Bouldering Among Ruins and Sadhus in South India
The author finds a rock among the ruins in the South Indian city of Hampi.

A decade ago, legendary rock climber Chris Sharma shot the documentary Pilgrimage, and unveiled the ancient South Indian city of Hampi to the climbing community as one of the best bouldering spots on earth. Tens of thousands of boulders sprawl over this 300 square kilometer landscape strewn with temple ruins that are up to 1,000 years old.

Still, few have been able to climb here, since doing so meant dragging crash pads and gear across the ocean, through gritty Indian train stations, and into miniature rickshaws. Those days are over.

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Last October two local Hampi-ites, Vikas and Kaushik, established the first climbing rental shop in the sun-beaten town. They rent crash pads, shoes, and chalk, and teach lessons for around 2 dollars a day. "In Hampi, most lines are V2 to V6 [in terms of difficulty], great for average bouldering. Though we have lines all the way open to V14," Vikas said. Many of the holds are incredibly small – "crimpy" in climbing language – so even after a few days we noticed our grip strength increasing.

Boulders stacked upon boulders create tiered platforms, so that after completing one climb, you can immediately transition into an entirely new boulder without returning to the floor. In this way, climbers can ascend a pile of boulders stone-by-stone without ropes, but still get high up above the ruins and rice paddies.

Climbers can sleep in any of the beach shack-style huts at the edge of insect-thrumming rice fields and watch the primordial landscape go mars red. "Most people stay at least 3 months," said Kaushik. Don’t pay more than a few dollars per night for lodging at the Goan Corner. If ever the day’s climbing becomes lackluster, there’s also the option of exploring the more than 2,000 Hindu temples in the region. And make sure to rent a motorcycle ($5) from the local touts to ride out into the ruins – you’ll likely meet a lone sadhu smoking ganja beneath the most perfect boulder in the world.