A Roadtrip to Hampi
It’s very recently that I learned about Hampi from one of my friends. ‘Anandam’ a Malayalam movie released in 2017 was shot in Hampi, making the place all the more popular. I feel I should share my experience with all travel enthusiasts and bikers who opt for Hampi as their next spot to explore. I know there would be many.
For those of you who are not very familiar with Hampi, it is a ruined temple village spread over several thousand hectares in east-central Karnataka, India. If you are going to judge this spot as a heap of bricks and stones, hold on a minute. This UNESCO World Heritage site has a lot in store for you. It would be a nice idea to read about this place before you pack your bags.
Madhu, Jibin, and I (Visakh) are employees of QBurst, Technopark Trivandrum. We go on a long road trip every year. We didn’t have to brainstorm a lot to find an apt destination last year (2017). Unanimously, we agreed upon Hampi. When Pooja and Gandhi Jayanthi fell close together, we got four holidays at a stretch. We just had to take an additional day’s leave to complete our trip.
I prepared an itinerary based on what I gleaned from my chats with friends who had been to Hampi and what I gathered from the Internet. The two days we spent in Hampi and the drive through the Bandipur Forest and Valparai - Athirapilly Forest made the trip a memorable one.
Do not expect to find posh hotels in Hampi. Homestays are available with minimal facilities. Hospet is the nearest city, which is 12 kms away, where you can find hotels. We did not book any rooms in advance. Walking around, looking for rooms is a different experience! If you do not fancy that, you could try booking rooms via Goibibo.
Here is a list of items you could consider carrying with you:
- As many bottles of water as possible. It will be very hot and humid and you will easily get dehydrated.
- A torch, if you are planning to climb up and climb down hills before sunrise and after sunset.
- A sunscreen, if you are particular about your complexion. You will be exposed to direct sunlight.
- A mask, if you are allergic to dust.
- An umbrella, if you don’t mind carrying it along. Well, it saved us from the rain.
- An app to keep track of expenses. We used Trip Expense Manager. It’s a good one.
- An antacid, if you have sensitive bowels.
- A DSLR or a good mobile camera, which I need not mention.
Route we took to Hampi:
Kazhakuttom > Kochi > Calicut > Via Bandipur Forest > Mysore > Hospet > Hampi
Our return route:
Hospet > Coimbatore > Pollachi > Via Valparai > Athirappilly > Angamaly > Kochi > Kazhakuttom
We chose these routes intentionally to relish the beauty of forests and nature. The maps shown here are the routes we had planned to take and are ideal. Google confused us a number of times and we lost our way. We had to take deviations here and there. Some deviations, I must say, were blessings in disguise.
We started from Kazhakuttom at 8 pm on September 28th, Thursday in Madhu’s new petrol-run Ford Figo. We had two other friends with us who were travelling to their hometowns in North Kerala. They took turns to drive in the night. So, three of us could relax and save energy for the next day’s drive. We stopped in between a couple of times to relax and to have dinner.
We reached Calicut the next morning around 6:30 am. We dropped our two friends at Calicut Railway Station and started hunting for a room to freshen up. We found a dormitory with very basic facilities for Rs.300. We started from Calicut by 8 am and stopped at Adivaram to have our breakfast. I don’t remember the name of the restaurant. It had ample parking space and the rice pathiri, puttu, and peas curry we had were good too.
Our next plan was to reach Mysore by noon. We drove via Bandipur Forest, listening to AR Rahman and Ilayaraja hits. No animals showed up, except a few monkeys and deers. The forest looked greener and beautiful after the recent showers.
It was past 2 pm when we reached Mysore. We didn't enter into the heart of the city as we didn't have the time. Somewhere on the outskirts of the city, we looked for a good restaurant to have our lunch. All that we could find was Domino's and a few bakery shops. We finally decided to have pizzas and buy a few snacks from one of the bakery shops. I just took a moment to think about Trivandrum, where we have restaurants in every nook and corner of the city.
