Hampi, India

Waking with the hangover that follows a night spent on a sleeper bus, I exchanged a weary look with the anonymous frenchman in the berth next to me. We had endured sharing an impossibly tight pair of bunks, rolling into one another at every turn. The reward for our tribulations was a breathtaking glimpse of daybreak over our destination: Hampi.

Surfing out of the bus door and over the jostling crowd of rickshaw drivers, I made my way across the river to a travellers paradise. The guesthouse ghetto of Hampi sits outside the main bazaar, passage to which is earned by navigating a leaky, barrel-like ferry service. “It only cap-sizes occasionally” a local tells me with a grin.

In Hampi, the very foundation of earth itself seems to push through onto the plains. Boulders of incredible proportion are tossed in all directions and the prehistoric aesthetic is further complemented by scattered ruins of an expansive royal palace. In a sigh audible with resignation, a portly tourist from Bangalore tells me that, were it not for the destructive efforts of an invading army some 500 years previous, a great wonder of ancient architecture would stand before us today.

Many visitors come here with the intention of a few nights stay only to leave a month later wondering where the time went. It is a familial environment and those wishing to take stock of this need only spend a moment in any of the small cafes lining the main drag. Cafes which transform throughout the day into living rooms for both tourists and locals to share a boxed-rum, kingfisher or psychedelic experience. In the evenings, melodies of indian flute, drum and the occasional didgeridoo float into town from jam sessions in the hills above.

I rise early one morning to make my way north. The air is cool and calm. I pack my bag quietly and leave before anyone stirs. It is a wonderful feeling this: freedom, perhaps. I slip into a rickshaw out of town and, for a time, nobody in the world knows where I am.

The Virupaksha temple, the only functional one of its kind in Hampi, stands over the town bazaar
The Lotus Mahal: one of the most beautiful buildings in the Zenana enclosure just outside Hampi A young man skillfully paddles his vessel (one of the towns more daring ferries) across the shallow river dividing Hampi
After her morning bath in the river, Lakshmi the elephant is painted with Hindu symbols inside the Virupaksha temple. She collects donations and bestows blessings upon visitors
Prehistoric boulders and fields of maize surround the guesthoust ghetto A local man poses for a photograph
The enduring stepped tank: one of the most stunning monuments left intact inside the ruinous royal enclosure