It was a long journey to the hallowed ruins of Hampi. A flight change at Hyderabad and a tiny roller coaster ride through a tiny trujet flight later, we finally arrived at the Vidyanagar airport. The airport was so small it looked like a corporate office of an MNC. We walked down from the plane to a bus stand type structure where our bags were delivered via a smallish trailer a little while later. The entire experience seemed surreal and it was just the start of our journey.
It took us a short 45 minutes’ drive to reach Evolveback Hampi and the route was mostly uneventful. That is, except for the last stretch which is made on the lines of the old roads in the Vijayanagar Empire. Though it looks and sounds authentic, it’s not quite the best option as far as car maintenance and even our body maintenance goes. A huge gate in what appears to be a long stone wall leads us inside and a gong is struck to announce our arrival. Quite the classic touch. We were welcomed with a ‘Tika’ & Garlands. The cold towels and the welcome drink, a concoction of coconut milk and some dry fruits served right after were what was much needed.
Our stay at Hampi was for 3 nights and it still felt kind of rushed. There is a lot to explore in Hampi and we simply didn’t have enough time. The ruins are vast and though they were broken down into four different experiences called “trails” by the Evolveback team, it still felt like we could have given it even more time. The temples are gorgeous and the huge balancing boulders will resonate with the closet instagrammer in you. The name Hampi itself has a very interesting origin story. In Hindu mythology, this place was where goddess Parvati, originally known as Pampaa, pursued lord Shiva. The Kannada translation for Pampaa is Hampa and the place where the event happened was called Hampe, further anglicized to Hampi. However what was surprising is that there is no particular city called Hampi per se. In concept it defines the region where the ruins of the Vijayanagara Empire are located and hence is also referred to as the Group of Monuments at Hampi by the Unesco World Heritage Centre.
Our first impression was that team behind Evolveback Hampi has done its homework well. The palace, built from scratch is a grandiose building with a striking local architecture, filled with plenty of lotus filled water bodies around. The colours of the structure are earthy yellow for exteriors and muted white for their interiors. We were told that all materials and designs used for building and decorating the property is sourced locally and this is a prime example of responsible tourism. Vaidyashala -the Ayurveda wellness centre, Bahamani – a Nawabi cuisine restaurant, their library and an inhouse shop for souvenirs is housed in a complex called the Lotus Mahal. The structure is supposedly a replica of the original Lotus Mahal which is renowned monument in the palace complex of the Hampi ruins. Although the building is hardly a minutes’ walk away, given the scalding heat of the Hampi afternoons, its best to visit it early mornings or late evenings or ask the reception to arrange a buggy to take you there. It sounds exaggerated but trust us, you’ll thank us for the tip. Tuluva – the main restaurant faces the adults infinity pool which in turn faces a wide water body, modelled on what is locally known as pushkarini or holy water. These are rectangle shaped water bodies which accompany most big temples and are used exclusively for bathing the idols and once or twice in a year, there is an elaborate event where the idols are seated on boats and taken for a trip around the pushkarini as part of a ritual. In lines with the local architecture, there is also a mandappa which is a raised platform covered by an ornate dome and usually used for performances. The mandappa at evolveback however is used primarily for arranging special dinners. A nice touch if it is executed well.
Our room was another story altogether. We checked-in into Nivasa which was their lowest category room. However we were impressed. The room was spacious if not sprawling with a huge four poster bed as its star attraction. The bathroom area in comparison was a bit cramped and we really feel they could’ve done without the bath tub inside. That said, it was in no way lacking and the ceramic bottles for the shampoo, conditioner and moisturiser was a good touch in favour of the responsible luxury the group stands for. The limelight however was taken by the lovely Jacuzzi in the balcony. We have never stayed at a property which offers a Jacuzzi in their lowest category rooms and this was quite a nice touch. That said we would have preferred the Jacuzzi to be indoors given that it was fairly open to insects, monkeys and prying eyes. We weren’t trouble by either during our stay but we can imagine the condition of a person if they’re suddenly accosted by a monkey while relaxing in their Jacuzzi.
