A landscape of surreal beauty provides the setting for the ruins of Vijayanagar, the once-glittering capital of southern India, which was laid to waste in 1565 by invading armies from the Sultanates of the northern Deccan. Only the city’s temples survived the onslaught, although with one notable exception they now lie deserted, their pyramidal gateway towers and weed-infested walls rising against a backdrop of red-brown granite boulder hills and banana groves.
You have to get up well before dawn to catch the site’s most iconic view: the spectacle from the summit of Matanga Hill of the sun rising above the ruined Achutharaya Temple. To the west, meanwhile, the first rays of daylight illuminate the huge, cream-coloured gateway tower of Virupaksha, Vijayanagar’s principal shrine and the site’s only living temple, which rises from the far end of Hampi village, the modern settlement that has grown up amid the remnants of the old bazaar.
It’s impossible to imagine how this once glorious capital would have looked in its prime, though the palace complex on the south side of the archeological site hints at the wealth and grandeur that so dazzled European visitors in the 16th century.
Hampi is one place where it pays to wander. Jump on a coracle across the Tughabadhra River to reach the hilltop ‘Monkey Temple’ – another fabulous viewpoint -- or follow the sandy tracks east through fields littered with chunks of carved masonry and discarded colonnades to discover forgotten cave shrines and reliefs sculpted from giant boulders. Views back upriver are dominated by the mountainous Virupaksha, its tower looming above the surrounding canopy of palms, as pilgrims bathe and wash their clothes in the sacred water below it.