Our India month is nearing to an end. Before we move onto new destinations, we would love to share with you this tale on the village of Hampi, and some thought on its sad fate.

Our Hampi

Hampi was one of those places we loved even before we got there. The name of the village was whispered by backpackers around South East Asia and India, as if it were some sort of travellers’ Holy Grail. No one actually said why it was so amazing. For one, it was the landscape; with granite hills and boulders everywhere. For another, it was the ruins, scattered around the village surrounds. For another, it was a bit of everything.

And we did love Hampi. We arrived at the crack of dawn, after one of many night trains, and a bone-shattering rickshaw ride. We fell in love. It was a bit of everything. The boulders, the hills, the ruins. The cows with painted horns, monkeys riding motorbikes, children playing in the Bazaar, an unpaved strip surrounded by huts leading to the majestic Virupashka Temple.

India Save Hampi Temple and Pool Above

The landscape around Hampi

We spent some time in Hampi. Those days that are the highlight of any long-term journey, when you find a place, settle for a while, and think that’s it, I could stay here. You don’t need to spend your days sightseeing frantically. We were happy wandering around the boulders, spending time in the Bazaar watching children dangle from makeshift swings, or walking down the river to see Lakshmi, the temple elephant, taking her morning bath.

Hampi elephant wash spray

This is Lakshmi with her mahout

Hampi was no secret. There were many travellers, Indian and Westerner. There were no hotels, just family-run guesthouses. The Bazaar was lined with huts, selling flowers and coconuts to pilgrims, or food, drinks and souvenirs for tourists. The huts were makeshift affairs, often nothing more than a couple of rooms, where entire families worked and lived.

Hampi monkey bike

Didn’t I say monkeys on motorbikes?

One night, we had dinner at one of these huts, proudly advertising ‘real Italian gnocchi’. We learnt that the beautiful woman who ran it had learnt the recipe from an Italian traveller, who spent a few months in Hampi. She proceeded to prepare the gnocchi for us, from scratch, peeling and mashing the potatoes and all.

Hampi swing girl

We never got bored people-watching in the Bazaar

The day before we left, we sat by the river, where coracles ferried people back and forth, braving the current. The sunset coloured the boulders apricot, then deep purple; a young man sat still for hours, meditating. We vowed to return to Hampi, one day.

Threatened Hampi

Fast-forward a couple of years, and we met with a friend who had recently returned to India. We asked if he liked Hampi. It’s in ruins, he said. Bulldozers have moved in, and the place is being torn apart.

Hampi temple with ladies

This was Hampi as we remembered it

We delved a little deeper, researching what had happened to the little place we and so many others loved so much. We came across this Guardian article, and couldn’t believe it. Can we still save Hampi?

To cut a long story short, UNESCO and the Indian Archaeological Survey had decided to take steps to preserve the historical heritage of the area. Hampi is located within the ruins of Vijayanagara, once capital of the empire of the same name. The town flourished for 200 years, before being conquered by the Muslim rulers of the Deccan peninsula. The ruins scattered around the village are what is left of that city, called ‘India’s Pompeii’ by the Guardian journalist. Hampi has grown, surrounding the ruins, making it a living monument rather than an aseptic, soulless museum.

Hampi monkey view

A monkey enjoying the view of Hampi from Matanga Hill

In theory, preserving Hampi is surely a great thing to do. The way it is being done, though, is creating incommensurable pain and discomfort to residents. Just reading what happened gave me the chills.

One night, conservation authorities moved in, marking all condemned buildings with a red cross. The following morning, the bulldozers came, tearing down huts, walls, family stories, hopes and dreams. The population had been forced to move to a makeshift camp, away from the Bazaar, away from tourists and pilgrims, their livelihood. We wondered what had happened to the woman who made gnocchi for us. What had happened to the children playing in makeshift swings.

Hampi girl with puppy

Other former inhabitants of the Bazaar. I wonder where they are now.

