Hampi, the Champion city, the pictorial History Textbook of the 15th century, is a paradise for those who believe in stories written through stones. The ruins of a legendary empire, coming down to a mere temple town of the 21st century, depicts how we are just too tiny in front of the nature that we belong to. The empires fall, the men die, but the foretold stories are glorified forever.
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Bangalore is one of those cities which house many travelers. Owing to the cosmopolitan lifestyle, many travelers and explorers dwell in this city. For a traveler visiting here it would be safe to assume that they would have at least one friend in this city. At least, that was the case with me. Some of the most interesting people I have met during my trekking journeys reside in Bangalore. And so it was just a matter of little convincing, so they accompany me for another weekend getaway.
My dear friend Ankita and her husband Manas agreed upon my desire and within half a day we were up and about for another adventure under the big hot sun. We boarded the famous Hampi Express, the night train to Hospet Junction, the nearest railhead to Hampi. Located only 15 kilometers away from Hampi, it is probably not the fastest but the most comfortable means of commutation.
As I had always heard about this place, that it is just too easy to strike friendships in this small town, I was now beginning to witness it myself. As we came out of the station looking for an autorickshaw, a Spanish girl, Nerea, a solo traveler, was ready to share the ride with us. But what was astonishing was the rickshaw guy conversing with her in a Spanish dialect. To my surprise, some of these foreigners now have settled in Hampi and have a belonging with this ruined town. As we approached the ancient Vijaynagara capital, we started to catch a glimpse of the rocks and the ruins here and there. During the 15th century, it was one of the most prosperous capitals of the world; so strong was the establishment that even today it takes us on the royal lane of history.
Moving back in history, it wasn’t hard to imagine how the city would have brimmed with happiness and prosperity. The astute architecture, the remnants of the stone scriptures, the intricate and scientific detailing of art and its various forms is more than an invitation to pay a visit to this village. The art of story-telling is cultivated in every citizen of this place. Sometimes, it may feel there are more tourists than the locals. Each local is inadvertently a guide here.
If the weather permits, the best way to explore the city is on two wheels. There are cycles and motor bikes available for rent everywhere. The two sides of the city, one on each side of the river are very different from each other. While one side holds on to the historic and the religious sentiments attached since forever with this town, the other side, relatively new is often referred to as the hippie island.
As three is not a good number for renting a bike, and with the sun guarding our way throughout the day, we found it sensible to hire the rickshaw for the day. Hampi is full of ‘ruined’ spots many of which can be seen in a single day ride. The best way to start off is by buying a local city map costing no more than five Indian bucks (the scale of the map can’t be trusted) and pushing off from the Hampi Bazaar. Behind the Bazaar is the village where almost every house has one section of the house converted into a guest house. There are plenty of options to choose from. Though ‘Gopi’ and ‘Laxmi’ are the most popular ones, we zeroed down on Sunny Guest House. The same irony is experienced here by the visitiors – yes to wifi but no to mobile network.
On the back side of the house was the popular eating joint Mango Tree, which not only satiated the taste buds with international, unimaginable cuisines, but also lets to rest under the shade of the art. It is a creatively done art tent where some of the local painters of Hampi have contributed their work.
There are paintings and other art work done by a Dutch painter Robert Geesink, residing in Hampi since more than forty years now. While conversing about the art work with the manager, Raju, Ankita found a little more in detail about Robert’s life in Hampi and it was indeed intriguing. The purpose of travel becomes all the more gratifying if we are able to unveil the undiscovered stories. Robert was one such treasure buried under the ruins. However, the greatest moment of the day happened when he accidentally visited the Mango Tree that evening and we all could have a tete-a-tete with him while sipping on our ginger lemonades. He has been a family man for most of his life, has wonderful kids from his first wife (who belonged to the Lambani tribe) and now being taken care of by his second wife. His infatuation towards the stony ruins, his unpredictable unsettlement in the traditional society, his attachment with his saxophone and his jamming Saturday evenings were some of the simple things he shared with us that evening. We girls were absolutely in awe of his life and that interaction could have been alive for hours. He however had a better plan for the evening and he considered us suitable to be a part of it. He along with some of his other European friends jam on Saturday evenings and all the kids and even the family dog gather along to sing and play and make some merry. Without an iota of thought, we agreed to join him for that evening and witness the rarest evenings in Hampi – a musical evening with the fancy locals of a small town India. It all felt like a dream, meeting those random, crazy people who coexist with us on this planet, and it only takes a little effort and a little intention to spot them. For the rest of the evening, Ranjit, a half Indian from the UK played his electric guitar, Robert played the saxophone and his super talented 8 year old daughter Sindhu, strung the acoustic guitar for quite some time. There was music, there was booze, there was grass, there was a dog, and we were sitting in a house pretty much inside a forest, the forest of Hampi – it was heaven. If there was a perfect definition of a House Party, then this was it.