Dussehra celebrations were in full swing when we reached Karnataka. All vehicles, big and small were fully decorated with flowers, garlands, and leaves. Processions were also seen in some places. They burst crackers on the middle of the road, which could be really dangerous.
Our next target was Hospet, where we planned to reach by 10 pm. We always kept the Maps on. However, somewhere we missed the route and the Maps started rerouting. There wasn’t enough range for the Maps to load too. The only option left was to ask somebody the route to Hospet. We asked a cop, who explained to us wholeheartedly in pure Kannada. We nodded our heads to express our gratitude.
We had to drive forward until the Maps loaded and showed us a new route. The new route took us through the remotest parts of Karnataka. Some places were breathtakingly beautiful, which we would certainly have missed if we had taken the usual route. There were hills, forests, streams, and kilometers of various cultivations on both sides of the road. I am sorry, I couldn't find this less-trodden route from Google Maps history.
We had to also drive through water, mud, and rocks to reach a properly-tarred road. It would have been really adventurous if we were in an off-road-friendly vehicle. As it started getting more and more dark, the beauty of the places started fading away. There were hardly any vehicles on the road and places had no signs of human inhabitation. I need not say how scary it was. We felt that the road was never ending.
Our next aim was to locate a gas station. By the time we found one, it was already late and fatigue had started haunting us. We sensed that it would be at least 12 am when we reach Hospet and it might be difficult for us to find a room. We found a Gandharva Lodge at a place called Challakere, where we decided to stay that night. The room rent was Rs.900 for three of us. It had a double bed and a single bed.
It also had a restaurant attached to it. We had Chappathi and Veg Kurma for our dinner, which tasted good. The water that came through the taps was not all that tasty. It was too salty and I felt like throwing up. This was just a beginning. The water tasted salty in every place we visited in Karnataka.
We had a sound sleep after a long journey. We left the lodge the next day, around 7 am, heading straight to Hampi. It was a cloudy day with intermittent drizzles along the way. The route became beautiful once again. We found hills that appeared like heaps of large marshmallows. No idea how these were really formed. We just assumed that those rocks were construction remnants from the temple city.
We could not find a good restaurant on our way to have our breakfast. So, we had to depend on the snacks we bought the previous day from Mysore. It was almost 1 pm when we reached Hampi. At the very entrance, a guide stopped us and offered us his service. He was in a car and asked us to follow him. We were not quite certain about hiring a guide, although one of my friends who had visited Hampi advised me to hire one.
You will find a lot of people hanging around as guides. I am not sure if there is a way to know their authenticity. I did find a few with some ID cards hung around their necks. Most guides talk only Kannada and Hindi. If you hire a guide, he will perhaps tell you more stories than what you find in books and the Internet. Anyways, we didn't hire one. We decided to explore the place freely.
If you do not have your own mode of transportation, you can hire an auto-rickshaw. Most drivers are guides too. You can even find cycles, if you are ready to bear the sun and the dust. In any case, it is good to carry a map of Hampi with you, which you will find almost everywhere in the place. We bought a book that tells the history of Hampi. It also had a map in it.
We stopped at a place where we saw a few name boards. We found a Saraswati Temple, an Octagonal Bath, and a few other monuments at a walkable distance. Octagonal Bath is a huge bathing area built in the shape of an octagon. We started posing and capturing photographs. The interior of the Saraswati Temple was still beautiful, despite its dilapidated condition. The garbhagriha, or the sanctum sanctorum has lost its deity and its ceiling opens up to the sky.
You don’t have to take any tickets to enter or visit most places in Hampi. However, there are a few protected areas where you need to take an entry ticket. Some temples are still places of worship. While entering these temples, you will have to remove your footwear and follow the rules.
The next spot we moved on to was perhaps one of the most important areas of the dilapidated city. This place had a lot of beautiful monuments including the Mahanavami Dibba, the Lotus Mahal, Pushkarini, the Queen's Bath, and the Elephant Stable.