With their livelihood taken away, men are forced to look for work elsewhere, often away from the camp. Women are left alone with children, and are often prey to other men, who gravitate towards them after too many drinks, knowing there is no one to protect there to help. There are plans to provide housing to the 326 evicted people. Plans that, a year after eviction, are still on paper. And there’s no price tag on family memories, on the lives and heritage of generations swept away by the bulldozers.

Hampi temple

What will be left of this beautiful place?

What will happen to Hampi? Sure, the monuments will be preserved. The access road will be widened, hotels built; not just rickety family guesthouses. The ruins will be fenced off, and a nice juicy entrance ticket will be charged. No more mess, no more huts, no more ragtag people that shouldn’t be there. A museum.

I wonder if it is too late to save Hampi. To save the mellow atmosphere, that drew so many of us there. But most importantly, to save its people. To give them a place back in their town, a new livelihood.

Hampi pool meditation

I wonder what will happen to this place

Hampi update

This article was written in 2014, 3 years after our visit. Our considerations on Hampi’s sad fate were mostly based on research, as you can see in the Guardian article we included. However, we recently became aware thanks to a fellow traveller that Hampi’s future may not be as bleak as we imagines, and threats of demolition so far are just rumours that have been going around for years. Is that true? We certainly hope so. Meanwhile, here is a post about awesome things to do in Hampi!





29 Responses

  1. Dave Cole

    Most people never deliver with their monkey-on-motorbike promises, glad to see you followed through! It’s such a shame that new buildings are replacing the home-stays/restaurants. The Hampi you experienced was a great mix of unspoiled life. I hope some of it can be preserved.

    • Margherita

      I hope so too Dave. I dread to think what’s it like now.

  2. Hannah

    Wow that’s so sad. It sounded like a wonderful spot, and I loved your photos. I can’t believe it’s basically now gone. Shows how quickly things can change….I hope everything worked out ok for it’s inhabitants.

  3. Alli

    Gosh you just take amazing photos. I love the photo of the monkey on the motorbike and the girl on the swing! The last photo is especially moving with the contemplation of what will happen to Hampi in the not too distant future.

  4. Sam

    I’ve heard Hampi whispered around the travellers grape vine in the same way you had – without much say of why it’s so appealing. I had wanted to go there very much, but these developments are quite off-putting. What a shame for the residents this is.

    • Margherita

      I would be curious to read how it’s like now… I hope this doesn’t mean it’s the end for Hampi. The place is really beautiful.

  5. Sammi Wanderlustin'

    Oh no 🙁 this is such a sad read. How can someone like UNESCO let this happen, surely the people that were already there should have been included in the plans not just shipped out and away. Heartbreaking! Is there anything anyone can do?

    • Margherita

      I’m wondering what we can do, I think it’s too late though. At least, the memories are forever.

  6. Ashley @ A Southern Gypsy

    I have never heard of Hampi and wonder if I will traveling around SEA later this fall. It’s sad to hear what’s happening and hopefully more of it can be preserved. I hope you enjoy your time left in India! 🙂

    • Margherita

      Hey Ashley, I would really like to know what’s happening out there… let me know if you do go.

  7. antonette - we12travel

    What a sad story. Even though it happens all over the world that some of the most special places are bulldozed away by people wanting to make money, you never realise as a tourist unless you actually hear about it…

    • Margherita

      So true Anto. Thinking about it breaks my heart.

  8. Pratibha

    We were in Hampi almost 10 years ago and remember that market. Sad as it is to read about the livelihoods impacted, I can’t help thinking that those in charge are damned if they do and damned if they don’t. The Guardian article is from 2012 but going by your friend’s update, things do not seem to have changed much since? As in the case of authorities all over this world, the best of intentions seem to get warped in execution and people with low-power and high-interest are left in limbo.

    • Margherita

      I’m really curious to see what’s happening now. The article is old indeed, and my friend was there just about a year ago, so I would be curious to get some recent updates. Thanks for stopping by!

