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Update 1: In September 2016, I updated this article with photos from more recent trips and a few from older trips. The text remains the same as that of the original article which was written in 2014.

Update 2: From July 2017, as per an article in the Deccan Herald, the Archeological Survey of India has banned the use of professional camera gear in museums that fall under ASI, without prior permission.

Hampi is touted as a popular tourist destination by the government of Karnataka. Being a world heritage center, Hampi is well know not just locally, but also internationally. My third visit to Hampi was in 2014, having been there in 2010 and 2007 previously. Few things had changed, while many sights and scenes still looked the same. My most recent trip was completely dedicated to photography. Read on to know about the places we visited, and the best times to shot photographs in Hampi.

Panoramic view of sunrise from Mathanga Hill

For the photographer, Hampi has many elements of interest. Undulating rocky terrain interspersed with crumbling ruins of a once glorious empire, banana plantations and paddy fields enriched by the Tungabadra river flowing in close proximity, and easily accessible hillocks that provide excellent views of the landscape all make Hampi a great destination. Scores of travelers of all sorts loiter around the Virupaksha temple, while simple villagers turn hardcore salesmen to grab their attention. On a typical long weekend, you will find amateur photographers with DSLRs lingering around the Hampi Bazaar area, and near the ASI protected monuments.

On this particular long weekend of Dussehra, we were three dedicated photographers who were on a mission to capture the magic of Hampi. We had planned everything from choosing locations based on the position of the sun, to acquiring permission from ASI to use tripods within the protected monuments. Everywhere we went, we were greeted with surprised looks because of the gear we were carrying. Our days were measured by the number of photo opportunities. The photographs you see here is a result of this determination.

Magical colors at Hemakuta Hill in Hampi
If photography is not your thing, you can still lose yourself in Hampi. Across the river, the cottages at Anegundi are perfect to relax to the rhythm of modest village living. The hillock of Anjanadri is a great way to mesmerize yourself with a birds-eye view of the well-planned Vijayanagar Empire. Anjanadri and Anegundi welcome hippies, wannabes, and devotees alike.

A coracle waits for passengers who want to cross to Anjanadri from Hampi after sun down.

A coracle waits for passengers who want to cross to Anjanadri from Hampi after sun down.

Planning Ahead

Our trip coincided with a four day long weekend, so rooms were unavailable in most popular hotels when I checked three weeks in advance. Sai Plaza, a property where I had stayed previously, came to our rescue. This is a river side guest house offering cheap rooms with clean, basic facilities. I made an advanced reservation on their website directly.

With our stay in Hampi taken care of, the next task was to obtain written permission from the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) in Bangalore to use a tripod in the vicinity of the protected monuments at Hampi. The fact that you cannot use a tripod without prior permission isn’t mentioned on the ASI website, nor anywhere near the protected monuments. ASI – you need to fix this ASAP. The permission did not come through easily, but it was worth the effort.

The last thing we needed to consider was our time of departure from Bangalore. We planned to leave as early in the morning as possible. The goal was to avoid the rush of cars that hog the highways during long weekends. In spite of hitting the road by 5 am, we spent around 30 minutes at the toll gates, before entering the highway to Tumkur. Our initial plan was to have benne dosa at Dobbaspet, but we missed the exit. Google Maps helped us identify the next best place for breakfast – Sri Lakshmi Bhavan Tiffin Room in Chitradurga.  We were wise enough to avoid places like Kamat Upachar, which we knew would crowded with the usual suspects reading up on Team-BHP. The condition of the road after Chitradurga was pathetic, and the heat was oppressive. We reached Hospet by 12.30, spending 7.5 hrs on the road.

Paddy fields in the Tungabadra River Basin

Soothing green in the fertile river basin near Hampi

Sunset at Hemakuta Hill and Malyavanta

The distance from Hampi to Anajandri where we had our rooms, was 40 km by road. Alternatively, a 50 rupee motor boat ride could get us (and not the car) across the river in 10 minutes. Unfortunately for us, boats were not operating on the day we reached Hampi. The water levels were high after seasonal rains. I found the dependency on forces of nature a tad bit ridiculous. Sometime back the government did try and build a bridge across the river, but it collapsed even before it was completed. Ironically, stone pillars from the bridge built by Krishnadevraya stand even today.

