Hope everyone’s had a good Christmas and summer break and has returned refreshed for 2013. A couple of years ago I was having a different sort of Christmas break travelling in India. While there I visited Hampi, a history-laden town in the southern state of Karnataka.

Despite much of Hampi having world heritage status, it has an abundance of what felt like ‘real’ life throughout. Several-hundred-year-old temples are still in use and it is a place for pilgrims and some industry, conspicuously banana plantations. What’s remarkable about Hampi is the sheer volume of cultural and religious architectural heritage. When I visited, minor historic structures had been appropriated into shops, while others sat neglected beneath trees, along the deluge-prone Tungabhadra river and abandoned throughout the broader rocky landscape.

The saturation of historical and architectural novelty creates a uniquely immersing landscape of relics and spaces. The expected tourism infrastructure does exist but not to the degree to which one has become accustomed. There isn’t signage prescribing every facet and access is minimally restricted. This contributes to a place that can provide a sort of tourism of space and form, removed from an excess of prescribed narratives. In this way, a day’s walking becomes less about tick-box destinations and more a general amorphous appreciation of spatial narratives, textures and architectures.

The surrounding landscape of giant boulders and rocky hillocks – occasionally interspersed with banana palms, another forgotten temple or processional route – suggests an endlessness to the historic landscape. The activity and colour that once would have adorned and identified these many structures is long-lost rendering a continual terrain of terracotta and green.

Of more discrete interest were the many and varied expressions of water throughout the landscape. Sometimes these are ceremonial in the manner of channels or structures from temples feeding sacred pools, and sometimes practical, such as the extensive river terraces built to accommodate its huge fluctuations experienced in monsoon season. An extra layer, of drainage effectively, pervades the spaces and structures and offers an alternative way to read and interpret the landscape.

Hampi provides a rich and remarkable experience for the spatially-inclined and comes highly recommended to the landscape architect. It also raises a few interesting questions about the dominant modes of tourist interpretation and the impact this can have on the experience of cultural landscapes. -NJ