I had visited Hampi last in the October of 2014. It is a quiet village in the heart of Karnataka, close to Hosapete and Ballari. I had really liked the place back then; something about the laid back idleness of the place giving me a much needed break from my hectic schedule and the lack of mobile network only adding to the peace. Three days had gone by in a jiffy and there was a feeling of incompletion when I boarded the bus back to Pune. So when the opportunity presented itself for a return to this charming town, I had no reason to turn it down. The excuse : a half marathon being organised by a group that called itself Go Heritage Run. I signed up for the run and made the necessary travel arrangements. Parul was coming with a group of her friends from Pune. We were going to make a vacation of this long weekend.
Getting To Hampi
Hampi is a quaint little town that does not have much more than history to boast of. The rustic neighborhood is accessible via road. Perhaps the easiest way to get there (unless you are driving down directly) is to get to Hosapete and then catch a local bus to Hampi. Hosapete is quite well connected by rail and road. Majority of the bus services operating in Karnataka have Hosapete on their map. Or you could catch a train to the Hosapete station. The latter being by preferred mode of travel, I looked up the available options and found a seat in the slow passenger train from Bangalore to Hosapete. Since I was in no rush to get to the town, the passenger train worked out pretty well. It would get me to Hosapete around mid noon and it would take me another hour or so to get to Hampi.
I had spent a rather hectic week in Bangalore, rushing around to meet friends, catch up on pending correspondence, working on a couple of projects, etc. I was looking forward to some time out without any agenda on my mind. There was more hectic travelling and running around that would ensue immediately afterwards, so there was all the more reason to savour this time the best I could. I boarded the train at Bangalore Central railway station. The coaches of the train seemed to be arranged at random which made finding my coach a little painful. I eventually did find the coach and dumped my luggage. The train started shortly after and I retired to my berth. I prefer the upper berth; it is like a private nook of your own in a chaotic train cabin. The simple sleeper compartment can get specially noisy and stuffed but there is some inkling of privacy in the upper berth. This one, however, was not too clean. Someone had thought it a good idea to climb up with his muddy shoes! I somehow arranged my backpack to cover the muddy part and lied down without thinking too much of the dirt. It was nothing that a bath could not cleanse me of.
I had a tough time falling asleep because of my throat infection. It had been troubling me intermittently for quite some time now and medications barely help me. I slept a restless sleep, waking up from time to time to adjust myself. During one of these bouts of consciousness I realised that the night was over, people had started waking up and moving about. Faint morning light was struggling to light up the compartment but the upper berth was the secure in the safety of it’s remoteness. I eventually woke up when Parul called to tell me that they had reached Hosapete and were going to Hampi. The clock said 9:30 AM and my train was supposed to reach in another couple of hours. I stretched and made my way down. The train had been standing still for a while now. I went out to check what the matter was. Instead of the 10+ bogies that had crossed last night to find mine, only 5 stood on the platform with no engine on either end. The random arrangement of the compartments made sense now. The train had split up at Ballari and while most of it travelled on to Hubbali, a few compartments were left behind to be towed by a diesel engine till Hosapete. After a fairly lengthy break, an engine attached itself to one end of the abandoned bogies and we resumed our journey. The weather was rather pleasant and I enjoyed the wind and views that the journey had to offer.
The train got us to Hosapete a few minutes earlier than the appointed hour. I turned down the auto-rickshaws that offered to take me to the bus-stop or Hampi and walked the couple of kilometers to the bus stand. After a small and quick meal of keema and parotas, I boarded a bus to Hampi. Currently route numbers 301 and 302 ply between Hosapete and Hampi. This bus was quite crowded with the local students who came from the surrounding villages to study in the schools and colleges of Hosapete. I spent a few minutes studying the hands of a young woman who was crammed up next to my seat and had to hold the window railing right in front of me for support. There were three dots of ink on the back of her hand at the base of the thumb; perhaps a mark that had been given to her as a child. The boundaries had blurred over the years and now lacked in sharpness of a fresh tattoo. I had not seen the woman but her hand indicated that she was quite young. The skin lacked the creases of age. Dirt trapped near the tips of the fingers suggested that the hand was subjected to outdoor work. I fell asleep contemplating the kind of life that she must have led. Within a few minutes of leaving Hosapete the crowd started easening and I woke up to find that the hand had left my presence sometime during the journey. We reached Hampi soon after and I picked up my luggage and deboarded the bus.
