, so the mist was just lifting as people washed in the river and the street food stalls began to slowly come to life. A magical arrival into a magical place.

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Virapapur Gaddi itself is quite an odd place. The Hampi Bazaar, an area right by most of the main temples and ruins, used to be the centre of tourism here but a few years ago, in a bid to protect the heritage of the site, the Indian government demolished the guesthouses and restaurants on the Hampi side of the river, declaring them illegal. As a result, since most travellers now stay over the river in Virapapur, the so-called ‘Hampi Island’, it’s basically just a community of western travellers, guesthouses and touristy restaurants. It’s very scenic, with just one main dusty road, rice paddies all around and a backdrop of boulders, but it becomes a little claustrophobic after a few days.

 

After checking into a cottage in Shanthi Guesthouse for our first night, we headed back over the river to explore.

 

Now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Hampi was once the capital of the Hindu Vijayanagara Empire and a hub for Persian and Turk traders passing through the old silk roads (particularly interesting timing for us given we’ve both recently read Silk Roads!). The main sites alone are spread over 16 square miles, but there are incredibly intact old forts, palaces, dining halls, temples and even elephant stables scattered for miles around. Basically, a massive and mind-blowing place and we had no idea where to start! Thank God for maps.me which is easily the most useful travelling app.

Still feeling pretty bewildered after not much sleep, we decided to start by walking past all the touts to the quietest area possible to take it all in. We ended up on a stunning walk over the boulders by the side of the river, up to the Hanuman Temple.

There’s a low lying haze here most of the time which, coupled with the deserted ruins, creates an eerie mystical effect and having the place mostly to ourselves just made it all the more special.

 

Along the way, we passed lots of people who were gathering to pray and wash in the holy water of the river Tungabhadra.

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And not to forget the monkeys too who had also come to pay homage to Hanuman!

 

Up past the Achyutaraya Temple and Pushkarini, the ruins of an old sacred water tank, and on to the main Vijaya Vittala Temple.

 

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Strangely, although Hampi is absolutely full of tourists, it was just us and some pilgrims for most of the walk until we reached the temple. There are still several working temples here and the whole site is a significant religious monument for Hindus, particularly those worshipping the monkey god Hanuman who was said to have been born on top of one of the hills, so there are lots of people who have travelled from all around India to be here. Many of these have never seen white people before and so were very excited to see us! Cue hundreds of selfie requests…

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These guys are on a 41 day pilgrimage, travelling the country to absolve their sins. During this time they must wear black everyday, wash in the river at sunrise and sunset and be completely honest at all times

This guy decided he wanted us to take a picture of him on our own camera (no idea why) and then came back a few minutes later with his friend to ask if he could have one with ‘madam’ too. Not feeling awkward at all..

 

A lot of other tourists are here on a quick whistle stop overnight tour so were taking tuk tuks between each of the main sites, but the beauty in this place is most definitely to be found by exploring the sections in between and we’re very lucky to have the extra time to take it slow.

By the time we made it back to the main centre, we’d walked nearly 15km in the 30 degree heat and still hadn’t had any lunch. We hadn’t seen anywhere we could get food all day and headed to the village by the main temple to try and hunt out some of the recommendations in the Lonely Planet. We bumped into a friendly tuk tuk driver, Jeelan, who explained that, because of the government crackdown, none of the places we were looking for exist anymore and there’s nowhere decent to get food on this side of the river. We got chatting to him as he gave us a lift to a coconut stall to tide us over and he explained that some 290 people from the village were left homeless and unemployed as a result of the demolitions. Many of those who were forced out have been given a small plot of land in a neighbouring village, but no job and no way to make money, and others are still waiting to receive anything at all.

We took an instant liking to Jeelan, who had brilliant English, a great sense of humour and was far more polite and less pushy than the other drivers had been, so we decided to book ourselves in with him the next day to take us around some of the monuments further out.

Back to Shanthi guesthouse for some much needed veg thali and a very early night!

