Hampi is one place that is frozen in time. How you visit to a place again and find it change into a more developed, more commercial from the last time you have visited? That’s not the case with Hampi. Time stands still in Hampi, for good. Things never change Hampi, so does the people just like the old ruins of the Vijayanagara empire which have been there unharmed, unspoiled, protected from any influence of the modern world. Every time I go there, I find it to be exact same condition as I left it last, and I haven’t experienced that for any other place I have been to. Only the experiences are different each time.
Tired after an overnight bus ride in a sleeper coach which turned out to be more of a “sleepless coach” because our bus driver, who must’ve been a stunt driver before he settled for this job, made sure that all the passengers on the bus were thrown out of their sleeper beds at every turn he made. We had to tie our backpacks to the window, Sumi would hold on to them and I held on to Sumi so that we’re not thrown off! With backpacks on our shoulders, we stepped out of this bus from hell, into the blue of the wee hours, when the night stood still with silhouettes of huge boulders all around us, there was a sigh of relief.
The bus stop was on the temple side and we wanted to stay across the river on the countryside and for that, the boats start at 7:30. We decided to go to Matanga Temple to watch the sun rise above the arid landscape. We climbed up and up until we reached the top only to see the vastness of the Vijaynagara Empire bathing in the golden light of the sun. If I have to suggest two things that you have to do in Hampi, is watching sunrise and sunset from top of a new hill every day. Sitting three watching the sun shine and illuminating the place is one of the best experiences one can have in Hampi.
When we got back at the banks of the Tungabhadra river, the morning rituals had already begun. The ghat was lined up with pilgrims taking a dip in the holy river with a majestic elephant and his caretaker. The mischievous elephant was swimming swiftly in the river, happily sprinkling water from his trunk on everyone around him. It seemed like he was following the orders of a saint who was also in the water with him, both in a joyous mood welcoming a brand new day.
We crossed the river and stopped at a cafe to have some breakfast. That’s where we met Vishwa & Shanti (14 & 9 years old) two mischievous kids who we are going to meet every day from there on. Vishwa, a very intelligent little tea seller and Shanti, his confederate whose beauty is mesmerizing. They are local tea sellers during the morning, regular school going kids by the day and tour guides in the evening.
We formed an instant friendship with the two while they tried to sell us their tea at the cafe. Vishwa insisted us to stay at his brother’s guest house but we already had that figured out. We were going to stay at Bobby- One Love, also known as Steve’s place. Steve, an Italian guy from Malta manages this place which is tucked away from the crowd, across a couple of rice fields, in a quiet place among the coconut trees.
Steve has been living in India since past 7 years and has put his heart and soul in this guesthouse. He is a very kind hearted, simple man, living a simple life. It might not be the best place to stay in Hampi, but for me, it’s home. It’s like living on a farm where the people are amazing, the food is great, the days are long and nights even longer. I met my childhood friend Samar who had come to see me for a day. Coincidentally, it was her birthday that day. Somehow, universe makes sure that every year, without any prior planning, we meet on her birthday in a strange new place. Last time it was Andaman and this time, Hampi. She’s my favourite travel partner and I was more than happy to have her here.
We didn’t have anything in our mind as to what we will be doing in Hampi or how many days we’ll be staying there. It seems like Hampi has it’s own time zone which is much more slower than the rest of the world. There are no sights or activities in particular, apart from visiting the ruins here, but the best thing to do is either doing nothing or taking a bicycle and follow any road. Also, one thing about this place – there is no mobile network but there’s super-fast internet almost everywhere which makes it a perfect location for me to work. Our typical day in Hampi would involve waking up early but slowly, having a nice healthy breakfast with other travellers, helping out Steve a little bit and leaving for the day with our bikes / bicycles.
The weather was unpredictable at that time in Hampi. It would rain anytime of the day and we would often get drenched while finding shelter under a tree or some random house. Riding around Hampi is an experience in itself, especially in the late afternoon when all the cattlemen and shepherds are returning home with their herds.
Sanapur Lake is one of the most beautiful places in Hampi. It’s basically a massive reservoir. You can enjoy a coracle ride in it during the sunset. Some brave hearts were jumping in the lake from top of a boulder while we watched in amazement with our mouth wide open.
We met a couple of guys from Bangalore – Kestar & Kunal who were trying their luck with rock climbing. They were also staying at Steve’s. I went with these guys on a sunny morning to climb some rocks on my own and let me tell you, it wasn’t easy. Hampi, with its iconic boulders has been a favourite spot among climbers. Many professionals come there every year to conquer these boulders while kids already have knack for it. Including our little Vishwa. He would climb up on these rocks like a lizard climbs the wall. Kester & Kunal knew these rocks very well and would navigate easily through the mountains, when I would usually get lost in search of bigger boulders. Both of them had cuts & bruises all over their bodies and they would proudly show them off calling them Tattoos.
One day, one of Kunal’s friend’s found a chameleon crossing the road. He brought it him home with him. It was a beautiful green, wild chameleon who was slow as a tortoise. Everyone at Steve’s was excited to have this new guest. It was getting accustomed to it’s new place by crawling up my arms, head and on the bamboo roof, speculating and inspecting each and every corner.
Every evening, we would climb up to one of the hills to see the panoramic view of the ruins and the rice paddies. There were always some people waiting for us at the top which includes climbers who are receding from their day’s climb, musicians who are having sunset jam sessions, regular spectators and the “Chai Mafia”. It’s the name that we have given to the little kids who climb up every evening, with their tea kettles with an ambitious agenda of making profits. They are excellent marketers. One tea is for 40 rupees. If you ask them why, they’ll reply in a justified tone “because it’s on the mountain”. It’s funny how Vishwa & Shanti were expressing their concerns about “competition” as more and more kids had come with their kettles. They would make an agreement as not steal each other’s “clients” – as they would refer. After all the tea is sold, Vishwa & Shanti would usually sit with us and tell us stories till the sun starts to set. Vishwa takes responsibility that all the kids get down the hill before it starts to get dark and would be very particular about the timing. He knows all the shortcuts so we would usually follow him unless we have more company.
This is not a travelogue of Hampi. It’s the narration of life in Hampi. You don’t just visit Hampi, you live there, absorb and blend with nature. This is a story about life in Hampi and it’s always the same every time I visit. It’s my home and home to many others. It’s where my heart and soul is. The thought of leaving makes me nostalgic. But, a traveller shall keep moving, keep exploring new lands, keep meeting new people and keep telling stories. With that thought in our mind, we prepared ourselves to move forward, keeping in our heart, all the good memories we made, with a promise of returning back soon.