The lure of Hampi

When I first saw Joakim he was sitting in front of his cottage, plucking blades of grass with one hand and holding a thick book in another. His long, golden hair, Scandinavian features and relaxed but alert posture set him apart from the other pot-smoking foreigners I had seen so far at the guest house. The next morning I saw him walking towards the sit-out with a cup of tea and a book with letters “Idioten” printed on the front cover. It was still early, and the sit-out – with mattresses on the floor and tables made of low granite slabs, full of activity in the evenings with foreigners smoking, drinking or passed out – was empty. I followed him with my cup of tea.

Joakim was Swedish – “Idioten” was a Swedish translation of Dostoevsky’s “The Idiot”, and due to the similarities between Russian and Swedish, Joakim explained later, the translation retained the richness of prose in the original. He had been in India a couple of months now and intended to stay on until March. He liked taking long vacations in foreign lands; the last time he was in India in 2004, he spent six months touring the north of the country. He worked in the health-care industry, with autistic children; his main job was to help those children – talented in their own way – get through the day without much stress; it was hard work, but very satisfying. Hampi was interesting, beautiful. It was also inexpensive. He’d been here for a week, and intended to stay a few more before moving towards Goa.

Our guest house was in a small village next to the Tungabhadra river, on the bank opposite Hampi. The street, full of similar guest houses, was teeming with foreigners – most of them young, like Joakim, in their twenties or early thirties (A guide-book referred to them as “modern hippies”). The local economy had moulded itself around this clientele: there were small shops stocked with global brands, Internet centers, restaurants offering cuisines from all over the world, and perhaps most important of all, the place was safe: young women wearing tank-tops walked alone at night on that poorly-lit street.

This was a side of Hampi that I had least expected, but it wasn’t altogether surprising. Hampi is a destination that invites slow exploration, and it seemed natural that an ecosystem that supported this pace had sprung up. Days spent walking the ruins spread over miles of rocky terrain could be interspersed with others spent lying on a hammock watching egrets gather in the fields next to your cottage or smoking pot with friends, depending on your disposition.

We spent two and half days at the guest house, crossing over to Hampi each day to cover what little was possible with the time on our hands. An essence of what we saw is collected here : Photo Essay – Hampi