May 2, 2016 Siddharth Tanti

Holy in Hampi

Whatever I had heard of Hampi apparently was not enough to prepare me for what I saw. Me and my 8 friends went there one fateful day looking for the famed ruins; as for me I was looking for a piece of history and some of me. And there I was, looking down at a place that has a Goa feel in the air. I saw places and relics I have never seen before, I saw frames I had never seen before, I breathed in air I had never breathed before. Hampi is great to see from a set of wheels, slower the better, which in my case turned bicycle. Day starts eventful, as always is in my case. One of our friends while trying to test ride a moped went and rammed into a rickshaw, and that was the start of the exploration with a bang, literally. After some payment, some hurt ego and a bleeding leg, we took to cycles and rickshaws instead, and moved about to explore the place on our own.

The world from a bicycle looks a little like an arcade game; you twist and turn, bright flashes of vision, controlled speed, and a buzz in your head. And as I trawled around, my camera displays an attraction for the ruins of the past, while I am seized with an urge to tell the stories and meet the spirits from those times.

Spread across 26 sq. kms, the ruins and temples of Hampi are relics from the powerful and prosperous medieval city of Vijayanagara, the capital of the powerful Vijayanagara Empire that stretched from AD 1343 to 1565. The now humble Hampi was a crowning glory in the history of South India, particularly Karnataka. Today’s Hampi is replete with modernity, but with a strong throwback to the times of the past, when this city was presided by powerful kings like Harihara II, Deva Raya II, and Krishnadeva Raya. But the greedy eyes and devious intentions of the Golconda, Bijapur and Ahmednagar armies led to the looting and pillaging of the city in 1565, leaving it plundered and ravaged, only to be deserted by its faithful.

The Tungabhadra that flows through Hampi’s backyard divides the town into the holy and “unholy”, into areas of different “highs” and different “lows”, different joys and different sorrows, different “me’s” and different “you’s”. As I pedaled away to realms away from the make believe and sheen of modernity, I woke up to a new kind of history, a vivid imagery of a city that once was. The day winded on like the wheels of the bicycle, from one new place and identity to another. By evening it was time to get ‘unholy’ and cross over to the other side of the river, where we were to camp for the night.  I am feeling happy; so were the ones in my company – we share happiness and a new consciousness, we 8.

We found a huge rock to camp for the night, on the banks of the Tungabhadra reservoir where the dam was located. We set up our two tents, it was dark by then and our headlamps came to our rescue. Under a cloudy sky, with a warm humidity (whatever that means) for company, we all settle down to make more happiness, if you know what I mean. Time passes, tales are traded, and new feelings are discovered. But, surprise has to strike and adventure has to begin, so things slowly start taking an unexpected turn.

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Round about 9 pm, suddenly the skies open up; we seek refuge in our tents, which slowly start letting the rain water in, much to our consternation. To make matters a tad more adventurous, the winds swiftly bring our tents down, and pandemonium breaks loose. Confronted with the prospect of dying with pneumonia, and wet to the bone, three of us break loose from the herd to find a safe haven for the night. We find one: in a broken down, abandoned watchtower. One by one, we three ‘rescuers’ lead the others to the safety of the watchtower – back and forth, till all 8 are in, tents and all, soaked to the bone, but still laughing.

Animated conversations break out again, and the cold and the miserable feeling that comes with being soaking wet from a downpour is replaced with the warm feeling of being together, tied to the same fate. This after all is the state of being a Rocky Feet, of exploring, and having fun when things go horribly wrong. The unbeatable thrill that comes in knowing that we had absolutely no control of how things turn out to be, yet taking it as it comes, and laughing on the face of that, is something worth feeling. A lot of conversation, a lot to drink, and sleep finally arrives by 2:30 am, and the bright, crazy, and fancy-free world of dreams takes over.

Morning for me begins at 10:30 am; the rest of the crowd is already awake and making plans to explore the reservoir in a carackal – a round boat kind of thing made of reeds. Me, Void and Arijit watch as the rest of the gang go off for a spin around the reservoir, which I gave a skip as I was feeling too lazy. By 11:30 am, everyone gets back together again and we slowly move out of our night-time adventure zone and go back to Hampi. By evening, we wrap up our memories in delicate folds of the mind, and set forth on our journey back to big city Bangalore. 2 days of footloose exploration, brilliant laughter, dazed states of mind and a whole lot of rainfall, slowly segues into the safe, secure and predictable pattern of normalcy and city life. Goodbyes, shared love and a promise to set out again are all that linger in the air as the Rocky Feet dream of walking, again…

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