Golden hues during Sunset at Hemakuta Hill
With no boat available to check-in, we decided to spend time in Hampi till sunset, and drive to the guest house later at night. The target was to be at Hemakuta hill by 5.30 pm. The view of the setting sun and the Tungabadra river from Hemakuta is exhilarating. Ruins of an ancient Jain temple and other monuments are scattered around the hill. Since sunset was still a while away, we leisurely had lunch at a restaurant called Mango Tree. This popular place was once beside the river and under a huge Mango tree. Now it is in one of the bylanes of the Hampi Bazaar. Mango Tree is a must-visit for their lassi. There were far more Indians this time, than I recall seeing in 2010.

After lunch, we drove to Malyavanta hill, around 4 km away from the parking lot near Virupaksha. A temple dedicated to Lord Rama is on this hill. Interestingly, we found Hindi speaking Brahmins from MP living here. A few photographers were also hanging around behind the temple. From this place, you have an unobstructed view of the westward landscape. Green fields provide an excellent foreground for photographs. We decided to visit Malyavanta for sunset on another occasion, because this time I wanted to flaunt the letter from ASI that I worked hard to get 🙂

Yoga and photography at Malyavanta during sunset
From Malyavanta, we returned to Hemakuta. As we climbed up past the kadalekalu ganesha idol, we noticed that quite a few tourists had already gathered to witness the sun go down. I rushed to most of the shoot, and it turned out to be a memorable evening. I managed to make some nice pictures in spite of the crowds that walked into my frame more than once.

We still had a long way back to comfort. The forty kilometers drive to Anjanadri wasn’t easy. We navigated through narrow State Highway roads. Very few things had changed in the last 7 years. Locals were still taking a dump by the road side after dark. The road conditions were as bad as ever, and villages were still connected by precariously built bridges. In fact, one of the villagers who gave us direction said we may not be able to reach Anjanadri because of a road block But we knew better than to trust a villager on the road after 8 pm. 🙂

Sunrise from Anjanadri Hill

One of the perks of staying in Anegundi is the close proximity to Anjanadri hill. It takes 10 minutes to reach the base, and about half an hour to climb the hill. The white stairways leading up is distinctly visible from the road. We somehow missed our way to the base, and reached only by 5.30 am. On the way, we noticed women from villages worshiping the Banni tree as part of the Banni Pooja ritual.

The view of the sun rise over Tungabadra got better as we began to ascend. If you want a good photo of the sunrise and the river, do not go all the way up.  On top, the view of the river is blocked by electricity wires and other temple construction. On that particular day, the humidity was really high and I was sweating heavily.

Early morning sunrise climb at Anegundi or Anjanadri hill

A view of Tungabadra river and paddy fields at Anegundi

Once we reached the top of the hill, we were greeted by a colony of Hindi speaking Brahmins. I don’t recall seeing them in 2010. Monkeys co-inhabited the place. You will find both Bonnet macaquess and Hanuman langurs at Anjanadri. We were after all in the birth place of Lord Hanuman 🙂

A few photographers were returning, as we reached up. I did not understand why – the skies still looked great and there was plenty to shoot. Some of the younger Brahmin boys were curious about our camera gear, and we had fun interacting with them. The landscape around Hampi is a mix of big boulders and green paddy fields. Anajandari hill offers a great view of this terrain. It was easy to understand why the ancient kings chose this location to build their empire. The boulders in the surrounding hills provided raw material for the stone-carved architecture. Hills on three sides and the Tungabhadra on the fourth offered a difficult approach for enemies. We stayed on till almost 9 o’ clock near the courtyard, enjoying the views and watching the activity in the temple.

The boy's name was Seetharama but he was as mischievous as Lord Krishna

The boy’s name was Seetharama but he was as mischievous as Lord Krishna

While one part of Anjanadri is nearly flat, the area behind the temple has huge boulders. This is an interesting place to explore. Cemented staircases make it easy to cross the boulders. The temple courtyard is great for sunrise, and the area behind the temple is wonderful for sunset. Vitalla temple is visible from Anjanadri. Unfortunately, it was difficult to shoot distant subjects because of the tropical haze.

We left Anjandri hill at around 10 am and spent the rest of the morning catching up on rest, back at Sai Plaza. The thatched cottages ensured that our rooms were insulated from the heat outside. In fact staying indoors was the only sensible thing to do in Hampi  between 10 am to 4 pm.

Towards the afternoon, the roar of the motor boat came as music to my ears. It was good to know that the river transport was back in business. We could now visit Hampi by the shorter route. We left Anegundi at around 4.30 pm and walked to the river side. The boat operator had jacked up the ticket prices, and was demanding 150 rupees per head for a one-way ride. This was ridiculous! After some haggling we brought it down to 50 per head.

