We’ve visited Hampi—the ruins of Vijayanagara, the center one of south India’s most powerful medieval kingdoms—three times now, and have always found something new to see (or seen the same thing in a new way). Built into the granite hills of central Karnataka state and straddling the Tungabhadra river, Hampi is a 40-square-kilometre treasure trove of ancient temples, crumbling palaces and boulder-strewn natural beauty. Some even say that the ancient city was built on the ruins of one even older—the mythical monkey-city of Kishkinda, home to Hinduism’s Lord Hanuman the monkey god, devoted follower of Lord Rama.
For those not in the know, the Nilgiri hills are part of the Western ghats of India, where the states of Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Kerala meet, and whose most famous tourist trap is Ooty (AKA Ootacamund or Udhagamandalam).
Most visitors to the Nilgiris take in the sights and sounds of Ooty and its populated environs without realizing that the seemingly-infinite tea plantations on the hills offer a completely different experience, far from the madding crowd and closer to the wild. This is what we were aiming for when we left Hyderabad for Bangalore to join my brother (a dedicated conservationist) and his family and head into the hills. Our itinerary was Hyderabad-Bangalore-Mysore-Ooty-O’Land Plantations, and our destination was O’Land Plantation, an organic tea plantation about two hours’ drive beyond Ooty.