While making travel plans, we usually collect info. of the Footnotes kind from different sources, so that we are not thrown off balance by little "surprises" we may encounter in alien lands. So far, I have not experienced any great Culture Shock , anywhere. Except in - of all places - Hampi. In our own backyard !
Three years ago, I was given a Hampi Trip as a birthday gift by my son and it served as a cherished refresher course, as the memory of my first trip to the wonderful place, eons ago, is less than sketchy ( and the four B&W 3-inch photos are dismal souvenirs that speak nothing.)
We ( Son, Sis and I) checked into a homestay "guest house" adjacent to The Bazar Street at 4 am, and stepped out, refreshed, at 7.30 to find ourselves an ordinary Idli -Coffee breakfast.
The arterial street was fully abuzz with activity, with more than a dozen thatch-roof cafes open for business. Most of them with signboards proclaiming " Recommended by Lonely Planet ". The population out and about was predominantly foreign : in shorts and tees, in sarongs and dreadlocks, in kurta pyjamas, some spruced up, some scruffy, either jogging or photographing or lounging or eating.......barely six or seven natives to be seen ! And finding the humble idli turned out to be a quest for the Holy Grail. Cafes labelled Mahalakshmi , Virupaksha , New Shantha Bhavan and suchlike offered Continental, Italian, Israeli, Japanese and Korean fare with panache ; but the dothi or saree-clad rustic hoteliers shrugged in lofty disinterest at the very mention of Idli dosa - like we were asking for stale pie in The Ritz ! Their cows, tethered to the front pillars, turned up their noses in disdain, for good measure. Culture Shock, big time !
But that only added to the total charm of Hampi. Our Tourism Department uses a tag line, " If Dreams are sculpted in stone, it would be Hampi". Permissible hyperbole ? Actually, quite true. The Hampi experience is without a doubt, superlative .
Its not only about the awesome artistry lavished on the monuments .
Or just the majesty and romance of the ruined city .
Its about Hampi's almost surreal and magical location amidst those amazing boulders .
Its about the seamless continuation of life and living , the present thriving organically within of the past.
Its about the regal dignity with which the monkeys still lord it over the ancient Kishkinda;
Its about the great concourse of life, of all races, that fills the ancient city in an eternal Mela ;
About the unexpected , unobtrusive, unflaunted details that spring into view suddenly ;
Its about lingering echoes of unbelievable legends
and about the overpowering feeling of being humbled into insignificance in the face of monumental Faith and the glorious heights achieved by human will in both Arts and Administration.
Some tidbits sticking fast to memory:
The autorickshaw drive from Hospet Bus-stand, on a long, lonely, unlit " road" serenaded by crickets, in the darkness before daybreak, with no signs of civilization for a good half hour.
The two shops, in front of the Virupaksha temple that sell pooja articles : rummaging in the wooden bins filled with old metal junk from temples and defunct households can yield such wonderful loot ! Artistic and antique objects.
The narrow cave on the banks of the river that leads to the Hanuman Temple. There is no telling when the cows, bells tinkling and hooves clacking , will decide to rush in from the other side ! So, its prayer at ever step !
Stopping for tea in a small cafe where the fridge stands in openair, connected to a switchboard fixed to the coconut tree. Nevermind the signboard that says : "Recommand of Lovely Planet" !
The innovative plumbing in the bathroom of homestay .
Reading the Ramayana as in Amar Chitra Katha comics on the walls of the Hazara Rama Monument.
Plodding through the slushy banana groves and freshly planted paddyfields to reach the much talked about "Mango Tree " restaurant above the river and eating spicy noodles served on banana leaves .
Discovering that in addition to being in the UNESCO World Heritage List, Hampi also features in its " Heritage Sites in Danger" list . Ofcourse, the contoversial suspension bridge across the river was scrapped, but another danger in the form of mining activity in neighbouring areas persists, threatening the fragile monuments.
( Photographs by Son )