Hampi has always been one of those historical sites in India that somewhere at the back of the mind I knew I wanted to visit. This place is the epitome of the grandeur of Krishnadevraya’s empire. A documentary on the amazing musical pillars added to the fascination. The rath, used by Karanataka Tourism Department as its emblem drips beauty.
Finally, I did make it. Hampi was everything I imagined it would be. It houses a lot of Ramayana – Kishkinda, the kingdom of the vanars and Shabri’s cave are here. The rath is poetry in stone. The musical pillars, fascinating.
But what makes Hampi even more interesting right now is that it is being discovered by backpackers (oft termed as hippies). Usually, it is the backpackers who first make inroads into a new territory. Following their advent all sort of infrastructure starts springing up and then the tourists arrive. Hampi is in the discovery and growth stage.
On one side of Hampi flows the joyous Tungabhadra. Take a government-run subsidised ferry (it is a 5 or 10 rupees ride) and you come to the other side (which is supposed to be Kishkinda). Immediately on landing you find yourself in a surprising place. There are low-cost hotel and lodges…and by low-cost, I mean really low-cost – starting from 80 rupees! The lodges house a huge number of people, mostly foreigners. One of the lodge owners told me that they are mostly from Israel. Folks who have just completed their compulsory military duty and need a break to recuperate. Many stay for months. Almost none speak even English. The spirit of backpackers is indeed admirable – they do not fear the unknown – new place, different culture, the only method of communication is sign language or at best a smattering of words – and here they are in droves.
Along with the lodging is fantastic connectivity. Internet access is inexpensive and plentiful. Next come restaurants. Unexpected joints offering tasteful international delicacies dot the area. The atmosphere is typical of Europe, lively but not noisy. Where there are travellers, there has to be shopping. Here you find shops with excellent clothes. The cuts and colours are super-trendy and the prices moderate. Other shops with interesting knick-knacks beckon. There is one selling various types of drums. A passing backpacker had stopped here and was jamming with the shop keeper. The music was arresting. After a bit, the backpacker went his way and I got talking to the shopkeeper. Turns out that this guy originally had a shop in Goa. His family makes the drums in Mumbai and used to sell in Goa. In the last couple of years they realised that Hampi is where the action is headed and opened a branch here too. He said that all the shops there belong to folks who have followed the path from Goa to Hampi with the hippies.
The spirited adventurers have also brought in the Goa-speciality – bicycles and motorcycles on hire. Here you can rent your own transport for days or weeks and zoom away to where your thoughts fly.
Since it is still in the growth stage, all of this is contained in about a stretch of one kilometre. The area of operations is quickly expanding. A couple of kilometres in, the villagers have caught on and they have converted their homes (mostly huts) into lodgings. Very enterprisingly, they rent out their rooms for a pittance to the travellers while they sleep outdoors. Some even throw in homemade breakfasts giving it an even more exotic touch.
Go to Hampi now and discover the joys of being a traveller who experiences rather than a tourist who visits.