SOLO TRIPPING – DAY ONE AT HAMPI – Of Promises Made and Kept

Dead tired. The only two words that come to my mind as I sit to type at the fag-end of the day. (Fag end at 9:15pm feels as strange as tiny eateries here advertising Israeli food as one of their USPs). But then, I did promise myself that I would give a certain sense of posterity to this trip and gloat over it, and hence the effort! (Koffee with Karan-ish confession?! Just wondering.)
So starting from where I left… the bus trip. Yes it was bumpy and took me about an hour to figure the best position to sleep in, but honestly, no complaints at all. I mean, imagine a bus with sleeper berths, well-controlled air-conditioner, private TV screens that work also, plus a blanket and fryums and a bottle of water! They even halted at two places offering open-air peeing facility even to the female folk. (Yes, I ran deep into the fields at 5am. No intention of damaging bladder because of shame, embarrassment, etc.) Felt so relieved that I even forgot that creepy uncle on the lower berth on the opposite side. Actually I think I had forgotten him long before. Three decades of being a woman and you do know how to deal with frustrated middle-aged jerks.
Cut to 8am. The bus finally reaches Hospet. Over an hour late but who cares. I am told buses going to Hampi stop right across the corner. But I am too lazy to walk to the corner and prefer breaking the first promise made to self instead… that there would be no unnecessary kharchas on this trip. Anyway, the rickshaw-wallah gets richer by 200 bucks and drops me to Revanth Homestay right in the centre of Hampi bazaar that I had pre-booked.
Mr Nagaraja and his family who own the place have been really warm and helpful so far. I think chatting up with him over the phone at least twice before coming has helped. A small discussion with him and I loosely figured out my POA for the day.
First up, is a really short walk to Mango Tree Café – something that a friend had recommended. It was supposed to have been a river-front restaurant with descending seating. But turns out the river-front portion had to be shut down a couple of years back. What remains is a cosy indoor restaurant, but grossly over-priced. I decide to just have a cup of tea here and explore the street for some authentic South Indian breakfast instead.
I go to this really tiny place with a road-side kitchen and barely two tables inside. Because single women travellers are treated with as much curiosity as firangs, I am politely escorted inside despite both tables being occupied. A Scottish group is nice enough to accommodate me. We bond over some masala dosa and yet another round of chai. They sound me off on their India travel plans – particularly Mumbai, while they double up as my Hampi trip planners. What I still cannot get over is that one of the women in the group is on a one-year-long maternity leave and has been in India for the last six months!! (Indian working mothers, you feel like biting a few heads off, don’t you?).
Anyway, I finally decide to begin my site-seeing with Vithala temple built in 1513. (For rest of the history there’s wikipedia). Although Virupaksha temple is the first you see when you enter Hampi, I choose to act on a random suggestion and walk right upto Vitthala temple which is anywhere between 1 to 2.5km away depending on the route you take. With Ekla Chaalo Re as the background score in my head, I stride ahead. There are those on bicycles, those on mopeds, but I am happy feet. (Because I can’t even balance on a cycle, forget moped!) And soon enough, I come face to face with my deplorable fitness levels. Puffing and panting, I somehow climb the rough cut stone steps hoping to catch a glimpse of the much raved about temple. I ask an occasional tourist-on-the-return how far the temple exactly is. I get responses like ‘as far as you can go.’ They don’t make help or make sense. Not until I actually make it. And when I do, nothing could have prepared me for it. I am actually in the middle of seemingly endless ruins. Majestic, enchanting, it isn’t like anything I have ever seen before. To be fair, my rickshaw ride to Hampi had given me the first glimpse of the rocks. And yet the Virupaksha temple and surroundings cannot possibly be compared to the grandeur here. In fact I realize how mesmerized I am only when I discover I am stuck between two really oddly placed rocks at a certain height and then lose the nerve while climbing down.
The funniest part is yet to come. I am joined by a really nice Hyderabadi lady in my search for the main temple! (Or so we thought). We can’t find moortis anywhere. Besides, there are no info-plates, no directions, and no guides. She, her husband, kids and I take a nice long round of the sanctum-sanctorum area in our idol-hunt, only to be told by a guard later that there is no idol. Of course that isn’t least bit a dampener because we are too busy marvelling at the ruins.
It almost feels like a town within a town. Just that, a town it never was. And what it was, never will be again. In search of I don’t exactly know what – mostly a way out of the temple I think – I keep walking on aimlessly and end up in front of the Tungabhadra river! I had googled about the coracle rides offered here. Crossing a river in a large ulti tokri really seems terrific. I bump into the warm Hyderabadi family yet again and we do the ride together. While secretly hoping nothing ends up toppling this tokri, I must admit I haven’t felt so close to nature in a really long time.
Extremely conscious of not coming across as a pile-on, post the ride I purposely take a different route. And well, get lost again! I walk on endlessly to God-knows-where only to take a huge detour later. With the sun right above my head, I am tired and hungry and frankly quite crabby. And that’s when mom’s theplas almost serendipitously come to my rescue. I don’t know whether it is the fatigue on my face or the way I am hogging or the entire idea of a girl eating alone in a corner, but I draw a lot of stares. To a point when I begin staring back out of irritation. It is only later that I realize I was sitting in the immediate exterior of yet another temple, though that still doesn’t justify the stares. Anyway.
I finally find a short-cut out of the Vithalla temple complex. And along the way, I get the golden opportunity to see the coracle-ride-mystical-Tungabhadra of the afternoon turn into dhobi ghat by late noon… get interrogated by a couple of school girls on a picnic who want to know how I am travelling alone and whether I am married and why isn’t my husband on this trip… find a toilet… and get robbed off my Bisleri bottle by pesky monkeys inside the Virupaksha temple.
Unlike the ruins at Vithala, Virupaksha with this awe-inspiring gopuram is still a regular temple. With still some time at hand, I decide to now finally take a rickshaw (after some six hours of walking) and head to Malyavantha Raghunatha to see the setting sun.
Some 8kms later, the spot arrives. A temple again?! That’s my first reaction. The only half-interesting picture here is watching firangs playing manjiras, I feel. This is nature’s way of telling me I need more exercise, I think. Anyway, now that I am here, I decide to go around the temple and climb more rocks. But it is only when I reach the top that I realize the sheer treat that I am in for. A bird’s eye view of the entire magical town… the sun on its way down the mountains… and a young flautist deciding to start making music impromptu! And it all just seamlessly blends, creating that enchanting picture. All I do is just soak in the moment. Just feel the rhythm. Just breathe.
As I write reliving the picture, I wonder if this isn’t bliss, what is! Yes, I live to see another day… hopefully as enriching as the day that went by

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