We’re in Hampi, town of endless rice paddies, medieval ruins, and great religious significance for Hindus. In the 16th century, Hampi was the seat of the last great kingdom of South India, the Vijayanagar, until they were replaced (after a few centuries) by scores of shoeless, dreadlocked neo-hippies from Germany and France.
We both hated Hampi immediately, but we’re warming to it quite nicely after a couple of relaxing days here. The hippies are harmless, if you stay upwind from them; the weather is glorious, and there’s so much to see.
Sunday, our first day in Hampi, was sort of a write-off on account of our harrowing bus journey from Bangalore. We found an adorable guest house (Mowgli, in Virupapppur Gaddi, technically across the river from Hampi), and spent the day alternating between napping, short exploratory missions, eating, and recovering our senses of humour.
A word about crossing the river from Hampi to Virupappur Gaddi… there are a few tiny ferries which can take about 20 people at a time from one side to the other. The rate varies between 15 and 50 Rs, depending on the time of day and the whim of the boat’s operators. The ferries have a real monopoly on river crossing – the only other way to get across is to take a 45-minute auto ride or rent a motorbike. The operators have raised extortion to an art form.
In the afternoon, we had a snack of Tibetan momos across the river, sans Kingfishers as Hampi is a dry town (as, we woefully discovered, most temple towns are). We had dinner at our guest house surrounded by hippies chain-smoking giant reefers, much to Maureen’s chagrin.
Yesterday was a far more productive day – our little group (us, Bevan, Jim, Maureen and Conor) embarked on a trek through some gigantic boulder formations (Hampi and the surrounding area are well known for rock-climbing and bouldering). On the way there, we were beckoned off the road into the middle of a rice paddy where four congenial ladies were busily planting. We chatted with them for a few minutes, gave them an orange, and continued on our way.
The boulder-climbing mission was reluctantly aborted after about an hour, so as not to endanger the lives of the less adventurous (and less insane) members of the group. Instead, we ventured across the river through banana groves, thick brush, and rocky “paths” to eventually reach a lovely, virtually deserted waterfall. Bevan declared it to be his favourite swimming experience since his time in Puerto Rico. Riccardo and I didn’t go all the way in, doubtful of the water’s quality, although it certainly looked, smelled and seemed clean. We had lunch at the Mango Tree, a very popular spot with terraced seating in which everyone faces the stunning views of mountains, boulder formations, temples, rice paddies being planted, and herds of water buffalo on the move. The lemon-ginger lassi was especially refreshing.
Refreshed from the lassis and substantial lunch, the group decided to visit Virupaksha Temple, built in 1492. Centuries-old carvings and frescoes are always fascinating, especially when overrun by parrots and monkeys, but even more so was observing the temple’s continued status as one of the holiest sites in Hinduism. Hundreds of pilgrims, some in special black prayer shawls, flooded the entrance and lined up to enter a shrine to pray to Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth. The temple’s main attraction, in fact, is a 22-year-old elephant named Lakshmi who bestows blessings on visitors in exchange for a small donation. No coins, please – Lakshmi doesn’t offer her blessings for less than 10 Rs (although Riccardo is convinced she discriminates against tourists by accepting coins only from Indians). Hindus fortunate enough to receive Lakshmi’s blessing reverently closed their eyes, touched their foreheads, and clasped their hands in gratitude.
A few other highlights of the day: a vicious fight between two street dogs that resulted in a bicycle rack being knocked to the ground; a comical scene in which an elderly man forcibly bathed his entire goat troop in the river, one by one; and a woman slapping an errant cow full in the face after it tried to bite the bananas she was selling out of her hand.
Kingfisher o’clock was a welcome time that afternoon – we congregated on our private verandah overlooking the rice paddies and placed a 100-rupee bet on how late the planters would keep working before the sun sank behind the mountains (an easy victory for Bevan).
Riccardo got a shave with a straight blade, and the barber left him with more considerable sideburns than what he’s used to. He now thinks he looks like his father in 1966 – I think he looks great!
This morning, Riccardo and Bevan got up at the crack of dawn to tackle the boulder formation we’d given up on yesterday. This time, they reached the top (although there’s no proof – they didn’t take any cameras.) That may have been the longest Ric has been separated from his camera; that must have been hard for him.
Maureen and I walked down to the river to see Lakshmi the Temple Elephant get her bath, an event scheduled to take place at 8:30 am, but waited 15 minutes in vain – Lakshmi never materialized; apparently operating with the rest of the country on IST (Indian Stretchable Time).
More from Hampi soon!