By Chris Arthur
It’s hot and humid. You’ll probably get ill at some point. The transient nature of many other visitors there means you'll spend a lot of time re-introducing yourself. These are just three reasons not to go to Hampi on a bouldering trip. Fortunately, there a many more compelling reasons to add it to your list of places to visit. Hampi burst into the collective consciousness of the bouldering fraternity in the early 2000’s with the release of the seminal film ‘Pilgrimage’ , starring Nate ‘biggy smooth’ Gold and a couple of other americans. If you haven’t already seen this, I urge you to do so. The area is designated as a United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) World Heritage Site for its temples and other monuments. It is steeped in cultural history, although these grandiose structures create a bizarre juxtaposition with the modern concrete block buildings which nestle between the expansive golden granite boulderfields. And the boulderfields are extensive, really extensive! As far as you can see in all directions is a sea of rock, the vast majority of which has not been explored or documented from a climbing perspective. It’s overwhelming to see the future potential of the area.
The wildlife of the region is rich and varied. Monkeys are undoubtedly the most conspicuously exotic animals, from a British perspective and are prevalent throughout the area. Lizards are also ubiquitous, but whilst snakes are certainly present, they are largely nocturnal and so encounters with them are highly unlikely. The birdlife of the area is incredible, and the sheer numbers provides a stark contrast to the pastoral wasteland of the UK. No less than four species of kingfishers inhabit the area; the vibrant, shimmering blue of the white-throated kingfisher is particularly stunning. Bright green bee-eaters, wild peafowl and little grebes riding on cattle are just a few other avian highlights you may see. I’m probably banging on too much about the wildlife so I’ll reign it in a bit now. Suffice to say, there are plenty of other amazing things you might be lucky enough to see if you keep your eyes open, including a crocodile… The last major incentive to visit is the cost of living once there. A three week trip including accommodation and three meals a day cost me less than £250. That’s ridiculous. Before you travel A visa is required to visit India. The easiest way to do this is to apply for an electronic tourist visa. This costs [at the time of writing] £40 and is completed entirely online, with your passport being stamped once you arrive. The limit for this type of visa is 30 days, and so if you plan to stay longer you will need to obtain a different type, instructions for which are on the aforementioned website. Rupees aren’t available outside of India, so you’ll need to get some on arrival. There is a kiosk at Bangalore airport from which to do so, and several cash machines.
Return flights to Banglalore (Bengalaru) cost just shy of £500 at the time of writing, with a short layover in Dubai. From here, a sleeper train to Hospet (Hosapete) is the most logical solution, though the masochistic could probably take a coach. There are three train stations within reach of the airport, all of a similar distance. A taxi to Bangalore city junction station cost about 1200 rupees (£12) and took an hour or so, so its worth factoring that into your calculations. The train cost us about 1000 rupees (£10) each way for an AC Two Tier bunk, which is basic but comfortable for the roughly ten hour overnight journey. There are cheaper options from about £2.50 and a more luxurious cabin, but we found the aforementioned class to do the job. Trains fill up quickly so its worth booking at least a few weeks in advance via www.cleartrip.com. Like all websites pertaining to India, this is a nightmare to navigate and will require you to send scanned copies of your passport to customer services in order to create an account. Once in Hospet, you’ll have no trouble finding a rickshaw to take you the last 12km or so to the village of Hampi. This will require some haggling, so the price you’ll pay will depend on your ability to do so. We were propositioned with 500 rupees (about £5), and beat them down from there. When in Hampi, most climbers stay on the island, which is what we did. The rickshaw will drop you at the ferry which costs 10 rupees each, plus an extra ten for large bags. Thats about 20p overall.
Where to stay
There are plethora of guesthouses both on the island, within Hampi itself, and further north near the other documented climbing areas. We opted for the Goan Corner on the island on the advice of a friend and found it ideal for our needs. It’s adjacent to much of the best island climbing areas, the owners are friendly, and the inevitably basic accommodation is very pleasant. They also offer an excessively varied menu, which is all much tastier than the prices would have you believe. Wi-fi is available, but its very limited, as it is at other restaurants and guesthouses. There is a single plug socket in the rooms which takes a standard two pin plug. Our double room with en suite shower and toilet cost us 750 rupees per night (about £7.50). This was the upper end, with smaller en suite rooms and rooms with shared facilities also available. It’s unlikely you’ll find a self catering option, and supplies are hard to come by in Hampi itself, so expect to eat out three times a day. Whilst I’m sure most, if not all, guesthouses in the area are equally friendly, I really can’t speak highly enough of the staff at the Goan Corner, who are an absolute pleasure to be around and bend over backwards to make you comfortable.
