Hampi – a truly magnificent UNESCO World Heritage site


Hampi is 365km from Bangalore and an 8 hour drive each way. We booked through a tour company who arranged a car and a driver for us as part of the holiday package. We left Bangalore at 4:45pm and arrived at Boulders Lodge at 12:30am after two stops – one for tea and one for dinner. The driver was taking no prisoners on the bumpy roads and sometimes it felt like we were on our own jeep safari. Even more so when the hotel sent a jeep to meet us from the local village to ‘drive us in’ as ‘the road is a bit difficult’. Our driver did a sterling job negotiating the winding mud and bouldered track in the pitch black to the hotel – and a jeep would have been more suitable than an Innova. The staff greeted us and quickly took us and our bags along a sandy path to our rooms (called cottages) and left us to check in the following morning.

Turtle cottages at Boulders Lodge

Boulders Lodge is the only non back packing option in Hampi and “is for those seeking a plush holiday”. ‘Rustic’ would have been a more accurate description- the bathroom ledge was filthy black, the sink tap would only turn off after several attempts each way, the sink was not fitted to the wall and was cracked and  the toilet leaked.There was no wardrobe or chest of drawers, merely a waist height shelf to put all belongings  on. There was no TV or hairdryer and the mini fridge (containing 2 bottles of water for tea / coffee) was so loud it could wake the dead. The power was turned off during the day so nothing could be stored in the fridge anyway. The room was spacious the bed comfortable and the floors were marble. The staff were very friendly and welcoming and the food was typically Indian and plentiful. Monkeys roamed around the complex and occasionally managed to steal the odd banana or slice of toast when the staff weren’t vigilant enough! A typical Indian contrast in my mind.

Zahra ‘bouldering’

The river crossing to Hampi

The forlorn ruins of the medieval capital of the Vijayanagara Empire at Hampi dot a surreal landscape that leaves you spellbound the moment you cast your eyes on it. Heaps of giant boulders perch precariously over miles of rolling terrain, their rusty colours set against the greens of the palm trees, banana plantations and paddy fields. There are over 20 elaborate temples in this UNESCO World Heritage Site and many other smaller structures. In 1336 the Telegu prince Harihararaya chose Hampi as the site for his new capital Vijayanagar which grew over the next couple of centuries into one of the largest Hindu empires in Indian history. Today the historical ruins of an ancient kingdom are intertwined with the strong religious attachment to Lord Hanuman (as it is believed to be his birthplace) and the vibrant colours of the tourists and pilgrims who converge on this site.

view across the Virupaksha temple and river beyond
a shrine to Ganesh

The Lakshmi Narasmiha Temple is a huge 6.7m and is the fourth incarnation of lord Vishnu who is seated on a large snake – a sacred guardian. The roof is missing which means the statue has suffered in the weather and has lost arms and its consort.


Lakshmi Narasmiha Temple
The Krishna Temple is large and ornate with a main shrine, sanctum, vestibule, pillared pavilion, a Devi shrine and many sub shrines. There are sculpted depictions of the incarnations of lord Vishnu.i think it is also known as the  Achyutaraya Temple which is an important Vishnu temple with a pillared walkway. The pillars have carvings depicting scenes from the Mahabharata and Ramayana. It has a wide street in front of it indicating a previously bustling bazaar in the historically flourishing Vijayanagar Kingdom. It also has a marriage hall (‘kalyana mandapa’).


inside the temple looking back at the main entrance restoration work
a stone sculpture at the main entrance
The main entrance leads out to the Krishna street bazaar and sacred water tank. The street bazaar traded gold and silver in its heyday. The sacred water tank was populated by artists when we visited, all producing beautiful water coloured paintings.


The Krishna street bazaar stretched as far as the eye could see
The sacred water tank
The Queen’s Bath, or hamman, was built for the many queens that Krishnadevaraya married. Beautiful Windows surround the central bathing pool giving us a glimpse of a life of decadence, or at the very least extravagance, in the past. The bath is 15sqm and 1.8m deep and is surrounded by pillared and vaulted corridors with ornate balconies. There is an inlet water channel and a moat surrounds the whole building. On the day we visited there were large family groups enjoying a picnic (Indian style) on the lawns surrounding the bath building.


The bathing pool
The Queen’s Bath
The Moat
The Mahanavami Dibba is a relief from the temple trails. It is a monument built to commemorate King Krishnadevaraya’s victory over the Kingdom of Kalinga. It’s a huge plateau with a platform on top and the complex has a bathing pool or ‘kalyani’. The walls are carved with hunting scenes and elephant processions. The Royal Enclosure is huge – I think the guide said 15 acres /59000 sqm – and is the largest enclosure of an ancient city in the world. It has 3 entrances, 43 buildings, a palace complex, queens residence, a huge public bath and a swimming pool which is larger than an Olympic sized one. This was big on a grand scale! The massive stone doors at the entrance now lie on their side but you can see why elephants were needed to open and close them.


view of part of the Royal Enclosure from the swimming pool
view over part of the Royal Enclosure
The Stepped Tank – every ornamental step bears a mason’s mark
part of the massive swimming pool

Here’s a video clip of the swimming pool as this gives a better idea of the size.