      • Pratibha

        Caught up with a friend today who returned this week from Hampi. I asked about the bazaar area and he said it’s been moved away – so yes, it seems to have changed a bit but not that much. This, like I said, is an account from a friend and not a personal experience – will know more if we get there ourselves. Must mention however that I do not recollect reading any adverse reports in the media here recently and we live in Karnataka!

      • Margherita

        Hey Pratibha, this is why blogging is so great… there is always someone there who has more up to date info, and can really add to the story. Thanks for your comment. Maybe my memories are a bit romantic, and I hope that the recent development works will improve the living conditions of Hampi’s people. Thanks for stopping by!

    • Margherita

      Thanks Carly for sharing your post! there was not much difference between the Hampi you saw and the one I saw, yet within just a few months things have changed completely. So sad indeed.

  9. Chris Boothman

    It’s such a shame when you hear stories about local villages and towns such as Hampi that are dwindling away to be replaced by modern buildings and architecture. You really have to consider what is best for the community and whether renovation is better than preservation. In this case, I am not sure which is best and I guess everyone will have different opinions.

    Thanks for sharing such a personal experience with us, I am sure the worst aspect about this is that locals are going to be losing much of their heritage because of the changes.

    • Margherita

      Thanks for your great comment Chris. You’re right, there’s a lot to consider before voicing an opinion. I might be seeing things through the rose-tinted glasses of my memories, but it doesn’t look like things will improve for locals. I hope I’m wrong.

  10. Samantha

    Such a sad story but unfortunately it happens all over the world 🙁 I did enjoy your pictures. They are beautiful and they really capture the people and the place well. .

  11. Anna | slightly astray

    Margherita, this is such a beautifully written post about such a sad story. My favorite line – “Hampi has grown, surrounding the ruins, making it a living monument rather than an aseptic, soulless museum.” It makes me think about other historical monuments differently… that maybe, they too, used to be full of life and now is just a soulless tourist trap. It’s all in good intentions, but seems like they are destroying the place, rather than actually saving it..

    • Margherita

      Thanks Anna. I am glad you loved the post. I loved Hampi so much, this is the least I could do to preserve my memory. Thanks for your nice comment.

  12. Angie @ReasonstoDress

    This is so sad. honestly. There is a part of me that feels as though it is probably too late to save Hampi. I love the image of the village people that your story and photos creates. This incredible peace and happiness that once was, but I think that once the $ makes its way into the picture it becomes so hard to go back. I’m sure they could have found a happy medium between preserving the structures and ALSO the lives of the people of Hampi without creating this difficult situation for the residents.

    I also think we need to rethink what tourists really want to see. Isn’t staying in a rickety guesthouse a more authentic experience instead of a hotel. Isn’t seeing the child with a homemade swing more profound than visiting a museum gift shop.

    Whey is it that more importance is given to the lives of people who lived in the past and not to the people living right now.

    Thank you so much for sharing, and these photos have sparked a huge desire to visit!

    Angie from reasons to dress, fashion, real mom street style & life as a North American mom in Italy.

    • Margherita

      Thanks Angie. Thanks for your nice comment. I totally agree with you on this one. Maybe our views are a bit romantic, and it’s nice to think that simple means happy, when it is not often the case. If changes meant improving people’s lives, then I would have been all for it. unfortunately, it doesn’t sound like this is happening. I just hope I’m wrong.

  13. Frank

    Fantastic job on this post, the photos are incredible. I’ve never heard of Hampi and it saddens me the things we do for “progress” ie Capitalism. And it’s always the poor that suffer the most.
    Frank (bbqboy)

  14. Shikha (whywasteannualleave)

    I went to Hampi back in 2006 and had never heard of it before that trip in fact – I remember it being the highlight of my South India trip and like you say, the mellow atmosphere and the warm-hearted people. I’m so sad to hear that it’s now being described as being “in ruins” and the way the rennovations are happening are ruining the lives of local people. What a shame. Beautifully written post though.