THE KISHKINDHA MOMENTS
Mountainous gigantic boulders scattered everywhere form the landscape and contours of Hampi, as I look around from the top of Anjanadri Hill. Nature’s beauty and balance gives a mix of spiritual and mesmerizing experience. This is the Kishkindha of Ramayana mythology. Starting my climb of 575 steps towards the Anjanadri hill top, the one thought on my mind was what if I catch cramps, but this time though I had none of that, and made it to the top huffing and puffing in one go. I was there to witness sunrise, but menacing dark clouds started encircling forcing a quick retreat back to the base.
ARRIVING AT HAMPI
I was contemplating another trip to the north and this time Mcleodganj was in the radar, but with weather playing truant there, my southern journey to Hampi, which is a short bus ride from Hospet, materialized. Hampi, I find, has a lot to say, both in history and character, a swing from one rich colorful city it once was to one of complete obliteration as a forgotten lost city, ravaged by Muslim invaders. Once the capital city of the Vijayanagara Empire from 1336 to 1565 is now preserved as a UNESCO world heritage site. Hampi today is a mixture of opposites, with ruins and boulders being in sight almost everywhere.
The dilemma I found myself in was whether to focus on the ruins or the boulders. Tungabhadra River splits the city into two, with the ruins on one and farmlands on the other. Culturally too, the Hampi Island on the other side of Tungabhadra presents the Goan style of living for the tourists and has more locals living, while the main Hampi is devoid of any significant lifestyle besides temples. I finally decided to explore both ends of the spectrum.
STONE RUINS – THE PRIDE OF HAMPI
The undulating terrain and heat was sucking out all my energy. Cycling wasn’t the easiest way for me to explore the ruins. But I realized that the real charm of exploring Hampi ruins is in going slow. You understand the soul of the place better. Giving voice to the soul of Hampi was Parashuram my guide. Vendors for refreshments all along kept egging me to move around. What made my day yet was the simple vegetarian lunch served by an adorable couple under the shade of the trees near the underground Shiva temple.
Breathtaking are the multitude of rock carved pillars at what was once the marketplace, the recently discovered symmetrical stepwell, the single rock sculptures of Gods like Shiva, Narasimha and Ganesha, all on a colossal scale. The highlight of the ruins is without doubt the Vitthal Temple complex, which got a fillip with the recently issued Rs.50 notes carrying the image of the Stone Chariot located here. Curiously I found that the pillars at the 100 pillar Sabha Mandapa to be of single granite blocks were actually making some vibratory sounds when tapped. These pillars were musical instruments in that age and time.
THE LUCKY CHARM THAT SPARED THE TEMPLE
Cycling with all my might I became desperate to complete the day’s journey before my legs give way. Steep downhill roads are a terrific joy to ride on, the uphill roads are the exact opposite and I had my fair share of both comical and embarrassing moments. I made it to Virupaksha temple somehow, which is by the way, the only one in Hampi teeming with pilgrims.
The temple elephant which I observed bathing at the Tungabhadra River in the morning, was here giving blessings and collecting alms. It was a hair rising moment for me to feel the skin of the elephant which itself was sharp and hairy on the trunk. Legend has it that the boar symbol on the temple’s gates (a royal symbol of the ruling family) clashed with Muslim invaders ideologies and principles of faith, forcing them to abandon the idea of destroying this temple. I’m glad they did that, for the ruins end of Hampi has some life today.
THE HARA GOLU TEPPA MOMENTS
With the wind blowing stiff, a wave of water splashes all over me as it crashed on the embankment wall. That’s a showering welcome to Sanapur Lake as I drive down on motor cycle from Virupapur Gadde to the Tungabhadra reservoir. From here I am awestruck by the sight of crystal clear waters on one hand and lush green rolling paddy fields on the other. It is a sight anyone would die for.
At the lake David makes sure that he has his coracle (Hara Golu Teppa) balanced for my ride. As the lake waters were choppy, this wasn’t one of those times I would have not been mindful of a ride. A fear lurked at the back of my mind, what if coracle sinks, as I had no way to swim ashore. The warning board on the presence of crocodiles added to the churn in my stomach as the coracle goes round in circles as it moves forward during my long ride round the lake. It was fun. It set the tone for more encounters and experiences for me with nature.
FITNESS CHALLENGE AND MUSICAL EVENING
Bouldering is the real challenge here in Hampi and the slippery big boulders make the climb difficult for me. Despite a slip here and slip there, the jumping and climbing on the boulders was both an exercise and a thrill I haven’t had before. The Anjanhalli Hillock is where the hippie crowds gather at sunset, and I’m told is one of the favorite spots in Virupapur Gadde. I finally made it to the top and it was a good half hour wait before I witness the glory of the skies at sunset, even as I sip in the chai served by enterprising young kids who’ve made the hillocks of Hampi their home and for whom bouldering is second nature.
As the sun goes down, I am amazed as Gali and his troupe of kids sing songs in emotional tones, that it’s hard to miss this gem of an event. Of course it was time for me to leave before it gets too dark as finding the way down without bruises is on top of my mind. The hippies by then joined the party and bring out their guitar, didgeridoo and djembe to create an electric mesmerizing evening adding to my dilemma of how much more should I hear to have satisfaction.
A PEEP INTO THE LIFE AT HAMPI
Hungry for food I head to Mango Tree Restaurant, to have a sumptuous meal, that’s as authentic and Kannadiga as it can get. The huge restaurant has large variety of vegetarian food to choose from, but I settled for a simple meal, not wanting to experiment much on travels. This restaurant as I observe is one of the most sought after, located in the bylanes next to Virupaksha temple. Without doubt I definitely recommend it.
The temple side of Hampi as I discovered does not encourage non-vegetarian food or liquor but that is not so at the Hippie Island side where lifestyle is more Goan and Western. Less said on their lifestyles the better. Shopkeepers tend to fleece anybody on who the label of tourist is written large all over his face, and I was one of the samples they chose to test their skills. Even so I had a great time shopping assorted wares like stone artifacts, Lambani crafts, leather crafts, banana crafts, musical instruments and clothing being on offer here.
People are nice to you, simple and approachable. Their families work in farms by sowing, ploughing, weeding and fencing along with cattle and sheep rearing. I noticed that people here are deep rooted in their faith, wear traditional clothes, humble in nature, and speak Kannada, Hindi and English. The Lambani womenfolk are nomads who come all the way from Belgaum and move in here from season to season.
A rural place, Hampi is at best a tiny village. The air was pure and refreshing, with gentle breeze blowing as I made it to different parts of the town. Motor boats are the option for crossing Tungabhadra while coracle is also available for kicks. I had a comfortable laid back chill out experience during my stay on the Hampi Island, but the mobile connection in Hampi is next to nothing except for BSNL. I count myself lucky to have had the connectivity Brahmastra.
I would call Hampi an ideal scenic beauty. This is a land of medieval ruins, architectural marvels, imposing boulders, gently flowing rivers, hidden caves, hills, waterfalls, lakes, riverbeds, green valleys, farming lands, coconut trees, sunrise and sunset points, stunning landscapes and more if you afford to go slow and spend more time to discover this heaven. October to March is the best season to visit, and there are many guesthouses and hotels available for every traveler’s budget. I would say Hampi is the place for every age as the experiences give a new outlook to life.
I went with tlow.in for the trip to Hampi. They are quite organized and sorted out in conducting backpacking trips. My special word of praise for Merlyn, Siddarth and Preetam for their 100% involvement during this trip of mine, and making it an unqualified success.
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