Catching a boat to Hampi was not the end of the story, because we also had to return. Motor boats stop operating at 6 pm, after which you are the mercy of coracles. The coracles from the Hampi side are operated by a different set of people, and they have territorial disputes with the guys on the Anjandri side. The banks of the river fall under different districts, apparently.  One coracle guy was ready to ferry us back to Anjanadri at an exorbitant rate of Rs 200 per head, but wanted us before sun-down. With no other option, we booked our return trip and proceeded to explore Hampi. Another instance of useless bureaucracy.

At Virupaksha temple, we saw preparations going on for the lamp festival. Volunteers from the public were setting up mud lamps in front of the temple. Inside the temple premises, Lakshmi, the elephant, was getting ready to lead the way for the temple idol which was to be taken out. These activities provided us with plenty of photo opportunities. The best part of the lamp festival was obviously after dark, but our date with the coracle ensured that we missed it :(.

Lakshmi the elephant leads the idol at Virupaksha outside the temple.

Idol Procession at Virupaksha during Dussehra

Temple Elephant in front of Virupaksha

Race to Catch Sunrise from Mathanga

On the third day, the plan was to be at Hampi for both sunrise and sunset. We left Anegundi by car at 4.30 am in the morning to reach Mathanga in time for sunrise. Mathanga is a hill diagonally opposite the Virupaksha temple. In spite of our early departure, we could reach the base of Mathanga only by 6.00 am. We began climbing, hoping to reach the top in time for sunrise. It was difficult to find our footing while climbing the big blocks of stones laid out as steps. At one point, a misleading graffiti on one of the rocks confused our group. I took the treacherous route up, and ended up using all four limbs in a few spots. The monkeys were grinning, watching me.

monkey chewing my tripodThe view of the Virupaksha and surrounding areas was stunning from top. From the elevation, you can see how beautiful and well planned the architecture of the ancient kingdom is. The route that I missed makes it easier to go still higher up.  I shot photos of the Virupaksha temple, the turn of the Tungabadra river, and banana plantations set against rocky terrain from my spot on Mathanga.

There were other early risers already at Mathanga. A few young resident monkeys had their own plan while I was busy shooting. They were curious about my photography gear and tried opening my rucksack to look for foodstuff. It was fun to watch them.The younger ones even tried climbing the tripod. The bigger alpha males kept a stoic distance, and I had no intention of messing with them.

Man stands on a rock at Mathanga during sunrise
Golden Light at Mathanga Hill


After getting our shots, we returned to the car by 9 am. Our next stop was Vitalla Temple. The plan was to scout the area in and around Vitalla temple, and pick spots to shoot the sunset later in the evening.

By the time we got to Vitalla, the harsh sunlight not conducive for photography. Being a Saturday, the place was heavily crowded. Private vehicles are not allowed in the last 1 km, and tourists have an option of taking an electric vehicle till the Vitatlla temple. We chose to walk.

Once inside, we were surrounded by tourists. A stone chariot, the icon of Karnataka Tourism Department, is in this temple. Most of the Krishna temple is in ruins, so composing an interesting frame is really difficult. I was put off by the heat and the crowd, and walked outside to explore the area around the main temple complex.

I discovered that there exists a direct path from Virupaksha to Vitalla temple. This route is beside the river, and a ten minute walk puts you near Mathanga. In contrast, the walk from Vitalla temple to the parking lot takes longer. And from there, Virupaksha temple is 8 km by road. A lot of interesting ruins are on the route connecting Virupaksha and Vitalla. I noticed giant entrance-ways, ruined temples, and the Purandaradasa Mandapam by the river side. I made up my mind to visit these places during twilight to make my pictures.

It was around 10.30 by now, and we were hungry and tired. An old couple were preparing traditional breakfast of Mandakki OggaraNe (puffed rice poha) and bajji near the river. This was it! We relished the food which we so unexpectedly found, and when we were so hungry. A sugarcane vendor nearby provided much needed refreshment.

Breakfast near Vitalla temple

Breakfast near Vitalla temple

We returned to the room via boat to take rest before the second half of the shoot. At about 3.30, we were back in Hampi. With the car parked on the Hampi side, we did not have any curfew in the evening. I intended to cover the route from Virupaksha to Vitalla by foot, concluding the day at Vitalla temple at sunset.Long exposure photography near the Vitalla temple

A left turn before Mathanga when walking from Virupaksha puts you on the route to Vitalla. You walk past huge boulders, and small caves, before reaching the river banks. I was anticipating interesting activity near the river, but didn’t find anything worth photographing. Coracles from here take you to the smaller ruins near the banks of the river on the other side. Notable is an island that houses a 1000 tiny shiva linga(s)

As we continued the walk, we came across the temple dedicated to Kodandarama. Behind this river facing temple is an area known as the Courtesan’s Street. A pushkarni here looked beautiful with the still water reflecting the surrounding terrain. I decided to make this my first halt. Beyond the pushkarni is the Achutaraya temple. If you are interested in shooting birds, the area near the pushkarni has plenty of king fishers and bee eaters.

