Why now is the time to travel to Hampi in southern India
Many people imagine the colourful saris and grand palaces of Rajasthan when they think of India. However, for me, Hampi – in the southern Indian state of Karnataka – is the epitome of ancient Indian history and culture. Once the centre of the formidable Hindu Vijayanagara Empire in the 14th century, it was an area of magnificence and opulence celebrated for its unfathomable wealth under the leadership of Emperor Krishnadevaraya. Today, the Group of Monuments at Hampi is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. We recommend three nights here – two at a push if you have limited time – and can arrange for you to explore these impressive sites by car, bicycle or on foot, and accompanied by one of the best private guides out there.
On my recent trip, I arrived in Hampi in the afternoon and was met by my guide, Viru, who took me straight to the Sasivekalu Ganesha Temple, before enjoying a gentle walk up Hemakuta Hill as the sun was setting. From the top, I marvelled at the 360Â° views over the golden, dusty countryside strewn with gigantic boulders.
I returned in time for dinner at Evolve Back Kamalapura Palace, my home for the next two nights. This palatial hotel has been designed to mimic the Lotus Mahal, which can be found in the Zenana Enclosure among the ruins. The effortless blending of historical architectural techniques with modern-day luxury comforts and the exceptional local cuisine made my experience here an unforgettable one.
The next day, we explored Hampi Bazaar, the once-bustling old market, before jumping into a wicker coracle and drifting down the Tungabhadra River to the Vittala Temple, a masterpiece of Vijayanagara architecture. The journey through the rocky ravines is dotted with remains of temples and pavilions.
Afterwards, I entered the Zanana Enclosure, where I saw the beautiful Lotus Mahal, an ancient palace built in a distinctive lotus-like structure, and the grand, Indo-Islamic Elephant Stables, once used to house the royal elephants. One of our favourite experiences in Hampi is to set up is a wonderful picnic at Talari Ghat, near the river crossing, with simple but scrumptious food.
On my final morning before my flight back to Bengaluru, formerly Bangalore, Viru took me to the site of Anegundi, a lovely village on the northern bank of the Tungabhadra River that is, in fact, older than Hampi. Part of the World Heritage Site, the most famous structure here is the Huchappayana Matha Temple, with its black-stone pillars and sculptures. We were also able to explore a nearby jaggery farm, where I saw ladies hard at work making that sweet substance from sugarcane.
Until recently, Hampi required a big effort and several days to visit. But since the opening of its small airport, short daily flights from neighbouring cities, such as Hyderabad, mean that now is the time to go. Still very under-explored, the ancient stories told so vividly by my guide, Viru, have left their mark on me, and since as much as 90% of Hampi is yet to be excavated and discovered, I am ever eager to return.