It's the middle of the night but I'm wide awake. I'm at Bangalore Station, waiting for the night train to Hospet, the closest stop to my final destination: Hampi.
Around me the station is alive with the clamour of countless voices; some laugh and chatter in excited tones, others cry as they say goodbye to loved ones.
The high-pitched calls of vendors selling chapati and chai tea rise above the din; the aromas that come from their goods mingle with incense and a hundred other implacable scents. Women in brightly coloured saris catch my eye before disappearing into the crowds. The night train arrives and the bustle of the platform is amplified as I enter the close quarters of the carriage. People get comfortable and share the food they've brought with them. As the atmosphere settles, I drift into sleep punctuated by fitful dreams of Hampi.
This ancient village straddles the Tungabhadra River. On one side, bustling bazaars spread out before monuments and ruins that date back to the Vijayanagara Empire. On the other side Hampi Island is a more peaceful area with a number of guesthouses and restaurants, and is the site where, after a bumpy tuk-tuk ride, I arrive.
I waste no time, ditching my backpack at the guesthouse before grabbing my camera and starting to explore. The scenery is surreal. Regal palm trees contrast with massive red boulders that balance atop each other as though they've fallen from the sky. Paddy fields and banana plantations backdrop temples that rise imposingly from the earth. In the nearby river, women wash their long, colourful saris while men and children bathe and splash water at one another. Some pilgrims relax on the banks; others gather around the ancient monuments, their presence filling the air with an aura of spirituality and tranquillity.
Studding the side of a hill, a cascade of boulders provides a natural walkway to a sunset viewpoint. I make my way to the top and find my spot. Accompanied by the sound of a guitar being played by another traveller, I watch the sun set against the mystic landscape and I am filled with a sense of peace and happiness. It's not hard to see why Hampi is often described as magical.
This isn't a place where you'll find trendy bars and restaurants or lavish hotels. It's a place of myth and legend where you can get back to nature and immerse yourself in local culture. It's an oasis fixed in time and unlike any other place in this world.