"Pushkarani - Hampi" by Aasif Iqbal J via Flickr Creative Commons

You've likely never heard of Hampi, but in its prime, the capital of the Vijayanagar Empire was one of the largest and richest cities in the world. Stretching over 16 miles, the dramatic appearance of temples and buildings interspersed between a maze of towering boulders make for one of the most intriguing UNESCO World Heritage Sites in India. Both the rocks and the ruins look as though they have been strategically placed from the Gods to create a magical, fairy-tale world, untouched by the sands of time. Take your time exploring to the fullest: the pace of life here is quite slow unlike most of chaotic India.

Photo Credit: Motographer

The History

Hampi's history is split between myth and fact. Historically, there has been four dynasties that have ruled Hampi, one of India's largest Hindu empires. Strategically located on the river controlling several important mineral deposits, Hampi was a treasure worth fighting over. Today, the focus is more about protecting the remaining architecture, precious carvings and endangered resources that still exist. There are many stories surrounding Hampi, some of which you'll discover as you take in the iconography depicted on the buildings, theorizing about life back in 1500 AD. As for it's location, one popular tale explains that two local chiefs, Hakka and Bukka, witnessed a dog chasing a hare until the land gave the hare enough courage to begin hunting the dog right back. Reporting back to their Guru, Vidyaranya proclaimed the region was so powerful they must build their empire around it for strength.

Photo Credit: Dharani.prakash

Go Explore

You can hike or bike, but Hampi is most often explored via motorcycle, which you can rent in town. The region has a warm climate with paved roads (be on the look out for cow herds crossing the road) and terrific scenery you can explore at your leisure. The most significant temples to see are the Virupaksha and the Vittala. The latter has a stone chariot carved within its walls, a popular spot for photographs. Other notable temples and monuments include Hazara Rama, Lotus Mahal, the Octagonal Bath, and the underground Shiva temple. If you take a water taxi, you can also visit the bohemian village of Virupapur Gadde to see the Hanuman Temple on Anjenaya Hill, the birth place of Hanuman. As for other activities on the mainland, bouldering is a popular for all levels. Swimming in the Sanapur Lake is also a must before heading to Monkey Temple at sunset.

Photo Credit: Krishna Pushkarani

How to Do It

The easiest way to get to Hampi is by train from Bangalore, Hyderabad or Goa. Hampi is located in a part of India that prohibits the consumption of meat so you'll have to embrace your vegetarian side for a few days (hint: try a cheese momo). Like a lot of India, it is also very hot and dry so be sure to bring plenty of water. While the lakes may look enticing, be careful which ones you swim in as some have crocodiles lurking.