The massive fort like entrance to the newly opened Evolve Back Hampi seems vaguely out of place at first. As does its distinctly Indo-Islamic architecture. It isn’t until we discover the eclectic mix of styles in the Hampi ruins that evening, that we appreciate the range of symbols and narratives used here to reinterpret the spirit of royal Vijayanagara.
Located just four km from the edge of the famed UNESCO heritage site, this eco-resort is the third in the Evolve Back Luxury Resorts stable and surely its grandest.
The dominant theme is borrowed from the royal enclosure of the Rayas, complete with water bodies reflecting scalloped arches, and a pool with a mini pavilion that mimics the pushkarini (temple tank). Meticulous copies of temple murals grace otherwise stark, but airy public spaces.
The rooms are all relaxed luxury, minus the glitz of urban boutique hotels. The richness of the deep red, white and purple palette grounded by the dressed grey granite floor. Three categories – the (relatively!) basic Nivasa room, the Nilaya terrace suites and the Zenana palace suites are housed in the main building. The eight independent Jal Mahal pool villas to the left of the driveway are the most opulent. The employment of local village girls to drive the golf carts that ferry villa guests to and fro is a nice touch.
My sister and I are so in love with the enormous corner Zenana suite we are initially allotted, that we actually decline an upgrade to a pool villa. I do not use enormous lightly here….we have a biggish entrance foyer, separate living and dining spaces, a spacious balcony, and a large bedroom with a daybed (that sis hogs the entire time!). And an ensuite bath as big as my city apartment. Well, almost.
All rooms regardless of size or degree of luxury, bear signature eco resort touches. Drinking water dispensed from built in reverse osmosis units. Traditional sweets in glass topped wooden boxes (replenished daily). Hibiscus blooms floating in little stone containers. Best of all, fragrant Coorg coffee sachets and a french press to brew it in!
A replica of the Vijayanagara Lotus Mahal, a few metres to the right of the main building, houses the luxurious Vaidyashala spa. On the floor above is the Bahmani restaurant serving rich Nawabi cuisine, best experienced over candlelight dinner.
The Tuluva restaurant in the main block, is a bright, casual space that we enjoy lingering in over breakfast and complimentary evening tea at the end of an exhausting hike through the ruins, and on long lazy evenings at intimate settings around the adjacent pool. The exceptional quality and variety of food on offer is the last thing we expect in a property this remote. The meats are always perfectly cooked and the mocktails, especially a watermelon, ginger, spice concoction, worthy of mention. (Pity they don’t own a liquor licence yet.)
Chef Santhosh even picks up on our disappointment with the absence of vegetables in a standard Indian menu (besides the usual potato/paneer/mushroom culprits) and surprises us with a stunningly colourful meal one afternoon, that pleases our eyes as much as our palate.
A combination of four of their curated heritage experiences lures us out of all that pampering and ensures we engage fully with the magical ruins of Hampi and the stories and legends they encompass. The Vittalapura Walk that meanders through one of the many villages of the erstwhile empire, crowned by the exquisite Vijaya Vittala temple and its iconic stone chariot, the Raya Trail through the royal enclosure that affords a glimpse of the pomp and pageantry of the Rayas, the atmospheric Tungabhadra Trek along the tranquil river and its boulder strewn banks littered with religious shrines and icons, and the Virupaksha Trail that begins at golden Hemakuta hill and descends to the imposing Virupaksha temple that predates the Rayas of Vijayanagara.
I could not have asked for a more perfect Hampi experience. Except perhaps if they could have somehow got the Sun God to make an appearance…