Beyond the party culture of Hampi's Hippie Island

Photos: Avantika Paul

The rocky skyline of Hampi's medieval city ruins can be traced even at night. As soon as you enter this alluring World Heritage Site, you are blown over by the grandeur of majestic granite boulders, piled on to become hill ranges.

Whether you are exploring the bygone glory of the Vijayanagara Empire, which sprang up south of the Tungabhadra river, or indulging in the party culture of the Hippie Island beyond, the fascinating terrain of Hampi rarely leaves your sight.

The relics of Hampi city can be explored by visiting three archaeological study zones: the 'sacred centre' by the river, 'urban core' or the 'royal centre,' and the third constitutes the rest of erstwhile metropolitan Vijayanagara, the capital city of the South Indian Hindu empire.

What lies beyond, however, often goes unexplored. A ferry will take you across the river for Rs 20 but ask around and the locals will direct you to the shallow part of the river if you are feeling adventurous enough to cross it on foot.

Once you are there, you will be outnumbered by foreign tourists who can be seen riding scooters, mopeds, cycles, and chilling in cafes.

This small stretch of Hippie Island is brimming with affordable homestays and cafes that can be a backpacker's paradise. There are a few medieval structures on this side of the town as well, especially near the river side.

Despite all these historic and frolicky attractions, there is more to Virupapur Gadde or Hippie Island and you will need to hire a scooter or a moped to explore it.

The awe-inspiring geographic formations of this place complement the grand structures built by its rulers once.

Once you leave the populated stretch, the drive towards Sanapur on State Highway 130 is breathtaking to say the least. With lush paddy fields at the foot of towering boulders, you will drive on for hours without a destination.

You will find civilisations only in the form of scattered villages here.

An unlooked-for encounter

Hampi is known for its larger-than-life sunrise and sunset views. Travellers often climb on the popular Matanga or Hemakuta hills to witness these mesmerising vistas. The evenings are often crowded with musicians gathering to lull the sun to sleep.

On both sides of the Highway 130, passing through Hippie Island, however, are high hills dotted with nondescript, makeshift temples. Some of these hills have proper steps carved out for the visitors while some require adventurous bouldering. But if you are looking for a solitary vantage point, then a slightly steep, rocky climb will be worth all the effort.

One such hill lies almost one kilometre from the Tungabhadra Bukka Aqueduct towards Sanapur. At the foot of this hill stands a rusty board with indecipherable words but a rock next to it tells you that there is a Hanuman Temple atop this hill.

The rocks are marked with white paint to mark the way but they are barely in the form of steps and you might have to crawl at some places to make headway. The summit houses a small cave with a Vishnu temple marked by a tiny trident (trishul). Make this cave a place to cocoon yourself from the world and witness the sunset in its full glory as you gawk at the vast spread of paddy fields and rocks of Hampi.

A curious walk from the cave to the topmost temple leads to an inhabited hut hidden among huge rocks. One has to be lucky to meet the hut's occupant but when he does appear, he is no less than a movie character with a surreal aura that silently follows him. His upper body covered in an assortment of colourful beads and rudraksha, this septuagenarian guru will meet you with a smile and some dictums like "keeping a track of age only beckons senility sooner."

He is used to curious visitors and will ask you your nationality so he may converse in your mother tongue. Meeting globetrotters for years has acquainted him with conversational German, Portuguese, French and Indian vernaculars like Marathi, Kannada, Bengali, and more.

Despite his humble lifestyle, he will readily offer you some coffee or tea and talk the night away with stories about his adventurous life, how he ended up on this secluded hill and how looking at a shooting star through a particular crystal can correct all the 'dosh' in your life.

Hunt for a waterfall

Don't believe the fellow tourists when they tell you there is nothing much to see on the Hippie Island. Ask the locals to guide you to a small waterfall that is along the bumpy road which cuts through a village.

Although seasonal, the waterfall is a hidden gem and a popular cliff-jumping spot for daring travellers.

A coracle ride will take you close to the short waterfalls and a wrong turn on the same road will lead you to a canal which makes a quaint picnic spot on breezy mornings.

How to reach

There are no direct trains or buses between Kerala and Hampi. Nearest railway station is Hosapete which can be reached from Mysuru and Bengluru. From Hosapet you can either hire an auto/taxi which will charge more than Rs 200 depending on the season or you can take the KSRTC bus for a mere Rs 13.

The nearest major airport is at Hubli which is 143 km away from Hampi.

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