In simple ways of life, Hampi is blessed. It is not just steady because of a prolonged history, but also because of the global cultural influences that have managed to reach this remote town. And these influences have been managed so well that Hampi is now popular on the world tourist map. Like Robert and Nerea, we met another kind soul in the town, Robert Goodier, a freelance journalist from Hawaii, who happened to bump into us at our favorite joint Mango Tree. Our common and eternal love for Pizza, an experimentative mode for our drinks for that evening (we ordered lemon ginger buttermilk!), the heroic statements of the doltish Donald Trump and somewhere the diversity of our lives in cities kept the evening peppy.
These were some of the memories that expound Hampi for us. Speaking of the tourist attractions of the city, we were able to see most of the places mentioned in the map within these two days.
Starting from the Virupeksha Temple, where blessings from God are delivered by an old elephant ‘Laxmi’ for as much money you may wish to tuck in her trunk, usually starting with 10 Rupees. This temple has the most magnificent Gopuram(temple gate) which is still intact and naturally preserved. It is the main center for offering prayers in this area and firmly holds the beliefs of ancient Indian scriptures. The next one which is currently being restored is the vithala temple, was the temple complex once built inside of the main square of the Vijayanagara Empire. The scientific design locking the secrets of how the sound traveled through its pillars makes it an interesting monument. The four wheels of the chariot placed right in front of the entrance also have some historic significance attached to them that represented the grandeur of the empire in that era. Though all these ruins are merely stones now, they seem to be having a soul of their own, the soul which is not dead yet but has become stagnant with time. On the similar lines in terms of the architecture, we also paid a visit to the Pushkarna Well, Hazari Rama Temple, underground Siva Temple and the elephant stable, understanding the reason behind Hampi being a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Kamapaluram Museum is also worth the time spent there, showcasing the history in many different ways – from the religious connotations to warriors’ souvenirs; from the geographical borders to trade boundaries, it beholds everything from the Vijaynagara dynasty.
The natural pull of this city goes beyond just being the wonderful wreck that it is. Hampi may also boast of some of the most picturesque sunsets from the top of some of the hills that firmly hold the ruins. Atop the Matanga Hill, the unblocked aerial view of the city is captivating. However, it is a bit tricky for the trek that leads to the top of the hill is rocky. It is a tipsy-topsy way downhill and must be done with full attention after the sun is set. Actually, it is a must to carry the torch along. Equally mesmerizing is the sunset from the top of widely spread Hemkunta Hill, just behind the Virupeksha Temple. Though it is much lower in altitude and much easier to reach, the city lights are spotted somewhere at a distance from one of the edges of the hill. In fact, the orange flare of the fading sun ruling above the far flung fields un-fleece itself amorously. And that was pretty much the closing of an arduous yet enthralling weekend.
Even after the final packing and calling for the auto rickshaw to the Hospet station, we still wanted to relish one last drink at the Mango Tree. It was the Honey Ginger Lemonade that concluded our trip to Hampi. In these two days, we could only manage to have a glimpse of what appears to be a village initially, but at a greater depth it is a reservoir of our history, the beholder of a century, a glorious past that the world once looked up to, now only shattered and scattered and yet serving a purpose. The purpose of reconnecting, with an un-revived era which now feels like living in a story, a fairy tale, composed of kings and his chariots, his queens and his elephants and he hailing above all.
With all sorts of imaginations in our mind, we returned to our “not so grand” insignificant city life. Not feeling like ending the weekend, I decided to outstretch my trip to the other side of Bangalore. I waved Goodbye to my dear friends from the window of the Hampi Express and continued the journey till the last station – Mysore.