Hampi – A strange and familiar home…
You know that feeling when you go back to a place after a few years and find it hard to recognize the place? Well Hampi is one place that has frozen in time and resisted any such changes! Time still stands still in Hampi! Things never change in Hampi, people never change in Hampi, the calmness in the air never changes. They’re almost like the centuries old ruins of the Vijayanagara empire, unharmed, unspoilt, protected from any influence from the modern world. Everytime I go there, it’s exactly the same as I left it last, and no other place has given me this comforting feeling on every return visit. Only the experiences are different each time.
Extremely tired post the overnight journey in the sleeper coach which has been the most uneasy and unruly ride I’ve ever had, thanks to our bus driver, who must’ve been a stunt driver before settling for this job. He made sure that all the passengers on the bus were thrown out of their sleeper beds with every turn. We tied our backpacks to the window, Sumi would hold on to them and I would hold on to her, trying not get thrown off at reckless turns! With backpacks on our shoulders, we stepped out of this bus from hell, into the blue in the wee hours. Night stood still, there were silhouettes of huge boulders around us, there was a sigh of relief and excitement for this leg of our expedition!
We got off on the temple side and wanted to stay on the countryside by crossing the river on a boat that started as early as 7:30. We decided to go to Matanga Temple to watch the sun rise above the arid landscape. We climbed up to the top and were struck by the sheer vastness of the Vijayanagara empire basking in all its glory in gold, lit by the sun. Two things to do in Hampi, which absolutely are a must are, watching the sunrise and set atop a new hill every day. Sitting there watching the sun shine and the place illuminated is one of the most overwhelming view one can have in Hampi & only here.
The first sunrise
When we got back to the banks of the Tungabhadra river, the morning rituals had already begun. The ghat was lined with pilgrims taking a dip in the holy river, a majestic elephant and his caretaker. The mischievous elephant was swimming swiftly in the river, happily sprinkling water from his trunk on everyone around him. It seemed like he was taking orders from a saint who was also in water with him, both in a joyous mood, welcoming a brand new day.
We crossed the river and stopped at a cafe to have breakfast. Our first encounter with Vishwa & Shanti (14 & 9 years old) two mischievous kids who we didn’t know we would meet every day from there on, were at the cafe. Vishwa’s a very intelligent little tea seller and Shanti, his confederate whose beauty is mesmerising. They are local tea sellers during the morning, regular school going kids by the day and tour guides as the day sets.
Vishwa and Shanti
We formed an instant friendship with the two while they tried to sell us their tea at the cafe. Vishwa insisted that we stay at his brother’s guest house but we had that figured out already. We were going to stay at Bobby – One Love, also known as Steve’s place. Steve, an Italian guy from Malta, who manages this place tucked away from the crowd, across a couple of rice fields, in a quiet place among the coconut trees.
Vishwa and his friend snooping in my laptop on my workstation
Steve has been living in India for the last 7 years and has put his heart and soul in this guesthouse. He is a very kind hearted, simple man, leading a simple life. It might not be the best place to stay in Hampi, but for me, it’s home. It’s like living on a farm where people are great, food’s greater, the days are long and nights even longer.
I met my childhood friend Samar who had come to see me for a day. Coincidentally, it was her birthday that day. Somehow, universe ensures we meet on her birthday in a strange new place, without any prior planning. The year before this, was Andaman and now, Hampi. She’s my favorite travel partner and I was more than happy to have the birthday tradition continue.
We didn’t have anything on our mind as to what we’d be doing in Hampi or how many days we’d stay there. It seems like Hampi has it’s own time zone which is far less paced than rest of the world. There are no sights or activities in particular other than visiting the ruins here. The best things to do here remain either doing nothing or taking a bicycle and hitting any road. Also, one thing about this place – there is no mobile network but there’s super fast internet almost everywhere which makes it a perfect location for me (or anyone for that matter) to work. Our typical day in Hampi would involve waking up early (but taking our time), having a nice healthy & hearty breakfast with other travellers, helping out Steve a little and leaving for the day on our bikes.
The weather was unpredictable this time. It would rain anytime of the day and we would often get drenched before we could even find a shelter which could be a tree or a random house. Riding around hampi is an experience in itself, especially in the late afternoon when the cattle grazers and shepherds are returning home with their herds.
Postcard from Hampi. Picture credit – Sumi Mathai
Sanapur lake is one of the most beautiful places in Hampi. It’s basically a massive reservoir. You can enjoy a coracle ride in it during the sunset. Some bravehearts were jumping in the lake from top of a boulder while we watched in amazement with our mouth wide open.
Sanapur lake reservoir. Picture credit – Sumi Mathai
We met a couple of guys from Bangalore – Kestar & Kunal who were trying their luck with rock climbing. They were also staying at Steve’s. I went with them one morning to try my hand at rock climbing and well, it wasn’t easy. Hampi, with its iconic boulders has been a favourite spot amongst climbers. Many professionals come there every year to conquer them while kids already have knack for it. Including little Vishwa. He would climb up on these rocks like a lizard climbs the wall. Kester & Kunal knew these rocks very well and would navigate through the mountains with utmost ease, while I would get lost looking for bigger boulders. The cuts & bruises over their bodies are something they proudly show off, calling them ‘Tattoos.’
Kestar & Kunal
One of the days we had an interesting & mesmerizing visitor!, Kunal’s friend’s found a chameleon crossing the road & brought it him home. It was a beautiful green, wild CHAMELEON, slow as a tortoise. Everyone at Steve’s was excited to have this new guest. It was getting accustomed to it’s new place by crawling up my arms and head, on the bamboo roof, familiarizing itself curiously with each and every corner, maybe it did decide to move in!
Martina and her new friend
Every evening, we would climb up one of the hills to get a panoramic view of the ruins and the paddy fields. Atop the hill we’d always be greeted by people who shared the same enthusiasm as us about the place. These would include climbers receding from their day’s climb, musicians who would jam for the sunset sessions, regular spectators and the “Chai Mafia”. Yup, that’s the name we have given to the little kids who climb up every evening, with their tea kettles with an ambitious & determined agenda to make profits and they’re excellent marketeers. One tea for 40 bucks, ask them why and in a justified & endearing tone they’d shot back saying, “because it’s on the mountain top”. It was funny how Vishwa & Shanti were expressing their concerns about “competition” as more and more kids came with their kettles. Here the Chai Mafia goes by the code, they would never steal each other’s “clients” – as they would refer. After all the tea is sold, Vishwa & Shanti would usually sit with us and tell us stories till the sun starts to set. Vishwa would take responsibility of getting all the kids down the hill before it started to get dark and was very particular about the timing. He knew all the shortcuts so we’d usually follow him unless we had more company.
Vishwa and Shanti
Team meeting where the profits are discussed.
Sunset sessions with Alex & his didgeridodo
This is not just a travelogue on Hampi, it’s a day in the life of Hampi. You don’t just visit Hampi, you live there, absorb and blend in with the boulder there. This is a story about life in Hampi and it’s always the same every time I visit. It’s my home and home to many others. It’s where my heart and soul is. The thought of leaving this quaint, picturesque town makes me sad and nostalgic, reminiscing all the time I have spent here. But, a traveller must keep moving on, exploring new lands, meeting new people and telling their stories. With that thought in our mind, we prepared ourselves to move forward, keeping all the good memories we made here in our heart, with a promise of returning back soon.