The colour of Hampi is sepia. It’s not the soft sepia of old photographs, but a deep brown that seeps into all your senses and dulls them after a while. It is the colour of the dry earth, the imposing hills and the precarious rocks of the region. It is also the colour of the temples, monuments and ruins that this ancient village in South India is famous for. The stones in Hampi bear witness to centuries of history; both the glorious triumphs of succeeding rulers as well as the destruction wreaked by nature and by invaders. Standing among the ruins, one wonders what local chieftains Hakka and Bukka, founders of the prosperous Vijayanagar empire, must have seen in the miles of barren, rocky land to inspire them to build their kingdom there in the early 1300s. Sprawled over a large and hilly area, Hampi has always been on the radar of discerning travellers from both within and outside India, but a new airport near the town and a few luxury hotel openings have put it on the global travel map this year. After a visit to the kingdom in 1520, Portuguese trader Domingo Paes is believed to have written that Hampi was as large as Rome, but even from the top of a hill, “I could not see it all because it lies between several ranges of hills.” It is, however, possible to take in all its highlights in a weekend. Here’s our recommended itinerary. Day one: morning Check into Evolve Back luxury resort and after breakfast at its Tuluva restaurant, which serves regional delicacies, head out on a Raya Trail with the hotel guide for stories of the Vijaynagar kings. This new resort has been modelled after the grand palaces of ancient kingdoms, and its imposing facade and arched hallways give visitors a sense of what to expect before they head out to explore the temples and ruins. Hampi is divided into two main zones – the sacred centre and the royal centre. Most tourists spend time at the old temples, but the area where the kings actually lived and ruled from is equally fascinating. Take in the Zenana enclosure for its beautiful Lotus Mahal with its pink walls and elegant arches, the elephant stables, and the queen’s bath, a communal bathing area that served as a space for social gathering among the upper-class women of those days. Stop next at the King’s Palace complex with its geometric stepwell known as kalyani or pushkarni where water was stored in all seasons, and the navami tibba platform – a stone plateau with intricate carvings on the sides of the steps – from where the kings reviewed Dussehra festival celebrations. Leave time for the Hazara Rama temple where the story of the Hindu epic Ramayana is narrated in the form of bas relief images on the walls, and the Krishna temple where the black granite pillars gleam in the sunlight. Afternoon After a simple south Indian thali lunch at the Mango Tree restaurant, a popular landmark in Hampi for many decades now, head to the Unesco-listed Vitthala temple. The Vitthala temple is located inside a complex made up of smaller temples and monuments, including the elaborately carved stone chariot in the open courtyard, and the dancing halls with their wall sculptures depicting the life of the royals, from music and dance to warfare and administration. The highlight of this temple, however, is the Mahamandapa (central hall) where the king’s favourite dancers performed specially for him. Each of the tall pillars holding up the roof emits a musical note when struck (although it is banned now for the sake of conservation). The temple complex also has the fascinating King’s Balance, known as the Tulabhara, a structure with massive scales on which rulers weighed themselves against gold and precious gems to be distributed among their subjects or given as offerings to the gods. Evening Take a leisurely walk up Hemakuta hill to watch the sunset cast a golden glow over the boulders strewn carelessly across the landscape. The 360-degree view from the hilltop gives you an idea of how brown and green the Hampi region really is, with coconut plantations and paddy fields interspersed among the arid hills. Then head down to the 15th-century Virupaksha temple at the bottom of the hill. Dedicated to god Shiva, this living temple is Hampi’s sacred core, complete with a resident elephant that will place its trunk on your head in blessing in exchange for a few rupees. The main tower of the Virupaksha temple dominates the landscape of Hampi, towering over 49 metres with its nine tiers. Day two: morning If you wake up early enough, then step out for another easy climb up Matanga Hill on the opposite end of the road from the Virupaksha temple to see the sunrise. Stop by the relatively less touristy Achyutaraya temple at the base of this hillock and walk out through the short stretch of boulevard that was once the courtesans’ bazaar – imagine it ringing with the voices of women accomplished in the fine arts, and the clink of their golden bracelets and silver anklets. Those who prefer a slower start to the day can sleep in, skip the hike and pay a visit to the Daroji Sloth Bear sanctuary near the resort to see these honey-loving, termite-eating bears in their natural habitat. Otherwise, sign up for a bicycle tour of the ruins with a company such as Hampi Tour or Trodly and explore the town on two wheels. Around 8.30am every morning, the playful temple elephant Lakshmi is given a ritual bath by the mahout in the stretch of river right behind Virupaksha, an experience that will delight young travellers. Afternoon Take refuge from the afternoon heat at the archaeological museum in Kamalapura near the “royal zone”, which showcases the history of this kingdom. Apart from the several statues and idols, coins, and porcelain shards, there is a miniature model of Hampi, placing the monuments within the context of the larger topography of the land. Afterwards, visit Anegundi, a small village that is believed to feature in the popular Hindu epic Ramayana. It is on the other side of the river to the workshop and boutique run by Kishkinda Trust , where local women have been trained to create exquisite handicrafts, personal accessories and home furnishings from locally produced banana fibre. Evening You will have seen enough of monuments by now, so wind down with a leisurely stroll by the banks of the Tungabhadra river, watching locals at work and play. You can see women washing their colourful nylon saris and waving them in the air for a quick dry, self-proclaimed holy men in saffron robes and yellow turbans with peacock feathers sticking out for added effect, and Western backpackers in their loose cotton multicoloured yoga pants. Perhaps to make up for the monotone of the land, the people of Hampi fill their surroundings with as much colour as possible. If time permits, hop on to a coracle (small round boats made of woven reeds) for a short ride on the river, just for the experience. This has been a trusted transport mode here for centuries, with even bicycles and motorbikes carried on them now. Getting there: From Hong Kong, fly into Bangalore and take the overnight train to Hospet or the short flight to Bellary, from where Hampi is just half an hour (13km) or one hour (38km) respectively by cab. Staying there: There are several small guest houses and B&B options near the main market area. For a more luxurious option, the Evolve Back resort just outside town is recommended; prices are from US$332 per night, inclusive of taxes. The Ultimate Travelling Camp is set to open in October, adding to Hampi’s glamour quotient, with exclusive luxury tents that come with personalised valet service and guided tours around town.