The golden hue of the rock, the other worldly landscapes, the unbelievable scale of thousands of boulders, Hampi is a climbers heaven on Earth.
Ever since the classic Chris Sharma film ‘Pilgrimage’, Hampi has been top of my list to visit, and as CMK’s resident boulderer I felt it was my duty to go and see the place for myself. Situated in the southern Indian state of Karnataka, Hampi is an important religious site with many amazing temples located within the boulders that litter this sensational landscape. The area is so unique it has been listed as a UNESCO world heritage site. For me personally the landscape in Hampi is one of the most amazing I’ve ever seen, the scale is incredible.
My girlfriend and I flew into Goa (there is no direct flight to Hampi), it’s a very tourist friendly area with many hotels and guesthouses and a great place to chill out and relax after the long flight. The flight was 9 hours in total, we did not fly direct however so a stopover in Muscat (Oman) was included within our flights. From Goa you have two options to travel onward to Hampi, train or bus.
We decided the seven hour train journey was our best bet, compared to the overnight bus, but bear in mind the trains in India are a nightmare to book and you can’t just turn up at the train station and expect to just buy a ticket. Over a billion people and not many scheduled trains, it doesn’t take long for us to realise we were not getting the train to Hampi. On a side note you can book the train on the ‘make my trip website’, although this does entail sending many personal documents through and as I found out is not always successful.
This left us with the overnight bus which was much easier to book. The buses run from the Panjai area of Goa which happens to be the capital of the state. They run overnight and are sleeper buses, but good luck sleeping (very bumpy), and take a blanket as the Air Con is cold! The ticket will cost you around 800-1000Rs (£9.75-£12.19) each.
The good thing about taking the bus is that you get dropped in the Hampi Bazaar right in amongst all the temples and the boulders.
Hampi is basically split into two areas, the Hampi Bazaar area and Hampi Island. To get to the Island you do have to make a river crossing, now depending on the time of year you visit you can either wade across or take the ferry as denoted in the above map. We managed to rock hop across the river to proceed on to Hampi island were the main bouldering areas are situated.
There are many places to stay on the island, but a lot of the guesthouses don’t book online, so my advice is turn up and have a look around. Goan Corner guesthouse is one many climbers might have heard of before, this guesthouse is right next to the boulders and even has a famous arete problem named after it. It is however a good ten minute walk from the main street, where the hub of the island resides.
We stayed in the Goan Corner at Nargilla’s guesthouse while we were in Hampi. Expect to pay around 400-600 Rs (Rupees) £5-7.5 per night for a basic room with shower (and the shower is needed). Both guesthouses were accommodating with nice areas to chill out in the heat of the day and have great value food on offer at all times. The coconut banana lassi is a must try! A typical meal will cost around 250Rs (about £3), with a huge variety of styles of food, but steer clear of meat (a lot of power cuts in India, no fridges for hours at a time). Drink loads of bottled water, but make sure its sealed when you buy it!
In terms of climbing equipment we only took shoes and chalk, we thought that transporting crash pads across India might be too much hassle to deal with.There are two climbing shops in Hampi, but be forewarned it is really hard for the shops to get hold of climbing equipment, so they are not well stocked. The Tom and Jerry climbing shop in the centre of Hampi main street is where we went, the young guy Jerry (we never met Tom!) is an absolute legend. You may recognise him from the Hampi Local video that gained popularity last year. (https://vimeo.com/134398755).
Jerry, without doubt made our trip. He hired us some pads and basically acted as our guide to Hampi, both in climbing terms and in helping us book taxis and trains all the stuff that can be difficult in India. I highly recommend seeking this guy out and using his services, also he is a brilliantly talented climber.
The bouldering itself was way beyond anything I imagined with countless amazing lines to be climbed. The area is the largest boulder field in the world, and with many areas undiscovered, I can only see this place getting a lot more attention in the next few years. With a hugely varied grade spread there is everything from your easy ups to the most gnarly problems.
The general Hampi style is very crimpy with a lot of small sharp holds, the holds bite harder than the snakes, you will need a decent pain threshold here. My advice is take it easy for the first few days and build up some resistance in your skin. You do actually begin to enjoy the bite of the holds under the fingers. Obviously the crimpy nature of the holds mean you need to take care of those digits. Very easy to blow a pulley here. You’ll need plenty of tape and tonnes of chalk. Bring this with you as it’s really expensive to buy here. Because of its bulk to ship it’s really hard for the local shops to import this most basic climbing tool.
The rocks are a perfect shape with lots of ‘stand alone’ boulders surrounded by the most perfect landings. A lot of these problems can be high, so be prepared to get your highball on! Also get used to down climbing problems usually this is the best/safest way down, stack some pads below just in case of a slip! Most of the rock is solid but there is the odd ‘crispy’ crimp, give it a quick tap if you are unsure, if it sounds hollow be careful with it and think light thoughts!
It is impossible to climb in the middle of the day in Hampi any time of year, it is far too hot. The best conditions for me were early in the morning, and when I say early I mean 5am early, it starts to get too warm even by 9am. Evenings also are a decent time to climb if you are not an early bird, although the rock was still hot to the touch even at 5pm. Bring a light for night sessions, nothing like down climbing highballs by head torch!
A typical day climbing in Hampi is rather like this; wake up 5am, coffee, quick flick through the guide, walk to the boulders, crank hard (or easy), 10am back to guesthouse food and sleep, chillout until around 4.30-5pm, climb again until dark (and longer if you have a light), back to guesthouse, food, beer, bed, repeat.
I managed to climb some brilliant lines while I was in here, and a lot of the problems where not in the guidebook (Golden Boulders, Geoquest thanks to Jerry, yet another reason to seek this guy out so he can show you some out of the book bangers!).
Only by the end of the trip did I start to feel like I’d ‘climbed in’ to the area. The particular style of the rock and climbing really suited me (I like small holds!). If only I could have stayed longer. My girlfriend Jo also really enjoyed the climbed. Having said before we left she wasn’t bothered if she didn’t climb anything on the trip, she climbed amazing well and managed to top almost everything she tried.
Plenty of temples, sights and lakes to swim in on rest days (you will need them), hire out a scooter and explore. Scooters can be hired from many places in Hampi and will cost you around 500Rs (£6) for the day.
To sum it all up the climbing, the people and the country just makes this place a must if you are a climber regardless whether you are boulderer or not. Once in a lifetime experiences are had in Hampi.
On a side note I noticed a lot of rumours about the Hampi site changing due to the site being part of the UNESCO world heritage sites, basically demolishing the guesthouses/businesses to encourage tourists to stay in Hospet (the nearest large town). I spoke to locals about this they said to me that this has been an ongoing situation for many years, without a lot of the rumours coming to fruition. To me this does not make any sense, this move, I feel, will discourage tourists rather than encourage. I think the best remedy to this is to get out there and climb, this will show that Hampi is an important area to one of the fastest growing sports in the world, and it makes no sense to close down the guesthouses and businesses here.
Live long Hampi, I will be back!
About the Author
I’ve involved myself in many different activities throughout my life but it was climbing that I really took to. Something about the lack of skin and throwing yourself tirelessly at the same piece of rock really spoke to me.