The digital clock ticked over to 22:06 and we were still at Hospet Station, peering hopefully down the tracks as we waited for the overnight sleeper train back to Bangalore. We were sat on our backpacks with the tired but happy boys curled up on our laps watching Paw Patrol on their tablet. A train pulled in, briefly raising our hopes until we realised it was the one going to Hyderabad. I watched as two young Western girls stepped off the carriage and into the swarm of eager auto-drivers, touts and hotel owners. I was jealous. They were about to experience Hampi for the first time.
The moment you turn off the main road from Hospet, Hampi gradually starts to work its way under your skin. Large sandstone boulders balance precariously across the undulating landscape, which itself is dotted with magnificent ancient temples and ruins patrolled by tribes of macaque monkeys. A calm spirituality ebbs across this chilled traveller town where the magnificent Virupaksha Temple plays centre stage.
Hampi Bazaar (where the guest houses, restaurants and shops are) is a fairly typical backpacker village with the usual collection of hostels, roof-top restaurants and travel shops. If you’ve travelled much around Asia before kids you’ll probably recognise the vibe: devoid of package holiday comforts, where young hippy travellers congregate in roof top shacks to swap tales over some chai and perhaps a recreational cigarette or two. It’s extremely unlikely you’ll see other families travelling here but don’t let this put you off; kids are very, very welcome and there is a huge amount to keep the whole family Happy in Hampi.
Where we stayed
Accommodation in Hampi is cheap and cheerful at best so you shouldn’t arrive here expecting the five-star comfort. Hampi Bazaar, by Virupaksha Temple is the main traveller area although Virupapur Gaddi across the river has become a more tranquil alternative (you’ll need to get a boat across and be wary of last crossing times). But with 40 degrees forecast for our visit at the end of May, finding a guest house with AC was our main criteria – check out our Accomodation Check-list post. So we booked in to the very central Thalik Home Stay.
As mentioned above, none of the accommodation options are going to provide all your creature comforts so you’ll need to be a little bit inventive in certain areas; there is no fridge (to store) or kettle (to heat) milk but we made it work (we brought several cartons of Nestle A+ milk from Bangalore and the owner kindly boiled water for us that we kept in a thermos flask). We’d booked into a double room so all four of us had to sleep on two single beds pushed together (very common in India and we find if works best if everyone sleeps width ways). On the plus side, there were power points to charge phones and tablets, a hot shower to cleanse that sweaty grime away and most importantly air-conditioning, which (aside from the occasional power cut) turned the room into a chilled oasis from the midday heat. Perhaps most importantly, the owners are super friendly, extremely accommodating and spoke excellent English. They even bought our youngest a birthday cake to celebrate his 2nd birthday during our stay! There is also the most amazing view from the rooftop which is particularity impressive at sunset. Overall, the guesthouse is highly recommended.
If you require a few more Western comforts, we suggest you look at staying in Kamalapur or even Hospet (where the nearest train station is).
We visited Hampi at the end of May, and it was HOT. By 1pm the thermometer was hitting 40 degrees so we ventured out early morning and late afternoon, allowing for a siesta between 12 and 3:30 whilst we napped under the AC in our room. There are lots of stalls selling drinks and snacks to stock up before you head out and you can usually pick up water at some of the tourist sites, just don’t count on it.
Virupaksha Temple is a working temple and majestically towers over the village of Hampi, always managing to photo-bomb your pictures. Entrance is INR2 per adult (kids free) and INR50 for camera. As with all temples, leave your shoes before the entrance for INR2 per pair but don’t worry about the burning floor on your bare feet as carpets are laid out to protect them. Try to ensure you have some small notes to give to the elephant for a blessing (he’s trained so well that he can tell the difference between money and food so don’t worry) and enjoy exploring all the arches, tunnels and doorways.
Strolling the ghats alongside the Tungabhadra River is a perfect spot for people watching (or more likely, being watched by people) after picking up some melon from a stall. Locals bathe and wash their clothes and at 8:15am the temple elephant can sometimes be spotted having a leisurely soak.
Hire Vinay the tuk-tuk driver and tour the ancient ruins and temples. Our guest house introduced us to the most wonderful tuk-tuk driver – Vinay. He has a fantastic way with kids, was flexible to our needs, extremely knowledgeable about the area, very reasonably priced and even let the boys (safely) DRIVE THE TUK-TUK (by far their highlight of their trip!) An all round super guy!
We left it to Vinay to show us all the best spots around Hampi, which meant us parents could sit back, relax and not worry about negotiating or planning. A INR500 per adult ticket (INR30 if you’re Indian!) allows entrance to the main sites, which we covered in a morning and late afternoon session, and another morning was spent exploring a selection of the many free sites. If (like us) you might be worried that walking around ruins may get a little boring for the kids, try and keep some tricks up your sleeve to keep them entertained. They loved spotting the animals carved onto the stone walls, playing hide and seek, looking for tunnels to explore and we made up tales of dragon attacks on the temples.
Picking a comfy rock and watch the sun set. Hampi is a magical place, especially at sunset, when the orange hues of the sandstone boulders come to life and long shadows are cast from the many temples and ruins dotted across the terrain. There’s always something very poignant about watching the sun set at the end of a day, even more so when you’re together as a family. Aptly named ‘Sunset Point’ was a favourite of spot of ours, just be wary of the very territorial monkeys who enjoy a biscuit at sunset but don’t like paying for them.
Eating and drinking
Pick a rooftop chill zone and collapse onto a floor cushion or find a view over the Tungabhadra River and perch on a plastic chair – either way, you’ll find a plethora of restaurants around the main village that cater for all tastes (yes, the kids can eat beans on toast, pizza and fries!). Everyone is so relaxed that they don’t mind kids running around or accidentally spilling juice on the floor. Our favourite was the (Old) Chill Out, just round the corner from Thalik Guesthouse, right on the river (amazing breakfast!). Just a note that (as with all restaurants), the food is made to order so you may have to wait a while, and as Hampi is a religious centre, alcohol is not allowed (although some restaurants may oblige a thirsty traveller if you are desperate) and meat is difficult to come by.
Getting there and away
Train is the obvious way to get to Hampi, although you can get there by bus if you’d prefer. We live in Bangalore which means getting there was super easy for us via the overnight sleeper train (Hampi Express, 9 hours) between Bangalore City Railway Station and Hospet. From there it’s a 30 minute tuk-tuk ride to Hampi. We booked two adult tickets in 2AC on the IRCTC website. Under fives go free and they slept in the narrow bunk with us (prepare to sleep like a knife on its edge whilst your Precious spreads out like an eagle!). Bedding is provided and curtains allow some privacy (depending on which bunk you get), so Mum (or Dad) may want to pack a sarong to use as a makeshift curtain. Our guest house arranged a tuk-tuk to collect us from Hospet station for INR200 (£2.40).
We have such special memories of our time in Hampi and will definitely be back. It’s a fantastic option for a long-weekend away from Bangalore and for those longer-term travelling families, it’s a wonderful place to regain some sanity from the cities further north or to continue the chilled vibes you found in Goa. As the slogan reads on many Hampi tuk-tuks: Don’t worry, be Hampi.
And I just have to finish with this photo that our 3 year old took whilst I was taking a family selfie. Cool, huh?
To read more about travelling India with young kids, head to our India page.
Where would we be without our trusted Lonely Planet? There’s a detailed chapter on Hampi that provides a concise history to the ruins and temples.