Travel with the Monkeys at the Hanuman temple in Hampi, Karnataka
And here I finally managed to find some time to start the story of our wonderful holiday in Hampi. Until now the scenarios around me seem to be always new and completely different from each other. We went from Bollywood to the colonial villages, to the sea and Hampi turned out to be another surprise. The images in my mind flow faster than words, to the point that I find it almost difficult to describe it all together, this place.
After a few days of relaxation in Gokarna, it was time to get going again. So we boarded the semi-sleeper bus to Hampi without really knowing what we would find, apart from old stones. The road that leads from Bijapur to Hospet is partly new, partly under construction and, therefore, with various detours. Despite all the journey this time it was more than satisfying and comfortable.
I looked for hotels, even those with 4 stars, near the bus terminal, but strangely (from what I understood there was a great wedding the following day) they were all full. For the third time in my life, I found myself, for the same reason, to sleep on the street. However, once again I did not panic, and given that in these areas the evening is not cold and that India seems to be a particularly safe country from the point of view of delinquency, I found a secluded corner near the bus station. I took the sleeping bag and fell asleep for about three hours in front of a lodge entrance.
At six o'clock I then took the first bus to Hampi. After the dusty Hospet, we enter fully into the tropical atmosphere of southern India. A small asphalt road crosses fields of banana trees and coconut trees, against the backdrop of huge colored granite boulders rust that seems carved in the sky, in the background of that natural landscape that gives this trip something magical.
Hampi is one of those places that are not usually found in travel itineraries to India, as is the sacred city of Varanasi or the emblematic Taj Mahal. But unlike these, Hampi leads the Lonely Planet guide list at number one. Hampi was the capital of the Vijayanagara empire from 1336 to 1565, one of the strongest and richest empires in the history of India.
We arrived in Hampi confident. It's been a long time since that happened to us. And the truth is that past the initial barrier of the rickshaw drivers, waiting for the tourist like hungry hyenas at the bus stop, the place had a special charm. The Israeli community planted the flag here and one at a time I had the feeling of being walking through Tel Aviv. Westerners walk in shorts and the rule of covering the shoulders here has no place.
Hampi is small. One walks a little and gets lost from the masses. The town is surrounded by a river and just by following the course one can find fantastic scenery. And loners, there are no cold beer kiosks everywhere, thankfully. And just a few meters away, Hampi appears to us as magnificent. Yes, "magnificent" is a big word, but we cannot think of another one.
We arrived with a piece of paper in our pocket with the address of a guest house. It was the only thing we knew about the place. The address was not in the center or in the tourist area. We had to combine two groups and walk a bit with backpacks. Once in Hampi, we had to take a boat to cross the bridge and reach our Guest House.
Our Guest House was like a fairy tale house. It was composed of a set of bungalows surrounded by greenery and in the middle of the rice fields and each had a hammock on the porch! Obviously being in the middle of nature I made friends with countless geckos, frogs, and many kittens! Finally, we felt at home, once again. Between dunks and sunsets, we asked ourselves several times what geographical feature gave rise to such beauty. And when science does not provide answers, myth takes place.
After a short moment of relaxation, we decided to cross the river again and make the first cultural visit of the holiday. Hampi is a village located on the banks of the Tungabhadra River. On our first walk to Hampi, we decide to climb the Hemakuta Hill, the temple hill overlooking the Virupaksha Temple and the surrounding area. What is immediately striking is the particularity of the territory, sown with hills and gray granite boulders.
We wander through the small temples on the hill and then descend to visit, finally, the Virupaksha Temple. At the entrance of the temple, a beautiful elephant named Lakshmi collects the coins with the trunk and then lavishes a tender blessing by placing the proboscis on the head. Lakshmi was so tender that she immediately conquered my heart. I like walking through the courtyards, crossing the stone halls, watching the devotees enjoying the shade or the women strolling with their multi-colored saris.
After a full day of treks, we decided to take a moment to relax in a room that overlooked the river surrounded by mango and banana trees! At 6.00 pm there was the last boat that allowed us to reach the opposite side of the river to our guest house. As soon as we arrive, we are welcomed by the imposing view of the Virupaksha Temple.