Thankfully, Hampi is in a ‘low risk’ area for Malaria and so tablets for this disease are generally considered superfluous. The mosquitoes are pretty bitey at dawn and dusk though, so a suitably earth destroying dose of DEET is probably a worthwhile addition to your luggage. Free vaccinations for Hepatitis A, Tetanus and Typhoid are available on the NHS, so you might as well get these done prior to flying. Rabies vaccination is worth considering, but is costly and requires three injections spread over a month so needs a bit of forethought. Toiletries are obtainable in Hampi if you forget them, but any medical supplies must be brought from your point of origin; plasters, antiseptic, painkillers etc. We learnt to our peril that obtaining some broad spectrum antibiotics from a pharmacy prior to arrival in Hampi would have been a very wise decision. Hygiene, unsurprisingly, is pretty poor on the whole. Refuse is piled on the side of the road and burnt, after being scavenged by feral dogs and corvids, amongst others. General advice is to avoid tap water (and any derivatives such as ice or salads which may be washed in it) and stick to bottled water. Thankfully this is cheap at about 20-30 rupees a litre (the Goan corner sell 20l drums for 150 rupees which is a sage investment if you opt to stay there). Eating piping hot food is another favourite adage you’re likely to hear recited, and probably worth adhering to. Many people will choose to become vegetarian for the duration of their stay. We ate chicken sparingly but did not suffer any consequences on such occasions. Basically, everything you do or eat is running the gauntlet to some extent, so you’ll have to find your own position on the continuum between boringly cautious and excessively decadent.
Hampi, the island and all other conurbations in the vicinity are small and tourist orientated, offering little in the way of supplies. There are many small stalls that will sell you toilet paper (you need to supply your own), snacks and various bits of tat, but don't expect to easily obtain much else. The ‘German bakery’ on the island does excellent cakes though. Money can be either changed, or taken out with a debit/credit card from any number of ‘travel’ shops in the area, and with better exchange rates than available at the airport. There is a very small climbing shop run by local hero Jerry on the Island if you need more chalk tape, etc. Pads can be hired from guesthouses. We got ours from the Goan Corner for 100 rupees per day per pad. They’d seen better days but the foam is good and thats the main thing. There is phone signal throughout the area, but the price of using your phone is typically debilitating. Wi-fi at most restaurants and guesthouses exists but is very limited. The Climbing As far as conditions go, it’s hot. But it’s always hot. You won’t find yourself fretting about good conditions and how it was colder the week before you got here, because it wasn’t. You just get on with it and confine yourself to early morning and early evening, with some extensive pottering/reading in between.
A recent publication (link at the base of article) provides the most comprehensive guidebook to the area which is very useful for deciding which areas to head to and navigating between problems. There are, however, many problems not included and so a degree of exploratory curiosity will come in handy. The climbing here caters for all styles from slabs to roofs. The vast majority is crimpy walls, but lovers of aretes will also find their appetites particularly well catered for. The plethora of areas on the island which are easily accessible from the adjacent guesthouses would keep many people entertained for several weeks. Further flung areas can be roughly categorised as ‘South’ or ‘North’. Those to the South are scattered amongst the tourist infested temples and during the day you may be dissuaded from climbing here. I must admit, we did not venture to these areas to climb. To the North are several areas scattered on the Setuwe plateau and around a large reservoir. The nearest of these is c.2km from the Goan corner, and so potentially accessible by foot, but the further ones would need a lakeland mentality for such an approach. An alternative is to hire a scooter from any number of eager vendors in the village for c.150 rupees per day.
Sun sloper (6A), Cosmic Friction (6C), The Shield (6C+), Why Like This (7A+), Japanese Jump (7B), Indian Summer (7C - SS 7C+), Rishi Special (7C), Middle Way (8A).
I feel it’s worth a few lines to describe bouldering in Hampi, as it’s so different from most destinations (that I’ve been to at least). You won’t find many seasoned heroes climbing here, with most people being of the student traveller ilk who have dabbled at climbing in the past and want to stop for a few days/weeks as part of a longer trip. Of course, there is likely to be some other obsessive folk around, but the feel is generally relaxed and social with little emphasis on big numbers. During the middle of the day its often sunny and around 30 degrees, making it too hot to climb for most sane people. Consequently, you’ll find yourself sitting around and reading in the shade (other pastimes are available) for long periods. Although my travelling partner managed some cracking problems during our time here, to me this felt more like a relaxing holiday than a bouldering trip, and you’d do well to bear this in mind when considering a visit. I would stress that is in no way a criticism and that it made a very welcome change from the norm; lounging about, eating good food and getting a sun tan are so often overlooked in favour of eating pasta in a cold tent in pursuit of hard climbing.