Deborah delves into the secrets of Hampi’s magnetic beauty and recounts an eerie tale of the dead body on the beach.
An Indian Disneyland
Hampi is quite possibly the most beautiful place on earth. Even the most cynical and experienced traveler will admit as much. No camera can capture even a fraction of Hampi’s jaw-dropping beauty. Words are even less sufficient. My initial impression was that I’d been transposited into a CGI (Computer Generated Imagery) movie or a surrealist pseudo-Dali landscape done by a Thai street artist. Hampi is an Indian Disneyland – the rice fields are so startlingly green and the sky so stupidly blue and the stones so manically yellow…
Welcome to the Jurassic
If you don’t die of heat or exhaustion after walking up the 650 steps to reach the Monkey Temple you’ll be privy to the most magnificent sight of your life. When I reached the top and looked out at as the sun was setting over a mental panorama of tall green rice grass, palm trees and hundreds of human-monkeys, I turned to my “stair-mates” and, to quote Sam Neil, said “Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the Jurassic!” And I really did expect a Stegosaurus to stretch its neck over the treetops hundreds of feet below me.
The Value of Death
Meanwhile, back at the guesthouse the silent Kiwi guy, Andrew, is telling us a story that happened to him two days ago. He was walking along in Gokarna and stumbled upon a dead body on the beach. He told the owner of his guesthouse whose first question was “westerner or Indian?” When Andrew answered that it was the latter the owner shrugged his shoulders and continued about his work.
The same thing happened in two more guesthouses so Andrew decided to climb the steep cliff path to find some police. They too asked the question. When he answered that the body was indeed Indian they told the by-now-incredulous Kiwi that they are the tourist police, they do not deal with locals and, if he likes, there is a police station in the village where he can report his finding.
End of story. Death is so much a part of life here that it’s difficult for westerners to grasp. Manju, the Indian amongst us explained it thus: “In India, we do not fear death like the West. For us it is as known as birth and survival, and since those are the things we can control, we put our energy into that instead of worrying about death.”
Lego of the Gods
I have decided to explore the region and there is no better way than by motorbike. When you turn you have to be careful not to crash into a flock of goats led by a boy as tall as your knee. And even though technically they drive on the left, there isn’t really enforcement of such trivial laws. The traffic police are absent around here and survival on the roads is left up to Karma.
So I rode the bike up to the lake and stopped where the rocks are precariously balanced over the edge. It seems as if Shiva and Ganesh were building lego together and thought it’d be fun to place a few rocks over the lake to see if people would jump. And the people jumped. Some more crazy than others. I witnessed three Indians do the suicide jump from 20 meters above water level where you’re lucky if you don’t smash your body into the rocks that lurk beneath the surface. The little jump at seven metres (some say eight, some six) was scary enough. After you’ve flung yourself over the edge your life does indeed briefly pass in front of your eyes.
The Festival of Holi
I am ill. Running to the loo.
It is Holi – the Hindu festival celebrating the beginning of spring where everyone throws coloured water and powder at each other. We want to get across the river to celebrate but the police have banned the boat because of ‘incidents’ between drunk Indians and tourists. So the only option is to swim.
We make it over as the festival is in full swing: primeval dancing, drum playing and chucking colours on everything and everyone. Its loads of fun. Women are not really allowed to take part and we get told off a few times. I carry Sunita, a local eight year old girl I have grown attached to, on my shoulders.
Since I have been in India I now understand what it must be like to be famous and hunted by the Paparazzi. Indians are constantly snapping pictures on their camera phones. I have made a new rule: every time someone catches me unawares I make them teach me something in their local tongue. Here in Karnataka they speak Kannada. I now can say about 10 basic sentences. The locals love it when I speak to them in their language.
Dining by Moonlight
Raj, who sells water by the lake, hosts a Thali moonlight dinner for us on the rocks. We discuss the virtues of being a cow in India and how all the other cows in the rest of the world must be green with envy – especially Argentinean ones.
The full moon lights up the lake and embalms the Hampi boulders in an ethereal glow. I muse again for the millionth time about Hampi’s splendor. I think that Homer must have had Hampi in mind when he conjured Calypso’s island in the Odyssey. The Indian at my guesthouse told me that Hampi has a magnetic energy. You want to leave but you can’t. I believe him.
How would you describe Hampi? What do you make of Andrew’s dead body encounter? Post up your comments below, we want to hear from you!
Photos by Deborah.