SOLO TRIP – HAMPI – DAY TWO – Adventures with Mowgli and Babu

Ever heard about whiskey in a frooti-like tetrapack? Or breadcrumbs cooked with veg biryani? Or a beer-fall in the rocks just like waterfalls? (No, this one doesn’t exist! But more on the other two, later).
So how’s day two been? Adventurous, to say the least. Could even call it a misadventure, but aren’t misadventures too largely made of adventures?
A bit exhausted after yesterday’s exploration-on-foot, I start the day as late as 10am. (Spent two hours before that trying to upload blog!) Now I have two options. Take a rickshaw ride and see the rest of Hampi – the temples, the palaces et al. Or go to the other side of the Tungabhadra, also called Hippie Island. Honestly, despite my online R&D, I didn’t know it existed before I got here. It’s only when a friend mentioned in a comment the other day that I started asking people around. Then the young flautist I mentioned about yesterday also told me he and his friends were staying in Hippie Island. They described cafes, live music etc and it did sound interesting. But it is not until my homestay host mentions about Hippie islands as a place that is ‘not nice’ because vile foreigners go there mostly to drink and smoke up that the teen rebel deep within suddenly does a summersault. (Slight digression, but I remember my first Goa trip with two friends, 12 years back. Barely graduates, a hotel owner in Panaji, also a friend’s father’s friend, advised us against going to Baga beach, because ‘we wouldn’t like it… because it had all foreigners and bad culture.’ And within the next hour, we found ourselves parked at Baga Britto!)
Cut back to present. My plan’s totally set! A quick breakfast at yesterday’s masala dosa place and I head straight to the boat area. A coracle/ulti tokri ride again, (is much cheaper today making me realize I got fleeced yesterday) and there I am. In the land that a ‘nice girl’ like me shouldn’t be – Hippie island! Interestingly, the locals started calling it so because there was a phase when only foreigners, mostly Israeli tourists stayed here for long periods. (An Israeli hunk coming in shortly!)
And this is where I meet the hero from the title of the blog – Mowgli. Running one of the many shacks on this side of Hampi which rent out bikes and organize treks, a man in his late 20s walks up to me asking if I want to hire a bike. I say I don’t know to ride one and ask him a little about the places to visit. He sells the idea of renting a bike with a driver-cum-guide to me and introduces me to the 19-year-old Babu. He in fact even tries hard-selling to me the idea of shifting to this part of Hampi, very innovatively labelling it ‘the sunny side,’ whereas the part that I’m put up in ‘the dark side.’ But then I’m staying in a really cheap yet clean homestay this side (Rs 500/night) and see no reason to spend more. Anyway, as Babu gets busy getting the bike ready, our man gets chatting. A Russian looking tourist (who Babu will later tell me is English) is already lounging around in his little shack. And our man introduces himself as Mowgli! And insists his parents named him so because as a kid his eyes were like the Jungle Book hero and he was born in the jungle-like areas of Hampi anyway! I still think he’s fibbing. But truth be told, I do hear other customers address him as Mowgli. (Btw, I also spotted a Mowgli Guesthouse here. What’s it with Hampi and Mr Kipling?)
Anyway, Babu is back. After a bit of haggling, we take off. Babu drives quite carefully, the reason for which I discover later. But for now, it’s a nice ride amidst rocks on one side and rice fields on the other. It’s growing hotter but I don’t seem to mind it just yet.
Our first point of visit is Hanuman Temple in Ane Gundi. 475 steps! I am a bit unsure of the climb, but begin with enthusiastically nevertheless. Babu accompanies me. I begin panting after 50. And at 150, I decide to abort the climb. I realize my fitness levels suck, to put it plainly. We go back and I do feel it’s a wise call. For, it’s a choice between this climb or doing four other places that will also need some amount of walking. That I need to start stamina-building is another story. But in this moment, I have to accept my limited capacity.
Next, we go to a famous Laxmi temple. No, this isn’t really supposed to be a temple-hopping trip, but it is here that I realize the heat is taking its toll on me. I was walking all of last noon without a cap and am repeating it today. Lesson learnt. Will buy a cap tomorrow.
En route queen’s palace, we stop at a medical store. I pick up a few instant energy ORS sachets and we continue, finally take a break at Chintamani temple. Unlike the other temples this side, this one is deserted. View from the top is really nice.
Yet another temple later, Babu decides I will not be able to do the underground cobra house trek. Despite the exciting ring of it, I discover it has some religious significance yet again and don’t feel enthu enough. I need to save my energy for a 20-minute ‘easy’ trek to the sunset point in about two hours from now. Babu says he’ll take me to a must-visit lake, where I can relax till then.
