Hampi was not on the cards. Nothing was on the cards, a trip in fact was far far away. We had just come back from New Year’s trip and every now and then relived moments in the group chat. Owing to the group’s trait, it was safe to say that the next trip wasn’t happening anytime soon. September, New Year and it’s not even mid Jan now. One fine morning, I pinged from Swagatika’s cell to the group for a trip. She had never been on board till date, so naturally her ping weighs more than mine (sob sob). What I didn’t know, was that small ping was a spark. And suddenly it blew up in flames. Arushi pinged a yes, Ram pinged a yes with a name, Hampi. And finally opened the door of more yes, it came like a flood!  Sarita responded this been on her bucket list, and Suman and Sajal echoed the same. And lo and behold, we were discussing a trip. And it wasn’t the casual we should do this, we should do that sort of discussion. People were talking logistics, like train timing, availability, dates and homestay. Honestly, I wasn’t even prepared for that kind of a massive response. And Hampi never existed for me. It never did. A dry land with half standing monuments, I didn’t see a point. More than anything, I think I was astounded with the group reaction, everything was happening too soon and a lot of yes from strange corners like Swagatika, Ram, Sarita and frankly I was more foreboding than excited. Yes, everything was working out smooth, no more personal brainwashing, no more pleading for months, but wasn’t that weird?  I mean it was extra smooth to be honest, the kind that doesn’t feel right. And hell, Hampi? God. Why couldn’t my checklist be ticked off for once? Eventually the trip postponed to three weeks later and we went on Feb 17th. Funny thing is, the people for whom we shifted dates to accommodate didn’t make it for Feb either. February isn’t a good time for the place I was told, it’s a dry barren heated land and google weather might scare you even more. But we were determined and stuff like sunburn don’t scare us anymore, been there too many times. Honestly Richa and I were so least interested about Hampi that we didn’t even bother discussing about travel clothes and must haves for once. It was going to be our first train ride together and needless to say, everyone was too pumped up. Comfortable seats, playing cards together all night plus enough leg room sounded our kind of trip. Even though our tickets were scattered inside one bogie, we were hopeful. The final day saw 8 people boarding, tickets were done for 10.

Truth be told, the journey was meh. We didn’t end up in one compartment and trust me we tried all sorts of permutation combination to get us together, we even traded the extra two seats to bribe people, so they could switch with us. Ram put his dealing skills to use and from being scattered over 4 compartments, we were down to two, next to one another, but no lower berths. Meaning no cards. The uncles who had the lower berth were for some reason very adamant in ruining our evening. They switched off lights too soon and constantly seem agitated for faintest of sound. So yeah, basically no cards, no sitting together, no loud gossiping, none that all of us had imagined. Eventually, after make do groups with half people standing half hanging out from their upper berths, people scattered. Ram and Shekhar took off to sleep. Sajal and Namrata went to the corner most upper berth in hope to vanish from us. Richa, Arushi, Sarita and I took the side lower and had a gala time till late night. And finally went to our respective seats after binge eating every packet food that came along in the trip, even though it involved frequently disturbing the love birds for more food.

We reached Hospet around 7 and took a bus. Hospet looked beautiful in the morning. We were driving through village roads amidst green farm lands, occasional chirpings and cool winds. I was nervously expecting the sun to scorch us anytime but that didn’t happen. It was a harmless morning like any other. Since the people at White Elephant homestay wasn’t picking our calls, we waited for quite some time after getting off the bus. Ram hopped in with a two-wheeler who took him to the cafe and send us an auto who eventually took us there. Our autowala told us that just the other night a leopard took their dog away leaving behind the pups. Just the night before at the station, in the news reports of a leopard spotted in Hampi town.

As soon as we arrived, I knew the place was a keeper. It had a strange vibe to it, like you feel when you travel all the distance and finally reach home. I remember we didn’t rush to our rooms immediately, a usual norm in any trip. Our homestay was basic but at least it wasn’t a makeshift establishment like the ones we frequented while taking the auto here. Ok here’s the thing, all homestays in Hampi have their own café (at least most). But ours was no doubt the best. It was bigger, spacious and had this strange halo feel to it. Hampi has quite the hippie tribe any time of the year. Our homestay had loads of them. Naturally chill laid out were the vibes of this trip. I could totally get used to that. It was such a cute homestay, absolute basic, very minimalistic and by that, I mean you get just about your basics sorted. We didn’t intend to spend much time in the room, so that was fine by us. The cafe was amazing, and instead of your usual chair table scene, it’s more of a sit down on mattress and long tables laid out. It was an instant hit among us, our spot. And such awesome food. When the dal arrived with a gorgeous tadka on top, I knew we made the right choice of homestay. Tea here is served in a big lassi glass. Needless to say, it brought smiles every time we had it. The food here was amazing, we mostly ordered the usual north Indian dishes, and they were lip smacking.

