Once the capital of Vijaynagara Empire, Hampi is now in a dilapidated state and it is these ruins which draw history enthusiasts from all over the globe. My eyes lit up as I witnessed the swampy paddy fields through the window shields of the bus I had boarded from Hosapete. Semi-crumbled structures appeared here and there while coconut and banana trees sprouted out all over the kingdom which looked huge and spread out.
As I explored the place and unearthed it’s beauty in the next few weeks, I realized that I hadn’t seen as many number of boulders scattered over an area. Nor had anybody else who had been there and around the world. And while I loved to watch the sun going down from the mighty rocks, I was there to climb them. This is a paradise for climbers.
After a few days on the Southern side, which is where most of the temples and groups of monuments are located, I moved North. The Tungabhadra river is the divider. Between two streams of the river, lies the Hippie Island on the North, which stayed true to it’s name until a few years ago. Once swarmed with cafes and hustle-bustle of people, the boulders and the climbers converse now at Rishimukh plateau, overlooking the Virupaksha temple and magical sunsets; my favourite spot in Hampi.
Hanumanalli(in the North) is where I spent most of my time, in the lap of green Earth decorated by brown boulders, in the beautiful little sustainable hostel where faces changed every three days on average and at the café serving the best food in the whole town by a lovely family, just opposite.
THE INITIAL DAYS
The mornings started with delicious dosas, idlis and paddu; dishes that I can partake of, in any part of the day, and ended with banana flower curry(the go-to and the most popular and unique dish here) or a south Indian thali. Food formed an important part of my stay in Hampi; it is here at this restaurant that I bonded with people of all tribes and discussed life and it’s diverse moods; the odd and the good, as we waited for food. But mostly, just food.
The next 10 days were spent with beautiful people with whom I ate, drank and breathed sunsets. We listened to music, jumped off the cliff, people swam, I bathed, rode around on our rented bikes and explored. Once every few days, I climbed the Anjandari hill(also the birthplace of Lord Hanuman) to witness the colours at dusk and went to climb boulders at Rishimukh which were of all kinds and grades. A novice and a pro, both could interest themselves equally there. I got too engrossed in the climbing and overstretched my tendons and had to stay put.
A day was well spent visiting the monuments on the other side of the river. The sight of Virupaksha temple was one I never got bored of. The long-lost kingdom’s presence could be felt in the temples, palaces and remnants which just never seemed to end and even though looked lost in time, were in a relatively better state than most other historical sites in India. One fascinated with history or archaeology would appreciate it more.
One such man was Philip, a Frenchman, who was also the most amusing guy I met in Hampi. Everyday was an adventure for him. He’d live in a cave amidst the boulders, bathe in the river and wander off to places away from human sight in search of an ancient painting or any items of interest he might find which would vary from feathers and stones to distinct rocks and ruins.
At the restaurant, he would be busy carving a unique-looking piece of wood or crafting a necklace out of the gems he had found on his wanders. At dinner, he would show his treasured items with enthusiasm and narrate a first-hand witnessed fight between a snake and a mongoose.
AND THE TRIP TO HIRE BENAKAL
One fine day, just after Diwali, I joined him on a little adventure to witness the megaliths at Hire Benakal. Before dawn, we got some packed food from our favourite place. A friend from the hostel tagged along, and we set off. Now the gentleman was on his moped which he flew like a plane. Seated on a scooter,I was finding it hard to catch up on the bumpy dark road. Through the dusty roads, up and down a hill and along the lines of the canal, we rode for almost an hour when we had to finally steer through the sloppy green fields to reach the point. I took a deep breath. In his fifties, this man was onto something. In my mind, he was the ‘Indiana Jones.’
After an uphill hike through the thorny bushes, we finally reached the site. Dating back to the Iron Age, this is a hidden wonder. With hundreds of abandoned megaliths, this place was a ghost town. Indiana would go on to explain the minute details, which I hardly found myself interested in. But his enthusiasm was commendable. He knew the ruins of Hampi in and out, more than anybody else, living or dead, of that I was certain.
THE SECOND HALF
All familiar faces left one by one while I took a back seat and watched. Faces kept changing so did the frames, the weather, the light and the spark, the eyes and the voices, the movements and the expressions. I was now watching a slow-moving time-lapse with my human-eyed lens. The little video I had processed in my brain was comical, ironical and existential. Suddenly I was no more of a talker. No hands at bouldering annoyed me inside. There was a shift in my emotions as I carefully witnessed. Days went by and I took to reading and ate my food silently. In the evenings, I would go for a long walk to admire the sunset colours. Most days, I would happen to meet Jones and we would exchange greetings and stories if we had any.
The days that seemed long gave me ample time to reflect on the beauty of this impermanence and my blessed journey. And subtly kept hinting that it was time for a new adventure.