OR: 'Hampi Campers'
11.06.2011 - 14.06.2011 30 °C
Goa was certainly laid-back, but at this time of year, this lifestyle doesn't come without its interruptions. Warm days with a fresh sea breeze sometimes give way to much harsher weather:
It was as I was taking the above picture that I decided that perhaps 3 days in Anjuna was just enough. On Friday afternoon, I took a succession of buses to Goa's capital: Panaji. Being the closest thing to an Indian city I had experienced so far, I took a few minutes to get my bearings and take in the hectic surroundings. People were shouting at other people who were clambering all over other people who were selling anything and everything to other people. After buying a ticket for a way out of there, I caught a 9 hour overnight bus to the town of Hospet. After hearing some terrifying accounts of Indian long-distance transport, I was a little nervous. As it was, the bus was only half-full and the journey, fairly uneventful. At one point, I did the very British thing of suffering in silence after an old gentleman chose the seat directly next to me despite many good double-chair options available (avid followers of my escapades will recall that behavior like this does not bode well with me).
Bleary eyed and feeling filthy, I stumbled into the fourth and final bus of my journey which would take me from the industrial city of Hospet to the historical town of Hampi. Where Hampi stands was the site of the second most populated city in the world at the end of the 15th century, Vijayanagara. In 1565, this former capital was captured and completely destroyed by rival Deccan sultanates. From the centre of this massacre and amongst a handful of untouched monuments rose Hampi. This small town now houses thousands of relics from its ancient past, from the natural fortress chiseled out from one of the thousands of house-sized boulders that dot the landscape to a small carving of a bull, hidden behind some of these massive rocks in the middle of the Tungabhadra River.
On arrival, a wash and some nourishment in one of Hampi's many rooftop restaurants, the sleepless bus ride caught up with me. I woke up too late for any proper exploring, but still managed a stroll down the main street. At one end of this kilometre-long strip stands the iconic Virupaksha Temple, its base surrounded by shops, monkeys and street vendors. As you walk away from the city icon, the animal and human population diminishes. At the other end of the strip, the seemingly forgotten temple of the Monolithic Bull, whose steps you can walk up freely and feel completely alone on.
On Sunday, I walked the hundred or so metres from my hostel to the banks of the Tungabhadra River where the entire town had turned out to bathe, wash and do their laundry. In the midst of all this, the sacred elephant Lakshmi could be seen taking her morning bath.
After a quick breakfast, I met up with a group of workers from Bangalore: one Indian, two Dutch and one Czech. We enlisted the services of a tuktuk driver/guide named Raj, who drove us (yes, all five of us!) to a river crossing a few kilometres downstream. There laid the ruins of a collapsed concrete bridge (in fact, the only bridge for miles in either direction), an accident that resulted in 20 deaths.
Upon crossing the river in a small boat with a group of locals and three motorbikes, we walked a few kilometres further and 572 steps higher to a temple on the tip of Anjenaya Hill. This temple worships the monkey god Hanuman. Despite our group committing a string of faux pas that included taking photos, stepping on the thresholds of doorways and sitting on steps inside the temple, we were invited to sit as we were served rice and dal which became the first, but hopefully not last time that I have had to eat such a meal with bare hands. While donations are welcome at the temple, our attempts were politely refused. Whether this was because of or despite our wrongdoings, I'm still not sure.
After the long downwards descent, we stopped off at a local bar (and I really do mean local. The General Wolfe has nothing on this place) to satisfy a thirst. With no alcohol (or meat for that matter) being sold or served anywhere inside Hampi, a refreshing Kingfisher seemed twice as sweet on this occaion, and due to the scarcity, twice as expensive. We later navigated our way through banana plantations, fields, over boulders and literally through rivers in search of the Hampi waterfalls. What we found was a fantastic landscape and stunning views, but unfortunately, such were the scale and number of these rocks, the entire waterfall was submerged beneath and between them.
On the way back, we stopped off to buy a beer from an unbranded shack in the middle of nowhere. Behind the high counter was a man, a fridge and a very lonely looking beer on the shelf behind him. After taking a couple of these back into Hampi, we enjoyed the sunset on the roof of one of the guesthouses, away from the eyes of the public.
And on to Monday morning, where I met up with two remaining members of the group from Bangalore. They had heard rumours of a drink known as a 'Special Lassi', a variant of the yogurty drink found all over India but with a 'special' ingredient with some 'special' effects. I headed to a decidedly derelict rooftop restaurant and, purely in the interests of investigative journalism, indulged myself. After hearing increasingly revealing details of the man's operation, we were invited to climb the rocks that overhang the restaurant. We were led into the back of the man's property and found that just like any drug lord worth his salt, this one had his own cave. After clambering through an upward maze of tight openings created by the stacked boulders, we found ourselves perhaps five stories high with fantastic views of the town.
After leaving our vantage point, we made our way to a restaurant with views across the river where an overwhelming collective sense of hunger resulted in the ordering and devouring of many of Karnataka's finest dishes. And after a tiring but action packed couple of days, who could blame me for heading to bed at 7 in the evening?