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The backpacker ‘hey-days’ of Hampi are over.

The chill out space of our accom.

We had high expectations of it being the backpackers paradise that we had been told it was. I’d watched Youtube clips that showed that Hampi Island was the place to be, with chilled out, vibey cafes, and nature as your playground, and a number of old temples most which were archeological sites now – this place sounded amazing. Then there was one clip that got us a little panicked. It said the government had shut down everything on the island.

We found out while staying, that the Government did shut everything down on the island, because during the floods, around 600 people (mostly foreigners) had to be air lifted off the island and it had become quite dangerous, with lots of people going to this place just to get high, chill out, swim in waterfalls and climb things and it wasn’t safe, or what the government wanted. Hampi is the birthplace of Lord Hanuman, the popular monkey god in Hinduism, so the area is quite significant in religion and history for India. The tourist places that open around this island area, are open without permission, so could be something to think about if you have to pay the accom holding fee upfront. The island itself is inaccessible now and has completely returned to the wild.

We curiously arrived mid November 2022, and trying to ensure we tapped into the old Hampi vibe as much as we could, I had found us the closest place to the island I could find online. We came by taxi from Udipi as there are no direct transport routes to Hampi itself. The closest way is to arrive at Hospet by bus or train and then take a rickshaw 30 km. The price of the rickshaw from Hospet to Hampi is about 400 Rupees, and that is the price offered to tourists, if you bargain a little.

As we drew closer to Hampi itself, we started to notice that we were just driving through really poor areas. We arrived to our accommodation, which was the regular bamboo huts, and a chilled communal area restaurant. Floor height tables, surrounded by mattresses and cushions, low hanging lights to reach these tables. Two people working on their laptops, a young family with kids, and a small group of friends smoking a couple of spliffs and drinking iced coffees and juices in the corner. So there were some elements of what we were expecting.

We checked in and asked what there was to do in the area, and the temples seemed to be the main thing. Scooter rental was 500 Rupees a day (which is quite high), but the majority of the sites are on the otherside of the river and you can’t take your Scooter/bike across – otherwise the rickshaw drivers report it and the hotel owners get a 15-20,000 Rupee fine. You can ride your scooter to the ferry, cross the river and then try to hire a scooter on that side of the river, but we were told that there are only a few bikes for rental, on that side, and from internet reviews, it seemed the rental place there was sketchy AF.

The rickshaw drivers have a monopoly of the Hampi town side of the river, and the going rate for the day temple tours was 2000 Rupees. This seemed quite a lot, but for ease we opted for this. The temples in Hampi don’t open until 9am, but Hanuman Hill can be climbed for sunrise. Also the 2000 Rupee fee doesn’t include any kind of guiding, it’s just covering you being taken between the temples.

We set out at 10am and had the rickshaw to visit places until 7pm. We started with Vitthala Temple complex, which is 1km from where the rickshaw has to drop you. You can walk (no one does), or take a golf buggy ride to the complex for 20 rupees return per person.

Before you enter the Temple, you must buy an entrance ticket which also covers entrance to the Lotus Temple and one other temple, but you must go to them on the day of purchase for it to be valid. The cost of entrance is 40 Rupees for Indian Citizens (or anyone I guess looks Indian), and 600 Rupees for everyone else.

At Vitthala Temple complex, there is the chariot that features on 50 Rupees note, so it’s a thing to go there and have a photo with it, holding the note. We like proper tourists did this too. Outside of this, the main temple which makes sounds from different pillars was closed, and although it was nice, it was largely temple ruins.

Vitthala Temple Complex – the Chariot

We then continued on more temple tours, and visits to the royal places. This may be of interest to some, but after a while, all the ruins become a bit the same, and without a guide you have no idea what you are looking at. Guides at each of the places are expensive (eg. 600 Rupees at Vitthala Temple Complex) and that is only for that temple. We bought the ‘Hampi’ guidebook from a seller outside for 190 Rupees, but that didn’t really give any information about the sites and it became more of match the picture to the ruin, to know what we are at.

