After a day in Mumbai, we headed back down south. In Mumbai we were too tired to sight-see so we ate gelato instead and escaped into the cool darkness of the cineplex to see ‘The Artist’, which was really good. It was my first time in a movie theater in over 8 months.
That evening we caught a night bus to Karnataka, and when we awoke we were back in South India, the crowded streets lined with verdant palms, the rice paddies in the distance. I breathed in the garbled ranting of the auto drivers, the bejeweled women carting sugarcane and bananas on their heads, and the tiny dhotied men crowded around the idli stands. Oh how I had missed it. In that moment I knew that no matter how many sojourns I make to the Himalayas, or the Ganges, even if I learn to speak fluent Hindi, South India will always be my first love.
As the center of the Vijayanagara Empire from 1336 to 1565, Hampi used to be a massive center of trade, which eventually fell at the hands of Deccan Muslin rulers. But Hampi has been settled since 1 CE.
The small village of Hampi is surrounded by hills of massive stones, like abandoned games of giant marbles. We had to cross a river in a ferry boat to get to our guesthouse. Surrounding the strip of small guesthouses and relaxed restaurants are miles of verdant farmland, flooded rice paddy fields shaded by coconut palms, with crystal creeks snaking through them. We spent a day exploring the beautiful temple ruins that were virtually deserted, unless you count a few lizards and a pack of mountain monkeys. Meandering along the riverbank, I sipped tender coconut water and watched a group of boys playing king of the mountain on a giant rock, pulling each other’s limbs into the water.
the Tungabhadra River
We watched free movies on floor cushioned cafes filled with Israelis, Australians, Peruvians, and Germans. Even though it was hot and the power went out all the time, everyone in Hampi is very chilled out. The only measure of time is how high the rice has grown. I could get used to this pace.
An Accidental Crossing
With a wistful sigh, we left Hampi three days later. To get to the village from our hostel we had to take a small ferry boat for Rs. 15, usually packed with other tourists. The boats stopped running at 6 pm, but we had seen the boats going until at least 7 pm to serve all the tourists who arrived late. But when we arrived around 6:30 pm, it was just me, Arielle, and some French guy. We were offered a ride in the “special” boat at Rs. 100 each.
Disgusted, we decided we would try to find a shallow place to cross the river. This sounds sketchier than it really was, as most of the river has almost no current and is only about 4-8 feet deep. But night was quickly falling, so we had to act fast. We walked to the thinnest part of river we could find, although there was no telling how deep the water was.
I started pulling off my shoes, while Arielle took one look at the black water and said, “umm…I’m not sure about this…” meaning, “Nope, I don’t think so.” She decided to keep going downriver a ways to find a shallower spot. I think she really just didn’t want to get wet. I hitched up my backpack straps and clutched my satchel in my arms like a baby. My satchel contained my most precious possessions: my hiking shoes, journal, ipod, a full water bottle, my camera, and by some ridiculous twist of fate, a small watermelon that I was planning to eat on the train.
I gingerly started into the water, and began slowly stepping sideways through the sandy bottom until the water was up to my waist. At one point my foot hit a large flat rock, and I slipped. I got my balance only a few centimeters from disaster. And then suddenly the deepest part was past and I was wading out of the silent current. I saw the reflection of the first star of the evening, twinkling like a promise.
I called to Arielle who was fumbling further downriver. I could see her flashlight bobbing closer. “Arielle? Come back! I made it! I can help you!” I waded back across without my bags and helped her slowly cross. When we both got across it was almost pitch dark, which was just as well, because no one could see us crouched on the ghat steps as we changed our clothes.
Our misadventure had us laughing the whole auto ride to the train station. Sometimes its worth saving Rs. 100.
From Hampi we took the train to Bangalore, another to Chennai, and then a 3-hour bus ride back home to Pondy sweet Pondy. We had been gone for almost a month, and it was so nice to see the sea again.
Arielle left three weeks later to finish her last term at UO. It was so wonderful to have a cooking, exercising, journaling, traveling, ice-cream eating companion. And she’s also fluent in good ol’ American sarcasm. Indians don’t really do sarcasm. I miss her!