Among a surreal landscape of golden-brown boulders and leafy banana fields, the ruined “City of Victory,” Vijayanagar, better known as Hampi (the name of the main local village), spills from the south bank of the River Tungabhadra. This once dazzling Hindu capital was devastated by a six-month Muslim siege in the second half of the sixteenth century. Only stone, brick and stucco structures survived the ensuing sack – monolithic deities, crumbling houses and abandoned temples dominated by towering gopuras – as well as the irrigation system that channelled water to huge tanks and temples, some of which are still in use today.
Thus, Hampi’s monuments appear a lot older than their four or five hundred years. With its wooden superstructure burnt and past buried in ruins, excavations by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) can only piece together the fragmented history of this sophisticated city. Grappling with years of encroachment and the constant tussle between preservation and modernization, the Hampi World Heritage Area Management Authority (HWHAMA) has controversially pressed ahead with plans to revamp Hampi Bazaar and the adjoining “heritage zone”. Yet, at least for the time being, the serene riverside setting and air of magic that still lingers over the site, sacred for centuries before a city was founded here, make it one of India’s most extraordinary locations. Many find it difficult to leave and spend weeks chilling out in cafés, wandering to whitewashed hilltop temples and gazing at the spectacular sunsets.