A Walk Through Heavenly Hampi
A near-mythical landscape of mysterious boulders, ancient temples and remnants of a 14th century lost city, Hampi is like nowhere else in India. Called the subcontinent's own Machu Picchu, this former capital of the Vijayanagara Empire is a must for both history and adventure lovers. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Hampi will cast a spell on you that will linger long after leaving. Explore the astonishing rock-strewn vistas and be immersed in a magical atmosphere humming with the romance of lost glory and natural splendour. Situated in the Bellary district of Karnataka, Hampi has recently gained two exciting luxury openings, both of which we are great fans of Ampersand.
Glamorous nomads The Ultimate Travelling Camp have set up Kishkindha Camp which opened this January. Nine colonial style tents are scattered throughout an idyllic site, featuring four poster beds, leather bound trunks and teak bathrooms. This is camping on an Out of Africa scale. A personal butler is on hand to provide the seamless, exquisite touches that TUTC has become known for. The menus are personally chosen by the chef from his own family recipes and highlights local cuisine using the seasonal ingredients. We love the moonlit cocktails and dining which allow fellow guests to compare notes and bond over the once-in-a-lifetime experience that Kishkindha Camp effortlessly provides. Handpicked specialists escort visitors to experience all the wonders of Hampi in true style. Our favourites, outside of the main ruins, include the Badami cave temples, birding on the River Tungabhadra and visiting the banjara (gypsy) women of nearby Sandur to explore their unique folk crafts.
Four km from the temple town, the astonishing and regal edifice of Evolve Back's Kamalapura Palace rises like a mirage out of its landscaped surroundings. Modelled on the region's Dravidian architecture with Indo-Islamic flourishes, the palace is newly built but inspired by Hampi's royal past. The lofty interiors are both relaxed and stately, plump for a villa with its own water garden and blissful bathrooms. Tranquillity is the order of the day at Kamalapura, complemented by the sublime spa treatments and, one of our 'barefoot luxury' experiences, a chance to explore the nearby lake and villages on an electric bike. Another unique touch are the in-house historians who bring the region's rich history to life each evening. Hampi has long deserved accommodation to match its glorious offerings and these fabulous launches are great news.
The ever-popular Mango Tree is our pick for dining in the town, run by three-generations of the same family in a tented interior close to the Virupaksha Temple. Melt-in-the-mouth Palak Paneer and buttery chappati are a delight. Hampi itself is divided by the dramatic Thankaludra River which can be crossed by 'coracle', a round basket-like vessel. The now barren Hampi Bazaar stretched over a kilometre of pavilions, was once a vibrant souk for silks, spices and silver being sold to traders from across the world. Lovers of architecture and legend will adore the 15th -century Vittalla Temple complex, an extravagant example of South Indian religious devotion. Said to have been built as a home for Lord Vishnu who rejected it as being too grand, the temple houses two fascinating gems in its complex. The 'musical' stone pillars, 56 in all, emit various notes when tapped, a phenomenon that has baffled visitors for centuries. The British cut two in half to try and decipher the mystery, they are still to be seen today. The other treasure is the ornately-carved stone chariot, one of three to be found, the others being in Konark, Odissa, and Mahabalipuram, Tamil Nadu. Local folklore has it that the world will come to an end if the chariot is ever moved from its sacred spot. The towering Virupaksha Temple is still very much alive and populated by pilgrims, priests and monkeys as well as a resident temple elephant, Lakshmi. Dating from around the 7th- century, this magnificent sight survived the brutal Muslim pillage of Hampi in 1565 and thrives as the beating heart of the town. Echoes of royal life are to be found at the Queen's Bath and Zenanna enclosure, once only seen by eunuchs and the king. Take in the arching elephant stables, in time past used by the British to store archaeological remains, and the well-preserved Lotus Mahal.
Sunrise or sunset is an enchanting time to visit the hilltop Monkey Temple, 4km from Hampi and said to the birthplace of Lord Hanuman, the monkey god. Another temple worth seeking out is the Mustard Seed Ganesh Temple with its awesome 8ft monolithic statue of the elephant god, carved out of a single piece of rock.
There has been no better time to experience the soulful atmosphere of this unforgettable corner of Hindu South India.