Mystical Hampi: Where I fell in love with India

indian women in hampi

Last Updated on February 16, 2021

People who have been to India seem to always say, with that all-knowing nod, either you love India or you hate it.

We had been in India for a few weeks already, however, and I couldn’t make my mind up how I felt about the country. I knew for sure that I didn’t hate it, but that didn’t mean that I loved it, either. I knew I liked it – the smells, the colors, the people, even the chaotic scenes in the streets: tuktuks whizzing around cows while a herd of goats is shooed across the road by a wrinkly old lady in a bright orange sari forcing an overcrowded bus to swerve out of their way.

Streets in India with goats buffalos tuktuksOnce I got used to it, I even began to enjoy the 50 cars, tuktuks, buses and trucks at any given time holding a huge concert of honks.

And of course, I liked the food. Jess and I would name Indian as one of our absolute favorite cuisines, and being in southern India meant sampling dishes we had never had, like curries with coconut or mango which are uncommon on menus outside the southern sub-continent.

indian foodBut did I love India? They say that if you don’t know if it’s love, then it’s probably not. There were certain things that I definitely loved, like our incredibly relaxing Keralan houseboat cruise, but I wasn’t blown away by any of the towns we had visited, or the beaches. We had even seen prettier Hindu temples outside of India than the ones we came across in Kerala and Goa. The same went for the food; despite mouthwatering food on the houseboat, back on land we had better Indian cuisine outside the country (I am looking at you, Malaysia!).

And then I went to visit Hampi.

I was feeling blue when we arrived there because I had left Jess behind in Goa with a knee injury and endured a bumpy 10-hour ride in a rickety old bus which, ten miles outside of Hampi, was bombarded by shouting touts, all trying to get us into their guest houses in town. Once we shook them off, the bus continued on to Hampi, and as we drove this last stretch, my mood changed drastically.

hampi sceneryWe passed oxcart after oxcart, some transporting goods, others groups of people to work the fields. Farmland morphed into a landscape that looked as though it had rained boulders, all perched on top of each other as far as the eye could see, glowing bright orange in the morning sun.

I loved everything I saw.

The people

The town of Hampi is located on the ruins of Vijayanagara, the capital of the former Vijayanagara Empire, and home to the significant Virupaksha temple, one of the holiest temples in all of India. Like Mecca is for Muslims, every Hindu must visit Hampi at least once in their lifetime. This means that Indian visitors are pilgrims, not tourists. Many of the large families, who camp by the river, have come from such remote parts of India that they have never seen a foreigner. Until they see us in Hampi.

Indian families in HampiTheir curiosity and excitement to see a white person is so honest, and heartwarming. They loved us – and our dSLR cameras. Most had never seen a camera before and were ecstatic about seeing their own faces on our camera screens. In some of the temples, the crowds gathering around us were uncomfortably large, but we always left our new friends with a big smile on our faces, wondering how many random Indian family photo albums our faces might end up in.

Even when I was a silent observer, not the center of attention, I loved watching the families camping by the river get ready in the morning: their daily ritual of showering and brushing their teeth, mothers washing their daughters’ hair all right next to the temple elephant Lakshmi as she got her morning scrub. The town barber, with his shop on the hill overlooking the scene, must have the most scenic view of any barber in the world. The chai wallah would go around on his bicycle selling hot masala chai tea to the men and women who emerged the river freshly soaped and sparkling clean. A couple of street vendors served breakfast chapatis with a potato stew and coconut sauce, while the families who had come to Hampi to worship made their way to the temples.

Hampi River

The temples

Until I arrived in Hampi, I had not seen any impressive Hindu temples, but that quickly changed. The temples in this holy city are spectacular, especially the Virupaksha temple in the center of town with all of its carved images and 49m high tower, and my personal favorite, the Vittala Temple, with its incredible stone chariot, elephant stables and the underground shiva temple.

I could have spent days visiting all the ancient temples that are spread out over miles across the incredible terrain.

