A wonderful trip exploring the ancient kingdom of Hampi, India

Hampi…they call it a place of rocks and ruins . But for me it is a place that totally captivated my heart. Be you geologist or archeologist, this intensely arid landscape littered with giant boulders, rocks and intriguing architecture and civilisations, is the holiday destination for you. An ancient parched land, lies within an oasis of lush palm and mango trees, banana plantations, paddy fields and idyllically sprawls along on the banks of River Tungabhadra . I suppose it was my fascination with lost kingdoms and love of ancient architecture which attracted me there, like so many other adventurers from all across the world.

The ancient village of Hampi was once the Imperial capital of Vijayanagar, a 14th century empire in the south Indian state of Karnataka. A prosperous, wealthy and grandiose city with numerous temples, farms and trading markets which attracted traders from Persia and Portugal. However the Vijayanagara Empire and its capital was conquered, pillaged and destroyed by sultanate armies in 1565, after which Hampi remained in ruins.

It is however, a great place to spend a few days wandering the innumerable ruined temple complexes and discovering the rich, vibrant history, while also having time by oneself, soaking up the peaceful ambience and contagious relaxation. A solitary place but yet buzzing with life and I just love its quaint cafes, and the fact that life here is so wonderfully slow paced, injected with a very hippie vibe .

Hampi's ruins, which spread over 16 square miles, are now a protected UNESCO heritage site. There are more than 1,600 surviving remains of the last great Hindu kingdom including forts, royal and sacred complexes, temples, shrines, pillared halls, memorial structures, water structures and public infrastructure such as water tanks, baths and aqueducts.

Bicycle is the best way to explore Hampi . First port of call the is the 7th-century Hindu Virupaksha Temple, which stands in the revived Hampi Bazaar on the south bank of the River Tungabhadra. One of the city’s oldest shrines, and remains the only working temple and the principal destination for pilgrims and tourists, active in Hindu worship.

After hiring our bikes, we set off that morning, not really taking into account the intensity of the midday heat that was to come. But feeling energetic, excited and full of cycling enthusiasm we began our day trip armed with our map and intention. We soon realised however, by mid morning, the heat was overwhelming on a bike, with little to no shade until you reach your destination. So undoubtedly you end up being sun stricken, tired and grumpy very quickly.

However our first port of call was to see the carved Garuda stone chariot at the Vittala Temple, part of Hampis’ market complex. It is definitely the wow favourite for me. The elephant drawn stone chariot drawn, stands in front of a large stone open-pillared community hall with 56 carved stone beams. The pillars or columns have different diameters, shapes, lengths and surfaces, each column produces musical sounds when struck and is believed to have been used for ceremonies and rituals.

The two other really amazing locations for me that day, were the Stepped Tank, Square Water Pavilion, also called the Queen's Bath and the Royal Elephant Stables, whose Indo-Islamic architectural style was simply exquisite.

One of the highlights of my time in Hampi was of course the evening bath time with the elephants down by the river, where they would bathe and splash in the cooling waters and the evening sun.  I would rest on a rock by the waters edge watching the elephants playfully splash and jostle the children into the water while having their hooves and rough skin scrubbed and manicured with coconut husks.

Hampi’s most famous restaurant is the iconic Mango Tree, which boasts fabulous river views and relaxed ambience. There is a wonderful leafy green pathway of thick tropical banana plantations that leads to the restaurant. Serving typically authentic rustic South Indian food along with a variety of International options for the fussy travellers, the restaurant offers a wonderful experience, with terraced seating and a wonderful view of the Tungbhadra river. They have a fabulous swing where you can swing back and forth in the shade while you wait. Food is served on banana leaves and I loved everything that we ordered, from the thali, chapathi, mushroom pyaza, mango tree fried rice and the spaghetti with eggplant and cheese. Nice place to order a banana pancake and read a book under a fan during the heat of the day!

It is the wonderfully rich lush intense green banana plantations and palm leaves that continually inspire the colours in my silk collection. The deep vivid greens you’ll find throughout my designs and jewel purples, amethyst, rubs reds, sapphire blues and jade greens continue to be an inspiration for me. This silk scarf was inspired by the ounces of bananas

Debbie Millington