Looking up at the looming cracked dolmens, precariously balanced boulders, perching promontories and other formidable formations from the gulch I was tracing, it wasn’t easy to shrug away Edward Abbey’s artful caution. That they had been like that for most part of millions of years is exactly what prompts—and tempts—you to walk among them and try a hand at bouldering. Soloing myself up, no fancy highballing, I looked up again while in a hand jam. Cerulean skies parted for the sun to blaze through, silhouetting the outcrop in a heavenly flash. The words of the famously passionate and equally prickly ranger and author’s words struck closer home: watch out for falling rocks.
I had begun my trek early that morning with a friend at Virupapur Gaddi, popularly known as Hampi Island in Karnataka, across the Tungabhadra river and the erstwhile tourist hangout Hampi Bazaar. We were making for the Virupaksha temple that rose majestically above the dewy green of the paddy fields and palm trees, the petering river and languorous hammocks of the guest houses that dotted the bank. The remarkable rocks came in the way; Virupaksha, which was across the water, had to wait. Trying for some handy beta from the hotel staff, I had queried casually what would have formed the magnificent, if haphazard, Lego block eminences, which were now swathing in the lustrous gold of the rising sun. “Sir, it was like that even from my childhood. So, I don’t know,” he replied, distressed at being unable to help me.
Enamoured and intrigued by what we saw that morning, we decided to spend the day scouting for the stupendous and the strange, the prettiest and the parlous rock formations that marked the landscape. Along the way to Anegundi is the carcass of an aqueduct whose construction was abandoned following a collapse and loss of lives; the reason has been attributed to shortage of funds and paucity of labourers who baulk at the supposed supernatural warning to stay away sounded by the deaths.
That Lord Ram has walked these parts make it holy for the Hindus. But what makes it even more so is the belief that the rounded boulders were originally pindas placed by Ram on the death anniversary of his father, Dasaratha. Pindas are rice balls that form part of a sraddham or homage ceremony in accordance with Hindu tradition. Karlu Karlu in the Australian outback holds immense cultural and spiritual significance to the earliest inhabitants, the aboriginals, who believe all the rounded rocks are eggs laid by the sacred rainbow serpent. They came to be called Devil’s Rocks after a possibly fatigued member of an overland expedition called it that.
Whether as a matter of earnest belief or a clever pre-empting of possible fundamentalist resistance to the region’s burgeoning popularity as a hippie hangout and bouldering destination, some old hands have wilfully clubbed the sport with the persona of Hanuman: strong, lithe and maybe a tad defiant. Well, among those who aren’t any of these (the boulderers themselves), there wouldn’t be many who wouldn’t believe themselves to be some of these. Marbles and pindas are good when it is pilgrimage on your mind, but it’d be better as you heel hook your way up to know that these are just the tip of the proverbial iceberg: the exposed layer of a vastly more expansive underground granite formation that has been around for billions of years.
Like the rock I was attempting to climb now, gear less, barefoot. I clambered up on all fours along a steep that glinted and grew warmer under the sun, like Spiderman after a bout with The Lizard. Tolerably proud of my accomplishment and gasping for breath, I crept into a gap between two gargantuan boulders leaning against each other to rest and reflect.
What’s now in geological time?
This is not about the temple ruins in Hampi, fabulous as they are, of the Vijayanagara empire but of the splendid rocks right in their backyard generally given the miss.
How to reach: Nearest airport is Hubballi, 164 km away. Bengaluru is 344 km away.