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Secret Hampi Ruins & New Routes

Something of a secret, Hampi’s amazing temple ruins are now far easier to access – but go now before everyone else catches on.

Hampi - India

Hampi has long been one of India’s most incredible places to visit, an archaeological marvel and UNESCO World Heritage site offering wonderment on a par with the Taj Mahal or Varanasi’s funeral pyres. But there were two fundamental hitches: it was a huge pain to get to, and there were no good-quality hotels when you finally did make it. Now, that’s all changed and Hampi is more viable than ever before.

The Ease of Arrival

Previously, travellers determined – and you really had to be determined – to visit Hampi either had to get a long-distance coach or train, or drive 89 bouncy miles from the nearest operational airport, at Hubli. Now, however, commercial flights have resumed to Jindal Vijaynagar Airport, just 15 miles and an easy drive or cheap taxi-ride away.

Ruins, Boulders and Banana Trees

So what makes Hampi so amazing? Its size is what first staggers, with some 550 impressive ruined 14th-16th-century temples and palaces strewn across ten miles of terrain. This is cultural fascination on a large scale; a tourist site of lottery-winning proportions. History explains the bounty: though now just a chilled out town, Hampi previously served as the last capital of Vijayanagar, once one of India’s greatest Hindu kingdoms.

    Scattered about the sepia‑coloured edifices are huge boulders distinct to this part of southern India, plus palm groves, banana trees, dazzling green paddy fields and the snaking Tungabhadra River. There are Hindu pilgrims, too, who come to worship. It adds up to a beautiful, magical setting – the kind you’ll probably dream about for weeks.

    Each historical monument has a fascinating story to tell, best described by charismatic expert guides. Most striking is Vittala Temple, which includes a hall whose 56 pillars make musical sounds when tapped. Then there’s the oldest temple, Virupaksha, home to an iconic rock chariot, and Monkey Temple, clambering on which you’ll find plenty of the eponymous, cheeky creatures. The best way to get around is by bicycle, in a tuk-tuk or on foot, following trails through the various puras (suburbs). Allow two or three days for relaxed, sufficient exploration time without rushing.

No Filter Required

The lowdown

  • Best For

    Temples & history, adventure, off the beaten track.

  • When to go

    November to March

  • Combine with

    Hyderabad and a stay at the suitably opulent Taj Falaknuma Palace or Bangalore for an extended Karnataka and Northern Kerala trip.

Professional or amateur photographers will be especially seduced by Hampi, so constantly bewitching and luminous is the setting. Most memorable are sunsets from atop Matanga Hill, Hampi’s highest point where the ancient site is bathed in a pinkish hue. In early mornings, soft light coats those giant boulder piles – rocks reckoned to boast some of Earth’s oldest surfaces on the planet – and the crowds are pleasingly thin.

Where to Stay

Until recently, Hampi boasted little more than budget, backpackerstyle hotels, and lacked anywhere luxurious. The arrival of Evolve Back Kamalapura Palace has categorically scratched that itch. Set along the Tungabadra Canal, close to the ruins, it’s an opulent 46-room affair of fine fabrics, grand bathrooms and vast living areas. Guided tours of Hampi are offered, there’s Ayurvedic spa treatments, a Zen-like infinity pool and a snoozy reading room awaits to revive tired limbs. There are two restaurants, too, both Vijaynagara-inspired and serving a high-quality blend of continental and Indian cuisine.

Life in Hampi hasn’t been this good for centuries…

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