I cannot forget the beautiful view of the gopura illuminated in the evening light from the roof of our guesthouse. This view and that of the river have always accompanied us during the snacks and during the excellent strictly vegetarian dinners cooked by the very good cook of the guesthouse. The day ended with a dinner among the frogs. A couple of rums helped us sleep very well.
At about 10 o'clock we found ourselves in the refreshment area of the Guest House, that is a set of mattresses and tables placed under a thatched roof with a fantastic view of rice fields. The breakfast was just a luxury with ginger and lemon tea, banana and coconut pancakes, yogurt with granola and fresh fruit salad. After an abundant hour spent in the relax of this place of peace, we discussed and decided to rent motorcycles and travel through valleys, lakes, and villages.
The bike ride between flocks, bad roads, farms, lakes, and temples was certainly a good choice. The landscape around it was truly magical. The part that runs along the river is undoubtedly the most fascinating and also makes interesting meetings. A family asks us to take a souvenir photo. I win the prize of the worst dressed in Hampi and surroundings. On the side of the river, there is also my favorite temple: the Achyutaraya Temple.
Surrounded by greenery and flocks of passage and especially at the time of our visit to the desert, the Achyutaraya Temple has the charm that only fans of Tomb Rider will catch to the bottom. There is nothing more suggestive than visiting a temple surrounded by tropical vegetation in complete solitude (sheep excluded). Continuing along the path we find one of the most famous temples of the entire ruins complex: the Vittala Temple.
This temple consists of several pavilions inside with beautiful finely carved stone pillars. But what makes it famous is definitely the stone cart. Legend has it that in ancient times the stone wheels of the cart were able to turn really. The wagon represents the vehicle of Vishnu to whom the temple is dedicated. Inside there is an image of Garuda.
The weather was not the best with the gray and low sky, with milky light. At the end of the visit to Vittala Temple, our bikes had the wheels punctured. Before us, it was still 8km of the circuit to go back to the base, amidst humidity and heavy rain. This inconvenience and the long stop to repair the bike wheels did not allow us to visit much of the remaining monuments along the way. On the way back we still managed to stop to visit the beautiful Baths of the Queen.
When we got off the temple, we decided to do the last laps on the bike looking for a nice place to photograph the sunset, but we were stopped by a farmer who invited us to his house to eat mangoes and sugarcane.
After a super breakfast of idli with its chutney and some circular flea buns, we cross the river by boat and we go on the other side of the Tungabhadra to make some purchases (I bought a beautiful Hippie dress) and stop again for lunch. After a couple of hours of full relaxation, I decided to take advantage of the last afternoon in Hampi to visit another series of temples, among rice fields and banana trees and palm trees.
We take a rickshaw to let us carry around and along the way we also acquire a very special passenger. It was an old man we call Baba. He is skinny and a kind of guru decayed because of alcohol and marijuana than to holiness. However, his company is very pleasant. We consent to be guided to the temples of the area. The first stop is the beautiful temple of Hanuman on top of the hill of Anjaneya.
Hampi possessed an infinity of Hindu temples, the majority already considered only ruins, that was the main tourist attraction. But what attracted me the most was that special landscape with epic tints. Thousands of rocks populated the plain, of all sizes, of the most improbable forms. Strangely arranged, as if Shiva, in a fit of fury, showing his darker side, had thrown them in order, perhaps, to punish a particularly misguided or ungodly population to finally end up scattered resting at impossible angles.
Perhaps, such was the fury of Shiva in some places that his action buried them, under mountains formed by those curious clusters of stones. And so the landscape remained inspiring on the one hand and as a reminder of what could be expected by those who ignited the wrath of Shiva.
Imagination apart, the stone clusters turned out to be formations of affordable altitude for willing walkers and that allowed, after effort, to enjoy some really spectacular views. Whatever the reason for its origin, it was a fairytale landscape, with possibilities for climbing, a sport that I longed for. A long serpentine rock staircase was waiting for us to reach the top of the hill.
The white of the temple and its red pennant, at the top of the hill of Anjaneya, are clearly visible even at a distance, which makes the place even more interesting. Also, this is not any location since tradition wants this to be the birthplace of Hanuman. Little did I suspect then the dangers that lurked hidden and the wild and legendary beasts that the place housed.
I met a French couple and decided to cross the river and visit the temple of Hanuman, the monkey God, faithful servant of Rama, and possessor according to the stories, of a practically unlimited force. It is tremendously popular in India and has several temples in his honor, of which this was one of the most spectacular, because of its unique location.
