Hampi is one of those places where there’s a lot to do but no hurry to do it. You could fill up your day with activities that rise and set with the sun. You can salute the day with a bouldering or yoga session or walk down to the river to watch Lakshmi, the temple elephant, get her daily bath. Eating, shopping and slack lining under a palm tree are activities reserved for the midday heat, when your strength wanes as fast as your ambition.
And if to don’t book end your day with another bouldering session, you will probably find yourself panting the 600 plus stairs to the Hanuman (monkey) Temple for a breath-taking sunset shared with monkeys, cameras and a chatter and splatter of languages bouncing off the boulders beneath you. And these things are all interesting but what is more interesting is what happens a few days into your trip, when activities start falling off your daily list and you find yourself answering “I’m hampi and you?” This is when you start to observe and enjoy the many characters that make this place unique and keep you hanging in your hammock much longer than your climbing injury requires.
Hampi is not short on 20-somethings who’ve got it all figured out and want to soundboard their inspired ideas and philosophies on you. The trouble is that their ideas are hackneyed and their philosophies usually borrowed from the travellers’ library of well-circulated ideas. But they are too young and loud to know this but you indulge them anyway because you catch a sidewise glance of your younger self in them.
You know you have stumbled on a climbing area when people openly talk about their problems at the dinner table and even grade them. Others will listen to the day’s stories, quietly filing their fingers down with sandpaper, in preparation for their next session. Hampi is somewhat of a bouldering pilgrimage site, even if not officially on the world bouldering circuit for competitive climbers. The climbers who come, stay as much for the granite as for the community spirit, good food, beautiful setting and cheap accommodation. To the outsider, the pilgrim seems somewhat evangelical, often found as they are, arms raised in open praise of the rock and the climber above.
The wolf packs
There are two animal packs in Hampi, both equally docile and aggressive, depending on the territory, philosophy or female they are defending at the time. The first are groups of post-military travellers, who have come to Hampi to decompress, with small acts of oppression being a by-product of this assertive action. The second are the dogs who fight over territory and bitches (much like the first pack). These groups mostly stick to their own kind, but are known to test the boundaries of human kindness and tolerance, when the occasion allows. Tip: don’t feed or encourage them and you’ll maintain your inner peace.
The cake man
If you spend any time on the boulder area, you will meet the self proclaimed “I’m the cake man” and his bag of tricks, most of them resembling homemade cakes that his wife bakes, others a brick of solid and strange mystical delights.
The chai wallahs
Bouldering is now a serviced sport in Hampi. In addition to the cake man who wonders from plateau to boulder with his smile and, what looks like a knitting bag, in tow, there are groups of school children who walk around with flasks, selling cups of black and milk chai for 20-30 rupees a takeaway cup. Some are sweet and innocent, others are pushy in a manipulative child kind of way, but all walk far and wide to bring you hot tea when your muscles and sugar levels need it most.
The holy elephant
If you don’t leave with a picture of Lakshmi the holy temple elephant being bathed by her keepers in the river, you are either oversleeping or staying on the wrong side of the river. While you won’t be able to set your clock by it, this morning ritual offers the chance to see an elephant up close and spraying her holy water on lucky locals, as she bathes in the river (along with everyone else) before returning to her hallowed space in the Shiva temple (not like everyone else). It’s a postcard moment worth getting up early for, only to wait as long as it takes for her arrival.
Hanuman, the monkey God, was said to have been born in Hampi, which is why he has his own temple on the hill and his animal incarnates have free reign of it and the other temples in the area. The boulders If you spend time on the rocks, you will discover that the boulders are not just landmarks that you orientate yourselves around, they are characters that change their colour, texture and shape with the rising and setting of the sun as much as your focused attention. And yet they don’t change at all, no matter how many years later you visit them, no matter how many times you climb them. Much like Hampi itself –always evolving and shifting around a solid base.
Musing on the biggest oxymoron to come out of Indian restaurants – plastic serviettes.