Hampi Temples

Village life

As we walked through the village, we were stunned by the amount of ruins – we had expected temple ruins, but not the ruins of houses. Apparently, in an effort to reduce overcrowding of such a holy location, the government had come in and demolished half of Hampi’s houses, but made no effort to clean up the rubble. The parts of the village that were still intact were charming though, with the smiling children playing in and around colorful houses out-numbered by cows, who were more populous than all human villagers combined. Women were sitting together sipping masala chai teas watching their men play a game with bottle tops, girls did laundry and vendors of baskets and other goods shuffled up and down the streets. The scene felt magical and I knew as I took it in that I was in love with Hampi. Plus, I think these puppies, who lived right outside of our guesthouse, might have had something to do with that…

visit Hampi

The scenery

Hampi is home to other-worldly landscapes that felt like being on an entirely different planet. Sometimes (especially near the river) I felt like I was in Sedona, Northern Arizona, surrounded by red rock boulders, until a banana plantation would come into view and it felt nothing like arid Arizona anymore. With rows and rows of bright green palm trees swaying in the wind, I was reminded once more that this was definitely India.

Hampi landscapeSeveral restaurants have rooftop tables to enjoy the views, and these are the perfect spots to chill out after a morning of exploring the temples. I indulged on incredible Indian food and great lime sodas. My favorite was the Bamboo Chill Out restaurant, which had comfy beds surrounding low tables. As I laid there one afternoon, sipping my soda, I felt some of the harder moments of traveling in India slip away and I felt revived, refreshed. In Hampi, I found the India I was looking for.

I will be back, Hampi, and next time, I am bringing Jess with me.

visit HampiHere are my favorite shots from Hampi:

[flickrslideshow acct_name=”Globetrottergirls” id=”72157631069397528″]

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  1. Sounds like a wonderful place! This is exactly how I felt about Joyabaj in Guatemala – it was the place that made me fall in love with the country and most of the reason I keep returning. It almost feels like you’ve discovered a hidden treasure when you find a place like this!

    1. Sky – it really is a beautiful place! Now you made us want to return to Guatemala, by the way – we both haven’t been to Joyabaj but after doing some research I have to say: We are intrigued!

  2. Hampi was one of my favorite places in India, too. I always was reminded of The Flintstones while I was there. Plus, staying “on the other side of the river” was a cool experience and I met a lot of interesting travelers.

    Thanks for bringing me back. I’ve got some serious India-lust at the moment…

    1. Adam – I have actually never thought about the Flintstones while I was there, but now that you say it, I can totally see it!! I’ve got some serious India-lust at the moment, too, by the way – miss the delicious food!!

  3. I was considering going to Hampi for a few days when I was in Goa, but decided against it in the end, because I really liked being on a beach. After reading this, I feel like I might have made a mistake. I guess it just means I need to go back some day.

    1. Daniel – you would definitely have enjoyed it! I have to admit that we also almost didn’t go because it’s just such a long way from Goa, but in the end I was so glad we undertook the strenuous journey. I hope you’ll get to return to India one day and make it to Hampi next time 🙂

  4. I’ve never heard of Hampi until you wrote about it. I can see how beautiful it is from your pictures! I still have my reservations about traveling to India – it’s definitely one of the places I’d love to visit, but I don’t know if I’ll be able to handle the crowds and its energy.

    1. Pauline, so glad you found out about Hampi through our site 🙂 That’s what we’re always hoping for – to show people something new. I can totally understand your reservations about traveling to India – we felt the same way and that’s why we started in the south, which is known to be less crazy, less hectic and less dirty. And I am so glad that we went to India – it is such a fascinating country. I am actually looking forward to going back and am ready to conquer the north 🙂

  5. Christine loved Hampi so much she brought me back there. So strange that you were largely “meh” about India up to that point. Indifference is almost never the reaction to India (as I am sure you have heard endlessly).

    Hampi was really special, we celebrated Holi there, I enjoyed watching Lakshmi bathe every morning in the river, it was phenomenal. So glad you liked it too.

    1. Drew – yes, I couldn’t make my mind up about India at all until I came to Hampi. In Hampi everything came together finally and felt just right – the colors, the smells, the people, the food, and these amazing temples. Now that you mention Holi I think I might have to bring Jess to Hampi during Holi 🙂 I can only imagine how beautiful that must have been!!

