Hampi rocks. Pun intended. I’ve been charmed, educated and entertained by the most stunning place I’ve seen so far in India. The ozzie girls Jade and Sophie kept me up all night drinking in Palolem so I arrived at Hospet station a little tired and in between the drunk and hungover stage. Never a good start. However, as soon as I saw the first boulders and magical rock formations I knew this place was going to fascinate my tired, hungover, little brain cells. I get a little surge of adrenaline when a new adventure starts. I was pumped.
The tuk tuk man who navigated the ruined roads from Hospet to Hampi was showing off his pumping sound system to me and the stray French guy I’d picked up. However, a combination of low end distortion and his music selection of shit American RnB and was starting to annoy me. Manufactured American RnB makes me want to vomit. I’m in India matey, I’m more impressed if you chucked on some local Indian folk music than that twat Akon. He was smiling all the same so I kept my opinions to myself, like a good boy.
There is the Tungabhadra river which runs through the middle of the ancient Vijayanagar (the old name for Hampi). On the north side there are a number of guest houses and cheap huts for backpackers. The south side features most of the temples and ruins of the ancient Vijayanagar kingdom. A very short boat ride is the only way to get from one side to the other. Bridges have been built but unfortunately due to good fashioned Indian building techniques, they collapsed.
So, I settle on the quieter northern side in a basic hut for 100R. The ‘Durgha Huts’ settlement consisted of small one and two bed huts, a chill out area, yoga in the morning and a restaurant. This place is extremely relaxed. No one moves fast, the only hassle you get is from the bike man in the morning desperate to get your 100R for a crap scooter. I meet some amazing people, it’s easy to do that here. Everyday saw me exploring Hampi with a variety of people.
A chalk sign read… ‘Don’t worry be Hampi’. The cheap restaurant slash cafe of choice for backpackers soon became the evening meet up place. Smiley served OK food at reasonable prices. The average waiting time was two hours but the people you meet made the time fly.
I spent a couple of days exploring the northern part of Hampi via a 50cc scooter. I visited the cave temples, was lead around by a crazy old dude, climbed to the Durgha Temple and managed to see the sunrise and sunset from the Hanuman Temple. The Hanuman Temple was nicknamed the monkey temple for obvious reasons. The temple at the top of the hill welcomed myself and my new English friends from the west country in for a cup of mint flavoured chi. The monkeys enjoyed the bananas we provided while we enjoyed their banter. Black faced monkeys are much nicer than their angry red faced boyo counterparts. The view was breathtaking, the boulders and river stretching out for miles into the horizon.
I travelled to the old capital of the Vijayanagar Lingdom, the village of Anegundi. The roads were winding and a pleasure to push the bike to its limit. In Anegundi there was a variety of ancient temples and a large wooden chariot. No one could tell me what it was or why it was there. It looked cool though. Some crazy kids lead me up to a small temple in the rocks. They were hyper active and extremely excited to see a foreigner in their village. I escaped when they got to the rupee and pen asking stage.
On route we went to the huge reservoir close by, where jumping off huge rocks into the water was popular with tourists as much as the locals. I hate heights. I love the adrenaline of throwing myself screaming into the water beneath. Do one thing that scares you everyday.
The lake was stunning. We meet a local called Mo on our second visit and he takes us to a remote hill to watch a sunset. He knows the baba at the top of the hill who befriends us and makes chi and fried potato snacks while we talk and exchange smiles. He seems nice enough but I’m still uncertain about how authentic these holy men are. Not putting a negative spin on the evening because I really enjoyed myself, just putting my opinion out there. Navigating down the hill was difficult in the pitch black but as a team of foreign tourists we pulled together. Mo and his friend were genuinely lovely people who showed us a beautiful spot away from the tourist route without wanting any money in return.
Everywhere I went, I got the wow factor. Hampi put me under its spell and I hadn’t even ventured onto the south side where the main attractions where yet. On the north side it was easy to meet fellow backpackers but it still felt untouched by tourism as soon as you escaped the main road. Seeing the real India is awesome but having flowing conversation with people of your native tongue is also awesome. Ya get me. The two mixed well.
The mornings consisted of an early run up into the hills made from huge boulders. The mornings are fresh here, the views a pleasure and the silence is peaceful. I love running through rocks with Netsky blaring, lizards scattering and darting away as I sprint. My early morning meditation.
A short boat ride takes me over to the other side south of the river where I spent three days wandering and riding around the local villages and ruins.
The Government knocked down the buildings in the main bazaar next to the main temple six months ago. The ruins and rubble is still there. The shops have now turned into stalls but people’s homes were not so easy to replace. It is a unisco site and int the future they want the entire region, some 30km by 26km, to be as it was 500 years ago. That means the few homes, small businesses, school and guest houses that are and were here, have to move to a new site 4km away from the beauty of the ancient Vijayanagar kingdom. The new location has been decided, however the logistics if this operation will be in India time, in other words, this could take years.
One morning down by the river I witness the legend Laxmi the elephant being washed by her owners with that fella Dan. He keeps popping up in India. The elephant is said to have powers and blesses pilgrims for 10R a go inside the main Virupaksha temple. Although the idea of an elephant taking a 10R note from your hand with its trunk and then putting his trunk on your head for a blessing sounds great, but the reality is that the poor elephant is in captivity and controlled by his owners. The owners seemed to bath the huge nelly in a delicate and caring way until she didn’t do as was asked, they then slapped his huge behind with wooden bamboo sticks. Poor lady. I went to the temple and laxmi blessed me and I stroked his trunk. A well trained beast in chains. I felt pity for the big girl. Wonder what he blessed me with.
Walking around the ruins takes days, I walked the river path, climbed boulders and topped the Matunga Hill. I ended up in spectacular temples, imagining the kingdom that once ruled there. Apparently the population was 500,000 strong, a far cry from the 2000 that currently inhabit the town centre.
One day was spent exploring the Royal Enclosure further south with Daan, a Dutch guy I met on a huge rock by the lake. We ended up in a small village eating rice and fried chillies with the locals. There was a festival on and the celebrations were in full flow. We spotted a beautifully decorated chariot and threw some bananas and flowers onto it. Not sure why but the locals loved it. We then decided to jump on the kids fair ground wheel, powered by men. We squeezed into a metal basket along some other kids. The locals loved our participation just as much as we loved being hurled around on the brightly coloured rusty metal wheel contraption. It’s these small things that I enjoy the most and that I’ll remember forever.
Hampi was meant to be a two day affair but ended up almost stretching to a week. I learned to relax and stay longer. Maybe the fact I have little structure or plans to my life makes me feel nervous but right now but I’m enjoying everything. Maybe my destiny and future will become apparent on this trip. I’ll keep opening doors, I’m still the yes man…unless you are selling me something. Full power, 24 hour.