The Go Heritage Run management had set up the bib collection at the end of the Hampi Market. I walked up to them and gathered my bib. No RFID implying no timing of the run. I liked the idea. I immediately walked back to the river jetty and took a boat to the north of the river. The Tungabhadra was flowing at a serene pace and a usual crowd had gathered on the banks to bathe in it’s waters. I got off on the other side and walked along the main road towards the guest house. The north of the river is something of a small hippie village with a profusion of foreigners, mostly Israelis. The place had gotten more crowded and new cafes and lodgings had cropped up in the year and a half that I had last seen it. Numerous shop owners offered bikes and scooters for rent as I made my way to the guest house. I found Parul and Aamir relaxing in hammocks, the rest were on their way. I took a quick bath, freshened up and lay in a hammock as the remainder of the party streamed in.
Once everyone had taken a breather, we decided to hike till the sunset point. There was a small temple up on one of the rocks nearby and we had seen a beautiful sunset from there the last time. En route, however, an enterprising young man, who went by the name of Venkatesh, sold us a few cups of tea at bloated prices and told us about another sunset point that was much more popular and where people apparently jammed. Sounded interesting and since everyone was up for it, we set out following young Venky to the other point. Turned out that it was at the other end of the village and included a decent amount of climb. We found a good spot that offered an exquisite view of the Virupaksha Temple and Matanga hills on the other side of the river.
The green paddy fields down below reflected the sky beautifully. The sun stay hidden behind the clouds for quite a while and was mellow by the time it reappeared in the sky. We spent a good couple of hours there, enjoying the view and indulging in activities of personal taste – photography, music, reading, etc. Towards the sunset the crowd thickened and the place lost it’s serenity. We left shortly after the sun had set. There was still a little brightness to be availed for the climb down.
We spent the rest of the evening eating some unexceptional food in Top Secret River View Cafe and listening to some good music. With a tiring day behind us and another one up ahead, I decided to retire early.
Running around Hampi
The alarm woke me up at 5:45 AM. I quickly washed up and went to check on the others. By 6:15 AM five of us – Trupti, Parul, Aamir, Bhargava and I, were making their way to the river side to catch a boat to the other side. My run began in 30 minutes. The boats had not yet started plying and a lone coracle was making it’s rounds in the dark waters of the Tungabhadra. The asking price was an exorbitant INR 100 per person but we realised that we did not have an option at the moment. So we allowed ourselves the extortion and found ourselves on the other side of the river with five minutes to spare for the run. Fortunately the run was delayed by a few minutes and I made it to the start point right in time for the flag off.
The air was cool and pleasant and the sun had not yet made itself visible when we started running out of Hampi. The path curled into an intimidating incline immediately outside Hampi market but gradually planed out. The police were helping out with the arrangement and the run seemed to be well managed. There were not many participants in the 21K category that I had signed up for and I, for one, enjoyed running without the crowd that usually throngs such events. We ran on the tarred road, passing ruins on either sides. A pleasant orange sun rose in the eastern sky while we passed through the verdant surroundings. The traffic was easy and, but for an occasional rowdy truck driver, the route seemed quite safe. The track was an out and back one and we took a U-turn near Vitthala Temple. Here we ran into quite a few 5K runners who had taken a different (shorter) route. Aamir and Bhargava were running this category but I could not spot them. I took my first break right after the U-turn and hydrated myself. I was doing better than I had expected of myself.
Here on I encountered a lot of runners coming from the opposite direction. These were the ones of the 12K category. A few 21K runners overtook me but I did not feel the inclination to compete with them. I was not competing for position. I usually ran with a target time as personal goal but this time around I was not too keen on the time as well. I was doing this to check my fitness level and to renew the determination that a half marathon requires. I had been out of practice for quite a while and knew that my physical form was lacking. I was just looking to complete the run in the vicinity of 2 hours. I have always believed that timing depends on one’s physical form whereas completion is more about the mental form. The route back was a bit more taxing. I kept my pace and stopped when I felt too tired. The weather was quite helpful and so was the scenic route. A langur looked on from the roadside, surprised at so many humans running with nothing to chase! I eventually crossed the finish line and a rough calculation told me that the time had been around 1:55. Not bad; not bad at all!
