Now for one of India’s ultimate experiences. This super-deluxe wellness hotel sits right beside one of India’s most extensive and impressive historic sites, the medieval city of Vijayanagar (now nicknamed ‘Hampi’ after its original village). In its early 16th century heyday it was described by western visitors as greater than Rome. The setting is surreal and expansive – a 3.4-2 billion-year-old undulating granite and scrub landscape which looks as if giants have been hurling huge boulders from their hill-sized stashes, some lone stones landing so precariously that they may continue to roll about at any moment.
The longer you stay at Evolve Back Hampi the better. First, you need to get there. The easiest way is to fly to tiny Vidyanagar airport, where your suitcase is off-loaded beside the plane which then departs, and you wheel it to the cars hoping yours is among them. Your driver’s smile is both welcoming and a relief. It’s a 30km country drive to the hotel. (The alternative is a six-hour drive from Bangalore.)
Then, wow! You are on the Bollywood film set of a palatial baroque extravaganza, the long drive passing a row of guest villas to reach the main building. Everything is monumental and classy. All rooms are suites, the smallest is 815 square feet, the largest is your own Vijayanagar-inspired water palace covering 2,600 square feet - worth the price. Lofty columned corridors lead to spaces for reading, socializing, playing games, and swimming in an infinity pool overlooking open landscape. From the historic local recipes to the brass water-shoots on the basins, the overall inspiration is Vijayanagar and especially its hero ruler, Krishnadevaraya, a Renaissance man who expanded the empire, wrote great poetry, patronized all culture, and promoted inclusiveness of all religions and peoples.
It is easy to spend a week here, mixing Evolve Back Hampi’s sumptuousness – including Ayurvedic treatments and walks led by the resident naturalist - with feasting on Vijayanagar’s classy monuments whose riotous carving documented the parades, festivals, trading and court ceremonials of this international city. And there is more: outings to local villages, and a recommended overnight trip to see an earlier set of India’s wonders at Badami, Aihole and Pattadakal. Oh, and make time to hang out in Hampi village, the still thriving origin of the great city, with cafes, shops and a busy temple with its own elephant leading the processions.
Must-do wellness experience: sunrise climb up Matanga Hill to see Vijayanagar spread out below.
Evolve Back Hampi buzz phrases: ‘Which Ayurvedic treatments are you having?’ ‘Do you want to see my amazing room?’
Ideas for unpacking your kind of slow-down wellness at Evolve Back Hampi
Play at being an explorer. Walk, hike and bicycle to 'discover' your own abandoned temples, gateways, two-story bazaars, even medieval restaurants and lone sculpted rocks. Find quiet spots to sit and red, sketch, meditate. Take a ferry across the Tungabhadra to explore some more.
Choose between the hotel's two fine restaurants. Tuluva, named after the dynasty that brought Vijayanagar to the height of its extent and power, reflects that international culture. Bhamani remembers an earlier nearby sultanate power whose Persian and regional Indian cuisines were refined at the Vijayanagar court - as shown by this fragrant thali incorporating historic recipes.
Monkeys roam the boulder-strewn landscape, constant reminders of the Ramayana, the Hindu epic about the triumph of good over evil. Hindus believe this region is where some key events took place, such as Rama's alliance with Hanuman and the monkey and bear armies who would help him save his beloved Sita, abducted by Ravana.
Learn how to create your own kolam to enjoy quiet meditation and promote prosperity. Across South India, women make the free-flowing geometric patterns of curved loops in front of their homes each morning - their five minutes' peace. Although the purpose is to invite ants, birds and small creatures to eat as part of nature's harmony, Evolve Back Hampi's kolams are flower petals arranged around a multi-tiered brass lamp ceremonially lit at sunset.
Take trips into the villages to find sari weavers making traditional dramatic silk and subtly-striped cotton, as well as markets selling locally grown spices. Well-established NGOs work with villagers to revive and adapt almost-lost crafts. If you want to stay put, the hotel store has great stock!
Episode 10 visits The Postcard's one-key Portuguese mansion at Cuelim, Goa
Good news! There is 'vaccine light' shining into our Covid lives! Is it now time to start planning your Unpacking Wellness experience?
As we emerge into a more cautious world, I have designed some slow-travel Unpacking Wellness experiences that can be enjoyed privately or in a small group. They are suffused in wellness, interaction is controlled, crowds are avoided. You pick and mix your selection from four week-long, in-depth visits to South Indian spots I especially love - on plateau, coast, forest and delta. Do one, two, three or all four.
Dates: October 2021
If you have not traveled with me before ....
Please know that we experience great sights in the best possible way, with lots of add-on encounters and visits to offbeat places.
We meet conservationists, curators, craftsmen and musicians, we walk with naturalists, we cook with local chefs.
In sum, we imbibe the essence of each area thanks to my four decades of studying and visiting India - and making great friends who I share with you.
For private travel ....
I work with you to create your tailor-made trip to any corner of India, to any budget, for all interests and special needs, for families and parties of friends, for business groups and for honeymoon couples - India is ideal for everyone!