Hampi is a small village located in the ruins of the Vijayanagara city in the state of Karnataka built by the Vijayanagara Empire. It is one of the most religious cities in India. This UNESCO World Heritage Site boasts of ruins of temples built centuries ago and my tenure as an engineering student in Manipal wouldn’t be complete without a visit to Hampi. It consists of two parts divided by a river- the old part, which is famous for the ruins, and the new part, which has some new temples, a lake and connections to other villages in the vicinity.
After a ten hour overnight journey, as our bus pulled into Hospet on a chilly early morning, we were greeted by eager auto-rickshaw drivers waiting at the door of the bus with maps in their hands and expectations in their eyes. They were offering a ride to Hampi. One of them persisted and seemed adamant to take us to Hampi in his auto-rickshaw, after what seemed like a comical bargaining discussion almost with himself since we weren’t responding. He then went on to lie about the bus frequency and seemed both visibly upset and bemused that we had not accepted his offer, keeping his gaze fixed on us as we proceeded to the local bus stop. And so, Hospet greeted us with some hostility but we were determined to keep our hopes up. We were greeted by an even larger swarm of rickshaw drivers on reaching Hampi and fending this pack off was even more difficult. Their constant presence made it harder for us to think and clear our minds, and for some time we just stood at the entrance, dazed and confused. We soon started calling them ‘predators’, and our initial reaction on seeing them was to flee. In general, we found the locals of Hampi to be a little crude, but the sights and views more than made up for it.
One thing that struck me as fascinating was the number of foreign visitors Hampi attracts. So much so that most of the shops and restaurants were designed to cater to people that were not from India. To cite an example, almost all menus explained supposed ‘Indian’ terms, each having a section titled “Curd (Homemade Yoghurt)”. As a friend correctly pointed out, the restaurants were so heavily influenced by customs abroad, no restaurant served regular water as you sit down, which is a custom throughout India. The entirety of Hampi is littered with restaurants and they all have a common theme- mattresses laid down on the floor with low tables. This personally made them a lot more attractive, as they give off a relaxing vibe. You’d see people reading books, taking a nap or having conversations while sipping on a beverage.
While the new side of the city has mountains of boulders stacked on top of each other, seemingly defying gravity, as far as the eye could see, the old side is filled with ruins spanning massive areas. A common sight in the new part of town is tourists carrying folded mattresses on their shoulders. We later found out that they were bouldering mattresses. Bouldering, along with rock climbing is extremely popular in Hampi, as it is entirely surrounded by boulders. This is why you’d see many rock climbing shops selling climbing gear throughout the new city.
Riding around the new city on a Moped was a highlight for me, especially because it is such an amusing vehicle. It makes a large amount of noise when accelerated and releases a lot of pollution but can barely climb up a slope with two people on it. So if someone were to close their eyes and just listen to it in action it would sound formidable, but it is an entirely different story when one sees it in action. Nevertheless, they are a joy to ride and are easily available in both parts of the town. The beauty of the old town simply cannot be expressed in words. The ruins, in all their magnificence, managed to seem just as breathtaking, despite the hot weather trying to play spoilt-sport.
What was truly bemusing was the mountains of boulders dominating the view from the entire city. They seemed to be precariously placed by some work of magic, defying all notions of common sense and gravity. And to add to the bewilderment we found small stones stacked on top of each other, all around the structures of the ruins, as if it were an attempt at the perfect metaphor. We even wondered if a chain was being followed, wherein every visitor would come and add a stone to the pile. The perfect way to summarize my visit to this alluring town is that it was a delightful mixture of ecstasy, awe and brazen bewilderment.
Yes, this is real!