We visited Hampi while I was in Bangalore, South India for work. Working in Bangalore was an amazing experience, but different in every way than how we usually travel. I had been planning a South India trip for some time. Let's be honest, I've had a "vague itinerary" since the first time we travelled to India in 2011. Hampi was a town that was very high on my South India itinerary and I really wanted to fit it in- seeing as Hampi is only a short 350kms away from Bangalore.
One major difference when travelling for work is the actual working part. When your employer is paying for a trip it really fills your days with so much, well - work. Yes, the working really puts a damper on travel time. This is especially true when you only have Saturday morning - Sunday evening to go somewhere, do something fun and return. This is especially the case in India where going anywhere is a time consuming adventure. Just getting around Bangalore itself was painfully slow- let alone actually getting to the outskirts of the city and then then onwards to another city. Hours and hours on Indian buses/trains are not necessarily my first choice for the 48 hours of precious non-working time I had each week. However, I really, really wanted to get to Hampi. With only one long weekend to work with I knew exactly how to use it.
Finding ourselves with more money than time is an unfamiliar experience for J and I. We found an adventurous colleague to join us and hired a private car and driver for the entire long weekend. So fancy! and luxurious! The car and driver for Saturday morning until Monday night put us back about $250 Cdn and was totally worth the expense. An easy (but long) 6.5 hour drive with our lovely chauffeur Muthy on surprisingly smooth highway clogged with minimal numbers of cows and we had made it the 350kms to Hampi. Or as pronounced by Indians " Humpi". True story. It didn't get old.
We arrived about 1pm at Clarks Hotel. This is not the kind of place we usually stay, seeing as the hotel was on the outskirts of Hampi and fancy enough to charge a “luxury tax.” Although, the floor at reception was made of clear plastic and had fish living underneath, so I guess it was actually luxurious!
We were so happy to have Muthy our driver. He drove us almost immediately into Hampi (about 9 mins drive) and we went straight to Mango Tree Restaurant. We were starving! Mango Tree seems to be the most recommended restaurant in town from every source, including Muthy whom I pretty sure had never even been to Hampi before. We ate there twice, so I suppose I agree. Good food, good prices, typical India backpacker-y atmosphere. Most importantly- Delicious Lemonanas!
Full of paneer and lemonanas (just how I like it), we wandered the narrow dirt roads through the small bazaar which brought back great memories of our previous Indian travels that didn't include many big cities. We paid 2 rupees to enter the Virupaksha Temple and another 2 rupees to store our shoes (no shoes allowed) in the temple. 4 Indian rupees is .08 Canadian cents! This may have been the first time we've paid the same entrance price as Indian locals! We were winning all over the place in Hampi! Virupaksha Temple is a beautiful temple with intricate carvings and a sad elephant who would raise his trunk and tap you on the shoulder to "bless" you if you gave his mahut money. Despite the fact that we've seen this type of animal chained up for human entertainment/luck many times throughout Asia and India, it doesn't make it any easier to watch.
We strolled out on to Hemakuta Hill taking in the unique landscape for the spectacular sunset before finding Muthy to take us back to the hotel. Having someone waiting around for you faithfully to drive you around at a whim was both awesome and awkward.
As it hadn't rained in Hampi for a couple months the river was low enough to walk across -with a bit of stone hopping involved. We took a walk on the far side of the river whose shore is lined with backpacker hotels and restaurants. I'm sure in high season its hopping over there! Word has it that there is a Monkey Temple 3 kms from that side of the river where the god Hannuman was born. If you brave the 500+ steps to the top, you'll have earned the view (we didn't have time, unfortunately).
The Clark Hotel had a decent breakfast so after filling up we were met at 830am by our guide Nagaraj and Muthy our trusted driver (again- this is not usually how we travel in India)
It was a very, very good decision in the end. We toured both the Royal and Sacred Areas, learned many interesting travel/historical facts and didn't have to spend a single second thinking about we were going to get around.
We attended a wedding of a bride from the same village as Nagaraj and blessed the (not so happy and very young looking) couple with a handful of rice.
Nagaraj was a knowledgeable, funny, experienced guide who knew all the inside tips- like taking a break to rest during the hottest part of the day, for example. We were out for the morning, had a siesta after lunch and then headed out with Nagaraj again later in the afternoon to stop in at a couple more sights and watch the sunset from the top of Hemakuta Hill.
Speaking of the heat, Hampi was significantly more hot and humid than Bangalore. Touring around with Nagaraj, even in the morning left us all slick with sweat. Muthy waited for us in the car with the AC on trying to keep it cool and refreshing for us for the drive to the next stop. Being particularly hot and sweaty i hopped into the back of the car. 'Hi Muthy! Man, its hot out there!' I exclaimed. ' I'm so hot and gross and sweaty!' I continued. 'Do I look all gross and sweaty, Muthy?' I asked him wiping my wet face with my wet shirt. Muthy smiled and cocked his head. "Yes, m'am" He responded. Hilarious. I think that was J's favourite moment of our entire 6 weeks in India.
Hampi really is a stunning place. Spectacular historical buildings, gorgeous landscape and a good tourist infrastructure make it a great stop in your South India travel itinerary. That and the fact that someone has painted "SOUND HORNY" on a big boulder that creates a serious blind spot on the windy narrow road. The fact that it means they want you to sound your horn to avoid a head on collision, in no way, takes away from this Hampi gem.