Hampi is a UNESCO World Heritage Site located in east-central Karnataka, India, ideal for travellers to the region looking for an authentic taste of the country and its history, without the throngs of unruly tourists often found in more popular destinations such as Goa.
Once the seat of the mighty Vijayanagara Hindu Empire, the Hampi area is home to a huge array of incredible stone monuments and relics, which include pottery and Buddhas dating from as far back as the 2nd century AD.
By the year 1500, Hampi-Vijayanagara was the world’s second-largest medieval-era city after Beijing and probably India’s richest at that time, attracting traders from as far away as Arabia, Italy, Portugal and Russia with stories of marketplaces full of precious jewels and gold-plated palaces.
However, just at its peak, the Vijayanagara Empire was conquered, pillaged and largely destroyed by invading Sultanate armies, after which Hampi remained in ruins.
Cut to modern day Hampi, a World Heritage-listed site since 1986, where palatial ruins and monuments dot an otherwise barren, boulder-strewn landscape. Travellers to the region are largely drawn to Hampi Bazaar, a local village crammed with cheap accommodation, shops and restaurants, overlooked by the majestic Virupaksha Temple.
The other side of the river, Anegundi, attracts the hippie crowd once common to Goa. The Hanuman Temple there, atop a 570-step climb up Anjanadri Hill,is believed by devotees to be the birthplace of Hanuman, the Hindu monkey god. The hike to the top is, fittingly, full of cheeky local monkeys.
An unmissable highlight of Hampy is the incredible, unfinished Vittala Temple, dating from the 16th-century. The huge and elaborate chariot carved from stone that still stands in the temple courtyard is undoubtedly the main attraction; with stone wheels that once turned. Local folklore holds that should the chariot ever be moved from its place, the world itself would stop turning.
The former royal quarters, including the women’s quarters known as the zenana – reputed to have, at one point, housed a harem of 16,000 concubines belonging to the one ruler – contain what may well be one of the loveliest buildings in southern India, the Lotus Mahal, the Queen’s Summer Pavilion. It is one of only a handful of structures in Hampi that was not destroyed or even damaged during the attack on the city.
Despite not being as well-known as other Indian destinations, Hampi has been a tourist centre for centuries, with travellers being drawn to its majestic ruins and alien landscape. Probably the best time to visit Hampi is during the three-day long Hampi festival held around October-November each year.
Hikers, rock-climbers and boulderers will delight in exploring the surrounding landscape, the less adventurous may choose to see the area on bikes or scooters or – for a truly unique experience in this ancient town – enjoy a coracle ride on the waters of the River Tungabhadra. A coracle is a circular boat that can carry about 6 to 8 people on a single trip across the river. These coracle boats have been in use in Hampi since the Vijayanagara Empire.
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