We had our lunch quite early around 11, the plan was to return after we are done sightseeing for the day. I went back to my room to get ready and to my horror there was no current. I hadn’t considered this scenario, my hair was a mess from all the rides and I have never not straightened my hair in a trip and I was freaking out. If that was not enough, I decided experimenting with layering two new lip color and naturally went overboard. In short, I wasn’t my best self even before the start of the trip.

We were hiring bikes to roam the city and it was starting to feel a lot like goa (in a way). Bike rides, hippies all around and laid back vibe. Since Sajal & Ram are well ahead in making all the arrangements, Namrata and I got the best bike (of the lot). Arushi’s bike had no brake, it did but the brakes would work 5 minutes after pressing it and Richaʼs bike had no lights. I was a little irritated with people clicking pics when Ram was out and about going around people telling them to check their vehicle for any shortcomings.

Having this city full of hippies has its upsides. People didn’t give you those negative vibes coz you were tourist, on the contrary there were smiles and absolutely no judgement to our short clothes. There were hardly any vehicles on the road and I’m speaking for the two days we stayed. It’s a different feel altogether when you are driving on empty roads, barren lands and hills surrounding you. In the beginning, girls took to riding while men took the pillion seats.

Sugriva Cave temple

Our first stop was Sugriva temple. It’s on an elevated platform with big boulders and barren lands all around. And deathly sunny at this point. The compound houses many temples and caves located within small treks but the most stunning and exciting of all is the trek to the last one located quite far, that needed us to go through small dark dingy caves and through steps that were broken and dangerous. Add to that, it also housed snakes. Or so we were told.

It did strike us though, that wearing shorts to temple wasn’t a good choice on our part, but surprisingly (because I have never experienced this anywhere else) we did not, for the slightest felt any sort of difference from the pundits or from anyone there. I was shocked. Not one judgmental stares from old or young, from pundits and residents alike and I cannot tell you wonderful that felt. 

Oh! Before anything, I guessed I missed the part where Arushi had a hairline fracture in her leg (before she came on the trip). Yes we were carrying a patient with us. A patient who had more stamina than us, who wasn’t a dead weight even for a second. Soon after visiting the temples and listening to all the stories of how these temples came into being, it was time for our trek. If you are visiting a place that has enormous history like this one, make it a point to sit with the caretakers and listen to their stories. You would be amazed by the history, the stories and their dramatic gestures. It was like back to childhood times at nani’s place on chilly nights.

We covered multiple temples and weren’t sure if we should walk the trek or head back. By now the heat was scorching, there weren’t many shades around and even the ground seemed fuming. We were frequently taking multiple breaks under pretext of Arushi needing one, but the lady got more balls and energy than us. Every steep climb brought her more glee and not even the sun, the damn sun couldn’t slow her down.

Thankfully there were two tourists returning and they couldn’t contain the excitement of the trek, so off we decided to give it a go. Besides walking a mile, both ascending and descending on boulder, the descending part was trickier at times. We went under small caves, walked through almost pitch black cave passages halfway kneeling, part crawling to get the other side and finally reached the last cave. 

One look at it and I almost gave up. To get there, was a broken staircase of sort which was so rocky and steep, it was almost perpendicular down. Not just that, at any point there was space for just one person, barely. The steps ended half way and the final leg involved taking two big jumps, one to a boulder somewhat dangling and the other to the foot of the last cave. If I wasn’t scared enough already, this was when most of us have lost it. Even with all my force I knew I wouldn’t make it. Thankfully people reached out and helped us. This cave was a resting point of snakes. And although we couldn’t spot any snake there (thankfully), their burrows could be spotted practically everywhere. This place was exceptionally cool, very hollow and airy. There were also big domes structures all around and the possibility of any kind of reptiles, didn’t stop us from taking a good 20 minute rest.

We have come across the nicest people in Hampi. Even passerby would smile or enthusiastically help you with directions. Because the age group we are in, a big group in dresses and shorts, friendly vibes isn’t something that’s common. Eventually after aimless driving through empty Hampi roads and soaking in all the feel good vibes, we all headed to the little island.

Hippie Island

Hippie Island quite contrary to how our day had been so far, was full of buzz. A place full of hippies, cozy homestays round every corner, moody vibes, and hookahs out even before sun down, street shops selling all kinds of stuff, unpretentious cafes and fruit market that was buzzing with activity. Mad crowd, burst of colors, and felt right at home. It’s also here where we spotted Hema’s café. While finalizing stay, we had shortlisted two places. While white elephant was more on the secluded side, away from all the crowd, cooler owing to trees and hills that side with a trance vibe, Hema on the other hand was full of nightlife, right in the middle of hippie island. We parked outside German bakery.

