From Virupaksha Temple to Sanapur Lake: Places to See in Hampi
Our second destination in India was Hampi, a mystical place that looks like something out of the Jungle Book! We initially went to Hampi because it's a well-known place for bouldering, but the temples were definitely the highlight of this incredible site and the main reason people visit.
The Hampi Monumental Complex is a UNESCO World Heritage Site in the east-central state of Karnataka and was the centre of the 14th-century Hindu Vijayanagara Empire. Located near the modern city of Hospet, the ruins of Hampi cover 4,100 hectares and are described by UNESCO as an "austere and grandiose site" containing more than 1,600 remains of the last great Hindu kingdom. And monkeys, let's not forget the monkeys.
As you can imagine, there are many places to see in Hampi, and although we didn't see it all, we left mesmerised by the place.
Getting around Hampi
Hampi is divided into two parts: the heritage side with its monuments and temples, and the village side of Virupapur, also known as Hippie Island because of its laid-back atmosphere. We stayed on the hippie side of Hampi and rented a scooter to get around!
To get to Hippie Island, there is a small ferry that goes back and forth between the two sides every 15 minutes. When you reach the Virupapur side, you will run into a few people renting scooters. It was a little less professional than in Goa since you do not have to pay a deposit or put on a helmet (we did not even get one), but at least it was an easy process! With the scooter in hand, you can explore the quiet and wild side of Hampi!
The ferryman starts his shift around 8:00am and ends at 6:00pm. The last ferry leaves from the temple side at 5:45pm, so do not miss it or you'll end up sleeping with the monkeys! Each crossing costs 50 rupees per person and you pay once on board.
Places to see in Hampi
It's impossible to visit Hampi and not see the Virupaksha temple (for it's simply the biggest temple!). It was a mystical experience to stand in front of this majestic monument at dawn with the sound of religious chants. Although we didn't visit the Virupaksha temple the day we arrived (we were exhausted from the overnight bus and just wanted to sleep!), we went the next day. Before you enter the temple, you have to take off your shoes, put them on the small racks and pay a small fee. There will be many people selling guidebooks or offering guided tours, we preferred to go without, but that's up to you!
The Virupaksha temple is the main pilgrimage centre in Hampi. It stands intact amidst the surrounding ruins and is still used for worship. The temple is dedicated to Lord Shiva, who is called Virupaksha here and is the consort of the local goddess Pampadevi, who is associated with the town's river Tungabhadra.
The temple is beautiful and in excellent condition. Roaming around, barefoot with the sound of bells and pilgrims dressed in their traditional and colourful clothes made the experience really special.
In India, there are many temples dedicated to Hanuman (the monkey warrior god) as well as all the other deities, but the Hanuman temple in Hampi is special because it's the god's alleged birthplace. You can spot the temple from a distance because the whitewashed monument is situated on Anjaneya Hill, with a white staircase that zigzags upwards.
When we were there it was a religious day so the place was very crowded, but normally it should be quieter. It was so crowded that we heard from our hotel the chant of the pilgrims! The climb isn't very long, but steep with lots of steps. I strongly advise you not to go during the day and opt for an early evening climb so you reach the top at sunset! The view from the top is great and the monkeys frolicking there add to the beauty of the place.
To get to the Hanuman temple, you need to take the small ferry across the river to the hippie side and hire a scooter. From the rental place, it's about a 15-minute drive.
Gavi Ranganatha Temple
Another place to see in Hampi which is only 10 minutes away from the Hanuman temple, is the Gavi Ranganatha temple. This temple is somewhat hidden and much less visited. When we visited, we were alone and it felt good to be in the silence, away from the Hanuman crowd.
Gavi (cave in Hindi) Ranganatha is the main deity of Anegundi, the nearby village, and was also the family deity of the village's ruling family. The temple is located in a cave, hence the name, which you can easily enter through the carved door. Make sure you have enough battery for the flash on your phone, because it would be a shame not to visit the inside! If you're a bit claustrophobic like me, don't be put off as the cave is spacious and not deep. To the right of the cave entrance is a newer part of the temple which is also worth a visit!
Sanapur Lake is also located on the hippie side of Hampi, about 25 minutes from the ferry terminal. This natural lake is in a beautiful and unique setting surrounded by all kinds of rock forms and is definitely a place to see in Hampi. The advantage of Sanapur Lake is that it's not so well known by tourists and therefore not so crowded!
The road leading to the lake passes through rice and banana plantations before zigzagging around huge boulders that loom menacingly over the road. You can't swim in the lake, at least I wouldn't risk it, but it's a nice place to look around and the scenery is beautiful. Be careful though, as there are supposed to be leopards and bears hanging around (especially at night), so make sure you don't stray too far and keep an eye on your location.