To access it, we had to arrive after ascending 30 minutes by inclined steps, avoiding all kinds of macaques. At the base of the climb, we buy bananas. We had heard interesting stories about the monkeys who lived on the hill and it seemed nice to bring them something on offer, considering that we were entering the kingdom of their divine representative.
The climb is not short and the more we climb the steep staircase and the more we turn to look at the surrounding landscape. But almost halfway there we were a little disappointed as no monkey showed up. However, do you have that feeling of being observed? Here, it was palpable, though no one showed up. I had never liked monkeys as they are aggressive beings. But the views from the top really paid the effort.
Arrived high enough, we stop for a break and photos. I support the bag with the bananas on the parapet and I support myself with my elbows, back to the landscape. It was a second, the time of a blink of an eye and a monkey launched at a gallop on the parapet that made me literally take off. Fortunately, the beast was not interested in feeding on me but to take possession of the entire bag of bananas, which naturally had no intention of sharing with the other monkeys!
I set out to admire the spectacular landscape but when I was more relaxed, I suddenly had a strange perception. Although I immediately activated my alertness. Beside me, a monkey with a good-natured face approached. I thought I had made a friend. Although later I would realize my mistake. The harmless looking monkey approached me surreptitiously and looking to the opposite side it grabbed the bottle of water that I had in my hand.
It struggled slightly for a moment and then bit into it, a hole immediately emerging through which the water came out. Wasted bottle, I thought and played a moment, directing the spray to my face. Big mistake and then friendships ended. The monkey showed its true face. It took off the harmless monkey mask. It spread, swelled enormously and multiplied ten times its size.
Striking its chest, it showed its teeth in aggressive action, bloodshot eyes, grunts that made the foundations of the mountain tread tremble. The little monkey friend had transformed. It was the mutation of a maddening Hanuman. It had become an orangutan or a Gorilla. Hanuman, the good monkey God, once a faithful servant of Rama, had lost his sanity and had become the living incarnation of the devil.
I was reluctant to move and put a ribbon on my head to prevent discomfort from the sweat that would result in a confrontation more than certain and was prepared for the onslaught. I did not want distractions. I was willing to fight for my bottle, for my friends, and for my pride. And then strangely enough then there was a strange phenomenon in my mind.
Well, in the end, I did not remember clearly as I had a strange moment of amnesia. Surely, it was too violent to tell or maybe, just an image in my head. Or maybe, just maybe, the harshness of what happened deprived me of the memory of those minutes in which I risked my life safely. What I did know, is that when I regained my sense of reality I and my French friends were already safe and prepared to retrace our steps, to return to Hampi, happy to have survived the attack of the Monkey God.
Although perhaps, just maybe, as in any legend, the story would not have been exactly as it was now told. For the rest of the day, we go to the temples of the area! We have lunch in one of the temples. We are given banana leaf, as we sit on the ground under a tree in the company of other devotees and hungry monkeys (which stare at us). Then a man with a cauldron of rice poured it on the leaf and followed it with a very hot dal and vegetable curries. Any leftovers are happily disposed of by the monkeys.
Finally, surrounded by a landscape in the purest Indian style and after such a duel with Hanuman, I was prepared to listen to my inner voice and return back to the hotel.
Today we are in Anegundi, about 5 kilometers from the tourist center. The town has no more than the main street and a route that connects with nearby cities. The guest houses are not plentiful and the streets are full of children playing ball and groups of men who come together to take a chai.
The women near the river wash clothes, talk and play with the little ones. Here, tourists are a minority. People greet us, smile and even ask us for pictures. There is not much to do, more than going out and getting lost walking, stopping to talk with kids who play bike races or with a man who is hours on the sidewalk watching the hours go by. There are many temples to visit and you can even climb some stones and contemplate beautiful sunsets or just think and breathe.
In Anegundi we did not find luxury places or anything like that. Anyway, Anegundi is one of those places where we can spend weeks without even noticing it. I enjoyed the tranquility, the hippie atmosphere, and the isolation. I enjoyed jumps from stone to stone between two baths and fresh fruit juices. I can say without a shadow of a doubt that this was one of my favorite stops on our entire trip to South India. But this time we were in a hurry. The ticket back to Mysore marks a new travel rhythm.