As we walked towards Vitalla, we first saw the Varaha Temple. The path then lead us to the ruins of the Narasimha temple, which is also river facing. Walking, I imagined how it would have been during the days of the king. The courtesan’s street was apparently once a thriving market that sold precious stones by the kg. Intriguing as it is, the courtesan’s street and the temples of the area were right beside each other. I couldn’t fully explore the river side ruins, and hope to do so more diligently in future. For now, it was a rush to get to Vitalla temple before they closed at 6.

For all the meticulous planning, Vitalla temple was a huge disappointment. There were too many people everywhere. When we set up our tripods, the crowds found us more interesting than the ruins. The monuments officially close by 6 pm, so we were hoping the tourists would vacate a little before that. Unluckily for us, every tourist until the last one mindlessly walked into our frame. Tourists generally like taking photos of themselves in front of the artifacts so there was no point aiming the camera towards the ruins.

Colors of sunset at Vitalla TempleWe stayed a little beyond 6, until the annoyed guards literally kicked us out. They did not understand what we were shooting in the dark. The tripods that we carried only served as an excuse to police us – and the reason we had it was totally lost on them. The face-palm moment was when one of the guards, wanting to convey his interest in photography, took out his mobile and showed a photo of him posing on a bike. Vijayanagar, its glory, and the fact that we were photographing a Unesco World Heritage site almost came to naught.

Once outside Vitalla, there was nobody to stop us. That is when I shot this.
Tank near Vitalla Krishna temple

Reflections

With each visit to Hampi, I find the reference to Hampi as a ‘tourist’ destination shallow, and inaccurate. Hampi is an experience by itself, and a rare glimpse into the wonderous accomplishments of our ancestors. Hampi sees a lot of visitors from far and wide. On my most recent trip, I saw international tourists, buses with aged people from Rajasthan, families mostly from Karnataka, and youngsters from cities like Bangalore and Bombay.

Baring for a few foreigners who actually looked interested in the ruins of the Vijayanagar Empire, the others had agendas that seemed far removed from the essence of Hampi. The young crowds at Anjanadri where we stayed were quite involved in merry making with the choicest of intoxicants. Families with kids looked most delighted while eating and littering around the protected monuments. And I had no clue why senior citizens from Rajasthan were camping around Hampi (or why they chose to crap in the open instead of the nicely constructed public toilets).

All in all, Hampi seemed more like an excuse for people to go somewhere and do something. Is this how it should be? Can it be any different? I think Hampi has a lot to offer in terms of history, heritage, and experience. Hampi is more than a tourist destination – it is the story of a legacy which a developing country like India needs to know about. If nothing, visitors to Hampi should at least be enlightened about the glory of our ancestors – hopefully inspiring them to take the motherland seriously. I am not saying that visitors to Hampi should all have only one take-away. I have a problem with the fact that the heritage aspect of the aspect is totally overshadowed everything else.

The amount of bureaucracy you see is also staggering. The lady whom I interacted with at the ASI office for permission to use the tripod told me that Hampi will have its own Circle Office starting October. We were in the last week of September, and she wasn’t sure if the permission would come through from the Bangalore office. Nevertheless I submitted the letter, and followed up a week later. As expected, the Bangalore office washed their hands off and said they have stopped issuing permits. Determined to get what I wanted, I called up the Hampi office. The guy at the end of the line was clueless about the procedure, and asked me to contact the deputy officer. Luckily for me, he gave me the deputy officer’s mobile number. After bugging the officer a couple of times, I managed to get his attention. He finally conceded to my request and asked me to meet him in his office in Kamalapura after arriving in Hampi. Kamalapura is a town next to Hampi, and houses the ASI museum and office. This is what it means to be a photographer in India. You have to deal with an inefficient system even when your intention is to capture the beauty of the country’s own heritage.

Showing 36 comments
  • MADHUBALA BHOSALE
    Reply

    Great work and effort ,, keep it up …

  • venkatesh nagaraj
    Reply

    excellent write up and a very neat photography. would like to go there once 🙂

  • Radhakrishna Rao
    Reply

    Beautiful Images and wonderful effort Great Congrats !

