The road was rugged. No one told us about it. The car took a lot of hits, faces cringing each time the fender hit projecting rocks or when the car plunged into deep pits masquerading as potholes. The light was fading fast and the worry lines growing. And then, just out of nowhere there happened a sunset. The colours brightened the sky and we watched it in awe whenever the road permitted. Darkness fell soon. It wasn’t even 6:30 in the evening!
After much asking for directions, and roads that no sane man who owns a car would ever take, we took what we knew was the final correct turn into Hampi. The road was dark, there was no power as the place was reeling with power cuts like the entire state. (Driving by during daytime I realized there were actually no streetlights!) There was just us, driving by in the car with the headlights our only guide to the world outside it. …And then they rose on the side, stones and rocks. Some chiseled enough to form temples and palaces, all of them destroyed and in ruins. Some just hanging by uncut at 40-50 feet, threatening to drop on us, having done that for 1000s of years. The arches, with the top in ruins hovered, the temples that lay on the side opening into the road, bristled at the sudden light on them. But they were there, an eerie presence, lying silent, as they have the past 600+ years.
To experience Hampi, you need to enter it in darkness. In daylight you just listen to the many stories the ruins have to tell. Of kings, queens and wars, of victories and the one defeat. But in the darkness, they just lie there. Like they have for so many centuries. Somehow, that’s the time which brings their stories to life, of what was there, of the people who walked those streets and sheltered under those rocks, as there are very few trees to shelter under, of the huge temples with their own markets lying in front.
We found our way to the guest house after having to reluctantly concede to parking the car outside the gate in a common area, the guest house guy telling us it’d be safe. The room was a shock. A tiny 10X10 chamber with an attached bathroom which was clean as the internet had promised, seeming the only consolation. One mattress was given as the extra bed with a pillow and bed sheet added in. We dropped our luggage around the bed and went out for a cup of coffee.
We made our way to the main Bazaar street, the one famed to sell diamonds on the street side, in front of the mighty Virupaksha temple. (You have to see the temple to believe how mighty – everyone will tell you that, but then to see it is surprising all the same!) There were just people selling food on carts with a couple of places with chairs and tables. We settled in one and ordered tea. It came out in 5 minutes. Like most things in Hampi, it was surprisingly good. We returned for dinner after not finding any other place worth it (Had gone with parents, so north Indian, Chinese, Israeli food were out of the question). The chapathis were soft and the curry hot and tasty. This was to be the common theme of the place. Nondescript places offering things with warmth and of quality. The breakfast the next day was at a hole in a wall with just the name written in Kannada (Brahmanara palahara kendra). They served only breakfast and that too just idlis and something called a “Gundu pangaLa” (what is known at home as “Morappam”), which he baked on a medium flame for 10-15 minutes each batch and tasted like heaven!
Hampi itself is surrounded by rocky hillocks. They are there all around, even bang in the middle of the village. The vegetation is sparse, it’s just boulders after boulders all around, even across the once-mighty and now reduced to a trickle Tungabhadra. Everything is a climb for a great view around. And when the guide tells you that Hakka and Bukka established the kingdom there because they saw a hare chasing a hound, the place makes you nod along and believe! It’s hard to believe someone would go to such a barren and hot place and establish a kingdom there. And yes, they are the only kingdom to have ruled from there. No one else dared! Across the river are more rocky hills, full of temples and forts. They are named Anjanadri, Sugreeva, Vaali etc. This is the place called Kishkinda, where the Ramayana says the armies of Sugreeva and Vaali lived. That is all you have as trace of civilization, in the rocks both sides of the river.
To experience Hampi, live there. The rooms are sparsely done. There is no TV, no dial-in room service, only coffee and tea at the guest house was made in their own kitchen and only BSNL works for cellphones. You can get everything 20 minutes away in Hospet along with traffic and potholes. You can drive in by morning and get back to your rooms by evening, and you get to see Hampi. But this is not a place to be just seen. Live there for a few days and experience it!