2

Hampi – The Ancient City That Speaks

Day 1

The burning morning sun and the dust agitated by the passing vehicles made me think if I should have listened to my roommate.

“There is nothing in Hampi. What will you do there?”, She had said.

The First Impression

 

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Virupaksha Temple in the far left corner

 

The only bus stand in Hampi seemed like a parking place for private cars. Rows of temporary shops awaited for their customers desperately. Auto-drivers and locals selling small items came like a swarm of bees towards the honey combs except that we weren’t honey combs — we were tourists—new to the place and almost completely lost at where to begin.

After a 7-hour journey from Bangalore in the rickety sleeper claiming to be a multi-axle, the bus dropped us at Hospete. I quarrelled with the driver as I had booked the bus till Hampi, and he claimed that the private buses weren’t allowed in there. Only when he assured me that he will provide an auto service at his own cost did I retreat. Luckily, I met my friends at the major bus depot at Hospete. From there, we took a local bus to Hampi, which took us another 30 minutes.

City That Once Flourished

 

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Hampi—an ancient city in ruins—stood before us, silently shouting of its glorious past. People still live there but not as they used to in the 15th and 16th century or even before. There are monumental structures that stand tall and sturdy through the weathering of time, though nobody stays in them. Hampi was one of the richest cities, and a centre of trade of horses, gems and arts and culture. If you ever heard of Tenali Raman, and the court of Krishnadevaraya, it was this place where the intelligent Brahmin impressed the king with his witty answers. Under the rein of the generous king, the city of Vijayanagar (now Hampi) rose to the zenith.

Hampi is situated in a semi-arid area of northern Karnataka. All you can see in your vicinity are stretches of huge chunks of rocks. Little vegetation has turned the air dusty, and the sunlight scorches mercilessly through the already dwindling shade. The only relief to the eyes is the water of Tungabhadra River that traces a snake-like path between lower rocky terrains. On either side of the river, the intricately cut out rocks have astoundingly taken the forms of temples, gateways, deities, animals, and other innumerable structures. These designs and carvings emanate and highlight the cultures and traditions that would have otherwise been buried with time.

After walking for a while, the sun felt warmer and took a toll on our imagination, wavering it to the wildest corners. We guessed that Hampi got its name from its range of hills that looked like the hump of a camel. Hampi was originally called as Pampi, which was the old name of Tungabhadra River. In my imagination, children ran playfully through the rows of tall stone pillars, engraved with pictorial descriptions of wars, horses, courtesans and deities. I saw women clad in saree, going to Virupaksha temple for early morning prayers, with a plate full hibiscus, banana and coconut to be offered to Lord Shiva. Few horsemen, stood patiently waiting for traders, who watched the sturdy horses, admiring their hefty, muscular built. It would have been a pleasant evening—the days much cooler and the sun not so harsh. Pilgrims visiting Virupaksha temple from far and wide, to offer prayers to Lord Shiva, wouldn’t have known that their place of worship would be functional even after 14 decades.

Virupaksha Temple
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We started with one of the giant structures visible around. The Virupaksha temple—which was a prominent landmark in Pampi back in the 15th-16th century—has two huge courtyards with a giant gateway connecting them. This nine storeyed temple tower has stonework at every level that sculpts into figures, few of which may seem erotic but they rather signify the auspiciousness of fertility.

The Mortals

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You have to walk barefoot inside the temple and need to pay if you intend to take photographs. The open temple courtyard has pillars on the both sides of the walkway. On the left, they had kept an elephant to amuse visitors. She was trained to collect money from them and pat their heads with her trunk, as a form of blessing. I lost the count of people who took selfies with the elephant, who was mindlessly munching on the eatables they provided to her. I stood there for long and waited for the people to disperse. I stared at the she-elephant and conveyed to her, how sorry I felt for her, to be away from home, here, surrounded by some silly people, asking for her blessings after enslaving her. I thought she might feel grateful that she is not their God—’They’ would have faced torments if ‘They’ lived among us. It was as if she understood me and brought her head closer towards me. I gave the 34-year-old a gentle pat of assurance and wished her a good life ahead.

The Gods

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The temple hall had stone-carved lions on the outer side of its pillars. One could look up to find the ceilings display rows of beautiful murals—it reminded me of the typical South-Asian gods and goddesses with slender eyes and sensual gestures.
The Shiv-Ling, confined to a small space inside the main enclosure, was barely visible. The walking area around the temple had its roof covered with rock slabs, which blocked the sunlight. It was quite dark and cold inside. While circumventing the temple, when we switched on our cell phone flashlights, we noticed hundreds of tiny bats hanging quietly on the ceiling of the walkway without our knowledge. In fret, we quickly circled the temple in the dim light coming from the cracks between the rocks slabs above us and hurriedly came out from the other end.

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The bright sunlight welcomed us again. There were people and monkeys everywhere. The former offered prayers to the deities at the functional temple whereas the latter got all the blessings in the form of food. We walked further to reach an open space and found a few rock statues silently basking in the sun. There was also to an algae-struck pond, probably a reservoir but, thankfully, it was devoid of any human waste. The rear exit of the temple courtyard opened to a mini market along the Tunghabadhra River. A few people—mostly men—went down the step-way to take a dip in the shallow and rocky waters. Not so far from the river stood few changing rooms for the ease of the visitors though the men didn’t seem to make use of them.