The Hazararama Temple

The last stop on day one (and we were all hot and tired now) was the Hazararama Temple. This is the only temple situated in the zone of the Royal enclosure between the residential and ceremonial enclosures. It is dedicated to Vishnu in his aspect of lord Rama. It has a sanctum, vestibule, pillared dance hall and entrance porches to the north and south. The east porch is extended into an elegant pillared pavilion. There is an elegantly  sculptured shrine to the goddess too. The temple is covered in sculpted friezes depicting stories.


part of a frieze inside the temple
We were going to head back to the river crossing but the guide had been making enquiries and we were told that the pilgrim crowds had turned into a mass and there was pushing, shoving and screaming as people struggled to get on the few boats to cross the river. We were advised to take the journey by road (an hour long) so we did. This did enable us to see some fantastic views across lush green paddy fields – so every cloud has a silver lining.

one of the many lush paddy fields

Day 2 saw us ladies on our own as Rez had succumbed to a bout of Bangalore Belly overnight and could not risk being away from a functioning toilet for any length of time. One of the delights of living in India unfortunately. We headed off on our jeep journey through the paddy fields to the local village which caters for all the young and beautiful backpackers – it is certainly very colourful. We headed down to the river and were pleasantly surprised to discover there was no queue. The place to get on had also moved 50m and was now from a different rock on the shore. The boats are basic and you get wet and dirty but it’s the only way to get across and it costs 20p!


the river crossing
The Virupaksha Temple is the most iconic of the 83 marked monuments in Hampi and the town is spread around it with a long bazaar stretches out in front of the shrine and leads to the Nandi Bull, which faces the shrine. The temple is active and full of worshippers and as a consequence shoes have to be removed and left outside whilst you explore barefoot. (It costs 2p to collect your shoes later as they are ‘guarded’ – from the monkeys trying to steal them!). We also had to see this on the second day of our stay as it was packed with pilgrims for Pongal on the first day.
the first courtyard inside the temple
the temple pool or bath
 It was still busy on the day we visited and there was food and flowers offerings everywhere. The complex is also full of monkeys and navigating them interesting to say the least. They were stealing the food offerings and fighting over them. It was an eclectic mix of a clearly active religious place but not clean, full of monkeys clambering about and a cow drinking from a trough.


a cow takes a drink from a trough in the temple
monkeys clambering over and stealing food from a shrine
After a refreshing stop to drink from a fresh coconut, we took a coracle down the river to the next temple. It was the most peaceful journey we’ve had since being in India (and that was despite the guide and the fisherman talking a lot!).


Zahra and our guide in a 10 person coracle
The main Vitthala temple
The Vijaya Vitthala Temple was built between 1422-46AD and added to between 1509-1529AD. It is dedicated to the Krishna aspect or incarnation of lord Vishnu and has musical pillars, each of which play different notes. Unfortunately due to years of wear and tear guides are no longer allowed to demonstrate the sound of the pillars (as they have to be tapped). It is nethe of the largest temples of that period and the hundred pillared mantapa (pavilion) and the eastern and northern gates are carved with with depictions of Vishnu and his other forms. The temple is built on a sculptured ornate plinth which has flower holes and curved bases for oil lamps; it must have looked truly magnificent when decorated and lit. The pillars in the Sabah mantapa (congregation hall) are massive and are from single granite blocks.


The Stone Chariot
There is a stone chariot at the entrance which is a reproduction of a working wooden chariot and is a stunning achievement. We were told it was a functioning one until it was grounded and cemented in.

The ornate Kalyana Mantapa (marriage hall), Utsava Mantapa (festival hall) and Devi shrines completes the ensemble in the temple complex.

Lotus Mahal

The last stop on our tour was the Lotus Mahal and Royal elephant stables in the Zanana Enclosure. The Zanana enclosure is the Royal compound occupied by the two queens, their all female staff and the King. The King was the only male allowed in the enclosure. The security guards were also all female and the walls surrounding the enclosure are huge with five watchtowers. There is a rectangular Treasury building, an ornate terraced building which is the remainder of the Queen’s residence and a huge grain storage tank – massive in fact. These structures all incorporate both Hindu and Muslim architecture which makes it distinctive. The Lotus Mahal is surrounded by tropical gardens. 

Royal Elephant Stables

The Royal elephant stables are truly magnificent and really do give you a glimpse into the grandeur and opulence of the kingdom. It has 11 dome shaped chambers interconnected with arched doorways for the elephant keepers to get in and out. Each dome has different decorations on the inside – circular, octagonal, ribbed, fluted – and are symmetrically laid out. It is stunning.

The things we didn’t see:

There are 600 steps to climb to the top of Anjandri Hill, Anegundi , believed to be the birthplace of lord Hanuman – the monkey god, to take in the views of the ancient towns split by the Tungabhadra River. Hampi street and Virupapur Gaddi are split by the river and two boats ferry tourists and pilgrims alike across the river. It looked magnificent and we didn’t do the climb but merely admired it from a distance. The guide was relieved we didn’t want to do the climb in the heat as well.

Another fantastic viewing spot of the temple scape is on top of the Matanga Paravath a hill which is accessed via the bustling bazaar. This stands directly opposite the Virupaksha Temple and the views from the top take in the shrine, the bazaar, the Achyuthara Temple and other ruins. There is a small temple at the top if you take the 30 min trek to see it – we didn’t!

There was a lot to take in and a lot of information to digest in the two days so I hope that I have remembered it all accurately.  Hampi is a treasure trove of architectural brilliance and truly deserves its status as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Definitely one for your bucket list!


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