The gruelling schedule at an MBA school often forces you to think of plugging out of it all. And so I dialled up three very close friends from my undergrad days and found my inner history buff guiding my fingers to Hampi on redbus.in.
Hitting the road with old friends is, I would daresay, almost half the fun of the journey. At the expense of keeping everyone else on the bus awake, we spent hours talking about what the correct expansion of SSH would be (quite unromantically, it was Secure Shell), how B-school was one extended party, the pressures to conform to stereotypes of ‘success’, how confused everyone is at 22, and about how we had evolved emotionally-through heart-breaks and the kindling of new relationships.
At 6 a.m., we walked down the bus to overhear awaiting auto-wallahs charge INR 1,500 for a 15-km trip to a bunch of European tourists and their accompanying heavily-accented NRI’s. This is one of the times you’d honestly bless your Hindi/Kannada school-teacher for making you bargaining-savvy in the local language!
Hampi noons can feel like you’re in an oven, but the 30-minute 6 a.m. ride from Hospet to Hampi felt like a blast of ice pricks at every moment. The town didn’t seem to mind waking up at, quite literally, the crack of dawn. Women headed out to fetch water and make rangolis outside their homes, men ventured out in their bullock carts and temples started bustling with the hurried chants of priests- with the only redeeming sign of modernity being the line of young men peering into their smartphones first thing in the morning (early risers for Tinder, maybe?!).
Our auto dropped us in front of an imposing gopuram, of one of the major temples in the area- the Virupaksha temple. With precariously placed boulders along the route and with hills dotted with small shrines, the view of the golden sun peering through the ceremonial entrance was the perfect crescendo to the surreal-spiritual journey across five centuries of civilisation.
After a dip into what life would have been 500 years ago, we decided to leave the monkeys at the temple to their business scavenging for tourists’ money, food, and peace of mind, while ambling towards this café, Mango Tree, that we’d heard so much about. The restaurant is a near-monopoly, thanks to its hippy interiors, wide range on the menu and great collection of chill-out tunes. The four of us gorged on the pasta, banoffee and were reminiscing our own little hang-out in Pilani, La Pizzeria (headquartered in Pushkar, there seemed to be a pattern to these restaurants being strategically placed along the hippy trail!).
With the steady ascent of the sun, temperatures started climbing towards the 36 °C danger mark, we decided to café-hop our way across breakfast and lunch. On venturing to the banks of the Tungabhadra, we picked our way precariously across the now-dry riverbed and found ourselves foodgasm-ed. Options here included renting out cycles/motorbikes or the exceptionally romantic moped. After a few death-defying attempts at riding the gearless two-wheeler, I set off along a narrow path along rice fields, that truly satisfied my craving for a little bit of adventure.
The second option is to laze around in a café- with soothing Middle-Eastern/Indian exotica lounge music, large trippy canvases with alluring images of Shiva/Krishna/mystic gods, a bunch of Israeli/Tibetan/Chinese/Italian and Indian cuisines on the menu and hours to people watch. You might want to buff up before heading to Hampi though, because there were very few bodies that weren’t chiselled to perfection, owing to a number of Israeli nationals who’ve made Hampi their temporary home, after having served in the army.
To make up for all the lazing around, we did a whirlwind tour of most of the ruins between 5 and 6 p.m. We musta admit, with the rate of construction all around, and the fact that these monuments were spotlessly clean, it almost felt like the Archaeological Department was busy ‘building’ new ruins in the dead of the night, when nobody would be watching!
The evening concluded with us marvelling at our skills of travelling without planning, when we suddenly realise that the KSRTC bus we thought was scheduled at 8:30 p.m., had actually already left by 8 p.m.! The four of us plunged ourselves into the nearest auto we could find, trying not to throw the elderly gentleman already sitting inside. The next 20 minutes, was in a way, the climax of the trip for me. Klaus Heitmann, was a celebrity in his own right. He told me that the first time he made it to India in the 1970’s, they drove by car from Berlin on a shoe-string budget, simply because it was the longest land route journey they could’ve taken. Imagine the perils of the journey- no mobile phones, narrow, almost unnavigable roads, not enough money for hotels and so ending up sleeping under the stars on Marine Drive, Mumbai and meeting the love of your life- an Australian woman, who shares the same daredevil passion for exploring the unknown. Klaus had made enough money as a judge in Germany and decided that he needed to do something more for the world. In Coimbatore, he and his wife decided to raise a street-kid as their own, and he as he told me proudly, today, that kid runs a guest house for German tourists in Kanyakumari, called Indien Hermitage. At 70, he wanted to re-live those days of just giving yourself up to the calling of the roads, and that’s why he’d come to Hampi.
If I had to summarize Hampi into one adage, it would certainly be this one-line I read on the the windscreen of our auto- “Don’t worry, be Hampi!”