The Ruins at Hampi
It was hard for us to leave Mysore, our favorite city in India so far, but we did have a schedule to keep. The next stop on our sprint through southern India was Hampi, the 14th century capital of the Vijayanagar empire and a UNESCO World Heritage site. Set amongst fields of picturesque boulders, hundreds of well-preserved temples and other ruins remain from the original city.
The 160-foot tall Virupaksha temple dominates the skyline of the ancient complex. Dedicated to the god Shiva, this temple has been in operation since the 7th century, predating and surviving the Vijayanagar Empire that grew around it.
Typically we avoid entrance fees for temples because so many are free to visit, but the Virupaksha temple has a resident elephant named Lakshmi so we decided to part with the Rs.10 ($0.16) and the typical shoe hostage tax to pay her a visit. Lakshmi is supposed to give you a blessing by draping her trunk around your head in exchange for Indian coins. I was rejected despite my donation.
One of the nice things about Hampi is that aside from a few major temples, the entire site is free to visit and you can take as many photos as you like. Touts like to hang out around the Hampi Bazaar near the Virupaksha Temple, so we decided to hire a couple bicycles and explore the ruins outside of the town center for a peaceful day of sightseeing.
Even with bikes it was very hard to see everything that Hampi had to offer. It doesn’t help that the only available map of the site is not in any way to scale, so looking back we missed many of the town’s main sights. Nevertheless, we throughly enjoyed visiting the ruins and it was a relatively quiet reprieve from India’s larger cities.Only a short walk from town is the slow-moving Tungabhadra River, where you can take boat rides with locals. If you stayed on long enough, you’d find yourself floating out to the Arabian Sea.
According to the Indian government, there is no town of Hampi and all of the residents and businesses around the ancient city are there illegally. Many have lived there for decades providing facilities for tourists to sleep and eat, and for years the government chose to turn its head and ignore the many businesses being built there. This all changed in 2011 with the first round of government evictions and demolitions. But the town was quickly built up again as soon as the bulldozers rode off into the sunset.
A couple weeks before we arrived, the government’s demolition crews came back and once again tore down many of the restaurants, hotels, and homes along the Hampi Bazaar. Residents only had minutes to evacuate. By the time we arrived, most of the debris had been removed and aside from a very deserted Hampi Bazaar we actually didn’t immediately realize what had happened only a couple weeks prior. Many of the restaurants were quickly recovering, finding new temporary locations to keep their businesses running. Food options were still limited, since many did not yet have full kitchens. The jury’s still out on why the Indian government has taken these actions, but one theory is that they’re trying to “encourage” more upmarket tourism in the area.
It’s unknown what the future of this site will hold. As it continues to gain in popularity with tourists, the government will likely take more interest in the town. At the moment Hampi is still a very affordable attraction devoid of any commercialization, so we recommend going sooner rather than later!