After Goa, our next stop was Hampi – a world heritage site, and also India’s premier climbing destination.
Hampi is a tiny town, nestled in an otherworldly landscape of ancient temples, verdant green rice paddies, and endless hills of orange boulders. The town itself is split into two by a wide meandering river; the major area is the Bazaar, made up of temples, guesthouses and touristy shops. Across the river is the far quieter Hampi Island, which contains a small selection of guesthouses and the main climbing areas.
We arrived by train in nearby Hospet just after dusk, and set about the usual game of negotiating a rickshaw ride to our accommodation on Hampi Island. We were informed by our driver that, due to heavy rain, the ferry crossing the river from the Bazaar to the Island wasn’t running, and so the only way to get to Hampi Island would be to take a 50km rickshaw ride around to the nearest bridge. After several weeks in India we had heard a lot of fishy tales like this, and so we asked to be taken to the crossing regardless. When we arrived half an hour later it turned out that, due to heavy rain, the ferry crossing wasn’t running!
We ended up staying overnight on the mainland, before taking the long rickshaw ride around to Hampi Island the following day. Spending 2 hours on a rickshaw, on prodigiously potholed Indian roads, with one cheek perched on the front seat with the driver (as we shared a ride with 2 Korean girls) is definitely not recommended! It was a relief when we finally arrived at the Goan Corner, where we stayed for the next week. This is where the majority of climbers seem to stay, and we enjoyed our time here – a relaxed atmosphere, friendly staff, good food, and hammocks outside every room! Most of the other climbers we met were friendly and down to earth, though there were also a fair number of ‘cosmic energy’ hippie stoner types. A choice quote we overheard – “You know man, you don’t choose the plan, the plan chooses you, you know?”.
Hampi first rose to fame as a climbing destination in the 2003 bouldering film “Pilgrimage”, and climbers from around the world have flooded here ever since. Only a small proportion of the boulders have been climbed, and there is almost limitless scope for development.
Despite the hype, after our first couple of days climbing we weren’t sure whether we liked it here. The granite boulders are characterised by small, sharp crimp holds, which are painful on the skin. It is also really hot, all year round. This means that for the best climbing conditions (as cold as possible, to improve the friction of the rock) you need to climb at dawn and dusk. Good conditions don’t really exist – even in the depths of winter, the temperature at 5am doesn’t dip below 15 degrees Celsius. By 9am, it’s too hot for any serious climbing, with conditions only improving again at about 4.30pm, before sunset at 6.30pm!
After a few more days we started to get into it a lot more. Our skin started to toughen up, we got more used to the hot conditions, and the grades started to feel a bit less harsh. Charlotte and I both got stuck into projects, and climbed some top class lines. Charlotte was chuffed to climb a classic 6A+ (‘Crimpy Piano’) with a scary top out, and my highlight was a technical sloper problem at 7A+ (‘Why Like This?’). Not exactly big numbers, but after 2 months of no climbing, and having initially struggled, we were both pretty satisfied.
As no climbing happens during the main part of the day, we had plenty of time to explore the local area. We hired bicycles and cycled to a nearby reservoir for a refreshing swim, and the following day to the nearby Hanuman Temple. This is said to be the birthplace of the Hindu monkey God, and is built atop a hill flanked by a winding staircase of 500 steps (and a lot of monkeys!). We made the classic error of arriving in the midday sun, collapsing in a sweaty mess in the shade at the top, before eventually summoning the energy to head back down.
We also spent an afternoon seeing the sights back over the river in Hampi Bazaar. The temples here date back to the 14th century, when Hampi was the capital of the Hindu Vijayanagar empire. The architecture of the temples is stunning; the layers of the temple structure become progressively smaller with height, creating a distorted perspective of size. The carvings and statues on the outside of the temples are beautifully intricate… and also highly explicit in a number of cases! However, beyond the architecture we didn’t find the temples particularly interesting, and thought that combined with a wander through the markets, an afternoon in Hampi Bazaar was sufficient.
We were in Hampi for almost a week, and in terms of the climbing we felt like this was about the right amount of time. The hot conditions and short time windows aren’t conducive to hard climbing, and whilst some of the problems are fantastic, many others are fairly basic lines of (painful) crimps. On a purely climbing basis, we felt that the same length of time could be better spent at one of the classic Euro venues, such as Font / Magic Wood / Albarracin etc.
However, aside from the climbing, Hampi is a fantastic place to relax. We met a lot of interesting people, there are things to see and do nearby, and the setting is unparalleled. As the majority of the day is too hot for climbing, we found ourselves spending a lot of time chatting, eating and chilling out; moreso than we would on a normal trip. On a typical day we would head out climbing at 6am, be back at the restaurant by 9.30am for a game of chess over a lazy breakfast, have lunch chatting with friends, wander out for a couple of hours in the afternoon, head back to the boulders at 4.30pm with others, then back to the restaurant in the dark at 7pm for a well earned Indian feast!
As a hybrid of a holiday and climbing trip, Hampi is pretty tough to beat.