The smell of fresh bread filled the air, the atmosphere here was super relaxed and just the right crowd. My favorite view has to be the 50+ year old bare chested guy with tattoos covering his entire body. That was some impressive complex tattoo work. The property expands to more than their café space. There’s stay right behind and openness with just hammocks. I understood why people don’t visit Hampi for a weekend, rather they come stay here for months. There’s so much architectural delight, stillness to this place, a rather peaceful unpretentious vibe. Beauty in its simplicity. In its people. And delightful food at every random corner and tall glass of tea (not cups or jumbo mugs, but big glasses of tea). We stayed till our hearts content and ordered a bunch of items. Happy and satiated it was time to head one last place before returning to base. So this time girls took the pillion seats as it was getting dark and our vehicles weren’t the best in shape. Except me. Couple rides are cool but when you have straight endless roads with a view to kill for in a new city with almost nil vehicles your way, giving up rider’s seat isn’t something I was going to do. Neither did Ram. So Sarita became my pillion and Arushi his.

Anjaneya Temple

I wasn’t sure if visiting Anjaneya temple was a good idea. It was getting dark and most people seem to be returning by the time we reached. The temple is situated on the hill and you got to climb 575 steps to get there. The sun was starting to set and the sky looked gorgeous with all its colors. Even with the rays it was no more scorching, and the breeze was so cool this time of the day. All these years I never understood how people trek for hours and one single view up there makes it so worthwhile to them, how one sunset makes all the pain go away and what is it so different about a sunset high above a hill anyway?  Anjaneya was going to change that. And no, sunset didn’t do the trick. The peak point with magnificent view under moonless sky and a place deserted in a prime time like this did the trick.

Climbing steps is not my thing, I get tired too soon too many times and always the last one struggling to catch up. But the upwards we went, the sky was getting darker and the breeze cooler, it made everything awesome. By the time we reached the top, it was pitch black. Up top is a temple and slightly above that are big rock boulders where you could sit and watch the city. We laid down. That was the right thing to do. Laid down and watched the stars. It was eerie quiet up there. All I wanted was to pause my life, live that moment thousand times over and then some more. Somewhere on the hill up high with your people, with just your people and everything is pitch black, the silence engulfing you but giving you serenity too. Imagine. From a distance I could see two parties happening, a purple one amidst the forest and a green one somewhere far east under rocks. It looked surreal. Pop of color in the black. When others went to visit the temple, Arushi and I stayed back a little longer. This temple lights up diya right from the top all the way till the first step below forming a beautiful lit pathway. It was one hell of a sight. 

Sarita was trying to chant hanuman chalisa in her head but for some reason was unable to continue after a few lines. To that, everyone (the ones who knew the chalisa) started singing loudly, Ram, Shekhar and Sarita. Rest, we listened. We listened to them in the dark getting down those deserted stairs high up where you could see the whole city and feel the winds, them chanting loudly and merrily. We touched ground the second the chanting was complete, talk about timing.

Because this part of town is deserted post sundown, away from settlement and hugely surrounded with barren farms and forests chances of that stray leopard on the news was high this part of the town at this time. Add to that, the deserted vibe was getting creepy so we decided to return to our homestay quickly. Imagine driving on almost straight road for at least 30 minutes or more with absolutely no visibility (no street lights in our way) and no human in sight. If this wasn’t adventurous enough, all our four vehicles had issues. The brake of my scooty would work after 5 minutes and Ram’s vehicle had no headlight. In the beginning Ram was the last one but since that could be a risk, he move front. Mine was the only vehicle with two girls. And I definitely didn’t want to be the last vehicle in the group. The eerie sounds of night, the sense of secluded all added to the fear of spotting the leopard any minute. The sense of danger was just lurking round the corner and every one of us felt it strongly. So we formed a honking pattern of sort which we continued the entire time we were on road. We also lost our way in the middle, but thankfully found our way pretty back soon. In all honesty my heart hadn’t pounded this way in a very long time.

Such excitement and adventure all wrapped in one. Spotting our homestay from afar brought so much relief. Arushi to this day regrets handing over the ride to me.

Our café space looked so lit and so dope that we couldn’t wait to freshen up and head here. Dark, moody, just enough lighting to see the menu, wind in our hair and promises of an evening to remember.

We were a super mad bunch and I am surprised how nobody complained about our table being super loud and insane. We laughed and played cards and ate till we suffocated and drowned ourselves in liquor. Arushi and I were sloshed from the start and while playing dumb charades, I kept on giving ‘Ram teri ganga maili’ every time an opposition came for movie name.  Arushi had to change to tougher ones to keep up our group image. We were insanely loud even after other people had retired for the night and decided to sleep in the café mattress itself. The music never stopped nor did the owners asked us to be quieter. So we didn’t. This one time I spilled French fries and even though it was covered with mud, I sneaked it back to the plate. Before Arushi could correct the situation someone gobbled it and didn’t react one bit. Eventually after raising much ruckus, we called it a night post 3. I walked back to my room and went straight for the floor.

Continue to Day two…