I met Ezra at the ruined temple atop the imposing Matanga Hill standing tall at the eastern end of the main Hampi Bazaar. I had undertaken the moderate climb up the boulder strewn hill, from the Achyutaraya Temple complex, to behold the sun disappear behind the distant hills and watch the full moon creep up and bathe the landscape a milky white. A light breeze danced on the river Tungabhadra, which lazily threaded the delicately balanced boulders, creating ripples and whirlpools which were swallowed by the blue water. This was Ezra’s first visit to India and he had been travelling across the country and visiting the inconspicuous havens often discussed in backpacking forums; prior to arriving in Hampi he had spent a month in Crank’s Ridge, hidden in the Uttarakhand Himalayas close to the hill station of Almora. This was a pleasant surprise as Almora had been my hometown for 20 years and gradually our conversation drifted to its narrow lanes and wooden houses, the magnificent views of the Himalayas, the archaic bungalows covered in moss and the laidback life it offered. Amid the ruins of Hampi and 2,500 km away from home, I relived my childhood days with a complete stranger as the orange sun dipped below the horizon.
The rickety boat splashes across the Tungabhadra ferrying backpackers to the west bank away from the grand temples and splendid ruins on the east bank. The east bank embodies a golden bygone era whereas the west bank symbolises a new world where the boundaries between nations have been blurred. The village of Virapur Gaddi consists of a muddy path straddled by rest houses and restaurants interspersed with cyber cafes, shops selling musical instruments, clothes, crafts; the restaurants promise the best of several cuisines—Israeli, Russian, Mexican, Italian and many more. Sumptuous cakes are on offering at the German bakery and The Godfather is the ‘movie of the night’ in a certain guesthouse. Dinesh bhaiya runs a rooftop café here; he comes from Himanchal Pradesh where he resides in Dharmashala from April to October; from November to March he can be found here tending to the needs of the hungry, playing chess or regaling the tired with his stories. His café is usually crowded in the late evening; colourful lights brighten the young night and Buddhist chants soothe the weary soul as people enjoy the cool breeze rustling through the mango trees beside the roof.
Bangalore is often touted as the rightful ambassador of globalisation, but here in Hampi it truly seems that the differences which divide nations are buried under the similarities intrinsic to all humans. In the corner Mr Tanaka is seated on a chair facing the paddy fields staring into the darkness. In his late 50s, he is a frequent visitor to Hampi with stays lasting months at a time; during the day he can be seen reading a book under the shade of the mango trees. To his right an elderly Canadian couple enjoys a tasty dinner of humus and pita drowned with freshly squeezed orange juice. Their travels around the world, after their retirement, have brought them to Hampi and they are ecstatic to fall off the grid and spend a few days untangled from the web of technology which encompasses our daily lives today; here one can choose to switch off the phone, laptop and television and return to the simple days of yore. Monica owns a shop in Germany where she sells antique goods for eight months a year, the rest she travels to far off lands on a shoestring budget. Prior to Hampi, she had spent a week exploring the cave temples of Badami and the Chalukyan Temples of Pattadkal; now she intends to study the architectural marvels of the Vijayanagar Empire scattered here in Hampi. From here she will head to Wayanad in Kerala and then fly back to Germany from Cochin; she laments skipping the Hoysala Temples of Belur and Haleebidu but promises she will be back soon to continue her adventure. As I dig into an irresistible banana pancake, I strike a conversation with Roger who has backpacked across India for a year and will be returning home to America soon. The topics range from Jazz to football, from Iraq to Palestine, from innovations to outsourcing, from the developed world to the developing world. There are agreements and disagreements but more importantly there is a dialogue and willingness to listen; to appreciate alien cultures and ideas and to stem out prejudices and presumptions. This café can be considered a microcosm of the world but surprisingly here we are capable of amicably co-existing.
It is morning and I ride along the Tungabhadra, zipping through sleepy villages, to Kishkindha—the birth place of the God Hanuman. Anjaneya Hill is a cluster of huge boulders resting precariously on one another; a temple crowns the hill accessible by around 500 steps. The climb is testing but the view from the top is rewarding; small hills stretch to the horizon and the river snakes through them shining in the meager light of the pre-dawn as the first rays of the sun break free from the dark night. Shlokas emanating from the temple ride on the wind and greet the rising sun. People are gathered here to watch this humbling spectacle and behind the temple I find Yuri feeding bananas to the monkeys. He hails from St. Petersburg in Russia and was a web developer till a year ago when he quit his job, packed his bags and left for the unknown. As the sun marks the beginning of another day, we talk of Leningrad, the revolution, the siege during the World War II, the fall of communism; we talk of Tolstoy and Chekhov, of Gorky and Solzhenitsyn, of Sholokhov and Fate of a Man. Is it fate that I am here at this escaping moment or is it mere chance or a consequence of my choices? Whatever it maybe, it appears that this moment is more important that the protagonists who partake in it as even though the protagonists will be gone, their imprint will become a part of this magical land of Hampi.