We stopped at Kali for lunch which was 200 Rupees for a Thali and was at best average. We asked to go to Mango Tree, but. a cylinder had exploded there two weeks earlier and the place burnt down.

We kept going on the temple tour, which became more wearing as the day went on. In some of the more currently used temples, they can become quite wearing with local people wanting selfies but being quite rough about it, hawkers insistent because you are foreign, and you’re tired from already seeing what feels like hundreds of ruins you don’t understand. The intention was for us to climb Matanga Hill, which is the highest in Hampi. You have to climb through the boulders to get to the top and need a relative amount of fitness for, climbing in 30-40 mins. We decided to skip this part of the tour (which is apparently normal), because we were so tired from the day, and opted for grabbing a beer and walking to the waterfall and rocks near our guest house.

On the second day we rented a scooter to see stuff on the side of the river we were staying in. If you aren’t really interested in the temple stuff, you could totally stay on the other side of the river to Hampi, see what is on that side with a rented scooter, and have a great time. The hill climbs are the best.

We also had to race on this day, to Hospet to try and get emergency tickets for the train, as we wanted to leave in a couple of days and were told by our accom place to do this. You can pre-reserve AC tickets on this train to Goa, but the train was fully booked by the time we arrived to Hampi. We then also missed the emergency reserved tickets, because our accom people told us we had to go a day later than we should have. This meant we had to either take the same train the next morning in General, or take an overnight sleeper bus. We opted for the PSR AC sleeper bus, which wasn’t great and cost 1400 Rupees each.

All transport out of Hampi pretty much leaves from Hospet, which as I mentioned earlier, is 30 km away. Our accom had quoted us 2000 Rupees for a rickshaw to get there, they also quoted another group 3000 Rupees to get there (remember it only costs 400 Rupees to go from Hospet to Hampi). We found a roadside travel booking shop and cafe, and he organised a rickshaw for us for 800 Rupees. It takes at least an hour to get there by rickshaw, but you want to leave 1.5 – 2 hours before the departure of your transport – our rickshaw driver arrived 25 mins late. Also some of the roads are in bad shape and our rickshaw trip took 1 hr 15 mins, with our rickshaw driver racing to get us there, with zero safety – so we were literally going airborne off speed bumps, smashing our heads about 17 times (I’m not even exaggerating) on the roof of the rickshaw, having to check we still had our bags, and I nearly came out the side of the rickshaw while airborne and it partly sliding down a side of the road. Our driver wasn’t sorry and didn’t care. We planned to leave 1.5 hours earlier and our diver turned up late, and drunk – which we did not realise until about 20 mins into the trip and when we were literally in the middle of absolutely nowhere in Karnataka – with that being really dangerous for foreigners with all their stuff at night. Probably would have been better to take the rickshaw with the accom – as at least there is some accountability, as they care about looking after you.

Overall, we found Hampi to be over priced and not much going on. Even our tour rickshaw guy said it used to be way better. We left 2 days earlier than planned to go hang in Goa for longer, and leaving early is something we never do. In Hampi now,, the prices have sky rocketed because its a poor area and they think foreigners must be loaded, so prices are just made up on what they think is nothing for you. This being my 8th time in India and my husband is actually Indian, we understand the cost of things and we don’t have a problem paying more for quality – but here we found things had not improved in quality, but were asking extortionate prices comparatively; and no one likes being so openly ripped off. Staying here costs a lot and it’s not comfortable, even with a few bifters under your belt.

Hanuman Hill.

What I will say though, is the hill climbs are the best things to do in Hampi. So really plan what it is that you want to see – only do that, and pace yourself for relaxation. It’s a good place to see one or two things a day with a sunset mission somewhere – but for the rest of the time, just chill at your accommodation. Unless you are really into the history of the area you lose the holiday vibe for things you don’t care about and it costs a fortune for what it is. Also if you are planning to just come for the backpacker vibe and lifestyle – there are better, less locally rough, and cheaper places in India to do this.

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