We had to take an entry pass at the main entrance of the fort that led us to the Elephant Stable and a museum. The Elephant Stable is a long structure that has separate cabins to accommodate elephants. It has a lush green lawn where you can sit down to take a break. The museum had only a few pieces of statues placed in it, mostly of Lord Ganesha and Lord Vishnu.
The Mahanavami Dibba is a giant construction, and from what I understand, is a stage where cultural events took place, mainly during Navratri. It has stairs on two opposite sides and you can climb up to enjoy the beauty of the expanse from a height. You can see engravings of elephants on the walls of the Dibba predominantly. There are also a large number of elephant statues with their trunks or heads chopped off.
The Lotus Mahal is another major attraction of the area. You can pose for photographs in front of the beautiful monument, but the security guards will stop you from entering it. You can see Pushkarinis or temple tanks in different parts of Hampi. But, the largest and the most beautiful one perhaps, is situated in this enclosure. I have seen it in movies and images before. So, I was very excited to see it and take photographs.
Other attractions of this place are Hazara Rama Temple, Underground Shrine Chamber and the Queen’s Bath. We seriously wished we had a time machine to travel back in time to see the place in its complete glory. We tried to visualize the queen coming to take bath in her royal chariot and beautiful maidens accompanying her.
It was getting late and we decided to wind up our exploration for the day. We had to drive to Hospet to find a restaurant and a room to spend the night. We looked for hotels in Hospet and set a random hotel as the destination in Google Maps. The Maps directed us through a lot of narrow roads and we got stuck in a place where a festival procession was happening. We could not find any hotel or restaurant easily. The directions shown on the Maps were confusing. So we decided to park the car somewhere and walk around, looking for a hotel. We parked the car in front of Hospet Post Office.
Within in a hotel complex, named Malligi, we found a restaurant. The food and the service were really good. Malligi was a star hotel and we did not expect to get a room there at an affordable rate. However, we decided to try our luck at the hotel reception. Initially they said that all rooms were taken. When we were about to leave, they called us back and said that a non-A/C room was available. They gave us the room for just Rs.600 on the condition that we vacated it the very next morning. The room had two single beds and an additional mattress and pillow were provided.
Most places at Hospet have BSNL and Jio networks available. So, we didn’t struggle a lot to make calls or access the Internet. We prepared a plan for the next day, uploaded some pics on Facebook and called it a day.
We checked out of the hotel next morning at 5:30. Our first destination was the Sunrise Point on top of Matanga Hills. Google Maps directed us correctly to the place. We drove down a hill, from where we could see the gopura of Virupaksha Temple. Opposite the temple, there is enough space for parking. We parked the car and walked towards the Matanga Hills. Climbing the hill at the break of dawn was a wonderful experience. It wasn’t as dark as we expected. It was already late and the sky was a little cloudy. It took us about twenty minutes to reach the top of the hill. On our way, we found a lot of Malayalee guys and girls. Even on the hill top, Malayalam was heard predominantly. My friends, Madhu and Jibin met a couple of familiar faces as well.
The sky was not clear. So, we could not enjoy sunrise to its fullest. However, the overall view of Hampi from the top of the hill was really awesome. Monkeys walked around in groups and some of them even posed in front of cameras. We spent more than an hour on the hilltop. To all aspiring Hampi travellers, do not miss a morning on top of Matanga Hills.
We climbed down the hills and jumped right in front of an Anaconda. Incidentally, Anaconda is the name of an autorickshaw. We found it strange and hilarious. We couldn’t resist taking a photograph of this vehicle.
Down the hill we found a monolithic bull (Nandi, the vehicle of Lord Shiva). It was definitely huge. But I didn’t find it attractive. The long Hampi Bazaar is also at a walkable distance. The Hampi Police Station functions within the Bazaar structure.
From there we walked up to the Virupaksha Temple. We had to leave our footwear outside, as this temple is still a place of worship. We found monkeys inside having bananas. The temple also had tall gopuras that were being renovated. Adjacent to the temple are hills with small Jain temples. We walked around and took some photographs.