In anycase, by now he and I both know that my real interest lies in sunset and the music and the various jam sessions thereafter – the real charm of Hippie island. Babu, though barely 19, is full of stories about wild and crazy jam sessions back in the day. And by that he means, just about five years back… when Hippie island was indeed quite hippie. Quite the rock-n-roll place. Rolling behind the rocks really, and also some solid jam sessions. With an increasing influx of Indian tourists and some stringent government action, jam sessions are slowly withering away, though the rock-and-rolling culture continues to thrive. Of course many restobars still have live music sessions post-7pm and since Mowgli’s friend (also partner, I think) Jagan is playing drums tonight, I will join them post sunset. He’s also promised to arrange a coracle for me at around 9.30pm since the solo boat that ferries people from one side of Hampi to the other doesn’t run after 6pm.
Babu and I continue chatting as he takes me from a different route this time — visiting gypsy huts, learning why some people burn their rice fields after each season, and generally enjoying the uphill ride. Just when, in a very TV-like dramatic twist, comes a bike from the other side. Two firangis – man and woman, are coming down the slope. And suddenly the guy loses control and BAMMM! All four of us fall off bikes. We’re still figuring out who’s hurt, when Babu loses it and starts abusing the firang. Turns out, he had met with a bike accident just earlier this week, and now has sprained the same wrist again. Poor thing! The two foreigners are also quite badly bruised. As for me, I escape unhurt… almost. It’s only when I try getting up that I realize I’ve hurt my left foot. It’s probably just sprained and I am hoping there is no internal injury. (No, there isn’t ☺)
The next hour or so, the four of us just sit on the rocks, waiting for Mowgli to first pick up the phone and then bring a rickshaw. The firang guy is quite tense about bike damages. Yes, both bikes will need some basic repairs but I don’t think it’s much. But I do know the bike-wallahs are totally going to fleece the firang. He knows it too. Which is why he has spoken about going to a bike shop and getting it repaired himself some ten times by now.
A number of vehicles – mostly bikes and share rickshaws — pass by in the meanwhile and everybody stares at the four wounded stooges sitting on the rocks, the two bikes on the other side, make enquiries in Kannada with Babu, shake their heads, get entertained and push off. I am more irked with this whole zoo-visitor mentality than the German girl. Or maybe she’s just too rattled to react in a foreign land.
Meanwhile, the guy, an Israeli as I eventually discover, has taken off his shirt and is pouring water all over himself. With the initial shock now subsided, I do notice he has ogle-worthy abs. Okok, commoditising a just-wounded man is a bit mean. But then, my foot is hurting and I do have to pass time till Mowgli arrives. So out of sheer respect for his sexiness, I decide to offer him the dignity of a decent conversation! And I finally discover the reason behind Israeli food finding a special place on almost every menu card in the whole of Hampi. Turns out, Hampi was a hit with the Israelis way before young India discovered it. Roy, the Israeli in question, learnt about Hampi from his brother-in-law, who loved all the rock-climbing. Nobody knows when and how did the word begin to spread, but Roy says if an Israeli is planning an India visit, he will not skip Hampi. This is something that Babu has his own take on, which he tells me later. He says until five years back, most foreigners in Hippie Island were Israelis. And he pins this on the easy availability of weed and ganja, which continues to be the case.
Finally Mowgli arrives. Babu and I visit a chemist shop run by some doctor they know. He allays my fears of a possible internal injury, bandages my foot, gives some painkillers and that’s about it. I insist he do the same for Babu too. For whatever reason (money I think), I see Mowgli and Babu trying to talk me out of it. But I can only imagine Babu’s pain since he’s sprained the same wrist twice. So after Mowgli leaves, I request the doctor to bandage Babu’s hand and foot for the bill.
Babu though is quite thankful. I don’t want him to be. But he suddenly opens up a lot more. After finishing off the whole bike business, he and I go for some masala chai at a café run by one of his friends. I am still walking with a minor limp. He apologizes for messing up my first trip to Hampi and I tell him it’s not his fault and call him a nice kid. And he goes all out to prove he is not! “Mai kya kya kiya hai naa aapko pata nahi hai.” And he makes the biggest confession of his life – that he may well be only 19, but he actually got kissed by a 31-year-old English lady!! He goes all pink. And I find it so cute, I laugh my guts off. And he goes deep pink! My foot feels better.
I decide it’s time to call it a day. My music escapades in Hippie Islands can wait for another day or two. I’m here till the 2nd. Foot needs a little rest. I take another coracle home.
Post Script: Oh yes, about the tetrapack whiskey… Hippie island is the only part of Hampi that sells alcohol and an attempt at finding cheap liquor with a broken foot can sure led to interesting discoveries, courtesy interesting people.
As for the bread-crumb biryani, that was a decent dinner. Looking forward to Nutella pancakes for breakfast tomorrow. Cheers!

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