They call it Happy Hampi and I could definitely see why. It was a laidback village amidst a bizarre landscape of giant boulders and ancient temples.
It reminded me a lot of Petra in Jordan where you weren’t really restricted as to where you could go and you could scramble up boulders and hills to find the best lookout spots and discover hidden temples and caves.
I spent four full days walking around the various temple sites and relaxing in the many backpacker hangout cafes. Of course, it has emerged as one of India’s biggest backpacker draws which also means that every building in the village is either a guesthouse, cafe or souvenir shop or all three. However, all of that is going to change and in fact has already started to. The main village of Hampi is situated in the middle of the temple area and the government has decided that it wants to clear the area of all guest houses and restaurants and keep it all a designated UNESCO site. However, after years of expanding tourism that means a lot of businesses and peoples’ livelihoods are going to be uprooted.
The guesthouse I stayed at had already been totally demolished a couple of months before by the government with no compensation so the family had no choice but to build makeshift rooms and try to hide the fact they were still operating (I was told not to tell anyone in town where I was staying in case it got back to the government officials). It was sad and I’m not sure how it will work considering everything is so established already. Plus it means that tourists will be forced to stay in the nearest city where there aren’t any hostels or organic juice cafes or tie dye shops, which definitely won’t suit the backpacker community. However, it unfortunately does show what can happen when tourism completely absorbs a place.
Back to the temples. They range from temples carved out of stone in the 16th century to a shrine built in the 7th century now home to a big Hindu temple to the royal enclosure of the kings and queens of the empire that reigned here from the 14th to 16th century. The stone carved temples were the most impressive with so much intricate detail it was amazing to think how they did it with minimal tools.
Of course one of the highlights of Hampi is catching the sunset from one of the many viewpoints. I climbed over 500 steps one night to the Monkey Temple (yes, there were monkeys and one tried to steal my bag even though I didn’t have any food in it!) to get a 360degree view of the landscape. The best sunset though was from the top of a hill near the backpacker village where many locals and foreigners bring their musical instruments every night and form a sort of orchestra for everyone to enjoy. The first night I clambered up the rocks we were lucky to have three guitars, a flute, a harmonium and even a didgeridoo!
Even after walking too much that my sandals are starting to wear thin and being covered in dust and sweat by the end of each day, I loved Hampi. But the prices are going up and the government pressure is on so I don’t know how much longer happy Hampi will be as happy.