The interiors and the Jacuzzi aside, we felt the best touch was a RO filter tap right inside our room. Bye bye plastic bottles, hello water on demand! This is something we feel every hotel should adopt to eliminate the tourism evil that is plastic bottles. We’ve never seen something like it before and we were blown away by the practicality of it! The best part was that these portable RO filters taps were placed at strategic locations all around the property especially in the activity centres, eliminating the need to carry water anywhere. In our opinion there are a lot of hospitality brands which talk about sustainable travel and responsible luxury but fail to go beyond the bare minimum. A conscious effort is what defines a brand’s ethos and evolveback certainly feels like it is doing its part.
The hot weather notwithstanding, it was a real pleasure experiencing their hospitality. Coming to the food, unfortunately it really didn’t match up to the high standards of everything else. Not to say that the food was bad, it was quite good actually. However when everything else seems so perfect, being just great really doesn’t cut it especially when it comes to something like food. However that is our personal bias and only for their vegetarian options on their menus. The breakfast options were plentiful and definitely ranks among the bigger breakfast spreads we’ve seen. That said they’ve got a lot going for them as far as ideas go. They’ve got two alternating menu options with a few differences between them and though it does not really make a big difference to the food experience per se, it’s the little things like these which add up. In the short duration of 3 nights we also managed to experience 3 different dinner settings. One was a buffet by the pool, one was a proper dining experience at Tuluva and on our last night, at Bahamani. Though a lot of bigger resorts have various themed restaurants for their guests, we were pretty impressed by how they went about creating a dedicated experience for their guests which went much beyond an ordinary meal.
We usually judge a property by its service levels. This is especially true for a boutique luxury hotel because the personality of the property is in essence defined by its staff whom you interact with the most. However given that this property is hardly a year old and still going through its formative years, we would like to hold on to our views and maybe visit it again after a couple of years and tell you how it fares. That said, the upper management and the front desk is pretty responsive and we saw them regularly approaching the guests for feedback on their stay experience which is always a positive sign. A small tip for new guests, Abhishek who handles operations should be your goto person for most things. He knows his stuff and we found him willing to go the extra mile to get things done.
To summarize, Hampi is a great destination to relax especially for families with kids, as the place is brimming with culture and stories. Evolveback Hampi however is also great for couples as the property is big enough for one to easily find their little space. To put things into perspective, the property was at about 70-80% occupancy when we were there and apart from the dining area, we seldom found the place too full or even noisy. The experiences they offer are great but for couples and passionate photographers like us, we would recommend you sign up for an exclusive guide especially so if you have your own car. We were lucky that we were never on a trail with guests who objected to us stopping ever so often for pics, but we can easily see families with little kids getting annoyed by it. While there, do go for atleast a couple of trails with them, they are well designed and the guides are fantastic. If it helps, they also took some really good pics of us, always a major plus in our books. We rate a hotel not through a checklist but through our experiences and evolveback Hampi manages to convert every part of it as one. Be it the Palace ritual every evening where Keshav, the flautist starts by playing an evening raga and then tours the entire premises accompanies by two women burning incense. Apparently this is a ritual of all local palaces and hence followed here as well. Move to a trail experience with their in-house guides and discover a new side to the ruins even if you’ve visited them before. Or simply relax the entire day and attend the story-telling sessions at Deep Mahal in the evening where one of their experienced guides shares a story about the region with the guests. We’re yet to come across a hotel which can proudly share their story-telling sessions as one of their USP’s, until now. The Vaidyashala – Ayurveda spa is another hidden gem. We went for a 60 minute full body massage and it was fantastic. Just make sure you book it in advance as there are only 2 rooms, one for males and one for females. If it isn’t clear yet, we’ll speak it out loud. We absolutely loved our stay and can easily be convinced to come back especially during winters. If you’re anything like us, so should you.