I had never been to the south of Maharashtra in my entire life. Travel always took me north and further north. Untill last month.
Hampi is a small village in Karnataka, better known in the mainstream tourism for its ancient temple and ruins than for its significance as a climbing hub for climbers the world over. Along with Badami, it has a terrain that climbers would call a paradise. Hampi especially, is known as a bouldering spot. You do not require any climbing gear other than your PA shoes, chalk bag and a crash pad. Hampi is also a Hippy town and to quote another traveler friend, it is the where Goan after party takes place. Hampi is where I was headed to in December of 2012.
I was to unite with my climbing group directly in Hampi, after a brief stop over at Hyderabad. An overnight bus journey would take me from Hyderabad to Hospet where I would board a local bus that would drop me at Hampi, right across the famous Virupaksha temple.
My short stay in hyderabad was wonderful. My friends took me through all the good areas viz Hitech city, Jubilee Hills, Banjara Hills, Imax-where I saw The Hobbit! and a not-to-be missed ‘Dialogue in the Dark’ show in InOrbit Mall. I liked the peaceful and modern feel of this part of hyderabad. The older Hyderabad, with its famous monuments, museum and structures, remains to be explored in the next trip.
I boarded the bus for Hospet at 9 p.m. and started my iPod playlist to entertain myself through the 9 hour long journey ahead. if there is one thing about bus journeys that can annoy you, it has to be this- to have a passenger travelling with a kid on just one ticket, sit next to you. That implies that one hour into the journey, the kid would have landed from the lap of his mother to the space between your seat and his mother’s seat. And you are expected to tolerate the inconvenience by infusing into yourself a spirit that is abundant in generosity. I tried pretending to be great for 3 hours before I could muster the courage to tell the lady to take the kid on her lap and please let me have my own space for which I have duly paid my money. I of course got a sour look from the mother. A look that tries to convince you that you are the most evil person around.
Come morning and I try asking the driver and the conductor about the drop point and the approximate time we’d take to reach there. I discover in that moment that they only speak Telgu, neither Hindi nor English. The driver stops answering after I repeat my questions, unable to comprehend their responses in Telgu. Some fellow passenger takes mercy on me and guides me till he has dropped me to the local bus stand where I can take bus for Hampi.
After a not-so-great night, the countryside around Hospet-Hampi, with its fields and coconut tress felt wonderful. After 30 minutes, I found myself at Hampi! Boudelresque views welcome the tourists into this town.
But apparently, my back packing was yet to be over. Hampi is divided into two sides by Tungabhadra river. Virupaksha temple is on one side of the river while the climbing area and the area where all the Hippy junta stays is across the river.
I paid Rs. 50 to go from bus stand to the ferry point in an autorickshaw ( fixed rate
) and paid another 15 Rs. to go across the river and finally met my climbing buddies.
Hampi on the other side can be described as paddy fields, hills strewn with huge and numerous numerous boulders, hut like resorts and loads of non Indian travelers. Narrow paths that dont have tarmac on them. It’s a relaxed place. If you are looking for a quiet gateaway from the madness of the cities and want to stay away from crowded hill stations, Hampi is the place to go for. One can rent bicycle or the vintage Luna ( that 50 cc two wheeler one used to see so commonly on Indian roads about 15 years back. ) and explore around Hampi. There’s a lake nearby as also a hill-top temple and quaint countryside to be enjoyed around Hampi.
Goan Cottage is a famous resort in Hampi. It is supposed to be a cool place to stay at. We had booked our rooms here only. But my trip was following Murphy’s law and upon entering the resort, the owner informed us that he had cancelled our bookings after getting a call from one of us that we no longer want to stay there on account of some friend’s ill health. That was an outright lie. We could have understood and left had he plainly told us that rooms were unavailable. But blaming it all on us using a lie was something we could not digest and we had a big verbal fight with the liar. We left the place obviously and within 20 minutes, had found nice accommodation at Gauthami Guest House just some distance away. At Rs.200 per day ( as opposed to Rs. 800 at Goan Cottage ) for a twin sharing room, with restaurant for lunch , dinner and breakfast, Gauthami offered us everything that us climbers needed. We were happy!
It was mid day when we picked up crash pads from a shop and went to the boudlering area for warming up for the day. The area is called the Hidden cave by climbers and is supposed to have boulders whose climbing grade was suited for beginners. The feel of the rock was good. It was all granite and being granite, was sharp. We mostly had crimps for holds. But the texture of the rock felt really good. We started with the simplest boulder problem and went on to try our skills at 3 other problem before the sun started to hit us really bad. I learnt another lesson that day. That a sufficient amount of warming up exercise and a properly hydrated body is a must before one starts climbing. I was plagued by cramps in my calves after topping the first route and wasted almost an hour trying to make the cramps go away. It affected my climbing and left me with very little enthusiasm for clicking pictures. But the lesson was learnt and I at least had the satisfaction of tacking the 2nd boulder problem and attempting 2 others after that.
The session was fun but also a little disappointing. We were realizing how different natural climbing was than our usual artificial wall climbing in Delhi. It was definitely funner but more difficult too. Hands were getting cuts and tears on account of the friction with the rock surface and sometimes, height would scare us a bit. It gave us a nice idea of what Hampi had in store for us. With some satisfaction, some excitement and some apprehension about the days ahead, we returned to the base at about 3 O’ clock. It was time for some rest!
