What – ticking off my UNESCO bucket-list!
With every passing day, my love for visiting historic sites and photographing good architecture keeps growing; my blog is an evidence of this obsession! To add to that, last year (2015), I was possessed with ticking off UNESCO Heritage sites in India. Hence, a weekend gateway to Northern Karnataka [Hampi, Badami, Pattadakal and Aihole] provided a perfect remedy for the love and obsession described above – Not only did I ticked off 2 UNESCO sites [Hampi and Pattadakal group of monuments] in 3 action packed days, but also did this on a modest budget!
Hampi (Bellary district) is at the heart of the Vijaynagar Empire. While all the UNESCO monuments are located in and around Hampi bazaar area; beyond the Tungabhadra river (Hampi is on its southern banks) lies Virupurgadda (the backpacker district), Anegondi (birthplace of Hanuman), peaceful Lake Sanapur and endless paddy fields surrounded by low lying mountains made of heaps of rounded rocks (characteristic to this region). Hampi indeed is perfect gateway to soak up history by exploring the monuments, introspect, dwell over thoughts and sit back and chill out.
Pattadakal (and Aihole/ Badami)
Built in 7th and 8th century AD, Pattadakal group of moments are a symbol of Chalukya architecture. Together with Badami and Aihole, they form a triangle of tourist attarctions to visit in Northern Karnataka!
When – Long weekend!
There is a perfect weather to visit every place. And then there are the tempting long weekends. I am guilty of succumbing to travel-bug during such extended/ long weekends, like Dussehra [early October in 2015].
Inspite of being warned about Hampi being too hot until November [best weather is between November to March; other times the heat is brutal!], I went along with the plan and when I look back now, I won’t change anything about the trip timing because:
- Tourist season was just picking up and the historic sites were not very crowded; and
- I got to witness the glorious Dussehra festivities at Virupaksha temple in Hampi!
However, if you find the heat in Indian sub-continent unbearable, stick to exploring Hampi between Dec to Feb.
How – Bus, car, hired active!
Mumbai to Hampi (via Hospet)
Air, rail or bus?
Hampi is in North Karnataka and getting here isn’t easy. In fact, it is far from most big cities, including Bangalore (overnight bus journey – takes about 6 hours). The most convenient way to get to Hampi is to fly to Bangalore and hire a private car. However, I wouldn’t recommend this for budget travelers.
Instead, opt for the trustworthy Indian railways or intra-state bus services providers (like VRL travels). Hampi itself doesn’t have a station or a big enough bus terminal (though some buses do terminate or/ start from Hampi). The closest railhead from Hampi is Hospet junction. Like me, if you are traveling from Mumbai, you could take one of the four trains (some start at panvel) to Hospet – but I found that the timing of the trains is quite odd and not suitable for those pressed for time, though it is probably the cheapest way to get here from Mumbai.
Alternatively, like me, you could opt to take a bus to Hospet (though some travel operators go all the way to Hampi). We paid about INR 1,700 for an a/c sleeper bus run by VRL travels. We boarded at 6 PM at Chembur (bus started at Andheri) and reached Hospet by 11:00 (2 ½ hours behind schedule). However, the bus ride was quite comfortable and there were adequate pee stops! Although, as a caution, I’d recommend checking bus route before booking, apparently, our bus took a longish route. Also, I generally book buses on redbus(dot)com, but if you prefer enquiring before booking, then the many agents at Dadar, Chembur, Andheri, etc will come to your rescue.
Hospet to Hampi
Hospet is about 13 kms from Hampi. There is a state transport bus every 15 mins from Hospet bus depot to Hampi. One can take a rickshaw for a more comfortable journey, but be sure to bargain as the rickshaw drivers quote exhorbitant prices.
|Hospet to Hampi: BarchitectHonestly, I found the bus very convenient and cheap. Also, the KSRTC drivers and conductors were very helpful. We arrived in Hampi in style (not quite!)|
|Dragging a bag around Hampi isn't fun! Carry your backpacks!|
Traveling in and around Hampi
Sites which form part of UNESCO group of monuments at Hampi are spread over a large area. While the major monuments are located along the banks of Tungabhadra river and easily accessible from Hampi bazaar on foot, for others (like step-well, etc) [on the road to Hampi] one needs to rent a cycle (if super fit!), take a rickshaw (expensive option) or take the state bus/ tuk-tuk.
During your stay in Hampi, you will also be taking boats often (speed boat/ coracle boat etc!).