Aamir and Bhargava had completed their run a little while back and Adityo had joined the group in the two hours I had been running. We met Chris who had participated in the 21K as well. We chatted for a while, cooled down and had some of the breakfast that the management had arranged. Then we headed back to the guest house to take a bath and stretch our limbs. Back in the guest house I took a bath and went and relaxed in the cafe. The service was slow but none of us were in a rush. Chris came around and told us about the bicycle trip that he had done the previous day around Hampi. Seemed like a good idea but it was not a possibility on that day. My legs were not up to the task. After lunch everyone went their own ways. Some went exploring the ruins of Hampi, some lounged around in the cafe, I went back to the room for a nap.
Parul woke us up around 4:30 PM. We hired scooters and went to the Sanapur Lake. This lake is another charming aspect of the north side of the river. You can spend hours there swimming in the cool waters, lying on rocks and looking at the sun travel across the sky or taking a coracle ride in the lake. To our surprise, the lake had very little water this time. Parul was astounded since she had come here a mere two months back and found the lake full to the hilt. The water level had gone down by more than a few meters! Which meant that our usual spot which offered a great swimming space was out of question. In fact swimming did not seem like an option at all. We searched for and found a spot a little ahead of the usual one. This area would have been completely submerged with the usual level of water. Cameras and GoPros came out and were set up for hyper-lapse photography. The sun was already behind the boulders on the far side of the lake and the sky bore a reddish tint. We sat for a while, talking and listening to music. Some climbed up rocks and played pirates. Minutes flew by and it was dark by the time we started wrapping up.
Aamir said that this was a perfect setting for a horror movie. Ten people lost in the woods in the dark and then people suddenly start disappearing. Though none of us disappeared, the darkness was not really helpful. I could no longer see the lake and was guiding the party out with a certain amount of uncertainity. The moon was not yet up and the darkness was near complete. Our feeble torches did little to help, but we did manage to find our way out successfully! Though some complained of hearing sounds in the bushes, everyone was out without incident. Encouraged, we decided to continue the adventure and take the long route back. A near-full moon had risen in the sky as we slowly made our way through the villages and fields. But for a single wrong turn, which was immediately corrected by the villagers, we did alright this time. The roads were unlit and uncrowded, the air cool again; we rode in silence with the only sound being the hum of our engines.
We ended the day with some good Indian food at a cafe right next to our guest house. This place (Rasta Cafe) was not too crowded and the service and food were pretty good. Back in the guest house, we retired early once again to recover from the taxing day.
A Day in Ruins
We woke up without much of an agenda the next day. A few had woke up early to go watch the sunrise from the Hanunman Temple but Aamir, Parul and I had opted out of the plan. We slept till 10 and then got up and made plans for the day while having breakfast at Rasta Cafe. The three of us agreed on renting out bicycles on the other side of the river and exploring the ruins around town. After breakfast we caught up with the others and started off with them. Bhargava was also interested in renting the bicycle while the others were of the opinion to spend their time in a less hectic manner. We crossed the river on the boats and while we waited for the others, I got the (now familiar) firang treatment. A couple of guys asked me my name and pronounced it with an anglicized accent (something like Karen). It was probably my attire : a white kurta on top of knee length shorts, but I have gotten mistaken for a foreigner from time to time. It is a rather amusing study in our well known xenophilia. People walked up to me and offered me some rice puffs! They would never have been so gracious had they seen me for the Indian that I am.
Once everyone had managed to cross to the south of the river, we split up. The bicycles were short in supply and exorbitantly expensive! I haggled to a lower price but it was still too costly. Anyhow, we got four geared cycles and set out to explore. The climb right outside Hampi market got everyone. Most of us were new to geared cycles and unable to use it properly and efficiently. The weather was hotter than the previous days and the sky was clear. The glaring sun did not help our situation any but we kept at it and the road gradually got smoother. We rode at an easy pace and the traffic was not a problem. Within a few minutes we reached the ruins complex that we had set out to see. While we were locking up or cycles, the others made an appearance in an auto-rickshaw! So much for separate ways.
The first stop was an underground Shiva temple. It was underground in the sense that the temple’s top was at the current ground level. The temple was not an active one; very plainly built, without much adornments on the walls. After the outer chamber, the base was covered in a layer of water a couple of inches deep. The water seemed stale and a strong smell of bat droppings invaded our nostrils. The inner chamber had a very Indiana Jones-ey feel to it. Bats fluttered around and light was scant. On the other end of the inner chamber was yet another chamber. This was the main chamber with a shiva linga inside that was visible only if the entrance to the inner chamber was unobstructed! I have seen such use of natural light before and am totally in awe of such architectural styles. All of us roamed about for a while and then left the temple. A glass of lemon soda to refresh ourselves and onwards to the next site.