We explored the place further in order to find a restaurant to have our breakfast. There are a few shops near the temple. We chose one of them. I didn’t find anything appetizing on the menu. It had an assortment of breakfast items that were Spanish, Mexican, Continental, or Indian. We randomly ordered three combos. They contained oatmeals, scrambled egg, and a few other tasteless stuff. We met a few Malayalee guys there, who had come from Bangalore.
There were a couple of shops that sell hippie-style dresses. We bought a few pairs of harem pants and left the place. Next we went in search of the famous stone chariot. You cannot afford to miss it if you go to Hampi. On our way, we stopped at different places to see structures such as the Monolithic Ganapathi, the giant Shiva Linga, and the Narasimha statue.
The famous Stone Chariot is placed inside the Vittala Temple campus. This campus is located about one kilometer away from the main road. You need to park your vehicle in the parking area and use their transportation facility. There are trucks available. You will have to wait in queues to get into one of these. We decided to walk. The place is extremely dry and hot. Do not expect any shade on your way to sit or take rest. It’s good to carry an umbrella with you.
You have to take a ticket to enter the campus as it is a protected area. Unlike many other areas, this place was a bit crowded. We had to wait for people to move out to take some pictures of the chariot. Some reconstructions were going on inside the campus. The water we had carried with us was over and our throats were parched. We found some vendors outside the temple campus. We bought ice creams and a couple of aerated drinks to quench our thirst. These gave us energy to walk back to the parking area. We didn’t bother to have lunch as we felt full.
Our next destination was Anjanadri Hills / Anjaneya Hills at Kishkindha, which is about 22 kms away from Hampi. This is supposed to be the birthplace of Hanuman and there is a temple on top of the hill. I heard from one of my friends that the view from Anjaneya Hills is awesome at sunset and that is the main reason why we climbed the 570 steps to the hilltop.
It took us about an hour to reach the top of the hill. We took breaks in between. It was only 4 pm when we reached the top of the hill. It was still sunny and we had to wait for more than two hours to view the sunset. There were some markers on the rocks that led us to the sunset point. We took shelter under the shade of a huge cactus plant. It gave us some time to relax and have some nice conversation. We talked about movies, music, and many other non-Hampi stuff.
As time passed, the place started filling with people. There were many groups of boys and girls. Hindi was heard predominantly. I must say that it was an unlucky evening for all of us. The sun played truant and refused to appear from behind the dark clouds in the sky. We waited until it started getting late. Disappointed, we climbed down the steps.
It is after reaching Hampi that we heard about Hippie Island. It is a small village on the banks of River Tungabhadra. If you are at Hampi, you just need to cross the river to reach this place. Near the Virupaksha Temple, you will find coracle boats that will help you cross the river. This service is available only till sunset. As we were already on the other side of the river, we missed the river experience.
It was past seven when we reached the Hippie Island. This place is quite unlike the Hampi I have been talking about so far. We followed Google Maps into a remote place. The route was deserted and we were going forth into wilderness. We thought that we were lost. Suddenly, like a clearing in the dense forest, this place appeared. With people and so many vehicles around, it was a total chaos. It was drizzling and the road was muddy too. Fortunately, we found a place to park the car.
We had to take out our umbrellas. There were a number of shacks, where you get everything to drink, chew, and smoke. The shacks provide dining and accomodation. We didn’t know what to do there as we didn’t have any plan to drink or smoke. We randomly chose a shack and ordered some food. Among the visitors were foreigners and natives.
We had to remind the waiters several times that we had placed our order. Apparently this was a place to chill and people didn’t mind waiting for long for their food to be served. People were relaxing, singing, enjoying beer and hookah. The group that sat near us was playing guitar and singing Hindi songs. They sang well and we enjoyed it. Even in Hippie Island we met and talked to a few Malayalee guys.
We had to reach Hospet again to find a room to spend the night. We parked the car at a place where we found a few hotels. None of them had vacant rooms. In one hotel, they showed us a conference room which could double up as a bedroom, although the washroom was two floors below. We checked the rates of all hotels and lodges in the vicinity. After a lot of negotiation, we got a room in a hotel named Pai Vaibhav for Rs.1,200. The room was okay, except that the bathroom smelled bad. Since we didn’t plan to spend many hours there, it was more than enough.
