Hampi, much to everyone’s surprise is quite a widely spread destination. Moreover, there’s so much crammed within that space that visiting Hampi can be quite intensive if not planned well. Most travelers choose to base themselves at the main Hampi village, which has all kinds of facilities required by the visitors. The imposing Virupaksha Temple is also situated there and one can walk to quite a few spots from there. One of the oldest structures of Hampi, Virupaksha is also a working temple which draws plenty of colourfully dressed devotees every day. In fact, one of the best things to do there is to people watch. Pilgrims from all over India throng to this ancient Shiva temple and many come attracted by the mystery of its inverted shadow.

the virupaksha temple in hampi

A view of the towering Virupaksha temple

Virupaksha Temple and all its glories

One of the most well-known unsolved mysteries of temples of India is the inverted shadow of the gopuram or tower of the Virupaksha Temple. Standing tall at 52 meters, the gopuram casts an inverted shadow which can be seen in a small room located in the far northwest corner of the temple. Though there are many theories regarding this mystery, hardly any conclusive proof has been found until now as an explanation. This is not the only striking part about the Virupaksha temple and it is quite beautiful as well. Dedicated to Lord Shiva, who is known as Virupaksha in these parts, the temple was built by Lakkana Dandesha, a chieftain under the ruler Deva Raya II of the Vijayanagara Empire. Though a continual place of worship since the 7th century, Virupaksha started off as a collection of shrines. With the passage of time, the complex expanded and the sanctum with beautifully carved colonnaded prayer halls was added.

the bathing ghat near virupaksha temple in hampi

Twilight falls over Hampi village

How is it to live right next to the iconic Virupaksha Temple?

My guesthouse was located right in front of the towering Virupaksha Temple in Karnataka and every day I woke up to its elephant’s tinkling bells. The towering gopuram of the temple was also another of my personal favourites and I loved watching it get silhouetted against Hampi’s twilight sky. Situated right on the bank of Tungabhadra river, Virupaksha has some erotic carvings decorating its walls and the temple is a beautiful sanctuary of spiritual seekers. The complex includes several shrines, monolithic statues, and columned porticoes and pealing bells, chants, dance recitals, and lively tourists fill the interiors.

Meet Lakshmi, the temple elephant of Virupaksha

A sacred, spiritual retreat

I have spent a few rainy afternoons there while returning from my morning yoga class and the glimpses of various faces and costumes from various parts of the country always filled me with joy. The temple in my eyes was a welcoming, soothing place. Its oily coated smooth interiors were comfortingly dark and the holy sanctum of the temple of South India imparted peace to everybody irrespective of region. Many hushed footsteps softened the ancient stone walkways and it was not unusual to see brilliantly decked up Rajasthani ladies in anklets and petticoats, walking in groups behind men sporting rural Maharashtrian signature white caps.

visitors at virupaksha temple in hampi

Virupaksha temple is a very popular spiritual place

The resident elephant of Virupaksha Temple

Flower, incense and vermilion sellers had shops inside the temple and every day the pious, peace-loving South Indian men bought flowers for their sedate wive’s braids. The inner sanctum was a peaceful womb and temple elephant blessed everybody for a few pennies. He was another of my Hampi favourites and every dawn I waited on my terrace to see him fetch water from the Tungabhadra for the presiding deity. Tungabhadra river bank was lined with gnarly old trees, stone bathing ghats, and colourful vendors peddled various wares from under old banyan branches. The temple elephant evidently loved it and he always ambled by past the flower, coconut, banana, and religious knickknack sellers at a majestic pace. He too, like me, paused a few times on his route, visibly distracted either by aromatic steaming idlis or omnipresent pesky monkeys.

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The monkey by the Tungabhadra river in Hampi

How about yoga in the temple ruins in Hampi?

Both are found abundantly all over Hampi and while the monkeys were a bit of a bother, the breakfast ready fresh idlis (steamed rice pancakes) were a foodie’s joy. Coupled with crispy dosas (thin crepes made from lentil paste), creamy coconut chutney and piping hot coffee, Hampi morning meals were refreshingly light on the pocket. A friend of mine introduced me to yoga at Hampi and the classes were held in the most peaceful setting. In fact, it was the prospect of practicing yoga among the ruins which made me sign up for the class and every morning I practiced contorting my lazy body amidst stone pools, drooping banyan tangles, and ancient rocky edifices.