Refreshed and ready to go the next morning, we set off back over the river to meet Jeelan. Deciding to go with Jeelan was one of the best decisions we’ve made so far. We weren’t entirely convinced on getting a guide at all and had thought about getting bikes or just walking everywhere ourselves, but were concerned that we’d miss out on the history and anecdotes of the place. A few hours in and it became clear that we’d never have covered half of the places on our list by foot! By the end of the day we’d walked another 15km and that was with a tuk tuk to take us around the biggest distances.

The amazing thing about Hampi is the way that the ruins are a just a backdrop to the locals’ everyday lives – there are centuries old ruins dotted around the side of the road with no signs or indications of what they are. The local people were drying their clothes on the side of ancient walls and people were even planting crops around the ruins of a palace that, in the UK, would have been heavily fenced off.

 

Luckily we had the man in the know to show us around. Jeelan took us to the old city walls and showed us how they had cut the immense stones for the buildings by putting wood into a line of small holes in the boulders and soaking them in water so that they gradually expand, splitting the rock after several months. He stopped again on the side of the road and showed us the plates of an old dining hall with the thali plates cut ready into the granite.

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A busy morning with stops at the gates to the old city; the Ganagitti Temple, one of the oldest temples with a huge fire pillar impressively made from a single piece of rock; the Saraswati Temple in dedication to the goddess of knowledge and education and the archaeological museum.

 

An absolute highlight of the day (obviously food related) was Jeelan taking us to a local place down the road for lunch and showing us how to eat thali properly. Unsurprisingly, we’ve been doing it all wrong.

Turns out you’re supposed to keep the rice and dal to one side and eat the curry and the vegetables first by scooping the sauce up with a roti. Only when you’ve finished that (and there are refills on offer if it’s not enough!) do you move on to the rice, which you pour back into your plate with the dal and eat by scooping small pieces up in your hands and using your thumb as kind of a shovel into your mouth. After you’ve eaten most of the dal, you then add the yogurt/curd for the final bits of rice. Jamie nailed it but I was still in trouble by the end for leaving small pieces of rice in my hand each time – you’re supposed to get it all in in one apparently, but you’re also not allowed to take small amounts at a time. Much more difficult than it sounds, especially given the mountain of food we were given – we were both so full but didn’t want to offend by leaving any food!

Feeling very sluggish after our massive lunch (for the bargain price of 75p – our cheapest and best thali so far), we headed on to the Royal Enclosure, including the Queen’s Palace and the enormous elephant stables, the Underground Siva Temple and the Krishna Temple before finishing up at the statue of Ganesh and the stunning views from Hemakuta Hill.

 

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A day packed full of adventures and new things to learn!

If anyone is heading to Hampi, I would highly recommend getting in touch with Jeelan. He’s the nicest guy who takes real pride in his job and his English skills make a big difference – he learnt at a private school he attended until age 16 when his father died and he had to take over as head of the family. Since then he’s worked as a driver/guide and so has over 30 years’ experience – he’s now earning money to put his son through the same school. You won’t find him scrambling to meet the boats and buses with the other touts, he says he is saddened to see how pushy they are and worries they will scare the tourists away for good. Instead, he hangs back by the food stalls and reads his beloved newspaper before politely approaching. He’s never been able to afford to travel around India but he’s learnt a lot from talking to people in his tuk tuk and has read all about the different places in the paper so has lots of tips. He’s also from Hampi village rather than Hospet, where most of the other guides come from, and it’s nice to be able to support the local village given the treatment they’ve had by the government. His number is +917829989516 so give him a call if you find yourself in Hampi!

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Back to Virapapur and ready for a move down the road to ‘Bobby One Love Guesthouse’ – significantly less nice than Shanthi but a good place to meet people and, at half the price, it’s much kinder on the budget!

The rest of our adventures in Hampi are coming up later today in the next post, Hampi Part Two. Don’t worry, there’s less temple pics in this one..


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