The next site was a open area that used to be the Mohammadean residence. We could go inside with our bikes and so we did. There was a watch tower up ahead and we rode up to it. Riding on tracks is so much fun! As expected, the watch tower was closed. Indians have a tendency to lock up places and restrict movement. Anyway, we rested a while, listened to some music and then left for the next place.
The Hazararama temple was quite a delight. In a grand style that is typical to Vaishnavite temples, it was well sculpted and adorned with impressive artwork. The walls of the temple told the story of the Ramayana in short. I tried to follow some of the murals that I could make sense of. Perhaps the name of the temple was derived from the numerous Rama images that were present on the temple walls.
We left for the Zanana Enclosure next. This was a well maintained compound to the north of the Hazararama temple. There was a ticket for this complex with the standard rates of INR 10 for Indian citizens and INR 250 for foreign nationals. We talked about the disparity of the rates but it seemed fair that the beauties of the land be accessible to all it’s citizens and offered to outsiders at a price. The Zanana Enclosure contained the famed Lotus Mahal and the Elephant Stables. The stables were grand and imposing, befitting the beast it must have harboured in the times of yore. The Lotus Mahal seemed an exaggeration; it was neither much of a mahal nor resembled a lotus very blatantly. Perhaps the petal arches of the gateways were what gave the structure it’s name; or maybe the curling extension of the roof that lent the structure a somewhat floral touch. I could not find any text explaining the significance of the Mahal so I can guess at best. Apart from these, the complex contained a temple that we skipped, the basement of the queen’s palace that was quite ordinary, a museum that contained quite a few intriguing relics and a couple of watchtowers that were quite quite beautiful and seemed right out of a video game (Age of Empires) I used to play!
We were running short of time to explore the final area that lay to our south. This was the Royal Enclosure and had seemed quite crowded. We decided to skip it and go to Kamlapur instead. We needed to withdraw some money for our expenses, there being no ATM in Hampi. Kamlapur was less than a kilometer away and we quickly finished our business and headed back to Hampi. The undulating roads seemed less tiring this time around but we were still exhausted by the time we returned to Hampi Bazar. We returned the bicycles and decided to grab something to eat before catching a ferry to the north side. Bhargava and I munched on some gobi manchurian (a South Indian delicacy :P) and a plate of masala rice. Then we joined Parul and Aamir in The Mango Tree Restaurant for some lassis. Our stomachs at ease, we set out to cross the river with the last minute traffic. The sun was mellowing down and would soon disappear from the sky, leaving an orange afterglow, which in turn would give way to the night’s darkness. After lot of pushing and shoving we managed to get to the other side and returned to the guest house.
Au Revoir, Hampi
The next morning was mostly spent packing up and seeing the folks off. Bhargava was riding back on his KTM Duke. Adityo was driving Trupti, Kapil and Priyanka back to Pune. We were delayed somewhat by the utterly unprofessional behaviour of the guest house manager. Parul had made reservations beforehand and a mail chain had recorded the confirmation of five rooms at a fixed rate. The manager blatantly refused the arrangement, saying that he had never agreed to the rate and that his rate was more than what was mentioned in the mail, which, as per him, he had specified in a phone call. We tried to make him understand that it was utterly unprofessional to simply raise the rate for a prior reservation at whim, but when he said something to the effect of “You pay me what I want”, I knew it was a lost cause. We paid him, put up a review on Tripadvisor and left with a sour taste in our mouth. Unfortunately his business will continue to flourish despite what we had experienced. We go where the rates are cheap. Who cares about unprofessional conduct by a manager?
We killed some hours in Rasta again. Yes, we were definitely in love with it. We lazed around and watched a movie. I worked on my writing. We even played a game of pictionary!
By 3 PM we had decided that enough time had been killed. We paid our bills and walked down to the river jetty to cross to the other side. Then we had a lunch at The Mango Tree Restaurant. The food here was quite good, though a little expensive. After lunch we caught a bus back to Hosapete which got us to the town uneventfully. Then we saw KK and Ruta off before catching up with Chris in front of our bus stand. We spent the remainder of the hour at a juice shop, chatting in general and drinking fresh fruit juice. Our bus made an appearance and we boarded. We were off to Pune with all it’s city bustle. So long, Hampi…