That evening saw us rent bicycles and ride them away in glory to the Hanuman temple on a hillock about 2-3 km away from the main town. I was cycling after a really long time and being on the saddle was fun. Some exercise it was, for my bums! bicycle ride was definitely one of the highlights of the trip. It was also a good work out as Emily, our cool, carefree friend, would race past us so fast you would have no other option but to make your lungs work double time in order to catch up with her.
Sun had already set by the time we climbed the stairs to the top of the hill and darkness was upon us while we sat at the top, meditating and chatting in the peaceful environs of the temple. Raman got some really creative open-shutter photographs that evening and we returned to the hotel with a tired and satisfied body and mind.
Day 2 started at 6 a.m. with sour bodies. Nevertheless, we had started bouldering by 8 a.m. after a proper warm up. Bouldering site for the day was Rishimukh- a huge expanse of a plateau that is strewn with boulders. A boulder ridden hill stands at one side of the site while dome of Virupaksha temple is constantly visible on the other. We were accompanied by dogs ( Goan cottage owner’s ) and it was a delight to have the cute canines with us for some time of the day. We tacked 4 more boulder problems that day. Raman and Pravin tackled all while I, Emily and Suditi struggled on some of them. Day 2 went definitely better than the previous day, now that we had got a good feel of the rock and were mentally ready for them. The crimps, the friction holds, the undercuts, the side holds- they were holding us good on the rocks. There were many other climbers around us, all trying to solve different boulder problems and constantly encouraging each other with “Allez” calls. I had a good time climbing and clicking. The terrain was amazing, such as I have not quite seen in the Himalayas. The weather was pleasant and the sun did not feel harsh. We finished the session at about 12 O’ clock and returned to the town ( which was just 10 minutes of walking distance away ) for a filling lunch.
We had big plans for the evening. Renting bicycles, we were to ride till a lake about 4 km from Hampi. And we were to take a swim in the lake! The mythological crocodile and drowning stories of the lake notwithstanding! I was lucky to be able to convince Prakash to let me ride his 500cc Royal Enfield. Prakash, an IT guy who worked in Business Intelligence domain for 5 years had recently quite his job in order to roam around India on his bike. He was travelling alone, sometimes even sleeping on his bike instead of renting a room. He had many stories to share and we were happy to have his company for the lake ride.
The lake is actually a dam reservoir. We could not resist ourselves after reaching there and within 10 minutes, found ourselves inside water in our swimming attires. Going further ahead, we swam till a rock, about 60 meters away from the shore and dived from the rock till our hearts felt content. This was the best part of the trip for me. I loved being in water and the dives. Pravin added his own flavor to the excitement with his famous front and back flips! We were exhausted when we returned home in the dark but what a day it had been!
Day 3 was going to be my last in Hampi. I was due to leave for Hospet-Hyderabad that evening. We had to wrap up our climbing session a little earlier therefore. We bouldered at Rishimukh again. But my palms were in a bad shape. They were torn at different points and I therefore took to exploring around Rishimukh on this day.
I went up the hillock and had intended to stand atop one of the huge boulders at the top of the hillock. But half way up the hill, I discovered that there was no trail to the top among the thorns and bushes. Every possible route I took, ended being blocked by plants or impossible looking rocks. I traversed across the hillock in search of a possible route but to no avail. In the process, I got bitten by a honey bee, had my limbs cut by the thorns and sustained a few slips on the loose soil. It was fun but after a while, I had to give up. Being alone, I did not want to risk climbing big boulders without protection or spotters behind me. I continued my search till I finally found a good enough vantage point to click some pictures. And a good point it turned out to be! I could see the vast expanse of the boulder strewn plateau in front of me with Hampi town down in the vale in some distance. The sun felt good on the face and I could see groups of climbers gathered around different rocks from here to there. It felt like a holy congregation, his holiness being the huge rocks and the climbers in the role of the pilgrims. I was up there, alone , away from everything and I loved it. My buddies soon spotted me from their location and I got clicked through their zoom lens.
My trip was about to end. 3 days of bouldering, cycling, swimming, clicking and having a great time with my climbing buddies was soon going to be over.
We had spent most of our late evenings playing a game of Bluff and what fun it had been! Hampi, hosting an ancient Hindu temple, has banned the sale and consumption of alcohol inside the town. But ironically, weed and grass are available in abundance and most travellers will be found getting high on the stuff at nights. Hampi is not called a Hippy town for nothing 😀
Time had passed by happily and speedily. I had grown even more closer to everyone in the group than I was already. It’s in trips like this where bonding takes place and everyone opens up to show their peculiar characteristics. It is an interesting process and a fulfilling one too!
South India- at least Hyderabad and Hampi seemed neat and hospitable although I experienced the language barrier first hand. It is kind of difficult to roam around alone if you can’t speak the local language in South India. You have to be dependent on some fellow passenger helping you out with instructions in Hindi. Text on the bus boards is not written in Deonagri script making things even more difficult for a non South Indian.
I parted with my group after taking the last ferry at 5.30 pm. They dropped me to Hospet from where I was to board my bus at about 9.30 p.m. I had about 3 hours to kill in a little Karnataka village where people mostly spoke only Kannada. I felt like an odd woman out at the bus stand, what with my rucksack and hippy like attire. I felt a bit insecure too, with night on the approach. I tried to move from here to there and finally entered a big hotel where I would feel safe and comfortable. Next challenge was to kill one and a half hour pretending to read and finish one cup of expensive coffee in the restaurant of the hotel. I did that successfully and settled in the bus for an overnight journey to Hyderabad.
What a trip it had been!