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A Pre-Historic Playground

Our time in Hampi coincided with yet another Indian festival, an occurrence which is hard to avoid while travelling the subcontinent. The area is a site of pilgrimage and features under the name Kishkinda in the Hindu Ramayana, and in later years grew into one of the largest Hindu empires named Vijayanagar. Devotees swarmed the local bazaar and accommodation was full to the brim, Indians gushing from every crack in the pavement. Most guest houses are in the main town to the south of Tungabhadra river, but a small cluster reside on the northern bank, accessible only by boat with the last crossing at 6pm. Indian people and deadlines don’t mix, so we knew at sun down there would be some free riverside theatre. We had chosen a guest house on the south bank, allowing us the freedom to sit on a nearby rock and watch the show.


The sun began to dip, bathing the participants in a warm orange glow. A crowd of Indians bustled on the river bank, while a few unsteady, top heavy backpackers intermingled and tried to find their footing. Queuing doesn’t exist in India, instead there is a dog eat dog system of, “f**k you, I’m first at all costs.” The British of course pride themselves on their queuing etiquette; scientists have in fact discovered through rigorous testing that Brits will patiently join a queue even if they don’t know what they’re queuing for, then begin tutting behind their Daily Mail as a ‘dark skinned chap’ pushes in. Hazell and I were greatly relieved therefore to sit back and watch as the first twenty-six participants attempted to board a wooden vessel designed for five. This of course began to sink and a mass bail out ensued onto another boat, young children being tossed between the faltering transportation. All the while order was ineptly enforced by a policeman with a stick and a fat bloke who shouted a lot.


Eventually the Indian passengers were distributed between boats, while others decided to swim. This wonderful microcosm of Indian life was played out to an environmental backdrop of equal mystery. A large proportion of Hampi is comprised of enormous, clay coloured boulders, stretching far into the distance across hilltops and along the river banks. I spent the first day in a state of disorientation; having never been in such an environment my mind was unable to place it within any existing category. However, I felt as though I had experienced something similar in the past, and by the second day the cause of my unease became apparent; our surroundings resembled the artwork of the famed surrealist Salvador Dali.


The boulders of Hampi are a wonder of nature which historians are unable to unanimously decipher, looking at times as if they have been placed by the hand of an unnamed greater force. The vista, (bar the Indian carry on) at sunset is stunning. The boulders shift in shade with the sun, glowing red and then finally disappearing in the darkness. To my mind the area felt pre-historic, pre-human; as if we didn’t belong there. The sense of scale was staggering, humans resembled insects scurrying between the vast crevices. In time I found the ambience restful and calming, as if there had recently been an enormous battle of natural elements generating a thunderous noise, and we were residing within the resulting tranquillity and silence.


We decided to get a little more ’hands on’ with the boulders and make our way along the river bank to a local village named Anegundi. We clambered to a stage where the path became less obvious, and Hazell protested that we should turn back. She was well aware that her requests would be declined, so we continued through the overgrown shrubs and trees, attempting not to lose a flip flop down the numerous snake holes. It was wonderful to be alone in a landscape so magical, climbing over the aged stone, smoothed by the centuries of water erosion. However, it became painfully obvious that the path is unmarked on maps for good reason; we were ill-equipped for such an adventure but of course we continued, Hazell becoming more despondent with every thorned bush ‘scram’ she received, (it’s Welsh for scratch). We arrived at the boat crossing two hours later, covered in a paste of dirt and sweat, but rather satisfied with our efforts. We discovered on the way back that there was a path nearby which would have taken about ten minutes.


Thankfully the short boat crossing to Anugundi was uneventful, and the village itself is a charming little place, homely and relaxed. We stopped off for some Jasmine rice served on banana leaf and browsed the local craftwork before taking the shorter route home, exploring the myriad of temples nestled within the boulders on the way. We had seen rather a large number of temples by this point, so rather than pay an entrance fee for the main attractions, we enjoyed exploring the ruins dotted all over the landscape that remain free to roam.


We watched the sun set once more on the river bank; a slightly more peaceful affair on this occasion, as most of the Indian crowds had departed that morning. Of course, they had left a treasure trail behind them for the rest of us to enjoy, a calling card if you will, of litter, human faeces and soiled sanitary towels. A Scottish onlooker beside us mused – “Och, I love the smeeel of fresh shite. Rrreally tickles the nostrils.” Clearly the poor Glaswegian was overcome with homesickness. We both felt we could have stayed a little longer soaking up the atmosphere and olfactory opulence of Hampi, but Tamil Nadu was calling, the final state in our Indian journey.


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