My most recent trip took me to Hampi - one of the worlds largest archaeological sites. When we arrived to when we left there was not a moment we were not awe struck. Just being in a heritage site was enough to give one goose bumps.
We hired cycles to bike around, which was great considering none of us had done that since we were in school, and this also gave us the freedom of getting around at our own pace, just riding through the ruins and stopping if something looked of interest was fantastic.
The places to stay in Hampi itself are very basic and are quite cheap, however we stayed at the KSTDC Mayura Bhuvaneshwari which was very comfortable & is about 8km from the Hampi, you can commute by autos, cars or as we did it cycles. This also turned out to be the only place that served alcohol & non veg - main Hampi serves only veg food with lots of shakes, juices etc.
The two places we loved eating at were shathi cafe and mango tree. Though more shanthi cafe - their lemon cake, pizzas and pasta's are outstanding not to mention the very psychedelic ambiance the place had.
Apart from what guides tell you about the places you must visit in my opinion the very first temple we saw the Virupaksha was definitely not my most favourite & clearly the highlights of the trip for me were the Vittala temple, the Jaggery Factory & the coracle ride on the Tunga Bhadra. The Vittala temple was about a 2.5 km bike ride from the KSDTC hotel and on our way our very chatty friend arjun found out from the locals that there was a jaggery factory en route. We stopped off saw how the jaggery was made, got some amazing sugarcane juice from a very dubious looking mug & of course got jaggery to eat.
The Vittala temple was beautiful. It was across a huge expanse maintain amazingly without it taking away from what it originally was - smaller temples around it, the huge bazaar and a bath - it was truly breathtaking.This temple also has the very first form of music know to us - via set of pillars popularly known as the musical pillars. Unfortunately we could not touch them to hear them.
The coracle ride was how we wound up at 2 days in Hampi - along the tunga bhadra, it was so serene and beautiful, also our boat man was very chatty and told us so much about what was on either side of the river including letting us get off trek across the rocks a bit to see an amazing maze of 108 small lingams & another of 1000 odd. All along this trek almost every rock had a sculpture, unique in its very own right hidden in crevices and under rocks.
The architecture in Hampi fascinated me it was such a mixture of indo - Islamic in some places, in others so mythology based and in others it looked Burmese. Another friend of mine Vijay educated me through his blog on how the artisans from here were actually then sent across India to work - so maybe all these styles really originated here in Hampi and later became unique to certain regions & cultures across India. It was sad to see the lenghts & the effort taken to destroy Hampi / Vijayanagar Empire.
I studied all about the Vijayanagar Empire it rule its destruction in my 11th & 12th history, sadly i hardly remember too much of it & wished i had made this trip when i was studying it - it would have made so much more sense & would have been knowledge that would stay with me for the rest of my life.
I highly recommend you do Hampi on a cycle when you do it - and ensure you go on all the small roads and keep getting off you can literally explore this place and find something on every turn.
It was one of my most educative trip by far and am now looking forward to doing more trips like this to build my knowledge of India & the wonders it actually has.