Recommended Read: My first day at Hampi

Hampi is a surreal mix of past and present

Virupaksha Temple trail

A reputed travel blogger, Ami Bhat of ThrillingTravel has written a great post on a walking trail revolving around the Virupaksha Temple. You can check it out here and the credit of this compilation goes to her. This Virupaksha Temple trail consists of the major sites in Hampi. The temple remains open from dawn to dusk and charges 2 INR for entrance. INR 50 and INR 500 are charged for still and video cameras respectively.

  • Vittala Temple – This is the most famous site in Hampi. The Vitala temple complex has the exquisite Stone Chariot and halls decorated with carved musical pillars. These set of pillars are known to resonate when tapped.
  • Riverside Ruins – There is a guided trail from Vittala temple that leads to the ancient Hampi Bazaar from the Vittala temple and it goes through the Riverside Ruins. Scattered along this trail are numerous shrines, carved artifacts, and ruins of ancient buildings. You can also spot intricate carvings of Shiv Linga on many rock faces and tawny boulders mark the path.
  • Hampi Bazaar – The Hampi Bazaar lies between the Vittala and Virupaksha temples. It is an actual market place which is held in rows of mandapas, that once served as residences of the nobles. A huge Nandi statue sits alone in the middle of this bazaar, facing the Virupaksha Temple.
  • Virupaksha Temple – Believed to be one of the oldest active temples from the 7th century India, Virupaksha Temple is hard to miss. It is one of the most visible sites of Hampi and consists of the sanctum, pillared halls, and a series of gopurams.
  • The Fortified Royal Enclosure – This is a platform from where the Vijayanagar king used to watch the annual parade of imperial majesty and military might. The area is strewn with numerous palace bases, underground temples, and ruins of stepwells.
  • Hemkuta Hills –  The Hemakuta Hills have an assortment of temples, which are located on a rocky hilltop with undulations. The highlights are the sets of triple chambered temples with its pyramid-like granite roofs. They are believed to be Jain temples and many are double-storeyed. Not all of them are in the best conditions and the walk is extremely beautiful, especially at sunset.
  • Kadalekalu Ganesha – The 14 feet giant sculpture of Kadalekalu Ganesha is carved on the slopes of the Hemakuta Hill. The temple has exquisitely carved pillars and is a very photogenic site.
  • Sasivekalu Ganesha – This is the gigantic monolithic statue of Ganesha or the famous Elephant God of India. The statue has a snake tied to its belly and it is believed that once, the god ate so much that he tied the snake to prevent his belly from bursting.
  • Kadalekalu Ganesha – The 14 feet giant sculpture of Kadalekalu Ganesha sits on the slopes of the Hemakuta Hill. The temple has exquisitely carved pillars and is a very photogenic site.
  • The Lakshmi Narasimha Statue – This is one of the most famous icons of Hampi. A giant monolithic statue of the man-lion god, it is right next to the next stop of this trail.
  • Badavilinga Temple – This is a much-revered spot in Hampi and has a giant monolithic Shivalinga which is partially submerged in water. The shrine has only one access and is practically roofless.

    One of beautiful Ganesha temples on Hemakuta Hills

Forget the Virupaksha Temple and just explore mindlessly

In my opinion, Hampi is best enjoyed slowly. There is so much to absorb and experience that you will be bombarded with enchanting sights at every step. This famous UNESCO Heritage Site is scattered with more than 500 monuments, including the famous Virupaksha Temple and many believed that there are more which can be discovered. The best part about Hampi is that there is well-laid ground rules or trail that you have to follow to enjoy it to the fullest. The trail mentioned above is only a guideline to help align your explorations in a more systematic manner. But as I said, the best way to enjoy Hampi is to completely give in, walk around at your own will, and select places which you love the most. I can guarantee, that there will be plenty of beautiful surprises on your way.

morning river side walk leads to virupaksha temple in hampi

Irrespective of the weather,

Hampi mornings are always fantastic.

And the Tungabhadra river never fails to mesmerize.

The local life is colourful there

And time moves in a very relaxing place.

tehampi has old temples

That is why it is best to enjoy Hampi slowly

And explore the ruins without a map.

Check out these two great posts on Virupaksha Temple murals by Soumya and Sreenivas.