An ancient stone pathway leading through caves and streams. Monkeys sheltering from the rain on a crumbling temple gate. A sage meditating next to a stone companion. And palace ruins dissolving into darkness. These are just some of the magical sights that Hampi has to offer.
We’ve visited Hampi—the ruins of Vijayanagara, the center one of south India’s most powerful medieval kingdoms—three times now, and have always found something new to see (or seen the same thing in a new way).
Built into the granite hills of central Karnataka state and straddling the Tungabhadra river, Hampi is a 40-square-kilometre treasure trove of ancient temples, crumbling palaces and boulder-strewn natural beauty. Some even say that the ancient city was built on the ruins of one even older—the mythical monkey-city of Kishkinda, home to Hinduism’s Lord Hanuman the monkey god, devoted follower of Lord Rama.
While the majestic Virupaksha temple, and the Vitthala temple with its massive stone chariot and musical pillars, are probably on ever visitor’s itinerary, Hampi has a lot more to offer—regardless of the weather. From riverside walkways with stairs cut into the living rock, and hidden shrines emerging from their lush sugarcane fields, to gigantic boulders in fantastic shapes, and emerald rice fields reflecting the sunrise in their motionless waters, here are some of the sights that have enchanted us over the years.
The old bazaar
The old bazaar of the erstwhile ‘sacred center’ is still the living heart of Hampi, with the Virupaksha temple and the village at one end of the concourse, and the monolithic Nandi bull statue at the other.
Bazaar columns along one side of the concourse
Grey langur monkeys gambol among the ruins
Miniature carved elephants jostle for attention
A banjara gypsy shows off her wares
Grey langur monkeys go about their business
Mathanga hill and the Achyutaraya temple
From the bazaar concourse, visitors can follow two paths to the rest of the sacred center, one around Mathanga hill and one over it. The path over the hill is rugged, but extremely interesting. At the end of the path on the other side of the hill, and set back from the main riverbank path, is the Achyutaraya temple, with its courtesan’s street and magnificent tank fed by underground pipes.
A tiny temple with its roughly carved reclining Lord Vishnu
A view of the Virupaksha temple’s gopuram, or gateway tower
The tank next to the courtesans’ street
A hardy banyan tree grows in an unlikely crevice
The Achyutaraya temple entrance from the inside
The riverside path
The path around Mathanga hill runs along the river and—when it rains—through impromptu rivulets. Walking this path occasionally makes you feel like you’ve stumbled into a bubble of time left over from seven hundred years ago!
The stone walkway along the swollen river
A banyan tree with good luck charms tied to it by passing worshippers
A sage rests along the riverside path
A white breasted kingfisher waits out the rain
The riverside sage and his stone companion
A pony enjoys the drizzle on the riverbank, with the Virupaksha temple’s gopuram (gateway tower) in the background
Piping hot snacks offer a respite from the rain
The Virupaksha temple stands guard over the swollen river
Stone stairs carved into the bedrock and leading through a rain-fed rivulet
Grey langur monkeys try to take shelter from the rain on the entrance arch of the Vitthala temple
Carved lions at the Vishnu temple near the end of the path
Along the main road
Follow the main road around Hampi instead of walking through the sacred center, and you will pass some minor temples and other very interesting ruins before reaching the ‘royal center’ of Hampi—containing the royal palace and gardens flanked by their own temples, and the Islamic quarter.
One of the many exquisite interlinked stepped tanks in the palace gardens
The Ugra Narasimha seems to lurk behind the gateway to his shrine
A waterspout at the Hazara Rama (‘thousand Ramas’) temple
A forgotten concourse
Court scenes carved along the staircase leading to the top of the royal audience platform
The fallen stone doors to the royal palace gardens
Stone elephants guard the entry to the palace gardens
Also read: In the shadow of elephants in Valparai
The other side of the river from Hampi
While most of the architectural remains on Hampi lie on the southern side of the river, the northern side has its own charming sights. Tip: To get from one side of the river to the other by car, you will need to cross either at Hospet or Kampli. Don’t let your GPS fool you; the last time we checked, there was no crossing at Anegundi, unless you count the coracle boats ferrying people and motorcycles across.
A hill temple along the road
The remains of Hampi’s ancient aqueduct
A doggie investigates us
A view from the middle of a rice field
Rice fields along the road
A farmer tends his rice fields
Rice plants in their standing water
A rain-fed rivulet invades the rocky path
The fast-moving river at Tirumalapur
A mobile haystack (there’s a tractor under there, somewhere)
Anegundi’s riverside storehouse
The Huchhapayya temple at Anegundi
The view from halfway up the hill to the Durga temple
The granite hills of Hampi make for excellent natural defenses
A farm in the middle of nowhere
The storehouse built into the riverbank at Anegundi
The Sanapur reservoir
During one of our visits, we stayed on the northern side of the river at the very basic but fun Gowri Resort, just down the road from the Sanapur reservoir. Our room was right next to a series of rice fields, and the reservoir and its canals offered us some lovely views, both during the day and in the evening.
Sunrise at Gowri Resort
Outside our room at Gowri Resort
Farmers get ready to tend their fields
A bridge over a small irrigation canal off the Sanapur reservoir
Water under the bridge on the main Sanapur reservoir outflow canal
Farmers hard at work: the tractor churns the mud (and blares music), the men plow furrows, and the women plant seedlings
The farmers taking a break
The secondary dam of the Sanapur reservoir, with the Kishkinda resort and waterpark to the right
An evening coracle boat ride on the Sanapur reservoir
The main dam of the Sanapur reservoir at sunset
Godzilla fossilized during his afternoon nap?
The Sanapur reservoir at sunset
Rice fields seen from a hill at the Sanapur reservoir