Slightly tired, we sat there under the shade and waited for the time to pass and the sun to relax. Fruits were readily available along with things like jewellery and decorative items —it was sold by the locals along the roadside. I went past them like a raven attracted to their glitter. But, then, I wanted to meet the elephant again and traced my own steps back.

2

District of Daydreams – Jaipur to Ajmer

vWhen I got down from the plane I looked around to find a deserted piece of land.

 Where is every one?  Where are the people of Jaipur?

When the craft crew bade us, into the escort buses, I was still thinking if I was in a game mode or our aircraft was, genuinely, the only one on airport. While I was thinking that I had a view of a pipe being forcefully stuck, at the bottom of the nozzle of another aircraft, by around five people.

Thankfully I saw another plane, even more thankful that it wasn’t, by any chance, my next flight.

A minute into the bus and then at airport, I encountered complete silence welcoming me to the pink city. Glass doors opened to dry air and before I could take my luggage from the conveyor, I directed my pace to the restroom for a relief. Sobs and cries of an airhostess, in the bathroom, similar to ones we have at railway stations, kind of turned off my excitement of visiting a new place. Diverting my face with nasty expression, towards the exit, I lifted my luggage and carried myself off to the open.

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Padharo Maare Des”, Ah! The tune lingered in my head, exactly how it is sung in the authentic saas bahu sitcoms like Balika Wadhu, on Indian Televisions, I thought, looking at the sign of the airport wall that separated me from the roads.

I hit the roads, on a local bus, well yes, after being bugged by local autoriksha-walas who asked me, constantly where I wanted to go, Haa, Madam kaha jaana hai, aiye’.  I did reply back in a mocked tone, that I am going via bus then why are you asking me, to which they replied

Hmari apni gaadi hai, We have our auto that is why we are asking.

Don’t know what that meant but here I was, in a bus, with scarcely occupied seats, even lesser people. Attracting few glances, I sat nearest to the front door, reserved for the women and asked the conductor and driver to let me know when the Sindhi Bus Stand arrives. Roads were good but empty. I wondered if Sunday was so quiet at Bangalore, people would have definitely migrated somewhere else.

An aunty sat beside me, and finally I got to see how, people dress up here in West. Nothing much, a sari, with the pallu(veil), draped over the head, basic makeup which included a dark shade of maroon lipstick and kajal, bunch of colorful bangles in each hand, dangling earrings and a impeccably glinting nose pin. I asked her if she knew when my stop would come. She replied it was far ahead and exclaimed that it must be difficult with luggage and that I should ask the driver/conductor to inform me when the stop arrives. The bus was packed and there were curious glances that found me a bit intimidated, one among them, staring at me continuously. I was relieved when he got down some time later. The bus ran through few empty and wide stretches of roads and after one hour of hurling against traffic lights and the traffic, I finally reached Sindhi camp bus stand.

The bus dropped me about 50 meters away, from where I asked the way to the bus stand. People helped me out of courtesy. But I showed no signs of

Oh my God, I should have recharged my net pack for GPS in this unknown place’

and carried myself with confidence, as I had read in one of the travel tips, on travelling alone. An over cautious uncle, on being asked the way, told me to take care, as there was a heightened rate of abductions and murders in Jaipur, after telling me the way. Sure I was aware how far he walked along until he disappeared in the crowd. Through the corner of my eye, I kept a glance at him, just in case he turned out to be the burglar he was talking about. You know, like sarcastic villains in movies.. 😛

The place smelled pathetic until I finished my walking and headed straight to the Government bus, besides which the conductor constantly cried out my destination, Ajmer.

They charged 150 rupees, less than any other online ticketing sites, though the bus stopped in between for quite some time, charging more to the people, who got onboard from successor stops after me. The journey of two hours was comfortable; the seats weren’t all that bad. Sufficiently sufficing my journey needs, I took water bottle and some snacks from local vendors who would get on and off the bus, at the various bus stops it passed by. Network would puff off on the way, as the bus traversed through the arid lands. Villages, shrubs and fewer trees covered most of my view. Soon the mild winter wind drove me to sleep, amongst the sound of the engine that seemed to clear its throat after every change of gear.

I didn’t realize, I arrived in the tiny district, covering a total of 135km from the pink city. Oh and by the way, the pink city isn’t that pink except for few building made of red sand stone, straight out of the Aravali hills of Western Ghats. I was surprised to find that the Ajmer bus stand held more crowd than Jaipur airport. The journey didn’t end here though.

I was happy to see my friends who had come to receive me. We all got into the car and plunged into the merry yet seemingly old place, that somehow took me back in time. Houses and shops, showing off, not more than the purpose they served, stood not so tall. Luckily, I had the free view in a populated place, even from the car window, the one in which you look up to see the whole stretch of sky, even the horizon sometimes. No concrete forest, no skyscrapers, no honks, no traffic, no dust, emissions. With Ajmer, it was love at first sight.

~’~

This journey through Rajasthan was to encounter a cultural twist with a Bengali wedding that I was going to attend.

Check out this space to know how Rajasthani and Bengali culture and traditions blended to create some of the most memorable moments and why I promised myself that I am going to come back to the district once more.