  6. I keep thinking about a trip to India. I know I want to visit it, but I’m not sure if it’s just going to overwhelm me and explode my mind. Still, only one way to find out! Love what you’ve done with the photos on this post btw 😀

    1. Laurence, you definitely should go!! Start in the south – it’s slower paced and it’ll give you time to adapt to India before you hit the busy north. And India is so cheap, you can probably spend three months there for the amount you’d spend in Europe in 1 month! 🙂

  7. This looks AMAZING. Another place just wound its way onto my India itinerary for next year! That food looks sooooo good, but ohmygod THAT TEMPLE. Seriously stunning. I’m a temple geek so I’d probably spasm out over it.

    Thanks for sharing…and now I’m curious as to what a mango curry tastes like!

    1. Thanks, Tom! Yes, you definitely should include Hampi in your India itinerary – when exactly will you go? So happy to hear that you’re a temple geek, too – I think my two fellow travelers were a bit templed-out in Hampi but I could’ve spent another couple of days exploring the temples further away. Well, next time 😀

  8. India is one of those places that I’m still unsure about; I worry that it would just be too overwhelming for me to enjoy. But, Hampi sounds a bit different… and your photos make it look beautiful!

    1. Amanda – We felt exactly the same way about India. Had we not traveled in a few similarly crazy places before we went to India, we wouldn’t have been able to handle and enjoy it. I think the more countries you visit (especially outside of the 1st world) the more confident you’ll get about visiting India. A tour similar to the ones you took in Scotland or Eastern Europe (Intrepid or G Adventures or something like that maybe?) might be not a bad idea for India 🙂 And if you end up going to India (which I am sure you will at some point!) you have to make sure to visit Hampi!!

    1. Thanks Cole! I have yet to meet a person who traveled to India and did NOT love Hampi 🙂 I think it should definitely be on your itinerary if you decide to visit India!!

    1. At the age of 19 – that’s amazing, Mary! I definitely was not ready to travel to India until I was in my late 20s 🙂 I hope you’ll get to return to this incredible country and to see Hampi!

  9. The temples, the people, the villages, food – and of course, I love the puppies. I’ve heard some great things about India and Hampi is the type of place I think I would love as well.

  10. This does sound a really magical place! And the photographs are wonderful. A while back I nominated you for ‘Capture the Colour’ competition – you really should enter if you haven’t already.

    1. Thanks so much, Kat! And thanks for reminding me of the Capture the Colour contest! We have been so busy down here – I completely forgot 😀

  11. We fell in love with Hampi as well–still one of the highlights from our year plus in India way back in the mid ’90s which must have been before the disturbing home-tearing-down project. Sheesh. Jess, you have to go see it for yourself!

  12. Looks like you had a great time in India. I have vague memory of Hampi as I have been there only once when I was small. Nice photos of the food specially the parathas, they make my mouth water just by looking at it.

  13. Hi Dani, found you blog through 101 Holidays! Hampi sounds and look amazing. I love your encounters with the local as well as your photographs of them. I’ll definitely like visit his village when my husband and I return to India.

  14. Its a very sweet blog with amazing pictures of Hampi. The name Hampi also means “champion”. Hampi continues to be an important religious centre.

  15. I feel proud to Indian by your words. Its just awesome to live in India forever of course we all have a different life styles but our culture brings us close to each other. You visit one of that place, It really feel fantastic that you fall in love with my country.

  16. Hi Dani,

    I came across your Hampi write up and glad you liked Hampi atleast!!
    As Indifferences are common, Nevertheless I believe a universal traveller admires beauty in the numerous indifference especially in place like India.
    I may need to talk about the beautiful temples you might have missed in Kerala which drew your conclusion of seeing much Prettiest temples outside India.

    Each place has their own architectural traits, and the structural beauty depends mainly on it. The temples in Hampi are in a very different league than in Kerala or Goa. In North India, another different architectural style!!

    Hope you get a chance to come here and admire all those you missed.


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