Exploring Hampi on foot
I lived at the vibrant and chilled out backpacker district of Virapurgadda (across the river). While there are options to rent bikes, activas, etc at Virapurgadda; you are not allowed to take these to Hampi bazaar area as Virapurgadda and Hampi are located in two different districts of Karnataka – sigh! Hence, the only workable option was to take a boat across the river (boats run from 7 am to 5 pm) to Hampi bazaar and then head out to explore the monuments.
|Coracle boat ride at Lake Sanapur|
I must admit it’s a lot of fun to explore the monuments on foot. The walk between monuments gives one time to reflect upon the architecture and history of the previous monuments. However, it is quite tiring as well and requires one to be well hydrated! Although it is time-consuming, I highly recommend this if you’re fit as it’s a perfect chance to climb boulders, get atop Matanga hills and watch Hampi in all its glory! Walking around the ruins also made me less guilty about missing work-out routines (wink!)
Rickshaw+walking or cycle?
If walking isn't your favourite activity, you can hire a rickshaw to take your around the Hampi monuments. Though this option isn't free from walking as the rickshaws drop you to the parking lot from where some monuments are quite far.
|Shuttle carts; beware - long queues!|
However, there are some shuttle carts connecting parking lot and the monument, say at Vijaya Vittala temple (which houses the famous stone Chariot).
Hiring an activa
Like I said before, my trip was action packed and hence an activa was must! Activas are available at as low as INR 350-500 a day (depending on the season).
We rented an activa and a moped and drove around Virapurgadda. The active/ moped especially came handy as we could drive to the base of hanuman temple at 4:30 am, then climb up the hill to reach the temple at the break of dawn. Such a humbling experience!
Due to dearth of time, I didn't get to rent a cycle. But my friends seemed to have enjoyed cycling around Hampi!
|Photo by Mathew|
Hampi to Bangalore vis Hospet
While returning, we got fairly cheap flight from Bangalore to Mumbai. Hence we booked an overnight KSRTC a/csleeper bus from Hospet to Hampi. Since the bus was at 11 pm, we rented a taxi from Hampi to Hospet which cost us about INR 800 (after bargaining). The drive was slightly scary as the roads are secluded; however we had a good driver.
The onward bus journey from Hospet went by smoothly (however, the sleeping arrangement wasn’t as comfortable as the VRL bus) and we arrived in Bangalore at 6 am on a chilly morning, a lovely contrast to the burning Hampi weather! Thereafter, I flew back to Mumbai from Bangalore, comfortably to draw the curtains on a lovely extended weekend trip!
Day trip from Hampi to Badami, Pattadakal and Aihole
Like me, if you also love to explore places that boast of fantastic architecture, then I highly endorse spending 1.5 to 2 full days exploring the triangle comprising of Badami, Pattadakal and Aihole. However, I was on a tight schedule and decided to squeeze in a day trip to this triangle.
|Hampi to Badami: Incredible views of sunflower fields on either side of the road (shot from taxi)|
I am not sure about bus frequency to these 3 places. To avoid the hassle, we booked an a/c taxi for INR 4,500 (after negotiation). The decision paid off as exploring all 3 places in one day in the October heat was exchausting and cooling off in the car a/c was close to bliss!
Stay – coolest options?
Locals/ tourist from neighbouring towns usually visit Hampi as a day trip. For tourists like me, there are a number of budget options and airbnb rentals to choose from. While staying at Hampi bazaar area eliminates the need to wait for the boat just to visit the temples, I would any day prefer staying at Virapurgadda because it is so laid back! There are many guesthouses to choose from which provide bamboo hut accommodation, cool restaurant, hookah, good music and chilled beers!
We stayed at Gopi guesthouse (booked through airbnb) and the hosts were super friendly and made us feel at home. Cleanliness standards in Hampi at such places are pretty average, but Gopi did have all the necessary amenities. The restaurant at Gopi servced amazing Thali, surprisingly good hummus and pita and super chilled beers. We spent out evenings just hanging out here, playing a game of jenga and enjoying the vibe. We even snoozed on the swings right outside out huts – bliss!
The stay cost us INR 1250-1300 a night for a hut with attached bathroom. The food is affordable as well. For this budget and the vibe, I highly recommend staying at Gopi/ adjoining guesthouses offering similar accommodation at Virapurgadda.
|Chilling afternoon scenes at Gopi!|
However, if you are looking for a quieter/ more traditional stay option, there are some great heritage homes to choose from (Uramma cottages), though may not be very strategically located.
Note: All prices, train/ bus information as of October 2015.
In case you have question about Hampi/ where to stay/ general pricing, feel free to leave a comment!