As the sun set down the dusk fell on the river, but no lights appeared along the shore. Hunters for treasure and the seekers of fame, it felt, this river has seen them all, back in time, when they came possessing whatever they found, within the greatness the of this land, until that greatness surrendered and started losing itself into the oblivious mystery of unknown.
I wonder how many times Hampi fell prey to human greed, generation after generation, as people submitted themselves to the insatiable thirst to acquire more and looted Hampi and took back with them, all they assumed was of any value.
It reminded me of that computer game I used to play, where you take a big army of knights and swordsmen and bring down your neighbouring empire, something similar – or perhaps much uncomfortable and eerily painful – as it felt, might have happened here, as you walk about a cluster of empty ruins in Hampi.
Beautiful, but missed monuments, lying wasted, losing their significance to the impenetrable gloom. Temples, either sealed or left wide open as if getting robbed of their spiritual value, too.
Though that’s a different thing that its many world heritage sites now never sleep or find themselves deprived of caretakers, drilling and fixing up the debris of big boulders which, however, makes pretty much the entire town today. But when it comes to answering the ubiquitous question of what actually might have happened to the city, back in time, everyone finds themselves despairingly helpless.
There are two sides to the tourism in Hampi. One that caters to the new age tourists, offering them a place much tranquil and strangely defended, crammed with budget lodges and open roof restaurants, and the other, which narrates the many confusing stories of its past – stories that date back their existence thousands of years ago.
I often find tourists defining their experience in Hampi with a set of few permanent words that go something like “a laidback and soothing experience”. Afterall the town, as you find it today, has almost modified itself into a place no short of ‘authentic experiences’.
From renting scooters to getting lessons on rappelling, expect everything that you might otherwise find in the humble mentions of your favourite guidebook.
But if you explore this town in a little untraditional way and try to see it from the eyes full of imagination, you’d get reminders of the gruesome past, experiencing timely indications of the flourishing empire that Hampi once was.
I remember taking an unexciting walk through its dead, uncelebrated emptiness in search of some pictures. There are very few vehicles running in Hampi. Occasionally, a rented scooter or a hired auto-rickshaw would churn past, but then it was gone again, and the place became empty again. Roaring winds once more.
I’ve seen remote towns of Ladakh and the isolated mountains of Bhutan but the kind of unfamiliarity this place made me feel was, by far, unparalleled. It appeared to me like one of those places, that stays deep inside you, leaving you confused and muddled with its current state of affairs.
As I continued, taking a few confused steps, I found myself walking and looking out for some undemolished, not to perfect ruins, down a long, straight, hushed walkway – the silence was stretching out on every side of me.
Occasionally I went rendered, speechless by the emptiness of the landscape, the invisible wind that swept across the barren land, the hot angry sun, and the utter silence. My heart and soul felt empty. I walked and walked, but couldn’t find any hint of a world where this place – even in the recent history – was actually alive.
Tip: If you visit Hampi during peak tourist season, which I think goes sometime between November and February, you’d find this place swarm with tourists – almost breaking your connection with the emptiness of this town. So I recommend a visit during the hot summers, when there is hardly anyone around, studying the dead ruins under the angry sun. But for an experience, it will allow you to go back in time and connect yourself more with the Hampi you want to know.
Have you been to Hampi? How was your experience?