History Lessons – a visit to Hampi

December 5, 2017

Sometime back, my wife, Jyothi, and I were at Hampi, a historical site listed under UNESCO World Heritage Sites, about 350 km north of Bangalore.

The drive took us a little over 6 hours. The NH4 to Chitradurga was in super condition but once we took the turn towards Hospet and further towards Hampi, the condition of the road progressively worsened. However, given the speed that we touched where we could, 350 kilometers in 6 hours was a decent cruise.

This time around, we wanted to explore Rural Tourism, promoted by the Karnataka Govt.. Rural tourism focuses on letting the rural population of the country promote tourism. Very popular in Uttarakhand in North India, along with the creation of an alternative source of income, rural tourism contributes to the revival of folk art and handicrafts. It is an ideal and natural method of rural and urban economic exchange.

We chose a resort located on the edge of a very large paddy field. Sriharsha and his father own the land and have developed a part of it into the resort. The resort was a modest clutch of hutments – a few rooms with AC, all of them with attached bath. The setting was rural by the side of the vast Sanapur Lake – bamboo fences, red-oxide flooring, mud-finish walls with murals, lazily suspended swings in front of all rooms, squirrels, domesticated cats and dogs scurrying around. The rooms opened into the paddy fields, and to the faraway hills beyond.

Sriharsha is savvy enough to have HolidayIQ and Trip Advisor list his property. He has a website and accepts credit cards. While he is ever smiling and ready to help, Sriharsha’s father interacts with customers off and on. I reckon Sriharsha’s mother to be the heart behind their success. She cooks heavenly home made food – pure, simple, tasty and wholesome. This middle-aged and hardy woman is behind the menu listing Chinese, Tibetan, Indian and continental cuisines. At this time, she was also doubling up as a grandmother to her daughter’s 20-day old child, occasionally driving away pesky mosquitoes and putting him to sleep.

In terms of comfort and convenience for slick city dwellers, the resort is suitable only if the guests are willing to put up with sub-standard plumbing, a relatively long wait for food to appear on the table – the waiting is not made any easier with aromas wafting in from the kitchen, erratic hot water supply, no TV in the room and no room service. But this is the whole idea of rural tourism where life acquires a flavor of living in an era which, in flashback, seems to be in perpetual slow motion. We loved the slowing down part and were also fine to take the rough and the tumble – in fact, we were pleasantly reminded of our other sojourn at Lava & Lolegaon on the way to Bhutan in which the hosts completely overwhelmed us with their genuine hospitality.

Since we were going to be immersed in history, we went through some reading even before we left Bangalore. Hampi was one of the richest and largest cities in the world during its prime. The name Hampi can also mean ‘champion’. It is located within the ruins of the city of Vijayanagara, the former capital of the Vijayanagara Empire. Predating the city of Vijayanagara, Hampi continues to be an important religious centre, housing the Virupaksha Temple and several other monuments belonging to the old city.

The empire boasted a massive army comprising close to a million men. In around 1500 AD Vijaynagar had about 500,000 inhabitants, making it the second largest city in the world after Beijing and almost thrice the size of Paris. In addition to being historical, the region is connected to many incidents from the Ramayana, including the famous Shabari legend.

Entering the region of Hampi, one is struck by the beauty of this surreal landscape made up by gigantic boulders on either side, many of them the size of a three-storeyed building – in brown, grey and black colors. They are so spectacular in size that they could not have been brought here – they were born here. It appears that sculptors ran amok here – they seem to have made full use of the locally available stone to create grand palaces, massive temples, deep water tanks, pits, decorative stone doors, lattice windows and pilgrim rest houses.

The region is so rich in history that excavation after excavation is yielding rich dividends. If one were to imagine the city in its glory to be thrice the size of Paris, obviously, there is much more to be discovered. As we walked in and around Hampi, we unconsciously began worshiping the earth under our feet, not sure if we were walking over the sanctum sanctorum of a yet-to-be-discovered temple.

It is good to have a guide take you through such places. Traditionally, in pursuit of their economy drive, Indian tourists do not hire a guide. Avoiding spending money on a guide at a historical site leaves the tourist in a state best summed up in Malayalam which roughly translates to a ‘dog’s trip to the marketplace’. We did not make that mistake. Our guide, Raghu belonged to Hampi and spoke very fondly of the kings and queens – one wondered if he had, indeed, met them. While being a guide for several years taking foreigners around had not allowed him to perfect his English grammar, he had acquired a misleading cocktail of an accent – slightly rolling the Rs and gently chasing the end of each sentence with a drawl.

It was a great holiday. Watching sunrise all by ourselves with no fellow tourist jostling for space, history unplugged, imagining royalty in one’s head, dinner under starlit skies, sounds of nightlife (I mean, crickets and other insects), endless conversations, rich pictures, great food, gracious hosts and a rural setting.

By the end of the trip, we were awash with stories of kings, queens, palaces, courtesans, battles, palace intrigue, invasions, conquests, defeats, rise and fall of empires.

At a philosophical level, I picked up a sub text: eventually, glory becomes history. With passage of time, our glory will become someone else’s history. At a personal level, we will all be relegated to dusty family albums, a photo frame or a picture website.

Why not live for today?

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