  • Roopa
    Reply

    Great write-up PC. I vicariously enjoyed the whole trip. The shots are stunning – start selling prints! 

  • Neethu
    Reply

    Super Pratap.. !!!

  • Deepa
    Reply

    Wonderful, You have captured some very rare views of Hampi.
    Totally Totally agree with you on the tourist kinds. Fortunately it wasnt very crowded or rather we trekked across the mathanga hill and it was just us at the Achyutharaya temple and the pushkarni.
    The boys did trek up some hill off the road ( closer to Queen’s  bath) which had huge boulders and they just loved it.
    Next time you have to do Aihole and Pattadakal although we didn’t have time for the latter. The ruins are older but the soil is red. Great photo-ops I’m sure

  • Manish
    Reply

    Nice read and with beautiful pictures, makes me run there 🙂 

  • S.Ramesh
    Reply

    fantastic! I feel i was in Hampi…

  • Sindhu
    Reply

    Very well captured! 🙂

  • Aniketh Sharma
    Reply

    Absolutely brilliant. Love your photos. Keep it up 🙂

  • manabendra dey
    Reply

    Great documentary on Hampi; thanks for sharing the experiences

  • Anubhav
    Reply

    aren’t those pics just awesome..

  • Mohan Devaraj
    Reply

    Wonderful details with Photographs…

  • KISHORE
    Reply

    A great blog ! Found it really informative with great images!

  • Dibya Ranjan
    Reply

    Lovely!

  • Gopan G Nair
    Reply

    Too Good.  

  • vishwender
    Reply

    great information, 

  • Madhav Bhakta K.
    Reply

    Excellent pics and writeup.

  • Ananthakrishnan
    Reply

    One of the best write up I have seen on Hampi… Amazing photography bro !!!

    • Pratap J
      Reply

      Thank you!

  • madhavi salunkhe
    Reply

    Great efforts taken by u.Amazing photographs also…..thanks for sharing ur experiences with us.It is v useful n informative for amature photographers like us

  • Sophia
    Reply

    Hello Guys..
    Nice blog.. Good job.. Thank you so much for the information. It’s a great post…I love travelling and want to travel all over the world. Explore new places, adventurous things and many more. And photographs are just amazing. Keep writing !!!

  • Alok Singhal
    Reply

    Absolutely gorgeous shots, the one of sunrise is my pick!

    • Pratap J
      Reply

      Thanks, Alok!

  • SimranGurbakhsh Singh
    Reply

    बहुत खूब; marvellous; بہت خوب

  • Ajish Chandran
    Reply

    Planning to visit Hampi for a Photo shoot. Just want to know if there is any restrictions in climbing Mathanga Hiils in the early morning or staying there for Sun Set. Or is it a freeway, were one can climb up & down at your wish. First time when we went to Hampi, we got lost in all ways….. so dont want to repeat the same. Your photos & writings gives a fair idea about the places to visit from a Photographers point of view.Thanks a lot for info. Expecting your reply

    • Pratap J
      Reply

      No restrictions on climbing Mathanga hill 🙂

  • MANI TEJA LINGALA
    Reply

    WoW…

  • Abhijit Pan
    Reply

    Hi,
    Excellent pictures!! Can you please suggest me which lenses need to be used in Hampi? I am planning to go there in coming months, so please suggest me which will be perfect lense?
    [I use nikon d5500]

    • Pratap J
      Reply

      A good wide angle and a 50mm for people photos if you are into that is sufficient. A telephoto can also help but might cause unwanted attention.

  • Alok Singhal
    Reply

    What a marvelous set of shots – Hampi seems to be a photographer’s paradise!

    *I didn’t read through the entire text as yet.

  • shagun chawla
    Reply

    Amazing pics!! i am planing to go there in January, can you suggest how many days trip should i plan with respect to photography?

    • Pratap J
      Reply

      You need a minimum of 3 days in Hampi to capture the important places.

      • shagun chawla
        Reply

        How to acquire the permission to use the tripod there?

        • Pratap J
          Reply

          From ASI. However they don’t issue permissions on the spot.

  • S A Karthik
    Reply

    Very enjoyable and instructive. Thanks a ton.

  • Raghupraveera
    Reply

    Breathtaking images and good narration. Please give some tips for photographing Hampi and I am going this month there.

  • Vishvanth J
    Reply

    Wonderful write up. So instructive. And can you suggest which is the best time for a photographer to visit? My objective is to shoot some dreamy sunrise and sunset. Thanks in advance.

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