We were to leave Bellary district the next morning. We had our breakfast from a restaurant nearby and bought some snacks to take home. A long one-day drive was awaiting us. We stopped in between to enjoy the beauty of sunflower farms and rivers. Some places were breathtakingly beautiful.
We stopped for lunch at Upadhya Veg Restaurant. Though crowded, we liked the place. It was very spacious and had a variety of items for lunch. We decided to try a Kannada meal. They serve meals on banana leaves. The food was decent.
We continued our journey after a sumptuous meal. Our next destination was Coimbatore, where we had planned to spend the night. We had to look for a shelter in Karnataka state itself as we were a few hours late. We reached a town where we found a few lodges and restaurants. I don’t remember the name of the place, but we managed to get a room there for Rs.1000. We also had our dinner from a nearby restaurant.
We started early morning the next day. We stopped at Coimbatore to buy sweets. We bought different varieties of barfis and rasgullas. We then stopped to have our breakfast at a place near Pollachi. We had already entered the Aliyar Reserve Forest. We saw wild horses and monkeys on the road. The forest and the view of Aliyar Dam were really amazing.
Monkey Falls are beautiful waterfalls located in this route. You just need to walk in a few meters from the road. At the entrance, the guards stopped us and asked for tickets. They told us that we were supposed to have taken tickets from the checkpost. We just gave some money to one of the guards and he let us in. I think we gave him Rs.50 per head.
The place was really crowded. You can take a bath under the falls. Changing rooms and toilets are also available. As we went unprepared, we couldn’t take a bath. We just captured a few snaps and returned. The road to Valparai has a number of hairpin curves. We stopped in between to take pictures of Aliyar Dam from the hilltop. The beauty of the place is beyond words.
At Valparai we were stopped by two policemen. They checked our papers and scanned the car. Disappointed that they couldn’t find any reason to charge us, they let us go. The checkpost at Valparai closes at 6 or 6:30 in the evening. We had to hurry to reach the checkpost as we were already late. We just stopped in between to have tea and snacks.
We were among the last few vehicles that managed to cross the checkpost. An adventurous drive was in store for us. We have to drive more than 60 kms through dense forest. We saw some bisons and tahrs crossing the road. Videos and stories of elephant attacks went through our minds. It was getting darker and scarier. Once in a while we saw a few vehicles. But mostly we were all alone on the road.
As we took a turn, right in front of us, we saw a group of elephants. As it was night, we saw them only after reaching very close to them. This was undoubtedly the scariest experience of the entire journey. We didn’t know what to do. The only option was to drive in reverse gear. We moved back until the animals were out of sight. As we waited, another car joined us. A vehicle was coming from the opposite direction as well. We could see its light. They had also stopped, seeing the elephants.
After some time we heard a cracker bursting and the trumpet of an elephant. We had no clue what was going on until the vehicle from opposite side reached us. They told us that they had to burst a cracker to scare the elephants away from the road. They asked us to leave the place immediately as the elephants had moved to both sides of the road. We summoned all our courage to drive past the elephants. OMG! They were standing on both sides like huge dark rocks.
That was a narrow escape. We were still scared and cautious as we had more kilometers to drive through the forest. Fortunately or unfortunately, not even a donkey was seen after that. We crossed Athirappilly by 8 or 8:30. Though the sight of elephants scared the living daylights out of us, in retrospect, the whole purpose of choosing the Valparai - Athirappilly route was served.
We stopped at Angamaly to refill gas and to have our dinner. Without many stops in between we drove to Trivandrum, listening to the last songs from my collection. We reached home around 2 or 3, early morning.
The total expense of the trip was Rs.19,729, which is Rs.6,576 per head. 47% of the amount was spent on fuel. Thanks Trip Expense Manager, for the stats.
After a memorable trip, we reached office the next day with sweets and a handful of experiences to share.
Note: Most photographs are taken using my One Plus 5.