“It’s like another planet.” Spoken by a new friend met while traveling around India, my skepticism of this bold statement was compounded by the effort needed to get to Hampi. To get there from our houseboat in the lush Keralan backwaters, it took four tuktuk rides, two buses, one flight, and one speedboat ferry. It’s only natural, after all, that getting to a new world would take 24 hours and so many forms of transportation.
Hampi, a UNESCO heritage site, is split into two sections by the river — on one side, the ruins of the last Hindu kingdom in Southern India are a jungle gym for archaeologists. With no barriers blocking visitors from touching, or even climbing the remains of this empire, one could imagine Indiana Jones bringing his kids here to play. The ruins emit an oldness, more ancient than the Acropolis or Rome, yet were built only 500 years ago. The more than 1600 monuments sprawl across 16 square miles, encompassing royal palaces, markets, temples, and even elephant stables.
The other side of Hampi feels like a collage of a dream world: Joshua Tree boulders tinted millennial pink, with fields of rice patties and lone palm trees superimposed in the valleys between the rosy monsters. The nightly ritual of clambering up the boulders to watch the sun set is almost involuntary; without being told, every visitor is drawn to the same place, all joining together with percussion instruments and chai to celebrate the end of another day.