Hampi is for monkeys
The chilly autorickshaw trip from Hospet to Hampi revealed a more rural village life than we had seen before apart from views out of bus windows. Sleepy dogs and cows wandered into the roads, and people emerged from behind bleak concrete shacks as they completed their morning ablutions.
The landscape also transformed as the light intensified and the fog lifted. Next to the rice paddies and cane fields, were dramatic red boulders. Ridges of granite rocks began to dominate our view. Here and there were rock slab ruins, like some roman building put to use for storage or covered in dark mouldy stains. We rounded a hill and dropped down into town, where suddenly there were walled multistory ruins and tourism trappings.
Welcome to Hampi said our driver, leading us into the Colony, narrow streets, cows and a guest house guetto. Our hosts lead us to the roof for a view of the river, and brought up a Chai to sip while we waited for the room to be made up. It was not yet 8 am and the monkeys were making their morning move across the buildings. These were the red faced rhesus temple monkeys, though later we’d also see black faced langur families climbing the sketchy electrical cabling, hopping over balconies, playing with laundry, and sitting atop every water tank within sight. People were shooing them away, with loud shouts of Hey and bamboo poles and slingshots. The monkeys mostly regrouped on the next building, or went around and tried another approach if there was anything of particular interest. As a small family made its way across the tin roof towards us, we began to HEY! as well, and our landlord showed us the large stick that scared them off when beaten onto the roof. It turned out that yelling HEY was also how you got rid of stray dogs, and that cow that was wandering into your restaurant. Sometimes it even worked. Hampi was safe from the honking of horns but forever cursed with people Heying at stray animals, especially in the mornings and evenings as the monkeys moved through.
Our host told us there would be a festival at the river our first night. We weren’t clear whether this happened every night, nor what was being celebrated. But as dusk approached we could hear things going off at the main temple. We loaded up the camera and set off the 50 metres or so to find men drumming, women dancing, and the temple elephant blessing. Laxmi’s a clever girl and knows she gets the bananas and passes the cash to the boss. You get a blessing pat on the head only for cash, though. Soon the whole lot began a procession to the river where a stage was set, the rocks were lit with candles and a few spotlights and all the town had assembled. This was clearly not a nightly tourist thing.
Monks chanted, a few speeches, Laxmi made a dramatic clamber down the ghat to the water and then trudged right back up. Then music on the sound system while candles in leaves were floated into the river. A lovely peaceful scene as the river filled with dots of light, then suddenly exploded with fireworks.
Our stay in Hampi was an introduction to both rural india, and an almost complete tourist ghetto. There is nothing to do but chill and see ruins. They are everywhere, EVERYWHERE and some are in amazingly good condition, mostly from the 16th century but some as early as the 5TH. At the peak, 500,000 people lived here. A few are restored, most are not. When we got a little off the main sights there were very few tourists and no school groups and it was peaceful at times to wander in the mornings and evenings, hiding when we could indoors for the heat of the day.
It was in Hampi we discovered paratha, chapati filled with spiced potato served with lime pickle and curd. Solid breakfast material. Dinners were veg curries or pasta–we haven’t stooped to pizza yet, though it’s everywhere. Our meals were split between either rooftops with temple views and monkey watching or dark faux tents with cushions on the floor and inexplicably Tibetan themed artwork–makes hippies happy? It’s hard not to drink too much chai because it’s so damn good.
Our one tour day consisted of a hired tuktuk and a seemingly endless sequence of temples. Whereas in Tamil Nadu, non Hindi were not allowed into the temple centres, in Hampi we were part of the business, with caretakers willing to include us in the Pooja and encouraging us to ring the bell, drink the water (yikes) and receive our tilak. We received blessings from Rama, and were a hit climbing up and down the hundreds of steps at the temple where Hanuman was reputedly born. The groups shouting Jai Sri Rama! encouraged us to join in. Unfortunately, since our Ola driver we now interpret fascination with the ramayana with tendencies to celebrate Hindu warriors and thus nationalism.